Tuesday 8 August 2006

Who ate all the pies?

At last a subject on which I can write with real authority: fatness. I have been on the plump side all my life. As a schoolboy, I was one of the two boys in my class who sometimes enjoyed the soubriquet ‘Fatso’. Yet looking at the pictures of us from 40 years ago, I realise that we were positively slim compared with the lard-buckets waddling through today’s school gates.

Tootling around the national motorway network at the start of the current school holidays, during a period of exceptionally hot weather, I was repeatedly appalled by the sights that greeted me in motorway service areas: grotesquely fat and horribly underdressed parents feeding fizzy pop, burgers, chips and sweets to their revoltingly obese children, many of whom looked like they might well burst before they got back onto the road.

Why would anyone do this to a child? Surely even someone of the meanest intelligence must realise that it is damaging their health? Nor is it doing anything for their prospects of happiness, in a culture where, as the mass of the population has got steadily fatter, the ideal of beauty and sexual attractiveness has become ever more scrawny. There’s no place now for Rubenesque curves. What we want is ribs that you can play like a xylophone.

I’ve yearned for years to have the sort of body that would enable me to walk boldly onto a beach and hear beautiful women sighing ‘Phwoar’ rather than ‘Ugh’. Yearned, but never quite enough to do much about it, at least since I came to the conclusion about 20 years ago that I actually preferred a good dinner and a bottle of fine wine to a night of passion. Mainly because the head chef and sommelier don’t expect you to stay awake for a couple of hours after the meal, listening to them describe their neuroses and hopes for the future.

Still, my doctor keeps telling me that I will almost certainly contract that Type 2 diabetes if I don’t do something to get my weight down. Of course, developing the condition and having both my legs sawn off – as my mother did – would be one sure-fire way of losing a couple of stones, but it would probably take some of the fun out of life. So I’m making a few efforts, like taking the stairs rather than the lift (not a hard choice, since I don’t actually have a lift), and riding a bicycle on the 10-mile round trip to collect my daily Journal. True, it’s one of those bikes with a tiny electric motor to assist it, but then I do live at the top of a ruddy great hill and, as Messrs Tesco are always telling us, Every Little Helps.

The important thing is to encourage the dieter, as my schoolmates did all those years ago, through consistent, ritual humiliation. Don’t be fooled by any of that stuff about obesity being something to do with glands or genes. It’s caused by shoving more pies through the cakehole than the body requires for its normal functions, and the solution is to eat less and take more exercise.

So next time you see a really fat adolescent in a motorway service area, or a rather chubby man wobbling up a Northumberland hill on an electric bike, feel free to enquire who was responsible for clearing out the local pie stall. Make them feel small, and maybe they’ll find the willpower to become smaller. You may get a certain amount of abuse back, particularly if you’re talking to me, but remember that you’ll be doing them a favour and performing a wider public service. After all, where on earth are we going to find the money to rebuild all our trains, theatres, hospitals, mortuaries and crematoria if we can’t find a way to stop our descent into a nation of the morbidly obese?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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