We are what we eat, and that's the problem

I Was thinking about France a lot, down in Liskeard last week. Well, you do, don't you, stuck in Cornwall, trying to write, with the rain gouting down, the wind howling, the land sodden and shrouded in cloud (not mist; actual cloud), the birds silent, the roads grey and lethal between high, dripping stone banks, the unavailability of ... the unavailability of anything.

And the dead Bee Gees fan in my bedroom.

There was a dead Bee Gees fan in my bedroom. Or, to be fair, the ghost of a dead Bee Gees fan. You don't need to know any more than that, and I'm not going to tell you anyway, but, hell, the paranormal isn't what it used to be, not even in Cornwall, home of the piskies and Joan the Wad.

Do you remember Joan the Wad? She was a shrivelled pig-iron hag, advertised in the nastier Sunday newspapers, out at the back along with the incontinence supplies and bunion slippers; you sent off 17/6d in the old money, and they sent you a Joan the Wad which you then rubbed. If you rubbed it just right, it brought you luck, and I used to have nasty little visions of millions of leaky old people stumbling along in their bunion slippers, everything going wrong all around them, the bus late, the yobbos surly, the lady wife going to pot with dropsy, the pension inadequate, the fuses gone, the heating on the blink, the dog incontinent, Uncle Alzheimer knocking at the door, and ...

And all they can think of in their own defence is a surreptitious rub of the Wad, if they can get their gnarled fingers to cooperate. The Wad. The bloody, buggardly Joan the Wad, 17/6d in the old money and, just like with the Lottery, the only people who were desperate enough to shell out 17/6d out for Joan the stinking Wad were the people who couldn't afford 17/6d in the old money, or in any money at all.

The only redeeming factor in the whole sorry Wad racket was that the money probably went to some shrewd Wad entrepreneur rather than the remarkably unappealing National Lot- tery profiteers and the alarmingly depressing rattle-bag of greasy and discreditable "causes" to which they contribute. Never mind the ruckus over that crowd of shrieking madmen at Covent Garden, who (I think we all agree) should be left to drown in their mire of bosoms and vibrato; what about the new Hall for Cornwall?

That's what it's called: the Hall for Cornwall. There was far more than I wanted to know about it in the local newspaper, but that's what you get from local newspapers, I suppose. I couldn't tell whether or not "the Hall for Cornwall" has been built with Lottery money, and I don't care; I have made up my mind and if you try to confuse me with silly facts my old friend Mister Smack-In-The-Face will be paying you a call. You know the trouble with today? Too many facts. Facts are for people who cannot cope with life: politicians, functionaries, schoolmasters, single- issue lobbyists, people who would be all the better for a Smack In The Face. You begin to see the elegant symmetry of my argument? Of course you do, if you know what's good for you.

"The Hall for Cornwall" speaks volumes. It speaks, first of all, of a Committee, with all the half-hearted, flaccid, wool-gathering, play-it- safe pseudo-communitarian bollocks of Committees everywhere. And it speaks of Catering. There's a picture of the Catering Person in the local newspaper, and a list of the catering he proposes to provide. I needn't go into detail; enough to say that it's actually described as "catering", which is to food what facts are to life.

It was the "catering" that started me thinking about France. A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Perigord, in a small town roughly the size of Liskeard, and you can imagine the rest of it. The small but stylish and comfortable family hotel. The hotel dining-room, packed to capacity with French people being agreeable to each other, in which I had a modestly priced dinner which I shall remember until I die.

And then to find myself in Liskeard. Nobody moving. The only open restaurant deserted. The boarded-up hotel, for sale, no takers. The stupefied youths grunting on the street corners. The barren takeaways. The municipal slovenliness and disorder. The Somerfield supermarket, selling ogre-sized packets of crisps and slabs of waxy cheddar-style cheese. Despondent, wet, expressionless people in mail-order clothes, plodding around despondently.

My first instinct was to wish I had brought Mister Smack-In-The-Face along, but then I thought about the Hall for Cornwall, and the Somerfield supermarket, and the damnable smell of Catering which hangs about the country, and the duds and phoneys on Lottery committees. And then I thought about France some more, and my confit de canard and my bottle of Beychevelle '86, and the ghost of the Bee Gees fan, and Joan the Wad, and after a bit I got the answer. Most of life's delights are beyond our intervention. We can't change the weather. We can't buy luck. Most people, lacking the astounding allure and sheer technique of, for example, myself, will never truly plumb the feral profundities of the pleasures of the bed. But what we can do is democratise the delights of the table. Stop wasting money on Halls for Cornwall and nasty, boring "regional arts". Abolish subsidised opera for stupefied businessmen trying to swank it over their nasty clients. Claw back the absurd profits of privatised utility companies. Cattle-prod the Camelot sods until they disgorge. And spend all the money instead on food. Subsidised, good restaurants in every town. Eating lessons for schoolchildren. Snack-food companies compulsorily closed down. Government- sponsored terrorists paid to let off stink-bombs and throw up in burger joints. Supermarket "executives", who hate both food and people, to be rounded up, stripped, flogged and exiled to the Isle of Wight forever. Free cookery master-classes. Compulsory two-hour lunch breaks. And a ban, forever, on any doctor ever saying anything about food anywhere. It will be painful at first; but in the long run, who knows? We might even invent our own word for joie de vivre. !

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