Maurice Geller

This week, a new lifestyle report claimed that British men now spend pounds 800m a year on grooming products. What's wrong with that, says Simon Tiffin, isn't it about time men started looking after themselves? No it's not, says . Preening and pr imping should always come a poor second to fine food, wine and company

There's no reason why men should be sneered at for taking an interest in their health and fitness, says Simon Tiffin, nor for having the temerity to wear deodorant.

LAST WEEK, the market research company Mintel published a report that stated that British men are now spending pounds 800m a year on grooming products, and that the health and fitness industry is worth nearly pounds 1bn per annum in the United Kingdom.

A spokesman for Mintel said the research "suggests a nation tormented by the state of its health and fitness". This negative opinion is not surprising given that the average British male views any form of self- improvement with cynicism, fear and ignorance. In this country, taking care of how you look and feel is still viewed as being unmasculine.

Unfortunately, the ethos that valuable male attributes are beer-drinking, flatulence, homophobia and misogyny is still very strong in British culture. As a teenager at school in the early Eighties, I remember that any boy who used deodorant or aftershave was in danger of being bullied for being a "poof".

The people who regard men buying grooming products or going to the gym as "narcissistic" are the same blokes who view the protagonists of Men Behaving Badly as positive role models and regard FHM as a good read. Although smirking at the boom in aftershave and moisturiser sales may seem harmless, the ignorance regarding men's health and fitness certainly is not.

Some of the millions of pounds Britain's "narcissistic" men are spending down the gym may help to reduce the alarming figures regarding heart disease in this country. Men are six times more likely than women to suffer from coronary heart disease which is the UK's number one killer (150,000 people die because of it every year) and someone in Britain has a heart attack every two minutes. Regular exercise helps strengthen the heart, improves circulation and lowers blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.

And for the "nation tormented by their health", perhaps this will lead to more men being aware of the dangers of diseases such as testicular cancer - the most common cancer to affect men between the ages of 20 and 35.

Indeed, after health and fitness magazine GQ Active published a piece on testicular cancer awareness, one reader wrote saying that reading the article had saved his life.

In all areas of personal growth, it would seem men are lagging far behind women. For years, gyms have been full of women taking care of their bodies, and campaigns concerning breast and cervical cancer have been very successful in raising awareness and helping in early diagnosis of these diseases. In fact, most national newspapers devote several pages every week to matters regarding women's health and fitness.

So instead of sneering at men taking an interest in their looks and health, we should embrace it. What is narcissistic in men looking and feeling the best you can? After all, as one Frenchman who clearly cares about his appearance would say: "You're worth it."

Fitness-and-beauty bores are the bane of our social life, says . They should stop slapping on the potions and get themselves to a good French restaurant.

The awesome monotony of the Stair- master. The withering sadism of per-sonal gym and fitness trainers. The noise, the niff, the slip, slap, slop of moisturisers, the terrible dialogue in the showers. And you pay for all this? Let's nail this grooming malarkey - why do people (and yes, that means you, men) fork out fat fees for boredom, discomfort and exhaustion?

One, vanity. Face it, you want to be a sex god. The real driver behind this costly grooming frenzy and physique-sculpting is to become a blinding, incandescent love monster who can pull whoever they want and then do it all night - except, that is, when you're too knackered from circuit- training after work or booked in for that all-over loofer treatment.

Two, health. Very commendable. Get the pump pumping and the juices flowing with 35 minutes of breathless aerobic activity three times a week - followed by a trip to the Sports Bar where you neck your own body weight in Michelob. Or at least you do in your dreams, since in reality you'll be opting for that carrot shake or - pushing that boat out - a guarana drink. Yawn.

Three, endorphins. Vigorous exercise reportedly stimulates the pleasure centres in the brain associated with narcotics to create a rich natural high. Really? You'd be a long time on the treadmill or the massage table before you could match the mood-enhancing qualities of the silver spoon or even a large gin and tonic.

Come on. Act your age, not your pectoral span. What is the proper adult pursuit? It's not about "splashing it all over" and admiring yourself simultaneously in 10 mirrors. It's about the pursuit of Pleasure - and that is worth training for.

How else to do justice to, oh, the 10-course Menu Gastronomique at the ancient stone hostellerie of Le Sanglier des Ardennes, from Le Fois Gras Aux Ecrevisses et Champignons des Bois aux Topinambours through La Cote de Biche en Panure de Noix to L'Assiette Delicatesse, followed by a game of cherchez Les Apres-Sucres. Do you think I'd swap the memory of that for the day you discovered that spanky new facial pad, or finally worked out how to use that obscure gym machine?

Still, each to each is what we teach, and there's sure to be plenty of demand for your washboard tum, your peachy skin, and the remarkable definition of your deltoids. This pilgrim has always found that imagination, taste and personality get results - allied, of course, with one's strange unnatural beauty, as Molesworth put it.

I should perhaps make one thing clear at this point: I do, in fact, pay pounds 2,500 a year for membership of Champney's health club in Piccadilly. But then, it does happen to have a gorgeous, immense sunken marble pool, a groovy chill-out chamber with aircraft seats and soothing ambient sounds - not to mention a very well-appointed bar and restaurant.

Apparently there's a top gym in the basement, too...