Christmas calorie countdown? Just get stuffed

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The Independent Online
As soon as Christmas starts looming, the newspapers fill up with handy tips on how to avoid gaining a pound or two from festive gorging. This defies the whole purpose of Christmas and its pagan precursors. It's actually an ancient cure for Light Deficit Syndrome, cystitis, ennui. People need a big booze-up in the winter. It's HEALTHY! Only the British would react to seeing fun on the horizon by turning round and going the other way. Christ would not have approved of this party-pooping attitude. What could be more self-indulgent, after all, than being born?

But the Express is determined to worry us. To burn off a typical Christmas dinner, it told us on Tuesday, you'd have to climb Ben Nevis, swim halfway across the Channel, clean a three-bedroom house from top to bottom seven times, take 12 exercise classes, dance for 15 hours, clean 60 cars or run a marathon. To avoid the worst calorific effects, you must refuse: turkey skin, roast potatoes, bacon, sausages, Christmas pudding and anything involving pastry.

Alternatively, you could just shut up and eat.

THE Nazi Jew story will no doubt run and run. It'll strike a chord in the heart of every skulking anti-semite. The idea of Jews helping out with the annihilation of their own kind fits in nicely with the theory that Jews are tricky characters not to be trusted. What nobody wants to acknowledge is that it confirms the much less cosy fact that all human beings are tricky and untrustworthy. But surely few people can still believe that only Germans are capable of what the Nazis did, or that Hutu behaviour is unique to Africa. The real battle of the 20th century has been to come to terms with just how universal these traits are. You show me your depth of depravity and I'll show you mine.

THERE was a sci-fi movie on television recently about the world coming to an end because of a meteorite, and only one rocket could be built in time to send a few survivors to an alternative planet. And what did they take on this rocket? Some crusty old scientists, a few fertile women and pairs of animals they thought might come in handy as food some day. That was it. Thousands of years of human civilisation, the entire natural world - all left behind. Never trust a scientist. A meteorite just passed us for real, and may be close enough in 300 years' time to hit. One's first reaction to this news is naturally a shrug of the shoulders, eloquently encapsulating the assumption that by then there will be nothing left worth preserving - we'll have destroyed it all ourselves. But it pains me that everything might disappear: birds' eggs, redwood trees, whales, Schubert, Jane Austen, The Catcher in the Rye, the touching human habit of singing along, Howard Hodgkin's paintings.

Having studied art history at university, I usually hate art and rarely voluntarily engage with it, but I am totally in love with Howard Hodgkin. I was suffering from art frigidity until I saw the Howard Hodgkin show. I even finger the postcard reproductions tenderly. The millennium be dammed. If you want the sensual and emotional experience of the decade, get to the Hayward. Peace in Northern Ireland? Have them all meet up at the Hayward. Forget Prozac, the Samaritans and swimming with dolphins. Just get to the Hayward. And in 300 years' time, don't forget to pack the Hodgkins.

WHY are politicians given charge of art so unconcerned about it? Virginia Bottomley can't think about anything but sex and violence. Jack Cunningham would rather be in Trade and Industry, or fishing. But Sir Denis Mahon has found the solution to cultural decline in Britain. The Government must be forced to look at art in the only way that makes any sense to it: as a financial transaction. Thus Sir Denis has revealed plans to leave valuable paintings to the National Gallery and other places on condition that the Government stops pressurising such institutions to sell off their holdings.

Hitherto known mainly for his collection of large unpleasant Italian Baroque paintings (not popular at the moment), and occasional angry letters to the Times about public funding for the arts, Sir Denis has now shown himself to be a Hero of Our Age prepared to arm-wrestle with the Government from the grave. At last there's something useful a millionaire can do! The Daily Telegraph called the proviso in his will "a sting in the tail". But who's stung? Not the public, for whom the National Gallery holds paintings in trust. Not the gallery visitors, who have a fight on their hands to be allowed to see publicly held works of art without paying admission charges. The only people stung will be the philistines installed as Arts ministers.

It's clever, it's moving, and we should all be inserting similar clauses in our own wills. Posthumous politics: leave the nation your jewels on condition they pay people's pensions; leave the contents of your medicine cabinet on condition they improve the NHS; leave them your house on condition they phase out nuclear power; and have your ashes sent, in hundreds of irritating little brown envelopes, to the Inland Revenue - just for the hell of it.

SPENT four hours one day this week looking for my glasses. Four hours. The search was made more irritating because I happen to pride myself on my ability to find things. I probably would have made a great hunter- gatherer. After searching for your glasses for about an hour, you get beyond the self-admonishment stage of thinking you threw them out with the rubbish that got collected on Wednesday. Your panic begins to take on a paranoid edge: Who took my glasses? (And why?)

My suspicion fell on a near-stranger who'd briefly visited. Female. Weird. Obviously a witch. Left her alone for a moment. Just enough time to steal glasses. (If she could find them, that is.) Obviously snatched them in order to practise voodoo on me. She resented my (phoney) air of contentment, wanted to scupper my life. You let these people in the door and they proceed to sabotage your existence...

Later I found my glasses. My sanity's another matter.