John Walsh: How can anyone be allergic to lettuce? It's 90 per cent water isn't it?

Tales of the City
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The Independent Online

I'm not big on alternative medicine but, from time to time, I've been forced to try it. Once I suffered from a frozen shoulder that no osteopathy could make better, and I went through a gamut of fabulously silly treatments. Most memorable was the bearded chap in Camden who massaged the offending flesh with acacia honey, if you please, stuck acupuncture needles into several bits of me (some frankly inappropriate to the shoulder region), connected them with a wire and sent about 5,000 volts through me. It didn't help. Another mountebank ran digestion tests and concluded I was allergic to lettuce. (Lettuce? It's 90 per cent water isn't it?)

So I was delighted to read recent revelations that the "health tests" sold in alternative medicine shops are, mostly, as bogus as seemingly Tiger Woods's crocodile tears. An intrepid Sunday newspaper sent a healthy reporter with no known allergies to try seven "tests" – following the instructions on programmes called things like "Food Detective" and subjecting herself to clinical investigations. Amazingly, she was told that she was allergic to practically everything – eggs, coconut, cow's milk, bread, sugar, wine – and that should stick, in future, to wheat-free, albumen-free, lactose-free and sugar-cane-free food and, ghastly idea, alcohol-free liquor. Some were, coincidentally, on sale at a commercial offshoot of the testing company.

What made the sting so enjoyable was the apparently flagrant fakery of the clinical treatments: in one south London surgery, an alternative medical "practitioner" asked the female guinea pig to press her knee against his hand while different foods were laid on her stomach. This rigorous scientific method was just the start. Using a scientific breakthrough called "kinesiology", the victim was diagnosed as being in mortal danger from yeast, milk and sauvignon blanc, and was told to "massage the outside of her legs" as part of long-term treatment. (Massaging the inside of your legs is always unwise – all that blood.)

You wonder if someone, somewhere, is having a laugh, chuckling with his cronies as they sit around devising ever-more-fatuous diagnostic behaviour ("Can you stand by the window with your pants around your knees and sing 'I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No' while we hand you fruit and vegetables one by one") and ever-more absurd things to which people may be allergic ("If I were you, I'd steer clear of tea, coffee, water, toothpaste, oxygen and langoustines a la bonne femme ... ") But thanks to this investigation, we need never again shell out £265 for the pleasure of being told to embrace a gluten-free hell.


I've been reading Andrew Rawnsley's The End of the Party, mostly in search of Gordon Brown's pugilistic techniques. Verbal and physical violence, abusive behaviour, volcanic eruptions of foul temper, effing and blinding, grabbing people by the lapels – it's quite a rap sheet. The PM sounds like a bar brawler in a bad Western, shouting "I'll take on all you sons of bitches!". But is it really true? Examine the text and, despite the way the author's been crying up the violent stuff, it's hard to pin down much real fisticuffs. Yes he grabbed the lapels of Gavin Kelly, No 10 chief of staff – but not to hit the guy; merely to whine "They're out to get me." Yes, he used to storm out of meetings while civil servants were speaking, or shout at people who were being slow or incompetent, but that's the prerogative of the impatient overachiever. Yes he threw things at people – but what? "Newspapers, pens, Coke cans," according to a "veteran of his court." Holy mackerel, the PM threw the FT at me! Oh lordy, he hurled a potentially lethal empty can of Lilt at me!

For God's sake, chaps, get a grip. All the "revelations" of tyrannical nastiness are small potatoes. By contrast with political puncher-uppers around the world (check the videos on YouTube of the Somali parliament erupting into violence during a debate about US offshore drilling policy, whacking each other with chairs until their heads bleed) Mr Brown seems no more a man of violence than a park keeper in The Beano, raising a fist and shouting, "I'll get you!" at the fleeing schoolboys. But he's guilty of a more heinous sin than violence. He's supposedly guilty of Not Being Very Nice – indeed Really Rather Horrid – to the ladies in the secretarial services unit. This may lose him the election. Nobody disses the No 10 typing pool and gets away with it.