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Christina Patterson

Christina Patterson: Diet books? They're just for reading

The wrong kind of weather, and indeed management, may be the chief cause of delays on our own super-pricey trains, but in New York explanations for late-running trains are a little less prosaic. According to the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the main culprits, after engineering problems, are "fainting dieters". Only in the land of the free and the faddy could an urgent desire to squeeze into your size-0 jeans bring public transport grinding to a halt. The supersized, wedged into seats increasingly designed for baby whales, must be furious.

Those poor Americans! They don't understand. Diets are not something you do, but something you read. Diet books are, in fact, among my favourite literary genres. Not quite on a par with poetry, but certainly up there. On Christmas Day, after clearing up a meal that would have satisfied the most corpulent of our American cousins, I curled up with a plate of mince pies and my latest shiny, pink acquisition: Neris and India's Idiot Proof Diet. I read the Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution in Waterstone's Piccadilly, with a large glass of sauvignon and a bowl of Kettle chips. I read Gillian McKeith's You Are What You Eat in the foyer of a posh hotel in Guildford with a cafetière of coffee and a plate of chocolate biscuits.

A quick glance at my bookshelves triggers a treasure trove of memories. Fat Attack, Stop the Insanity!, Lighten Up, 6 Ways to Lose a Stone in 6 Weeks - all gave me hours of pleasure, punctuated by tasty treats. Am I fat? No. My thighs, like everyone else's, are currently a testament to enthusiastic consumption of festive food (average weight gain over Christmas is, apparently, 5lbs), but no one could call me porky. Like every other normal-sized woman in the country, I'd love to lose half a stone, but I can't be bothered. I'd really rather read the books.

On Boxing Day, I read French Women for All Seasons, a present from a friend and the sequel to Mireille Giuliano's internationally bestselling, French Women Don't Get Fat. I hated it. I hated it for the same reasons I hated her first book, in which she berated women who indulged in a glass of orange juice at breakfast or more than a single mouthful of pudding. Here, she adopts a similar tone. "French women" she says when describing her "50 per cent rule" are "apt to tell the person dishing, 'la moitié, s'il vous plait'". Well, bully for them. The more normal response would be to wolf it down and yell for seconds.

I hated it, in fact, because, like a thriller that reveals the killer in the opening chapter, it broke the rules of the genre. It's a genre that goes back a long way, arguably (though an apple would be a bit high in the glycaemic index for current tastes) to the Book of Genesis. Like so many of the great works of literature - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Paradise Lost, The Faerie Queen - diet books are about a quest, a quest for a pearl of great price and one that will involve a series of taxing trials. It doesn't matter if the pearl is a medieval maiden or a skinny butt. It is ultimately unattainable, a dream that will remain forever wreathed in the mists of fantasy.

These are fantasy books without the goblins, the muggles or the dragons. Packed with strangely soothing pseudo-science (glycaemic index, ketosis, blah, blah, blah), they are profoundly repetitive, offering the same consolatory pleasures as a fairy tale or a lullaby. A fairy tale in which - deliciously, briefly - you take the starring role.

You are not, obviously, going to follow the diet, which is probably just as well. For then what would you have to dream about? Apart from a better world, of course, and you don't get that by cutting the carbs. Or perhaps, in the light of global warming, you do. But that would involve real sacrifice. You couldn't just read about not flying to Barcelona, you'd actually have to do it. Which would be even tougher than saying "la moitié" to chocolate pudding.

Meet the right royal sales force

It was, apparently, our future king who told Kate Middleton to get on her bike. Not literally (though that might have been a good idea in the light of the parking ticket she got on Wednesday), but in the good old Norman Tebbit sense of "get a job, love". This might sound a bit rich coming from a young man whose prime duty is to provide fodder for the popular press, but Prince William is, according to friends, keen for Kate not to go the way of all WAGs.

So now our probable future queen is selling tights. In this, she joins a fine tradition. Until the royal command to cease, Sophie Wessex sold her contacts and, er, her brains. Samantha Cameron sells posh stationery. Her husband, possibly our next elected Prime Minister, used to sell crap telly.

Oh brave new world of sales and spin! Truly, a Royal Family for our times.

* The HR department at The Independent is, of course, above reproach, but you really do have to wonder about the mental health of some of the people who glory in the name of "human resources".

Recent applicants for jobs as van drivers at the Norwich branch of B&Q were invited to gyrate to the Jackson 5's "Blame it on the Boogie". "It was a relaxed way to get the interview session under way," said a spokesperson for B&Q.

There is a huge gap between recruitment practices in the public and private sector. In the public sector, you have huge interview panels policing your every word, endless shortlist criteria and boxes to tick. In the private sector, you can do what the hell you want. In the City, or the media, this can be a cosy chat with your father's best mate. Elsewhere, as in Norwich, it can be a ritual humiliation dreamt up by psychopaths. Ones who have clearly been taking lessons from Donald Rumsfeld.