Christina Patterson: We're eating for Britain – and it's not our fault

Click to follow
The Independent Online

God, I'm knackered. I think I need another cup of coffee. And perhaps one of those nice cookies they've introduced to the canteen. "Natural Honey and Oatmeal" or "Breakfast Fruit and Nut". They put them in big glass jars so for a moment you can forget you're living much of your life in a computer-lined, strip-lit bubble, but pretend you're in a lovely thatched cottage where Mrs Bridges, or Mrs Tiggywinkle (anyway, someone actually called "Mrs") will wipe her floury hands on her starched white apron and pop a platter of fresh-baked biscuits, gorgeous and golden, under your quivering nose.

Sometimes, after hours battling with a blank page, or grappling with a particularly gargantuan ego, I'll nip down to the canteen and have a little wander round. I'm not quite sure what I expect to find down there (the terracotta army? Lord Lucan?) but I might stumble upon a little something to lift the spirit.

Sometimes, it's a lemon drizzle cake, all fluffy and gooey – sweet, but with that zesty zing that makes it feel good for you. Sometimes, it's that matchless stalwart, a solid slab of serotonin-boosting chocolate gateau. Once or twice – surprisingly, thrillingly – there's even been a cream tea. Ignore the polystyrene carton, and you could be settling down not for another few hours in front of that bloody screen, but a pleasant afternoon with the Mayor of Casterbridge.

Yes, I love cakes. I eat them when I'm bored. I eat them when I'm miserable. I eat them when I'm happy. Once the sun is over the yard-arm, of course, I switch allegiances. Then, I like a nice glass of chilled something or other and perhaps some cashew nuts, or some kettle chips, or a tasty canapé or 10. In the age of the "big tent", there's no need to classify one's tastes – or tooth – as either sweet or savoury. One can, I believe, swing quite happily between both. Switching between sugar and salt keeps the tongue, so to speak, on its toes.

In this passionately held belief, I am clearly not alone. We are all eating for England. We eat to console, to commiserate, to celebrate. We eat to pass the time. We eat because the food, like Everest, is there. Many of us (including me, thank goodness) remain a normal size in spite of our gluttony. But many of us do not. In the past 10 years, the number of obese adults in this country has gone from about 15 per cent of the population to nearly a quarter. That's fat not as in nicely curvy and something to hold on to, but as in at serious risk of heart disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis. At serious risk, that is, of killing great swaths of the population, wrecking the NHS – and condemning us to a lifetime of boring debates about What Can Be Done.

On the news this week, an enormous woman complained that "they" had stopped the keepfit class round the corner. Which, presumably, had resulted in the miraculous metamorphosis of a stick insect into this giant haystack of a human being. It wasn't clear whether "they" were a local authority, the Government, Weight Watchers or the little green men from Mars. What was absolutely clear was that it was "their" fault.

On this, as so many other issues, the Government is caught between the devil of nannying interference and the deep blue see of inertia. It's damned if it bosses us around and it's damned – as in free-to-buy-fruit-or-heroin pregnancy grants – if it doesn't. It could, it's true, spend millions on campaigns telling us that too much food makes you fat. It could also tell us that the earth is round and that England's unlikely to win the World Cup.

Might I suggest a simple slogan, one that could be used in a variety of contexts? One which might encourage us not to spend money we haven't got? Or smoke ourselves to death and expect the taxpayer to pay for our protracted illness? Or stuff our faces until we can't walk and expect Government-funded sedan chairs to ferry us around? Here it is for free, a message for all of us: just grow up.

Thinking woman's pin-up

In one of his sparklingly brilliant short stories, the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges described the "re-creation" of Don Quixote by a (fictional) French writer, Pierre Menard. Menard's masterwork is a line-by-line reproduction of the 16th-century original, but considered, with the passage of time, to be infinitely richer. Perhaps Che Guevara, Borges' more famous countryman, was aiming to do something similar. One of his notebooks has been uncovered and found to contain not revolutionary speeches about peace and brotherhood, but poems by Pablo Neruda, Nicolas Guillen and Cesar Vallejo. Not just smoulderingly handsome, then, but a poetry lover too! And an opportunity to extend my campaign for no-more-bimbos- in-this-pic-slot...

* Some weeks ago, when I made an observation about Victoria Beckham's unwavering enthusiasm for shopping, I got a fierce letter from a reader. Beckham was, I was informed, a "fashionista" – an icon in an industry which employed millions. And I (fatter, uglier and much, much poorer) was just jealous.

Well, there's another industry that employs an awful lot of people, and this week its showcase is just around the corner. Yes, until 4pm today you can pop along to the ExCel centre in London's Docklands and drool over a glittering array of guns, gadgets and must-have accessories for the gung-ho government.

This year, exhibitors have been advised to draw a veil over their less cuddly items (cluster bombs, leg irons, etc) and focus on the more tasteful toys for boys. Quite right, too. This is a trade that's worth billions and one doesn't want a PR disaster. Anyway, if you want some shackles or stun guns and they can't help, they'll know a man who can.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

Comments