It's that time of year to get less fat. Normally I don't bother. If I really have to go to the beach I put on a T-shirt and say I'm wearing a life jacket underneath. A bulldog clip behind each ear makes all the difference. It's easy to cheat. But this year visual tricks are not an option. I've got to go to a wedding in June, and if I don't fit into a 100kg suit the bride won't turn up. The happiness of more than one member of the wedding party is in my heavy hands.
So, the task consists of losing 10kg or 12kg in a little over a month. Not quite two stones in 35 days. That's easy – I may start in a week or two. Older readers may remember the regime I went through some years ago to lose five stones in 40 days. Not eating was a terrific chemical rush: I was as high as a hermit. And the criticism it generated was an unexpected bonus. Highly educated nutritionists were united in their hostility. "It's just fluid loss," they said. "Not eating will make you fatter." And, my favourite: "The sudden loss of blood volume will kill you in a fortnight." It's not often you get death threats from people with degrees.
But the greater experts – female features editors – were furious for no reason at all. But why, I asked, why?
"Listen, mush," one eventually said, "dieting is what we do. How would you like it if there was a woman who was better than you at football?" Most women are better than me at football, but I understood the point.
Anyway, it turned out well for all sides over the next couple of years, when the weight crept back on again. They all said that would happen, and they were right. I blame the drinking – but after 18 months listening soberly to what people had to say for themselves there was no option.
My plan now is a traditional one. Keeping weight off is perfectly easy if you behave like your grandfather. Don't eat between meals, drink moderately, exercise daily. If you live like a 19th-century gent, that is, you don't get fat. But that's the problem. My main failing is not lack of will power – it's greed. I like to graze. I've not been able to see the point in not eating when hungry.
Ah, but there is a point. I now sense there is a point in waiting for meals and eating only then. Because if you can eat whenever you want, every flicker of appetite must be satisfied. If you don't eat between meals you don't think of food. You find something else to do with your hands. Good habits, that's what it comes down to. The other thing your grandmother would have said.
There is another flaw, more psychological than moral. Somewhere between the third and fourth sip of the second glass I do get a glimpse of that other world where we all want to live. Where the intellectual, the spiritual, the convivial all come together in an interpenetrating Chardonnay.
You spend the rest of the bottle chasing that world as, step by step, it recedes. And you find you have been guzzling. Food – dinner – stops that process. A placid domesticity descends and draws a curtain across that glimpsed, tantalising world. But oh the discipline that takes. Or good habits. Or failing that, someone else insisting that dinner goes ahead on time. Which is where the June wedding comes in. We weren't meant to be able to do everything ourselves, and marriage, whatever else it may be, is a project of mutual reconstruction.
Something good is lost in a makeover
That television talent show that's on – we've all seen the lady with the hair who sings. She looks a bit like me below the chin. They say she's going to have a makeover. I suppose you would, if you suddenly found yourself in that other world on the bright side of the camera.
When she looks like everyone else we'll find out whether she can sing or not. It was such a surprise to hear such a voice coming out of such a hairstyle that no one was really listening.
Success does it to everyone, and we gladly go along with it. When Roseanne Barr was discovered, she looked unlike anything we'd ever seen before. Not to put too fine a point on it, she looked like a pig. That was the great thing – she didn't look as though she'd be allowed on television.
Over the next short period she lost weight, took advantage of thickening agents that plump AND shine the hair, and presumably had more work done on her superstructure than a Venetian studio did for the Three Graces. She certainly adds to the stock of beauty in the world, but some of us do perversely miss the original pig.
Here's why authority figures had it coming
There is something going on in this MPs' expenses scandal; some as yet unidentified, underlying driver. People have been angrier than the facts warrant. Why? Is it part of a wider feeling? High street bankers let us down. Regulators let the world down. Credit rating agencies betrayed every investor. Interest rates make a mockery of years of savings discipline. The Catholic church has done things to Irish orphans that can't be printed. And, bingeing on modern luxuries, we've all let ourselves down.
We don't like to look too closely at that last one, so we're taking it out on authority figures all through society. Boy, are they taking a hammering, and the more we find out, the heavier the hammer.
Freedom of information is going to intensify all this. We've yet to find out how councils treat their rate-payers' money, and why paper-pushing quango chiefs get what they do, and how the entire administrative class have taken advantage of their position to award themselves pensions and salaries for work that very probably doesn't need doing.
We all project our own pet theories onto the crisis. For my part, I like to think the anger derives from a feeling that we've just been pushed about too much, too directed, too intricately and intimately governed for the last decade. Too many targets, instructions, initiatives. They're at us all the time with their insistent, passionate ambitions.
If that's true, the anger is also saying: leave us alone because you just aren't that important. You can't create your utopia, so pipe down and do those modest things you are able to do. Meanwhile we'll try and pay off our mortgages, educate our children, save for our retirement and die in due course – whether earlier or later than you think we should.Reuse content