Lunch and a little light bulimia with friends splendid extravagance of true bulimia The private joys of high living and bulimia The great thing about bulimia Little things who miss so much A better way to throw a dinner party

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
LIKE so many persons of Culture - the late Sir Harold Acton for instance or my old flame, the late Lady Diana Cooper - I am not a great reader of newspapers. Why bother? I am more the timeless classic man myself. Frankly, I prefer to read the works of Jane Austen. 1996 is firmly marked down as a Mansfield Park year, the year in which I have promised myself to plough through that neglected minor classic. And if I cannot quite find the time for it in 1996, you have my solemn word that 1997 will not pass without giving it at least a brief browse.

To the point, Wallace, to the point! One or two newspapers have, indeed, caught my eye o'er the past fortnight; sad to say, they seem engaged in the discussion of one issue and one issue alone. I refer of course to bulimia. For my older readers, this is not a foreign country due east of Hungary (!!!) but an eating disease or "disorder" as we must learn to call it in these more caring (dread word!) days.

To be perfectly frank, I prefer to know it as less a disease or disorder, but more of a hobby. It is certainly a practice that has been known and enjoyed among the upper classes for as long as I can remember. I am at present engaged in editing The Oxford Book of Bulimia for publication early next year, and I have discovered a wealth of delightful bulimic material, from the memoirs, diaries and letters of what used to be known as the Aristocracy

"Darling Bobo," wrote Lady Diana Cooper to Bobo "Bobbety" Bodkins, Countess of South Mimms, in 1937, just two short years before the outbreak of the Second World War, "I have this minute completed a delicious luncheon of a Warm Salad of Gooseliver with a Citrus Fruit Butter Sauce followed by a delightful Lobster cooked in Caraway Seed Oil with Shallots and Dry Muscat Wine flavoured with Paprika and finishing with Brie de Meaux filled with Mascarpone Cheese and Chopped Truffles. Utterly heavenly! And now I am beetling off to the lavvie for a quick `T.U'* before eating the whole lot again! Big Kiss from your Beloved Coo-Coo."

Enchanting! In fact my sources inform me that the reason Lady Diana C used to wear those gloriously large hats of hers was so that, in the midst of attending a particularly grand meal or "function", she could discreetly remove the hat, swiftly "perform her doings" into it and then order the entire menu again without a soul noticing. But that was the way things were done in those days: discreetly and without the song-and- dance that nowadays attends all those who enjoy a jolly good tuck-in followed by a jolly good tuck-in.

Strictly entre nous, within the lofty portals of the Garrick Club, a group of us has recently formed a small coterie to give the much-abused hobby of bulimia a less negative and more "today" sort of image. Too often, the media have played down the positive aspects of bulimia, displaying endless photographs of skinnymalinkses, none of whom look as if they could down more than as dozen tubes of Pringles (haven't you tried them? oh but you must!) without leaving the lavatory in a state of disarray. No names, no pack drill, but the Garrick Bulimia Circle now numbers two former Ambassadors, at least one serving Minister, two past Secretaries of State, three High Court Judges, three publishers, an actor (OBE), a couple of QCs and no less than four distinguished authors, including one former Booker Prize winner.

Together, we take over the centre table of the dining-room for an early luncheon on the first Thursday of each month. We consume a hearty repast - Potted Shrimps, Steak-and-Kidney Pie, Steam Pud, Stilton, the lot - before summoning that adorable little Spanish underwaiter whose name I forget. Then, while one or other of us regales the assembled company with wickedly amusing anecdotes about the Great and the Good, the Spanish underwaiter - let us call him Fernando - shimmers around the table, discreetly placing his right thumb and forefinger down each successive diner's throat, catching the results on a silver bucket especially suited to the purpose. Hey Presto! His tour of duty completed, we are once again ready to order, and the Potted Shrimps come round a second time, never more tasty.

"Disorder", my foot! Bulimia is an age-old pastime, and, as a Nation, we can ill-afford to lose one of our most charming traditions.

* "T.U." - literally, "Throw up"