Super Size Max

Time was it was cool to mock the afflicted. When I was younger I would laugh at fat people on TV and in my social circle, and I’d quote Renton’s line from Trainspotting: that he didn’t see the issue as glandular or metabolic, because there were no fat people in famine newsreels, and did they not have glands in Ethiopia? At that time I was hovering between eight and nine stone despite profligate dietary and drinking habits: microwaveable Spar burgers, prairie dogs, all-day breakfast in a can, chicken chow mein, donor kebabs, Mountain Dew, Smirnoff, Heineken, Shiraz – all of pounded into shreds by a ruthless metabolism. Even as recently as last year I was arguing for gastric band surgery to be taken out of public funding.

How things come around! I’ve just noticed that, at twenty-nine, I’m carrying  a visible gut, and the scales and BMI calculators confirm it: I am officially overweight at a bloated 26.2. As Gregory Riding says in Success: I am one of you now. How did this happen?

I know how it happened though. For someone who spends most of his spare time writing weight gain is as much an occupational hazard as mental illness. Bloggers are particularly at risk: Richard Seymour, I am reliably informed, now covers an area the size of Darlington.

For the same reasons that you can drink all night and go into work without a trace of a hangover as a young man. And I’m also remembering a time, just out of uni, seeing a guy carrying a cake on a train somewhere in Yorkshire, a scene that should have been amusing but wasn’t because of the poor quality of his dress, the premature age in his face and the possessive intensity of his expression. Looking back, this seemed to be the beginning of my general cynicism about humanity and the anger and corrosive aggression in my political outlook. Physically and emotionally, you’re more susceptible to the badness of the world. A backlog builds up, and one day it hits you. Sorry, son, but the bar is closing and your credit limit was breached long ago. Still, what exactly is it that changes? Is it that after a certain age you lose your naivety and invincibility? Or is it just that your own disillusionment and interior hard feeling begins to cover everything?

I now understand why people obsess about food and what it does to you. My weight isn’t noticeable unless you’re looking for it, but if I don’t rein it in I’ll end up looking like Tony Soprano. And that’s just the superficial aspects. The longterm risks include type two diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, even cancer.

I now understand the policy concerns. On the issue of food and public health, I’m happy to be an ASH-style puritan. A teacher friend of mine tells me that kids routinely bring in lunchboxes filled with crap: bottles of coke, Dairy Milk bars, mini Mars bars. More and more, we work in sedentary positions: the last call centre I worked in had vending machines full of McCoys and industrial size jelly baby bags and servers dispensing carbohydrate bombs from heated trays. I’m thinking of the Thatcherite politico Henry Winshaw in What a Carve Up!, boasting that his government is going to scrap free school meals: ‘a whole generation of children from working-class or low-income families will be eating nothing but crisps and chocolate every day. Which means, in the end, that they’ll grow up physically weaker and mentally slower… As every general knows, the secret of winning any war is to demoralise the enemy.’

Still, it’s the superficial aspects that concern me. I mean, I may be morally degenerate, a spiritual nullity and emotionally unstable, but I always considered myself handsome. Without my looks, what am I? What will I become?

I’ve always ran and worked out but apparently this isn’t enough, I will have to cut down on food intake as well. It is going to be difficult because there’s another hard winter coming. You could lock me in a room with my iTunes and laptop and books, throw in a bucket of fishheads every now and again, and I’d be fine until March. I still smoke, which is generally a good appetite suppressant; I wonder if there’s a connection between the crackdown on smoking and the rise in obesity. I could of course give up drinking altogether, but some pleasures – the South Manchester bar scene, the first pint of a long week, the glass of wine with Philip Roth or Mad Men – you can’t forgo, whatever the cost.

Also: Contra my review of Carl Neville’s Classless: Recent Essays on British Film, I have been told that most of Happy Go Lucky is filmed in Camden, where property prices are very high. So maybe Leigh’s film is not so representative of contemporary London after all.

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