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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Enough is as good as a Feast?

The theme for this generalised moan is the topic of over-indulgence.  Or rather, I should say, the concept that seems to have taken hold that we are all, in some form or other (and my form definitely comes in the ‘or other’ category), over-indulging.

What particularly irks me (and it doesn’t take a lot these days) is the idea that things that are necessary for survival, such as food and drink, can be labelled as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  To my mind, there is no such thing as ‘bad’ food.  If you were starving in a desert (and it’s always a desert for some reason, isn’t it) and a hamburger van drove up, you wouldn’t stop to debate whether this dietary choice was likely to be ‘good’ for you.  You would devour all of his/her wares with gusto (it’s like tomato sauce, only spicier) probably along with the tyres from the van and the proprietor, if he/she didn’t move fast enough.  All food is ‘good’ for you, in the sense that the absence of food is most definitely bad for you.  Yet we continue to beat ourselves up over every mouthful.

I suppose I should hasten to add that I am not a fantastic advert for the beneficial effects of a well-balanced diet.  My face appears to have gone into the chin-breeding business, my belt is fighting a losing battle with my girth and my forehead is racing toward the nape of my neck and destroying everything in its wake.  At this rate I will be able to frown at people standing directly behind me.  I accept (grudgingly) that most, if not all, of these effects are the result of a lethal combination of over-indulgence and sloth, rather than some form of biblical visitation (such as Job had to put up with).  My appearance is largely (and depressingly) a direct result of choices I have made.

Nowadays, we seem to be chivvied into making the ‘right’ choices by an unholy alliance of the government (who are trying to save money on healthcare – politicians of all stripes would happily see the populace dying in the streets if they could be sure that it wouldn’t impact on the healthcare system and we could bury ourselves as we fell), the media (who spend most of their time worrying the healthy and making programmes about the grotesquely unhealthy) and society in general (which tends to work on the assumption that ‘if it feels good…then you’re probably enjoying yourself far too much’)

Things that we should avoid, which are ‘bad’ for us, join an ever-growing list on a daily basis.  It seems that every time that I switch on the morning news there, on the sofa, will be a GP (who has really hit the gravy train) telling us that if we want to see the end of next week we should avoid whatever the particular peril of the day is (probably gravy).  All of this, I suspect, accounts for the preponderance of young girls, in my office, forlornly fishing beansprouts, rice and/or assorted greenery from their plastic lunchboxes instead of tucking in to a solid sandwich or a filled baguette.  Nothing will persuade me that this is a lifestyle choice made with a glad heart.  It all looks so boring!

To be fair, I rather suspect that there is something in the British psyche that secretly rather enjoys being told what to do, and suffering for it in silence.  Take rationing for instance.  I don’t have direct experience of this, as the last items on ration were derestricted in the year I was born (I take no credit for this, I just point it out and let others draw their own conclusions).  Apparently, the diet foisted on the Great British Public at that time was extremely healthy.  No-one starved (although I would imagine that mealtimes were pretty tedious – but then, so are beansprouts in a plastic box) and many look back on those days with fond memories.  It seems that, ever since, we have been stuffing our faces presumably in fear of rationing ever returning, but with increasing pangs of guilt.

The same is true of drinking.  Generations of Brits had been raised in the belief that it was pre-ordained that the boozers shut at 10.30 in the week and 11.00 on Fridays and Saturdays, and we all drank to this strict timetable.  When our beloved leaders decided that this was ridiculous (which it was) and we should have more liberal licensing laws, I imagine they fondly believed that we would adopt the continental approach to drinking.  Perhaps a pastis before lunch and a glass of red wine with our evening meal?  Not hordes of red-faced, slightly swaying imbibers continuing to drink at the same pace as they did when the pubs closed at 10.30, but with no discernible end in sight (which can be another problem of over-indulgence).  Yet our experience of the British abroad should have warned us what to expect.  Faced with endless (a) Sun, (b) Sangria and (c) Sand (anything else beginning with ‘S’ being right out due to the cumulative effect of (a) and (b) and the combined effect of friction and (c)), the average Brit attempts to cram as much as possible of (a) and (b) into their all too brief holiday.  It is as if a sort of challenge overcomes us as soon as we arrive on foreign soil, which is why you will see lines of heavily hung-over (or still inebriated) Brits at every Spanish airport, shuffling morosely toward the check-in desk, reeking of after-sun and after-Sangria, and proudly wearing T-shirts sporting such legends as:

Born to Boogie
Burnt to B*gg*ry
Espana, 2010
We seem to need parameters.  Within our known confines we can behave relatively sensibly, because we know our (and Society’s) limitations.  Look at how readily the smoking in public places ban has been adopted.  Without these borderlines, we seem to lose all sense of self-control.  Common sense (if there is such a thing) should tell us that a diet of premium lager, fish and chips and a side order of doughnuts, may have adverse effects on our appearance and longevity, but since when was common sense any fun?  None of these elements are ‘bad’ for us, if consumed from time to time (and not time after time after time).  It is only our innate puritan streak that tells us we should feel guilty about what we consume and which causes us to kick over the traces the moment we escape from the twin barriers of legislation and peer pressure in the UK.

I’m not sure what the answer is to all of this, if indeed there is one or needs to be one.  Perhaps the beansprout-eating young ladies are an indication of a more sensible and liberated generation to come, which I would love to believe if I was not sure that, faced with a box of chocolates, they would descend on them like a ravening horde, all the while saying “I shouldn’t really be eating these you know”.

Thanks for asking, yes I’ll have a pint of lager and a packet of crisps, please.  On second thoughts, better make that a pint of low-alcohol, sugar-reduced lager and a packet of sea-salt dusted, fat-free shapes formed from organic potato pieces.  Oh, what the hell, give me a jug of Sangria and a sun-lamp and pass me that T-shirt, I’m feeling continental!

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA.  You can find this story, along with a host of others, in the new bumper collection of stories Crutches For Ducks at or at