Monday, 26 October 2009

It's official – we lardies need to be a protected species

When I first started this blog I swore that it wasn't going to be devoted to any one issue and it certainly wasn't going to be a platform from which I could rail against the myriad indignities visited upon the obese. Hannah Jones's blog, Diary of a Diet (an off-shoot of her Western Mail column) already does this brilliantly, with real humanity and humour.

What I wanted was the freedom to comment on any issue that interested me, whether that was some new artistic creation or a political issue. Yet increasingly I find myself drawn back towards the issue of fattism.

Fattism. It's a word that's difficult to say without an ironic inflection. Even I can't think of it without recalling the Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch in which an indignant Mel Smith claimed that he was going to “squeeze out of the closet” to stand up for his rights.

Still, it's difficult to find anything very funny about the violence experienced by 53 year-old Marsha Coupe, a London-based marketing manager, who was recently beaten up during a train journey by a woman whose central philosophy seemed to be that lardies shouldn't be allowed on public transport. Coupe reported that her attacker, obviously a Rene Descartes de nos jours, opened the bidding by shouting, “Hey fattie! You shouldn't be on the train, you need two seats.” Coupe sustained extensive bruising to her face and neck and at one point worried that she would lose an eye.

Unpleasant as Coupe's ordeal was, one could perhaps dismiss the incident as the actions of a lone nutter. If it hadn't been her size that provoked violence it might have been her race, religion, accent or the size of her nose. That's the way I'd have viewed it, anyway, if my mate Gwilym hadn't sent me a link to the report on the Daily Mail website, advising me to read the comments afterwards. The incident itself was nauseating enough, but the readers' opinions were far, far worse. I would estimate that at least three-quarters of them considered that Coupe had provoked the attack by being fat. The general tone was that perhaps she would now care to take stock of her life, acknowledge how repulsive she is and take this opportunity to reduce her size in order to avoid future violence.

The invective employed by some readers was so hateful that I actually laughed out loud in disbelief. It is outrageous that a middle-aged woman, guilty of no more than being overweight and using public transport to travel home from work, should be set upon by some kind of vicious, violent chav and then subjected to a second round of abuse via the equally dull-witted readers of a tabloid.

It's almost as if, denied the chance to beat up Jews, Muslims, gays and the entire Asian and Afro-Caribbean populations of Britain, the great unwashed are focusing all their pent-up aggression on the obese.

At this point I must confess that I have been dismissive of attempts to have the obese classified as a protected group. It seems absurd to imagine that being a bit lardy might put you in the same category as vulnerable people who really need the assistance of the law, yet this incident has changed my mind. A group of overweight women is now lobbying Boris Johnson to make London a fat-friendly city in the manner of San Francisco.

Coupe says, “London prides itself on being diverse yet there is almost a zero-tolerance on anyone of size. You cannot walk the streets without being verbally or physically assaulted.”

As little as six months ago I would have pooh-poohed this attitude - but now...?

In the same week, the media carried the story of an overweight couple who saw one of their children taken into care because it too was overweight. While I would argue that perhaps British social services might be better employed preventing abuse cases like the notorious Baby P and Victoria Climbie debacles or taking care of sprogs whose parents' addiction to drugs and alcohol meant that they were temporarily or permanently incapable of being in charge, the media predictably disagreed. India Knight even went so far as to posit that “allowing” your child to be obese is “a form of child abuse.”

I'd love her to meet my mum. My money would be on Knight being KO'd in the first round.

Of course, if one's offspring is overweight there is only one explanation: you're force-feeding it. Like a goose being readied for the foie gras market my parents strapped me to a dining chair and stuffed vast quantities of pie and chips down my cavernous maw and then carried me from my chair to bed so that I wouldn't use up any calories on even this pitiful bit of exercise.

Actually the truth is that, like most children of my generation brought up in a safe, rural area I was encouraged to spend as much time as possible out of doors. Unlike my classmates, however, my food intake was carefully monitored and pies, chips and cakes were a rare treat, not a daily staple.

Funnily enough, many of my friends existed on a diet that would have reduced my mother to tears, yet miraculously remained as thin as greyhounds.

The narrator of John Banville's The Sea (admittedly a ferociously unpleasant individual) states that he finds it impossible to imagine that anyone could be fat, yet not stupid. Stated baldly, this sounds shocking, yet the ladies and gentlemen of the British press seem to hold such an opinion as gospel.

We're not asking for much, we lardies. We know that we'll never make it onto the cover of Vogue (even the redoubtable Oprah Winfrey was obliged to lose some weight before being afforded that dubious honour) and we know that we'll never be photographed falling out of a nightclub at three in the morning with our celebrity partner (most London nightclubs ban obese people anyway).

We'd mostly be quite happy being clever and waspish in the background. Yes, quite a lot of us are clever. Very clever. Obviously not quite as mentally gifted as towering intellectuals like Cheryl Cole, Alesha Dixon and Victoria Beckham who seem to have no problem in gaining maximum exposure, but we do our best.

All that we ask is for the right to roam the streets without being assaulted and told it's our own fault.

For some, maybe, it will seem absurd to place the obese in the same category as homosexuals and racial minorities, but if it's no longer safe for us to venture out of the house without fear of a beating, then perhaps it is finally time that we acknowledged that we need the full protection of the law.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Roman (“make mine a teen”) Polanski

First, a confession; I rate Roman Polanski as one of the all-time great movie directors. He might not move and obsess me quite as much as David Lynch, Ken Russell or Lindsay Anderson but he's one of the biggies of the cinema, that's for sure. Polanski on a really bad day is still several thousand times better than just about anything that is currently being puked out by Hollywood and when he's good he's practically angelic.

But do I think he should be let off his statutory rape charge with a slapped wrist? Er, no, actually and I don't think that the cavalcade of luvvies (which sadly includes David Lynch) who signed a letter requesting clemency have done themselves any favours either. Polanski, like many in the movie business, has a moral compass that clearly needs realigning and boasts a casting couch with more stains and threadbare patches than most. Now in his seventies he is a calmer, more serene individual than he was in his youth, but even a trial presided over by a dodgy judge doesn't excuse his inability to face up to his punishment.

I am all for the attitude of one of my friends, a big-time Benjamin Britten fan, who was outraged by Humphrey Carpenter’s 1992 biography of the composer in which Carpenter argued that Britten’s genius excused his paedophiliac tendencies. In my friend’s eyes genius is no free pass to criminal behaviour, nor should it ever be. But will Britten’s private life stop him from buying tickets to the next London production of The Turn of the Screw? Definitely not.

Yet there is a bigger villain in the Polanski case, namely the mother of Samantha Geimer who put her daughter in jeopardy by encouraging her to meet Polanski in the first place. Old Romek's penchant for young girls was well known and the fact that the meeting was to take place in the home of that renowned sleazeball, Jack Nicholson should have set her maternal alarm bells ringing.

Just look at the keywords here: teenage girl, modelling aspirations, Roman Polanski, Jacuzzi, Jack Nicholson, photography. Does it look anything other than salacious to you?

If a mother takes her baby from its crib and leaves it on the motorway the motorist who hits it is in a practical sense the person who killed it, but is he more culpable than the mother who left it in harm's way in the first place?

I think not.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

This bullying must stop!

Q: When is bullying not really bullying?
A: When it's being done FOR YOUR OWN GOOD!

This is a philosophy with which I'm painfully familiar. Blame seven years spent in a girls' boarding school in the 1970s.

Every so often one would encounter a fellow pupil, sometimes but by no means always older than oneself, who would feel morally obliged to point out in a spirit of concerned frankness that one was a fat, useless, boss-eyed freak. This information was offered merely in a spirit of concern that without intervention this state of fat, useless, boss-eyed freakiness would extend to adulthood. However, armed with the knowledge of one's mental, physical and spiritual inferiority one might feel moved to effect improvements.

This is pretty much what one might expect of a group of bitchy teenage girls. Yet this week cancer campaigner Lynn Faulds Wood revealed that she has begun to approach lardies in the street and ask them whether they are aware that their vast bulk will shorten their lives by 10 years. I am loath to have too much of a go at the otherwise wholly admirable Faulds Wood, but there is something of the school prefect about her and I can well imagine her treading the streets of Edinburgh or Glasgow to upbraid innocent passers-by with her brisk schtick.

My first thought was that she had chosen her victims carefully. My experience of my fellow lardies is that we are generally quite a meek and shame-faced bunch, ground down by a lifetime of being bullied at school and thereafter absorbing quite horrific abuse from family members, ersatz friends and various members of the medical profession, not to mention the constant bombardment of unattainable – or at least unsustainable - media images. No doubt Faulds Wood considers us to be a burden on the NHS, but most lardies that I know (myself included) would sooner die quietly at home than go to a doctor's surgery. One specialist to whom I was referred in the 1980s (for a suspected kidney infection, in case you're wondering) suggested that I seriously consider a stomach-stapling operation, a procedure which at that time had already resulted in the deaths of several women by septicaemia. When I pointed out its dangers he said, “But surely it would be better to be dead than to look the way you do.”

So, Faulds Wood, I know your game. You are picking on the already ground-down and dispirited rather than tackling people whose lifestyles really are harming their communities. I note that she is not promising to hang out with street gangs in South-East London to warn them of the folly of using guns and knives, or approaching lairy teenage girls falling out of pubs and suggesting that they give up the booze that could well result in chlamydia, unwanted pregnancies and exploding livers by the age of 30. Why doesn't she spend her time sorting out the drug addicts that keep local dealers busy and also do a roaring trade for the neighbourhood pimp, whose “girls” are obliged to sell themselves to pay for their heroin habits? This would really be doing a valuable service. I could also name scores of families whose lives have been ruined by the troops of feral youths that roam inner-city areas and create havoc. What about rounding them up?

The truth is that Faulds Wood's cojones ain't that big. She might have the chutzpah to collar Tracy Turnblad, but I bet she would blanch at the thought of bearding Wayne and Waynetta Slob.

On a more positive note I think that this is a campaign that we could all join; just choose your special interest group and start doorstepping. I'm thinking of tackling the appalling problem of mingers on the street. I'll hang around until I see someone who looks like Jimmy Nail or Mick Hucknall, then I'll go up to them and say, “Did you know that with looks like yours you could probably get cosmetic surgery on the NHS?”

So here's my challenge: why not come to Estepona, Lynn? I can promise you that if you try any of your evangelical crap with me I'll cut your life short by considerably more than 10 years.