Last week Channel 5 screened a documentary entitled Benefits: Too Fat to Work which, I confess, I didn't watch. Being part of a group that is subjected to probably more clickbait articles and TV programmes than any other (being fat in contemporary Britain makes you feel about as popular as an imam on Fox News), I thought that I'd pass. Admittedly some programmes are well-intentioned and genuinely do set out to inform and help those of us who regularly clog up the NHS with our vast, wobbly bottoms and multiple chins, but this didn't seem like one of the good ones. In fact, a combination of benefits and obesity seemed calculated to press all the wrong buttons: “The benefits cheats are back – and this time they're GARGANTUAN!”
Given the obviously prejudicial nature of this latest salvo against fatties, I was amazed to read that The Guardian's TV reviewer, Euan Ferguson considered that, “Fat people have been dealt with down the years by most major channels with surprising empathy...” I must confess that that statement caused me to LOL, long and loudly. Firstly, Mr. F, I would ask you to put yourself in my shoes and ask how you would like to spend even a week in a world where you were seen merely as a problem that needs solving? That, in itself, is dispiriting enough without being almost single-handedly held responsible for the parlous condition of the U.K.'s health system.
There is no doubt that there are more overweight people around these days and this is clearly worrying health professionals, but is it really so surprising? Since I left Britain in the middle of 1982 the whole country has changed beyond recognition: the idea of a job for life is merely a distant memory and, for those of us who are lucky enough to have a job or at least enough work to cover our basic bills, life is a constant battle to grab some time. I certainly didn't sign up to work this hard for so little return – in basic terms, I must work long and hard to earn an amount of money that is an inadequate return for my experience and effort, BUT it is better than nothing. However, it does mean that I don't have a lot of time to spend making my own dinner from scratch. Basically, people buy a lot of ready-to-microwave food because it buys them a few extra minutes, as does driving to work, even when the office might be within reasonable walking distance. These days, more than ever, time is money.
Despite being a lardy I am, however, a non-smoking teetotaller. It's not a course of action that I would recommend for everyone, but it works well for me. Many of my friends drink considerably more than me and I can only say good luck to them if they enjoy it and their systems can tolerate it. The advantage that heavy drinkers have, of course, is that – unless they have descended into full-blown alcoholism – they can turn up for work on Monday morning with a clean slate. Unless their employer has actually witnessed the Friday night carnage and seen them lying in the middle of the street in a puddle of vomit and wee, they are free to carry on. I have no objection to this and can boast at least one great-grandfather who continued merrily pickling his liver and nicotining his lungs into very old age with few apparent ill effects.
However, I am obliged to ask where all the clickbait documentaries about binge drinking are? Certainly we can rely on the annual news reports every December when the office party season swings into action and the vomit comets line up on the street to bus all the revellers to A&E but when it comes to regular, unsubtle hate-mongering it definitely seems that the drinker is of less interest than the fatso.
Yet neither, I would posit, is the true reason for the imminent collapse of the NHS.
When the system was set up in 1948 the job for life was a reality, not a vague historical concept and most adults worked, therefore regularly paying to support this new “free at the point of delivery” lifeline. Furthermore, the population was roughly half of what it is today, the number of services that could be offered by the NHS was very limited (no MRI scans and open heart surgery, for instance) and life expectancy was lower – much lower. Despite continually being told that we are digging our graves with our teeth, we are nonetheless living beyond the point at which we can possibly enjoy a decent quality of life, with conditions like Alzheimer's and senile dementia felling many long before death. At the same time less money is flooding into the kitty because fewer people are earning enough money to enable them to pay taxes and help with supporting the health system.
THAT is the problem.
Still, I would be more willing to accept Euan Ferguson's verdict on Benefits: Too Fat to Work had he not fallen for this bit of blatant prejudice. Discussing the people featured on the programme he revealed, “But I didn’t hate them – although, granted, I wouldn’t have queued to stick my nose into their fragrant armpit-geysers.” The worst thing about fat people is that they SMELL, of course. Fat people – don'tcha just hate them? They sweat cobs and they stink like pigs. At the age of 54 I am old enough to remember the bad old days when it was said that Asian and black people smelled. Since then I have heard that old people smell really bad too and now it's the lardies' turn. On one occasion I had the pleasure to be told by an acquaintance that I should be sure always to shower at least twice a day because, “Fat people smell really bad.” Sadly, this chain-smoker failed to apply the same strict criteria to her own hygiene regime, so she invariably ponged like an old ashtray.
As I look at The Guardian's website I note that they are no less guilty of whipping up hatred than any of the red tops. At the bottom of Euan Ferguson's TV review I am invited to read articles entitled, “Obesity plan could cost shoppers dear”, “Young pioneers in the frontline of NHS battle against obesity” and “The bulk of the nation”.
We have already seen violent crimes committed against other hate figures in our population – how long will it be before we see the first against the obese?