Let me start by putting my podgy little hand up – the one not ferreting fervently through a big box of Belgian chocs, that is. Starting out positively sylph-like, I’ve reached a size 18 at the age of 56 solely through lack of discipline and love of pleasure.
I have no time for people (except those with proven medical conditions) who pretend that it is generally otherwise. Nevertheless, I’m not attached to my flab in any way but the most obvious. I despise the Righteous Fat. (The Righteous Thin are bad enough, all that running around, sweating and smelling, and somehow believing that it means something.) Though I could afford any amount of liposuction and gastric bands, I cling to my fat, impervious to the medically proven reasons why I should lose it through physical jerks and/or cosmetic works. I suspect that the (big) bottom line is that I’m just not convinced that a life with less fat would be more fun.
Still, I can’t help but know the reasons why I should want to lose weight.
- I’ll be healthier: possible, but unlikely. I’m never ill. In fact, I’ve come near to being struck off the registers of my GP practices in the last three places I’ve lived because I visited them so rarely that they believed I’d left town.
- I’ll live longer: likely, but I don’t particularly want to make very old bones. Dementia is now the top killer of women — 32,000 a year — and it’s not a fate I’m keen to save myself for. As Kingsley Amis put it, ‘No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home at Weston-super-Mare.’
- I’ll have more sex: again, possible, but unlikely. My husband of two decades is 13 years younger than me, and when I recently read what the national sex average is, I honestly thought it was a misprint. Surely that should be per week, not per month?
- I’ll have more self-esteem: virtually impossible, and definitely undesirable.
- I’ll have bags of energy!
I must say, it’s this last one especially which makes me want to stuff soft cheese into all of my orifices and lie face down in a bed of peanut butter until I need winching through the skylight. ‘Bags of energy’ – the modern Holy Grail. And one which leaves me colder than a tub of Strawberry Cheescake Haagen-Dazs which I’ve somehow miraculously mislaid at the back of the freezer compartment.
Don’t get me wrong. I could look at pictures of Jessica Ennis-Hill all day long. Have a full-on retro-swoon over Mark Spitz each Sunday. Leave home — in my dreams — for Ben Cohen. But that’s where me and being a sport — except at the betting counter — ends. I certainly don’t want to walk for miles or — the Lord forfend! — run or jog. And it’s not being a fat slob which has made me feel this way.
When I was a teenage size eight, I saw a successful life as one in which I never had to exert myself physically in any way, except perhaps in water, in a fig-scented swimming pool somewhere hot, while my fan-club mixed martinis. To paraphrase Tarantino’s Melanie Ralston when told that smoking dope will kill her ambition, ‘Not if your ambition is to get high and watch TV.’ My ambition was to write, find love and have fun, and I haven’t yet reached a time when my weight interferes with any of them.
To add injury to insult, in 2008, after years of being misdiagnosed with gout, it turned out that my left foot was in the throes of a rare auto-immune syndrome which meant it was consuming itself: the specialist described the X-rays as ‘looking as if the very bones of the foot are moth-eaten’. I was told that amputation was an outside possibility, but that I would first be put into a hydraulic boot (the same kind David Beckham wore when he broke his metatarsal) for six months to see if the foot could heal.
Happily it did, but it left me with deformation and pain in the foot itself, and one leg an inch longer than the other, bringing with it spinal pain and disturbance of balance. But with typical glass-half-fullism, I did not wail: ‘Why me?’ Instead, I thought, ‘Ooo, good job it happened to me, who likes an excuse to be idle, and not some active young blood whose idea of kicks is getting up at the crack of dawn and running along the seafront in the rain!’
Having rationalised it thus, I duly embraced my semi-invalid status — conveniently forgetting it, of course, when there was partying to be done and fun to be had. And so, like Topsy, I just growed and growed.
But as I’ve said, I was ever thus – there was always a lazy fat broad waiting to escape from that skinny lock-up. Now at least I have a good excuse to hang around doing nothing more physically taxing than lift cake; as a teenager, the smartest and slenderest in my class, I was the despair of both my mother and my games mistress due to my sheer molten ability to exert myself in any way. While my friends all had Saturday jobs and serious ice-skating habits, I was happiest lurking in my bedroom with a book, preferably a dirty and/or pretentious one – the best possible preparation for my career as as writer which I embarked upon in my teens. Yes, I spent thirty years pursuing my career with some zeal – but the vast quantites of amphetamine and cocaine I ingested probably had a lot to do with that.
Coming out into the other side of the work tunnel, I can see how crazy that time was. Of course it was fun – but there’s not a day when I’d trade my seaside stroll for the fast life I lived then. My marriage has a lot to do with it; my first and second husbands were somewhat ‘highly-strung’, to put it politely, but my third husband of twenty years is so laid back he’s practically horizontaI, which I much prefer. And I can’t see him suited to life with the Duracell Bunny.
My day goes like this: up at 5, write till 9, volunteer till lunchtime, nice lunch out with a mate, siesta, up in time for the cocktail hour, evening with equally unenergetic husband, asleep by 10. I like my life and I don’t seek diversion from the humdrum pleasures of my humble routine. It’s no accident, I feel, that the ‘U rule of happiness’ exists – we are happiest in our schooldays (despite having to go to school, which speaks volumes) and then watch our happiness recede from our mid-twenties till the time we retire, when it comes back on for an encore shortly before we bow out. If activity equalled happiness, this wouldn’t be the case. But the long lazy school holidays and the pottering finale are our best times.
There’s lot to admire about Winston Churchill, not least the way he never mistook mindless activity for real achievement, famously saying that he owed his success in life to ‘Economy of effort – never stand up when you can sit down, never sit down when you can lie down.’ I’ll raise a glass to that – and then I’ll have a nice nap.