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Solo Twister, fried chicken and good old heterosexual tactility in Susan’s diary this week…

‘Rebecca – 3 miles away’ keeps popping up on my computer screen, looking for a date – I’m just trying to work out why. I understand that men have occasionally been known to feel attracted to women. I’m not sure I’d fancy Lord Rennard playing footsie with me, though I may well be flattered by the attention. Pervs and misogynists aside, what’s wrong with a bit of good old heterosexual tactility?

Some years ago, at a lunch at the House of Lords, I was persistently kicked under the table by my host. The first nudge of brogue-toed shoe against stockinged shin was somewhat soup-spluttering – but I was soon battling to restrain giggles, whilst conducting a serious conversation with a totally straight-faced Japanese businessman. It reminded me of being back at school.

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As did the huge lunch I had the other day at a pub called The Crabtree (in the same street as the River Café, where for a huge amount of money I could have enjoyed a more minimalist and certainly much tastier meal). I was with a girlfriend who lives around three miles away (no, not Rebecca).  My friend really should write a blog, as she’s quite an authority on food issues – or at least issues she has with food. She informed me that Waitrose use halal lamb in their readymade meals, without ever mentioning so on the packaging. She also volunteers at a food bank run by a charity. People on benefits are given vouchers they can use there. One chap came in his car to collect two weeks’ worth of food. Another woman with Afro hair extensions and elaborately manicured nails was annoyed that they’d run out of disposable nappies for her three year old.

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Meantime, according to The Mirror, more than 7000 adults in Britain are being paid sickness benefits because they are too fat to work. The taxpayers’ bill for their welfare payments came to £28 billion last year. Last week a leading doctor suggested that obese children should be offered stomach surgery.  Having been a chubby child myself (with all the associated bullying) I feel well qualified to comment on this subject. My own obesity was largely due to pure greed – though my parents’ attempt to love me to death may also have been a contributory factor.

And my response to endless taunts of ‘fatso’ was to become a fitness fanatic. My weekly exercise regime now includes two bouts of pure torture – one, branded as bootcamp pilates, uses something called a ‘reformer’ machine to stretch the body into submission; the other, a dynamic yoga class, is strictly for die-hard (as well they might) yoga enthusiasts. Last week, I received an intriguing email from the House of Yoga, inviting me to a ‘flying into arm balancing workshop.’ Having recently had a cortisone injection in one shoulder, I wasn’t tempted, though it looks rather fun – a bit like playing Twister… by yourself. I just hope state funding is still available to replace multiple joints in my body when that time indubitably comes.

A healthy dose of of constructive criticism may help more of us get off our fat arses. Parents should be educated on what constitutes wholesome food and sensible portion sizes -  and it would also help if school exercise sessions were regular, and fun. How about Zumba-style dance classes and aqua aerobics? Or making exercise a daily ritual, like they do in China? Plus, compulsory home economics lessons for all. And no more glorification of chicken nuggets, please…

I managed half of the day-in-a-life of a chicken shop show the other day before switching off. As much as I wanted to cosy up to the media world’s average man on the street, I just couldn’t. I grew up eating fried chicken and chips, but soon learned better. In view of the surfeit of Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall et al on television, I’m surprised anyone is inclined to eat fast food. Is it ridiculous to suggest that horsemeat should be used to feed the poor? It’s surely more nutritious and less fattening than fried chicken?

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That being said, the Victorian poor lived on basic fats and carbs – bread, dripping, potatoes, beer and tea – but were rarely fat. And wealthy Victorians consumed gargantuan amounts of food by today’s standards, yet many lived to a ripe old age – probably with very little exercise at all.  As for hygiene standards, hedgehogs were sometimes kept in Victorian kitchens to eat insects. A dirty house was seen to produce dishonest people. I discovered this on a visit to the Charles Dickens Museum – a great place to go if you’re in central London with an hour to spare… or a bit longer, if you want to indulge in tea and cake in the adjoining café.

I enjoyed being temporarily transported back to 1837, but seeing the Dickens’ kitchen, scullery and wash house helped me appreciate the modern day luxuries we so often take for granted… In a bid to avoid the invariable grocery substitutions, I finally managed to go food shopping this week, instead of ordering online. But I opted for the convenience of home delivery – so bags of spinach arrived looking as though they’d been ironed – and Greek basil (above), as if it had been used to test aircraft engines.

Susan Muncey is a trend forecaster, blogger and founder of online curiosity shop, ShopCurious.com.

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  1. Worm on Tuesday 26, 2013

    Have you ever tried that bikram yoga Susan? The one where they turn all the heating up so everyone sweats a lot? Can’t imagine that’s much fun, but then yoga in general scares me

    • Susan on Tuesday 26, 2013

      Yes, Worm -a decade or so ago I used to go at least twice a week to Bikram Yoga. The problem I found wasn’t the sweat, but the time involved. Going to a one and a half hour class would take at least half a day due to having to get there early to bag a space in the crowded studio – then showering and hair washing afterwards. Though the sweat was also a bit of an issue, as I only gently perspire, but ended up being covered in other people’s sweat -lovely! But it’s a challenging workout.. you should try it sometime.

  2. BenSix on Tuesday 26, 2013

    She informed me that Waitrose use halal lamb in their readymade meals, without ever mentioning so on the packaging.

    I oppose this, of course, but it is also worth remembering that supermarkets do not mention on the packaging that the creatures in most of the animal products lived in tiny cages or overstuffed and airless pens.

    Plus, compulsory home economics lessons for all.

    Shameful though it is to admit, the French are way ahead of us.

    • Susan on Tuesday 26, 2013

      Wow, Ben… looks like we should be following in French footsteps on this occasion.

  3. George on Tuesday 26, 2013

    28 billion quid / 7000 hefty recipients is 4 million quid per person. I’m thinking that maybe I shouldn’t be restraining myself at the breakfast and lunch buffets where I am this week, though I suppose a transatlantic flight would be uncomfortable at the target weight.

    • Worm on Tuesday 26, 2013

      George, we have an airline boss over here (Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, who is famed for his abrasive outbursts) who said of obese passengers: “Nobody wants to sit beside a really fat bastard on board. We have been frankly astonished at the number of customers who don’t only want to tax fat people but torture them.”

      • George on Tuesday 26, 2013

        O’Leary’s fame has reached the US. Do his customers want to use a “reformer machine” on the fat people in their row?

    • Peter on Tuesday 26, 2013

      George, I think that figure must include the cost of all the dieticians, consultants, counsellors, activists, educators and bureaucrats we pay to tell them over and over and over again that salad is better for them than deep-fried Mars Bars.

      I realize this is a serious problem, but must the sinners all be frogmarched to boot camp? The zeal of some of these helpful fixers who clearly can’t wait to beat down doors to police other peoples’ kitchens is scary.

  4. Mahlerman on Tuesday 26, 2013

    In the grey days of the mid to late 50′s when I was in short trousers, the first pots of yogurt arrived at the Co-op, and my mother decided to take my sister and I to look at this stuff from another civilization across the sea. She didn’t want to buy any (after all, who would want to eat rancid milk), just look at it. On the way back she went into Mr Harris’ butcher’s shop and bought some horse. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to do, and when we got home, I guess because we didn’t have a fridge, she set about cutting and pulverizing this pink flesh (could it have been pony?) into something we would soon be expected to eat, and did. Interestingly (I hope) Mr Harris was by some measure the most affluent gentleman around our area, and as a result had a 14″ (careful!) Echo TV on which we saw the Coronation a few years earlier, Mr Harris being a sharing kind of person.
    Later at ‘big school’ we were regularly given horse and venison (yes Fidel, it wasn’t Bash Street) and I can’t remember thinking it was odd; it was probably cheap. Am I alone in thinking that the present furore has become a big silly?

    • Recusant on Tuesday 26, 2013

      No, Mahlerman, you’re not. Especially when you consider that the BBC seems to believe that it is more important than a hospital – and we know that one hospital is the tip of a very large iceberg – killing 1,200 of its patients.

  5. George on Tuesday 26, 2013

    As for the skinny Victorians, I once noticed in an American medical reference (The Physician’s Desk Reference) something called “Dickensian syndrome” or “fat boy syndrome”, after the fat boy in The Pickwick Papers, namely obesity that causes drowsiness because of the burden on the cardiovascular system. And some of the Victorian rich got hefty, too–the Prince of Wales, for example.

  6. Susan on Tuesday 26, 2013

    I’ve no idea how £28 billion crept in, George! I meant to say £28 million… it must have been a slip of the finger – here is a link to the original article. However, if I’m not mistaken, I did hear something on the news today about diabetes care now costing the NHS £18 billion a year.

    Talking of Victorian physique, Queen Victoria wasn’t exactly slim either…

  7. Gaw on Tuesday 26, 2013

    I may be getting this wrong, but I don’t think it’s the alleged footsie per se that’s the problem in the Rennard situation. It’s the alleged footser proferring his footsie to a person whom he had power over – in some cases he was in the position to give the footsee what they most wanted in their career, such as a parliamentary seat. The substantive problem is one of abuse of power rather than lechery.

    This may also be the most serious aspect of the Scottish former Cardinal’s alleged lechery, i.e. the abuse of his position of absolute authority over junior priests.

    I think these grounds provide an interesting insight into our approach to morality nowadays.

    • Susan on Tuesday 26, 2013

      Agreed re: the abuse of authority, Gaw – though from what I’ve heard, Rennard’s behaviour sounds lecherous. I guess a lecher would hump anyone – help or non-help, so it’s not just about power or control? And the lure of power can also be very seductive… It’s funny how many underlings end up in relationships with their master – thinking of the secretary (or PA or whatever they’re called these days) and boss scenario – a fair few of whom no doubt end up happily married. Or the female diva and her ‘dancer’ (like Madonna etc)