Your humble blogger is on a diet, a health kick, a change of lifestyle – call it what you will. Always a big chap, I have carried excess weight since my mid-thirties. The late Mrs P. used to nag me about it, with kindly intent, but I was never very concerned. Of athletic build (though with no athletic inclinations) I could carry it and it didn't prevent me from doing anything I wanted. In the six years and more since she died, however, it has become a problem. My health is still sound, but it became difficult to carry my burgeoning weight around and I realised I was on a downward spiral to serious health problems as it became more difficult to exercise.
For two weeks in January I went to a health spa in Turkey with a similarly-afflicted friend (the Quarterback or "Q", as those who followed my Great American Road Trip tour may remember him). There I was given an eye-opening analysis of my physical condition. I was over 174 kg, including 101 kg of muscle built solely by carrying the rest about. My blood sugar was terrifyingly high and if I didn't have Type 2 diabetes (as it later proved I didn't) it would be a miracle. My heart was working so hard to keep the blood circulating around my bulk that my resting heart rate was that of a runner during a race. For all its effort my circulation was poor and my legs and ankles were swollen. I needed to lose weight equivalent to that of an entire sturdy midfielder playing for the football club I follow.
The nutritionist in charge of the spa and the doctors supervising the regime there treated me like an unexploded bomb and forbade me to use the gym. As retired lawyers, it was clear to Q and me that they were concerned about liability issues if I popped my clogs on their premises. It was sobering stuff but I took the view that essentially this was a scientific problem and that it could be fixed by controlling calorific inputs and outputs. Advised by the spa staff I swam every day. Advised by Q, now renamed "Coach" or "Yoda" for his role in all this, I also decided to play games with my own psychology.
I made a commitment to my friends on my personal Facebook page to lose 40 kg by June 30th of this year and to lose a further 28 kg (taking me to my ideal weight) by June 30th of next year. Informed by some lectures I attended on the psychology of personal change, I posted a picture of Colin Firth standing outside the Savile Row shop that features in the Kingsman movies wearing a classic English gentleman's suit. I promised I will post a picture of me wearing the same suit outside the same shop on June 30, 2019 – and cutting the same bella figura. He's a little shorter and a couple of years younger than me, but of a similar build so I think it's a realistic objective. I also showed this picture to a personal trainer at my health club near my home in West London. She laughed and said Mr Firth is a member and will be amused to hear about that. I rather hope our paths cross at the club so I can persuade him to stand by me in the 2019 picture.
I lost 5 kg on the regime at the spa, and had lost more than 10 kg by the time I returned to London towards the end of January. I have been exercising regularly and following my Turkish guru's advice on nutrition and have now lost 27.5 kg. I am well on track to my first 40 kg target. On the advice of supportive friends and family, I also joined my local Weight Watchers group. The app for tracking consumption is useful and the meetings put me under more useful psychological pressure. I attend every Wednesday morning and publish my stats on my Facebook feed. My fellow Weight Watchers are all female and embarrassingly supportive. I respond poorly to that "yay! well done!" stuff and am more incentivised by avoiding the relentless mockery I can expect from my male friends if I falter, but it's pleasant enough.
I have found the meetings a bit irritating at times however. My scientific, practical approach sits poorly with the emotional way the ladies there look at the problem. When one said she'd put on weight because her husband had upset her and so she'd eaten a cake, I suggested a healthier approach would have been to throw it at him. There was a collective intake of breath and then a couple of ladies laughed and the moment passed. This week, however, the WW group leader was inviting us all to consider how our emotions affected our weight and the resulting twenty minutes of psychobabble became difficult to bear. I was biting my tongue throughout but when the leader directly asked me what I thought, I offered a couple of observations to the effect that the science still works, however you feel about it, so why even worry about emotions?
This stimulated an interesting response. An angry old woman ('the AOW") shouted that they had listened to me (yes for less than a minute after I had listened to emotional blather for twenty!) and that I should now shut up. I duly did so, even as she testily told me that I was lucky not to experience the same emotions as normal people and that my success in losing weight was therefore lucky too. The leader came up to me afterwards to ask me if I was OK, which was kind but rather proved that she too had missed my point. This was really not an issue to me. My approach works for me and I don't give a damn whether the AOW's does or not (apparently not) or how she "feels" about that. But it was a very revealing exchange.
Margaret Thatcher once said;
Do you know that one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas?
One often hears people make similar complaints about the so-called Millennials – the "snowflakes" who fret so much about hurt feelings that they deny others' right to different opinions. Lady Thatcher was not talking about Millennials though, was she? And the AOW was firmly in the same "baby boomer" generation as me. Nor are the television and radio interviewers who ask wounded victims of terrorist atrocities (or footballers who have lost matches) how they "feel" about it necessarily young. Nor, for the most part are the "outraged" columnists in quite serious journals who propose changes to legislation based on hurt feelings. While you or I believe that one is no more dead or injured if the victim of a "hate crime", many people of all ages (including the allegedly Conservative Prime Minister, God help us) believe that the irrational emotions of one's assailant make a crime somehow "worse".
Lady Thatcher's observation encapsulates the main change in public discourse that I noticed when I returned to these islands in 2011, after nearly twenty years away. The English pride in rationality and the traditional "stiff upper lip" approach to emotion has vanished to the extent that I experience living here now as akin to being on some dreadful afternoon TV show. All media presenters are more or less Jeremy Kyle or, at best, Ellen Degeneres. Whereas as a young law student I was trained that "hard cases make bad law" and that legislation should be made in a detached spirit, not driven by the passions of those close to the problem, I now hear every day the ludicrous assertion that only victims can truly hope to understand issues and that it's ridiculous to believe that a calm, rational analysis by a detached person, "privileged" by not being in a given group of victims could lead to the right outcome.
I don't care that Mrs AOW has a different point of view to me. I actually found her emotional incontinence amusing and only mention her to illustrate my point. She's entitled to be as wrong as she likes and it's only her problem if her emotional response to a practical question has made her as unhappy as she is angry. But her determination that her emotions trump rationality and that her anger somehow validates her views tells a story about our country that, in the longer term, has to be worrying.