kenny hodgart

Lessons from Zippy

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This article appeared in The Herald

For some years I have been plagued by a recurring nightmare in which I am laid up in bed and forced to eat sausages by an insanely large woman who looks like the famed narcissist Julie Burchill.

It has its origins, I am inclined to believe, in an episode of the children’s television programme Rainbow in which the character Zippy, a furry orange Jamie Oliver on uppers, is put on this regimen for a week, albeit without a famed narcissist to administer it.

Zippy eventually tires of sausages and pushes his plate away, sick as a dog in a car on a hot day. But not all of us are capable of Zippy’s self-disgust. Joanne Ettienne wasn’t: she never tired of sausages; or chicken nuggets, or stuffed-crust pizza or anything else vaguely fattening or sugary or gelatinous.

You may have read about Joanne this week. A truly sad figure she cut in the tabloids, all 40st of her, like three quite fat people rolled into one. And you may have stifled a childish urge to snigger, remembering that we are enjoined to be compassionate nowadays – but the thing that stuck in my personal craw, like an obstinate piece of gristle, was the suggestion of victimhood. Firemen had seemingly had to knock down two walls at Joanne’s home in order for her to be taken to hospital and treated for an infection; but only, understand, because her carers had fed her unhealthy foods.

And therein lies the problem that comes from allowing obesity to be regarded as an illness, a condition that might suddenly afflict any of us if we’re not careful to cover our faces in the vicinity of pies. Willpower in the face of temptation, the ability to defer gratification – these are deeply unfashionable concepts. Anyone who denounces obesity will take care also to denounce poverty, although clearly not the kind of poverty that prevents people from buying curries and kebabs. And I’ll wager a bucket of fried chicken that nobody has ever been shamed into setting down the fork on hearing the news that he or she may be socially impoverished.

Alas, the wilfully overweight are becoming ever-more energetic in defence of their condition. My sausage lady-in-waiting, Julie Burchill, was at it this week, lambasting Chris Moyles, an obese disc jockey who had made some remarks to the effect that the lardy pop singer Beth Ditto, was, um, uh, you know, a bit lardy. The fat DJ almost had my sympathy.

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