Steve Canavan column - Fat chance of equality?

The Sun's front page, of Paul Mason, who is at the centre of an NHS operation row

The Sun's front page, of Paul Mason, who is at the centre of an NHS operation row

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WE specialise in mocking others. It’s an easy way to get a laugh.

WE specialise in mocking others. It’s an easy way to get a laugh.

And the group that get it more than most are the overweight.

It happens at school. You pick on the fat kid. When I was younger and stupid, I probably did it myself.

Society shapes us to be like that. All those magazines with size zero models, the ones who look as though they survive on one cherry tomato a day.

They are abnormal, that isn’t how the average person looks. Yet when we have a celebrity who is a perfectly fine weight, say a size 12 or 14, they often get criticised or ridiculed.

That poisons minds, the inference being people carrying excess weight are different and odd.

I mention this after reading about Paul Mason, the 75 stone man who shed two-thirds of his body weight after having a gastric bypass op and now wants further surgery to remove reams of excess skin.

This surgery will cost an estimated £30,000 and the NHS, so far, is refusing to do it.

Photographs of Mr Mason have been splashed all over the papers (an example of how the country treats big people like freak shows instead of humans) and the overall reaction of a general public actively encouraged to take the mickey out of the obese from a young age is that he shouldn’t be given the second operation.

Their argument is that Mr Mason being overweight is his own fault, self-inflicted, and why should the taxpayer foot the bill for an op that wouldn’t be required had he not become so fat in the first place?

It is a valid argument.

No human on the planet should get to 75 stone. Mr Mason was guzzling up to 20,000 calories every day, which included eating 40 bags of crisps.

But to suggest he doesn’t deserve further treatment is not just wrong, it is inhuman.

Being fat is self-inflicted is it? OK, what about alcoholics or drug users? Should we not help them?

And what about smokers? Do we tell anyone who contracts a cancer where smoking is known to be a factor that they can’t have surgery or chemotherapy because their condition is self-inflicted?

What about someone who puffed on cigarettes between the ages of 18 and 25, then gave up, but got lung cancer when they were 50.

Is his condition self-inflicted? Very possibly, but does it mean he shouldn’t get help from the NHS? Surely not.

Our National Health Service, one of the best things about the country we live in, is there to treat everyone who needs it, no matter what their condition.

And here’s another thing: if the NHS doesn’t spend £30,000 now on Mr Mason – by carrying out an operation which will dramatically help his appearance and improve his self-esteem, thus giving him the motivation to continue his weight loss – chances are they will have to spend a lot more on him as a result in the future.

Obese people are likely to contract cardiovascular disease and here’s a fact: it costs the NHS £100,000 to treat an individual in the first 12 months after they have had a stroke. Big bucks for an already financially troubled organisation.

So fair enough, Mr Mason deserves harsh criticism for reaching 75 stone. That is a ridiculous weight. There is no excuse for it.

But he has had a gastric bypass op, he is down to 24 stone and vowing to lose another 10.

Until, however, he has his dreadful-looking excess skin removed, he cannot live a normal life – and while that is the case, the greater the chance of him becoming depressed and starting to pile weight back on.

We cannot wash our hands of people like Mr Mason and say ‘tough’.

What sort of society would that lead to and where do you draw the line?

It makes sense on every level to help him, no matter what your opinion on why he got so big in the first place.

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Mobile madness and breakdown of family time

STOPPING for a coffee at a service station near Bolton the other week, I endured one of the most depressing half-hours of my life.

It wasn’t the brew (on the contrary, it was a rather tasty cappuccino with nice chocolate bits on top), more the fact that as I was sat taking the first sip and a dad and his son walked in.

As he entered the father was talking very loudly on his mobile phone. He said ‘hang on a minute Martin’, then barked at his child ‘what do you want?’ before shouting his order at the girl behind the counter.

He then went and sat on a seat with his son opposite, still talking on his mobile phone.

For the next 30 minutes, he continued his phone conversation – disturbing everyone in the place with his booming voice (“well if I say buy, Martin, then buy, because I’m the boss and no one is going to tell me what to do”) – while his son forlornly sipped an orange juice and stared at the table.

They then walked out, dad still on the same mobile phone call. He didn’t speak to his son once.

I know society has changed from when I was a young nipper but my dad would never, ever have done such a thing, even in this age where our lives are depressingly ruled by technology.

My dad, and my mum, told stories and played games with us. We weren’t allowed to eat tea in the lounge in front of the TV, we had to sit in the kitchen, eat as a family and talk.

I feel sorry for that lad in the coffee shop. With a parent like that, what hope has he got?

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Scars of war ... on golf course

DURING a trip to the theatre – and backing up my rather maligned theory about the number of people you bump into in the gents urinals – I met the boss I used to work for at the Bolton Evening News about a decade ago.

He had a faint scar on his head, which prompted us to reminisce about an incident which has gone down in Bolton folklore.

My boss was keen to take up golf and booked himself in for a lesson at a driving range.

He went on about it for weeks in advance, practising his swing in the office, and telling us of his ambitious plans to join a club and enter competitions.

The day of his lesson came, and up he stepped to take his very first shot. The ball was perched on a tee.

My boss swung his club, managed to get completely underneath it, and sent the ball directly upwards. He naturally looked up, only for the ball to smash into the ceiling and ricochet back into his head.

He was taken to hospital by ambulance and turned up for work the next day with five stitches in his face and a black eye.

It was a wonderful day for his workmates, though not so enjoyable for him.