Robin Duke: Diets? Just ask Mother Dearest!

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I am not always cheered by the words of Mother Dearest.

I’ve mentioned before that she’s not so much a glass half full or glass half empty kind of person as a “Glass? We dreamt of having glasses! We had to cup our hands together and scoop water from the well before we could drink anything” kind of one.

The first flake of snow heralds blizzards rather than a pleasant landscape full of children on sledges (“they’ll break their legs”), the first day without rain is a sure sign of the drought to come and, let’s face it, British weather is generally too cold to go far in whilst abroad it’s bound to be too hot to go out at all.

If we don’t telephone her fairly regularly then something must be wrong and she will ring us to check. If we do give her a ring then something is surely amiss and she will ring some other member of the family convinced that we are not telling her everything.

I would put it down to her being in her mid 80s but she’s pretty much always been like that – and I’ve known her all my life.

So imagine my surprise when her opening gambit on her most recent visit from Yorkshire after braving the worst fog since Jack the Ripper stalked his prey and the worst rain since Noah set sail was: “You’ve lost weight.”

To be brutally honest I haven’t. In fact I tip the scales now at more than I’ve ever done. Granted I’m not one of the increasing number of people classed as obese (a quarter of the UK population according to statistics wanting us to cut down on the kebabs and carbohydrates) – unless I’m one of the increasing number of people in denial about it. But never the less I’ve got a bit chunky of late and even the so-called Coalition’s can’t fail, won’t fail policy of putting prices up so much that we can longer afford to eat and drink at all doesn’t seem to be working. Remember we’re all in it together – except restaurants where more and more of us can’t afford to be in at all

I’ve always been a bit of a refusenick though so will as usual be avoiding this year’s celebrity-chef-who-is-going-to-sort-us-all-out – especially as it’s the annoyingly enthusiastic (and hardly stick insect) Ainsley Harriott who has followed hot on the heels of Jamie Oliver, Loyd Grossman (great name for someone giving healthy eating advice) and Heston Blumenthal (whose concoctions are often so gruesome no-one except those wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes would dream on consuming.

Let’s face it, we’re all going to hell in a lard barrel – and we always have been doing. A certain William Banting in 1863 failed to win us over with a pamphlet advocating cutting down on champagne, puddings and pastries – though mass starvation of the working classes worked a treat. Then there was the Greek physician Galen in 2BC (that’s around 2000 years before the Atkins diet) who recommended less sugar, starch, alcohol, and butter. Beware of Greeks bearing advice.

Dieting has been big business for as long as eating became more than nipping out of the cave and slaying your next dinner. And if you think that’s an exaggeration check it out in medical historian Louise Foxcroft’s new book Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting Over 2,000 Years (Profile Books, £14.99).

Meanwhile back at Mother Dearest, who clearly hadn’t noticed that as I put on the pounds (or whatever they are called these days) I simply wear bigger shirts and jumpers. She wasn’t flattering me, she was worried about me. She’s been convinced I’ve been wasting away since I left home for the decadent life of a student – and that was back in 1969!