Saturday, August 22, 2015

Is it smart to be proud of obesity? (Light the blue touch paper and retire immediately)

I have a problem with being fat. I'm over-weight (though not obese) and trying not to be, though it isn't easy to lose the weight as someone with restricted mobility. I have enough health problems, without obesity making them worse. I also have a problem with other people being fat when they seem to think it's OK, even desirable, to be fat, and promote it as a lifestyle choice.

Tess Holliday
This post was prompted by a thread on Facebook today, where the subject of "fat-shaming" came up. In America, it seems that you have to be very careful what you say about obese people, for fear of being charged with a hate crime. In response to criticism, some women (it's mostly women) have adopted a "fat and proud" stance. The recent visit of size 26 supermodel Tess Holliday to the UK, where she signed up with a British model agency, attracted hoards of fat fans who adore her because of her attitude. She's tweeted, "To the people that fight on my social media: I don't give a fuck. Get a therapist, phone a psychic or eat a fuckin' burger ... grow up."

The World Health Organisation says, "The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended." In other words, eating too much. Couldn't be simpler. Yes, I know it's not easy, with all those tempting high calorie things out there just falling into your shopping bag and, like any other addiction, it's hard to quit. But there must be a balance between fat-shaming or bullying and being "proud" of a condition that's a major risk factor in noncommunicable diseases such as:
  • cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke), which were the leading causes of death in 2012;
  • diabetes;
  • musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis - a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints);
  • some cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon).
The increase in cases of diabetes has been reported as overwhelming the NHS, costing £25,000 a minute, while you're a drain on the public purse even when you're dead, if you're fat; I've blogged about that before.

So, excuse me if I'm not proud of being fat and I don't expect anyone to find it attractive. I'm eating less (small plates, no snacks) and slowly losing the weight. You can click on my Just Giving link (right) to encourage me. And I don't think it's clever to try to be a fat role model, like Ms Holliday. Her obesity is, of course, highly visible, but no less a problem than an invisible one like alcoholism or smoking. They all damage health. How can you be proud of that? Maybe it's time that more fat people were less proud?

Photograph: Sergiy Barchuk for the Guardian.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Saw a bit of the VJ Day stuff on the telly and it reminded me of Bill. In the early 1960s, including one of the coldest winters on record (1962-63), I worked on a small dairy farm just outside Flint in North Wales. Bill was my boss, one of the kindest, gentlest men I've ever known. He taught me a lot, including how to care for the cows and their calves. We bottled the milk and sold it on a milk round in Flint, which wasn't easy when the streets were like an ice rink.

Bill had been a prisoner of the Japanese in the notorious Changi Jail and on the Burma Railway, where so many men died. One of his fellow prisoners was the artist and cartoonist Ronald Searle (famous for creating the St Trinian's delinquent schoolgirls). Bill told me that they were so hungry that they used to catch and kill snakes and cats to eat, but Ronald drew them first.

Searle smuggled lots of drawings out of the prison. This one is of roll call before going to work on the railway - click on the image to enlarge it. I asked Bill what he thought of David Lean's film, "The Bridge on the River Kwai", with Alec Guinness as the ridiculous British officer, Nicholson. Bill was seldom negative, but he became almost angry when he said that it was nothing like Burma - nothing could be that bad. Wikipedia says, "The largely fictional film plot is loosely based on the building in 1943 of one of the railway bridges over the Mae Klong...". Bill said it was almost all fiction.

I didn't stay long on Bill's farm - I left to go to art college. Bill said that he'd think of me whenever he saw a box of Kleenex, as we'd both struggled that cold winter with colds, coughing and sneezing through the snow drifts. Compared with what he'd suffered under the Japanese, that was nothing. On today's news I saw that some Japanese are proud of what they did in the war, and feel they have nothing to apologise for. Maybe they've forgotten about Changi and the railway.

Friday, August 07, 2015

An email to my MP, James Cartlidge (South Suffolk)

I'm ashamed of my government. I'm appalled by the attitude that migrants are all potential scroungers and must be deterred. I'm sad and angry at the lack of basic humanity shown towards these desperate people. We have accepted far fewer refugees than other European countries, and certainly far fewer than countries like Greece and Lebanon, who really can't afford to help them.

Today (Friday) I read a report from a young woman, Jaz O'Hara, who's Head of Design at Pants to Poverty, about a visit to The Jungle, the makeshift refugee camp in Calais. Jez is one of the volunteers who takes food, clothes and other essentials to the refugees.

This is what she wrote:

An hours drive from my house, then half an hour on the Eurotunnel, and we were in the world’s worst refugee camp in terms of resources and conditions, yet we were welcomed with open arms. It’s amazing how only the people who have nothing really know how to share.

The ‘jungle’ (as the camp is known), is loosely and naturally divided by country, with every one of the worlds warzones represented. We walked through ‘Afghanistan’, ‘Syria,’ ‘Eritrea’ and ‘Sudan,’ all living peacefully alongside each other. This struck a chord with me – it was immediately clear that these people, fleeing war and persecution, want anything but conflict. The ‘mosque’ (a wooden frame), next to the church (some wood and tarpaulin, crowned with a wooden cross), right next to each other, representing that we are all the same, regardless of religion or race.

Nothing could have prepared me for hearing the stories of these people first hand.

A man from Afghanistan told me how he had fled his country with over 100 other people with the aim of walking together to England. Many people (mainly women and children) died along the way. They were so hungry they ate grass, and one night, walking through Bulgarian woodland in the dark, he tripped and a stick pierced through his eye. He spent 2 weeks in hospital in Sofia and the group left him behind. He carried on alone and had finally made it to Calais.

Then we met three Eritrean brothers aged 14, 13 and 10. They were alone. Sent by their parents to escape conscription to compulsory, indefinite military service, which is basically slave labour, they had made their way from Eritrea on foot.

And then, a 23-year-old from Dafur, Sudan. He told me that the Gangaweed had come to his village on horseback when he was 18, burnt it to the ground and brutally shot many people, including his dad, just for being black. He was arrested, accused of opposing the government, and put in prison for two years. As soon as he got out, he went back to where the village once was, desperate to find his two little brothers, little sister and mother. He was told his sister was alive and in a nearby town so he went looking for her. She wasn’t there. He searched towns and cities until he was again arrested, as travelling through the country is not permitted. Unable to face any more time in prison, he spent all the money he had to be smuggled to Libya. Here he started his journey, on foot and alone to England.

England..where everybody is always smiling and no one has problems, he told me. “Is it this cold in England?”, he asked in the middle of a sunny day in August. His expectations, and the reality of his life if he ever does make it to England, make my heart hurt.

He told me he doesn't feel the hunger (the refugees get one free meal a day they have to queue for hours for), or the cold (I cant even begin to imagine winter in this camp), he just feels the pain of his lost family. Each time he spoke the word family, his voice broke and he put his head in his hands. Crying, he told me that every time he closes his eyes, he sees his mother, telling him he is a good boy, and that he is doing the right thing. ‘Why then, am I living like an animal?’ he asked me.

Every night he walks a few miles to the tunnel in an attempt to make it to England, although he told me he was taking a couple of days break from trying to allow his leg to heal. He proceeded to show me a huge bruise on his calf from where he had been hit by a police baton.

Many many people from Sudan tell the same story. Persecuted for being black, many have seen their entire family killed in front of their eyes.

We sat for ages in the Sudanese part of the camp. The guys here searched the surroundings to find the most mismatch selection of chairs, and even made us tea over an open fire. ‘You are our guests’ they told us, in front of the opening to their makeshift tents.

Yesterday I realised that the people in this camp don't WANT to come to England. They have no choice.

These people aren't migrants...these are REFUGEES. They can't go back, but they can't go forward, they are stuck, trying to create some kind of normal life from a bit of tarpaulin and a blanket.

And they are heroes. Their stories show more determination, strength and courage than anything I have ever heard from anyone in the UK. They should be an inspiration to us all...yet they are portrayed by our media as a drain on our society, scrounging our benefits. This couldn't be further from the truth. These people WANT to work, want to earn enough money to pay tax, and want to be given the opportunities they deserve.

These people are desperate. On the one hand we commemorate holocaust Memorial Day, yet on the other we turn away at people facing as extreme persecution as the Jews, right on our doorstep.

What the actual fuck?

A sign in the camp read 'we must all learn to live together like brothers, or we will die together like idiots'.

This needs to happen, and quick.

Many people didn't want us to take their picture, scared of the negative media representation, but also in case their families face repercussions under repressive governments back home. They are also ashamed; ashamed to be living in such an undignified manner.

We'll be going back next week to start filming a documentary, as sensitively as possible, with the aim of sharing the stories of these inspirational people. We're also stocking up on men's shoes, men's clothing, SIM cards, old phones (people are desperate to call home) and anything else people many be able to donate...

To be involved, to donate or to help us, like our campaign here:

You can follow the journey in photos on instagram:


This is the link to our kickstarter campaign:

We need to do something. Turning your back on this tragedy on our doorstep is literally unforgivable.

I agree. It is unforgivable. But I'm also concerned that the government has back-tracked on its green commitments; scrapping support for offshore wind, cutting solar and biomass subsidies, scrapping the green homes scheme and the zero carbon homes scheme, selling the green investment bank, reducing incentives to buy greener cars, fracking (especially in SSIs), and dropping the green tax target. All this, while President Obama sets an example with his speech on tackling climate change. What has this to do with migrants? Have none of your considered the increase in refugees from Africa and Southern Europe as extreme weather, due to climate change, makes their homes uninhabitable? Are you going to fight to keep them out too? What about those who are drowning in increasing numbers in the Mediterranean? UKIP's attitude I can understand - those people are ignorant and prejudiced - but surely even Conservatives with an imagination might see that your current policies (if you can call them that) are inhumane and destructive. Unless there is action on climate change soon (it's long overdue) the UK population will also be on the move, from the coasts and the flood plains. For goodness' sake, wake up!

Note: James Cartlidge was chosen by the South Suffolk Conservative Association as their election candidate to replace Tim Yeo, who was deselected because, they said, there'd been complaints that he didn't spend enough time in the constituency. Yeo served as Chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and was a humanist, and to the left of the party, so maybe these made him unpopular with the old Tory fogeys.

Photo by Jaz O'Hara.