So this is England. I’m back for my annual summer visit, and yet again, it seems even less like the country I left behind. Five years ago, this was a country of recession and cutbacks, a land in which everything from the economy to the number of books in our libraries was shrinking, and shops sold normal-sized clothes for normal-sized people. But something happened.
It used to be something of a national pastime to mock Americans for being fat. With their super-sized portions, their big fat arses and their five-hundred litre fridges, they were, by all accounts, our brasher, somewhat fatter “cousins from across the pond”. They were an over-eating, under-exercising nation of elasticated waistbands that served as a warning for what we could become. But from what I’ve seen on the streets of Manchester these past couple of weeks, we’re catching up apace.
Yesterday’s trip to Tesco was a case in point – the rows and rows of gown-like T-shirts, the shopping trolleys filled with colourfully-packaged crap … because you’ve got to keep your well-fed customers clothed. Not meaning to be fattest or fascist or in any other way offensive or anything, but when the smallest size on the rail is extra large, maybe it’s time for someone to acknowledge there’s a problem.
I’ve just done a bit of Googling to satisfy myself that I’m not imagining this strange expansion, and unsurprisingly, it turns out the UK is amongst the fattest nations in Europe. 67% of men and 57% of women in the UK, according to the Lancet medical journal, are overweight or obese, while more than a quarter of children are heading the same way. Only Iceland and Malta have a higher percentage of adults falling into the same category.
It’s incredible to think that over half the people in this green and lazy land are medically “fat”. Not that it would have come as much surprise to anyone shopping in Irlam Tesco yesterday. But I suppose when the size of the average waistline keeps creeping steadily upwards, you can take comfort in the fact that fat is no longer as fat as it was. Which I guess only makes you slimmer. So treat yourself. You deserve it.