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Monthly Archives: August 2016

Porklife

I remember after the last Olympics, people wondered aloud whether the running, jumping, cycling and everything would inspire a nation to get off its collective flabby arse and do some exercise. The answer was, predictably, no. This time, we’re wondering again. And the answer will be no again. And people will wonder why.

Well, as someone who bucked the trend and managed to get off the settee and do some exercise and lose some weight – a little over five stone since 2012, since you were wondering – I think I can tell you some of the reasons why it doesn’t just happen.

There’s two bits of Parklife by Blur that are revelant. The first is Phil Daniels’s cockney geezer character insulting some fat bloke. “Who’s that gutlord marching? You should cut down on your pork life mate, get some exercise!” The second comes later, when he says, “And it’s not about you joggers, who go round and round…” – all right, it’s just a silly song and there are probably better examples. But it highlights an attitude I’ve seen and heard a lot: first, take the piss out of people who are fat (and assume they don’t do exercise); second, take the piss out of people doing exercise.

Which leads me to this point: you must always take the piss out of fat people doing exercise. Like it’s the most fucking hilarious thing you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Go to a non-league football match and hear the jovial taunts aimed at the guy in the tightest-fitting shirt. Who’s actually playing football while other people are standing around doing nothing. Whatever else happens, you must make them suffer – for being fat in the first place, then for daring to be active at all rather than gluttonously stuffing pies down their face.

When you’re really fat you avoid things like mirrors and going out in public. It’s bad enough blubbering around in your own house, squeezing into your own ill-fitting clothes and feeling awful about the way you look and feel, without having to endure the cavalcade of taunts you’re likely to face from the general public. (At this point I should emphasise that I understand it’s much, much worse for women than men, but I can only speak from my own experience.) Then, when you actually try to do something about it, when you try to do some exercise, the jeers get louder. Your humiliation is worse. You either have to try and find a gym or swimming pool, and notice the chortles and sneers from the impossibly athletic, young staff watching you in less clothing than you’d ideally want to be wearing; or you have to go outside, among real people.

I used to live by the seaside, so I’d run along the beach. It was quite nice to get out there in the fresh air and try to exercise, but in the end I gave up, because, even with sunglasses on and a hat, wearing as baggy clothes as I could find to hide my figure, even with music playing as loudly as possible into my ears, I could still hear the shouts – people really do shout at you, so you don’t miss it – and see the gestures.

Cut down on your porklife, mate. Get some exercise! But not near me or I’ll take the piss out of you. Laugh at fatty. Now, I’ve been pretty overweight most of my life and I see the obvious amusement I provide you with. Yes, I wobble and I wear slightly larger clothes. I know, you’re already chortling. Funny. Marvellous.

It’s all about shame. Shame at these bloated corpses, these wobbly bodies, for daring to be in the same space as you. They don’t belong to people. You notice this when you see the decapitated, bloated midriffs, dehumanised of the person owning them, on the news, whenever obesity is discussed. It’s all about reducing the person to their body. Their big body.

Why doesn’t the Olympics inspire a generation? Because it shows you these supreme athletes at their peak, where anything other than absolute success is failure – even silver medallists feel they haven’t achieved something they should have done, and see it as a disaster. They’re doing things you can’t even imagine contemplating, and they’re still getting slagged off and feeling bad about themselves.

It wasn’t the Olympics that inspired me; it was just needing to be healthy. It certainly wasn’t a patronising “kick up the arse” lecture from my GP that made me change (although of course, as I’ve said before, people really do believe that’s the best way to get me to do something). It was just wanting to have the energy to look after my daughter, and the desire to want to be around for a bit longer, or at least to try.

So I started with tiny goals. Can I walk for half an hour? Can I walk for an hour? Can I walk a kilometre in ten minutes? It’s hard and then you try and try and get there. And you do it as much as you can. When you’re walking, people don’t really detect that you’re exercising, so you can get away with it. You can hide a little. Then, one day, I tried running as long as I could. I tried running a mile, because a mile seemed interesting. A mile in ten minutes? That came months later. Now I can run four, five kilometres. And there’s more to come. More to do. And I’m finally at the stage where I can say fuck you to passer-by abusers, because they don’t know where I’ve come from or what I’ve done, and sure, it’s my fault I got out of shape, but it’s in my power to do something about it, not for them, but for me.

The Olympics won’t ever inspire anyone, except those who have the confidence to be out there already – and good for them. But until we get it out of our culture that it’s acceptable to laugh at fatty, not much is going to change. Shaming and abusing won’t do anything. It just causes hurt, and makes it worse. So if you see a fat person running, or walking fast, or in your gym, the best thing you can do is leave them the fuck alone to get on with it, because it’s an achievement for them just to be there.

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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Five years

It’s not just me that this has happened to. There’s nothing particularly unique or terrible about my situation, and other people have things much worse than I do.

Five years ago, I found myself looking for a job. I didn’t get one. I remember this because I thought, at the time, it might be a few weeks or a few months before I had something sorted out. Weeks and months went past. It wasn’t that I wasn’t looking, or that I wasn’t trying hard enough, but nothing changed. Friends were supportive. Some offered little bits of paid work, if they could, others offered advice. Something would come along.

I had a Plan B. That plan was to be a teacher, and it hasn’t really worked out. It’s partly me being me – as one trying-to-be-helpful headteacher put it, “You just don’t look like a teacher, why don’t you go away and try something else” – and partly something else that I haven’t fully understood. Friends have been a bit less understanding, for some reason. “Well, you have all the advantages on your side,” said one, and I suppose they were trying to be helpful, too. Teachers haven’t been especially kind, either. For a profession that’s built around developing other human beings’ skills, a lot of people seem to think you’re either “a born teacher” or you’re not.

When I used to report on non-league football, a manager once told me that he divided his players into two groups: “some of them need an arm round the shoulder and some of them need a kick up the arse”. For some reason, people seem to have put me in the latter category. I need tough love. Kick me and kick me and kick me, and it will make me work. Tell me I’m shit, and somehow I’ll get better. Tell me I’ve failed, and I’ll somehow do better. Tell me I’m worthless, and somehow I will thank you for it. I find it faintly disappointing that it hasn’t, seeing as they’re all so sure it’s the right way to go about these things, but I am afraid to say it hasn’t.

There have been a couple of times when people have tried to help. Once, someone rejecting me for a job, when discovering I had already had 29 job interviews as a teacher, and I’d been trying to get one for three years, started going quiet on the other end of the phone, and ended up putting it down on me because he didn’t know what else to say. I kind of felt sorry for him, but then I thought, why not just give me a fucking job, you cunt, but you won’t, will you?

I had in my head that something would have gone somewhere. That something would have worked out. It really isn’t that I haven’t tried hard enough, but there isn’t anything there, or enough there to make any kind of difference. And time ticks on, and you get older and older. Being unemployed at 36 is disappointing, but at 41 it’s downright unpleasant. When you have a child who depends on you, and you’re barely making enough money to cover your costs, you feel like you’re just walking in the dark.

You get turned down for entry-level jobs that anyone could do, but which apparently you can’t. You get turned down for jobs you’ve already done. You get turned down by people you’ve already worked for, for several weeks, on a temporary basis, where you know the ins and outs of the place so much better than anyone coming in from outside. You get turned down for everything, everywhere. This is how it is.

It gets more and more difficult to slap on the fake smile and approach every application with enthusiasm (!) and excitement (!) and passion (!) and all of those things. You get to an interview and you see someone half your age, who’s twice as keen, and full of ideas, and is going to stay later than you are, and doesn’t have a child to go home to, and you know what’s going to happen, and you know you were them, once, but you’re not them anymore, and all you can think of is silently pushing them down the fire escape in between bits of smalltalk so that for once you can actually fucking get a fucking job.

I’m sorry. It gets you down. It gets you down after the first couple of weeks, but you think you can stay optimistic. You think things are going to go your way. After all, there’s nothing you can’t do, is there? You’re qualified and you’ve got hard work behind you, you’ve got a decent CV – all right, it’s not in the right profession, but still, it’ll help you somehow – and something will come along. Something will work. Something will get you through it all. But it won’t. It won’t. It doesn’t.

August stretches out forever. I have three applications awaiting rejection. Oh, I know, let me patronise you and pat YOU on the head for once. Maybe I shouldn’t be so pessimistic! Maybe that’s what’s making it not work out! Maybe I should just be more cheerful after five years of constant failure! Maybe if I spent less time being so gloomy it’d all just fall in my lap! After all, I do have all the advantages! I know, I know. Of course.

I have dreams of things that I miss from work. Getting money, obviously, is one of them, or grumbling about putting money in a pension – you still have to as a temporary agency worker, but it’s about £2.50 a year, and that gets eaten up in administration fees anyway, for what it’s worth. You dream about the gloomy office canteen. You dream about bitching about people sitting at the desk opposite on email to the person next to you. You dream about the sheer, overwhelming, tedious fucking banality of work. Because that’s what you can’t get. An ordinary life. Not for you.

 

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2016 in Uncategorized