Opinion & Features

Advent diary: Calamity is heading our way

Obesity: a ‘ticking time bomb’? (PA)

Thursday, December 10

Today is the start of much telephoning and emailing and texting, accompanied by guilt and fear, as I try to round up a group from the Passage homeless charity to attend the Mayor’s Christmas Carol Service at Southwark Cathedral on Monday the 14th. I’ve had months to organise this thing and now, with five days to go, it is in danger of descending into chaos and recrimination. Ann Sindall, executive assistant to the mayor, is a very strong woman from Yorkshire, my own county, and she has been sweetly reassuring.

In spite of my misgivings, I feel safe in her hands.

Friday, December 11

The first psalm of Lauds today is the beautiful Psalm 50. The Universalis website has a perfectly good modern English translation, but I’d like to use the Douay version of the opening here: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity.” A few verses later we reach the Asperges me: “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.” Glorious, comforting, inspiring.

Now for some negativity. The psalms are quite often a test of my faith. I read them during Advent and Lent, and I find a good number of them a little – how to put it? – wheedling. Defeat my enemies, Lord, and those who laugh at me, and I’ll be yours forever. When I read this stuff, I sometimes (to my shame) sink into the sort of fastidious scorn one associates with Stephen Fry – or Lord Fry of Whimsy, as he is more widely known – and many of the other broadsheet atheists. But, but, but … the Psalms are the word of God, so who am I to judge? They are full of longing for redemption and love and were written in violent times, as a good priest will tell me tomorrow when I go to Confession. Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.

The Sun is a dirty newspaper, but its headlines are a source of comfort and joy, and are therefore especially welcome in Advent. This morning’s splash headline is: “APORKERLYPSE NOW”. This is over the report that obesity has become a national threat “like terrorism”. Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer of England, says it is especially threatening to pregnant women and their babies. According to “official figures”, up to half of women of childbearing age are overweight or obese.

Dr David Richmond, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, had this to add: “Present lifestyle factors such as maternal obesity, poor diet and nutrition, lack of physical activity, high levels of alcohol consumption, smoking and poor sexual health are the ticking time bomb that can dramatically impact upon a woman’s fertility and increase the risk of pregnancy complications, as well as the short and long-term health of both mother and baby.”

Makes you think. What are the symptoms of, for example, poor “sexual health”? General paralysis of the insane? Pregnancy? In any case I am not inclined to believe official figures and warnings. Yes, people are fatter now than at any time in history. Why? Because we eat too much and exercise too little. The remedy is simple, but many of us are in denial.

In the Third World people are dying for lack of food; in the First World people are eating themselves to death. You don’t have to be an end-times nut to sense that calamity is heading our way.

Saturday, December 12

There are worse things than fasting. A much more demanding exercise is to try to eat three meals a day but in perfect moderation. As St Augustine and other reputable thinkers have observed, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.

What, anyway, is perfect moderation? It’s a very subjective thing. Is it immoderate to have second helpings? Is it immoderate to have two pieces of chocolate after cheese and biscuits instead of one? How about three? Could any of us both enjoy a meal and at the end of it – as we loosened our belts and wiped the sweat from our brows – be satisfied that we had exercised perfect moderation? I don’t think so.

Gaudete Sunday, December 13

Yay! To a lovely traditional Latin Mass sung at St Bede’s, Clapham Park, by Cantores Missae under the sure and amiable direction of Charles Finch. With my Sunday obligations observed, I start to telephone, text and email in my continuing bid to pull together a group from the Passage to attend the Mayor’s Christmas Carol Service at Southwark Cathedral. O me of little faith. I should leave it to St Anthony and Boris, both friends of the Passage. We can work it out.

Happy Christmas.