Monday, September 28, 2009


I take it all back. England CAN play One day Cricket.

Sometimes Life moves in circles far too mysterious for me to understand. Over the summer, our cricket team (just) managed to win back the Ashes against Australia – the most intensely contested set of games any England Cricket team ever plays. But if you strip away the media hype that surrounded it, what we saw was a Third rate England team just scraping home over a Second rate Australian team. Over the Five game series, we watched 25 days of 8 hours a day where the thing that turned the series England’s way was about 5 or 6 hours of absolutely marvellous periods of play, with Flintoff, Broad, Anderson and, God help us, Panesar doing the honours on England's behalf.
England can thank their lucky stars that Mitchell Johnson didn’t fire on all cylinders until well into the matches, and Brett Lee, Australia’s best bowler, missed out through injury. I suppose England would counter that by saying that Flintoff was a developing injury train wreck as the series went on, and Pietersen missed most of it as well, and that counterbalanced the Aussie problems, but it was a close run thing.

But, we did it.

The we went on to play what to me was the most pointless series of cricket games I’ve ever watched – a 7 match set of One day International games which dredged the bottom as far as I was concerned in terms of excitement and pleasure, and provided a perfect definition of the word “Anticlimax”. The team managed to lose the series 6-1, winning the last match almost as a consolation. Both teams palpably did not want to be there, and it showed in the cricket and the attitude and demeanour of both sides.

You couldn’t help but conclude from their dismal showing that, from a One day Cricket perspective, England were a team of No Hopers. Panic set in immediately after the end of the 6-1 drubbing, with England hopping straight onto a plane to South Africa to take part in a short Knock-Out ODI World competition against the seven best sides on the Planet. South Africa, India, Pakistan, Australia and Sri Lanka stared us in the face, and with most of that lot being expected to beat Australia, let alone England, it was hard to see how we weren’t going to be anything other than slaughtered, taken apart, smashed and beaten very conclusively and very embarrassingly.

Oh Ye, of little faith. Tonight, we are two matches into the series and have played what to me are the two best sides in the world, Sri Lanka and South Africa. And we have beaten them both. Not just beaten them, but imposed ourselves on them in a manner I can’t recall an England One day side ever managing before. They played quite superbly.

What on earth was in the meal on the plane over to South Africa?
The batsmen who let the side down, actually and metaphorically, during the ODI matches against the Australians have come to the party in a way that borders on the unreal. We’ve just seen, against South Africa, the host nation and favourite for the Championship, Owais Shah smash a fabulous 98, Collingwood, playing at 4, hitting a very responsible and exciting 70-odd, and Eoin Morgan finishing it all of with a stupendous 67 off 34 balls. It was a glittering performance, and I go to bed tonight with my chest puffed out on their behalf more than a little bit!

Almost the best bit for me however occurred in the first match against Sri Lanka, my favourite team in the whole tournament. England were playing them in their first match after the Australian debacle, and can have had no idea what sort of outcome awaited them. They must have had a real feeling of foreboding at the start of the match, having just watched Sri Lanka thrash South Africa, the favourites.

During the Sri Lankan innings, there was a mix up in the middle which resulted in one of the Sri Lankan batsmen losing his wicket after an accidental collision. The England Captain called him back to the wicket when he was walking off, a move which will endear Strauss to me, at least, for a very long time.

He didn’t have to do it, most of his colleagues didn’t agree with what he’d done, and it sounds like after the match he had more than a bit of a bollocking from Andy Flowers, the England Team Manager. But, as a real demonstration of old fashioned fair play, at a time when the consequences were potentially fatal to England’s cause, and when it would have been far easier to let the guy leave the field and accept the wicket gratefully, it takes some beating in my view.

Good on you Mr Strauss. And what’s more, the cricketing Gods must have agreed with him, because the batsman was immediately out in the next over.

And then England won the match.

And tonight, they’ve just won the next one against South Africa.

So perhaps there are mystical things afoot here – things about which we know not. It does make a very pleasant change from people on a rugby field trying to gain an unfair advantage by chewing on fake blood capsules to get a late substitution onto the field, or Formula 1 Team Managers plotting to get one of the racing drivers in their team to crash deliberately into a wall to gain an unfair advantage.

These things should not go unrecognised, and I hold up my glass to Andrew Strauss for having the balls to do what he believed was right.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


25 years ago, the world watched for something like 5 months as two Russians played innumerable chess games until they’d both got frazzled and worn out. Kasparov and Karpov – one the old, solid player, and the other a young fleet footed (in chess terms) pretender.

In so far as chess ever took centre stage in the world, this must have been its Finest Hour. I almost became enthralled with what was going on.


The passion soon went away for me and the only other time the flame has ever really reflickered since then is when, in 1997, IBM built a computer called “Deep Blue” to play Garry Kasparov. Rather surprisingly, the PC Blue beat Kasparov 2-1 in a Six match series.

I don’t suppose I’ve thought anymore about Chess until this morning when I read that the two Russians are starting a rematch. Given the way the world has changed over the last quarter century, it's not surprising that the format of the current duel is very different. The contest now is 12 matches only - four semi-rapid and eight rapid games — over one week. I have to say that I’d never even heard of these Chess equivalents of Cricket’s Fifty Over One Day International or 20-20 style of game. But the way it works is a semi-rapid game last 25 minutes, with five seconds for each move, while a rapid games runs for only five minutes, with two seconds for moves. It seems a million miles from Chess as they played it in 1984, but life moves on, and even Chess players today are blessed with a reduced attention span.

Now, fast forward, with a bit of a jerk, to the subject of cartoons. I have said before that, on balance, Cartoonists seem to me to be the sanest class of people on the planet, and that a Government fronted by them would probably run the world more effectively than the mob we've got now.
I suspect the cartoonists vent their prejudice and anger on the blank piece of paper which becomes tomorrow’s bit of humour in the newspapers, and this results in a clearer mind afterwards.

As soon as I remembered the Man vs machine Chess game of Kasparov vs the IBM PC, a picture came into my mind of a cartoon I saw at the time. It was in the Daily Telegraph by that genius of the genre – Matt.

This man consistently produces the best cartoons I know. Always understated, he bases them on seemingly gentle drawings of a middle class, rather grumpy and somewhat down-trodden and weary English couple facing the absurdities of life in a semi-resigned way. Except he hits the absolute bulls-eye in a situation, or a combination of concurrent but different issues, in a way that amazes me. He never seems to have a off day - always On the Money. So I started to look around for this one from about 12 years ago. It has stuck in mind over all that time.
Good, isn't it?


Sunday, September 20, 2009


It comes to us all – watching our parents decline and die. I know it’s the Order of Things that one generation is taken over inexorably by the next, but it’s still one of the more depressing things about life when it happens. Sometimes the end is brutal, and quick. Sometimes, it’s still brutal, but long drawn out.

In my mother’s case last February, aged 91, she finally succumbed to Dementia which had been gradually destroying her for the best part of 13 years. Anyone who has been through this situation will know the problems all too well - the guilts and the fears we face as these diseases take their grip and extend their hold, turning someone you knew into someone you don’t know, and into someone who doesn’t know you, or anyone else for that matter.

In this country, it’s not made any easier by the obstacles which people have to overcome to get the State, in this case, the local Primary Care Trust Hospital to accept its obligations and fund the hospitalisation/Nursing Home costs which are an inevitable result of the way the disease takes its toll. When she died she had just about used all her money paying to keep herself alive – a quite inappropriate situation to be put in when you’re in the state she was in.

A couple of weeks ago, we ended up in the National Newspapers, and giving interviews to local Radio and Regional Television. We are fighting our (or more accurately) my mother’s corner to try to recover costs from our local Primary Care Trust Hospital for Nursing Home fees which my Mother spent as the Dementia which blighted the last 13 years of her life turned her into someone needing 24 hour Intensive nursing care.

When you strip out the smoke and mirrors, the rules are simple – if you end up in a Nursing Home because medically, rather than socially, you need the sort of care only they can provide, then it is, or should be, funded by the State. That seems to be the simple position. Except, of course, the State does not always seem to stand up and recognise its liabilities. It certainly didn’t in my mother’s case, or at least it hasn’t yet.

The really bizarre situation however is that, if we lived in Scotland, this would not be a problem. Care there for the over 65s is free, and not means tested, in Scotland. If she had lived over the border, then all the financial issues she has suffered would not exist. Weird, but true.

It’s only when you start to delve into this seemingly divisive state of affairs that you realise just how much difference there is between people in Scotland and people in England when it comes to the availability of what to most of us would seem mainstream social benefits to which all of us, or none of us, should have access.

My simple, untutored mind says that we live, like it or not, in Great Britain, a Union – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Monies are allocated annually by Parliament to cover social needs and you would like to imagine that the allocation of this vast amount of money each year would be controlled and dispersed by our elected representatives in a fair and equitable manner across the four countries in the Union. But when you start to poke and prod, what you come up with is not what I imagined I’d find.

I am not an expert on all this, but a little delving throws up a disturbing set of anomalies –

The British (not Scottish, British) Government allocates somewhere around £2,000 per head more to everyone who lives in Scotland compared to an English person. Given that there are about 5 million people in Scotland, this means a total of £10 Billion EXTRA given to Scotland.

Presumably because of this, the Scots are able to have a far more relaxed approach to the provision of expensive life-saving drugs than the English. Drugs which are available through the National Health in Scotland, can only be made available in England if you buy them yourselves. Unfair? You decide.

Scottish university students get free education, whereas in England, you have to pay your tuition fees. This applies even if the Scottish student is studying at an English university. Unfair? You decide.

Nursing Home care for the elderly in Scotland is free, whereas, as in my mother’s case, she has up until now, had to pay her own fees. Unfair? You decide.

If you look at State spending in Scotland, it represents almost 60% of all spending, a figure which is at the top of the list in Europe. And who pays disproportionately for it all – yours truly and 50 million other English people.

Now I have no quarrel with State spending as a concept, although I think overall it is way too high. But I can see no reason why a deprived area of English cities like Bradford, Manchester or Liverpool (and trust me there are some very deprived areas in those cities) has less of a claim on the public purse than Glasgow. But that’s how it is.

I also don’t think this leads to me being branded as a racist. I love Scotland. I am married to a Scot, and half of my family for the last 45 years have been from North of the Border. Mind you, just to balance it up, I think their cricket team is even worse than England’s, and also their cooking is not high up my list of World Class Cuisine. I mean when was the last time, apart from being in Scotland, that you voluntarily went into a restaurant specialising in Scottish cooking? Exactly.

The English and the Scots however, have always had a love/hate relationship with each other. Maybe it’s the fact that the Scots think they lost out in running the country in the 16th and 17th Century by the James/Mary Queen of Scots episodes, and like the Irish they’ve never forgotten it. It is an unpleasant fact that England perpetrated some dastardly deeds to all of them in the following two hundred years, but we’re 200 years further on now, and you’d like to think that the “Look what you did to us in 1745” style of argument was something that could be moved on from, sitting here in 2009. But it seems not.

So the devolution thing, particularly in Scotland, rolls merrily along. Since 1997, they have had their own parliament, (built, I suspect, at a 10 times cost over-run, using English money). The issue of “Scottish Oil” being the salvation of the Scottish economy seems to be the battle-cry of the Nationalists up there, but it seems that the maths just doesn’t make sense. If you hypothetically “give” them all the revenues from the oil – and you shouldn’t, because a proportion is in English territory – then they still would run an enormous deficit, which would require a severe cut in Scottish state spending to start to balance the books. And anyway, who paid for all the enormous investment to extract the stuff in the first place?

But why is it like that? This whole issue ends up back at what is known in UK politics as the “West Lothian Question”. To my untutored mind, this is a major political issue which seems never to get any significant airplay in the political life of England, and, for the life of me, I can’t see why. First asked by Tam Dalyell in Parliament in 1977 it simply, but rather devastatingly wonders -

“For how long will English
constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate... at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”

If that’s not a good question, I don’t know what is.

The situation is actually worse that that for the following reasons.

It takes about 15% fewer votes to elect a Member of Parliament (to Westminster, London remember, not Edinburgh) for any Scottish constituency than it does for an English one. So the Scots probably have about 15 more MPs than they should be entitled to.

The Scottish MPs can vote on everything in the UK Parliament, whether the issue at hand affects Scotland at all. There have been serious and large issues, Foundation Hospitals being one, which only affect England where, if you stripped the Scottish MPs votes out, would have not been approved by Parliament. That’s a serious issue.

You might have thought that the Scottish MPs would at least have had the decency to abstain in such a situation. A few did and do, but many don’t.

We have two Scotsmen running the UK, and by inference, English affairs - Messrs Brown and Darling, both of whom are MPs for Scottish Constituencies. If it was to be decided that Scottish MPs should abstain from voting on purely English affairs, which seems eminently reasonable to me, then we would have the quaint situation where the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer of Great Britain had no say on these matters. Perhaps the simple answer is not to have a Scottish Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Oh, and just as a by-the-way, you might also like to check on the ancestry of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, the UK’s Prime Minister from 1997 until 2007. He talks with an English accent, but don’t let that fool you.

It strikes me that the Scots are quite happy sitting on their hands on this issue, since I’m sure they feel they’re getting a great deal form the 50 odd Million people South of the Border.

One of the most telling answers to this debate came from Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, in 1998. He said apparently that the best answer to the West Lothian Question was to stop asking it.

Just to understand where this particular gentleman is coming from, his full title is Lord Irvine of Lairg. Lairg is a small village in the county of Sutherland in the very north of Scotland.

So, in the hallowed words of Mandy Rice-Davies – “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he.”

I’m not too sure how I’ve got round to this point – chewing over the structure of the UK Parliament, and, to me, the unbalanced and inappropriate power that Scottish people and Scottish MPs have over purely English affairs, and the way that no-one seems even to consider it to be an issue worth a decent debate at a political level.

Perhaps I should have moved to Scotland and then the issues my mother has had to face would simply not have existed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Occasionally, the Obituaries in the newspapers trigger me off – most of the people who are rewarded with a half page or so tend tomake an interesting read, but once in a while I’m brought up with a bit of a start, when someone who’s made a real impact on me throws off this mortal coil.

A day or so ago, there were two – Keith Floyd and Patrick Swayze – who hit the headlines, for all the wrong reasons. Floyd was definitely one of my favourites, but hidden behind the two full pages on each of these two guys was another full page about someone much less well known, but someone whose output had left its indelible mark on me – Troy Kennedy Martin.

Keith Floyd was one of those people who you always expected would not make his “three score and ten” – alcohol and tobacco playing a very central role in his life. He was a “bit of a lad” before the idea of a “bit of a lad” had been coined, but, at the same time, this was balanced by his fabulous incompetence with money, which proved his undoing all too frequently.

Via his cookery programmes, he single-handedly turned me into someone who looks on cooking as one of the real pleasures in life. His series “Floyd on France” hit all the right spots with me – the location, the food, and his exciting, irreverent, chaotic and witty style of delivery masking a wide and deep knowledge of his subject. Yes, there were others before him, Delia, the Craddocks, the Galloping Gourmet (Graham Kerr), but Floyd resonated with me like no others.


I suspect he was a bit of a bugger to live with – he got through four wives, one to whom he proposed within a few hours of meeting her. Definitely his own man, how can you not like someone who irritated masses of Scandinavians when he was doing a series on their cuisine, by whipping up a meal of Flambéed Puffins, a protected species in Norway.

And the clincher for me was his lifestyle in Kinsale, Ireland. Most of us make do with a dog or two. He apparently had four dogs, five cats, 58 rare Breed chickens, 12 geese, a pair of swans, two Jacob Sheep. one pony, six beehives, 77 goldfish (why 77?) and 12 Vietmanese potbellied piglets.

A real Maverick.

Now, Troy Kennedy Martin – who he?

Another maverick, I’m afraid. A scriptwriter for film and TV who in 1962 started the police series “Z-Cars”, which singlehandedly destroyed the cosy mould of the “Dixon of Dock Green” style of cop show we had been watching up until then. He introduced the policeman as a fallible individual, one who did not always behave impeccably towards his family, and who often broke the rules on the job. He wrote the screenplay for the Michael Caine film “The Italian Job”, and as the author of that perfect line “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”, then he could go to heaven on those few words alone.

But the reason he’s getting a send off and a doff of the cap from me is a TV series he wrote in 1986 – “Edge of Darkness” – a 6 part thriller about the messy mix of government, the politics of Plutonium and the nuclear waste industry, and faceless multinational corporations. I’ve waxed lyrical about it here before, but suffice to say it’s dark, dense, atmospheric, enigmatic and very, very imaginative. Even the music, written and played searingly by Eric Clapton still haunts me.


One of the best TV series I’ve ever seen. After “Edge of Darkness” his life descended into family and financial chaos. And after it, he hardly wrote anything of note again, although apparently, just before he died he had just finished a 6 part series for my favourite American channel, HBO, on Global Warning and called “Broken Light”. Let’s hope.

For anyone interested, I’ve just noticed that early in 2010, there’s a film of the series coming out. Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone starring. Mmmm.

“Edge of Darkness”, “Tutti Frutti”, “This Life”, “The West Wing”, “The Wire”, and coming up on the rails “The Sopranos”. Forty years of fitful viewing throws that lot up as my “Best Ever” list. The order moves around a bit, and the odd new one arrives, but none of them disappear.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


It’s odd how one single action can make you realise just how starkly something has changed from how it used to be to how it is now.

Formula 1 Motor Racing - is it a Sport or a Business?


Well, after yesterday’s explosive meeting in which three high ups in the French Renault F1 team (Nelson Piquet Jnr, the driver, Flavio Briatore, Renault Team Principal and Pat Symonds the Renault Engineering Director) were found guilty of deliberately causing a crash so that team driver Fernando Alonso could win a Grand Prix in 2007 tells you (or at least me) absolutely that the days of it being a sport have gone for ever. I’d suspected that Business had triumphed over Sport in F1 circles for many years, but this removes all shadow of doubt.

The power of Money, the pursuit of Power, and the pursuit of the Ego have won and once again the corrosive destruction of something you thought may still have had a whiff of residual purity in it, leaves a pretty nasty taste in my mouth at least.

I suspect that all sports push at least some of its participants to test where the start point of the Unfair Advantage lies. Sometimes an injection of money buys it. Better training facilities, more aerodynamic swimsuits, more powerful engines, the time to spend more hours at the sport, and less earning the money to pay for the improvement, lighter bikes, more coaching and support skills – the list is pretty endless. The drugs issue is another side of this, where personal improvement is bought at who knows what cost to the body or the mind of the participant. Yes, these people get the immediate accolade, although it must feel to them, on the inside, like cheating at Patience or Solitaire.
Yet they still do it.

Motor Racing has always had the issue of Cheating/Unfair Advantage sitting under the surface fighting against the genuinely Great Driver or the Genius Car Designer, and it has often been very difficult to work out who sits where. As far back as 1952, the French firm Gordini neatly solved the power deficit problem they had by putting a 2.5 litre engine in their car at Reims in France in the Grand Prix Race wher the maximum engine size was 2 litres, and promptly won.

Racing teams used to regularly swap the numbers on their cars to ensure both team drivers qualified for the race using the best car available. Teams have been known to poke out a pit board from their pit to break the timing beam in front of their car during Practice to move them up the grid a few places.

It all seemed a bit of a joke then. But, nowadays, there is so much money involved in the sport, the “fun” bit is long gone, and to my eyes, so has much of the sport. It’s all deadly serious and, very definitely, not played for laughs anymore.

But although there are a few occasions where people put their hands up and do the “Fair Cop, Guv” bit, I am left with the suspicion that the cheating and “advantage taking” remains not far under the skin. I am nowhere near the sport, but even I am aware of a few examples over the last 15 years or so where my eyebrows were raised (to varying levels) at what individuals and organisations seemed to be prepared to do in the name of winning a race.

Such situations, fairly or unfairly, seemed to follow Michael Schumacher about, one reason why, great driver though he undoubtedly was, he does not qualify in my eyes as a great human being. In 1994, his Benetton team broke the rules in the electronic systems on his car. A few lines of deftly hidden code in the software controlling his traction control system seemed to bestow an amazing power to get his car off the start line better than all the others. Benneton also apparently had an amazing way to get fuel into the cars more quickly in pit stops, by using an illegal tubing system which gave them a few seconds advantage. His Team Manager in those days – Flavio Briatore.

When under pressure to win World Championships, Schumacher was not above running his rivals off the road. He did it in 1994 by driving Damon Hill off the road, and did it again in 1997 with Jacques Villeneuve, both of whom would have won the World Championship had he not done so. He did something similar in 2006 at Monaco, where, on a narrow circuit, Pole position is critical, by the simple expedient of stopping his car in the middle of the track to prevent Alonso from having the chance of matching his own time.

Honda, in 2005, (now Brawn – and leading the World Championship as this is written) were caught with a secret fuel tank built into their car, allowing them a weight advantage to be used during the races. None of the other teams made much of a fuss about this, and the suspicion is that several of them were doing the same thing, and a bit of frantic redesign was the immediate order of the day in several Grand Prix Design Offices.

In the last couple of years, spying to get hold of data about opponent’s cars has raised its head on a few occasions. Trusted individuals, high up in Team A, have been found extorting crucial data about next year’s cars from members of Team B. McLaren were fined $100 million (not a misprint) in 2007 for allegedly extracting technical secrets from Ferrari via a design dossier passed over on a couple of CDs. There are strong rumours that Toyota, a Japanese team who has spent fabulous sums of money in Formula 1 with singular lack of success to date, was involved in something very similar, although that seems to have died a death.

None of this is nice, but none of it puts lives at risk. It is a statement of the blindingly obvious that Motor Racing is dangerous. No-one would watch it if it was totally safe. When cars crash, physics and maths take over, and the human element in it all gives away total control of the outcome to fate, sometimes with fatal results.

People try to make it as safe as possible, but “as safe as possible” is not “Safe”. Even this year, the son of John Surtees who won the World Championship in 1964, was killed racing when a tyre came off another car and hit him on the head. In Formula 1 this year, Felippe Massa had his skull broken and hasn’t raced since, by a spring which broke off another car he was following. Accidents happen, and happen unpredictably.

Here, with Nelson Piquet Jnr, we have a driver, apparently offering to crash his car at the most opportune point in a race to allow his teammate, Alonso, to modify his race strategy, and win the Grand Prix. On the basis that Renault are formally not contesting the issue, and the fact that the Team Boss and its Engineering Director have parted company with the French firm, as of today, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that they all colluded to arrange a crash in the race, presumably for financial and “glory” benefits. The fact that Piquet’s actions could have resulted in a major accident involving himself, the other drivers and the spectators at the venue seems not to have worried them. Terrifying.

He seems to have done it to try to curry favour with Renault. He is the son of a previous World Champion, also named Nelson, who was a seriously good driver in his time, and you can imagine the parental pressure to live a father’s life again through his son here. Nelson Jnr had definitely not been a success, and was fighting for his racing life with Renault when the alleged incident took place. Unfortunately, Nelson Jnr was not a great driver – he wasn’t even a good one as Grand Prix drivers go, so presumably panic took over.

He has now totally destroyed any driver credibility he may have had, and two of the Great and the Good in the sport, Briatore and Symonds have also been destroyed. No-one, I imagine will feel much sorrow about Briatore, but I am genuinely surprised and amazed that someone like Pat Symonds would have got involved in such a thing. He came across on TV as an honest and upstanding individual with a considerable degree of integrity about him. Perhaps it was the pressure from the Corporate bosses to succeed, or perhaps he wasn’t quite as straight as his TV persona suggested. I simply don’t know.

But it’s yet another example of the erosion of the simple belief in sport that what you are seeing is people striving to their utmost within a given set of rules to be the best there is. It’s very corrosive, to me at least, and the next time I see something magical happen on the Sports TV screen, I will find it difficult to avoid the nasty little cynical thought niggling in the back of my mind that someone has pulled a fast one here.

And I really don’t want that.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


What is it about dieting? It’s now classified as an infectious disease in our family. One member started about 6 months ago, and over the last few months, everyone in a position to do so, ie one of my daughters (the other is 4 weeks away from giving birth), both of my Sons in Law, my wife and myself have had the weight reduction bit between our teeth.

In total, we’ve lost a little over 10 stones, ie 140 pounds – the weight of one of us. Hence the title of this piece.

It’s weird how it all takes hold. I’ve been around 12 stones (156 pounds for those living in the far flung outposts of the Empire) for most of my life, but, over the last year or so, it has gradually crept up, evidenced by that imperceptibly increasing but very real amount by which one needs to breathe in to allow the various zips and buttons to be secured. There comes a point where another meal of the current size and calorie content will cost a fortune, because it will entail a visit to the shops to buy a complete new wardrobe one size larger.

And that for me was the final straw. Take yourself in hand boy, get a grip and stop troughing.

If you go on at someone to lose weight, it simply doesn’t work. It has to come from within. If you go on one of these fancy diets, that is only a temporary measure. As soon as you reach your desired weight, you revert to the previous regime, and off you go, or more accurately on it goes again.

I’m very much not a diet expert, never having subjected myself to the strictures of one during my life. So I use simple logic - at least that’s what I think it is. The fewer calories you take in, given a constant rate of metabolism, the more you will use your internal store of energy, and the more weight you will lose. I have no desire to eat Cabbage soup, and fart like a trooper for the rest of my life, and a diet of strict protein, like an Atkins one, would set me hallucinating for a warm, buttery croissant within days.

I have almost zero self control in these things, so it had to be something my weak-willed-ness could cope with. Anyone who can eat a complete packet of biscuits at a sitting the way I could, needs everything on their side to make it work.

So, try to cut out the mid morning “this”, and the mid afternoon “that” (if you're into Winnie the Pooh (and you should be), the "Little Smackerels"), try not to go too mad with the clotted cream and strawberry jam scones (with butter of course) and keep to around 1900-2000 calories a day. You can even get away with a couple of glasses of wine in that if you do a bit of advanced calorific planning.

It seems totally unfair that, metabolically speaking, as you get older, your body needs fewer and fewer calories to maintain any given weight. What spoilsport thought that one up? As the years roll on, our minds start to go (Why am I standing with the fridge door open and a toilet roll in my hand?), our skin gets more rugged (not good for the fairer sex), our joints stiffen up at the same rate as other parts get less stiff (for my sense of self esteem, I put that one down to the medication!), and generally it all gently unravels. You’d think that, as a little bite sized consolation, the Great Dietician in the Sky would allow you to consume more calories each day. But No.

So my infernally clever Japanese weighing machine, which instantly calculates my Body Mass Index, whatever that is, and my optimum calorie intake tells me that I need something around 2,700 per day to stay as overweight as I am, and gives me a target. I don't think the Japanese have a sense of humour. Since each pound of weight loss needs 3,500 calories NOT to be injested, then, the maths tells me, aiming at 2,000 per day will result in a loss of a bit more than 1 pound per week.

10 or so weeks later, I am 13 (actually 13.4 – to me, the 0.4 is quite important here) pounds less heavy. My clothes now fit, and actually the ones which you use as a last resort as the weight creeps up, now fall off me with a very satisfying “splott” on the carpet. So Memo to Self - don’t wear those when you go to the supermarket, as the other customers might get the wrong idea when you’re bending over in the veg section selecting a cucumber.

I feel significantly better as a result of all this. Some of it is psychological, the result of setting out to do something I didn’t quite know I could keep up. And some of it simply physical. Just lift a large bag up that weighs 14 pounds, and imagine having to carry it around all the time. You really shouldn’t be surprised, but I was.

And I now feel I can manage to stay on the regime I’ve come up with. Last night, I even had a gargantuan portion of Daughter-cooked (and hence excellent) Shepherds Pie last night, and went to bed thinking that, as I leapfrogged onto the scales this morning, I would be in for a rude awakening. I weighed less that I’d ever done this year. Perhaps there are no calories in a meal cooked by someone else.

My confusion is immense, but I don’t care. I was going to say that "The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating", but you'd probably think I was going for a cheap laugh, so I won't.