Tuesday 17 April 2012

It’s no fun being a fat kid. I know because I was one!

Fat kids are a hot potato at the moment. It’s no fun being a fat kid. I know because I was one.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I was never slim, but between the ages of 13 and 16 I put on 5 stone, ending up as a 16 stone 16 year-old. Let me tell you people, that is no fun. The other lads didn’t want to hang out with me and as for girls, well, suffice to say that one low-down dirty day I found out my nickname at the local girls’ school was ‘Piggy’.


It’s painful enough being a 16 year-old without trying to deal with that kind of stigma. And stigma is what it was, firmly scored into my soul when my parents took me off at the age of 14 to see the Fat Boy Specialist.

To be fair to them they doubtless truly believed they were doing the right thing. Their motives were grounded in love, just as they were when they sent me to Merchant Taylors Public School at the age of 13. In their eyes it was a magnificent school that produced a high percentage of candidates for Oxford and Cambridge universities.

They were almost right. Rather than a school, it was a factory that produced candidates for Oxford and Cambridge universities. As a private company, the school needed to turn a profit, so they pushed the brighter kids forward unnecessarily quickly to boost the figures of Oxbridge graduates produced by their production line. These high figures attracted new customers, or parents as I prefer to call them.

Up until the time I was sent there I was a really popular kid. At my previous school I was top of my class, picked early for footie by my mates, a prefect and a Patrol Leader (yes, private education in England was indeed Hogwarts without the magic. Instead of dementors and death eaters, we had psychopathic sadists and sexual perverts for staff).

The trouble started when I scored straight ‘A’s across the board in my final exams. Merchant Taylors took one look at my stats and entered me into their system a year ahead of my age, straight into a class called ‘Divisions’, because it fell somewhere between the 4th and 5th year.

From being top of the class, loaded with friends and confidence, I found myself languishing like a dullard at the bottom of Divs. I knew nobody and appeared completely thick to all the other lads, because they were all pretty much a year ahead of me. I started to eat and that made me fat, which in turn made the brutal sports regime so beloved of English Public Schools an absolute nightmare for me.

To make friends you had to be either good in class, good at sport or good looking, but I felt none of the above. So I ate, because I was miserable and that made me fat, so my parents sent me to the Fat Boy Specialist.

Then I knew I was fat. It was official, so I didn’t care. Food became my rebellion and for a couple of years I stuffed my gob with ridiculous amounts of all the special foods the Fat Boy Specialist had told my parents I should eat.

It wasn’t until I was 17 and crashed my motor bike, breaking my femur, that I turned from that obese kid into the man I am today. I’m still carrying several stone too much body weight, but at least a good proportion of it is muscle these days, and more to the point, I no longer suffer from an adolescent mentality, although the Snapper might question that!

Happily middle-aged I now understand why I became that miserable fat boy. Much of it was the fault of the machiavellian English Public School system that turns teenagers into products that create profit, and a lot of it was down to being taken to the Fat Boy Specialist.

After my own experience of being stigmatised as fat, I can safely say that this proposed scheme to weigh every Irish child on their first day at Primary School is flawed from the outset. If your child weighs too much, their ‘cases’ will be referred to GPs and Fat Kid Specialists. That'll make them feel wonderfully bad about themselves.

Children can be remarkably cruel to each other, and I can think of no more scary and less necessary queue than the “Let’s See Who’s A Fatty” line awaiting your child on their first day at school.

Far from helping childhood obesity, it will stigmatise an entire generation of children, and churn out a bunch of teenagers with all manner of eating disorders.

Anyone who lives near a school sees kids out every day in their lunch hour, quickly stuffing their gobs with burgers, chips and subs. The food is cheap, fast and gives them a rush of fat, sugar and carbs for an hour or two, but by 3 o’clock they’ll be fast asleep in the classroom, unable to concentrate, their small bodies getting bigger and more blubbery by the minute.

It’s not often that I prefer the English way to the Irish, but back in my native country awareness of how to deal with this issue seems decades ahead.
Over there, Professor Terence Stephenson, vice-president of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has hit out at the government for their failure to stop what he calls “irresponsible marketing” tactics employed by the major fast food chains and soft drinks producers.

Last week the 200,000 member-strong Academy demanded a ban on companies like McDonalds and Coca Cola sponsoring major sporting events; exclusion zones around schools where it will be impossible to buy fast food; a ban on celebrities and cartoon characters advertising unhealthy children’s food and drink.

Now that makes sense. Stop selling of the playing fields. Get kids out and about, playing team sports in a healthy environment and they’ll seek out healthier foods. Stop them pigging out on junk and woh, hang on … hang on a minute … all of a sudden I’m sounding like Jamie bloody Oliver.

This colyoom isn’t single-handedly trying to stop childhood obesity, but rather highlight the insanity of implementing an arcane scheme that will make the situation much worse.

Now, I’m off to dunk a hobnob into a mug of tea. 
Well, I can, ‘cos I’m a grown-up.


Paz said...

The sad situation is the current government* are the same as the last lot and will not come up with any original ideas to deal with the problem. They will form a working group to look into the problem and they will produce a paper that has no new ideas and will not be enforced.
Then the government will do nothing and place a health(fat) tax on fast food and confectioneries.
*Who are not responsible for the economic state of the country which led to the obesity of the kids, or so they tell us from the outset of every soundbite

Charlie Adley said...

Sadly Paz original thinking is a rare commodity among politicians, but I was just struck by the difference in approach between here and the UK.

Over there they realise that kids will eat junk if they're given the chance, so they are moving to limit how miuch junk is avaialble near schools. Here they're just coming up with the idea that if you tell children they're fat they might want to lose weight. Welcome to the 1960s ...again!

Charlie Adley said...

Thanks to Tony, ex-Taylors, for reassuring me that Galway has not lost its sense of humour.

After posting this colyoom I sat back and waited for the slagging to come - surely someone had to say something derogatory about it ... but I waited... and waited … and nothing happened.

Perchance we're all so worried about being PC nobody dares to slag me off any more …
and then as I was walking past the Blue Note a voice called my name from the other side of the street.

Tony yelled

“Bloody 'ell Charlie, can't believe you were a fat kid. That’s such a stretch of the imagination, considering the athlete you tuned out to be!”

This made me feel better on two counts: firstly, because I deserved it and enjoy a good laugh at my own expense; secondly because it's good to know that readers of the physical paper colyoom still follow follow this colyoom online.