This is what I am: Week 2 food diary

So here’s week 2 – from Wednesday 13th April to Tuesday 19th April inclusive:

  • 4 Weetabix
  • 2,000ml whole milk
  • 20g granulated sugar
  • 300g cooked chickpeas
  • 60g pine-nuts
  • 105ml olive oil
  • 980g potato
  • 4 bananas
  • 4 apples
  • Half can tuna in water
  • 90g Parmesan cheese
  • 220g spinach
  • 240g home-made cake
  • 100ml fruit smoothie
  • 210g bran flakes
  • 60g fried fish
  • 340g chicken
  • 90g chorizo
  • 2 rounds assorted sandwiches*
  • Spinach ricotta parcel*
  • 600ml orange juice
  • 700ml white wine
  • 200ml champagne
  • Portion prawn and coconut Thai curry and rice*
  • 60g porridge oats
  • 30ml golden syrup
  • Portion pasta with vegetables*
  • Small slice garlic bread*
  • Portion fruit trifle*
  • 50g tortilla chips
  • 2 tins sild in oil (drained)
  • 450g purple sprouting broccoli
  • 105g (uncooked weight) brown rice
  • Corned beef and rice*
  • 200ml red wine
  • Fried plantain
  • 4 shredded wheat
  • 1 small pork pie
  • 50g grapes
  • 100g Yorkshire pudding
  • 100g ginger yoghurt
  • 2 Ryvita crispbread
  • 7g butter
  • 75g vegetable crisps
  • 165g natural yoghurt
  • 300g (cooked weight) pinto beans

Items with asterisks were stuff I ate away from home, and I’ve given my best guess as to their calorific value in the total below. If you’re wondering what happened to my meat-free Lent, er, well, um… My excuses are a) we Anglicans don’t count Sundays as part of Lent and b) I was in other people’s houses several times last week, and didn’t want to be rude. Or something like that.

It all tots up to a total number of calories spookily identical to last week’s tally: 16,400 (about 2,350 a day). Alcohol consumption was slightly up at 16 units (of which about 12 were consumed on one day, so I’m officially a binge drinker!)

My blood pressure (taken in the morning before exercise) was 100/74, and resting heart rate was 56 beats/min. I weighed 69.3Kg.

I know you’ll all be disappointed, but the food diary is taking a couple of weeks off as I’m going to France on Thursday. France and food diaries do not mix, and I’ve no intention of sitting morosely in some Michelin-starred food temple, jotting down chef’s ingredients, and being scowled at by my wife.

For those who perhaps can’t imagine why on earth I’d be doing this, the nearest you’ll get to an answer is here.

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Watch my lips: some things are just wrong

Portugal now has scenes of destitution not known in Western Europe since the second world war. Even those charities set up to assist the most impoverished Portuguese citizens are themselves facing bankruptcy as donations dry up. Tourists from richer European economies simultaneously contribute much needed earnings for the Portuguese economy, but also inevitably point up the disparities of wealth even more cruelly.

The financial crisis which has engulfed the world since 2008 has elicited a vast amount of analysis about causes, and an equal amount of conflicting prescriptions for recovery. In our own country, government austerity measures are disproportionately loading the “payment for the crisis” onto the poorest members of our society – not necessarily in cash terms but most definitely in terms of relative impact. It matters not that direct tax changes may indeed be taking more from higher earners than from lower earners. If you’re earning £15-20K even marginal losses are acute, even though the 50% tax rate on the richest may cost those individuals thousands of pounds.

As it is for individuals in our society, so it is for countries within Europe. The price being paid by the Greek, Irish and Portuguese economies for the Euro-zone bail outs is in turn visited on those societies’ poorest members. The cumulative effect of all this is a vast transfer of relative wealth from poor people to rich people. I don’t care about the technical difficulties, about the arguments that if we don’t continue to allow bankers to earn eye-watering bonuses they’ll take their bats and balls elsewhere. Watch my lips. It is simply wrong – unconscionable in fact, to take Messrs Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama’s word today in the different context of Libya – that people should be impoverished and stripped of their dignity to pay for mistakes they didn’t make, whilst those who did make those mistakes continue as if nothing happened.

It is simply wrong now. But it was equally, and just as simply, wrong before the crisis to allow, nay encourage and make a virtue of, enormous discrepancies of wealth in our economies. The world economic order is changing, in the sense that the balance of power is shifting inexorably eastwards, but in every other respect nothing is changing at all. China and India seem content, enthusiastic even, for their total economies to grow by the same method of tolerating massive and ever-increasing inequalities of wealth.

When all is said and done, we must stop listening to the economic technocrats whose siren voices continue to tell us that there is no other way. That economic growth cannot be achieved except at the expense of removing all constraints on the wealth of individuals, and by de-regulating the activities of companies. Watch my lips once more. I don’t care about your sophisticated defence of what is patently and glaringly wrong, corrosive and destructive. I don’t want to hear it. I want you to acknowledge that if the methods by which you want to raise the total well-being of whole societies in fact only do so by simultaneously impoverishing the majority and enriching the minority, then those methods aren’t good enough. Go back to your economic drawing boards and start again. Don’t come back until you have discovered another way, a way in which such distortions are avoided.

For a third time, watch my lips. Some things are just wrong. Understood?

This is what I am: Week 1 food diary

Drum roll… So this is what I ate from Wednesday 6th April to Tuesday 12th April inclusive:

  • 6 Weetabix
  • 310g bran flakes
  • 2,385ml whole milk
  • 44g granulated sugar
  • 680g cooked chickpeas
  • 95g pine-nuts
  • 210ml olive oil
  • 40g lettuce
  • 400g natural yoghurt
  • 580g potato
  • 1 baked sea-bass
  • 2 roasted peppers
  • 4 Ryvita crispbread
  • 65g butter
  • 7 bananas
  • 5 deep-fried squid rings
  • 100g braised mushrooms
  • 2 tuna-filled pastries
  • 50ml dry sherry
  • 115g (uncooked weight) Puy lentils
  • 115g (uncooked weight) spaghetti
  • 225g onion
  • 300ml fruit smoothie
  • 350ml red wine
  • 2 apples
  • 50g Parmesan cheese
  • 60g porridge oats
  • 30ml golden syrup
  • 2 pints beer
  • 180g (uncooked weight) wholewheat pasta
  • 1 tin sardines
  • 85g (uncooked weight) pudding rice
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Portion fish pie
  • 60g peas
  • 100g carrots
  • 100g swede
  • Portion apple crumble with single cream
  • 200g salmon
  • 150g spinach
  • 105g (uncooked weight) brown rice
  • Half can tuna in water
  • 3 Matzos crackers
  • 125g home-made cake

Estimated total calories consumed = 16,400 (about 2,350 a day). Total alcohol consumption about 10 units.

My blood pressure (taken in the morning before exercise) was 110/80, and resting heart rate was 51 beats/min. I weighed 69.5Kg.

This week’s food contains no meat as I’ve given it up for Lent! Next Wednesday evening I’ll be publishing another week’s food. I’ll bet you can’t wait…

If you are what you eat, then I’m this…

A lot of people are entirely allergic to any television programme that might be described as “reality TV”. Whilst that is often not a bad rule of thumb, I don’t personally agree with such a sweeping generalisation. One such programme that I find by turns fascinating, morbidly voyeuristic, enlightening and irritating is Channel 4’s “Super-size versus Super-skinny”. For the reality TV allergic amongst you this programme brings together two members of the public that have opposing eating disorders. One is “super-sized”, rolling in folds of fat and eating gargantuan quantities of all the wrong foods. The other is “super-skinny”, addicted to punishing exercise, and lives on a couple of haricot beans and a gallon of sugar-free coke a day with resulting skeletal frame and multiple nutritional deficiencies. Under the watchful supervision of a handsome and perfectly proportioned doctor these two unfortunates are then invited to eat each other’s diets for several weeks. The grossly fat one stares disconsolately at a breakfast of water and single digestive biscuit, whilst the minuscule one tries with greater or lesser gusto to force down a grease-laden repast of 10 eggs, several beefburgers, and a couple of bags of crisps, whilst casting a doleful eye on the mid-morning snack of bacon sandwiches that they will shortly also have to consume.

It is nothing if not shock therapy. As in all the best of the reality genre, there is a liberal oiling of cod-psychology to keep everything slipping along nicely, and if you’re lucky you might get a couple of scenes of bitter recrimination in which the thin one fails to consume all the goodies on offer and is chided by the fat one, who claims that the thin one is not keeping to the bargain. In return, the thin one demands to know how they are expected to consume half their own body weight at every sitting. Interspersed between the sequences of ill-matched meals and psychological warfare are the voyeur shots of anatomically incomprehensible folds of blubber in the one case, and a pitifully protruding skeleton in the other.

One of the programme’s fixtures is a scene in which each participant’s weekly food and drink intake is gathered together in one modest, and one spectacularly vast, pile. The contestants (for that is what they really are) are then obliged to stare in horror and amazement at what they are doing to themselves. The doctor intones in a sympathetic but authoritative voice-over all the evils of obesity, the diabetes, the heart disease, the worn-out joints: and the equal and opposite evils of vitamin and mineral deficiency, of potential heart failure, or of acid reflux that will bedevil the anorexic.

But it’s those piles of weekly food that tend to catch my eye. We don’t normally see our week’s food paraded in front of us. And it’s made me wonder what my pile might look like. I’ve absorbed at some level or another over the years all the healthy eating messages with which we are bombarded at every waking moment, but I’ve never really considered what I actually eat en masse. I have no idea how close or far I am from that magical 5 daily portions of fruits and vegetables; from that average man’s 2,500 calories a day; from the proper quantity of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.

So I’ve decided to find out. I’m keeping a food diary, but I’m not making any attempt to change or modify my diet. I’m simply noting down as accurately as I can everything I eat or drink (other than water). For meals that I prepare for myself (the vast majority) I’m trying to capture quantities and calorific values, but when I eat outside of my home, then I’m using my best guess as to both ingredients and quantities. I started doing this last Wednesday, so later today I’ll be reporting on the week from then (6th April) to yesterday (12th April). I’m not doing it meal by meal, but instead creating my own virtual weekly pile à la Super-size vs Super-skinny. I’ll keep it up as long as I can, or at least until boredom overtakes me. I recognise that no 2 weeks are identical, and that in order to get a reasonable grasp of what I am if I eat this, I need to average it over several weeks. If I really get into the swing of it, and find I’m able to do it over a longer time frame, well I can always sell the results to some researcher into British eating habits.

Food’s not everything, since there’s expenditure as well as income in the food accounts. I work in an office, and am as perfect a sedentary worker as you could wish to meet. Most days I do little walking, although I do always walk up the stairs to my 6th floor office and eschew the lift. However, to set against this, I am rigorously disciplined in taking exercise every day on my cross-trainer. I have programmed it so that I do the equivalent work of 400 calories every weekday morning (before breakfast if you’re interested) and this equates to between 35 and 45 minutes exercise depending on the heart-rate I’m exercising at. The longer times are when I’m working at 122 beats per minute (about 75% aerobic capacity at my age) whilst the shorter times are when I’m working at 146 beats per minute (about 90% aerobic capacity). In addition therefore to the food and calorie data I’ll be reporting, I’ll also include blood pressure, resting heart-rate, and body weight.

So look out for my first set of results later!! And if you’re a doctor or nutritionist, please feel free to analyse my life-style and tell me if it’s still worth me worrying about my pension!

Bronte Country? Oh, please…

This is the first in a new series of not especially serious rants against those stupidities and infelicities of contemporary life that piss me off so much more than they could conceivably warrant. Small things that punch above their weight in the pantheon of irritants and annoyances. I think I’ve lived long enough to deserve not having to suffer in silence any longer. So here goes… (And I may return to the suddenly ubiquitous ellipsis on another occasion.)

Whilst travelling along the M62 yesterday on my way to Lincolnshire, I passed a massive sign telling me that I could, if I wished, deviate into Bronte Country. Not, you will note, Brontë Country, but I suppose that would have been too much to ask. But it’s not the absence of umlaut that irritates me. It’s the very idea of This, That or The Other Country that now seems to infest the place. There’s the White Cliffs Country that pollutes one’s arrival at Dover. Robin Hood Country lurks menacingly anywhere within 50 miles of Nottingham. There’s White Horse Country, and Oast House Country, and probably Closed Down Mines Country should you venture into County Durham.

There’s something so archly contrived about all these suddenly sprouting countries. They are so obviously the evil excrescence from some tourist consultant’s warped imagination. They have absolutely no connection with how we think of our one real country. They stand in no naming tradition, and have no basis in how we use the language. Apart from the countries that are really countries, we only use the word in expressions such as “going down to the country”. This is not France. In France the expression pays de whatever is an entirely natural part of the French language. There are vins de pays, there are the gens du pays, there are melons de pays. But “country”, whilst it may be a perfectly good translation for pays, does not perform the same function in English. So no, we do not talk about country melons, even if we had any melons to be country ones. And, if you don’t want to see me reduced to spluttering apoplexy, you do not talk about Shakespeare Country within my earshot. Clear?

Nick Clegg: the Bernie Ecclestone of voting reform

The AV or not to AV debate is now getting into full swing. Regular readers will already know that I’m not a fan of the AV system, despite the fact that as a Green I’m apparently supposed to be a passionate advocate of it. My major criticism in that post was taking issue with the notion of “wasted votes”, the unhelpful and inaccurate description that supporters of AV like to give to what are in fact merely losing votes. Today I’d like to attack another plank of the case put forward by those who would fiddle about with the existing voting system. Next week I may cast an acerbic eye over one of the other elements of the AV platform – consider this a slow drip-feed of scepticism gently moistening and annoying the sink of the voting reform kitchen.

For those not familiar with the world of Formula 1 (and in most respects I am proud to be one of you) the Bernie Ecclestone of the title is a kind of elderly despot who holds sway over the world of that particular branch of motor-racing. Recently, when he’s not been cancelling the Bahrain opening race, he’s been giving thought to one of Formula 1’s key weaknesses as a spectator sport. Of course, the sport has many strengths for the kind of person most likely to want to attend such an event. There is the rapacious rape (not, I suppose, that there can be any other kind) of the planet’s resources; the smell of napalm in the morning (OK, high octane fuel in the afternoon); glamorous young men; glamorous, if entirely unnecessary, young women; the opportunity to spend lots of money, and to be seen to do so. But there is an Achilles heel. Although the cars rush round at a fiendish speed, for the most part they do so in an unchanging order, an order that was largely determined by their starting position on the grid at the commencement of the action. This is boring. Unkind people describe the proceedings as “a procession”. A glance at the results of practice tells you 90% of what a later glance at the champagne-soaked podium will reveal. It’s all very predictable.

So what to do? Mr Ecclestone has come up with an ingenious idea. He has noted that one of the few things that can throw a spanner in these predictable works is rain. Cars start to slither around alarmingly. Spray makes it impossible for the drivers to see beyond the end of their noses. People spin off. They crash. Much more exciting. So Bernie with, as ever, a weather (sic) eye on the yield at the gate, is suggesting that he randomly, and without the foreknowledge of the participants, begin drenching the course with fake rain. An idea, one might say, that simultaneously gives, and takes, the piss. In order to know who is likely to win the race it is now necessary actually to watch it, rather than merely make a note of practice times. Everyone’s happy. Apart from the drivers, obviously, but this is a spectator sport, so who cares what the participants think of it.

Mr Clegg has a similar problem with our current electoral system. He finds it boring. There are, he feels, too many seats where the outcome is known before the polls even open. He wants to spice it up a bit. He wants to add more opportunities for gasping disbelief as the returning officer tells us that the BNP have won Barking. Surely it’s wrong for all those BNP voters to find that their votes have been wasted. Indeed, twice as many BNP votes were wasted as were Liberal Democrat ones in 2010 since the LibDems had the ignominy to trail well behind the BNP. One would have thought that might give Mr Clegg pause. It hasn’t: no matter, thinks Nick. I’ll piss on the system, and make sure that all the votes of malcontents and assorted toss-pots are properly valued.

Of course, AV will not produce a BNP win in Barking. The only way of getting BNP MPs into parliament is to have a properly proportional system, which is of course what Mr Clegg really wants. That’s more like Mr Ecclestone engineering a random earthquake along with a bit of inclement weather. Mr Clegg knows he has no chance of that. Thus AV it has to be for the time being. So in Barking, most of the votes will still be “wasted”. The Labour party will still win. And that is for the outrageous reason that there are more Labour Party supporters in Barking than there are supporters of any other single party. This is no good. It is too predictable. Let’s try and rain on that parade.

For once, Rooney’s more blue than Red

As a Chelsea supporter, there were a few things that bothered me about Manchester United’s game against West Ham on Saturday a lot more than Wayne Rooney’s scatology. Four things to be precise, and Rooney was indeed responsible for three of them. Apparently those were not the most significant things about the game after all. Possibly true, since the more important injustice was the referee’s failure to send Vidić off earlier in the match. But no, this isn’t the most significant thing either. That accolade goes to Mr Rooney’s outburst of swearing when a TV camera was thrust in his face seconds after completing his hat-trick.

For his efforts he’s been charged by the Football Association with bringing the game into disrepute. Frankly you would have thought they were already doing a pretty comprehensive job on that score without the Man United forward’s assistance, but they’ve obviously decided that it would be wrong for them to take all the credit. It’s not only the FA that have taken offence. A chorus of protective parents has been offering themselves for interview by the media, during which they’ve said how the game is sinking into a mire of vulgarity, and how the innocent ears of their sons (no daughters seem to have been at risk) have had to be insulated from the barrage of four-letter expletive that now infests every football ground on match days. Reluctantly these assiduous parents have had to abandon family days out to the stadium of their choice in the interests of their children’s auditory health.

It struck me that these parents must have had their children at a ripe old age. I’d have thought that the average 10 year old had a dad of perhaps 35 or 40. Such fathers must have been going to football matches as a kid themselves within the last 30 years. Well, let me tell you, Chelsea’s ground 40 years ago when I was a regular guest at the Shed was not known for its delicacy of language. Referees’ mothers were whores even then, and were very liable to get their fucking heads kicked in according to the enthusiastic mass of humanity of which I was an equally enthusiastic part. So these dads must have been going to football matches many years before that, perhaps in the sedate 50’s before they’d never had it so good, and the permissive rot set in along Carnaby Street. Even if they were precocious supporters, slipping out of primary school to attend their football at the tender age of 8, they must be in their late 60’s by now. I doubt it. These fathers bemoaning the vulgarity of modern football have simply forgotten that it’s no worse now than it’s ever been. A football crowd has never been a place for those who blush easily. If by suitable for families they mean that no uncouthness is to be endured, then football has never been suitable for families. Not in my lifetime, anyway.

So what, if anything, has changed? Simply the intrusiveness of the media. When Grandstand delivered itself of the highlights on a Saturday evening in black and white and with only 405 lines, it was hard enough even to make out the faces of the players, never mind to be able to hear their innermost thoughts after scoring hat-tricks. If we had been able to do so, I’ll bet they were every bit as blue then as Wayne Rooney was on Saturday. I really don’t think it matters. If I want suave conversation and dulcet tones, I probably won’t be turning to the Rooneys of this world to provide it. Nor do I think that England’s youth are likely to be much traumatised by hearing Wayne Rooney display his lack of a wide vocabulary. Rooney pissed me off mightily with his feet on Saturday, but I really wasn’t troubled by his mouth. I’d advise the FA and the hyper-sensitive parents of delicate-eared offspring to take an equally laid-back approach.