I seem to have spent the first three weeks of 2011 attempting to prove my innocence. ‘So sorry to keep you, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to call for my manager,’ the checkout lady at Waitrose informed me, sounding vaguely alarmed. I think she probably added a ‘madam’, as I was shopping in Motcomb Street and Motcomb Street is anachronistically grand. All the staff are unfailingly polite and make a habit of never pointing when giving out ‘aisle directions’. Instead, they immediately stop whatever it is they’re doing and take the time to personally escort their customers. I like everything about Waitrose. Nobody working there ever takes umbrage if a customer asks for marginally esoteric cooking ingredients. Unlike Sainsbury’s, where the staff react to requests for quite ordinary items with a withering shrug of apathy and incomprehension (they also like to point).
The manager at Waitrose escorted me away from the conveyor belt and kept his voice very low. ‘I’m terribly sorry, madam, but legally we are only allowed to sell customers two items that contain paracetamol.’ I looked confused. He then held up three family-sized, incriminating packets: Lemsip Max Cold and Flu Direct, Anadin Extra and Nurofen Plus. ‘It’s health and safety,’ he explained. ‘But I have six people at home snuffling and wheezing,’ I stuttered lamely. ‘It’s because of the risk factor,’ he whispered, gently steering me back to my waiting groceries. ‘Now, madam, will you be requiring normal bags for these, or Bags for Life?’ In most circumstances I find I never really want anything — bar my immediate family — for life, but I felt compelled to convince this polite stranger that not only was I happily free of suicidal feelings, I was also looking to the future enough to want to recycle responsibly.
Four days later I did a minor supermarket sweep in Zara with my daughter. We were stocking up on sweaters for her to take back to New York and as soon as we got home we decanted our loot straight on to our backs. My wool poncho (drastically reduced to just £29) seemed to hang in a curiously lop-sided fashion. This, I discovered, was not a sartorial statement but was because the plastic security tag had not been removed. Although I had left the shop without alarm bells sounding, I was now placed in the unenviable position (having inevitably lost the receipt) of having to return what looked like stolen goods. I stood outside the shop with the offending item held high above my head trying to attract the attention of a security guard, feeling like a shoplifter seeking redemption. No one took the slightest bit of notice. I started waving. Nothing happened. Eventually I caught the eye of a sales assistant and we had a doorstop standoff. I refused to enter until she found a security guard to escort me, as I was paranoid I was going to set the alarm off and be arrested. It was surprisingly scary to feel guilty until proved innocent.
The haunting Channel 4 documentary about Paul Mason, Britain’s Fattest Man, ironically overtook Come Dine With Me in the rating wars. Weighing in at a titanic 70 stone, Paul was filled not just with 20,000 calories a day, but also with resigned despair, self-loathing, pity and helplessness. As Paul was unable to attend to any bodily function himself, his government-funded carers seemed to earn the majority of their £45,000 salary cooking for him. They were like paid feeders. The documentary followed the controversial (and extortionately expensive) life-saving bypass surgery he underwent last year on the NHS to restrict his appetite and quell the urge to comfort eat. Last week I read that Paul now weighs 30 stone and is apparently suing the Suffolk NHS for neglecting to identify his binge-eating disorder earlier. Mr Mason is actually attempting to bite the very hand that once fed him.
My ambitious New Year’s resolution is a desire to eliminate the word ‘journey’ from celebrity vernacular. It’s inaccurate, over-used, and nowadays irritatingly deployed to describe everything from being a parent, giving up drink, mending a broken heart, doing a job or just simply going about what most mere mortals refer to as an everyday life. I’m sick of hearing about ‘the long journey’ actors take when bringing a part to the screen; bored by D-listers moaning about their ‘slow journeys to recovery’, fed up with listening to the self-congratulatory ‘journeys of self-discovery’ every starlet feels compelled to share. The fact that Tony Blair called his autobiography A Journey should have made it quite clear that it is not acceptable. Get real in 2011. If you want to journey, just go on holiday.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 22, 2011Tags: Diary, Sarah standing