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This article, among today’s tsunami of obesity-warning headliners, caught Robbo’s eye:

A quarter of adults in Britain are now obese, a figure that is due to more than double by 2050. Those from poorer backgrounds are much more likely to be obese than the more affluent.

But a government quango is now advising public health experts drawing up anti-obesity plans around the country to avoid using the ‘o’ word itself for fear of upsetting people.

Health campaigners last night attacked the softly-softly approach, describing it as “extremely patronising”.

Under draft guidance issued by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), those who are obese should merely be encouraged to get down to a “healthier weight”.

The guidance states that public health professionals should know “the appropriate language to use”, advising them: “Referring to ‘achieving a healthy weight’ may be more acceptable for some people.”

So there really is a N.I.C.E. in GB, and one that is not all that different in purported raison d’etre from its sinister, fictitious counterpart.   I’m not sure I knew that before.  C.S.Lewis would no doubt be…..appalled.

Most of the articles on the subject I’ve seen today have been divided into two parts.  The first is a truly alarming statistical analysis of the (apparently) growing weight problem that seems to be plaguing certain parts of Western Civilization.  The second is an even more alarming call for Big Brother to tank in and more closely regulate not only every aspect of individual dietary and exercise habits, but also any person, place or thing even remotely ancillary to the issue, from tax policy to local zoning ordinances.

Sound familiar?  It should.  This is an obesity-driven (oops!) variant on the global warming power grab.   The Nanny State doesn’t want to kick you to death with jackboots, she wants to smother you in a loving iron embrace.

It isn’t often these days that ol’ Robbo is motivated to disinter some of his old academic training,  the biznay of keeping his day job and raising his family occupying the majority of what might facetiously be called his brain power.   However, once in a great while, he is on the receiving end of an inspiration, and this appears to be one of those times.

Something or other that passed in a recent telephone chin-wag with the Mothe prompted me to haul out, for its annual reading, my copy of George MacDonald Fraser’s supreme semi-fictitious memoir of life in a Highland regiment just after WWII, The Complete McAuslan.  Now, I have heard that there are those among my fellow port swillers who have been put off by the raunchy, abominable behavior of the anti-hero of Fraser’s magnum opus, the Flashman series (who, I believe, Fraser actually employed as a stalking-horse so that he could indulge his genuine love of Victorianism without appearing too gawd-help-us.)  Let me assure those of you have not read the McAuslan stories that they are nothing of the same sort.   Although every bit (if not more) screamingly funny in parts, they are instead warm, sentimental,  decent and proud, a soldier’s loving recollection of the men with whom he served once upon a time, in all their magnificent idiosyncrasy, implacability and implausibility.   (They were Scots, after all.)

Anyhoo, as I plunged in again, it occurred to me that Fraser employs numerous references with which I am either not at all or else only vaguely familiar.  There are many names of Highland military songs and tunes, for example, such as “The Muckin’ o’ Geordie’s Byre” or “The Lum Hat Wantin’ the Croon”.  There are also references to places and persons, such as St. Valery, the Taku Forts, [the clown] Grock, Henry Morgan and the Tiller Girls that escape me.  Finally, Fraser will sometimes sneak in a turn of phrase which I believe to be a literary allusion, such as, “entering like Rumour painted full of tongues”,¹  “Eric-or-Little-by-Little voice” and “to say, like Israel Hands, ‘Because I want their pickles and wines and that.'”  The stories are full of these.  They really are.

So it occurred to me that it would be an absolutely charming indulgence to undertake a personal annotation of Fraser’s text.  Regular friends of the decanter know with what delight ol’ Robbo wallows in useless historickal trivia of this sort.  What could be more fun than compiling an entire, probably book-length in itself, appendix of such concentrated goodiness?

My first step, as I read through this time, is marking the margins every time I come across one of these gems.  My next task (ha!), once done, will be to go back and research them, hopefully finding words and tunes, biographical and historickal details, and source materials.

And, of course, I will pass on the choice bits to you, my fellow port swillers!

(What? You haven’t read this book? Go get it! Shoo! Off with you!)

¹ UPDATE:  This line (actually a character description in the stage direction) is from the introduction to Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2, (with a nod by Will to classical sources such as Virgil.)   Easy and interesting, no?

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Regular friends of the decanter may or may not have gleaned from ol’ Robbo’s postings over the years the fact that I am a firm believer in propriety, defined by Webster’s as, “the quality or state of being proper or suitable : appropriateness.”

It’s not that I’m a prig or a prude.   It’s just that I think everything has its time and place (just ask my family, who hear me use that phrase ad nauseam) and that I also think there are, in fact, some things which ought to, as it were, remain behind the curtain at all times.

This came to mind last evening as I stood in the kitchen, clutching the local fishwrapper and trying to divert my attention with an examination of the real estate listings, as a highly technical conversation was carried on in voices calculated to call home the cattle across the sands of the Dee, between one daughter locked in the downstairs loo and another apparently upstairs in her bedroom, the lines of communication being kept open by the third who stood at the top of the stairs and acted as a signal relay.   I won’t go into the details:  Suffice to say that when I finally had had enough, I burst into the hall yelling, “For God’s sake, girls, too much information ! Too much information!”

Evidently, I have not been plain enough heretofore with my hints about discretion and decorum.  I now feel I have no choice but to print several poster-sized notices entitled “Words, Phrases and Topics Verboten Within Earshot Of Dad!”  and tack them up around the port swiller house.   It pains me to have to take such a sledgehammer approach to enforcing what is a matter of nicety, but I feel I have no real alternative in order to avoid going barmy.



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May 2012