WHILE browsing in the British Library last week, I chanced upon a medical report entitled "An Unsuccessful Operation", originally published in a well-respected Danish journal. In it, Dr Jorn Kristensen of Kjellerups hospital explained how a patient "had come in to have a mole removed from his left buttock" and described how (after administering the anaesthetic) his assistant had washed the patient's genitals and buttocks with surgical spirit, as the routine operation got underway.
Unfortunately, the unconscious patient suddenly broke wind, and his flatus was ignited by a spark from the surgeon's electrical knife, which in turn set fire to the surgical spirit, and everything burst into flames.
"When the smoke died down," said the surgeon, "I saw that his penis, scrotum and buttocks had seconddegree burns, and all his pubic hair was very badly singed. I immediately abandoned the operation, and the patient is now sueing the hospital for pain, loss of income, and temporary removal of his conjugal rights." Apparently the patient still has the mole. And you thought the NHS had problems?
Being a nation of noscomephobiacs (afraid of hospitals) who suffer from thanatophobia (fear of death), we Brits are forever trying to keep ourselves fit by putting ourselves on a diet (ironically, itself a form of self-imposed slow death). This masochistic tendency was examined in Friday night's So You Think You Want ... A Healthy Lifestyle (C4), which invited a journalist from what we hacks are taught to call "another newspaper" to give up booze and calories for two weeks, in a bid to discover the slimmer, fitter self within.
"Jaci Stephen has what seems like a great job - she's a TV critic," declared the narrator, with what seemed to me to be a wholly unnecessary degree of sarcasm, but there's no denying that most telly reviewers are (in Ms Stephen's own words) " professional couch potatoes". Not me though. I'm a toasted whippet, thanks to my exercise bike (which is connected to a generator and powers my TV set), and I assure you that the fat face you see at the top of this page is due solely to my having inadvertently purchased a product called "I Can't Believe It's Not Lard".
Laying bare her lifestyle with commendable honesty, Jaci admitted to consuming 4,000 calories of takeaway curry at a single sitting ("a woman of her age needs 2,000 calories a day," chided the narrator), and washing it down with seven bottles of Rioja during each five-day working week. "The recommended alcohol level for women works out at no more than two or three small glasses of wine a day," continued the miserable voice of authority, which then sent her off to a health club, where her plump (but by no means obese) body was gratuitously insulted by a trainer.
"I'm going to kill myself, I'm 39 per cent fat," she wailed after being weighed, "that's bigger than Vanessa," which suggests either that this was recorded some time ago, or that Ms Stephen is slightly out of touch. I have it on good authority that Ms Feltz began dieting at precisely the same time as that other erstwhile media porky, Dale Winton, and that Vanessa is now only half the woman she used to be. As, indeed, is Dale. Desperate measures were called for, commencing with a session of full colonic irrigation, which proved (among other things) that curry enters and leaves the body in exactly the same condition. Faced with a mackerel for lunch, she glumly observed that "no matter how you do fish, it always smells like a visit to the gynaecologist", and although she enthused about the game of squash she'd just finished, she then added: "Are we off camera now? I hate it."
BY the end, she hadn't lost much weight (though she had turned 25 per cent of her fat into muscle), but she didn't ultimat e ly think that pursuing a healthier lifestyle would become her new raison d'tre. "We all want to find the meaning of life," she concluded, "and the meaning of life is, in fact, a bottle of Rioja with a couple of friends." And while I might quibble with her over the choice of wine, I wouldn't change the sentiment one iota.
I know that all critics are scum (indeed, Ben Elton said so on Parkinson at the weekend, his savage verdict doubtless quite unconnected to the thorough drubbing his latest musical had just received), but Jaci emerged as a real and likeable person during this ordeal. Sucking on a date (not for the first time, if the writing on the lavatory wall is correct), she looked like little Jimmy Krankie after a sex change (yes, I know Jimmy's a woman - use your imagination), and skilfully held the programme together, which is more than can be said for the producer, with his tired visual gimmicks (how many more video diary inserts with fake flashing red "REC" light must we endure?) and his earnest community programming agenda.
Whenever I see people exercising in a futile quest for longevity, I think of Jim Fixx, the jogger who proselytised to us about his keep- fit regime, then took the precaution of dropping dead while performing it; a fate that's almost as tragicomically amusing as that of the famous fictional antiquarian, who suffered from alopecia and bad luck, and bought a book on hair care. All the pages fell out.
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