We once thought ourselves a superior species, increasingly the evidence points to us being the most stupid. PETER MORTIMER ponders a growing problem.
ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING MOMENTS at the recent Whitley Bay Film Festival came in BBC North East’s archive TV extracts of several decades worth of the region’s news programmes and documentaries.
I was especially impressed by film of the ‘Scottish Fortnight’ when Glaswegians descended in droves for their annual holiday in Whitley Bay, two weeks during which you were as likely to hear broad Glaswegian spoken as you were a Geordie accent in that seaside town.
By the 1980s this custom was dead. And so, in many ways, was Whitley Bay as a holiday resort. The end of the Glaswegians’ visits, coupled with our national summer exodus on cheap package tours to the continent, pushed the resort into a steep decline.
Only recently has the tide turned slightly: global warming means Whitley Bay’s summer thermometer occasionally reaches the giddy heights of 70F. Why, a man was even seen removing his T-shirt this year, I kid you not!
Added to which the rebirth of the Spanish City complex has transformed the tatty seafront, while many UK holidaymakers appear to have grown bored with the concrete high-rise hotels of Tossa del Wherever, a ‘staycation’ trend reinforced by economic necessity with the pound now worth less than the Ruritanian groat.
But back to the archive film footage: for a while I could not work out — cars, fashions and hairstyles apart — what was so different about then and now. Until, at last it sank in. . .
There were no fat people back then. Yes, that’s right. Not a single fatty in sight.
Young and old, male or female, flashily dressed or kitted out in beige. . . with hardly an exception, people strolling the promenade, whizzing around on the waltzer or paddling in the ice-cold North Sea were slim.
Big, wobbly bellies did not hang over trousers, no one waddled like a shaken jelly, chins were not copious, necks did not spread as wide as heads and light between legs could be seen above the knees.
These holidaymakers’ eyes were large, not half-hidden behind puffed-up facial skin. They walked at a reasonable pace, rather than as if underwater.
I remember my schooldays, long ago, when a truly fat person was almost viewed as a freak. We stared at this rarity as we might an alien, with a mixture of fascination, horror and fear. To see a fat person was to witness a metabolic excess. Fat people were not like us.
But fat people today are not only like us, they are us. And a large percentage of us are just like them. Getting on for half the country is now either obese or rapidly becoming so. Fatties no longer raise an eyebrow.
Bus and train seats are regularly too small to contain the blubbery folk. Planes, especially, have problems not only with body mass but with the extra weight involved.
And consider this irony: in days of yore there were few gyms, lifestyle or diet books, yoga videos, pilates sessions or vegetarians, never mind vegans; the fashion for running half-marathons was barely non-existent. And who had heard of Weight Watchers? Despite all that, there were hardly any fatties, either.
Apparently, Britons and Americans are among the fattest folk on earth. The Chinese were among the slimmest until recently but the trend towards western lifestyles sees Chinese waistbands expanding.
What happened? When, how and why did we explode? Do people like being fat? Who or what do we blame? KFC and Macdonalds? Boredom? A sense of futility?
Left to their own devices, few animals get fat. But then neither do they gobble up earth’s scarce resources nor burn down rainforests.
Maybe growing ever fatter is simply one more manifestation (how many do we need?) of the human race’s unsuitability as custodians of this planet. Where we once thought of ourselves as the superior species, increasingly the evidence points to us being the most stupid.
Stupid. And fat. A great legacy.