Gerry Farrell: Birthday burdened by weight of expectation

Once you get in the gym and start exercising it can be fun  most of the time. Picture: Getty
Once you get in the gym and start exercising it can be fun  most of the time. Picture: Getty
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Does my bum look big in this? Yes. And this? Yes. And this? Yes. Is there anything worse than going to the wardrobe and finding out that all the clothes you love have shrunk? (Well, obviously war, famine, poverty and man-flu are worse, I’m dramatising to make a point.)

The point is that the inch of subcutaneous fat that protected me from -15C temperatures in Budapest like the layer of blubber on a pregnant elephant seal, has now lost its appeal. In a black T-shirt with my eyes half-shut I can pretend my belly is flat and there may even be a tablet du chocolat (French for six-pack) under there. But has soon as I turn sideways, I’m expecting twins. No, it’s triplets. I daren’t step on the scales. My guess is seventeen and a half stone. Which means I should be about seven feet tall with feet like a clown’s shoes.

The popularity of Rab C Nesbitt shows how booze is cemented into Scottish culture

The popularity of Rab C Nesbitt shows how booze is cemented into Scottish culture

My wee Hungarian nephew calls me Uncle Jelly. I think he’s mispronouncing “Gerry” but you never know, it may well be a subtle dig. I had to run for the bus the other day. When I stopped, certain bits of me kept going. I haven’t lost my figure, it’s in there somewhere. I just need to find it. That effort will begin today.

On February 17 I will qualify for my bus pass. There will be a party in Leith next day. At that party I will be wearing the shocking pink XXXL Hugo Boss T-shirt my sister-in- law gave me for Christmas.

When I tried it on, it looked like the skin on an uncooked pork sausage. But come my birthday, I will look like a Greek god nourished on low-fat Greek yoghurt. This pig will definitely fly. All I have to do is activate my willpower gland.

I made a good start this morning. A trip to Lidl. No bread, no potatoes, no rice, no pasta, no booze, no chocolate, no bacon, butter, ice-cream or cake of any kind. No fizzy drinks. Instead I carried home leeks, lentils, cauliflower, spuds, sweet potatoes, lettuce, garlic, tomatoes . . . I could go on. I filled three bags. It’s a week’s worth of shopping. It would have cost £65 at Tesco, where every little purchase helps to bump the price up. At Lidl, I paid £37.

It’s often claimed that people eat bad food because they can’t afford good food. That’s a myth and it’s time we stopped perpetuating it. Lidl and Aldi sell top-quality fruit and veg at fantastic prices. If we’re honest, the hard bit is walking past Greggs or the local chippy without being wafted inside by the fragrance of fried and baked traditional Scottish delicacies. You know the ones. They make us all fat but we can’t resist them.

The second thing I did was phone the gym. I paid a guy there to give me ten trainings sessions last year. Since then, I haven’t done any of them. The sign up on the gym wall tells the whole story: THE HARDEST PART OF GOING TO THE GYM IS GOING TO THE GYM. Never a truer word. Once you’re in there, it’s easy. It can be fun too.

I train with a bunch of fatties like myself. We don’t slog away on bikes and treadmills. We do 30-second exercises, a different activity each time, from battering the punchbag to bouncing a medicine ball off a wee trampoline and catching it. (If you don’t catch it, you’re liable to get your nose broken.)

So here I am, making a promise to you my readers. This year, I will get slim and fit. I will fit into that T-shirt. And I’ll publish the photos in February, just to prove it.

It’s not so funny when you can’t give up drink

It could’ve been worse. The guy might have croaked.

We were driving back to Budapest through a small Hungarian village. I was gazing sleepily through the window at the nice scenery. Outside the village shop a man fell off his bike. He tried to get back on again, fell backwards and vanished down a hole. We stopped the car and I ran back, fearing the worst. He was on his back, red-rimmed eyes staring at the sky, in a four-foot deep drainage culvert. There was a raw wound on his forehead. I lifted him up – he didn’t weigh much – and sat him on the concrete edge. He was shaking. He smelled of old sweat and palinka, the local plum brandy. It was nine in the morning.

“Boldog Karacsonyt – Merry Christmas”,

I said in my best, basic Hungarian. He looked up at me like I was off my head.

Five minutes later, back in the car, it was all comedy gold. “Merry Christmas! my father-in- law repeated, shaking with laughter. By the time we got back home, the story was being passed around like a tin of Quality Street. It’s easy to laugh at alcoholics. Unless you’ve got one in your family or you think you might be one yourself.

In Scotland, we don’t just laugh it off, we cement it into our culture. I used to think Rab C Nesbitt was a funny show. Then I saw the actor who plays him at an awards do, very much the worse for wear. He had to be “helped outside” – in other words, ejected from the building. Not so funny.

We drink the equivalent of 46 bottles of vodka a year; that’s 25 per cent more than the English or the Welsh. And in the workplace, we lionise the big drinkers, the ones who come in boasting about how steaming they were the night before. When we’re not lionising people with alcohol problems, we’re demonising them.

Patting ourselves on the back that it’s not us who’s sitting on the pavement begging for drink money.

But we never get to know these people and we have no clue what drove them to drink in the first place; it could be bereavement, redundancy or depression. There but for the grace of God, as they say, go you and I.

A lot of us will be swearing off the drink this January. When we do, let’s spare a thought for the people who can’t, no matter how hard they try.

Flushed with success at last

Last Thursday we bought two soft-closing toilet seats.

Most women hate it when their man leaves the seat up. But it peeves them even more when he tries to be good by flipping it down as he turns away so that it slams on to the porcelain pedestal.

So forget the flowers. Head for the DIY store. Then watch her face light up as you gently tip the new seat down and it closes in slow motion, like a swan’s feather alighting on a lake.

Bring a little romance into your bathroom. With a soft-closing toilet seat.