Category Archives: health

Boris will face a harsh reckoning when the story of this crisis is finally written

There have been world wars, genocides, whole cities obliterated and great economic depressions. There has even been the Black Death. But we can never identify a period when the whole human race has been shut down in the face of an invisible foe with the potential to kill untold millions and perhaps wipe out half of our elderly mothers and fathers.

Had we not become a scientific species which had acquired a keen understanding of how viruses transmit, this may very well have happened. But today, in my country after three months of hiatus, the shops are permitted – under strict conditions – to resume business. This in itself is a first. There are so many of them. Never before have traders countrywide been prevented from plying their wares. But equally, never before had all human activity which involved close contact been forbidden and the entire population placed under what amounts to house arrest.

Because these constraints so obviously impinge on the ability to do business, economic activity has taken a hit greater than any since the arrival of the Black Death seven centuries ago. Billions of humans have been sent on enforced sabbaticals, and in many cases have lost the will to work. In this glorious spring and summer weather, they have actually enjoyed not having to report for work in the early morning and suffer the burden of having to constantly maintain output, work schedules and the annoyance of being bossed around by their superiors.

Society now faces the herculean task of firing up again all these beach-comers and new enjoyers of public spaces ever since they were permitted to exercise and take the air to maintain health and sanity.  But just as daunting are the hitherto unheard levels of public debt incurred to keep as many businesses as possible on life support. Governments around the world knew that, despite breaking every record in the economic rulebook, millions of enterprises will never recover and untold millions will find themselves relying on the public purse to survive. This is particularly galling to those governments – including our own – which managed their affairs well and were looking to a golden future. No one knows what the consequences of so much public debt will be, but consequences there surely will be.

In handling this crisis, my own country has been found seriously wanting. While our freshly minted prime minister has won the first big test of his premiership – exiting the European Union – he has failed abysmally on the second, COVID-19. Failing to put the country in lockdown sooner cost tens of thousands of lives. Failure to test, track and trace added to the litany of woes, as did failure to provide personal protective equipment. But perhaps the most scandalous failure was that of not throwing a cordon sanitaire around the people most likely to die: those in care homes. Hospitals sending infected patients into care homes may be said to have reached the bar of criminal negligence, as was the failure to provide protection for those who look after them. But as if these failings were not enough, we must add four more: an insistence that two-metre social distancing be maintained; a mule-like refusal to accept that face masks can make it harder for the virus to jump from person to person; a tardiness in getting the least at risk back to school; and the lunacy of introducing travel quarantining after the horse has bolted.

But beyond these events, there is an important geo-political dimension. Where has the European Union been in all this? Nowhere, so far as anyone can see. Brussels has been criticised by virtually every member state for interfering in matters they say don’t concern it. But here was a life and death issue which affected all of them equally. Would any have complained were the Union to have taken the lead in protecting them? After all, health issues have always been a major concern of Brussels. It extends even to the much maligned bent or undersized banana.

It has been truly absurd that 27 member states ended up doing their own thing. This was never better illustrated than in our own small island, where devolution allowed for four different solutions to the same problem. We ended up in a Kafkaesque world where an Englishman for the first time in eight hundred years could be stopped from entering Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Various national leaders – and none more so than our own – will face a harsh reckoning when the story of this crisis is finally written up. Had the European Union taken responsibility for managing the crisis, those leaders would have avoided all the brickbats that will now come raining down on them in what many consider the great project of our time, the European Union. And had the EU, for its part, acquitted itself well, it would have provided a mighty fillip to those who have always lauded its creation and pine for a United States of Europe.

A Chinese export we could have done without

Woe betide us if the next pandemic has the killing power of the Black Death.

As we grapple with COVID-19, we are left wondering how we overnight got from a happy confluence of a strong government, a finally successful Brexit exit, a strong economy, a budget which promised to regenerate our country, into a downturn of unimaginable proportions. 

A deadly virus had mutated in an ancient land which, despite being at the cutting edge of so many modern technologies, still hangs on to disgustingly unhygienic animal practices more worthy of witch doctor days. 

Precious weeks were lost in a miasma of deceit, cover-up and punishment of those who sought to tell the truth. I am not saying that we in the West do not have our share of such practices, but they are the exception rather than the rule. And where our unfettered media ferret out such goings on, things change and frequently heads roll. Those in power – who can be held to account – know this and that is why such happenings are the exception. Democracy is what does it. As Churchill once said: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…”

No authoritarian, one party state, such as China, would tolerate for an instant the daily press briefings whereby the most powerful man in the land submits himself to a grilling in which he is obliged to answer unscripted questions. Nor would such a state allow its media to tear into its handling of any matter. Furthermore, all such dictatorial states insist on imposing their own narrative to events. They will brook no counterview and punish those who try, often by torture and all too frequently by death. All this makes it galling to the nth degree when the perpetrator of the terrible events which have gripped the world shows no contrition, but rather starts boasting how well it has handled it all. To add insult to injury, it sends hapless foreigners rushed supplies of PPE, much of which is defective. 

If China wishes to be admired and respected by the rest of humanity, it must be honest and upfront on issues which affect the entire planet. This is particularly necessary where health and survival of the species is concerned. It has to be said that there was a certain inevitability – given ancient animal practices carried out in live wet animal markets in the Far East – that such outbreaks as coronavirus would be regular occurrences. A family member, not long ago, drew my attention to a YouTube expose of animals being skinned alive in China. It was so horrific that I quickly had to avert my gaze. In those parts of the world where human rights are given short shrift, it is not surprising that those of animals are virtually non-existent. Not until all of us treat each other humanely can we expect those who don’t to extend the same protection to our fellow creatures.

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness – as the US Constitution has it – may even be said to be the right of animals too. As the only part of Creation blessed (some might say cursed) with a mind capable of understanding the issues, we should regard our role as that of a high steward – the ultimate protector of all that has evolved on this orbiting accretion of stardust. 

We should regard the outbreak we are currently living through as a wakeup call for the next pandemic coming down the track. And down it most definitely will come. When it arrives, we may not be so lucky as we have been this time with a virus which kills, it is thought, one in a hundred and which largely leaves the young and the fit able to survive it with minimal discomfort. Pity, though, the old and those with health issues.

Deaths worldwide are likely to be under a million from a world population of 7.3 billion. The SARS coronavirus, only a few years ago (also from China), had a mortality rate ten times higher than the COVID-19 coronavirus, but it was somewhat harder to catch and showed symptoms earlier. Luckily it was contained. Spanish flu, on the other hand, one hundred years ago, spared the old and ravaged the young, killing in the region of fifty million out of a then world population of 1.8 billion – a fraction of today’s 7.6 billion. One third of humanity is thought to have contracted the disease. Woe betide us if the next pandemic has the killing power of the Black Death. Then, half the human race vanished. 

It is a perennial worry of our species as to what its ultimate fate will be – an asteroid strike, Global Warming, a runaway population explosion (1.8bn to 7.3bn in one hundred years) the  exhaustion of the Earth’s raw materials and nuclear annihilation – but pandemics are our biggest enemy. A new, incredibly murderess and fast-moving virus strain against which no antidote can be found before it kills half of humanity or even more.

People think that the world has only recently become interconnected, but the worlds of the middle ages and even antiquity were fully aware of each other’s existence and traded. Albeit their ships were smaller, slow-moving and the overland routes dangerous, but they still pulled it off. It took many months for the Black Death to move from the East to the West – and it never reached the Americas because there were no overland routes and we didn’t even know they were there. Now our coffin-shaped jets – acting like high-flying incubators – can bring it to us in hours. Had China included international air travel when it put a ban on movement in and out of Wuhan, there is every reason to believe the world would have been spared this health and economic catastrophe.

The lessons to be taken from our present travails are speed, transparency and isolation. Also, nations must be obliged to create war chests of PPE, test kits and ventilators, since the failure of any one of them puts the rest of us at risk. Primitive practices such as live, wet markets must be banned worldwide.

If all nations insist on maintaining military establishments with their horrendously expensive tanks, planes and warships, they surely can afford to protect themselves from a potentially greater enemy than any state poses by maintaining health service capability. After all, no neighbouring, hostile state ever enjoyed the advantage of invisibility.

Lessons from our hunter-gather ancestors

Our digestive system didn't evolve to work 24/7, which is what our present 'three square meals’ + snacks regime forces it to.

Our digestive system didn’t evolve to work 24/7, which is what our present ‘three square meals + snacks’ regime forces it to.

Oh, dear, I must apply myself once more to curbing my spiralling weight. I haven’t got what it takes to knock out the delicacies of life nor reduce what is left to minuscule amounts so that my calorific intake matches the reduced output of calories which comes with getting older. Moreover, I won’t be forced into eating things I don’t like. So the alternative is my fasting regime (for a period) which readers may be familiar with.

It might seem a drastic solution to go without food for 36 hours – a friend once described it as the nuclear option – but for me it works. Funnily enough, once I’ve psyched myself up to get started it isn’t nearly as grim as you might think. The joy of getting on those scales the morning after my nil by mouth effort makes it all worthwhile. And what heaven it is to be back to normal eating the following day! Anyway, each to his own. I must suffer for my excesses and the hairshirt may be good for the soul. The system delivers for me, with results coming in at an astonishing rate. And that’s how I like it. I haven’t the patience for the long haul. On those days of fasting, though, I do make sure I keep up the fluids.

One or two of my friends have cautioned me on my fasting caper, but I won’t be put off. You see, I have a theory to counter their concerns and it goes like this…

Anthropologists will tell you that we are essentially the same animal we were 100,000 years ago. Our whole digestive system – indeed our whole being – was geared to an irregular supply of food. It was a feast or famine existence, literally. Our world in that long ago time was a hunter-gather world. The boys hunted and the girls gathered. Kills on the African savanna were few and far between and nuts, fruits and berries seasonal. So evolution had to come up with an answer which allowed a big brained creature, whose diet required regular protein (principally meat), to get through those extended periods between kills. It couldn’t afford our ancestors to become lethargic and less focused during those hungry days leading up to the next successful hunt; if that had happened they would never have been sharp enough to nail those elusive, fleet-footed gazelles. (This, perhaps, explains why on my fast days in the shop I fancy I perform better than usual and even problem solve more imaginatively. I do a lot more thinking outside the box too.)

I think it entirely possible, indeed, likely, that our systems, benefit from a complete clear-out. In those far off times our digestion wasn’t at work 24/7, which is what our present ‘three square meals + snacks’ regime forces it to be. Nor were our bowels carrying waste matter round the clock.

It may be interesting to note that fasting is important to several religions. Perhaps the ancients knew a thing or two that we have forgotten in our headlong rush into modernity. Abstinence – call it a rest-up – in a great many fields can work wonders. Who knows, sex may even be among the beneficiaries!

My chief point is that evolution works at a much slower pace than the breakneck changes which have taken place since the Industrial Revolution. A great deal of catching up is in the pipeline.

While we are subject to a host of the ailments of our early ancestors, we have added a huge range of new ones due to our modern life, which includes much less exercise than they were formerly obliged to engage in. I doubt, for instance, that our forebears had many diabetic sufferers in their ranks. And there was no room for fatties in their world – try running down a springbok with a fifty-inch waist!

Anyway, yours truly, has put his hairshirt on for the next little while and hopes for the best. I know I will get the most enormous buzz when I arrive at my destination and that, too, must be good.

The fast way to lose weight

Today I want to write about something I wrote on nearly a year ago. It concerns getting our bodies in the shape and condition that we would be happy with.

A lot of people – probably the majority – have got it into their heads that there is nothing they can do about middle age spread – that it is an inevitable consequence of getting older.

This is not so. It is totally within our gift as to what weight and shape we are.

My method – and it has worked for me – is to fast one day and eat the next, with two days eating at the weekend. In just four weeks I got my weight down from 14st 1lb to 12 stone 7lbs (21lbs). There are many incredibly good aspects to this method… if only I had thought about it during my twenty five years of running health clubs!

The first is the breathtaking speed at which the weight fell away; there was no agonising for months and months as you nibble away at the pounds. The second is that you can carry on eating the things you like and in the same quantities you are used to. There is no having to fork out for expensive dietary lines, many of which I don’t like and forsaking the wonderful things that you do. Third, you’re getting a regular detox. Normally our digestive and bowel systems are working 24/7, with never a let-up. Now they have a rest and a thorough flush out. Fourth, while you’re pursuing your goal, you’re massively reducing your supermarket bill as a result of the 40 per cent calories you are no longer consuming.

This inspirational thought which came to me out of the blue allowed me to go into this summer and the last unencumbered with all that useless and damaging baggage. To ensure that it never came back after I reached my goal I could have cut my calorific intake for the future, but I prefer to eat what I want to in the quantities I want.

Every so often – usually every week or ten days – I nuke it with a day of fasting in which I can easily knock off two whole pounds or more. Wonderful, I think to myself. I’m back to ground zero!

Now, I know your reaction to all this is: ‘Great! But those days of fasting must be sheer purgatory.’ This is not so. Like you, I thought they would be, but they were amazingly easy to get through. Yes, I had odd moments when I could have stuffed myself, but they soon passed. I thought of the joy I would feel the following morning when I got on the scales.

Amazingly, I felt so alive and focused on those days of fasting. Why was that? I believe it goes back to our hunter gatherer days, which after all is only ten thousand years ago. Then it was a life of feast and famine. When you and your family had gorged itself on your latest kill you had to think about the next meal. Days might pass before you could bag that fleet of foot antelope for your next feast.

Nature equipped you to get through those days of hunger without feeling below par. You had, if anything, to be even sharper and more focused than normal to run your next kill to ground, certainly not lethargic and off key.

Evolution does not fundamentally change our digestive or any other system in a short time span like 10,000 years. To evolution, it is a mere blink of the eye.

My plan, I will freely admit, is not rocket science, but it is radical and it does work. And the speed at which it works is phenomenal and that is what makes it so exciting.

So why haven’t we heard of this in all the years we’ve been regaled about dieting? There is so much ballyhoo about losing weight one could be forgiven for thinking that it is complicated when it isn’t. I believe it’s all down to calories; the number going in versus the number going out.

But could it be that money is the reason we haven’t heard of it?

The dietary industry is worth billions and the supermarkets even more. Imagine if millions of people start consuming 40 per cent less food each week and abandon dietary products altogether. I’m not, by nature, a conspiracy theorist, but I do believe it would tantamount to suicide for those two mammoth industries ever to allow such thinking to take hold.

Of course, exercise can and should play its part, though its greatest contribution is its benefit to the cardio vascular system and general all round health. It also aids your immune levels to stay high and so ward of attacks of this or that. But to burn up the excess number of calories that Western man is piling on each day by exercise alone would take an effort beyond anything that all but the most heroic could endure.

As in so many things, we tend to follow in Uncle Sam’s footsteps and are usually the first in Europe to do so. Most of them are beneficial, but over indulgence is certainly not one of them. We are now officially the fattest nation in Europe. No single thing could aid our aging and increasingly overweight population than to take obesity seriously – and it should start with our children. As the best form of preventative medicine, it would massively reduce the spiralling burden and costs of our health service.

Friends that we holiday with from Sweden from time to time were telling my wife last week, via Skype, that a new craze is sweeping the country… fasting your weight off, one day on and one day off, with two days of eating at the weekend. Ausra, my wife’s friend, said that the word is that the scheme came from England.

I wonder if Yours Truly began it all with that article nearly a year ago in this paper? The blog version of it went out on the World Wide Web. Something of a thought isn’t it? I’d love to think that is what happened.

All power, I say, to Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the web. Now, there’s a man who really does merit the Turing Award, the Nobel prize of computing. Think just of one benefit alone: the alleviation – through Skype and other instant messaging services – of the loneliness of people whose loved ones have gone abroad. The call, no matter what its duration, is cost free and the whole thing is totally brilliant.

Mid Staffs is a man-made scandal

I have not written about anything that causes me so much pain as this article does. This is because as a Briton, proud of what my country has achieved down the ages, I am ashamed of the shocking scandal unfolding in what was meant to be our pride and joy: the NHS. Nothing in my experience begins to compare with the sheer magnitude of it all; the needless deaths, through wanton neglect, of almost certainly thousands of people in our hospitals.

COMRADE: Fish rot from the head

SIR DAVID NICHOLSON: Fish rot from the head

Fish rot from the head and any man – and we speak of Sir David Nicholson – who believed that the totalitarian system that was once the USSR was a good thing should never have been put in charge of such an organisation as the NHS. Apparently his hero was the gruesome Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev. It shocked me how readily and swiftly the PM and Heath Secretary sprang to his defence. Perhaps it was because Nicholson had a reputation, when ordered to do things, of carrying out those orders. While that may be so, the consequences, as whistleblowers made clear to Nicholson, was an unfolding tragedy of epic proportions. But orders are orders and Nicholson ploughed on, heedless of the human misery he was unleashing. In order to achieve his purpose and and keep to his ‘good’ name as a man who could be relied on to deliver, a climate of fear was created throughout the NHS. How very USSR-like.

I will not detail the horror stories which have emerged: you are all familiar with them. But instead of being reassured, looked after and returned to health, where possible, people died in their hundreds, indeed – across the NHS – in their thousands. A single hospital stands accused of up to 1,200 deaths.

We all remember the unconscionable time we often waited for routine operations and A&E. The last government decided to do something about it. Everything was done with the best of intentions, but as we all know, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. When it became apparent that their action plan was not working out, another well known maxim kicked in: the law of unintended consequences. At that point Nicholson and his Labour masters should have paused and taken stock. But they did not.

So what has become of us that we have failed in almost the most fundamental of all our duties, the care of our old? When our troops burst in on Belson concentration camp they found a level of horror – of man’s inhumanity to man – not known in the whole of human experience. We put the perpetrators on trial and hanged them. At their trial they pleaded that they were obeying orders. What they did not plead – though they might have done – was that they had been conditioned for years to see their victims not as human beings, but as the lowest of the low – a sub-species – not worthy of using up precious resources. I fear that when our old people – be they in care homes or hospitals – fall into frailty, incontinence or dementia, something of a similar attitude takes hold in disquieting numbers among those charged with looking after them. Yet in their case they do not even have the excuse of saying that their government had told them their charges were worthless. So, what is it that allows lethal, criminal neglect, which were it directed at a child or even a dog would send us into paroxysms of fury ending in stiff prison sentences but does not do so with our old and helpless? I truly do not understand it!

What is incredible is that the unfeeling apparatchik who presided over it all was not only not held to account, but promoted to the top job in the NHS. How very public sector-like. And this man – would you believe – is judged by himself (and Cameron) to be the best person to sort it all out even though he admitted to a Commons Select Committee that he had no idea what was going on in the wards. Well, it’s a funny kind of CEO – in whom 90 per cent of his own workforce have no faith – that hasn’t a clue what the troops are up to. And even funnier that such a level of incompetence should inspire the political leadership to think that in this broad land of 63 million there is none better.

The Francis Report into the failings of the Mid Staffordshire Hospital Trust wanted to name names, but using, as ever, our money – just like the BBC – the ‘fingered’ individuals engaged the sharpest, most expensive lawyers in the business to threaten Robert Francis with law suits. After three months of arguments and delay, he buckled. It all, thereafter, magically became the fault of ‘the system’. Nothing, said the chastened Francis, was to be gained by ‘scapegoating’. Sorry, Robert, but people did this thing and people must answer. Start with David Nicholson and move down to ward level. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that the whole farrago involves multiple, pitiless deaths which on a head count makes the Harold Shipman outrage look like a trifling matter. And at least Shipman’s victims were despatched painlessly and their road to Calvary travelled with great expedition.

A chief characteristic that distinguishes our species from every other in the animal kingdom is our sense of dignity. From the moment we get up in the morning to the moment we go to bed, we carefully nurture the image of how we wish the world to perceive us. Take that away and you have inflicted the cruelest of hurts. So being careless of people’s nakedness and forcing them into adult nappies because it is too much trouble to help them to the toilet is unforgivable; to leave them in soiled, cold, soaking sheets covered in their own dried excrement caked in overgrown nails which nurse graduates feel too grand to cut is beyond my powers of description; to force them to struggle to reach for water and food which is beyond reach is totally criminal.

Death is the single most difficult event that any of us will have to handle. To meet it in squalor, neglect and suffering over a protracted period with all dignity stripped away is impossible to equate with a civilised society. In my view we are all guilty, every last one of us – just as the entire German nation was guilty of the Holocaust. In both cases we allowed it to happen on our watch. We strut the world stage fixated on our favourite hobby horse, Human Rights, lecturing anyone unfortunate enough to cross our path on the virtues of compassion, yet we show nothing of it on too many of our wards. Shouldn’t Charity begin at home?

Those charged with looking after the fathers and mothers who fought two World Wars for us, and whose sacrifices in the years following brought us social security and prosperity, have a sacred duty to perform. They should remember that they were not always the sad, helpless individuals they see before them, but once vibrant men and women who held down jobs and brought up children. If it would help them to understand this, let a photo be affixed to the head of every bed to show their carers how they looked in their glory days and let a caption tell the story of who they were and what they did.

Child abuse takes many forms

Any society purporting to call itself civilised has one duty above all others: the protection of its most vulnerable, the young and the old. Even armies on the rampage have generally respected these two imperatives.

We are, however, failing to protect our young in an area that is increasingly coming to the fore: allowing our children to become obese.

The truth is that overfeeding is every bit as damaging as underfeeding, yet a malnourished child turning up at school would pretty soon attract the attention of the authorities.

So let’s look for a moment at the consequences for a child of allowing them to become obese. First, the whole of their school experience becomes a misery; they are be picked on mercilessly, and utterly useless on the sports field; groups would likely shun them and the obese child would become the perpetual outsider; and any consequent emotional scaring would likely be carried into adulthood.

The irony of it all is that they are being set up by those who most protest their love for them for a whole range of illnesses in later life, and condemned to what is almost certainly an early grave.

If this is not abuse, I would very much like to know what is. What form of love is it that a parent would do such a thing to its child?

If we can agree that rescue for the child trumps all other considerations, then what are we to do? It seems elementary that we must work for a solution through the parents. But if, despite all our efforts, a satisfactory outcome cannot be reached, then we should be prepared to remove the child and find a dedicated foster parent.

Moving on to another form of child abuse, the recent ruling of a German court found that circumcision, due to cultural conventions, is a criminal breach of a child’s bodily integrity and of its human rights. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the ruling had to come, from of all countries, Germany. Had it come from a British or American court – both largely free of modern anti-Semitism – there would still have been a howl of protest, but it would have been much muted.

We all abhor FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), and quite rightly it carries a heavy prison sentence. Yet it seems there are over a 100,000 women in our country who have had this procedure done to them and there has not been a single prosecution. Scandalous hardly seems sufficient an adjective.

If we deplore this act of barbarism for young girls, why do we take such a different attitude for young boys? Both involve pain and suffering to no medical end. How can an adult have the right to violate a child’s body?

Surely it is right to take a stand against such primitive and barbaric practices which should have no place in the modern world. If it is deemed important for religious purposes, why could the procedure not be put on hold until the child is of a sufficient age to make an informed decision? If their faith is strong enough, then doubtless they will comply in the fullness of time. But at least the decision would be theirs to make and not one that has been imposed on them.

Muslims as well as Jews will, I have no doubt, be up in arms at what I am suggesting because they too insist on the procedure. But neither faith could succeed in painting me as a bigot since I consider myself a true internationalist. I believe in the oneness and brotherhood of man. There are so many Muslims that I admire, just as there are Jews.

Lawrence of Arabia loved the Arabs and saw great nobility in their culture, and there has always been a strong Arabist lobby in the foreign office. We failed tragically to get a lasting solution that did justice to the Arab cause when we overthrew the Turkish Ottoman yoke in World War One, though all acknowledge that there was no easy solution either then or now.

As for the Jews, I glory in the fact that it was British arms and blood that made possible the state of Israel. So many millions exiled and persecuted around the world deserved a homeland of their own. I only wish we could have achieved the same for the many millions of Kurds as, indeed, we could have done.

I am saddened at how things have turned out, but Israel should heed the wise words of Winston Churchill when he said “in war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity.”

No people in history have suffered in the way the Jewish people have, and no people know better what it is to be dispossessed and scattered to the winds. Pain and suffering puts you in a unique position to understand what it is like to be at the receiving end.

All reasonable Arabs now accept the permanence of the Jewish state – particularly now that, in extremis, it can defend itself with nuclear weapons.

Now is the time for Churchill’s exhortation of ‘magnanimity’ to come into play. Let the children of Zion pick up their winnings and leave the table. They can then go on to be a powerhouse for a resurgence of success and prosperity throughout the benighted Middle East which so fuels the Jihadists’ nihilist dreams. It should not let its fear plunge the area and the world’s fragile economy into chaos with a strike against Iran.

Iran knows perfectly well that it, rather than Israel, that would be “wiped from the map” in the event of a conflagration. The self same pressures which kept the Cold War from becoming hot would come into play were Iran to acquire the bomb.

The irony of it all is that the Jews and Arabs are ethnically the same people: they revere the same prophets and regards each other, along with Christians, as ‘People of the Book’.

What is needed now are cool heads and wise leadership, which could lead to a flowering of a lot of very talented people on both sides of the divide.

My sure-fire weight loss plan

There is a silver bullet in the fight against flab that the diet industry does not want you to know about. In fact, they are doing their utmost to hide from us the fact that there is a quick, simple and – dare I say it – easy way to ensure that nobody is heavier than they would like to be.

My interest is these matters has been an enduring one; I suppose it is the legacy of running health clubs for 25 years. A big part of my job was helping my customers lose weight; I used to hold annual weight loss awards in my Plymouth health club, Physique & Figurama, to celebrate my star slimmers’ achievements (pictured).

But unlike the fitness industry, the enormous $100 billion diet industry has a vested interest in keeping its customers overweight for as long as possible, seducing us with a bewildering array of dubious products and services. After all, what kind of business wants to lose customers as quickly as possible?

Before the day arrives when that other behemoth, the pharmaceutical industry, develops a magic pill which renders the diet industry’s so-called experts’ products and services redundant, I propose there is a natural solution.

My wife and I used to have to watch the calories very closely while maintaining a healthy diet. But despite our best efforts, the pounds crept on. We were never obese, but we knew we could so easily have become so.

At my own peak (I am 5’11”) I reached 14st 1lb and my waist had expanded from 32″ to 38″. Yet after 20 years of wishing each spring that I could enter the summer looking trim, I have finally succeeded. I have lost 21lbs in four weeks.

How has this been achieved? The answer is that I have fasted my flab off. Some days, 2 ¼ lbs would vanish.

The regime I followed goes like this: Monday, fast; Tuesday, eat (but only the amount I would eat normally); Wednesday, fast; Thursday, eat; Friday, fast; and, glory be, I would eat both days of the weekend. But during those days of fasting, I still enjoyed my cappuccinos after work and drank plenty of milkless green tea as well as Oxo cube drinks. Keeping up the fluids is crucial.

So there you have it: a regime which will deliver weight loss beyond your wildest dreams. And unlike these paid-for diets, my regime didn’t cost me a penny. In fact, I saved 40 per cent of my typical supermarket food bill on those intensive weeks.

The fasting regime worked for me, and in spectacular fashion. Nothing else had. I have to stress that I am not a man of incredible willpower; I still have not been able to break with my ten fags a day as so many of you have. If you can do that too then congratulations.

Exercise is always important, regardless of how many calories you’re consuming, so I also continued my long-established practice of having two 1½-mile walks each day. I don’t amble along, but try to walk at a brisk enough pace so as to compel me after a short time to draw breath through my mouth. So successful have my knee replacements been that I could even jog if I wanted to. Well done NHS! You’ve probably saved me from a wheelchair.

Now, I think I know your next question. Did I feel wretched on those days of fasting? Not at all. I suffered absolutely no adverse effects: no hunger pangs, no nothing. What I did notice, however, was that on those days of fasting I was considerably sharper and much more alert.

The beauty of this system – which would have made my health club boom as never before had I thought of it in those days – is that stick is followed by carrot in double-quick time.

The diet industry wants you to believe that results take time – while they make money – and considerable effort on your part – which, of course, they can help alleviate. But by fasting, I have reached my target weight rapidly with minimal effort. Every second day I would get back to eating before I plunged in again. And the weekends were simply heaven: two whole days of normal (not excessive) eating.

Another great boon you will enjoy is that, on those days of fasting, your body – which is normally clogged and at work 24/7 – is flushed out with stomach and bowels rested up; it is given a detox, if you like. And unlike those few successful dieters who mostly see it all come back on again, my method is truly sure-fire.

When I get on the scales in the morning following the previous day’s fast, it is a moment of drama. But it isn’t a question of whether I have lost weight, but rather one of how much.

Now that I have reached my goal of 12st 4lbs, which equates to a reduction of six belt notches, I am only fasting one day a week. I know that, should my weight start creeping up again, I have the means to nuke the flab.

Fasting one day a week represents a weekly drop in calories of around 15 per cent, and hopefully that should be sufficient for me. If your body naturally stores little excess fat, you may only need to fast once a fortnight to keep the weight down; but if you’re obese, you may instead be better off fasting two days a week. It’s really a case of trial and error.

Another beauty of my regime is that I shall not be condemned to eating things which are prescribed to me, many of which I don’t particularly like, at the expense of foods I do enjoy.

It is interesting to ponder why, if there are negative health side-effects of fasting, so many of the world’s religions insist on it. And remember that early man was never guaranteed three square meals a day; he regularly fasted between kills and his system evolved accordingly. Evolution works slowly and we all still have that ability. Did you ever see an overweight bushman?

Good luck to anyone who may be inspired to try this sure-fire method of losing weight. Keep me posted and let me know how you’re doing.

Two-pronged way to lose weight

We are now into the serious business of the New Year, what we will make of it and what it will make of us.

Huge issues confront us. Will we climb out of this trough of despondency? Will we keep our jobs? Will our biggest market implode? Will America put its sub-prime market disaster behind it and start getting back to work? Will Israel bomb Iran and so plunge us into another oil crisis? Will the Arab spring end up landing us with a clutch of fanatical fundamentalist states? Will the Arab world’s most pivotal state, Syria, descend into civil war?

On not one of these issues can the most gifted political pundit give any guidance as to the likely outcome. So for myself I am going to sit tight, wait on events and try not worry too much. I suggest you do the same.

On the home front, for 25 years (particularly the later 21 in which I ran my own health club), January was the most frantic month of the year for me.

People were looking to the summer. They had been pigging out for a solid two weeks. They wanted to go into it looking better – slimmer – than they currently did. Two thirds of my entire year’s advertising budget for new members was spent in the first quarter of the year, since in that short time, if I was lucky, I could expect to enrol three quarters of my annual members.

It would cost me no less than £19,500: money spent in this very newspaper.

From time to time we managed to get some truly spectacular results (see inset pictures of one of our successes of 30 years ago).

The legacy of those Physique & Figurama health club days continues to endure for me.

Every Monday before I set out for work in my shop on Plympton Ridgeway, I, along with my wife, get on the scales and have a weekly weigh-in, writing it down along with the date.

Keeping our eye on the ball is the name of the game. This week, along I suspect with many of you, I had a terrible shock.

Of course, at 72, I could not run to pumping the iron, fast and furious. Instead I walk three miles a day at a brisk enough pace as to force me to breathe through my mouth. So yes, in its more modest form, exercise still continues to play a part.

I have always taken the view that three elements determine our future. One of these – our genetic inheritance – we can do nothing about (for the moment), but the other two, diet and lifestyle are entirely within our gift to control.

One of the reasons we enjoyed success over so many years in the health club was that it was never an either/or approach – dieting or exercise: it was both.

That way it did not require a superhuman effort as if you were relying on one only. Since for most people the problem was, and is, insufficient exercise and too many calories then it made perfect sense to pursue both. That way you only had to work half as hard than if you were relying on one.

So much of the success in fighting the flab is in the mind, and it does not do to ask too much of yourself. Willpower has been made extra difficult to raise in our super indulgent, lazy age and the less of that rare commodity you have to summon up the better. So the two-pronged approach was best.

You had a better chance of enjoying yourself; staying the course and seeing it though to the end.

Our great city hero, Sir Francis Drake, had it exactly right. Of course he was commenting on something entirely different, the three-year first circumnavigation of the world in which the captain survived to see it through.

But what he said still holds true for so much else. He said: “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”

It would be silly to equate anything we have done with Drake’s stupendous achievement, but the message is clear. It was what drove me on during the also three-year slog to complete my book, The Last Foundling. It ran to 409 pages and there were so many times I felt myself running out of steam as well as willpower, but I pressed on.

Now I must apply myself to losing a considerable amount of weight and having done that, keep it off. That last bit, keeping it off, must be the “until it be thoroughly finished” part of what Drake was referring to.

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