Obese City

Obesity has become a hot topic in recent months. The latest fat news came yesterday and again today when the UK media reported extensively on the recommendations of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, which has just published its concerns about the increasing number of obese children in Britain.

This change seems like yet another about-turn from the situation 20 years ago. When I graduated from university (the first time) the fashionable eating disorders of the day where those that made you thin: anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Remember all the fuss surrounding Princess Diana’s and the Duchess of York’s weight/eating problems? These days the disadvantages of fat are à la mode.

Head and shoulders shot of a fat Ronald McDonald

So Morgan Spurlock’s award-winning movie Super Size Me is perfectly timed. Spurlock filmed the effects of eating all his meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner — for 30 consequtive days at McDonald’s. He gained 25 pounds — that’s not far off a pound a day — but luckily he lived to tell the tale.

I’m looking forward to seeing the film when it opens in the UK, but in the meantime I can’t help thinking that with people like Michael Moore and Spurlock around, it’s not a good time to be running anything big in the USA. No wonder Krispy Kreme has just reported its first loss.

Woodland wonders

Last weekend Kew Gardens held its sixth annual Woodland Wonders Festival, and fortunately we chose the best day weather-wise to visit.

Queen Charlotte's Cottage surrounded by bluebells

Bluebells behind Queen Charlotte’s Cottage

This festival is the one event in the year when Kew opens Queen Charlotte’s Cottage to the public, and so we toured the interior of this former royal garden shed along with thousands of others. It turns out that the building is deceptively narrow; really just wide enough for one room plus connecting hallway. It contains two spacious, opposing staircases (very impractical; not even the royals need two ways to go up and down in such a small space), and upstairs the wallpaper of the largest room was designed by one of the Victorian princesses. Apart from a collection of 18th century framed prints (reproductions) which decorate some of the rooms, the cottage is largely unfurnished. All in all it was pretty underwhelming.

Morris dancing at Kew

Morris dancing at Kew – what’s with those handkerchiefs?

On the other hand the rest of the festival was impressive. Many skilled, woodsy folk had set up tents in which they displayed ecologically-friendly activites: bee-keeping, wood carving, archery, etc. A troop of kooky Morris dancers put on several shows, and swings for children were hung from some of Kew’s enormous trees, while free samples of Kew Brew (a premium ale brewed with hops grown at Kew) were handed out to their parents.


Some azaleas were in full bloom

The plants and flowers were brilliant as usual. Not only were the bluebells all out, but a few of the azaleas and rhododendrons were also in full bloom (many will need another week I think). By far the most spectacular display, however, was put on by the lilacs, most of which were clearly at their fragrant peak; and in the process of admiring them I discovered a strong Canadian connection.


The lilacs were at their peak

British-born Isabella Preston (1881 – 1964) immigrated to Canada at the age of 31 and became one of the world’s foremost lilac hybridists. Working in Guelph, Ontario, she developed lilacs ideally suited to northern climes – late flowering shrubs with prolific blooms. Kew now has several specimens of these eponymous Syringa xprestoniae.

All in all, it was an excellent day out.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

We’ve just returned from seeing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and I have to admit that I was really impressed.

I won’t bother explaining the plot, which can easily be found (if not easily described) elsewhere on the web, but it’s one of the most profound, thought-provoking movies I have seen in a very long time.

In places it’s quite scary. It forces you to remember (!) that everything good about you, everything bad about you, everything you love and everything you hate is contained in the fragile space between your ears. Everything, including you, is in your head; and there’s no escape. I came out thinking about the fragility of even “normal” mental health, never mind the additional difficulties posed by abnormal psychology.

I really need to view it again. All three critics on last night’s edition of Newsnight Review had seen it twice and even the New Yorker admitted that “On the eighth viewing, say, the damn thing might even make sense”. Even if it doesn’t make sense, go see it. It’ll make you think.