4 December 2016 for The Observer: Breaking the silence is immensely powerful and it is good medicine. But speaking up is hard. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has data that suggests one out of three people abused as a child has not disclosed the abuse and that the average victim who does waits nearly eight years to do so. Many of the men coming forward now, encouraged by the testimony of ex-footballer Andy Woodward, had never spoken before of the events when they were children.
In the past couple of years I have read or heard the accounts of more than 700 men and women sexually and emotionally abused as children in boarding schools, state-run and private. They came to me after I wrote in the Observer of the abuse at my own, Ashdown House. The stories are the grimmest reading, but what is heartening is that for so many people the simple act of speaking up is hugely helpful.
It’s easy to develop a case of the latest psychiatrically acknowledged eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa – an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy. I got one for just £65. That’s the price of an introductory session at London’s Hale Clinic, an alternative therapy centre a couple of stuccoed blocks from Harley Street.
The Hale was opened by Prince Charles back in the 80s, and celebrities have been aromatherapied, ear-candled and detoxed there ever since. As you pass through its Grecian columns you cannot but ponder the fact that here Princess Diana’s colon was regularly irrigated. I arrive for something simpler: a consultation on my diet. I am a normal 50-something foodie whose diet philosophy has long been “Don’t eat crap” (with occasional cheesy Wotsits permitted). My complaints are pretty normal for my age cohort, too: a little joint pain, a desire to snooze after lunch, a failure to tolerate the quantities of alcohol I once enjoyed. Oh, and those close to me might mention a mild tendency towards flatulence. Like the bulk of the British public, I have a somewhat troubled relationship with my gut.
Today I have an appointment with the much-recommended Linda Crawford, a Hale Clinic veteran who is also principal of the College of BioEnergetic Medicine and director of the London Shyness Centre. She is cheerful and charming as well as multitalented: a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, neurofeedback practitioner, kinesiologist, treater of chronic fatigue syndrome, dietary problems and – according to a recent promotional email – able to treat the potentially fatal Lyme’s disease by homeopathy.
In an upper room that reeks of burning herbs, Linda straps a velcro band round my head. A lead runs from it to the back of her PC. She tells me to relax while she measures my body’s “stress response to certain hertz wave frequencies”. This is painless and a lot less hassle than a stool sample (I offered; it wasn’t needed). After 10 minutes or so my magnetic resonances have been fully read. Linda, with an I-told-you-so smile, prints out a sheet and hands it to me.
It is amazing. I have won the hypochondriac lottery. I’m the owner of 29 different allergies, sensitive to substances from MSG to strawberries and including such regulars in my life as milk, chicken, wheat dust, red and green peppers, cheese, peanuts, honey, lentils, brewer’s yeast, lactose, various grasses, cat hair, tobacco and “summer and fall pollens”. The fact that I believe I have no hay fever or allergy is not of importance.
I am aghast. I don’t know where to start. Cheese? I love cheese. “But your body doesn’t,” says Linda, wagging a finger.
Peering at her computer screen, a seer into a crystal ball, she finds other problems. “I see a lot of stress… I’m seeing insomnia, depression, constipation… Very stressed in the cranial nerve, the large and small intestine. Do you get constipated?” “No,” I say. “Hmmm… Is your memory poor?” “I’m a middle-aged man,” I say. “We tend to worry about our memories.” “That’s what I thought! I’m seeing stressed kidneys, which would affect your memory.”
This sparks my scepticism, not a common reaction at the Hale. But the diagnosis all seems a bit “You’ve met a tall dark stranger”. Ask any adult in later life if they are ever stressed or have sleeping problems, memory issues or depression and you are likely to get at least one positive. And whether it’s constipation or flatulence or irritable bowel syndrome, an astonishing 80% of adults are not happy with the workings of their bowels.
Cesidio di Ciacca and his family, fish and chip shop owners in East Lothian. Two years after the photo was taken, Cesidio and hundreds of others were expelled from Britain as dangerous aliens. He died on the Arandora Star.
ON 2 July 1940 the SS Arandora Star was torpedoed off north-west Ireland. The liner was carrying civilian “enemy aliens” from Britain to internment camps in Canada. Nearly 800 of them drowned. Some were German Jews, but most were Italians: grocers, ice-cream vendors, waiters and chefs, many of whom had lived all their lives in Britain.
Their families survived, but even now the memories of the deaths of their menfolk and the way neighbours turned on on them, looting shops and smashing windows, are raw. As one of the Arandora Star victims’ descendants asks – how would Britons behave today to the outsiders in their communities?
My story on the sinking of the Arandora Star and the cruelties inflicted on the Anglo-Italian community during World War Two is in this week’s Newsweek magazine – read it here.
Actually, the fruit bit isn’t so great after all (Getty/Guardian)
6 April 2014: Published in the Observer, my piece on the “5 a day” debate got an amazing 900+ comments. Some of them quite well-tempered (must be something in the diet).
So now it’s seven a day? Here’s my easy alternative: just stop eating rubbish
Nanny Britain’s fruit and veg regime will never work while the list includes fruitcake and sugar-laden drinks
My children are apple-cheeked and glossy-haired, strong and slender as willow wands. Not a filling in their heads, either. All the same, we had a family council on diet last week. A study by the epidemiologists of University College, London found that the five-a-day diet is inadequate. Seven or even 10 portions of fruit and veg is more like it and might reduce our chances of early death by 42% or more. Odds worth having: so I asked them to audit their intake.
My daughter confessed that while she has a banana most breaks, she didn’t like the school lunch fruit salad. She is probably getting four a day, tops. My son said he easily ate five a day. You don’t count chips, I countered, because they are made from potatoes (he did know that) and a potato, being largely starch, does not make the NHS five-a-day lists. I think his score is perhaps three – as bad as mine.
Suddenly, I saw developmental disorders all around. The failure to learn Mandarin. The trouble with long division. The severe allergic reaction to the word “walk”. Might there be scurvy lurking there too? Rickets? And how the hell were we going to get up to seven a day? That’s 2,555 portions of fruit and veg a year for each of us, and we’d be living longer, too. Should we marry the kids to greengrocers?
Update, 1 May 2014. The booze giants won a ruling yesterday allowing them to take their challenge over minimum pricing to the European Court. It’s now 13 months since the law passed by the Scottish parliament should have come into effect, and started saving lives and livers. Latest briefingfrom Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems here . The challenge will now take 16 months minimum to be heard in Europe.
If you want to boycott the alcohol manufacturers who are backing the endless legal challenge against minimum alcohol pricing, there’s not much left to drink. But these whiskies are NOT members of the Diageo’s proxy, the Scottish Whisky Association, which leads the lobbying and legal battle:
Bruichladdich, Springbank. GlenDronach, Glen Grant, Arran, Glengyle, Tomintoul and Tullibardine.
Any others? Please let me know.
3 Feb 2014: Back in court this week, Scottish whisky manufacturers now hope to postpone Scotland’s minimum alcohol price law, passed in 2012, to 2017 at the earliest. That’s an obstruction of democracy – and the measure wouldn’t even affect whisky. Just the cheap super-strength cider, strong beer and grain spirits that are killing young people and the poor.
Some Diageo labels – it owns 24 Scottish whisky brands
Evidence from Canada is that a minimum price could save more than 300 Scottish lives a year. It would also help with the huge social damage that cheap alcohol – 44% more affordable than it was 30 years ago – does in Scotland.
A petition to Diageo and the Scotch Whisky Association here, asking them to call off their court challenge to minimum alcohol pricing.
Join the boycott: a list of Diageo brands here. Scotch Whisky Association brands here.
“Cheap alcohol causes poverty” My piece for Bella Caledonia here.
Talisker and Knockando, Cragganmore and Lagavulin – the lovely names please the tongue as the malts do the palate. But for me and many Scottish friends these joys are off the table from next week. We’re protesting against their proprietor, the giant boozemaker Diageo – owner of 24 whisky brands and, in their name, guilty of cynical obstruction of democracy and callous disregard for the toll of cheap alcohol in Scotland.
I live in Leith, a mile or so from where the Scotch Whisky Association, Diageo’s lobbying proxy, has it headquarters on Edinburgh’s calm and elegant Atholl Crescent. Things are rather different at our end of town: it’s one of Scotland’s poorest postcodes, and the damage done by alcohol is visible on prematurely aged faces, in the crime rates and on the streets. On Friday and Saturday nights Leith is loud with drunks, most of whom are young, and then with ambulances picking up the comatose. Some of them will be among the 20 people who die every week in Scotland of alcohol abuse.
The kids are not drinking malt whisky, of course. They are “pre-loading” at home on cheap schnapps and super-strength cider bought in supermarkets, before going on to pubs and clubs that advertise cocktails at £1 each.
In the Iceland supermarket on Easter Road, Leith, people queue for bargain frozen food and bargain booze. This is where Diageo and its friends make their real profits. There’s all the cheapo brands – Fosters, Skol, San Miguel, strong Carlsberg Export (which Diageo makes in Ireland) all at pocket-money prices. There’s also a “schnapps”, V-Kat, which is 22 per cent alcohol, more than half the strength of vodka, at just £7.50 a litre and Frosty Jack’s cider, 7.5 per cent alcohol at an amazing £3.50 for a 3-litre bottle.
Believe the hype and they’ll solve all your health issues. They are the natural solution for everything from cancer, heart disease and dementia through to ageing skin, poor eyesight and interrupted sleep. No wonder “superfruits” now pop up everywhere: in cereal, desserts, snack bars, breakfast juice, desserts, face cream – even designer gin.
But though goji berries, acai juice, pomegranates and cranberries often claim their healing properties are rooted in ancient medicine, the explosion in their use is a very modern phenomenon.
Marketing gurus in the United States invented the word less than a decade ago, to profit from the boom in so-called “functional foods” – the industry’s term for staples – like yoghourt or snack bars – that can be sold at a premium by pushing health benefits.
The labelling tactic worked. Superfruit products worth hundreds of millions of pounds are now sold in Britain every year. The global market in superfruit juices alone will be worth over £6bn by 2017, according to food market analysts Euromonitor .
As you’d expect, the fruit and health foods industries have gone bananas (rich in potassium and fibre, these might be a superfruit if they weren’t so old-fashioned). Since there’s no regulation or even definition of the term, anything you like can be a superfruit – and millions can be made if you get the marketing right.
In Britain, two out of three new juice products launched last year claimed to contain superfruit, and new ones are being announced every week. A big launch in 2011 was Cherrygood, a fruit juice made in part from an imported American cherry supposedly very high in antioxidants. One glass will give “the equivalent health benefits of around 20 portions of fruit and vegetables”. Though the company offers no proof of that extraordinary boast, Cherrygood has been a hit, according to the food analyst agencies, and by 2013 all the supermarkets and health stores were stocking it.
The tin of 7UP rolls to a stop at my feet. I pick it up, scowling at the kid on a bike who’d tossed it and missed the litter bin. The can is green and shiny: “Put some play into your every day,” it says. “Escape to a carefree world… Don’t grow up. 7UP.” And underneath, in tiny print, the real info (though you need a calculator to get to the truth): the lemon- and lime-flavoured drink contains a trace of salt, no fat, no fibre and 34.98g of sugar – eight teaspoons. The sugar delivers 135 calorie; enough energy for about 15 minutes’ cross-country running. It’s cheap, too. Half the price of milk.
If the stats are right, this teenager in Leith, who threw the empty tin, drinks 287 cans, or the equivalent, a year: more sugary drinks than any other child in Europe. Not to mention a whole lot more sugar, in breakfast cereals, bread, and even chicken nuggets. That is in part why Scottish children’s teeth are the same quality as those of children in Kazakhstan. And perhaps why a 2010 survey of 17 countries found that only Mexicans and Americans were fatter than Scots.
If you want to know more about Big Sugar, its unhealthy relationship with government, and the role of fructose in the diabesity epidemic could start with Dr Robert Lustig’s excellent 2013 polemic Fat Chance – the Bitter Truth about Sugar
Here’s Dr Lustig in action on sugar, health and the sugar-dealers. 3.75 million YouTube hits so far…