Sweet Tyranny

Here’s something I bet youse lot never thought you’d see on my blog – a post about dieting! Yes, you read that right. I know I’m not fat (“au contraire” I hear you smirking). And I know that my pitiful complaints about my slowly-but-relentlessly ballooning middle-aged belly cause many of you to roll your eyes and shake your heads in a sort of “she doesn’t know what ‘fat’ means” kind of way. But here’s the thing.

I don’t so much mind looking a funny shape (flat chested, but with a tummy profile similar to my four-month pregnant daughter) – but I hate feeling fat. I mean, I hate the bloated, leaden sensation that I lug around with me all day that drags me down, and pulls me under, and makes me feel like I just totally Can’t Be Arsed to DO anything.

I guess I had just come to accept that, well, I’m not getting any younger, so probably I shouldn’t expect to feel lively and brimming with energy all the time. But then I was browsing one of my favourite blogs-by-other-people, and I came across a mention of how much more energy the writer had since she’d started the paleo diet. And after I’d finished reading the post (and about ten previous ones – I had some catching up to do), I found myself a bit bored, and a bit wondering what to do next, and I thought I felt like doing a bit of internet browsing but I couldn’t think of anything to browse. And then I thought, “I wish I wasn’t so damned lazy”. But instead of getting up and going outside to do something wildly energetic and invigorating, I decided to google paleo diet instead.

And this is what I found: this, and this, and this. And then I started thinking that maybe it was time to question my (mostly) vegetarian lifestyle. And then I stumbled across an article called The Naive Vegetarian, which I shared with Simon as Food for Thought, which he of course rubbished within seconds because of its lack of scientific rigour. So I reminded him that I had shared it with him only as Food for Thought, and not because I believed it to be the definitive guide to the ultimate truth about anything. And he said, “Fair-enough-but-even-so…. ” And I said, “Forget it – let’s go walk the dogs.” And he said, “Ok, but let’s have a cup of tea first” and “Do you wanna bit of flan with your tea?” And I said, “Hell, yeh – why not!”

Fast forward a few days. Simon has jetted away to British Columbia to visit his daughter who has recently moved from Montreal to Victoria (and who was in need of a bit of parental support to assist with the massive change in her life), leaving me alone with the animals and my thoughts for a couple of weeks. He ought to know by now that leaving me alone with my thoughts for any significant length of time can be a risky business.

It always takes me a day or two to remember how to do Being Alone, and those first few hours are characterised by a curious mixture of pleasure at the realisation that I can do what the hell I like, whenever I feel like it, combined with despair at the contemporaneous realisation that I have no idea whatsoever of what I might want to do. I get over it. I think about how to use this alone-time wisely, to do things I might normally feel constrained from doing. In the past I have sometimes used it to stay up childishly late, eat only cornflakes and cheese, and not-do the washing up. Sometimes I have used it to get creative and write poems or even paint the odd watercolour. Sometimes I have used it to (try to) meditate or commune with the fairies.

But this time was going to be longer than usual, and it seemed to me like an opportunity to do something a bit more sort of worthwhile. Now, to Simon, “something worthwhile” would probably entail grand plans and big machinery – like clearing all the drainage ditches hereabouts, in readiness for the waterful onslaught of winter. Or maybe chainsawing off all those dangerously poised willow branches that hang like Damacles’ blunt instruments over the frequently used field gates. Or clearing out the barn and constructing an extended inside area to keep our ever-increasing family of llamas cosy-but-not-squashed in the chill months to come.

However, I’m not blessed with a penchant for such undoubtedly useful and responsible, but ultimately much-too-energetic kinds of activity. I prefer my worthwhile activities to occur within the easy comforts of home, and if possible, I prefer them to be capable of execution from a seated position, ideally within easy reach of a computer keyboard. (I believe I may have mentioned before that I may not be well-suited to the farming life). So, the question I asked myself was this. “What worthwhile thing can I do over the next two weeks that I can do sitting on my butt?” The answer came to me in a flash trickle of inspiration. I could GIVE SOMETHING UP.

Now, Giving Stuff Up is something I like to do intermittently, just to reassure myself that, (Houston) I Have Control. I am not really a fan of exerting control over Nature, or over important external events. That sort of behaviour is way too Yang for my liking. But, ever since my first brush with Buddhist psychology about six years ago, I have been aware of how much of my life is at the mercy of my cravings. I like to think of myself as a free spirit (don’t we all?) but the sad reality is that I am, in fact, nothing but a slave to my desires, my habits, my attachments, my conditioning and my beliefs.

When I first realised this, during a Christmas break in Roquetaillade in 2005, I immediately set about giving up my addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, and – yes- it must be said – recreational drugs. I suspect I somewhat spoiled the Festive Mood – particularly since only two days before, we had driven a 140 mile round trip to pick out a fair few cases of delicious wine from our favourite cave in Berlou. Oh well.

Somewhat surprisingly, I have to say that the undertaking proved to be pretty successful. Although I am not particularly well endowed with will power (whatever that might be), it seems that I can be stubborn in the pursuit of my desires. Which, whilst often a bad thing, can be helpful when when what you desire is to be free from desire. (Yeh I know… many a wise Buddhist has waxed lyrical on the ironic pitfalls of striving for spiritual enlightenment.)

Well it seems this Giving Up lark can become a bit addictive in its own right. After the excitement of realising that I could, with a bit of effort and Right Thinking, prevail against the many-headed Demon of Dependence, I started casting around for other things to give up. In the years that followed I gave up eating meat, wearing make-up and, eventually, work. (To be honest, that last one wasn’t much of a struggle – although the withdrawal symptoms did come as a bit of a shock.)

Anyway, after a few years of abstinence in my chosen fields of battle, I reached the point where I felt reasonably safe in adopting The Middle Way (Oh Buddhism, how I love thee – let me count the ways), which means that now I feel I can partake in occasional moderation, without free-falling back into hopeless addiction. Overall, I would say I have this addiction thing pretty much sussed. With one Very Significant Exception. I have (until now) never made any serious attempt to tackle my addiction to Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice.

I think I have always suspected that my craving for cake was just too big a foe to take on. I was pretty much brought up on a diet of biscuits, sweet pies, yummy puddings and iced fairy cakes. My father was a baker confectioner during my early years, and used to bring home surplus cup cakes and baby-sized loaves from his place of work on a regular basis. He used to make and decorate the most beautiful wedding and birthday cakes as a side line during his spare time. At home. In our kitchen. Where I would watch, transfixed with admiration as he smoothed perfect white icing onto perfectly flat marzipan on top of perfectly delicious fruit cakes, using a turntable and a palette knife. And when he had finished, I would lick the bowl. Ahhhh….Heaven.

Or Hell. My early life was also marked by frequent, unpleasant drilling-and-filling experiences at the dentist, and more episodes of vomiting than is healthy in a small child. Luckily the upshot of both have been positive. My fear of the dentist has created in me an obsessive compulsion around dental hygiene, which has kept my teeth safe, and kept me away from the dentist’s surgery for the last thirty-odd years. And being very ‘at home’ with throwing-up probably saved me from death by alcohol poisoning during the worst excesses of my student years.

So, the long and the short of it is that I have a sugar-addiction of a long-standing and deep-seated nature. I have lived under the Evil Subjugation of Sweetness for so long, that to question his authority would be akin to opening a very sticky can of existential worms. Any attempt to take on the Demon of Dextrose would undoubtedly result in a combat of epic proportions, involving all manner of unforeseen collateral damage.

But, whilst Simon is out of the country, and I am barricaded within the metaphorical walls of my self-chosen solitary confinement, civilian casualties should be pretty limited. I may shout at the dogs a little more than usual, but I doubt that they’d notice (so intent will they be in pursuing their own addictions to car-chasing and poo-eating). Ah, what the hell….

Let Battle Commence!

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6 Responses to Sweet Tyranny

  1. Noreen says:

    All I can say Val, is you’re lucky not to have a ‘Birds’ cake shop on your doorstep! Oooh cream slices! And being on your own at the moment, you wouldn’t have to share! Bliss!!

  2. Noreen says:

    I’m so much more mundane than you Val! No ‘Middle Way’, ‘Buddhism’ or ‘spiritual enlightenment’ for me!

    • Val says:

      You are not mundane, Noreen – you are down-to-earth. In a good way 😉 And I have little doubt that you are all the happier for it.
      Like My Wise Friend always says – I think too much.

  3. Simon says:

    What will face me on my return? A radiant victor over another addiction, or a miserable carbohydrate deprived vestige of my previously nicely-rounded lover?

    As I sit in Vancouver Airport loving the free wifi, I wonder whether I should start researching recipes which could suit us both . . . . . .

    Oh well, as Val would undoubtedly say, I guess I should wait and see how this one turns out!

    • Colin says:

      How can you do this with that wonderful little cake shop up the village? If you do this Crasher, you’ll have my utmost respect! Love Col xxx

  4. Chris says:

    Sadly I wouldn’t know where to begin!

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