Don’t Eat That!

It seems to me that just about everything on the menu is bad for us these days.


I don’t doubt that there is an issue of obesity and likewise, I don’t doubt that there’s an increase in allergies. When I was a schoolkid, I was the only one in my class with asthma, wheezing away in the corner. Now it seems every other child has asthma. My own son has a peanut allergy. I don’t know why – no-one seems to know why. Did I, or did I not eat peanuts during my pregnancy? Am I guilty of doing something to give him that allergy (as if I don’t feel guilt enough already at my less than perfect attempts at parenting).

What I find amazing is that the diet of my generation growing up in the 1970s was pretty appalling, yet many of us seem to have survived (relatively) unscathed.

The diet of the 1970s

Think about it. Did you, come on, own up, ever eat Vesta Beef Curry? All those chunks of delicious, rehydrated meat… or the Vesta Chow Mein with crispy noodles – flat yellowy strips that you coSpamoked in a pan of boiling fat until they puffed up – full of the fat. Nice. Fat had a lot to do with Spam. If you’ve ever eaten a Spam fritter you might wonder why you’re still alive today.

How about Findus Crispy Pancakes? Pancakes covered in breadcrumbs available in various fillings (including, we learnt a few years ago, horsemeat). I couldn’t believe it when I discovered these were still being made until this year. Why oh why?

And who could forget Smash? For mash, get Smash. Nasty beige coloured powder that you added boiling water too and fluffed it up into a bowl of nasty beige goo. It had a certain tang that remains with me to this day.

For pudding, Angel Delight. What WAS that made of? Certainly nothing celestial.

And the non-processed food?

I remembered recently that my mother not only made a big tray of Yorkshire Pud for our Sunday roast, if any was left over after the meat course, we’d eat the rest for pudding, with great daubs of golden syrup. Lovely. And chips, although cut from fresh potatoes, were cooked in a deep fat fryer with fat that seemed to last around 10 years before it was changed.

Vegetables boiled to within an inch of their life! No such thing as a steamer in our household. Just a pan of water filled with carrots, bubbling away for hours. Sprouts? They took approximately two days to cook properly.

Okay, I exaggerate slightly. But what I’m not sure about is what is it now that’s making the difference? Most of us have some awareness of healthy eating. I call myself a mix and match parent. Sometimes I don’t have time, or I’m just too tired, or I haven’t been able to get to the shops, so the pizza will come out of the freezer. Other times I love to create homemade stew, make a pie or rustle up a stir fry. My children seem okay, they are relatively slender. They both exercise, which helps (although I heard today that you’d have to run half a football field to burn off the sugar in one M&M…

I suppose the moral of this story is nothing strikingly original. Moderation is key. Balance is important. Even too many aduki beans won’t do you that much good in the end. I don’t think you need to ask why.


Toilet reminiscing

When I was growing up, the only toilet roll available in my parents’ house was Izal. You have to be of a certain age to remember Izal. But if you know it, then I imagine that reading the word has made you quake with fear. Or shake with laughter.

Izal 2For those who don’t remember it, Izal was a toilet paper that was rather like tracing paper. I don’t know who invented it, or why. They may have thought it was step up from newspaper, but in reality, it wasn’t. There was nothing good about Izal whatsoever. Even though it was ‘medicated’ (say what?). It did not do the job (literally).

We knew we had gone upmarket when a second toilet roll holder appeared in our loo. This one was for ‘soft’ toilet tissue. What a revelation. It worked! It didn’t chafe! But the question begged, why did we continue to have Izal as well? My guess, now that my parents are no longer with us for me to ask, is that the Izal was there for when the soft loo roll ran out. So why not have two soft rolls? That, my dear, would be extravagant! I have a vague memory of being told at one point that the soft roll was for visitors. But I might be making that bit up.

Running out of toilet roll was a terrifying ordeal, but one that happened with alarming regularity in that house. The toilet was in a little room of its own, and frequently a loud wail would emanate through door. Whoever was about knew what it meant. A dash to the cupboard for spare loo roll to be handed surreptitiously through a crack in the toilet door. And… relax. I am fixated with ensuring that my own children are never faced with this horror, keeping copious amounts of soft loo roll available AT ALL TIMES.


That childhood toilet was a hotbed of action. There were seven of us in the family, with one toilet between us. It was a travesty. When we were small, we seemed to lock ourselves in frequently, with dad having to climb the ladder to explain how to unlock the door. I don’t think he could get in the window as it was too small, but I have a vague memory of squeezing through myself, probably to rescue the youngest. That’s you, Andy.

The loo was also home to Reader’s Digest magazines, and later, lots of those silly books that people give to others at Christmas when they can’t think of a decent gift idea. ‘The worst places in Britain’, ‘Fifty Sheds of Grey’, that sort of thing. Why books in a toilet? I suppose to give us something to do. I have no books in my own (I am dead posh, with two loos and a picture of a saint in one).

The house was sold some years ago, after my mum danced her way off this mortal coil. But that toilet, with its double toilet roll holders, silly books, a window that often had a ladder next to it, and, above all else, Izal, means it will remain in my memory forever. The smallest room in the house, but one with many a tale to tell.