To walk down a street in England, or visit a supermarket, or indeed go anywhere where the public are at large, is to encounter one of the great mysteries of our island race, namely however did we become an advanced economy? The inhabitants are so slow.
Young or old, fat or thin, it makes no difference. All amble in a narcoleptic trance. Aimless, stupefied, oblivious to all around them, they have lead in their boots. There are exceptions. Occasionally you can spot a bright-eyed nimble citizen darting this way and that, seeking a chink through which to pass the shuffling legions of the somnambulistic.
How is it that such vast numbers are rendered so lifeless, so torpid? Several possibilities suggest themselves. Exposure to television is known to sap the senses and drain vitality.
Labour- saving devices have been developed to the point where the energy conserved is infinitesimal; the automatic car key, for example, spares its user the half-turn of a wrist; even now, the Japanese are said to be working on a bottom-wiping machine. True, some members of an older generation, disturbed by their own lassitude, have taken to cycling, but the combined forces of their foolhardiness and the density of motorised traffic makes for a life expectancy that a mayfly might envy.
The answer to the riddle of mass somnolence might have lain undiscovered for years to come, particularly as so few have the energy required to pursue such quests.
However, thanks to the boon of market research – an industry whose task is made easier in an age when targeted respondents have lost the ability to run away – the mystery is unlocked.
A study of 1,000 people for the British Heart Foundation and Kwik Save shows that only ten per cent of men and four per cent of women regularly eat a fry-up breakfast. Among 25- to 34-year-olds of both sexes, almost half skip breakfast altogether. So there you have it – no fry-up, no energy.
The Great British Breakfast is among our proudest gifts to the civilised world. No meal yet devised can beat bacon, eggs, black pudding, and grilled tomatoes (mushrooms optional, likewise baked beans), lightly sprinkled with Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce. It sets you up for the day and is secretly adored by millions. Secretly because they’ve been made to feel guilty by almost two decades of carping, whining and finger-wagging by such as the BMA, the Health Education Authority and the British Heart Foundation.
The traditional British breakfast has become an occasional naughty pleasure, like knocking a geriatric racing cyclist into a ditch. Anyone who has been in a hotel dining room at breakfast time, or travelled early morning in a railway buffet car, will have witnessed the enthusiasm with which bacon, eggs and sausages are greedily gobbled up. Proof that the mere prospect of a fried breakfast quickens the mind and shakes lethargy from the limbs.
Oh, what we lost when we forsook a breakfast that sizzled for one that looked like the scrapings from a barn floor. Bacon and eggs are what gave this country its vigour and stirred its blood. Can you imagine Isambard Kingdom Brunel setting off to knock up an iron bridge on an empty stomach? Do you suppose that Wellington rode forth to whack seven shades out of the little Frenchman with nothing inside him but a coffee and a croissant? Take away their bacon and eggs and men of action have no action.
And so it is with the languid masses who, having set off from A, are so listless and enervated they have long forgotten in which direction B lies and, worse, ceased to care.
If only they knew what the pig and the hen could do for them. Were the fry-up to be restored to the breakfast tables of the land, the streets would bear witness to such skipping and prancing as was last seen in the days when the populace was, by and large, flea-ridden.
That is why Professor Stephen Gray of Nottingham Trent University has missed the point. His is the enviable task of measuring women’s bottoms for a living. (Does he, one wonders, give a little shrug down at the pub, and say with a sly wink, “Somebody’s got to do it”?)
At the last count he had spent three and a half years surveying the backsides of some 8,000 women. So no one can accuse him of shirking or cutting corners.
Pausing briefly from his labours to announce a tentative conclusion – for time and tide wait for no man and there remain many millions of female fundaments as yet ungauged – he says:”Today’s bottoms are broader and saggier than they have ever been.” Has overwork turned him sour?
His explanation is that today’s women are eating too much junk food laden with fats, which goes straight to their gluteal regions. Nonsense. They are not eating a cooked breakfast and hence are slothful. Were they to revert to the diet of their grandmothers and polish off a couple of rashers and an egg at the start of the day, the extra energy would burn off body fats, tone the muscles, bring colour to the cheeks (facial), and lend a whole new urgency to the High Street. Come that glorious day, and Professor Gray will have to chase his quarry.v