t’s no coincidence we never heard the term childhood obesity as getting chased by an army snatch squad was guaranteed to knock two stone off the fattest child
I’D A rather unusual childhood, which may explain why I got the author of Alice In Wonderland wrong in last week’s column. My thanks to the keen-eyed reader who pointed out the author was Lewis Carroll and not, as I stated, CS Lewis. Unlike Arlene Foster, I take full responsibility for my stupidity and will endeavour to be more accurate in future.
I know my 10-year-old son wouldn’t have made such a mistake, but he’s having a completely different childhood from mine. For example, the decision of the government to tax sugary drinks will have absolutely no effect in the O’Kane household as my children drink only milk or water.
There, I’ve said it, I bet some of you think I’m one of those health-fanatic fathers who deny his children the small joys of life. But it wasn’t like that, we just didn’t give them sugar-laden drinks, and because of that the only thing they’ve missed out on is childhood obesity and tooth decay.
I’m obsessed by teeth as mine are an absolute disaster. A dentist once took an an X-ray of my mouth and inquired sympathetically if I’d been in a car accident. The few teeth I have are a picket fence bridged with metal and plastic. Some went missing due to adventures in my 20s, much too interesting to detail here, but most went AWOL due to a childhood spent consuming an inordinate amount of sugary drinks and treats.
In the 60s and 70s, we weren’t aware of the health issues around sugar. It was a time when tobacco manufacturers still advertised smoking as cool, alcohol producers told us the health advantages of drinking and house builders hand sawed sheets of asbestos unaware of the toxicity of the product they were using.
So, I blissfully chomped my way through my bodyweight in Jacobs Trio Chocolate bars, Applause bars and my particular favourite Space Dust, a weird confection that took the form of a fine powder which, on touching your tongue, fizzed and crackled, stripping the enamel off your teeth as it did so.
Many of you won’t recognise any of these sweets as they’ve long since been discontinued under international chemical weapons legislation. The legacy for me was years spent in dentist’s chairs as heroic attempts were made to save what few teeth remained while extracting many which didn’t.
While a sugar tax is a positive move, it isn’t a magic bullet; other factors contribute to childhood obesity. For instance, while my children have a decent diet, I worry about the amount of time they spend indoors fixated on a screen of some variety. While my generation spent every spare minute outside playing games involving some form of cardiovascular activity, this generation looks on such activity as moronic.
Growing up in north Belfast in the 70s we’d no Xboxes or Nintendo Wiis. Instead we made our own entertainment – we had riots. It’s no coincidence we never heard the term childhood obesity as getting chased by an army snatch squad was guaranteed to knock two stone off the fattest child.
The routine was always the same: we would run home from school and change out of our school uniforms into our rioting gear. We were much more afraid of our mothers than the army or police – if they caught you it would be a beating; if your ma caught you with torn school trousers the punishment was guaranteed to be much more severe.
On the rare occasions when no army or police were to be seen we’d riot among ourselves till they arrived. This was our version of recreational rioting. Eventually the forces of law and order would roll in and the madness would begin.
Being a sleekit wee skitter, I was never caught rioting – you see, I used my head. There was a boy from my school called Paddy No Puff, due to him being cursed with the asthma. Paddy was an enthusiastic rioter but was incapacitated when it came time to run. Knowing this, I always made sure I was in front of Paddy when the army broke from their lines, for while I was fat and no great sprinter, I knew I was faster than Paddy No Puff.
Poor Paddy was caught so often I honestly believe the army beat the asthma out of him, as I bumped into him years later after he’d just finished the Belfast marathon.
Did I ever tell you about the time I did the marathon…?