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The Fat of the Matter Is…

Sir Charles Maxwell-House


Readers may remember that after a severe professional/emotional trauma in last issue’s instalment I sought solace in various edible tit-bits – let us mention stuffed cuttlefish and BBQ Wotsits, and leave it at that. And, after all, what is wrong with letting loose every once in a while; having a ‘blow out’ as the young people would have it?

Nothing, nothing, to be sure. But sadly I enjoyed my binge so much, that I impulsively decided to cast aside my flagging literary investigations and embark upon an Epicurean tour of Europe: I gorged on gravadlax in Grong, quaffed quince wine in Quimper, scoffed sugared satsumas in Seville and even gobbled up goose in Gdansk. It was two months of perfect bliss, I can assure you.

Returning in high spirits to my Kensington residence I was, however, ill-prepared for the look of shock that appeared on Mrs B’s face when she beheld me filling the doorway, nor was I aticipating her shriek: ‘Sir Charles! You have grown terribly fat!’

Naturally I had noticed a severe tightening of my garments, accompanied by the more and more frequent flying-off of buttons from my vestments, but I certainly was not expecting such an indiscreet outburst from the aforementioned lady.

Sincerely put-out, I escaped to my study and espying my favourite chair ready beside the blazing fire I began to feel better. Unfortunately, when I tried to sit down in it, rather than quotes about returning to the comforts of home, it was dear PG Wodehouse’s description of Lady Malvern that rather rushed into my mind – ‘She fitted into my largest armchair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing armchairs tight round the hips this season.’

As I continued to try and force my full bulk into the chair I reflected that perhaps things had gone a little far. And a check-up with the esteemed Harley Street physician, Doctor Double-Barrel, the next day only confirmed my fears. He told me that if I ate so much as another twice-fried quail’s egg with truffle butter he could not answer for what might happen to me. I swore off this most favourite of delicacies, and returned home, distressed by my outrageously high cholesterol and fearing the worst.

Sitting on the chaise lounge (temporarily replacing the armchair in front of the fire) and refusing everything but hot water and lemon I resigned myself to the fact that I was at best ‘extremely portly’ whereas before my uncharacteristic binge I could have safely remained in the just ‘portly’ category. 

Thoroughly depressed, I cast my eyes gloomily about my bookshelves, packed to the rafters with literary classics. And it struck me that there was hardly a podgy, let alone obese, hero to be found amongst them… 

Here was the svelte Tom Jones, there the fine figure of Mr Darcy, the ‘uncommonly fine fellow’ Daniel Deronda with his dark good looks, and oh lord, that Vronksy was terribly handsome and tall… 

Books however always seem to be able to offer comfort, and so it was that my eyes drifted along that same portion of shelf and found some hope – was not Pierre, the Count Bezukov, rather portly? I felt certain he was on the edge of having a serious weight problem, and didn’t he get to marry the beautiful girl? This set my heart somewhat at rest, so I took another sip of warm water and began to doze off before the fire.

Suddenly I jolted up with a start… how could I have forgotten Mr Pickwick! My hero and my literary mentor, my source of inspiration intellectually… and now physically! I rushed to my complete Dickens on the shelves, brought down the fine tome and scrambled to the opening pages.

Sure enough we find the members of The Pickwick Club gathered together, no doubt having enjoyed a hearty meal, noting their satisfaction regarding Mr Samuel Pickwick’s ‘“Speculations on the Source of the Hampstead Ponds, with Some Observations on the Theory of Tittlebats”’, a paper to which the Pickwickians affirmed their most ‘unmingled satisfaction’ at hearing, and which received their ‘unanimous approval’.

Dear Pickwick is clearly bursting out of his ‘tights and gaiters’ and yet, or partly because of this fact, he inspires ‘voluntary awe and respect’ when he struggles up on his Windsor chair to address the assembled company. I have always felt my own investigations to be inspired by his ‘unwearied researches’, and it was currently even more inspiring to remember that despite stretching his outfits to their very limit he consistently commanded the highest respect,

There sat the man [Mr Pickwick] who had traced to their source the mighty ponds of Hampstead and agitated the scientific world with his Theory of Tittlebats, as calm and unmoved as the deep waters of the one on a frosty day or as a solitary specimen of the other in the inmost recesses of an earthen jar.

I rang the bell for Mrs B and instructed her to concoct a delightful supper for two… Fear not gentle reader, I was not hell bent on the road to obesity, I was merely about to contact Major Chomondeley Chaser Hound on the telephone and request the pleasure of his presence. 

He duly arrived three hours later, and we sat down to our feast – myself casting a scornful eye over Montgomery-Huntingdon’s sleazy findings regarding the reading habits of chambermaids, commenting and openly gaffawing at times; the dear Major glued to the Racing Post, reading anything of note out. It rather reminded me of this:

‘If you don’t mind, I prefer not to talk at meals. He popped a morocco-bound volume of Punch before his plate against a vast silver urn from which grew a small castor-oil plant.
‘Give Mr Symes a book,’ he said.
Mrs Florin put another volume of Punch beside Adam.
‘If you come across anything really funny, read it to me,’ said Colonel Blount.
Then they had luncheon.
(Vile Bodies) 

Toodle pip