I was watching ‘Flog It!’ the other day. I’ve got a bit of a thing for Paul Martin. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that a number of otherwise reasonably discerning women and pan-gendered people of my generation have developed a bit of a thing for Paul Martin. We have after all now spent an entire year home alone, for fear of infecting better friends and family with a killer virus. 

The killer virus orchestrates our movements, occupies mind, moves feeling and alters physiognomy and yet much is silenced. No one (with the exceptional exception of ‘It’s a Sin’) mentions prior lived experience of the most notorious of deadly diseases; no one refers to its radical social impact since; it arrived in the 80s as AIDS. No one mentions the correlation between social distancing now and changes made to sexual behaviour then.

No one mentions references Boris Johnson has made to masks in the past and the prospect of a masked future world, now. Instead the binaries shift to who is more disadvantaged by Covid and why that might be; it is likely that many who deny the virus and refuse masks are influenced by Johnson’s past utterances on some level yet it is not discussed. It is ironic that any whose religion demands they cover their faces who might refute claims for Covid are yet still compelled to cover their faces. It is also notable that masks might protect us all from each other rather than identifying perceived goodies, baddies or ‘members of our tribe and not our tribe’ as before. The binaries disappear in utopia and perhaps viral dystopia. 

Those who observe that last year we were at pains not to use binaries, to sort the sexes into two groups, sensitive that such practices exclude the differently gendered, and note that this week’s news focuses on the opposition ‘vulnerable woman:oppressive man’ are ridiculed and excluded from the hash-tag community #SafeStrrets. A similar pro Meghan and Harry v anti M&H movement springs up at the same time. It is tricky to be up to date with the public mind in time enough, not to commit an offence under a very recently outmoded manner of speech or referencing. 

It is suddenly essential, just as those last found when asserting that ‘all lives matter’ in response to the slogan ‘Black lives matter’ – to chant the moment’s slogan. One shouldn’t choose one’s own form of expression which may well be more inclusive; you should instead chant one which the feeds tell you now represents what you really mean even though the words don’t seem quite right. You still truly feel all lives matter but you don’t argue. If you don’t chant it you are seen as anti-equality and inclusion. You chant it because you are not but the words are not yours, the sound is not your voice, and you no longer have a sense of integrity or worth except that which comes in the form of approval from the one voiced body of people. 

You know you long for peace and equality and defer to the mob. Meanwhile things don’t feel right somehow. In fact there seems to be even more unrest. There are even more divisive fights, reactive outbursts, incidents and suicides. all the things you fought for from plastic free seas to an end to FGM seem to have failed.

And a policeman has enacted the abject. 

Now you must chant ‘All men’ v ‘All women’ instead of ‘Everyone’. The dictionary of silencing explains that ‘All women’ and ‘All men’ replaces the archaic expression ‘Humans’ and is a neolism for ‘1984’.  You no longer really can be sure that your heart is in the right place. Think about it. You can hardly bring yourself to see that fat person on Flog It as an actual person. You know he is unhappy but you don’t care because he is probably a fat cat snob from Eton; watching daytime TV is a sin anyway. Anyone on it is a supported by a white supremacist who is keeping a hold over your liberty turning people to drugs not to mention abuse of themselves, others and the planet. You have another can of m&s ready mix slimline pink gin and tonic with some chilli lime tortillas.

The valuer on Flog It occupies an enormous body – his body is his medium, the thing he gets about in – his body is his message now too. I never hear a word he says. I simply see his vast form which is his slogan.

And nobody ever observes that there is a man playing the role of valuer on ‘Flog It’ that has increased and continues to increase in obesity to such an extent that now, if the camera has any chance whatsoever of affording his adoring fans a glimpse, Paul Martin must be shrunk and made to appear as if a dot disappearing at the end of a night at The Odeon, along with 50 per cent of #FlogIts’ audience, my demographic, who switch off wondering why that fat man has taken up the whole screen, you can’t see lovely Paul and no one has had a word.

A visible disorder, such as one which produces symptoms of over or under eating is one we are growing to respect. When my children were teenagers and exposed to media images and forms of perfectionism at an acutely self conscious moment of development, parents were also flooded with warnings about not fuelling anorexic or bulimic tendencies – the advice given was, feed them good food and if they are a bit plump,  for Christ’s sake don’t say anything at all, or they’ll start starving themselves and throwing up. It would also have been useful for parents to be advised: keep talking. Throwing up and starving is a symptom of dis-ease before it is a disease in its own box.

There is far greater understanding now that manifestations of distress take many shapes and forms and that it is actually very important that parents to be able to say, ‘How are you feeling? Would you like a chat?’ rather than ‘if you carry on the way you’re going your zip’s gonna bust in those jeans – are they lycra? They cost a bloody fortune. They’ve got to last’. I know it’s hard.

Yet still, last time I accompanied a friend to an admission to a General Hospital for care for cancer, we spent hours in waiting rooms alongside the copious and differently unwell from self abuse, the most memorable being those with ulcerated legs, failing limbs, heart failure and diabetes in crisis due to unaddressed distress, disordered eating and so obesity.

There are two women I pass on my way up and down to the post office. They pause on a bench on their way to the shops. They have to. It’s 150 metres to the shops from their house. The bench is half way. It commemorates a relative who used to do that walk and wish for a bench. We always chat. They put on a stone a year, each. They are mother and daughter. They use walking frames. They have trouble with ulcers. 

It always goes like this:

‘Here comes Twiggy.’ Big giggles. ‘How are you today Speedy Gonzalez?’ 

‘Ha! Ha! Not so much of the speedy. Got to catch the post. Must dash. We’ll chat on my way back…’

And we do. And I never ask,

‘How’s life on the highway to pie heaven?’ 

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