Just a routine check-up, said the receptionist when I registered at my new doctor’s, nothing to worry about at all. She said. But she wasn’t the one having the check-up. Armed with a phial of freshly drawn urine I presented myself to the practice nurse. ‘You’re not English,’ she declared. ‘I am,’ I replied, ‘born just two miles from this very postcode.’ Mild incredulity crossed her face. ‘But I grew up in Africa,’ I added. ‘Ah,’ she said, as if that explained everything. She was from Nigeria, herself, the other side from Kenya.
‘Stand here for me, will you.’ Turns out I’ve shrunk by half an inch – what’s that in kilos? – since I last did stand here for me will you, about fifty years ago. ‘Maybe they measured you with shoes on.’ Peering at my pee, ‘You don’t have diabetes,’ as if it were unusual not to, and ‘blood pressure just about OK.’ Just about? Blimey. Here I am, non-smoking teetotal almost vegetarian tai chi teacher, and blood pressure just about OK? I was about to ask for a refund when she told me to ‘Just step on to the scales for me, Mr North.’ I stepped up to the plate.
‘Eightyfive kilos.’ Seemed a lot to me, but having more of an imperial past than metric the penny still hadn’t dropped. ‘Thirteen and a half stone,’ she said, helpfully. Now that does sound a lot, but in my riding and boxing days we did everything in pounds. I didn’t ask, because I didn’t want to hear the answer but when I reached home (walking briskly to the rhythm of thirteen stones and what do you get, another day older and deeper…you don’t know the rest, before your time) I googled the awful truth.
One hundred and eighty-nine pounds! Sh1t, man! I boxed middleweight, ok, half a century ago, but even so.
Stop eating bread, she’d said, your BMI is 30. What’s that mean, I asked. Verging on obese. Me, obese? No way. Yeah, and butter, too.
Stop eating, more like. Like when I gave up smoking (July 13th 1983) I didn’t finish what was in the fridge or the bread-bin. Probably still sitting there. The morning I flew to Basel I ate two eggs, grilled, bacon, grilled, mushrooms, grilled. That’ll do me till dinner time and then at the most a light meal. The Swiss don’t eat much, do they? Oh my God…Chocolate. They eat chocolate, chocolate that I maintain stimulates the thymus, strengthening the immune system, generating happiness…
The journey was like an obstacle course for taste-buds. We, my beloved and I, when we travel we drink cafe or chai latte, eat butter croissants waiting at the airport, celebrate the night before departure and on return with apple crumble and custard, and support the sea-horses charity run by the enlightened Guylian family. My own peculiar tastes include airline food – except maybe Aeroflot (boiled egg and slice of salami, whatever that is in Russian, for a delay over six hours sleeping on the floor of Moscow Airport.)
This time I was travelling alone so had to use my own willpower. I have to confess, that day I went for my check-up I had indulged myself (8oz ribeye, creamed potatoes, etc yum yum.) I told the nurse I’d been unable to get into my suit trousers a few days before, too.
Switzerland saved me. I got off the plane and straight on to the bus, off the bus and on to the tram, off the tram and into the delightful Hoffmatt Hotel. Reception was closed. ‘When Reception is closed’ announced a notice on the wall, ‘please use the telephone to your left.’ I did. ‘Yah?’ came a voice, and something in Swiss. ‘North,’ I answered. ‘Envelope,’ said the voice. ‘Eh?’ ‘Look up.’ Ah. Pinned to wall next to notice, envelope addressed to Mr North. ‘Er, thanks.’ ‘Enjoy your stay.’
I found my room, small, comfortable, warm, balcony, mountain view. Swiss. I went down to the restaurant. Closed. Sunday. I’d once tried to get a drink in Mumbles on a Sunday afternoon. So you know what I mean. Sunday evening on the outskirts of Basel. Roger Federer lives up the hill nearby. I walked down the road. It was now twelve hours since anything had passed my lips. I saw a light, a neon sign, started to salivate. A little shopping centre. Kiosk. Bistro. Closed.
Back to my room. Aha! a small bottle of water. And that was it for twentyfour hours, till breakfast this morning. I decided that would be my only meal. I did it yesterday: I could fast today. Down with BMI. A cup of coffee at 3pm. And then I had to go back to the little shopping centre for the cash machine. I got my francs, but in big notes. I needed change. A small supermarket was open. Does the bacon-and-egg sandwich count as a broken fast? I needed to change.