Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

A big mouth, fewer taste buds and a wider gullet than normal means I'm a fast eater. If golloping your dinner was an Olympic event, I'd be knighted by now. Last week I equalled my personal best with a plate of roast pork, apple sauce, roast spuds, mashed swede and runner beans. We were four of us gathered round the table: me, Stanford, my new brother-in-law, and our two old mums, both in their eighties. Stanford and I had spent the morning bleaching and filling in the cracks of an outside wall, prior to whitewashing it.

When I looked up from my plate, having polished mine off, I saw that everyone else had barely started. Stan and his mum were making tentative exploratory cuts around the periphery of their respective heaps, still trying to negotiate a way in. Visible on their faces was the polite horror they felt at the amount of food they were being expected to eat. My mum's face, to the experienced eye, betrayed deep social embarrassment at my impression of a starving gannet.

There was a pudding to come - baked apple sponge - so I had to sit and wait while the others caught up. The usual topics of conversation at our table - cancer and the comparative merits of the supermarkets - were in abeyance while everyone concentrated on reducing their mounds. I killed time by reading the user information leaflet from my new packet of Omeprazole, a drug recently prescribed by my doctor for severe indigestion.

The folded leaflet opened out like a concertina. Fully extended it was nearly two-feet long. I measured it with a ruler. To keep everyone entertained, I held it up like a proclamation and read aloud from the section headed 'possible side effects' selected points of interest. That section was a full 18-inches long. Common side effects, it said, are headache, stomach pain, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Other possible side effects include reduced white blood cells, liver failure, inflammation of the brain, enlarged breasts in men, auditory and visual hallucinations, confusion, agitation, depression, hair loss, jaundice, insomnia, pins and needles, thrush, and something called Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which, the others being such slow eaters, I went and looked up on Wikipedia.

If I'd had to take a wild guess, I'd have guessed that it had something to do with priapism. It hasn't. Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a life-threatening skin condition in which the dermis separates from the epidermis. …

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