The belly of the beast

It has come to this: buying a copy of Men's Health magazine in order to do something about my belly. It really is getting horrible; when I saw it in
profile in the mirror, I actually screamed.

I remember how I used to mock the afflicted. At university, my friend Toby and I cried with laughter when we discovered an exercise wheel in our friend David's room. "You need a big hammer to bang in a big nail," he said defensively. And now . . .

I am not quite sure how this has happened. I suppose you could describe my lifestyle as sedentary - but lately I've been walking miles a day and even doing exercises.

For years, I could get away with eating and drinking what I liked and enjoying Oblomovian periods of inactivity. (Being too skinny, incidentally, was reason number 47 the wife kicked me out. Oh, the irony.)

So there I am, in the Co-op with the Woman I Love, wondering if there's a copy of Razzle I can conceal this embarrassing magazine in. The WIL is tolerant of my increased girth, but she sure isn't going to stop me from doing anything about it. She goes in where I go out, if you see what I mean, and I feel that it is only good manners to try to raise my game.

“Your gut . . . gone! Fat to flat in five easy steps", promises the front cover of the magazine. As well as: “Sex so good it's (almost) illegal!" There is a picture of a shirtless hunk on the cover, but his six-pack, as I believe it's called, is simply eurgh. What kind of crazy world have I stumbled into?
The kind in which what it says on the cover of the magazine bears not even a faint resemblance to what it says inside it, that's what.

When it says "Fat to flat in five easy steps", it refers to an insanely complicated series of exercises spread over about 20 pages. The first thing you have to do, apparently, is find a Smith machine and do something unspeakable with a barbell. Where, I ask myself, am I going to find a Smith machine? Yes, I know, a gym, but I wouldn't go into a gym even if I could afford it, especially not looking like this.

I'm also not sure I have the mental equipment. I used to think that gym bunnies were, on the whole, the kind of people who cared more about their bodies than their brains, but how the hell do they remember all these routines? I'd have to bring the magazine in with me and keep referring to it, which I don't think is the done thing. And when I am doing my dumb-bell seated shoulder presses, I'd have to ask someone what the hell "8-10 reps" means. What is a rep when it's at home? I suppose this must be how people who haven't read a book since their O-levels must feel
like when they chance upon a copy of the TLS.

Orgies or tea?

In despair, I turn to "Sex so good it's (almost) illegal". This turns out to be the "top stylist" Bella Blissett revealing "why your date put her outfit on, so you'll find it easier to get her to take it off". There's something in another section of the magazine about orgies. The author says: “I spend ten minutes wondering if I could have sex with a 47-year-old." I am 46 and ten months. I don't belong here. There's stuff in this magazine telling men what to eat so they don't get strokes. You're meant to drink tea. This is good - I like tea. You're also meant, on another page, not to drink tea.

A Friday-afternoon quiz at work, meanwhile, "will increase your life expectancy by 60 per cent". What, you mean I'll live to be 115? Michael from the Uxbridge Arms fell down the stairs after the pub quiz and nearly died there and then. Admittedly, he'd had rather more than the half-a-can-of-beer-a-day you need to ward off osteoporosis. And unless I turned over two pages at once, I didn't see anything about how drinking a bottle of red wine a day will turn you into Superman. As Mick Jagger put it: what a drag it is getting old.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 April 2010 issue of the New Statesman, GOD