Malta Diary 5. “Move your bloomin’ … whatsit!”
Just as Eliza Doolittle blurted out “move your bloomin’ … whatsit!” to the flagging race horse and to all and sundry at Ascot in George Bernard Shaw’s “My Fair Lady”–– that’s exactly what we are being told nowadays.
So, just as you are comfortably installed in that favourite couch ready to tuck into a bucketful of chicken nuggets and chips, some bright spark will pop up on television to announce the latest alarming rise in obesity figures! A prophet of doom will then supplement this by relating how obesity affects one’s quality of life and its longevity but is also responsible for a number of diseases including diabetes, heart problems and high blood pressure. The problem also has an effect on society and on the economy because of lost productivity and escalating costs of medical treatments resultant from obesity.
Well, the Maltese islands have obesity problems. Recent studies have shown that 36 per cent of Maltese are overweight while 22 per cent are obese. The rate is also very high in children where a 2010 study showed that 40 per cent of children aged between seven and 11 are obese or overweight.
The problem is that the Maltese love their food and love it in ample quantities. There is nothing quite like fresh-baked Maltese bread to deal with a river of gravy and frying oil in a plate of fried steak submerged under lashings of chips topped by a couple of fried eggs and possibly a couple of sausages.
Sadly, all this is an inheritance from Malta’s Neolithic times when various statues of Maltese womanhood were unearthed a couple of centuries back. These show a short and stocky female with gigantic hips and amply fleshy hips and calves – then believed to be symbols of a woman’s fertility and a capacity for child-bearing.
However, what was good for the gander then is not so good for today’s goose and alarm bells constantly jangle to ensure a healthy appetite is ruined with lingering thoughts of recrimination. There again, the Maltese have never really taken to the salad brigade of lettuce and cucumber, seen by many to be fitting food for song birds but not for humans.
In the path of growing awareness and with an eye on the prospects of commercial enterprise, every five-star and almost every four-star hotel in Malta and Gozo have their health spa, fitness centre and outdoor/indoor swimming pools and saunas, open to public membership.
There are various small and medium-sized gymnasia dotted around the islands and a very large gym at Ta’ Qali managed by the Malta Football Association, also open to public membership.
Additionally, there are scores of shops retailing fitness equipment as most Maltese prefer to buy bits of home equipment rather than take expensive gym memberships. There are also constantly mushrooming fitness and health clubs offering nutritional diets, zumba classes etc.
The more canny Maltese take to free jogging and walking with droves of bodies pounding around the Qawra and Sliema seafronts at all hours of the day and for nine months of the year sea swimming is free – and relatively warm!
A lead has also been given by the President of the Republic Dr George Abela (a lawyer) who at the age of 65 still goes for a daily jog and has for the last four years patronised an extremely successful Christmas Fun Run and Walk attended by many thousands of sponsored individuals, the proceeds going to charitable causes.
Stressed by all these pressures and constantly parading in front of a full-length mirror and continually tut-tutting, a year ago my wife ‘Tilde went out and bought a walker/thread-mill. It has remained in its original wrapping in our spare room although she does occasionally tackle a plate of fresh lettuce, tomatoes and raw carrots.
Meanwhile, I am following my own daily diet of Scotch, wine and fags.