I blame the internet. All of these ordeals I must endure have been hatched after periods in ?chat rooms?; chat rooms where thousands of other Gladyses bounce wickedness off each other, passing around poisonous information in cyber space like dirty needles; information that guarantees their men-folk are brought to suffer in the most effective and disturbing ways possible.
Gladys unveiled some time ago, a wall chart that she had found in such an electronic coven. ?It will be for your own benefit? she had said, printing it off. ?Eating five-a-day? will keep you looking and feeling good inside and out.? In order to have Beef Wellington on a Sunday – as we always had, I would, under the new regime, have to be witnessed by her consuming the full five of my ?five-a-day?. Every time I ate a fruit or vegetable a sticker would be affixed to the chart and the tally kept.
I am seventy eight. In terms of looks, I?ve been better. In terms of ?feeling good inside?, I?m seventy eight. I cannot for the life of me imagine how sulkily gobbling broccoli under supervision is going to do anything for either the dash that I cut, or my overall bubbliness in general.
?It?s all about the antioxidants? she told me, reading from the screen. ?The process of oxidation in the human body damages cell membranes and other structures including cellular proteins, lipids and DNA. When oxygen is metabolised, it creates ?free radicals? which steal electrons from other molecules, causing damage.?
?Free radicals and electronic what?? I said.
?Look.? She said, holding up an irrefutable table of miniscule font. ?From your red capsicums and your pumpkins come your cryptoxanthins. From offal and whole grains comes selenium; and from green tea and onions comes your flavanoids; these are believed to contribute to the low rates of heart disease in Japan.? ?Lutein,? she continued, ?found in spinach and corn, has been linked to a lower incidence of eye lens degeneration and associated blindness in the elderly.?
?If all I need for a better life? I told her ?is offal, green tea and pumpkins, I?ll take angina and a guide dog and count my blessings thank you.?
When I come home from the pub, I find that my cheese and biscuits have gone missing, discovering instead plates of chopped carrots (?batons? as she calls them), served up with that beige Greek muck that tastes like garlic toothpaste.
She?s started making up stories about the food we?re eating. She pretends that julienne parsnips are chips – and refers them as ?chips?. She?s started hiding things in my mashed potato; chopping vegetables into tiny pieces and sneaking it into sauces.
?Please Gladys,? I say. ?Can we not just carry on as we have been for the last thirty, forty years – whatever it?s been??
?Eating five a day will… ?
?Will make me angry and resentful.? I tell her. ?I don?t want to eat this.?
?Well!? She snapped. ?If it?s good enough for Patsy Palmer- I don?t see why it shouldn?t be good enough for you.?
?Patsy Palmer?? I said, ?Who, for the love of Christ is Patsy Palmer?!?
?Bianca? she said, pointing at her computer screen. ?Bianca. You know- from Eastenders.?
Glaring at the NHS sponsored website, I saw that Patsy was ?very happy to be involved with the ??five-a-day?? Top Tips campaign??.
?Look? I said, highlighting a paragraph which read ?Keep some canned fruit & veg handy in your cupboard?, ?she really knows her stuff doesn?t she – God knows where we might have found ourselves putting them.?
?Go on, knock it,? she said, ?take the mickey, but ??five-a-day?? has firmly embedded itself in the nation?s vocabulary if not in yours.?
?Where did you read that?!? I said. ?Peter Andre has firmly established himself in the nation?s vocabulary,? I told her, angrily thrusting the front page of the Radio Times forward ?that doesn?t mean we have to accept it.?
?Fresh, seasonal vegetables are the only source of adequate nutrients.? Hugh Fernley what-his-face frowns at me in my living room every Wednesday evening. ?You will die a long, drawn-out death, immediately, if you do not immerse yourself in rosehip flowers and take radish serum intravenously? spits that viper McKeith. ?You must defecate into an ice cream tub and avoid eye contact with anything remotely starchy.? All this and Bianca declares proudly on the screen that ??canned and frozen fruit and veg can be just as good as fresh and cheaper too.??
What?! Surely something gets lost along the way? Have these people at the ?five-a-day? head office ever eaten tinned fruit salad? Uniform cubes of a peculiar mushy substance dyed fluorescent colours to appear exotic. If you so much as raise a fork in the general direction of a pineapple ring, it will squeal quietly and collapse into six pieces. Just what I am I supposed to believe?
Gladys had come home from Checkers with an unusual carton of fruit juice the other day. Amidst its explosion of art work, it had been made very clear that it contained ?nothing but fruit?, ?no artificial ingredients?, ?no preservatives?, ?no nothing?- ?NOTHING BUT FRUIT?. Having decided out of pure bitterness that I was going to consume most of it, after examining the shopping receipt and nearly fainting, I had poured myself a large glass.
It was with satisfaction that I downed the stuff, knowing that if Gladys had come at me that evening with anything except toad-in-the-hole, I could demand that she turn right back around and get to it; I had just drunk myself healthy. So you can imagine my feeling of betrayal when reading on the side of the vessel that I had only just notched up ONE of my five-a-day.
?One!? I screamed at the slightly built customer services employee I had conjured at the other side of the room. ?You mean to tell me I have only managed ONE of my five-a-day with that goo I just allowed to crawl inside me?! I?ve just nailed a punnet and half of raspberries, Mate! Three mangoes, sixteen prunes, half a melon and more lychees than I dare to mention! Just what sort of fool do you take me for?! Get out of my house!? ?And take that wall chart with you.?
East-Enders? Malcolm still doesn?t get it; I loathe East-Enders. Putting it on however, guarantees that he will skulk off somewhere else, allowing me to then watch Property Ladder without having to endure his growling over Sarah Beany?s breasts.
With regards to Malcolm?s diet, I had originally gone into the whole healthy eating thing with good intentions. The wall chart was just a bit of fun I had had with Lorraine. She had reckoned that after a week Malcolm would crack and actually pick up a saucepan. I had told her he wouldn?t; when I had spent three weeks in hospital with my hip, Malcolm had lived on nothing but corned beef sandwiches and ready salted crisps.
I hadn?t known whether to laugh or cry when watching over Malcolm struggling to contain his excitement at my allowing of him to affix a small turnip sticker on Friday?s column. One step closer to oven roasted beef. Wow. I couldn?t give two hoots what he eats half the time; humus, carrots and pitta breads however are tasty, so I buy them; they also save me having to re-do any washing up that Malcolm has botched. I decided a long time ago that to attempt to reason with somebody that treats the consumption of food as some test of masculinity is simply a waste of my time; and well his I suppose – for what it?s worth. Malcolm must – in order to maintain breathing (and any sort of status as a man), force on board as many carbohydrates as he possibly can. As he sighs excessively and heavy-breathes on the sofa afterwards, I make little effort to hide my contempt. The whole animalistic process is crowned by the enthusiastic fondling of his testicles – in a somewhat quirky ritual that one might be forgiven for believing facilitated digestion.
Picking up on the washing-up thing, on the rare occasion Malcolm does actually manage to undertake something, he appears distraught in my failure to break down in tears and shower him in exultations of eternal gratitude. When I pull into the drive sometimes, I see him through the net curtains, leap from his armchair and plunge into the sink. As I walk through the front door he will gaze over at me with that pitiful look at ?how much I contribute to the running of this place? contortion of his eyebrows, mumbling ?hello Gladys? with the gravity and solemnity of Joan of Arc.
I blame at the very root of many of Malcolm?s failings, among other things, Jeremy Clarkson. Malcolm feeds off him. He is to Malcolm the big kid with the cigarettes; the big kid that is able to get all the other boys alcohol. Malcolm justifies his selfish, juvenile behaviour by the fact he has seen similar such things on television. In his nauseating attempts at wackiness I have actually caught him ?doing the voice?, providing commentary to the frenzied orchestration of a pepper pot around a series of chicanes he had set up around the kitchen table. If only that were the sum of my woes. With every one of Clarkson?s genial jibes at women drivers or global warming, Malcolm belches that silly little grunt that men feel necessary to remind themselves of their gender. And then there are his side kicks. In the formulaic and contrived hotch-potch that is Top Gear, Richard Hammond thinks he can just bat his eyes make a joke about his size and he be excused his supporting that fat-headed nincompoop ? he is wrong. Just because you are top of the housewives wish list, Mr. Hammond, do not think that gets you off the hook; there is blood on your hands.
I would never have envisaged all those years ago, marrying Malcolm, that fifty three later I would be demanded to be silent as he revelled in watching three grown men roll about in hysterics as they violated a decomposing cow; I would never have imagined that I would be told I was an ?old sourpuss? for not being bowled over with a competition requiring those same individuals to drive as far as possible across Alabama with ?man love rules okay? scribed in pink letters on the sides of their vehicle.
?I am sorry Malcolm? I will say to him after one of his feeble attempts at condoning such behaviour, ?even if I push to one side all of the problems I have with the man, I simply cannot get excited about someone who exaggerates to the extent he does; someone who feels the need to take such ridiculous pauses in his sentences. Some of the similes he attempts to pull-off are simply absurd.? It causes me enormous grief to acknowledge that I myself must shoulder a portion of the blame. Having decided in a moment of profound stupidity that I could preoccupy Malcolm for an evening or two if I made him aware of the BBC websites- the Top Gear website, I had, after perhaps fourteen demonstrations, managed finally to convey something of the ease with which such features can be accessed. What had I been thinking?
Last week, ?The forward acceleration in a Bugatti Veyron is strong enough to cause hallucinations!? had come exploding through the monitor, causing me to spill some of my tea. ?It gives passengers the impression of driving up a slope; almost identical to what is commonly experienced in a jet liner that accelerates for take off!?
As I had been wondering whether Malcolm?s gradual loss of his grasp on reality could perhaps have been attributed to clandestine sessions in an Italian sports car, he had suddenly given every indication of approaching orgasm as the noise of petrol being burnt in a brightly coloured metal box resonated through the room. I charged from it all, berating myself all the way up the stairs.
And then there is the Top Gear CD that that idiot Harold had suggested he get. It is, as you might expect, a ?driving soundtrack?. Bouncing himself spontaneously to Meatloaf, I do my best to convey to Malcolm as he swerves around cyclists, that approaching St Aubin at sixty one miles an hour on a Sunday afternoon is irresponsible. As I notice his knuckles whiten around the wheel, I cannot help but think that something of the ?Bat out of Hell? war cry is lost in the cockpit of a beige Nissan Sunny.