31 MARCH 2007, Page 56

Fizzing with happiness

Jeremy Clarke

Sce my boy passed his driving test, just inone month after his 17th birthday, I no longer drive the ten miles to his mother’s house to pick him up at weekends. Now he comes and goes between his parents as he pleases, and the weekly mug of tea and a cigarette at her kitchen table, the 20 minutes of gossip, and the ceremony of the handing over of the 40 quid child maintenance, have come to an abrupt end. Missing the tea and gossip, however, I popped over there one day last week for a purely social visit.

My boy’s mother hasn’t been able to go anywhere in the past 12 years. During that time she let herself go. Her hair ran wild, and she piled on the pounds. The fatter she became the less she moved around, and the less she moved around the fatter she became. At first she was miserable about her size, then defiant, then she just gave up.

She ballooned. Her knees hurt so much she could hardly get up the stairs at bedtime. But in all those 12 years she hadn’t seen a doctor, a dentist or a hairdresser. We’ve all written letters to her doctor over the years, requesting various kinds of help with varying degrees of politeness, but the answer was always the same: any request for medical help must come from the individual concerned.

About six months ago, however, she had a moment of mental clarity and realised what a sad life she was leading. I believe it was a daytime TV programme that sowed the seeds of self-improvement. The change of attitude was so spectacular it seemed miraculous.

She got her boyfriend, a builder’s labourer, to cut and style her hair. She stopped scoffing crisps and went on a diet. Instead of junk food, she prepared salads, fruit and vegetables. By the first of this month, she’d shed what looked like nine and a half stone.

Masses lighter now, she seems shorter as well as narrower. When she answers the door, I have to look down to locate her fully. When she was fat, she used to be morose and cumbersome, now she’s cheerful and busy as a sprite. She wasn’t motivated enough to flick a duster around before. Now she’s repainted every wall in the house and is now glossing the woodwork.

The psychological difference is as marked as the physical. She’s fizzing with happiness. After she’d lost a stone, her boyfriend proposed. She immediately ordered a wedding dress from the club catalogue. She ordered it in the size that she hoped to be on the day. In fact, she lost weight so fast the dress had to go back twice and be replaced by one in a smaller size. The wedding takes place in the back garden on her birthday at the end of April. By then I expect she’ll be about as big as something you might see hanging off a charm bracelet. I’m invited to the barbeque afterwards. It’ll be a great day for all of us.

When I made my visit last week to show my face, the Registrar was there to answer any questions they might have, and to cast a professional eye over the back garden. The happy couple only had one question. Would the Registrar like a rabbit? My boy’s mother’s boyfriend had been out with the gun the night before and shot five. The Registrar said he hadn’t eaten rabbit since he was a boy, but, yes, he’d love one. A freshly skinned and paunched rabbit was put on the waxed tablecloth in front of him.

The little headless corpse seemed to put the Registrar in a celebratory frame of mind. He told us about a funny thing that had happened only that morning. He’d been officiating at the crematorium. At one cremation, the mourners wanted to hear ‘Days of My Life’ by Queen as the coffin rolled through the curtain. At the next, the chosen music was Vaughan Williams’s ‘Lark Ascending’. Unfortunately the Queen CD was left in the portable stereo, and, as the coffin passed through the curtains, they heard the Queen classic ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ pounding out.

I haven’t seen my boy’s mother laugh like that for many years. Amazing how with a little determination people can change. And when it happens to someone you know, well, how uplifting it is! Yes, what a great day it’ll be.