JOHN BULL taking a Luncheon: -or- British Cooks, cramming Old Grumble-Gizzard, with Bonne-Chére,
James Gillray 24 October 1798
The 29-year-old General Bonaparte was not quite ready to burn himself in his own flame. With his citizen army, he had trounced the Austrian Empire, but he was now rather too much of a public hero to survive the envy of the deadly ruling Directory of the new French Republic.
To avoid a deeply embarrassing and possibly bloody toe to toe stand-off, most likely by mutual agreement, a mighty sum of money was raised to allow Bonaparte to leave for a more distant Grand Adventure, to follow the footsteps of Alexander the Great. With 40,000 troops, 10,000 sailors and 427 assorted ships, he was to invade a decrepit Egypt, join up with an infuriated Tipu Sultan of Mysore with extravagant means at his disposal, and drive the detested English out of their Indian Eldorado.
Of course, all these arrangements were conducted in the utmost secrecy.
The 39-year-old Admiral Nelson shadowed the French invasion fleet, caught it lazing at anchor in Aboukir Bay, and, on 1 August 1798, obliterated it at the Battle of the Nile.
Le petit caporal and his Armée d’Orient were trapped in Egypt without an escape route.
And so here we have the grossly oversized, insatiable ruffian John Bull, as depicted by James Gillray, gluttonously devouring multiple delicious dishes of French ships humbly presented by famed English admirals, led by Nelson himself as chef de cuisine in his pinafore. Also, you will see the pro-Frenchie Whig leaders (top left), “the Broad Bottoms” Fox and Sheridan, both notoriously intemperate, fleeing the scene having unwisely predicted a Bonaparte victory – “Oh, Curse his Guts, he’ll take a chop at Us, next”.
John Bull, the archetype of our True Brit, was the invention of a Scottish doctor (oh, not another Scottish doctor), a renowned wit, mathematician, Fellow of the Royal Society, favourite physician to Queen Anne and huge chums with the literary lions Swift, Pope and Gay. Dr John Arbuthnot never sought celebrity, but became famed as a sharp pamphleteer who railed against political venality. In 1727, Arbuthnot’s satirical writings were collected in “Law is a Bottomless Pit; or, The History of John Bull”, John Bull being a trustworthy clothier (the Englishman), his friend, Nicholas Frog, a linen-draper (the Dutchman), and their enemy Lewis Baboon (King Louis XIV), who was seriously spoiling their trade during the War of the Spanish Succession.
John Bull was conceived as “an honest plain-dealing fellow, choleric, bold, and of a very inconsistent temper”. He soon became typified as prosperous and stout, “a drinking man, hard-headed, down-to-earth, averse to intellectualism, fond of dogs, horses, ale and country sports”. With the threat of invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte, John Bull was instinctively adopted as “the national symbol of freedom, of loyalty to King and country, and of resistance to French aggression”.
Having proudly bestraddled the white cliffs of Dover with his bulldog to challenge a frustrated Little Boney across the Strait, the obese but still belligerent John Bull was brushed up to face off two more invasions from Europe in the following century … and one more, quite recently.
It was accepted that prosperous men were generally stout – and their older women – and their babies. You had to be rich to be fat. No doubt fat people did die early – but they died just as early as anybody else. The average British lifespan in 1800 was around 35; in 1900 for men about 51, for women, 54; in 2020 for men exactly 80.6, for women, 84.29 (Statista and ONS).
In the 19th Century, causes of death in Europe were largely a wide variety of acute viral and bacterial infections, childbirth and violence. By the start of the 21st century, causes of death had morphed into ischaemic heart disease for males, and vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease for females (ONS) – all at least partially attributable to lifestyle choices.
Naturally, submerging our miraculous bodies in swamps of noxious fat is likely to interfere somewhat seriously with several vital functions – reproductive, cognitive, cardiac, respiratory … above all, the immune system (1) – enough to guarantee certain failure when challenged by a highly sophisticated and determined predator far superior to our carelessly depleted defences.
“Make no mistake”, as my Granny would say, “it is here to stay”.
COVID-19 will be a seasonal fixture in our calendar for keeps, a fixture in our national budget like ‘flu – we will need to carry on vaccinating, at vast cost, until the cows come home.
Unless, of course, we get off our fat arses, and do something other than throw trillions of dosh at Big Pharma and Associates Inc. The obvious alternative is to stop stuffing ourselves with trash food because it is cheap and easy.
The giant international food industry is as amoral as social media, the arms industry and Big Pharma – as greedy for profit, and as immune from regulation through its crucial contribution to politicians’ tax revenues.
Fat kills, period. No argument. 65% of us, man, woman and child, is fat or obese. We are now accepting this diseased state as the norm – fatal fat as beautiful, even? Take a look at Victoria’s Secret’s high street windows – what is left of them.
The treatment of obesity has been notoriously fraught by failure. When first in practice, I looked after the founders of Weight Watchers UK, a husband-and-wife team – the husband grossly fat, and an obsessive gourmand. The wife and myself conspired to padlock elaborately the over-size family fridge. Not to be foiled, the husband disassembled the fridge with his sophisticated home toolkit, and spent the rest of the night devouring the totality of the contents. Sadly, he died in his forties.
Until recently, I have confined myself to being preachy about diet. The only remaining UK licensed medicine for use in obesity has been Xenical orlistat, which blocks the absorption of fat from the gut. This can result in the involuntary passage of quantities of oil.
Prior to early 2021, the only alternative to diet, exercise and Xenical has been bariatric surgery, a drastic intervention reserved for the most serious of problems.
Newly published clinical trial data from America of an anti-diabetic medication with the generic name of semaglutide have revealed its remarkable efficacy in helping to achieve weight loss (2)(3). Approved for use in the US, it is now available for use in the UK in two formulations – Ozempic for weekly subcutaneous self-injection and Rybelsus to be taken daily by mouth.
The WellMan Clinic now offers this treatment to adult male patients.
Please request details.
1. PMID 33330597 The Impact of Obesity and Lifestyle on the Immune System and Susceptibility to Infections Such as COVID-19
2. PMID 31031702 The Discovery and Development of Liraglutide and Semaglutide
3. PMID 32827435 Efficacy of Once-Weekly Semaglutide vs Empagliflozin Added to Metformin in Type 2 Diabetes: Patient-Level Meta-analysis