David Hockney has just approved a series of specially designed coasters, created by an artist called Mr Bingo, which display a cigarette in an ashtray with the slogan: “The Boredom of Wellbeing”. He went on to say that he found the very idea of welfare “ridiculous” and “too overbearing”.
Hockney is a verification of that oft-cited but rarely seen urban legend: the grandmother who “smoked like a fireplace” and “drank like a fish” and lived to be 100 years old. He is now the country’s grandmother. At 84, he’s still up – and smokes – and boasts that he’s never been to a gym in his life.
I know people like Hockney, usually obese middle aged men who brag about never exercising, never going to the gym, and who smoke, eat and drink what and when they want. . I kind of admire these people who won’t let a little thing like a double heart attack come between them and their queer-booze-burger lifestyle. As one of them – who had two heart attacks and was warned to be healthy or die – said to me, “A life of salads is not a life at all.”
There are times when you think life is too short for workout routines, gluten-free this and soy-free that. We must assert personal autonomy through appetite and stop being reasonable and gorging on the forbidden, whatever the consequences.
I know all about it because I had healthy parent food fanatics. In the mid-1970s my father put the family on a macro-biotic diet. He was so fond of healthy food that he once threatened to divorce my mother when he caught her with ice cream. Every day I was sent to school with a healthy packed lunch. You can imagine the reactions when my classmates at my difficult north London complex first discovered my lunch box of miso and tahini sandwiches on unleavened bread. The stench caused widespread howls of disgust.
As an act of rebellion, my brother and I would sneak up to the local Wimpy for burgers and fries. No wonder I despised evangelical joggers and born again juicers. When people said their body was a temple, I proudly boasted that my body was a toilet.
But I have changed. I dont drink. I do not smoke. I don’t take drugs. I go to bed at 9 p.m., get up at 6 a.m. and meditate. I run. I watch what I eat.
What prompted me to change my habits and adopt a healthy lifestyle? Pure vanity. One day I looked at myself in the mirror and saw that I no longer looked like a young Michael Douglas; I was now in my late Elvis phase.
What bothers me is not that people want to have an unhealthy lifestyle. I say go ahead, take another round of drinks, turn on another queer, eat junk food. Enjoy! (I have done this for many years.) It’s when people disguise their pursuit of pleasure as a noble principle that I raise an eyebrow.
I think of those who wear their unhealthy lifestyle as a sign of courage. They seem to imagine that they are engaged in some sort of provocative resistance to the Nanny State and its legions of “health fascists”, “killjoy experts” and “condescending puritans” whenever they see it. choose McDonald’s over the gym.
What may appear to others as simple hedonistic complacency is for them a defense of the right of an Englishman born free to live as he sees fit. By lighting another queer, they keep the torch of freedom alight. But freedom is not the same as license.
When I was going through my late Elvis phase – those fat, drugged, fast food lover days – I didn’t bring up the name freedom. I did it because I thought it was nice, plain and simple.
So while the Hockney squad seems brave, we who for health reasons refuse a second drink or second serving are called “boring.” It’s because we still have this post-romantic notion that exciting people are the people of excess – those who burn their candles at both ends. Let’s face it: no one becomes a legend by going to bed early, jogging at dawn, and sipping herbal tea.
Yet if there is one thing worse than a health problem, it is unhealthy boredom. Yes, the joys of the gym and chats about mushroom and kale smoothies are deadly boring, but try having a conversation with someone who’s been drinking too much. Consider the relentless repetition! The incomprehensible babbling! The killer rays of alcoholic breath! And it lasts for hours.
There are things more boring than worrying about health and wellness – and being sick is one of them.