OK, that’s it. I can take the taunts no longer. I am inventing a new diet: it’s called the Greek austerity diet. And I am putting myself on it right away. The moment of revelation came last Friday when we were out there in Monaco to argue that London should host the World Athletics Championship in 2017.
Even though we won the bid, there was a nasty moment for your correspondent. We were all walking along some corridor in the glitzy hotel, when we went past some gilt mirror — and I saw the awful contrast between the hard-bodied core members of the team, and the portly periphery. There was the Lord Coe, lean and chiselled as a whippet; there was heptathlete Denise Lewis and supersonic sprinter Jodie Williams, without an ounce of fat between them; and there were assorted other athletes and ex-athletes, all looking pretty darned svelte. And there, alas, was I.
For some reason, it had been decided that we should all wear identical dove-grey suits, and I am afraid my measurements must have been supplied from a younger and fitter self. As I went past the glass, I could see some spherical Scandinavian businessman staring back at me with bloodshot eyes, his thighs straining at the trouser fabric like bursting sausages — and I realised it was me. Then this morning I read a cruel piece in one of the Sunday papers that says I look as though I am no stranger to a bacon sarnie; at which I smote the board, and cried, no more. It’s time for the Greek Austerity Diet ©. It’s time for a programme of savage cuts on the carbs, and steep retrenchment of the alcohol consumption. You can wave a cake under my nose and I will push it moodily away. As for cheese, it is now officially the food of the devil.
I know it will be tough. These austerity drives always are. I must brace myself for that hallucinatory feeling you get in mid-afternoon, when you haven’t had quite enough for lunch. My stomach will rumble with protest, like the crowds in Syntagma Square. My psyche will crave chips, like an army of Greek civil servants yammering for their ancestral right to retire at 50. As I cycle past London Bridge station, my nostrils will be filled with the tormenting aroma of Cornish pasty — like the torment that afflicts a Greek customs officer when he thinks of the Porsche he has had to sell, the mistress he has pensioned off, the villa he has been forced to flog to a nice man from Düsseldorf.
There will be times when the withdrawal symptoms will be so bad that I say to myself that this can’t be worth it, and that we might as well abandon the regime, just as there are constant threats to the existence of the government in Athens; and yet I will soldier on with the Greek Austerity Diet — olives, tomatoes, onions, and not even a lump of feta — with all the implacable logic of the new “technocratic” governments that are shortly to be installed in Athens, Rome and elsewhere. Polite opinion will be united: that it is the best thing for all of us. And I am not at all sure that polite opinion will be right. At least I know that my diet is a good idea. But there is (of course) the world of difference between an individual decision to go on a diet, and the agenda of economy now being forced on the peripheral euro members; and the first and most obvious difference is that my Greek Austerity Diet is entirely a scheme of my own devising. I voted for it. My own body politic took the decision. It is a plan entirely calibrated to suit my own interests, as far as I interpret them. I don’t have Angela Merkel leaning over me and cracking her whip, and barking at me to hurry up. I don’t have Herman Van Rompuy, President of the EU Council, saying things like “This is not the time for elections, this is the time for decisions!”