Friday, July 30, 2010

The Incredible Shrinking Hulk

Day 42

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 1 pound (197 lbs)

I fainted in the garden this morning. I was inspecting the labels on some of my bushes and all I did was stand up; suddenly the world started spinning. I sat down quickly on the grass and after a few seconds the plants slowed down and stopped. Then, when I lifted myself back up, this time more gently, it happened again: we have a circular lawn and the bushes round the edge spun like a top.

This is not a pleasant side effect of this diet – assuming that’s what’s causing it. I guess it’s all I deserve, having had virtually no sugar or fats for the last 42 days. Sure, I’ve lost 18 pounds (in fact, it's 22 pounds since I first went to Los Angeles just 7 weeks ago), but I’m now wondering what it’s doing to my health.

Jo was very worried when I told her, so I met up with her for a very early lunch at Fratelli’s, our favourite Italian. She said I was obviously in dire need of complex carbs, not just moist card (which, in the form of oatbran, was all I've been eating every morning). I immediately ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio, which usually cures most of my ills, and by the time that had kicked in, a large plate of chicken stew arrived, with Italian sausage and those most complex of carbs, borlotti beans. Izzy had penne with tomato sauce, and they brought Jo a flattened sirloin steak, coated in breadcrumbs alla Milanese, which I think the chef must have thought was for me, as it filled the entire plate.

That jolly meal soon had me right as summer rain, but, at Jo’s insistence, I made an appointment next week to see our doctor: she says I have to check my blood's pressure and sugar level. She also says I'm looking green again - perhaps I'm anaemic. I've bought a packet of Multibionta 50+ probiotic multivitamin pills ("For Today's Hectic Lifestyles"). Frankly, right now this 50+ doesn't feel like doing anything hectic. After the Pinot Grigio, a long afternoon snooze is what he really needs.

I knew this diet would ultimately do me no good. But I’m pleased that I’m just a couple of pounds off my final (initial) target. Even if I may not actually survive till August 21st. Or if I do, the photographer may have to correct the colour of my portrait to take away the green hue. Hopefully by then that'll be my only resemblance to the Incredible Hulk.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Me and Tony Soprano

Day 41

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 2 pounds (198 lbs)

Last night I was browsing through the special wallet I keep for my trips to America (I have a whole different set of credit cards and a few dollars in case I have to jet off to the States at short notice), when out popped Tony Soprano. He stood there, redfaced and stern, with his heavy double-chin-bedecked red neck, daring you to look him in the eyes. A terrifying sight, this large heavy set monster was clearly a product of too much Barolo and meatballs. The photograph was on a laminated card that read: California Driver License.

The photograph, taken in August 2004, stood above a notice that I needed prescription glasses and had grey hair (did they really have to rub it in? Why not just print “Description: Old Fat English Bloke”). It also stated my precise weight at that time: 208 pounds. I smiled – that’s ten pounds heavier than I am right now.

Then I couldn’t get the picture of Soprano out of my mind. Well, not him exactly, but the pasta that went with the meatballs that caused the man's double chin. I have a huge craving for Fratelli’s homemade linguini - it's the first place I'm visiting the day this diet finishes. At least I have only 23 days to last. That’s assuming I don’t murder anyone in the meantime: God, this diet has put me in a bad mood.

Right now Jo is sitting opposite me in the office eating a takeaway curry from Rasa, my favourite Indian restaurant in the world. I can smell the spiced calories drifting across the room. Meanwhile I'm having a plain two-egg omelette and a small mountain of dry roast chicken. I hate her. This morning she issued me with a warning: don’t let your face get too thin. Apparently there’s nothing less sexy than a wrinkly neck.

Now there’s a dilemma: how do you lose weight without wrinkling? The Dukan book provides no solutions. Does anyone have any ideas?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Days Drifting Away

Day 40

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 2 pounds (198 lbs)

Last night we roasted 2 poussin with paprika and slices of Iberico ham on the breasts to keep them moist. When they were cooked, we sat them on a bed of wild rocket and let the warmth of the birds do the wilting and their juices act as a dressing.

Beside them, we heaped a stirfry of sweet peppers, bok choi and spicy mustard leaves, with thick slivers of garlic and hot dried chilli crumbled into the oil. We used peanut oil with some Mirin – Japanese rice wine – and a splash of dark soy. A spoonful of minted peas blanched straight from the pod, and long thin whole baby carrot soldiers, with green stalks cropped like Mohican haircuts. Garnishing the dish, a row of baked cherry tomatoes still on the vine, dotted with a mist of balsamic.

We looked at the plates, kaleidoscopic in their various textures, colours and flavours and we thought: there’s only one thing this meal needs. So, for perfection's sake, and indifferent to the rules of the diet, we poured two glasses of cold, fragrant, dry pink Sancerre. The ultimate meal for a summer’s evening.

And still the scales show two pounds lost since yesterday: that’s 17 pounds in 40 days. Where will this end? Only 3 pounds to go now to my primary target of 195 pounds – and still 3 weeks before the dreaded photograph.

I think I will soon have a dilemma: when to stop? How thin can a chap get?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Vegetable Garden

Day 39

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 4 pounds (200 lbs)

My vegetable garden has been supplying all our needs for over six weeks now, and should carry on doing so until the first frosts of winter.

Here’s what the raised beds are currently producing (from bottom left, clockwise)

Red Onions
White Onions

Bok Choi
Chioggia Beet
Red Beet
Radishes: French & English
Oak Leaf Lettuce
Lettuce Sansula
Lollo Rossa (for July/August)
Lamb’s Lettuce
Red Leaf Amaranth
Strawberries: Royal Sovereign

Spring Onions
Wild Rocket
Maris Piper Potatoes

Potatoes: Arran Pilot & Charlotte
Lollo Rossa (for August/September)
Little Gem (Cos) Lettuce


Broad Beans
Runner Beans
French Beans

Red Beets
White Beets
Golden Beets
Red Purslane
Mustard Greens: Pizzo, Red Giant and Homiz
Persian Cress
Purple Mizuna

Then, at the back of the picture against the wall, you can see the soft fruit area, with:



and, at the back, under the dovecote, is the herb parterre, which, as well as a lot of bindweed, is home to:

Parsley (French, Italian and Curly)

Greek Sage
Purple Sage
Salad Burnet
Basil and numerous different Mints
Bay, numerous Thymes

Also, in the main garden, I’m growing artichokes, bay and rosemary (and about a dozen different thymes as well as camomile and some mints, and in the orchard we have Cox, Braeburn, Worcester and Bramley apples, various pears and, best of all, three whole treesful of juicy Victoria plums, which should be fully ripened by the end of my diet.

So, Dr Dukan, I’m afraid the “vegetables every other day and no fruit at all” programme just isn’t going to work for me. Not this year, at least.

Monday, July 26, 2010

This Little Lamb Didn't Die In Vain

Day 38

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 4 pounds (200 lbs)

Yesterday we had more farm-to-table food for Sunday lunch. The only thing that travelled further than the journey from our garden was a leg of a new season lamb, which involuntarily baaed its way from a farm in Great Whittington, just over the hill.

To accompany it, we had a range of different baby leaves (mizuna, cress, various mustards and rockets), Arran Pilot potatoes, baby red beets and white beets, baby courgettes, peas and the first of the new broad bean crop. We draped the banquet with a lamb jus made with our own mint.

The meal was unbeatable. We felt we had to toast it with another bottle of red wine.

And I was still only 200 pounds by Monday morning.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tears Before Suppertime

Days 37

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 4 pounds (200 lbs)

Yesterday I revealed exclusive details of my YuKan diet. In it I confessed that weekends operate on slightly different rules than weekdays, particularly on Saturday nights.

This week, our idea of a date night was to go to the cinema to see Toy Story 3. Like all grown men, apparently, I blubbed incoherently into my popcorn throughout the last five minutes. It was too embarrassing to repeat the story here, but if you want to have a laugh at my expense, I have bared all on my latest Blog From The North.

We sought solace, red-eyed, in a local restaurant called Blackfriars. It’s probably the first really good English food we’ve had in the north east since we moved here three and a half years ago. They make great claims about it being “farm to table”: in other words, all their produce is locally grown - they have a map of the farms that supply them on every table.

That’s all very well if the chef can cook. Almost every restaurant in the region makes similar claims: but as far as I can make out almost none of their chefs know how to handle their ingredients. The food comes out as mangled and tasteless as if it had travelled from Brighton.

Not so the team at Blackfriars. It was, quite simply (and I’m aware this sounds like a terrible foody cliché) intelligently, competently and sensitively prepared with outstandingly fresh ingredients. I had queen scallops and the freshest sea bass (they called it rock bass, but I thought that only came from North American lakes); Jo had chicken with morels in a superb broth. Then we both had puddings – yes, puddings. Oh, and a huge Super-Tuscan red from Villa Antinori. That was to get over the movie.

And still only a pound added by the morning.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The YuKan Diet: The Proof Is In The (Lack Of) Pudding

Day 36

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 3 pounds (199 lbs)

Back on target. I'm in celebration mode, because my biggest personal milestone is now past me – the 200 pound barrier.

I haven’t been this light since – well, I actually can’t remember the last time. Funnily enough, despite the loss, and palpable changes to my physique, I still feel somewhat overweight. Just as I did in LA back in 2002 when I wanted to get down to 185 pounds. So maybe Dukan is right, and my true weight is still another stone away. But I shall be very, very happy if I lose another 5 pounds over the next couple of weeks.

The deadline coincides with Newcastle United’s home game of the season, against Aston Villa. My season tickets arrived in the post this morning. I shall have beer at half time and meet up with Jo afterwards at Fratelli's for some seafood linguini and a bottle of Sardinian wine. What a celebration that will be!

Progress is likely to be slow till then, because I’ve now adapted Dukan to my own lifestyle. Whereas he forces you to live like an antisocial hermit for two or three months, I don’t want to lose either my life or my wife. So here are the rules I've been using over the last few weeks:

Breakfast – always one plate of cardboard (see earlier posts for recipe) and either an egg (boiled or poached) or a fruit fat-free yoghurt. One slice of wholemeal bread every two days.

Snack – none. Don’t even think about it.

Weekdays (in the office): Tesco chicken, served cold so you want as little as possible. Yoghurt (but you can only have two per day because of the fruit sugar content).
Weekends: large plate of smoked salmon, or trout, or any lean meat, with a mound of delicious garden salad and a light lemony or balsamic dressing OR
1 Craster Kipper, grilled, and a grilled tomato with basil and balsamic.

6pm Snack – yoghurt if you haven’t already had two (see above).

Weekdays: Any fish, or lean meat, cooked simply with as much salad or vegetables as you like. Potatoes every third day.
Weekends: Saturday OR Friday night: whatever you like, even a light dessert. But no chips or fried food, curry or chinese food, though you can now have new potatoes in moderation (3 small ones per meal). If in a restaurant, go for chicken or fish – no pork, lamb or fatty cut of beef. Always order sauces on the side (you can taste and even dunk, but don't let your food go swimming). One glass of red wine each night. Half a bottle if you’ve something to celebrate. Don't feel guilty - ever.

Sunday lunch: as per weekday evenings, with either half a pint of beer or a glass of red wine. No dessert.

All I know is, this compromise (YUKAN) diet is working well for me. I’m not hungry, I’ve stopped feel faint, and my slimmed-down profile is the proof, with 16 pounds - over 7% of my body weight - disappearing in just over one month.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Day 35

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 6 pounds (202 lbs)

How on earth did that happen? Two pounds heavier.

Yesterday I had no cardboard, but a solitary kipper for lunch (the kitchen still smells of herring nearly 24 hours later). I adore Craster kippers, and Dr Dukan says I can. Or at least he doesn’t say DuKan’t.

Two raspberry yoghurts as snacks: oh, and two sirloin steaks, a couple of small freshly-dug Charlotte potatoes, two baby courgettes, with their flowers, and a mound of Mizuna and other exotic leaves.

Dukan says I can have as much protein as I want – hence the double steak. He thinks that’s all I should have had. But, honestly, I was gardening all afternoon, so how does he expect a chap not to faint with hunger?

By 7pm I was dying, and beginning to crave ice cream, so Jo gave me a “protein shake”, which tasted of chocolate and aspartame. It has no calories, carbs or, as far as I can make out, any recognizable ingredients, but it’s supposed to keep Olympic athletes going. I gardened like mad in the rain, in my perpetual race against the weeds. The weeds have been winning this competition all summer. I’m determined to get the upper hand this weekend, our first for ages without guests and other distractions. So, according to the rules, no excuses for alcohol.

Jo says my disastrous weigh-in is because we didn’t have dinner till 10pm, and so the metabolism didn’t get going to burn it off, or some other dietician-speak stuff. I just think it was that couple of potatoes. And the fact that, since the resumption of dietary activity, I haven’t properly – oh, you don’t want to know about that, I’m sure. Back to the Tesco's chicken today. And the cardboard for you-know-what.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Day 34

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 4 pounds (200 lbs)

Cardboard for breakfast; dry Tesco chicken from a packet (and a strawberry yoghurt) for lunch; for dinner Izzy and I shared a slab of cod with steamed broccoli.

That’s it – apart from about a gallon of water and one Coke Zero. Izzy sat happily next to me eating her meal and saying “yum” – almost her only word – at every mouthful. I could have thought of better descriptions for the food, but at least one of us was enjoying it.

Afterwards I popped her in the backpack and took her and the dogs on a long walk round the fields – I’d worked up a sweat by the time we got back. The result this morning: diet hits target. Result.

Jo says I’ve become a diet bore again. And moody. And she doesn’t care that she can now see my abs where before there was just belly. She wants her old cuddly husband back. I said she can have me back on August 21st, not a day before.

Tomorrow: 199 pounds. Please…

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Another Packet Of Cardboard

Days 32 & 33

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)

Now: 14 stone 5 pounds (201 lbs)

Three pounds lost in two days, but I’m only back where I was on Sunday morning, before the encounter with the Stroh rum, and still a pound heavier than a week ago before Jo’s birthday.

I’ve now reached the halfway stage of this diet and thankfully I see no parties, guests visiting or other diversions approaching before the big day, which the photographer has now confirmed – August 21st. She’s coming to take our family portrait and I’m determined not to let the side down.

It’s going to require an enormous effort to get over the next hurdle – 199 pounds. Yesterday’s picture on the beach confirms how far I have to go, and today I'm publishing another. My mother-in-law says Izzy and I are two peas in a pod – we certainly have the same profile and double chin. I can’t believe that my overweight face is 14 pounds smaller than it was a month ago – I was huge. I’ve promised to publish “before” and “after” pictures on the last page of this blog. I’ve selected the “before” one, and it’s hideous.

Speaking of peas in pods, I see thousands of them waiting to be picked and eaten in the vegetable garden, next to their broad bean friends
. Dukan says peas and beans are off limits. I say life’s too short, but there's definitely no more risotto primavera for me. Perhaps use them in salads. The mizuna leaves are up and ready to pick: they'll join the baby spinach and beetroot, mustard greens and wild rocket in a wonderful green feast tonight. Perhaps a little wild halibut on the side, to keep Dr Dukan happy.

The last time I was 201 pounds was in 2003, when I first got my job running a big production company in Los Angeles. The city was so full of glamorous young things that I felt utterly ancient and overweight, so I decided on a diet – I just wanted to get down to a respectable 195 pounds.

That diet lasted precisely one day. The enormous portions and margueritas did it for me, and since then I’ve put on nearly two pounds a year until, back in LA the week before I started this, I was an absurd 219 pounds.
So I suppose getting down to 2003 levels is already an achievement. But to do now what I couldn’t do back then? That’s going to be some uphill battle.

I'm going to take the dogs for a long walk, but first I'm going to make a steaming bowl of cardboard. I bought myself a shiny new packet of oatbran yesterday. It's taken me exactly a month to get through the last one. Hopefully this will be the last I ever need to buy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Life's A Beach

Day 31

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 8 pounds (204 lbs)

Stroh rum is so strong, it used to be banned on airplanes in case it spontaneously combusted. That’s the story, anyway. It’s 160° Proof – that is, 80 percent alcohol by volume, Austria's secret weapon of mass destruction.

Stroh is undrinkable neat, but mixed with ginger beer, it makes the most potent, delicious, intoxicating rum cocktail imaginable. It’s perfect for a blustery day at the beach, which is how we spent yesterday with a group of friends, enjoying a final hurrah for Jo’s birthday. Our friend Deryn is half German, so she knew the secrets of the Stroh and Ginger Beer Punch. I have never tasted anything as strong in my life.

The picnic had originally been planned as a decoy, so that Jo wouldn’t think that anything had been arranged on the day of her actual birthday – you can read the whole dastardly plot on my Blog From The North. But we had so much fun earlier in the week, and the weather forecast was so mild, that we all decided to go ahead with it and headed off with kids and dogs to one of Northumberland’s famous deserted beaches.

It was Izzy’s first ever encounter with the North Sea and real sand. She was so excited, she giggled uncontrollably for several hours. The dogs went wild; I built sandcastles and fell asleep.

The problem for me was that the caterers (basically our three wives) had forgotten about my diet. There were piles of great sandwiches – luscious salami, ham and cheese, and my absolute favourite, mortadella – and there were boxes of home-baked cheese straws, roast beef sandwiches, chocolate brownies and pretzels. And there was the rum cocktail.

Sadly, this morning, I paid the price. Three pounds added. And now, back to the drawing-in-the-tummy board.

Illegal Substances

Day 30

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 5 pounds (201 lbs)

Yes – two days of detoxing did the trick. I’m now pretty sure that the Dukan diet’s primary purpose is to incentivise, rather than to provide a proper scientifically-based weightloss programme. Either that, or it's designed only to inflict misery. I lost those four pounds without blinking simply by giving up alcohol and eating mainly protein.

I say mainly, but in fact I supplemented this intake with some extremely illegal substances: namely new potatoes and fresh peas – both harvested straight from my vegetable garden. I’m sorry Dr Dukan, but I'm now ignoring your absurd suggestion that my diet must have no peas – they’re only starchy when they’ve been left on the plant for too long (or shipped to a supermarket). So these were cooked within ten minutes of picking. With a little home-grown mint, these little beauties were the most delicious thing I’ve eaten so far this year. And, best of all, they made a fantastic risotto primavera on Thursday night. But that was a mistake. I put it down to the party the night before.

Jo and I were so appallingly hungover on Thursday morning that, after we waved goodbye to Josh, we were both craving comfort food. I cooked her Cumberland sausages and mustard mash with onion gravy while I rustled up a risotto for myself. This is how non-diet-friendly these dishes were: (please note, these recipes should not be followed by anyone pretending they're on a diet).

Tom’s Sausages and Mustard Mash Hangover Cure
(not to be confused with recipes for mustard mash made with grain mustard, which are positively disgusting by comparison).

Fry the sausages in a little peanut oil. Just a little.

Meanwhile, boil Maris Piper potatoes (one wife will eat about four medium sized potatoes, depending on extent of hangover). Melt half a pack (125 grams) of unsalted French butter in a saucepan. It looks a lot. It is.

When butter is runny, add a huge glug (about 150 ml) of thick single cream (or thin double cream). Stir and bring to a simmer. Add five heaped tablespoons from a jar of Colman’s English Mustard. Stir – it should be yellow. Add salt and pepper. It looks like an awful lot for a few potatoes. Don’t worry, you wanted mustard mash, and this is the best in the world.

Beat sauce into the mashed up potatoes. They should go yellow and be extremely mustardy.

Onion gravy: 1 red onion, sliced and fried in olive oil and butter till it softens and releases its white sugary yumminess. Add one tablespoon brown sugar and one of red wine vinegar. Add a little veal or chicken stock, or a bit of an Oxo cube. Thicken a little with cornflour if you don’t have time to reduce it completely to a wonderful gooey sweet and sour sauce. Pour over sausage and potatoes. Eat, then sleep.

(NB if you eat the lot you'll have consumed about 1,000 calories – but it cures any hangover, and Jo said she felt better immediately.)

Tom’s Risotto Primavera Hangover Cure

Have about a litre of homemade chicken stock simmering away on stove (or, if you have to, make if from a couple of chicken stock cubes).

Fry 1 finely chopped shallot in olive oil and a little butter (add butter after heating olive oil so it froths up). When shallot is soft, add finely chopped garlic for about 30 seconds (so it doesn’t brown) and then half a handful of Carnaroli rice (which is preferable to Arborio).

Stir dry rice over heat till it smells a little nutty, then add a large glug of white wine (do not drink wine under any circumstances). As soon as wine is absorbed, start adding stock, a ladleful at a time. Keep stirring.

Meanwhile blanche in heavily minted, slightly salted water (for no more than 2 minutes) peas and finely sliced baby courgettes (zucchinis to Jo). And broad beans if they’re ready (which they were not). Immediately plunge them into iced water for a minute, then drain. The peas should stay bright green.

Add peas and courgettes after risotto has been cooking for 12 or so minutes – and courgette flowers if you have them. Cook for a further 5 or 6 minutes, adding more stock as required, till the starch starts to flow from the rice and the grains taste firm but not crunchy (don't listen to anyone who says risotto should be "al dente" - they're wrong. Ask any Italian). Add big glug of mascarpone cheese (or unsalted butter or creme fraiche) and a couple of tablespoons of grated parmesan, salt and pepper and finely chopped parsley.

These are the most DuKant things you can ever eat. But also the most delicious. And despite a bowlful of risotto on Thursday night, by Sunday I was where I needed to be. Except that Sunday was the day we had the final birthday celebration for Jo - a picnic on the beach. Mortadella sandwiches! - the best (but see tomorrow's posting for news of their disastrous consequences).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One Big Day, One Bigger Husband

Day 28

Then: 15 stone 5 lbs (215 lbs)

Now: 14 stone 8lbs (204 lbs)

Day Four of the “Hang The Diet, We’re Celebrating” event. It was Jo’s 40th birthday, so all night we drank fine wine and champagne, partied like teenagers and ate cake: lots of chocolate, calorific, completely illegal cake. And, by the morning, another pound duly appeared on the scales. I’m lucky it wasn’t a lot worse.

The day’s surprise highlights (for Jo) included:

  • Breakfast in bed,
  • Hairdresser at home,
  • Thai massage at home,
  • Fresh Sushi at home,
  • New pair of Christian Louboutins (as depicted on cake),
  • Surprise birthday party with 30 close friends, and
  • One very tipsy, heavy but happy husband.

Tonight we’re spending the evening with some great friends, Paul and Deryn, who have a music room in their house – how smart is that? Josh and Paul will be playing the drums together and I will be bashing the piano. It will take quite a lot of red wine to get me beyond the greatest hits of Andrew Lloyd Webber: but, as it’ll be my last night of freedom before hitting the diet trail again, I’ll be making the most of it.

I apologise now for the most likely outcome: the absence of a blog entry tomorrow caused by an acute hangover.
Luckily Josh is only here till Thursday morning: after that we’ll see how quickly the YouKan diet copes with the excesses of these last few days. The plan is to go straight back to protein-only for another three days and try to get back to 200 pounds by the end of the weekend. That would leave me exactly four weeks to trim down for the family portrait on the 21st August. Which is also the date of Newcastle’s first home game of the season.

Watch this space; and waistline.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Working Out

Day 25 - continued

Then: 15 stone 5 lbs (215 lbs)

Now: 14 stone 7lbs (203 lbs)

A friend of mine called Keith has sent me this picture. I think he is trying to suggest that I need more exercise, rather than carry on with this diet. Fat chance: literally.

The Big Surprise

Days 25 & 26

Then: 15 stone 5 lbs (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 7lbs (203 lbs)

Oh dear, and things were going so well. Now disaster’s struck.

In fact, it’s a positive tsunami, caused by the perfect storm of Jo’s 40th birthday on Tuesday and the arrival of her brother Josh for the celebrations. This is the same brother-in-law I stayed in LA with immediately prior to the start of this diet - I wrote about that trip in my Blog From The North. Josh is extremely generous with his fine wines - he's a real connoisseur and we had to sample his best vintages. Indeed, my guilt about the very overindulgence I enjoyed on that trip, where I ballooned to 15 stone 9 pounds (219 lbs), was probably the primary cause of this venture. The diet began the day I got back to the UK.

Josh flew in from California on Saturday morning as a surprise. I picked him up from the airport and enveloped him in wrapping paper in the back seat of my car. I even stuck a few gold bows on his nose.

I went into the house and told Jo that one of her presents was in the car and could she help me carry it in. She refused of course, on the grounds that:

a. it wasn’t her birthday till Tuesday and please could I store it somewhere till then, and
b. if it was too heavy for me it was certainly too heavy for her.

As I knew Josh was rapidly asphyxiating inside the wrapping, I had to virtually drag her outside and opened the car door.

She had a curious reaction to the sight of the package. I think at first she thought it was some kind of bizarre sex doll, for she was too scared to touch it. Then she saw the trainers sticking out underneath and thought it was a Raoul Moat dummy – bought to convince her that the killer was really dead. She looked at me as if I were weird. As he’d only died a few hours before, I told her it was most unlikely I’d been able to get my hands on a Raoul Moat corpse lookalike in the time and perhaps she should just open the package. At this point her birthday present coughed and she tore off the paper. Shrieks of surprise led to a tearful reunion and the opening of a bottle of champagne.

That was when it all started. Champagne led to wine, which led to lunch at our favourite Italian restaurant accompanied by a fiery Sardinian red, and then that evening came the death of all diets: the curry. We took Josh to Rasa, undoubtedly the finest Indian restaurant in the UK (I dare any reader to contest this); Keralan king fish, black-eyed beans, chicken, an enormous dosa, gallons of white wine – I feared the worst on Sunday morning. And it happened – 3 whole pounds in just one night of excess.

Sunday was scarcely any better: I had to show off my potato-growing skills, so sweet little Charlottes accompanied a huge joint of beef fillet – on and on goes the list of gluttony. Amazingly, by Monday morning (after a good half a dozen bottles of red, judging by the pile of leftovers in the kitchen) I was still down only 3 pounds. But it didn’t allow for Tuesday, the day of her birthday itself, where, like a complex live television production, I’d planned a whole series of surprises.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Third Hurdle

Days 24 & 25

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 4 pounds (200 lbs)

The third milestone reached: 200 pounds. That's lighter than I was in 2003.

The poussin were magnificent. Simply roasted for 45 minutes with paprika, they made their own delicious gravy. Jo and I ate them as we sat glued to the television. The murderer Raoul Moat was still at large. He’d broken into several houses, including one just a mile from where our friends Mark and Emma live. Apparently the owners called the police as Moat was still inside, helping himself to spare clothes and provisions: the police took 15 minutes to arrive, and when they did, wouldn’t go inside because they weren’t armed. It took another 15 minutes for armed officers to show up, by which time the fugitive had fled.

The entire region is fixated by Moat – there are suspected sightings all over the Rothbury area. It’s all very strange: most unlike a normal manhunt, where the quarry goes to ground. It’s as if he wants to be found.

Today I’m packing up our office – we’re moving to another building in the same complex. So, apart from the usual breakfast of cardboard, it’s just plain Tesco packet chicken for lunch. Enormous slabs of breast – must have been a huge, non-free range bird, I fear. The yoghurt tastes – yoghurty.

By the time I get home I’m starving, and Jo is going out with the girls for a pre-birthday celebration (she’s 40 on Tuesday, so I’m resigned to a diet lapse over the next few days). So I grill four fresh prawns, a sirloin steak (with garlic granules, olive oil, and a tiny amount of Worcestershire sauce – my father-in-law’s favourite barbecue recipe), freshly picked courgettes cooked, as before, with mint, garlic and lemon) and also I deep fry (I know – totally forbidden) the courgette flowers. Then, with a glass of Rhone wine, I sit down to watch the news – and the whole Moat saga unfolds in front of my eyes.

He was found at around 7.30pm in Rothbury , where apparently he’d been hiding all the time, in a culvert under the main street which led to the river. He held a gun to his head as the police surrounded him. Officers tried to calm him down and disarm him. The media waited – it started to rain. They brought him food and water. I ate another yoghurt.

The standoff lasted till 1.15pm. At which point we all heard a shot and Moat was dead. He’d killed himself – a desperate, deranged, sad man.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Murderer and the Courgettes

Day 23

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 5 pounds (201 lbs)

Last night Jo said “You know, you’re really quite a thin man; I’d always thought you were big boned -- now it’s obvious you’re not. You look like Ben (my lithe, handsome 29 year old son).”

I think it was a compliment. The fact is that since I started this diet three weeks ago to the day, my chin has reappeared and my belly, those friendly layers of cuddly pillow, have receded by more than half. My jeans are loose – threatening to become too loose – and my confidence in my own looks has grown considerably. Sure, I’m still a 58-year-old grey haired oldie, but I’m standing taller, I’m no longer breathless and I can now easily raise my legs to hurdle the childproof gate obstacle course scattered all around the house.

This morning’s weigh-in was particularly impressive because the new, patent YuKan diet (which, regular readers will note, I’m making up as I go along) allows three small new potatoes every two or three days. The potatoes have to be self-grown, of course, together with the salad. Well, at 201 pounds, I now weigh less than I did when I first met Jo in 2003. It's also, for English readers, a whole stone less than I was three weeks ago. It also means I have just six pounds to go to my own target of 195 pounds, and just another stone (note how I describe this absurd mountain as if it's just a small incline - "just", indeed!) to my perfect, officially Dukan-approved, weight.

We tried the courgettes last night. Well, I had courgettes, Jo claims she had zucchini – she still hasn’t got used to our English terms. They’re still tiny, about four inches long, but sautéed (yes, sautéed, in a diet – who’d have thought it?) with a little olive oil, some mint, garlic slivers, dried chilli, finished with lemon zest, they are little crisp pieces of Italian heaven. I would have added a couple of anchovies, but we’d run out of that essential Italian flavouring and I couldn’t be bothered to open a fresh tube of anchovy paste for such tiny specimens.

My five courgette plants will provide us with five courgettes every day for the next two months. We had them with a slab of organic salmon, cooked to keep moist: that is, you score the skin (I always buy fish with the skin on), fill the scoring with sea salt, brush with oil and pepper and fry in a hot pan, skin side down without touching it, for around 3 minutes until the skin is crisp and brown. Flip it over, season, and pop it in a hot oven for another couple of minutes. The result: moist and pink in the middle, with crispy skin – perfection every time. And a mountain of salad straight from the garden, with weird yoghurty dressing. For the first time, I think I’m rather enjoying this diet.

No sign of the murderer, and we’re now locking all the doors the whole time. All our neighbours are nervous, which makes us even more so. Husbands are staying home from work, and women aren't going out alone at night.

Apparently today police found signs of him in a village quite close to ours. They also published a new photograph of him, taken a couple of days ago in a store where yesterday I bought some paint.

The police say it shows that he’s lost weight. I wonder if he was on the Dukan diet? If so, he’d have to start killing sheep out there on the hills above our house: there’s precious little other protein to eat, and the nearest fat-free yoghurt is ten miles away in Waitrose. Yesterday he broke into a house and stole food – he even used the microwave. Well there's nothing microwaveable here apart from baby milk. But he would find some lovely little poussin ready for tomorrow night. You need to roast them for around 45 minutes: I doubt he’ll hang around that long. But we do have plenty of vanilla yoghurt if he's really desperate.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Under Siege

Day 22

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 6 pounds (202 lbs)

There you go: a testimony to my new YuKan diet plan. 3 pounds lost in one day. Possibly not disconnected to the fact that a lot more salad in the diet helps the digestion get going. That’s my theory, anyway. One more pound and I'll have lost a stone - in just 3 weeks.

I drove to Manchester today and had an overwhelming desire to eat fish – not that there’s a connection between the two – so I invited myself to lunch with a BBC manager and had six deliciously barbecued prawns and nothing else. If I continue to lose weight tomorrow then I shall have to publish this new diet and go on Woman’s Hour and make a fortune. I know how it’s done: you write down whatever you’ve been eating and then make everyone else do the same. Add a bit of theory about why things are working, and, bingo, you become a diet guru. Here’s how the menu for Day 22 would go:

Lunch -- 6 medium-sized barbecued prawns sitting on a bed of salad, mango, papaya and melon with Thai sweet chili dressing on the side. Eat only the prawns. Leave everything else and feel virtuous.


One person near here is certainly losing as much weight as I am, and he’s not even using my new patent diet. He’s called Raoul Moat and he’s a murderer.

Five days ago he got out of prison, went to his former girlfriend’s house, shot her, then killed her new boyfriend, then went up to a police patrol car and shot the officer at point blank range. The officer survived, and Moat has gone into hiding.

Yesterday he was located in Rothbury – just a few miles from where I’m writing this. He’s up in the hills above the town, and I can see those hills from our house. That means Moat could probably see me if he had strong enough binoculars. He broke into a house this morning and stole only food. Poor chap must be starving.

We’ve all locked our doors and barricaded the shutters. It’s not something we normally do round here: we leave cars and windows open and wander into friends’ houses as if we were living in the 1950s. That’s what Northumberland is all about: friendly, opening, trusting and quiet. Now Rothbury, which only has about 2,000 residents, is swarming with hundreds of armed police, helicopters and speeding sirens, and a massed corps de press.

All the locals have been interviewed on the national news. Everyone says the same thing: there’s an eery feeling around the town. There’s an eery feeling around our house too. Last night I looked out across our fields for signs of felon and saw nothing but the buttercups and red clover waving in the meadow. He'd better not touch my vegetable garden.

They found Moat’s tent yesterday. He’d been hiding in a field to the South of the town, near the disused railway line that leads, scarily, to within half a mile of our house. If he comes here, I know exactly what I’ll do. I’ll invite him in and offer him a bowl of my steaming oatbran cardboard breakfast. That’ll get him on his way back to jail in no time - he’ll be desperate for prison food to take the taste away.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A New Menu

Day 21

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 9 pounds (205 lbs)

A pound lost: thank goodness I’m back on track.

Jo has been telling me that, despite the strictures of the official Dukan diet, I really should be kinder to my taste buds and friends, and I think she’s right. I’m still focused on protein, and taking almost no carbs (apart from the two potatoes last night and the regular morning bowl of wet cardboard), but in the evening I’ve been adding garden salad.

There’s nothing quite like salad taken straight from the ground to the plate. I planted it long before I started this game, and I can’t bear to let it go to seed. I grow five or six different types of lettuce, several different mustard greens, wild rocket, spring onions, courgettes, lots of different beets (including the rare white, gold and stripy ones), and there’s no diet that’s going to tell me I can’t enjoy these zero-calorie treats.

So, I have a new plan. Dukan (or Dukan’t, as I call him) says I should alternate protein-only days with protein-and-vegetables. I’m now doing protein for three quarters of a day, and protein-and-greens in the evening. It’s keeping me sane, and I’m calling it the YuCan Diet:


Version 1.0

Breakfast: Coffee and Cardboard
Double Espresso drink while cooking 2 tbs oatbran, cooked with 300 ml salted boiling water for 3 minutes until it’s gloopy. Eat smugly.

Snack: Small fat-free yoghurt
Absurdly small – the tiniest they sell. Eat, with very small spoon to make it last longer, with triple espresso (yes, triple).

Lunch: Naked Chicken
1 packet cooked chicken breast from a supermarket. Open with sharp knife. Eat slowly direct from the packet. Say “yum” at every bite to make yourself feel better. Drink one Coke Zero to stop yourself falling asleep.

Snack: Forget it
Take with either black tea or black tea.

Dinner: Main Course: The YuCan Special
Any amount of cooked dead fish or deceased animal (but no lamb, pork, fatty beef, duck or anything with real flavour that might make the meal vaguely interesting). Mountain of Garden Salad with weird dressing, either made with fat-free yoghurt, mustard, a little white wine vinegar and peanut oil, or with balsamic vinegar, water and a little peanut oil. Don't worry that these quantities make no culinary sense, the aim is not to make a properly emulsified dressing, but to make a bit of liquid which lies at the bottom of the salad bowl and remind you of better times.

Dessert: Remote Pudding
Take one rich, chocolaty, creamy, fat-full dessert from any quality supermarket. Unwrap or cook and put carefully on a plate. Add large scoop of Creme Chantilly or half a tub of any Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Hand to your 12-year-old and watch him eat it. Sigh deeply.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dangerous Potatoes

Day 20

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 10 pounds (206 lbs)

No change. I’m convinced the alcohol has been the cause of my undoing. This morning I put my delightfully boozy friend Keith on the train with a sigh of relief that I won’t be tempted tonight. Back to abstinence and a renewed focus to get down below 200 lbs.

But tonight I encountered an even greater threat to my waistline. I’ve been looking at my new potatoes growing in the vegetable garden and I’ve finally decided to see how they’ve done.

These are not just potatoes, they’re Arran Pilots – the softest, fleshiest, sweetest, waxiest, most succulent potatoes you can find. You can’t buy them in supermarkets or even the best greengrocers: but I have a supplier who sells me seeds for chitting, and I look forward each year to July 1st, the day I traditionally start digging them up.

I’ve waited 5 days too long. So, despite Dr Dukan’s insistence that I’m throwing the entire diet away, I pulled half a dozen beauties out of the ground and Jo, Sam and I had them with an aged sirloin steak grilled rare and some wild rocket and red oakleaf salad from the garden. With a tomato grilled with basil and balsamic, it was a magnificent feast and, at the centre of my plate, two gorgeous white spuds, laced with fresh mint. Quite the best flavour on my tongue for nearly three weeks.

Later, Sam had a chocolate soufflé from Waitrose. I shut my eyes.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Day 19

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 10 pounds (206 lbs)

Two pounds gained. Damn that chocolate cake. Dukan says one error is like pricking a balloon: all that effort can be lost with a single moment of indulgence. Well, I had three hours of indulgence, a jolly nice evening, I slept like a log and now I’m going to prove that Frenchman wrong. I may have had my cake, and eaten it, but I’m sure going to put things back on track before the rot sets in.

Sunday lunch at our local pub is usually the highlight of our domestic week. Today Izzy sits in a high chair with deep-fried chicken strips, chips and Yorkshire pudding; Keith and Sam, my 12 year old, have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, with a mound of mashed and roast potatoes, mushy peas, carrots, a lake of gravy and a bowlful of vegetables; Jo has sausages and mash and Yorkshire pudding. I have – just a few slices of roast beef. Mark and Jackie, the pub’s owners, are mortified. They tell me my chins have disappeared since last weekend, but that I really need to eat a more balanced diet.

I quietly work out how long I have till the photograph is taken: 46 days, which amounts to another 144 joyless, fatless meals. Happy Independence Day, America

The Rot Sets In

Day 18

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 8 pounds (204 lbs)

On Saturday morning Keith said he wanted to try my porridge. I explained that it wasn’t really porridge, but oat bran cooked with water and salt. He insisted on having his own portion, which I tried to cheer up with milk and honey. He tasted it and winced. So this is what gruel tastes like, he said. Jo says it’s like eating moist cardboard. Later in the day I found a single chocolate croissant sitting in a packet. Keith sheepishly confessed that hunger had driven him to eat all the other five while I wasn’t looking.

To make up for it, I made him an alfresco lunchtime spread of Spanish cold meats, cheeses, pickles and Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. I had cold cooked chicken a slice of smoked salmon, two olives with a Coke Zero. The sun and the birdsong didn’t make it any better. But two days without a fat-free yoghurt can’t be all bad. Keith keeps asking me why I’m treating myself so badly. I explain (again) about the family portrait, and how I want to look slim for Izzy. Then he says something so extraordinarily insightful and profound, I could have killed him.

“Why don’t you have the photograph taken immediately and then just airbrush away the fat? That’s what supermodels do all the time”. How dare he be so right.

Last night we went to The Cherry Tree, one of Newcastle’s few half-decent restaurants. The service is terrible: you have to ask for menus, the girl serving drinks is the slowest and least able on record and the food takes an age to arrive, but at least the chef can cook a bit, which is more than can be said for most of the city’s establishments.

At the start of the meal Jo, Keith and our friend Caroline put their collective feet down. I had become, they said, utterly boring. Apparently the previous night I had become almost human after the marguerita, so they weren’t going to let me have any dinner unless I had a glass of decent wine in front of me. I had three glasses of Gavi and, as a direct result, threw caution and the entire diet to the winds and ate half of Jo’s bitter chocolate tart.

Woke up at 9am feeling guilty as hell.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Death By Marguerita

Days 16 & 17

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 8 pounds (204 lbs)

It was only a marguerita, but it proved fatal.

The problem I’ve had with this diet from the beginning is its complete lack of sociability. You have to put your life on hold while you plough through dry chicken and white egg omelettes. Meanwhile your friends are enjoying the delights of the English seasons: spring lamb, fresh grown peas and beans, strawberries – and Pimms.

It’s been hot up in Northumberland: a very rare event. For Jo and I, used to Californian habits, this means one thing – an early evening marguerita on the rocks with salt round the rim. On Thursday night, after six hours of East Coast trains (I returned from London just a few hours after I arrived – Chicken Caesar without Caesar on the train back), we picked up a friend of mine from the airport who’s staying at the house for a few days.

Keith is part of my life that I find hard to recall as it’s all rather hazy, largely due to the vast quantities of alcohol we used to consume together with friends. We once went on a fishing trip to Ireland with 10 other blokes, and I do recall being found crawling down the centre of a main road at four in the morning: I was using the white line to find my way back to the hotel. It was that kind of trip: pints of Guinness at Stansted airport on the way out – at 8 in the morning; songs and bonhomie by night. And I didn’t catch a single fish, though I did manage to skewer my earlobe with a particularly vicious hook one hungover morning.

That way of living is completely behind me now, but Keith still likes a drink or two. We’d just settled into the bar of my favourite Italian haunt, Fratelli’s, when he mentioned the M-word. That did it. The intoxicating blend of tequila, lime and triple sec awaked senses all but killed by two weeks of dieting. Two glasses of pinot grigio later, I was gone.

This morning I awoke feeling terrible, but had lost another pound. I’d only eaten steak and a few aubergines, so that’s not particularly surprising. But Keith is staying for four days. Resistance is futile.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Clearing The Second Hurdle

Day 15

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 9 pounds (205 lbs)

Yeeeessssss! I've lost precisely two weeks from my life and 10 pounds from my waistline.

I’m writing this on a train – I travel to London every week and take whichever mode of transport fits my schedule and wallet. I quite enjoy the train because it takes little longer than the plane door to door (once you’ve counted the time to schlep to your meeting from Stansted or Heathrow) and you can sit quietly at a table reading. Or, in this case, writing to you kind and welcome friends who are following this blog.

I say friends, but most of you I’ve never met. Whoever you are, I’d like to say how grateful I am to you for joining me each day: what started as a trickle of curiosity has grown into quite a few regular visitors, and part of the reason for my persistence is a desire not to let you all down. However, I secretly suspect (please correct me if I am wrong) most of you are reading this because you are convinced it’s all going to end in tears. Perhaps you have read accounts of my previous ill-fated attempts at dieting (on Blog From The North) and know just how weak my willpower is. Well, just for you, I faced the ultimate test just 20 minutes ago.

As I’m on the 7.20am, one of the few East Coast trains which still carry a restaurant car, I took fate by the horns and sat in the diner surrounded by businessmen tucking into The Great British Breakfast. Fried egg cooked in oil on top of an English muffin, with bacon, sausage, tomatoes, black pudding, baked beans, mushrooms, toast with butter and marmalade – all served rather gingerly by a man carrying a tray hurtling through the Yorkshire countryside at 125 miles per hour. It’s a British tradition fast dying out – full English breakfast on a train. They used to serve fried bread too: white bread soaked in the oil left over in the frying pan. I guess the muffin is the train service’s contribution towards healthy eating.

Even for someone who’s not been starving himself for the last fortnight, the smell of morning bacon and sausage is overwhelmingly seductive, but I successfully ignored the tray of steaming fat-bearers and ordered the only thing on the menu I’m allowed to eat: a plate of Craster (yes, Craster – see my previous blog about the amazing Robson smokery) smoked salmon. The train used to serve kippers, which would have been heaven right now, permissible, filling, good for you and delicious, but for some reason they’ve changed the menu. Perhaps passengers were complaining about the smell. Kippers have a pretty overpowering whiff: for me it’s the scent of Scottish holidays with my parents in a bed-and-breakfast in St Abbs Head – porridge and kippers is still my favourite way of starting the day.

The salmon arrives with scrambled egg on a muffin and I surreptitiously taste just a teaspoonful of egg. Thankfully it’s utterly tasteless (rather like scrambled egg made with pasteurized dried egg must have tasted in the war), so it’s easy to ignore completely and eat just the fish and tiny grilled tomatoes. They also bring a yoghurt. Halfway through, I look at the label: rich and creamy strawberry. 129 calories per 100 grams, and there are 150 grams in the jar. It tastes historic, as Michael Winner would say. I virtuously leave half the yoghurt (well, quite a bit less than a half), and the steward comes to ask me if there’s anything wrong with my scrambled eggs. I smile smugly. Ten pounds to go.

A large lady sitting opposite is reading the cooking magazine Delicious. She’s left it open at an article called “Hungry Traveller”. Now that’s just plain mean.