REG THINKS FAT IS SO BEAUTIFUL
The other day here on Kythnos I was surprised to see a very good looking young Greek woman with a very ugly Greek husband. I had never seen either of them around before, so safe to say they were Easter tourists from Athens. They had an extremely handsome toddler son, who patently took after Aphrodite Mum not Outstanding Competition for Cyclops Dad, and plug-ugly Pops was obviously very proud of his little boy, and doubtless astonished by the fact he had sired something of such beauty and living poetry. I had noticed her on her own first of all, with a fancy camera taking fancy shots of all sorts of things, including bobbing boats in the harbour, and a little cat eating some discarded ham by the sea front. She looked about 30, as did her husband, and as if she had consuming interests and hobbies, because her camera was an expensive and impressive one. Her husband by his cheerful woodenness, looked as if he had neither time nor energy to have hobbies, and no interest in anything but his wife and his lovely child, and possibly his job.
The wife had a nice trim figure, but she was wearing dark glasses like all Greeks do, unless it’s snowing heavily or torrentially pissing down, so one couldn’t make out her features precisely, yet enough to know they were very alluring ones. Her husband who she reconnoitred with at the top of the harbour, with son in tow, was wearing shades as well, which was a good idea in his case, but did not hide the fact he looked like a walking pork pie, with a lot of stubbly whiskers and a deal of surplus flab around the gizzard. He was dark-shaven, heavy-featured, had loose and lacklustre jowls, a kind of placid doziness in his expression, and by rights ought to have been an obligatory bachelor for the rest of his days. As they met up at the harbour’s edge, she with posh camera and he with bonny little son, I seriously expected her to stop dead, and either say aloud or communicate by telepathy to someone like me, who was not only staring at them in puzzlement, but perfectly understood her harrowing dilemma:
“What the hell is a nice looking woman like me, doing married to a truly ugly bugger like you?”
To my genuine surprise she didn’t, but bent down and embraced her son, and murmured something amiable to Papa Quasimodo whose tender hand the boy was still holding.
At this point I confidently expect the Flat-Earthers among you, to start off on a lecture about looks and beauty being subjective, and that this young woman might genuinely think her young husband was handsome. I can agree with you to the extent that the subject is nuanced and complex, inasmuch as there are people who are beautiful in their ugliness, and likewise those who are ugly in their beauty. But there are also people who are beautiful in their beauty, and ugly in their ugliness, and these last comprehended Mrs Posh Camera and her Neanderthal clone of a piggy old husband. After all, 98% of the world thinks George Clooney and Nicole Kidman are very handsome film stars, whereas no one in the world ever thought the film star and comedian, the late Marty Feldman, with his extreme exophthalmia and mad and frightening expression, was gorgeous to a fault. I do however know a few women who think Clooney is nothing special when it comes to looks, but not even they would say that he was downright ugly. I can also readily admit that good looks and sexual charisma are not necessarily congruous and coterminous. Read enough biographies of the musicians, writers and artists of the world, especially of the 19th century, and there were numerous ugly musicians and many plug ugly writers who were indubitable magnets for women. But even those women, when they lay awake after their steaming amorous dalliance, would say to themselves, yes, yes, that was oh so bloody wonderful, he was like a 1000 tigers between the sheets, even if he was, dear me, as ugly as sin.
But then like everything in this baffling life, there are always endless variables to juggle with. Dr Desmond Morris of the erstwhile The Human Zoo fame, would have said that good lookers select good lookers for evolutionary strength and solidarity. On that basis, Mrs Camera was taking a risk with her baboon helpmeet, because for all she knew the gorgeous little boy she had had, might have looked like a baby baboon, and with dominant and recessive genes being what they are, the next three kiddiwinks might well be thus. Other ancillary considerations are that her apparent husband might not have been her husband, but her brother or her brother in law or her family friend. I doubt all this on several scores, especially because of the extreme and conjugal familiarity between the pair of them. In that case, we are left with pondering her anomalous motives for choosing a baboon for her lifelong companion, and the father of her children. These likewise are endless and myriad but the likeliest candidates are possibly as follows:
They were childhood sweethearts and have stayed together as a result, and she hasn’t noticed that, just as she has changed for the even better looking, so he has changed for the far worse looking. That is based on the notion that in his childhood he was handsome, and not a perfect replica of a horse’s arse, and that again is infinitely questionable.
They had only just met and they were drunk when they had the coition that led to their lovely son. She hallucinated her inebriated bedfellow as George Clooney, and had never heard of Marty Feldman, so was cruelly short-changed in that respect.
He is immensely rich and has an Athens carpet business that sells more carpets in a week that the rest of Greece does in a month. To quote from two previous pieces of mine, money is so, so sexy, and also to turn the appalling sexist adage on its head, you don’t care who is poking your fire and are well aware your mantelpiece is a great deal more attractive, than the poker or the poker wielder, who as lungee and lunger, looks both totally demented, and as ugly as last year’s rain.
I have so far omitted to reverse the genders and to instance examples of a good looking man, with a female partner who is overwhelmingly plain or ugly or otherwise repugnant. They are far rarer than the frequently ugly man with the frequently gorgeous woman, and I can think only of two examples, who as it happens are both mainland Greeks from Lavrio. In one case he is in his late 60s, and has kept his looks, with high cheekbones and a real enduring handsomeness. His wife of the same age has patently lost most of hers, and sadly she knows as much, and drags herself about limply as a result. The give away with regard to her giving up (note the two potent postpositions), is that in cool weather she always wears the same very plain and fashionless and ugly anorak coat. Day in day out, week in week out. It is an admission of tragic but inevitable defeat, and only looking after her grandkids seems to give her any spirit these days. In the other case, the couple are half their age, and the husband is a bright and vigorous and friendly young cafe owner, and his wife who is an accountant is sullen and staid and eternally depressed. She has also sadly lost her youthful looks, puts her hair in a sadistic and ungainly bun, but the transparent cause is that she has a small child with severe behavioural problems, and if I had that child, I would be permanently on edge and in the depthless doldrums and have lost my looks too.
Our notions of charismatic beauty are subjective yes, and only twice in my life have I been seized by an unbelievably overpowering attraction for someone who on commonsense reflection, could never be even a transient five minute partner. One I have already mentioned, and she was the blond and blindingly voluptuous Albanian hotdog seller outside Durres railway station two years ago. She was about 40 and blonder than blond, and with a rich and fertile and succulent figure a 14 year old boy would have ransomed his future, and his past, and all his vital organs, and especially his genitals, and all his future income, including any possible legacies, pensions, or other substantial emoluments, to have 5 minutes, no 1 minute, no 5 seconds, no 1 second, no, even a microsecond, of unfettered access to the same unmatchable Illyrian goddess.
The other was a woman of mid twenties, when I was a young man of 31, happily married to my beautiful wife Annie, the pair of us travelling on a budget across Europe and Turkey in the summer of 1982. One night we were staying in a cheap hotel in Izmir, formerly Smyrna of the terrible sectarian massacres of 1922. We only stayed there one night before carrying on to Cesme, and in the morning as I was dawdling on the staircase, I encountered this young woman who looked possibly 24 or 25, meaning born somewhere around 1958. She was cleaning the grubby wooden stairs with a broom and a pan, and her plain and economical dress was such as to suggest she was a cleaner and nothing else, i.e. not the moneyed daughter of the hotel proprietor. She had a headscarf on and was tall for a girl and had cheap denims and wore a simple and cheap green blouse. It is not easy to put into words, but she was infinitely magnetising and by that I mean her timeless and picturesque face more than her body. She had a very handsome face and the face seemed to be an exact and eternal one. That possibly sounds very grand, but all I mean is that face could have existed in 1482 and 1782 as well as 1982, whereas plenty of faces, as you know, could only have existed in the last 10 or 20 years, they are so much of the moment.
She had especially tranquil and sagacious eyes, as if she had seen things and experienced much, that had left her pensive, and at times sad and regretful. She took a quick glance at me, gave a trace of a smile, and then looked modestly away, no doubt informed either by her boss or her parents not to gawk at strangers. I regretted this, as I would have liked her to look me full in my eyes, so that she could see how much I was moved and stirred by her. It wasn’t even desire, it was more I seemed to glimpse the subtle and distilled and mesmerising essence of her being. Later I reflected that as a young Turkish cleaner girl in 1982, her income would be wretched, and she probably lived with her parents in borderline poverty. Had I not been married, I would seriously have tried to talk to her in my 10 words of Turkish which included the indispensable numerals 1, 2, 3, bir, iki, uc. Recalling the hoary cliché of The Face That Launched 1000 Ships, I saw for the first time that it was not a cliché at all, and in her I had glimpsed such a face. She had a face one would yearn for, pine for, live for, even die for. And sadly, and perhaps all for the best, she didn’t even know it. One quick look at her and I knew for a fact she thought of herself as absolutely nothing special at all.
From the sublime to the buffoonish, and only first to remark that when we talk about beauty we mean principally the person’s face and nothing else. A handsome woman can be a cripple with a withered body in a wheelchair, and a good looking man with striking features can have a sizeable paunch and still be good looking. About two decades ago, this had evidently occurred to an enterprising husband in his late twenties, who I encountered not once but twice in the garish pages of one of those cheap entertainment magazines you can buy in the UK, with names like Chat and Real Life and Take A Break. Their ancestors of the 1950s and 60s were called Tit-Bits and Reveille, and they specialised in gossipy real life stories, that were sensational at the time without being over risqué. The latest generation of these mags, stops at more or less nothing, though usually they are free of any four letter words. But the stories in Chat might be such as ‘My Boyfriend Cheated With My Mother’ or ‘I Cheated With my Boyfriend’s Father’ or even worse ‘My Boyfriend Cheated With My Grandmother When I Had Cancer’. Lest you are wondering why an august literary gent like me was reading this kind of thing, it was partly because I was in 1994 superintending Ione aged 5, in one of those converted warehouses where they have huge inflatables and chutes and airblown plastic balls reminiscent of table tennis balls. This one was called Play City and it was a reasonable enough description. The parents stood at a distance in the main, as the play material was safe as houses, and so as the kids whooped and yahooed, the Mums and Dads whiled away the time as best they could.
I had forgotten to bring my copiously annotated collectable edition of Proust in the original, so instead sat and read Chat, which in some ways was even more gripping. The story that eventually caught my eye, was told by a rather complacent looking man of late twenties, and it was an odd and unusual piece, inasmuch as he was writing an eloquent apology for a neglected and misunderstood species, namely his wife, let’s call her Sharon, aged 25. There was a picture of Sharon and she had an undeniably pretty face, and she was also undeniably very fat. Her husband, let’s call him Reg, who had jet black and oiled hair, and whose job was as a plumber (one who to my eyes looked as if he might have smirked, even sneered, more than smiled at his customers) really loved the fact she was fat, and declared that her fatness was a definite erotic turn on. Good old Reg didn’t stop at that, and with the exacting authorial help of Sharon, the two of them grew warmly specific in the pages of Chat about the exquisiteness of the copious folds of her jelly belly, the munificence of her vast tree trunk thighs, how she loved him caressing the twin epic colossi of her splendid outsize buttocks, and how her gigantic and pendulous breasts which were size 48 as far as I recall, were just the ticket as far as slavishly adoring Reg was concerned.
Sharon chuckled in the same pages to the effect that Reg wanted her to be even fatter, as the fatter she was, the more the old smirking plumber was turned on. She reciprocally was turned on by him being turned on, and I believe we were treated to him saying he was turned on by her being turned on, by him being turned on. These serial escalations might have gone on for ever like something out of Samuel Beckett, but thank God, eventually they stopped. At any rate old Reg the iconoclast, who said that very fat women were the best thing since sliced bread, also revealed he’d started a kind of society with membership fees for people who liked fat women. These couples would write to each other (the internet hadn’t quite happened by 1994) with updates of say Gloria of Swanage putting on four more inches round her massive backside alone, exchanging alluring deshabille shots and even nude photos of her now gargantuan bottom, and naturally enough, and in season, swap tinsel strewn Christmas cards with pictures of very fat women dressed as Santa Claus, and so on.
Aside from the obvious health issues, whereby the peevish plumber got what turned him on at the expense of wife Sharon’s heart being overloaded with arguably lethal fat, there was also the question of the lucre. These real life stories if accepted for mags like Chat were paid for, all of £100 at the time, and as Sharon was a supermarket check out assistant (Reg insisted she sit on her delicious and colossal behind all day, in order to gain the extra pounds) she’d have had to do a hell of a lot of checking out to make that kind of pin money. True illumination for me came a month later when in the same Play City, I picked up another mag called Real Life, and would you believe, there were Reg and Sharon again? A lot of these heaps of mags for customers are severely out of date, of course, but the Chat I’d looked at earlier was still there, and I compared dates, and they were only a month apart. I was expecting at the very least this time to read a different slant on fatness and sexiness and erotic specificities, certainly not an exact copy of the earlier article. But so amazingly it proved, and I still wonder 20 years later how pissed off the respective editors of the two magazines were to see such authorial perfidy. Reg and Sharon had shuffled the paragraphs about a bit, but the content was identical and only the photos of husband and wife were different.
So what does all that prove? Simple in my view. Never marry a guy called Reg, particularly if he’s a peevish plumber, as you will be risking your poor old heart, and not in the name of enduring love, believe you me.