An Irishman’s Diary on embracing the winter paunch
In search of a passable version of my streamlined self
“Having remained relatively fit and trim from March to October, I considered it unseemly that I might need to start pushing my belt out an extra notch in late autumn, once the clocks went back, or perhaps even contemplate buying pants with an adjustable waistline.” Photograph: Thinkstock
Over the past several weeks there’s been a familiar seasonal sighting around our Dublin house. The object in question usually appears when I’m stepping into the shower or getting ready for bed, and it’s a 100 per cent reliable sign that summer and autumn have ended and colder spells are on the way.
I’m referring, of course, to the return of the winter paunch. In case you’re wondering, my seasonal reckoning is still determined by my Boston upbringing, where winter is liable to stretch from late November to early April.
Until a few years ago, this predictable expansion of my midriff was a matter of some concern. Having remained relatively fit and trim from March to October, I considered it unseemly that I might need to start pushing my belt out an extra notch in late autumn, once the clocks went back, or perhaps even contemplate buying pants with an adjustable waistline.
Around suburban Dublin – which has been my natural habitat since I moved to Ireland over 20 years ago – squirrels collect extra nuts and rely on a thickening coat to see them through until spring. Ditto for foxes, hedgehogs, and other metro scavengers. What makes the modern human animal so special that he or she can ignore this biological imperative?
Plus, I won’t even mention the tantalising appeal of a hibernation period. If you’re a sports fan, the idea of spending the winter curled up on the couch, remote in hand, snacks at the ready, seems as perfect a natural design as one is likely to find. Especially if you’ve got a cable package featuring the top European soccer leagues, American college football and basketball, and NHL ice hockey.
This approach is certainly more appropriate to the season than dressing up in Lycra leotards, throwing on an overcoat, sliding into the car and heading for the gym. After an hour’s exertion on a treadmill or rowing machine, you’re likely to emerge sweaty and red-faced. Then a week later, you’ve got a chesty cough and a temperature because you defied the natural way.
I think a short history lesson can help guide us here. Back when I was a primary school student, our class went on a field trip to Plymouth Plantation. The place made a profound impression on me. I still remember the waxed paper windows and the dim, chilly interiors of the colony’s rudimentary dwellings. The clothing and speech of the people living there transported me and my classmates to another world as well.
Life at Plymouth Plantation followed a pattern familiar to the period, we were told. The colonists worked hard during the finer months of the year, tilling and harvesting, and then wrapped themselves up tight, settled down in front of the fire, and waited for the first snows to fall.
Long before television was invented, the Pilgrims were the original American reality show.
On the bus back to school that day I remember thinking, I wouldn’t care to live like that, thank you very much. Today, though, I imagine that there was another equally significant historical detail that went unmentioned all those years ago.
Despite the hard work and determination that were required to carve out the simplest of lives in such harsh and unfamiliar surroundings, the Plymouth Pilgrims no doubt also experienced the onset of the winter paunch.
Through circumstance or design, we eat more and move about less at this time of year. So unless you’re a committed hunter-gatherer combing the Dublin woodlands for your daily crust or a die-hard winter sports enthusiast who insists on “touching the void”, I wouldn’t get too worried about those extra seasonal pounds you may have put on.
Strange as it sounds, in years past I have reached this goal – or near enough, anyway – by joining an adult baseball league in Dublin.
In the end, though, the best reason to slim down is the oldest of them all. I don’t know about you, but I’m still vain enough to care about what kind of figure I’ll cut on the beach next summer during my family’s annual pilgrimage to Cape Cod.