Judith Hatton

A Thoroughly Modern Family

Let me introduce Cal Correct and his wife, Polly, their daughter Soya and their son Clinton. Cal has a responsible position at the Ministry for Interfering with the Arrangements of the Ordinary Workers (MIAOW), and Polly teaches at the Winnie Mandela School for Higher Interference and Troublemaking in a London suburb twinned with Ho Chi Min City.Clinton is a social worker in a London suburb so awful it can't be mentioned (it was twinned with the Gulag Archipelago). He would dearly love to get out of it, but he belongs to an Eastern sect that demand he shave himself all over and wear bright purple robes and no underwear and say "Om" a lot and eat mostly beans, so he tends to fail interviews with more desirable authorities. Because of his rather restricted diet and no underwear he's inclined to be often ill and away from work, but fortunately in his job no one ever notices.

Soya is a bit of a problem. Oh, she's a one-parent family and lives in a council flat and used to be arrested for biting police horses in peace demos, so that's all right; but she does tend to change her eating habits to correspond with those of the man she's living with at the moment. There was a labourer on a building site who fed her on steak and kidney pies and chips fried in saturated fat, and was annoyingly healthy. And an awful time when she was living with an Israeli whose mother was very understanding and fed her on chicken soup, and they weren't even free range chickens!

You can see that the Corrects are very interested in food. Not in eating it, of course: they do as little of that as possible. Their interest is in finding out what's the latest thing that's bad for you, and not eating it. They are of course vegetarians, though Cal sometimes has a leaning towards fish, but Polly is very strict about meat and fish and poultry and eggs and cheese and milk. Butter goes without saying. She's sure she has an allergy to wheat products, so bread and pasta products are out. Salt too, because it's bad for people with high blood pressure. She hasn't got high blood pressure, but she reasons that if it's bad for those people, it must be bad for everyone. She drinks her 14 units of red wine a week, though she doesn't like it, but it's good for you. She does like coffee, but of course...

Sugar is impossible. Next to the hole in the ozone layer and Lady Thatcher, it's the greatest enemy of the human race, apart from smoking, which is in a category of its own. The Corrects explain to people who ask them out to a meal that they can't possibly come to a house where smoking is allowed. They have occasionally noticed a rather odd look on the faces of people who've said: "Oh, we'd love to have you back after the delicious cabbage dinner you gave us, but we're afraid we smoke, so we can't expect you to come."

The Corrects really enjoy their anti-smoker activities. It's such a relief, in these mealy-mouthed days, to have someone you can really hate and be nasty to. You have usually to be so tolerant and understanding and unprejudiced that it can be dead boring. Cal has cleared not only his office but the whole corridor of smokers, and is hoping to get the entire building smoke-free in due course. He's a bit upset to find that his office nickname is Adolph. Polly got her secretary sacked for smoking. The new girl can't spell or write a coherent letter, but she's a non-smoker.

Clinton's sect forbids smoking, besides meat and sex. (It's a very small sect, and likely to get smaller). Soya is sound on that, and has broken up with two men because they smoked. Unfortunately they were both very nice and might have married her...

It would only be fair to find the Corrects were rewarded for their health efforts, but they've not been lucky. Cal got so worried about cholesterol that he got his doctor to prescribe him a special cholesterol-reducing drug, and this made him so depressed that he committed suicide. Polly was devastated because he chose to gas himself with exhaust fumes in the garage, so environmentally unfriendly. She insisted on going to the cremation, though it was a bitter cold and wet day. Someone offered to lend her a fur coat, but she couldn't wear fur, so she got chilled and got pneumonia. The doctor gave her massive doses of antibiotics, but she'd had so many of these before for all her sniffles and sore throats, and was so emaciated with her virtually food-free diet, that they didn't work, and she died.

Soya's man was moving out, and she thought of what her father had done and how upset everyone was, so she staged a fake suicide as a "cry for help". But she misjudged it and actually killed herself.

Clinton's death couldn't be blamed on the triple tragedies. Anyone might be run over by a lorry if trying to cross a busy thoroughfare full of rice wine and mind-enhancing drugs.

The anti-smoker movement feels it's had a great loss. But there are always more Corrects coming along.

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