20 May 2008

"I didn't think she'd be a Royal!"

So, the Duchess of York's visit to Hull to help a typical struggling family improve their health and diet was finally broadcast. The residents of this fine city of mine have been biting the cushions for months waiting for this.

And although I've heard contrary views from people I know round here, and I'm also in no doubt that the family she assisted will be a) pilloried to buggery; and b) summarised as typical of the whole city by the wider media from today onwards, I think, well, it was okay actually.

The family were rough people, but didn't seem to be bad people. They were working class and poor in the way so many people reading this are never likely to be - convenience food, cigarettes, mum struggling to keep everyone happy, dad unable (not unwilling, but unable) to work. and kids testing their nerve.

I found it amazing that the mother, who was in her 40s, didn't recognise Sarah when she first knocked on the door. "Do you know who Prince Andrew is? I was married to him!", she was obliged to say. I didn't know the family were in the dark as to the identity of their visitor (I missed the very beginning) and only when the teenage lad later said "I didn't think she'd be a Royal" the penny dropped with me. For all that, the mum surely must have watched the wedding back in the 80s? Or seen the papers? Spitting Image? C'mon... I know Fergie's been out of the public eye for quite a while now - not least because she remains isolated from her former in-laws - but she hasn't changed that much...

Anyway, once introductions were complete, the Duchess got to work, watching the family's eating habits, questioning them about exercise, finding out more about them one to one. I loved the image of them taking her shopping to the local Netto and debating the issue of spuds, beans and pears - there was hope after all for these kids, as they liked fruit but mum simply couldn't afford to keep filling the bowl at the rate they emptied it.

Later, she chatted to the dad's dad (in a BP Saltend jacket - I used to wear one of those...) at his allotment, and his brilliant lack of airs-and-graces ("they get to 18 and do what they bloody like!") in front of his well-heeled interviewer, and his obvious frustration that he had good, fresh and free vegetables available to them and they wouldn't take them off him - not because they didn't want his help, but because they reckoned they wouldn't like his stuff.

Fergie chucked together a coleslaw at the Holderness Road guest house she was staying at, using a cabbage from the allotment, then stuck in some asparagus tips and ferried it round to the house. They loved it. So, Grandad's cabbage was no longer an issue. Progress.

I was most moved by the dad, who'd been a proud forces man until an accident damaged six vertebrae and his coccyx and, under mild questioning from Fergie, his front disintegrated and he sobbed about feeling useless and unfit.

So, the mum had been taught that her father-in-law's veg was okay to eat, the dad had opened up about why he was letting himself decline, and the kids were - actually, we didn't learn as much about the kids, apart from the 13 year old's smoking habit, condoned by his parents and outraging Fergie (and me). The teenage girl - who had a full-time job, which is unlike many post-school adolescents on that estate - claimed she had no time for exercise due to work and her domestic duties at night, but Fergie brushed those off as an excuse. That seemed to be their main problem - excuses.

Ultimately, it boiled down to money. And improving the diet of the country, something governments claim to be a priority, is not going to happen until the healthy stuff becomes more affordable to our poorest people. This was the mum's main issue and she's right - fresh stuff is fine, but it has to be able to last and it has to be affordable. And the Duchess agreed with her. It's no good preaching about "five a day" if the produce is beyond the budget of the family.

And yes, they could give up smoking, but to tell them to stop for financial reasons and not health reasons (you wouldn't tell a millionaire smoker to stop for financial reasons) is missing the point entirely.

I think Fergie did well. And although Hull will take its usual kicking (have any of these people ever been?) after this latest bit of lowest denominator telly, I don't think the city I love came out of it too shabbily at all. The scheduling was unfortunate, given that the activities of our football team have lately provided us with lots of positive press, but ultimately those of us here know the truth.

No comments: