My mother used to buy most of the food we ate freshly every day. She would have made breakfast, cleared away and washed the dishes and hoovered the entire house by 11am, whereupon she would tidy her hair, put on her coat and walk up the street to do the shopping. Life was very different then, of course, in a small seaside town in Northern Ireland, but Mum had a pretty busy one even in those days managing my father's medical practice.
Meals were served promptly and always in the dining room with the table properly laid and everything cooked from fresh ingredients. Portions were of medium size and there was usually enough for a small helping of seconds, but it was considered very bad manners to pile your plate high. My mother served us all anyway, so there was no chance of overt greediness. For their entire adult lives, neither of my parents gained weight, something I have only started thinking about since I began my journey towards a permanently slimmer me. I have clearly inherited their genes, so my own gradual weight gain must be connected to both my lifestyle and my cooking.
Back in the UK, I would do a mammoth "shop" once a week usually on a Saturday morning, the worst possible day for shopping, when the supermarkets are full of harassed and bad-tempered working mothers often using squalling children in push chairs as battering rams. Get out of the way or pay the price of bruised ankles. I'd write a list but impulse shop as well, often grabbing tempting items without too much thought for the price. My excuse was that I was working hard and earning a decent salary and didn't have time to mess about looking at prices - or content.
Since I started on my low-fat regimen under the watchful eye of doctors at the Dubai Weight Care Clinic, I've been much more careful about what goes into my trolley. I've also been thinking more about my mother's excellent housekeeping habits and wondering if it's not possible to adapt them to my life now. For a start, it is entirely possible to buy fresh food every day. With Choithram and Spinneys on my doorstep staying open till late in the evening, I can pop in on the way home even if I've been busy at work all day. I timed it the other evening and it took precisely 10 minutes to choose three or four fresh vegetables and two skinless chicken breasts.
I also seem to be saving money that way and there are no longer superfluous items in the fridge waiting to be snacked on. With our daughters leading their own lives in London, I don't have that maternal compulsion to fill the fridge to its limits with tasty morsels for the family to graze on during the day and I've hardened my heart to the sound of the fridge door opening as my husband arrives home from work. Actually, I think he's secretly glad the temptations have been removed and that it's low-fat everything, from yogurts to muffins, at the moment.
My mother's cooking was initially fairly simple, with lots of roasts and casseroles, but it became more adventurous as we started to travel abroad in the Sixties when garlic was seen as something exotic. She never used processed foods and there simply weren't any ready-made meals. We always had home-made puddings like apple crumble or rhubarb fool and soups were made with fresh stock. After lunch on Sundays we'd go for a long and bracing walk along the seashore, and when we came back it would be afternoon tea and shortbread or a Victoria sponge, but it never seemed to make any difference to anybody's weight. Of course, at school I was playing games every day and at weekends there would be tennis, swimming, pony rides or taking our ancient wooden dinghy out for a spin. I was wiry and muscular without an inch of blubber.
It wasn't till I left home and started fending for myself that I began to pile on the pounds and it has been a yo-yoing battle with the scales ever since. This time, however, I am determined that the weight I'm currently losing will stay off because my whole attitude to eating is changing and it seems to me that I'm going back to the future as I try to be more like my mum. With every pound that slides away never to be seen again, my resolve strengthens. It's slow work, but that's all right. In nine weeks I've lost nearly nine pounds. It goes in stops and starts and I know I'm going to have to step up the exercise quotient soon. I'm also going to have to visit a tailor and have a few things taken in. Now that I will enjoy.