The Curmudgeon


Friday, May 19, 2006

Lard of Hope and Glory

It is of course a myth that the famous British beer-belly was invented in the United States and exported here during the Second World War. Although a primitive and extremely smelly form of beer-belly, modelled on an original design by Benjamin Franklin, was patented by Henry Ford, the provisions of Lend-Lease did not allow for its export to the United Kingdom even in the darkest days of 1940. This was a source of much resentment to Churchill who, while maintaining a friendly demeanour in public, in private went so far as to accuse Roosevelt of attempting to place "an unnatural and starveling restriction" upon the dimensions of English manhood.

The first appearance of the authentic British beer-belly probably dates back to the reign of King Alfred, who is of course famously credited with personally founding the so-called carbon-intensive school of English cooking which remained popular for nearly a thousand years until superseded by the granulo-aquatic tradition now enriching the nation. Concerned at the influx of imported Danish brands, Alfred saw that the creation of a genuine national beer-belly would alone suffice to repulse the invaders. After the notorious burping contest at Uffingham, the Danes agreed to an accommodation.

Although the beer-belly continued to flourish in Britain throughout the Middle Ages, it would be a mistake to think of its being deliberately cultivated in the sense we would understand in the twenty-first century. Among the monks of Lindisfarne, the beer-belly was considered a token of penance, the holy and God-given sign of having retired to a life of contemplation and humble labour with only enough servants to ensure that the brewing process was not interrupted by prayers. By the time Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the sixteenth century, the beer-belly had erupted onto the secular scene, an event perhaps most spectacularly observed in Henry's dismissal of the Pope's navel as being "noe farther from his Buttockes than his Eyes one from the other".

It was, however, only during the Regency years that the beer-belly received formal Royal patronage, as the future George IV hired the finest architects in the land to ensure that his own personal beer-belly would have adequate space for expansion and sufficiently beautiful surroundings to enhance its natural splendour. It was at this time, also, that the truly modern beer-belly began to come into its own, with rapid streamlining and sophistication resulting from improvements in raw material and technology. The crude wooden beer-bellies favoured since the days of Bede were replaced by bellies of iron and steel, covered in soft Indian cotton and equipped with piping systems that were the envy and terror of the French.

The conquest of India and subsequent invention of the take-away meal meant that, by the middle of the Victorian era, the British beer-belly resembled its modern counterpart in almost every respect; however, with the rural and urban working classes still largely in poverty and the bourgeoisie inculcated with Puritan values of abstinence, the beer-belly remained largely the province of the upper classes until the twentieth century. It remained only for the effects of global warming, and the rise of international spectator sports, to ensure that the modern British beer-belly would take on its distinctive purplish tinge and wobble with hairy belligerence into the face of an awed and respectful world.


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