I have, for many years, held a fast a few days before Christmas. I start at around midnight and take nothing but water (warm water) for thirty-six hours or so until I break my fast with breakfast. I have written about this before, but cannot resist doing so again.
Why do I do it? I'm not entirely sure. I once worked with a man called Aziz Ratansi. An interesting fellow, he told me that he had once suffered from depression and had cured himself by fasting. This intrigued me. Besides, I think we all eat too much; it becomes a habit rather than a necessity or a pleasure. Also, admiring the iron will of great men like Gandhi I wanted to experience starvation, at least the early stages, for myself. And, again, my fast is a counterpoint to the coming overindulgence of Christmas. Strangely, over the years, it has become part of Christmas for me.
I fast alone. I do not mean that I isolate myself in a darkened room or walk off into a dark forest: I just carry on as normal. However, on one occasion my eldest son joined me. He did well until the twenty-fourth hour when he hungrily scoffed everything that he had missed during the day! I am told that I become grumpy during my fasting day - an accusation that I angrily deny. I am taunted sometimes. Years ago, my sons would come to find me after a meal, describe what they had eaten then blow food-laden breath into my face. I almost broke down when they had been eating baked beans.
Breaking the fast has become ritualistic. I carefully prepare my food then lay it out in front of me: cereal bowl to the fore, banana behind, fruit juice to the right, herbal tea beyond. The radio must be turned off and I do not read (I usually do read at breakfast time)). I then sit quietly for a few minutes studying my inner feelings: the slight discomfort in my stomach, the metallic taste in my mouth, the very mild headache. Then, slowly, I raise the glass of juice to my lips. This year I drank cloudy apple juice - glorious. The first sip, so strong in taste, slowly travels over my taste buds gradually invading my entire mouth- wonderful. Then the warm crunchiness of the pecan and maple cereal, so sweet, so textured, so satisfying. Then the ceremonial stripping of the banana, that wonderful fruit that nature supplies pre-packed, its texture so soft and dense in contrast to the cereal, its flavour unique and delicious. Finally the tea: fennel tea. I drink it every morning and am usually barely aware of it, but on this day my awareness is at a peak, I am instantly conscious of an overwhelming sweetness which almost hides the subtle flavour of fennel, perhaps I should not add the sweetener tablet on fast days.
And then it is all over, I have done it again, back to normal. Fasting is not easy to do, and does not get easier with practice, but I will do it again. It is sort of cleansing, I believe. And it suits my mental outlook. I shall enjoy Christmas all the more for having fasted. Roll out the beer and brandy, the immense roast dinner followed by unneeded Christmas pud, chased down by cheese and port. Mouth-watering.