A Non-users Guide to Jumbo Packs – by Olly Double


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My older son Joe – aged 15 – has just had his French exchange partner over for the week. As a result, he’s been hanging around with his fellow teenagers a bit more than usual, doing teenage stuff – eating pizza, playing marathon sessions on Mario Kart, and watching hilarious clips on YouTube for hours on end.

This morning, we got up at an ungodly hour for a Saturday to take Joe’s exchange partner to Faversham to get the coach back to France. We parked in Tesco’s car park and having dropped him off, I decided we’d go inside to get some milk for breakfast. This particular branch of Tesco’s is very close to Joe’s school, and as such it’s a regular haunt for him and his friends. They stop off there on the way to school to buy snacks to keep them going on the arduous final leg of the journey, which can take as long as five minutes on a bad day.

So this morning, before we get the milk, Joe decides to take me down the aisles which are the most frequented by his friends, to show me what they buy. He points out unfeasibly huge bags of Skittles and Minstrels. ‘They’ll buy a pack of those and eat about three quarters of them, then share the rest of them out,’ he says. We see three large bags of jelly sweets for a pound. ‘That’d be a popular offer,’ he tells me. He takes me to the fizzy drinks section, and shows me 2-litre bottles of own-brand cloudy lemonade and Pepsi Cola, that cost anything from 59p to the princely sum of a pound. ‘They’ll buy one of those and drink it on the way to school,’ he explains.

‘The whole thing?’ I ask, incredulous.

‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘Well, sometimes they’ll drink as much as they want and throw the rest away.’

As he tells me all this, his voice is amused. His attitude to his mates’ illicit dietary supplements is poised somewhere between disapproval and a kind of fascinated admiration. Since he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was eight years old, Joe has never really known the pleasures of stuffing his face with an excess of sugary snacks and drinks. As a result, the idea of necking a jumbo pack of Wispa Bites and a 2-litre bottle of fizzy pop before school is simply beyond his comprehension. The world he’s showing me is as strange and unfamiliar as England must have been to his French exchange partner.

Of course, we might not be able to say the same thing if he wasn’t diabetic. One of the things I remember most vividly about being a teenaged boy was being hungry all the time. Your voice is dropping, all kinds of alarming things are happening to your body, and above all you’re getting much, much bigger. Something has to be fuelling your metamorphosis, and that something is ridiculously large amounts of highly calorific food. When I was going through adolescence, I would regularly start the day with not just three but four Shredded Wheats – sometimes even as many as six – each of them piled up with sugar. Then I’d have a second course of bacon and fried bread, and I’d be hungry again by ten thirty.

Given this, it’s hardly surprising that Joe’s mates regularly polish off a bottle of Pepsi containing around 220 grams of carbohydrate before their lessons even begin, and who can blame them when it won’t cost them more than a quid? I know that Joe experiences exactly this kind of gargantuan hunger, but he can’t just throw caution to the wind and gorge himself as they do. Every mouthful he eats has to be carefully calculated and carb counted, and no matter how hungry he is, he has to carefully bolus for every gram of carbohydrate before he starts. He still eats big meals, but we take care to make sure that the food he stuffs himself with is healthy and well balanced, and that the treats he does have come in sensibly-sized packs.

So as we’re standing there in Tesco’s and he’s marvelling in horror as he shows me his friends’ monstrous snack fodder, I suspect that on some level he’s thinking, ‘There but for the grace of God – and diabetes – go I.’

On the way out, we walk past a massive display of chocolate Easter eggs. Joe turns to me and says, ‘As soon as Easter’s over, they’ll be on offer and people will be buying them to eat on the way to school.’

‘They really eat Easter eggs on the way to school?’ I ask, in disbelief.

‘Oh yeah,’ he says, smiling to himself.

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Sometimes if you’re the only Type 1 in the class you’ll become the supplier….popping into the supermarket near home and selling on the contraband in school which doesn’t have a shop nearby…getting rich on your non-diabetic friends’ weaknesses….

Not that I know any boys that do that ;)