Sunday, 15 December 2019

We Win When We Try

Last Friday, the day after the election, in a fog of tiredness and sorrow, I went to work, where I dragged learners through English mocks, and fought to believe that anything can make any difference now.

One learner, who manages an incredibly demanding life of balancing the needs of various dependents with a zero hours care job, was late. When she came in, she was, as ever, flustered. She offered her apologies and said,

“I had to get on to the Universal Credit. They’ve only paid half my rent.”

I sympathised and pushed her work in front of her. She completed it in her habitual rush, with her usual betrayal of her intelligence, because her way of coping with a life of overwhelming economic and familial responsibility at too young an age is to do everything in a hurry, avoiding dangerous reflection. We discussed each answer, interpreting how she hadn’t read the questions fully or considered all the options in the multiple choice section, and how, with a few minutes’ care, she is perfectly capable of passing what should be, for her, the formality of this exam. She promised to be early next week, and to take a few minutes to become calm, but I expect she will rush in to the exam room late, pre-occupied by another crisis that she will bravely cope with, as she tries to make the space to better her life.

In the afternoon, she came back for the maths class. I had been preparing for this class for several weeks, laying the ground for nervous learners: it’s the one in which we move from basic calculation with decimal numbers to working with fractions. This is where people give up: they believe that ‘fractions are hard’, and that they have some innate inability to ‘do hard maths’ and this section of the course is always as much an exercise in boosting learners’ self-belief and reflecting on how much they have already achieved as it is about introducing new skills and understanding.

She and my other learner who had turned up – there’s a wave of colds and stomach bugs keeping children off school, and two other women were at home with sick offspring – have developed a friendship that is still at the stage of curiosity about one another. Off-topic discussions, pleasurable as they can be, are a headache for me, as I only get two hours each week to teach a demanding curriculum. I had given them their warm up task – a few questions on what we had covered the previous week – and checked that they knew where they were with it, and I left the room to go to the loo while they completed it. By the time I got back, they were discussing the election result.

I groaned inwardly, and cautioned myself to be like a fly fisherman with a bite: to let it run until I could feel they were tiring and then take control again. A few weeks before, as part of my duty to ‘promote British values’, I had used a voter registration poster in our English class for an exercise on identifying presentational features in a text. At the time, the learner of whom I am writing had asked me my politics and I had explained that I wasn’t allowed to say, and she had responded, after a discussion of why that was sensible for a teacher, that she reckoned I was for Corbyn. At the time, I’d congratulated myself on remaining neutral. Now, as I sat quietly, waiting for my opportunity to get them back on task, she said,

“I was right about you.”

She’d seen a photo on the local newspaper’s website, in one of the few articles the openly Tory-leaning rag had bothered to publish on Labour’s campaign, that had a picture of a group of Labour supporters gathering for an event in Ryde, smiling, comradely, happy, optimistic. At the back, peaking over the shoulder of the shorter man in front, grinning like a hungover idiot, I was clearly visible.

“You know I can’t talk about it,” I said, shaken.

“Yeah,” she said, “I voted for Boris. I’ve never voted before, but I voted Conservative.”

It was as if she hated me. I know she doesn’t, but that was how it felt.


I haven’t blogged about this election, beyond changing my homepage to a trite meme and linking to a couple of social media posts I’d heard about through the news. I haven’t blogged much this year, of course, but I did expect that, when the longed-for election campaign happened, I’d be leaping into prolix action, as I had in 2017.

Instead, I’ve been involved, ‘on the streets’, and through the Constituency Labour Party’s own systems. I’ve been the assistant secretary of the CLP for nearly two years, but that has, until recently, only meant being the keyboard monkey for the secretary and chair, both of whom have become friends. Just before the election started, however, the chair withdrew himself from consideration for the position of candidate, having been subject to sustained vilification, including threats to his family, since the last election, and the secretary got himself locked out of the Labour comms system for a mistaken breach of the opaque rules, which have more to do with internal politicking within the national party structure than they do with making the system work.

Thanks to these circumstances, my role became, accidentally, central. Over the last six weeks, I have probably written more words than in the previous twelve months. They just haven’t found their way here. The chair, who had become the new candidate’s campaign manager, told me, late on in the campaign, that his role was taking the fight to the Tories, and my role was galvanising the troops. I hadn’t been told that before, but had simply adopted the job that I didn’t see anyone else doing, or being in a position to do.

West and Central Wight Event

Each day after work, once I’d done enough to be sure that I would know where I was for the next lessons, I turned off my work laptop and went straight on to my own computer, where I would often be trapped until after midnight. If the next day wasn’t a teaching day, I would be out with the Cowes and East Cowes branch, delivering leaflets door-to-door, or helping with the distribution of garden signs and posters to people who had contacted the party, asking how they could help. In the evenings, there were many events, most of which were a pleasure: I have spent more time in pubs over the last few weeks than I have for many years.

Campaigning in Newport

At first, it was exciting. I was surrounded by people who believe, broadly, in what I believe: that humans are only of any account if they serve the group; that selfishness is a moral and intellectual failure; that the dominant political and economic system is, without question, evil – childish, rapacious and evil – but that elation had, after the first couple of weeks, begun to compete with exhaustion. I did not, however, lose hope, but I began to feel a little let down by comrades whose belief in the coming victory of justice and good sense was tempered with caution.

Two things gave me a different outlook to the majority of people fighting for a Labour victory in this election: my Christianity and my disavowal of social media.

I am not an ardently practising Christian, but I came, through the nineties and noughties, to realise that I cannot escape my faith, and that the arguments against faith that were trendy in those decades, were, in the words of Terry Eagleton, a process of Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching against a system of thought that the neo-atheists wilfully misunderstood and misrepresented. Earlier this year, I joined Christians On The Left, and one of the results of that is that I have been receiving a remarkable set of emails, the 2019 Prayer Diary. Written by a theologian who only introduced herself as Hazel, they were wonderfully welcome at a time when I didn’t have the space to read my normal blogs and news for which I receive update emails that, through the campaign, I simply had to delete, to be able to keep up with my inboxes. Each day, though, I read her prayers, and then got on with whatever needed doing.

As for social media, I think my absence from it since July 2017 has given me the clarity to think for myself and to avoid the political panic to which I am prone and which, I think, guided many people in this election. The Tories are crisis capitalists: they thrive on the established P.R. tactic of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD). I suspect, without being in a position to offer evidence, that this was the election in which the capitalists realised their technological dream of controlling people’s reactions from within. I may expand upon that at another time, but I think that, accomplished as we in the Labour Party are at using social media to make ourselves feel effective, it means nothing unless the people who own the media are on your side.

…accomplished as we in the Labour Party are at using social media to make ourselves feel effective, it means nothing unless the people who own the media are on your side.

Actually, I did rejoin Twitter for the duration of the campaign. It helped me to keep up with events in the CLP, where a disparate set of groups, spread over the largest constituency in the country (by population), were arranging their campaigning efforts semi-autonomously, and were not always brilliant at communicating outside their social media bubbles. I tried to join Facebook as well, but was frustrated. I think my use of Firefox’s Facebook Container extension, coupled with a disposable email address and a phone number linked to a burner SIM card I had no intention of using again, tipped the creepy capitalist bastards off. I’m rather proud to have been blocked by Facebook before I posted a thing!

A facile pretence of utility and ubiquity have made social media essential in politics, and have, I believe, handed the reins of power over to a capitalist hegemony as completely as any other factor in this election. I had set up my home server, after two years of study and trial and error, less than a month before the election was announced, and would have been lost without the calendar, to-do lists and contacts server it hosts, but I was still obliged to use a Google calendar for shared calendaring with the CLP. We need to look at owning our infrastructure, but it’s a hard sell. People who automatically accept the ‘services’ to which they are tied by their choice of computer system and mobile phone have a hard time understanding that they are being used, when they have put so much effort into just mastering the technology that seeks to control them. The idea that it is escapable defeats them, as the idea that all politicians are not the same defeats people who are struggling to survive in an economic system that is tightening around their lives. There is a simple answer (simpler than the route of learning and self-building that I have used), but how many people will make the effort to do it?

Earlier this year, I read Democracy Hacked, by Martin Moore. A couple of months ago, I read, almost in one sitting, the Edward Snowden autobiography, Permanent Record and, just before the election was called, I bought The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, by Shoshana Zuboff, which I will now have the time to read fully. If you want to understand what has happened to democracy over the last decade, you need to read these texts. You do not control your data, and, consequently, electronic communication does not, any more, give us a full say in our democracy. We’ve overthrown one tyranny of informational cartels to replace it with another. We need new mechanisms of resistance.

I’m not keen on going into mainstream media’s role in this election. Enough people are already examining that, although I will add a couple of personal observations. Firstly, the full emotional crash of the exit poll was pre-announced by about twenty seconds, for me, by the smirk on the face of Andrew Niel as he talked over the countdown to it. Rattling through his bland script, he looked as though he had a hand stuffed down his truss, so excited was he by the predicted result to which he, I assume, had had early access. If you believe in democracy, honesty or truth, the BBC is not your friend, any more than Facebook is.

Secondly, it dawned on me, as I angrily skimmed The Guardian’s website each morning, that the key figures among its columnists and editorial staff are probably on a lot more than £80,000 per annum. I think their utter betrayal of democracy is a good enough reason to not ‘support independent journalism’ for another year. Let them take comfort from their massive wealth, their second homes and their positions of quisling influence.

There is a lot of commentary on the election leaping out and I haven’t had the heart to try to keep up over the weekend. Yesterday, Saturday, we met other Island Labour members in a Newport pub to have a bit of a thank you session, with the candidate, Richard Quigley, a gloriously happy, funny, clever and warm man, bringing his wife and daughter so he could say his personal thanks. Richard has been a pleasure to support in the campaign, as Julian, his manager, was in the last. In the pub, many of us were talking about how we are now facing the very real dread of the last restraints being released from the Tory plunder of our country’s assets. We’re thinking about the fact that we will not be able to afford ‘health insurance’ when the Fascists pocket the bribes from the Yank money and drug industries; we’re thinking about the fact that those of us who are in public service jobs will probably endure a continued slide into deeper and deeper working destitution, if we are lucky enough to keep our jobs. We are finding it harder to think without real, urgent horror of the fate of disabled people, homeless people, people who cannot find legal redress for rape or harassment and how soon it will be our turn to join them. It’s personal. Dying, untreated, of some wretched cancer, or living with pain that would be treatable if we were part of the 5%, now seems like our common fate.

What we are supposed to do, if we follow the advice that we have told ourselves since Jeremy Corbyn first gave us hope, is to pull together, look to one another, and begin to support those people already jettisoned by the Tories’ campaign of exclusion and abandonment. Some people are talking about it, but we all know that the Blairites will try another doomed and deluded attempt to drive the party into impotence by reopening the insane whinges they’ve been picking at since they were crushed in 2015. And, pathetic as their positions are, they have The New Statesman and The Guardian behind them, so they don’t have to be right, just shamelessly persistent.

So, I’m looking at my position. If infighting does get a grip, I may decide to not stand for local party office at the next AGM. Over the election, I have made new friends, or deepened existing ones, and the idea of becoming a social activist, working on practical projects, rather than just being a political campaigner, appeals to me. Food banks, advice and support networks, and care volunteers are all able to affect lives in a way that, while it is not as powerful as political office, is more useful than arguing over dogma and political tactics. And, if I convince a few people to see through the lies of the capitalist hegemony on the way, all the better.

One other thing is troubling me; an issue that is like the ticking bomb that fascists love to use to justify their cruelty. If, by some miracle, the vile Bozo Johnson manages to hold together a government for five years, the timeline for installing a government that will meet its responsibilities to the climate emergency before the deadline that scientists now say is the very latest chance to save human civilisation will be halved. We have to stop the Tories before then. We have to. I am ambivalent about Extinction Rebellion, but I think it’s all we’ve got left. We are into a period of resistance, not participation.

Let’s get back to my Tory voting learner. I can’t discuss her much more closely than I already have, but I can make some guesses about those things that drive her. Not ideologically racist, she has, I suspect, suffered humiliations at the hands of people whom she perceives as different, and came to the Island, partly, to get away from communities that are in turmoil and have been turned against one another by poverty and poorly resourced and led policing, social structures and political leadership. For her, Brexit seems like a triumph of the poor over the powerful: a reversal of the truth, as it turns out, but if your information comes from social media and tabloids, you can continue to believe that.

For her, also, they are all the same. It’s the FUD lie of lies, that says that politics is pointless and the safest and bravest response is to follow the herd. Political voting is confused with voting for a Love Island contestant, where the outcome is similar to a bet: you win if you back the winner.

In truth, of course, backing the winner in this election has guaranteed that the phone calls she gets, when she says, “Someone after money: they can jog on,” will increase. The waiting time for her Universal Credit will lengthen, the amount she is entitled to reduced, so her debts will deepen; the inadequate working protections she has at the moment will be removed one at a time, until she will be paying, not only for her work travel, but for her uniform, her equipment, and, finally, for the privilege of being employed.

She hasn’t yet noticed, I suspect, that the NHS has been privatised. The fact that ‘Boris’, as she calls him, lied about putting more money into the NHS hasn’t got through to her. They all throw figures around, don’t they? They’re all the same.

When she told me that she had voted Tory, I stared at her for a moment, taking in her beauty, her nicotine-stained front teeth, her bravely well turned out appearance that is testament to her courage, given the hours she works, and then muttered that I couldn’t get into it. It was an uncomfortable moment.

She got on with her work, doing well, grasping lowest common multiples and then comparison of fractions, but the moment must have lingered for her, as well as for me. I realised that, for her, I am part of the body of authority that keeps her working and working and working, denying her the right to gain full realisation of her talents and potential and, by confronting my politics, she was asserting herself; laying claim to a dignity she doesn’t realise I already see in her. She’s not to know that I earn less than her, and that, for all my education, I am as constrained and limited by the political and economic system as she is.

Finally, as we were summing up the learning at the end of the class, she brought it up again.

“It bothers you, don’t it,” she said, reverting to her mannered London speech, which is not how she usually talks to me.

I wanted to channel Jonathan Pie, and descend into a rant that would contain all the frustration and pain I had been feeling since ten o’clock the previous night, when Huw Edwards and Andrew Neil had gleefully pronounced my country’s doom. I stared into her eyes for a moment, trying to find the right thing to say. Nothing came.

In my struggle, I remembered Christians On The Left’s prayer email of that morning. I hadn’t absorbed it properly: I’d been too tired and too sad, but one line had jumped out at me:

Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

I stopped searching and words came.

“Your vote is your own choice,” I said. “It’s wonderful that you voted. The fact that you have voted, for the first time, is a really good thing. The more people who vote, the more powerful all our votes are. I celebrate that.”

I doubt I fooled her. I suspect that, given the struggles she has and the job she does, she is a perceptive person, who saw how much pain I was in. However, she smiled, packed her bag, and went on to her next obligation, her courage and dignity undamaged by our exchange, knowing a little bit more about maths than she had when she came in.

We win when we try.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year

It’s the last day of the year and, though I am not a great maker of resolutions, I thought I’d post this helpful programme for anyone who has been considering giving up animal-based foods for the New Year.

This will be our third year without cow pus in our diets and I have no desire to go back. As this film shows, it is an easy enough lifestyle to adopt. My number one tip: don’t be fooled into buying lots of expensive ‘alternatives’. We use supermarket own brand soya milk for our tea and, occasionally, I treat us to a carton of cashew milk for a luxury weekend. The soya milk costs around 80p a litre. Most of the big name stuff is at least £1.10.

Actually, this year I do have a couple of resolutions. Firstly, I plan to start attending church regularly. I went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and felt at home, as if I had reached back to something that is a natural part of me. I believe in the teachings of Jesus and I believe in the value of ritual, but that has always warred with my lack of willingness to make commitments. It’s time to start living the belief in a more active way.

Secondly, I’m having a dry January. I’ve drunk a lot over the past month and it is time to give my liver a rest. I will post about that at a later date. I  think a reflection on my relationship with alcohol might do me some good, but I’ll leave it to a separate post.

We’ll be with friends this evening, although we won’t stay too late, as we have a couple of pyromaniacal neighbours who never miss an opportunity to let off fireworks, so we’ll need to be back to comfort the pets through that torture. I doubt I’ll have time to post tonight, though, so, for now, I wish you a very happy new year.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Best Paw Forward For Democracy

DWC goes public service.

These are exciting times in the Labour movement. Theresa May has made a huge tactical blunder and, in seeking a coronation, has united us behind a leader who speaks for the many, not the few. However, it is difficult, in these fractured times, to cut through the chatter, twittering and Tory domination of mainstream media. Labour’s policies are simply the application of modest individual aspirations tied to collective effort: mutual respect, if you like, but they are in danger of being stamped all over by Theresa May’s shoes.

Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Danceswithcats.

So, it is time for voices for Labour to speak up. The fact that I have fewer readers than the UKIP etiquette website does not deter me. If you build it, they will come, or not. However, if you do not build it, you are not doing your best for what you believe in.

In other words, it can’t do any harm, and it might, just might, do some good.

Therefore, today, with as much fanfare as I can squeeze out of an enterprise I have to fit between a hectic work schedule and an easily distracted temperament, I proudly announce the launch of the…

Danceswithcats’ Labour on the Isle of Wight 2017 Information Hub.

Or, DWCLOTIW2017IH, for short.

I’ll give you a moment to calm yourselves.


First the good news:

    • We-the Labour Party-have the best manifesto to be offered to the British people in many decades. And, while the Tories seem to be making up policy on the hoof, we have got the debate focussed on key areas of importance to the British people.
    • We have a great, truly brave leader, who communicates on a personal level to huge numbers of people and has not been cowed by a level of concerted, orchestrated bullying that would have sent any lesser person to their GP in distracted panic.
    • He is also, despite the lies of the media, amazingly popular:

  • We have a cadre of committed, articulate, intelligent, learned, engaging. passionate MPs, who are fighting like mad to deliver a Labour government and save this country from the dribbling capitalist lackeys.
  • We have a truly inspiring local candidate. A man who speaks with the tongues of angels but also with the righteous anger of a  devoted public servant who sees his country being torn apart by a cabal of traitors. He is a candidate who can articulate what it feels like to have struggled on in public service while wages are winnowed down, resources eviscerated and political support for your profession is replaced by obstructive corruption. He can cut through the ‘public mood’ of diversion by divisive distraction and focus on what we need to do make this country fair, safe and self-respecting.
  • Theresa May seems to be a tactical idiot and is looking lost and alone, and her party are panicking.

Now, the bad news:

I can’t put it better than this extraordinary man.

 

You HAVE to vote in this election because, if you don’t, this may be democracy’s last whistlestop.

Are you in the top 5% of earners? If not, and you vote Tory, you’re voting against your own interests.

Our problem in this country is that the American tactic of divorcing democratic engagement from reality has taken root. “Professional” political marketers have disengaged political debate from reality, tying political argument up in a cloud of abstractions: tribalism, dogwhistle coded racism, confusion over economic and social interests and belonging. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader was so extraordinary because he cut through that, calmly and repeatedly talking about reality: poverty, inequality, the abandonment by the state and the media consumer of disabled people, people with mental illness, impoverished older people, abused children. He pointed out that the fact that you can work sixty hours a week in this country and still not have enough to keep a roof over your family’s heads and food on your table is not some natural state of being, but a manufactured political tactic: class warfare waged by a class wedded to what one commentator characterises as “cheap-labour conservatism“.

The Tories live by plunder. They steal your taxes, your public services, your state provision and your labour, in order to raise more money for the rich.

However, he has had only two years to do his work and has had to struggle against an establishment who thinks intelligent, sincere, honest politics isn’t supposed to happen. He has come through the most appalling abuse, and we are looking more united, more up for the fight than anyone could have predicted even six months ago, but he is fighting very powerful interests, and they have a lot of power: the voice of American capitalism, Murdoch; the privatisation parasite Branson, whose dreams of owning the NHS are close to fruition; the war industry, and the banking industry, in whose interests we have suffered nine years of austerity.

So, the one thing Weak and Wobbly Theresa May has got right so far is that this is a truly important election. As Harry Leslie Smith says,

We live in a time of national emergency, so vote accordingly: your task is to unseat the Tories. Your children and your grandchildren will hold you accountable if you bottle it by voting Tory.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

A Beautiful Piece of Male Bonding

When I was a student, I spent seven years stoned, but I’m a man now. Still, I have a nostalgia for the sense of closeness dope (“We call it weed now…”) can engender. I’m not saying legalisation is an issue of massive importance, although I do think its use as a mechanism for criminalisation is politically problematic. There are more important issues, but, perhaps, for a political culture being torn apart by its unfocussed intensity, a little bit of getting stoned together might not be a terrible idea.

Shalom.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Naming the Cheeses in a Safe Place

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem possible to embed BBC videos on WordPress, which is a shame, as Carnage, by Simon Amstell is a work of genius, which I would like to share from the publicly-funded source. Someone has uploaded a pirated copy to Youtube, so I have embedded that. It is a comedy in documentary form, set in 2067, examining the history of veganism and the guilt of a generation who grew up eating meat. It has images of animal cruelty, human nudity and a spot-on parody of angry middle-aged reactionaries calling people smug for not being like them, but it is also very, very funny.

I ended up taking notes, and among my favourite lines (after the masterpiece which I’ve used as the title of this post) are:

“Debbie moved to Rotterdam and married a florist.”

“Food is you, food is me, food is a parsnip.”

“He was like a monk: he was like a monk you could fuck.”

“Mmmm! I wish I had two mouths!”

“I can’t…I can’t look at another sausage.”

“Joanna Lumley recorded every word in the English language, before dying with great charm.”

“What’s left of our British identity? They’ve already shot the king!”

Celebrity chefs are probably the main victims of its persuasive outlook: a clip of Nigella Lawson molesting a chicken corpse is perfectly skewered with the line: “What looks to us now like a documentary about a lunatic was, in fact, a hit show about cooking.” I wonder whether they had to get her permission to use her image. I’ve never been a fan of hers, but, after watching Carnage, her smile will forever remind me of psychotic necrophilia.

Anyway, I highly recommend it. It’s just over an hour long, available on iPlayer for another five months and it has a well-compiled facts page here.

A young vlogger (vlogger? Is that right?), calling herself Aisha Ponders, has uploaded a video of watching it with her meat eating friends. It’s rather charming.

My route to veganism was a long and tortuous one, which must look stupid to young, idealistic people like Aisha. However, as Carnage shows, I was effected by social norms. If you want, and have the endurance, you can read my long essay on my food history here. It is long. If you wish to read it offline, you can press the share button at the end of the post and this will give you a print option. You can then print to a PDF (press control-p). I am looking into creating a download page where I can put an epub version, but that will need a free Saturday and those are in short supply at the moment.

Monday, 13 March 2017

“A Uniquely Broad Consensus”

An article on Medium led me to The Correspondent‘s article on this video, unearthed in their investigation into the approach of the Dutch oil giant, Shell, to climate change.

The Vimeo version of the video, which is embedded in The Correspondent’s article, is blocked and appears to have been removed. Journeyman Pictures has a copy on YouTube which you can download from their site. I have taken a copy. Share, share, share.

 

 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Why I Went Vegan

My sister started it, which is ironic, as she is now about as vegetarian as Hannibal Lecter, but when we were teenagers she went vegetarian, and then, after leaving home and joining a squatter community in London, vegan. I mocked her fairly heavily about it, but I was a bullying brother anyway, and would have mocked her for something.

Then, after I’d grown up a bit, although not much, I met a girl who was out of my league, really, but who put up with me for the better part of two years, and she was veggie. She was very beautiful but a little facile and I discovered a couple of years ago that my family couldn’t stand her; not even my sister, who is hot on women being loyal to one another. I suppose she was a little smug, but I was a little up my own arse, so that may have been what made it work, at least for a while.

Anyway, vegetarianism wasn’t an alien thing to me by the time I reached my twenties. It just didn’t seem to be for me. I was wedded to the idea of being normal, or, at least, of not being freakish, or something. It didn’t hurt that my mother is an excellent cook who makes really lovely stews and roasts and meat gravies, and I suppose you love what you know.

One experience had undermined my commitment to carnivorous gluttony though, piercing even my self-satisfaction, and that was my first full time job. For three months in the summer of 1985, a couple of years before I got together with my trophy girlfriend or was challenged by her vegetarianism, I worked for a company called Sappa Chicks, who “produced” day old chicks for the egg and meat market, and assisted farmers in the rearing and exploitation of them. They had a ‘hatchery’ in Fornham All Saints, and, that summer, every weekday morning, I drove my first car, a Mark 1 Escort that had cost me £400, out there at four o’clock to meet the ‘field staff’ vans, in which we’d travel round East Anglia. Our job was to supply the bulk labour for the farms, for most of whom chicken rearing was a sideline. They fed, watered and, nominally, cleaned out the birds, and we went in for the purposes of vaccinating them, debeaking, loading them onto transport for slaughter, or transferring  them into battery cages from litter huts: tens of thousands of the company’s living product at a time.

The farmers weren’t paid all that well to farm the chickens, so they didn’t put too much effort in. The litter often didn’t get changed, and sick birds were left among the, – well, – healthy would be too strong a word, but the as yet undiseased. So, after a couple of weeks of use, the litter huts were usually pretty appalling.

I hated being in the chicken huts. In the litter ones, the litter the birds were supposed to live on soon became a rubbery shit cement. If it wasn’t cleaned out at least once in the month or so that the birds spent in there before being moved to the battery cages, two diseases would break out: cocksy and staffs. Cocksy was an infection of the crop; staffs, an infection of the bones and joints. Even back then, thirty years ago, they were being bred and fed to gain weight far too fast for their strength, so staffs would floor them if they got it. That left them sitting on the shit cement, exposed to the dirt and the cold of the floor; pathetically resigned but still horrified by their predicament, craning their necks, on the lookout for predators they couldn’t escape. It usually fell to us to weed out these poorly ones and ring their necks.

I passed the test of doing my first killing, and earned the respect of my more experienced colleagues. They weren’t hardened men: they understood that some people weren’t suited to that sort of work, so when I did take a diseased, filthy, ruined bird in my arm, handling it gently and kindly, right up to the moment when I grabbed its legs in one hand, looped two fingers of my other hand round its head, and pulled and twisted, they said I’d done a good job, even though, as it started to flutter and convulse in its death trauma, I dropped it to the floor in disgust.

Compared to the battery huts, however, the litter huts were places of pleasant calm. Nothing really can describe the repulsive collision of utility and spite that the design of a battery hut represents. They are long buildings, and they are full of shit dust, so that you can’t see from one end to the other. The racks of cages go from a foot or so off the floor to above head height and the alleys between them are a little wider than a man and a half. We’d either be taking the birds out, six to a hand, to carry them to the door to be vaccinated, or we’d be carting them to a waiting lorry to be taken for slaughter, when they’d reached the end of their useful lives as egg layers.

Our presence, and the panic of the birds we were mishandling, and their wailing, heightened to a more frantic coda by their renewed terror and agony, roused the rest of the birds from the clucking torpor of their accustomed level of hell to a refreshed and sharpened panic. We would try to not panic the birds; to work as quietly as we could, but within five minutes of our starting in a hut, the cacophony would be deafening and heart breaking. We were not supposed to carry a bird by a single leg, but it allowed us to carry more at a time, and time is money, so… As I staggered along one of the runs, with my shoulders aching from the weight of the terrified creatures jerking in my grip and trying to raise their heads to peck at the hand that was pressing their already wire-cage-mangled legs in a new type of joint-crushing torment, it dawned on me that I must lead a good life, because I knew now the form my personal hell would take.

They do scream, by the way. It’s clucking, obviously, because that is the vocal physiology they have. But clucking is expressive. If you pet a hen, and treat it gently, and sit it in warm sun, it will make contented sounds. If you torture it, as it was my job to do, it screams.

I’m ashamed to say that I might have got used to it, if I’d stayed. I’m equally ashamed of the fact that the reason I left wasn’t a crisis of morality, but the utter outrage, as it seemed to me, of starting work at 4 am. I was seventeen and, daily glimpses of damnation aside, in some ways, it wasn’t a bad job. Working in a gang of men is a good experience for a young, shallow, uncertain teenager. In several good ways, it did ‘toughen me up’ a little. On the down side, it scarred my soul with a conscience debt I will never outlive, and it confirmed me as a committed smoker, but it also gave me the opportunity to visit and work with some communities who wouldn’t have welcomed me in any other circumstances: farm families on the Norfolk and Cambridgeshire fens whose lifestyle wasn’t completely changed from the way their grandparents had lived at the end of the nineteenth century. I particularly remember a South African immigrant farmer, who’d come to Cambridgeshire to a take over the farm he’d inherited from his great aunt: she’d been a widow whose husband had died on National Service in the fifties. His wife brought us tea in a delicate tea service on a plate silver tray, and they treated us as honoured guests. His huts were immaculate, and his chickens were disease-free, but he only reared them; he wasn’t interested in egg huts. His pride was the thousand acres he was rotating between wheat, barley and sugar beet, making more money in a year than he had made in two decades on the veldt.

Insensitive and self-absorbed as I was, I did give up eating chicken as a result of that job. The men prided themselves on not being put off it by the work conditions, and I steeled myself to continue eating fowl, despite the faint scent of shit that would rise in my memory whenever my mother had cooked chicken, but a particular event finally tipped me over the edge and I had, apologetically, to decline any more of it. We had a colleague; an irritating weed of a young man, who had that indifference to being liked that is the hallmark of the really weird. His most annoying habit, among many, was that he could not take a pull of a cigarette without blowing elaborate smoke rings, with a look of considered connoisseurship that belied his vapidity. He was also incapable of saying anything without an edge of spite. He was, in his immaturity, a fully polished facsimile of whoever he treated as a male role model: I always imagined it was a creepy step dad who had ‘taken him under his wing’, and in partnership with whom he spent his evenings unsubtly humiliating the barmaid of his village pub, before rolling home to torment his mum. The contrast between the appearance of this physically underdeveloped apparition and the affected tone of wisdom and experience in which he couched his venom was creepy and alienating. He was tolerated but also despised. We closed ranks out of a collective disgust.

One day, when we had stopped for lunch, he pulled out from a large Tupperware box a giant turkey drumstick, and blithely dug into it. I didn’t say anything, but our charge-hand, Steve, who had struggled with his irritation with the weed for weeks, muttered “filthy bastard”, and I was glad of it, because it meant I wasn’t being over-sensitive. This was in ’85, remember, so, given that I gave up chicken and all other fowl as a result of that incident, that means that my first self-imposed food taboo is now thirty-one years old.

I left that job to work in a hamburger shop, a Wimpy, of the style that aped McDonalds. My soul debt to tortured animals was mounting. It had many of the same virtues as the chicken job: it exposed me to people I wouldn’t otherwise have met and the hours were better, but the pay was truly pathetic and I didn’t know how to get out of the trap of hourly paid work that really only paid pocket money. Eventually, to my parents’ well controlled glee, I decided I needed A levels. I went back to school, met my girlfriend, had a great couple of years then had my heart broken, and went to university.

I embraced university life, joint, pose and barrel. I was still a naive, impressionable young man, even though I was a couple of years older than many of my contemporaries, who had come up straight from school, without the intervening years of work. I spent the first year stoned on excellent opiated Afghan hashish, called gold seal, that had a Muslim crescent moon stamped in gold leaf on one side of the pound weight blocks that my dealer bought, and the Soviet hammer and sickle on the other. I threw myself into new social arenas, became an utter fantasist who told outrageous lies about myself (a tendency I had always had but which escaped its inhibitions once I had moved away from my small town) and, thank god, listened enough to other people to have some of my certainties challenged. It was a time of transition and disruption anyway: a strange time, but a beautiful one: Nelson Mandela was released that winter and the Berlin Wall came down soon afterwards and, for a while, anything seemed possible. In that time of collapsing certainties, I think I benefitted from a sense of possibility that flickered around the world for a little while.

Most of those certainties I have since readopted: my university flirtation with atheism never felt natural to me, for instance, and I returned to faith even before I had graduated, at least in my head, if not in practice. However, my sense that meat eating was a normal behaviour and that vegetarianism was some sort of affectation that came from being a show off was pretty comprehensively demolished for me in one conversation with a friend early in my first year. So, I unlearnt big chunks of my conservative conditioning, and I learnt idealism, and its most concrete expression, for me, was giving up meat.

I have never regretted it; never. Any health benefits were masked by my smoking and my alarming alcohol intake, which I only got under some sort of control when I became a taxi driver, about a decade ago, but I have been lucky with my health anyway. And, for me, health has never been the point. I have learnt to cook as a non-meat eater and I do not think that I have missed out on anything, other than that slightly sour, sugared-shit smell that meat eaters sometimes get when they sweat. It took me years to pin it down, but it is the smell of a red-meat eater, with the long bowel of a mainly herbivorous digestive system clogged up with the rotting remains of compacted pig and cow flesh.

As for the fabled ‘sacrifice’ of bacon: maybe, for about a year, I might have sometimes wished for bacon. Getting a cup of tea at a burger van first thing in the morning after a night of clubbing and there not being anything on offer that I would want to put near my mouth was inconvenient, but it had more to do with the fact that I had woken up to just how wretched the food I had been used to eating was, rather than a longing for forbidden fruit. Now, the smell of bacon reminds me of fly-tipped nappies. Watching someone ingest that horror is like watching an addict shoot up. It is mildly disgusting, but it is their choice. I do not judge, but I certainly don’t lust after it.

And that sense of fairness and moderation may be, I think, why I took another twenty-five years to make the full leap of logic. I accepted the validity of the argument for veganism fairly early on, but I resisted the personal implication of it, again, I think, out of a desire to avoid being ‘extreme’, and because, subconsciously, I bought the messages that are pushed relentlessly, in opposition to reality, that say meat and dairy (‘liquid meat’) are essential to health. Now, after a year of having an entirely plant-based diet, I can’t believe how stupid I was to think that veganism would be too difficult, or to have been swayed by the fearmongering propoganda of the meat industry that pushes the obviously absurd lie that humans must have meat or their balls will drop off. Science, direct experience and bald common sense are all clear on how harmful the eating of meat in anything but the smallest and most infrequent quantities is, and, when you think for more than an instant about what milk really is, and how not designed for human consumption cattle milk is, that propoganda’s success becomes pretty impressive. It takes a certain creative genius and dogged persistence to construct so radical a distortion of reality and to make the consumption of animal products seem normal, necessary and sane, rather than the social and cultural sickness it really is.

Meeting Amanda has been the turning point in my life. Sometime, I will write a full appreciation of my luck in that regard. Her being veggie and in fact, having been vegetarian for longer than me, was a definite thumbs up sign in the beginning of our relationship. She is very involved in her health and so, when I watched Cowspiracy a year or so back, and told her that I thought it was time to try veganism out, she was really cool about it. It turned out she had been considering it for ages, but thought I would resist it.

So, we gave it a month, planning menus and getting all worked up about protein, iron and rare B vitamins, as you’re supposed to when you’ve been subject to pro-meat propaganda all your life. Then we began to relax about it all, eat the things we like and hope for the best, which is what people who eat ‘normally’ do. I love stews and gravies; Amanda loves pasta, and spinachy, nutty, nutmeggy things and we both love yeast extract on toast and porridge in the morning and we’ve both got used to UHT soya milk in our tea, which really isn’t so bad. In fact, on the occasions when I have accepted a cup of tea with dairy milk, out of politeness, I have found it too oily, and sort of smeggy smelling. My tastes and my sense of smell have changed, not to mention my digestion, which has other ideas about my determination to be flexible about veganism when we’re in company. I am still at heart a moderate and a pleaser. I have accepted that my choice is not, in fact an extreme one, but a rational and moderate one, but I am still a coward about the sense of embarrassment caused by other people’s extreme responses to it. If I could have stayed a nice, easy-to-accommodate, milk-and-cheese-consuming vegetarian, I would have.

But I couldn’t, and my decision was not principally about animal suffering. I had grown used to the awareness that I was contributing to a brutal, unceasing process of slaughter. I turned my attention from it for over two decades: it’s no secret that the dairy industry is just as vicious, revolting and creatively cruel as the meat industry. Veal is a by-product of dairy herds, after all, not of beef. My ignorance of the specifics or the numbers of horrific deaths was not because the information was unavailable, but because I accepted it as just ‘the way the world is’, divorced from my responsibility, and didn’t want to know. It took a marketing masterstroke to get me to look at the situation.

That masterstroke is Cowspiracy, which I am sure, if you are at all interested in anything to do with food politics, equality, environmentalism, or are just a Netflix subscriber, you will have heard of, if only through being bored silly by someone whose mind has already been blown by it. Cowspiracy is not that different in content to many other food documentaries: it’s about an hour and a half long, it draws on Campbell’s China Study to make it pretty clear that all meat consumption is toxic to humans; it draws on The Omnivore’s Dilemma to examine the forces that are behind the religiosity of meat production in the U.S. and it is very strong on the insane economics of mass meat consumption. However, its genius is that it is marketed as being an attack on the environmental movement and, specifically, on the environmental movement’s failure to address the climate change consequences of the meat industry. Rather than going for the meat industry itself, it takes a sideswipe at Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, and various other fashionable, but, presumably, well-intentioned environmental campaign organisations, for ignoring a very, very straightforward fact: meat production is dirty.

In fact, the meat industry is the dirtiest industry there is. Yes it is. It does more damage to the global environment than the oil industry or mining or even the transport industry. The main issues with it are that it uses a shitload of fossil fuels and has an eye-watering CO² burden and that it puts out a massive amount of methane. Methane, as a greenhouse gas, is actually more damaging than carbon dioxide, but also more volatile, so that a reduction in its emission would create a useful and real environmental benefit far faster than a reduction in CO² emissions, which stay in the atmosphere for much longer.

Besides the methane issue which, on its own, was enough to convince me that it was worth going vegan, the CO² figures really shocked me. I have tried, as far as I can, to be environmentally responsible for the last ten years, since I shared a flat with a geology student who convinced me that there was little hope of avoiding civilizational collapse due to climate change, because the economic changes required were so severe that they wouldn’t happen. Up until that point, angry about the world as I had been for much of my life, I had held a sort of, ‘It’ll be alright, long term; no need to panic’ view of politics. The wonderful events of 1989, totally unforeseen in the dark world of my teens when we all  thought that the nuclear apocalypse was imminent, had given me a rosy view of reality: a faith in the ultimate goodness of people. When I realised that the predictions of environmental catastrophe really were hard science and that this was not a trendy marketing position to keep us scared, I felt a powerful desire to not be complicit. So, rather than buy a car to get to work, I bought a bike. I shopped locally. I tried to not buy anything I didn’t have a good need for. I gave up, as far as I could, using anything disposable, like coffee cups and plastic cutlery. I practised an entire litany of self-imposed dicta that made life complicated but gave me a rosy glow. “At least,” I thought, “I’m not ruining the planet with a car engine just to get to work.”

It turns out that I really needn’t have bothered. ALL transport: that is, everything that burns oil for movement, produces only 13% of greenhouse emissions. Now, that’s not trivial. It’s incredibly bad, in fact, and it needs to change, if only because there are too many non-smokers getting lung cancer, and too many people are dying from being hit by cars, and too much of the fuel is burnt in the high atmosphere by jet aeroplanes, where its damage is magnified. However, livestock production contributes 18%, and it does so in complex ways: through transport within the industry, yes, but also through the destruction of habitats, and simply through the fact that animals make a lot of shit:

The livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The largest share of this derives from land-use changes – especially deforestation –caused by expansion of pastures and arable land for feedcrops. Livestock are responsible for much larger shares of some gases with far higher potential to warm the atmosphere. The sector emits 37 percent of anthropogenic methane (with 23 times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2) most of that from enteric fermentation by ruminants. It emits 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide (with 296 times the GWP of CO2), the great majority from manure. Livestock are also responsible for almost two-thirds (64 percent) of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems. Livestock’s Long Shadow p23

The inherent environmental problems with animal manufacture are magnified by intensification and industrialisation. The best description I’ve read of the real damage done by this process is in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. The first third of this book is superb: the rest is pretty compromised by his determination to justify his own inclination to continue eating meat, despite the obvious conclusions his research drives us towards. I suspect this is a political decision: he can get his research into the mainstream media so long as he doesn’t cross the meat industry head on, but it may be that he is, as I was, at heart a moderate, who is inclined to liberal compromise despite the obvious logic of his findings. However, on the relationship between seed monopolies, meat cartels and the absurd structures their rationalised methods have given rise to, he is good. If you want to know why cows – grass eating animals – are fed corn and kept in concrete pens where their shit is dumped into the water system, read his book. If you’re more of a hour-and-a-half movie sort of person, try Food Inc., but bear in mind that both these sources are sponsored by Pepsico. Their refusal to accept the outcomes of their own logic compromises them badly.

The glaring element that Michael Pollan fails to adequately address is land use. His solution for the disasters raised by industrialised meat production is de-industrialisation: let’s only eat ‘nice’ meat: the main deceit of Mcdonald’s’ “good to know” lies. Cowspiracy pretty much demolishes that in five minutes. It shows a ‘nice’ farm, and then it calculates how much land it would take to supply America’s current volume of meat consumption with ‘nice’ meat, ignoring, for the sake of argument, that most land isn’t rich enough to make the sort of ‘nice’ meat that Pollan advocates for. Each calorie needs a vast acreage. There is no such thing as sustainable meat farming. In a way, the current, industrialised methods are, at least, honest about what it means to consume meat and dairy. It is a meat grinder, even before the slaughter.

So, yeah, beef is a problem, but why not go small scale? Well, keeping your own hens is fine, but what are you going to do with the cocks? Okay, you probably won’t put the live chicks through a grinding machine, as the industrialised egg industry does, but you’re going to have to deal with half your flock being useless. Will you eat them? Well, that’s a neat solution, but you’ve got to feed them until they’re at the right weight, and you then hit another illogical element in the meat economy: the wastage that meat production actually is.

Two thirds of the land being used by humans is currently used to produce feed stock for animals. Two thirds. We have a billion people who routinely suffer hunger. Food prices are insanely high for most of the human population of the planet (excluding the spoilt population within the third of the world where their food prices are subsidised by the rest of humanity’s hunger) because agricultural land is reserved for the production of waste calories, to be fed into animals, rather than to provide nutrition for humans. That wasted food produces one calorie of meat for every seven calories produced, and that is a cautious figure, so six sevenths – 86% – of the food produced in the world, is used to make shit and sweat and cow farts, without ever producing a usable product. We are, in effect, burning nearly nine tenths of our agricultural production, and using live, suffering creatures as the furnaces: 65 000 000 000 of them per year, and rising.

And that land, it’s not a benefit. Agricultural economists refer to the ‘development’ of land, when it is turned into agricultural assets. What they are referring to is the cutting down of trees and the burning off of undergrowth: a genocide of the richest life supporting environment on the globe. The expansion of industrial agriculture has been into exactly the environments we can least afford to lose if we are to avoid disastrous climate change. That land is already providing optimal benefit, and turning it into cow pasture is a radical diminishing of its true economic value. Since the 1970s, 20% of the Amazon’s rain forests have been destroyed, and 80% of that land is being used for livestock, the overwhelming part of it for the American meat industry. Besides the very significant impact this has had on the ecosphere’s ability to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, and besides the frightening disruption this represents to the global water cycle through the diminution of the evaporation that is forests’ role in the hydrological process, the loss of species diversity is huge: a quarter of all mammal species, one eighth of bird species and a third of all fish species are at risk of extinction. We simply cannot know the figures for plant species.

And we need those species. It is now accepted that less than 1% of flowering plant species have been studied for nutritional, medicinal and other resource value. Many of the plant species we are wiping out with the eradication of rain forests will not have been known; their value as nutrient providers or antibiotics never discovered. Thanks, in large part, to the meat industry, we are on the verge of being once again vulnerable, as a species, to untreatable bacterial disease. My grandfather, a village doctor who had been traumatised by deaths from infection among his patients in the first world war, treated the miracle of anti-biotics, when they became available for prescription, as a wonder akin to ending hunger. In just over two generations, we have reached the point where we can see the end of that miracle and, if you read the WHO factsheet closely, you’ll see that, behind the measured and politic tone, it is anti-biotic use in the livestock industry that is promoting anti-microbial resistance.

It is thanks to large scale use of antibiotics in meat farming that we are facing super resistant bacteria. Anti biotics are used in factory farming both to attack bacteria and because they act as growth promoters. The animals are already very sensitive to disease because they live in what is, effectively, a monoculture and are fed a very restricted, processed diet and this inhibits the development of their immune system. Plus, the crazed circle of feeding maize to cattle – an unnatural food – means their digestive immunities are ineffective, so digestive diseases are endemic and have to be controlled by antibiotics.

Thanks to this pathogenic stew, the emergence of new diseases in non-human animals is accelerating: because animals are being kept in exotic conditions, they are vulnerable to exotic and novel diseases. And these are transmitting to humans. 60% of human pathogens are of non-human origin anyway, and 75% of emerging animal diseases can be transmitted to humans. Treatments for human sufferers of these exotic diseases are made difficult by the vicious circle of wasteful use of anti-pathogens (antibiotics and anti-virals) in livestock production. These ‘biosecurity’ responses are terribly expensive, wasteful and, on a large scale,  ineffective and, until these diseases get a grip on the human population, we cannot know which we have to guard against, which is why all the massive mobilisation against swine flu and against avian flu was pointless, but the next one might not be.

I love a good apocalypse scenario. I grew up in the eighties, at the high peak of cold war hysteria, and there is something comforting to me about being able to identify a clear route to imminent human extinction. The counterpoint to that, however, is the desire to learn enough to understand that it is not as likely as it looks. That was how it actually was in the eighties: once we were able to look back, we saw that the Russians had not had any intention of rolling the tanks and would not in fact have been able to afford the fuel to do it from about ’82 onwards. The economic collapse of the Soviet Union, and the exhaustion of the Soviet military after Afghanistan, actually made for a far more stable world in my teens that we thought at the time. The essential element in a good millennialist fantasy is that there needs to be a get out clause: an escape route.

I don’t buy the suggestion that there is a conspiracy of silence about the contribution of meat production to climate change. The IPCC seem to take agricultural contributions to anthropogenic climate change seriously; the UK government at least measures and publishes figures, and, indeed, Greenpeace DO campaign on the issue, despite Cowspiracy’s narrative trick. That was the hook, to make a good film that stood out and was able to circumvent some of the fear, uncertainty and doubt about the reliability of climate change information that the food industry circulates. Over the past twenty years, they have done a very good job of marginalising an extremely large and passionate popular movement – the animal rights movement – from mainstream voices. They even sued Oprah, for fuck’s sake! (The link is to the excellent website of an admirable gentleman who appears in Cowspiracy and who was co-defendent when Ms Winfrey was persecuted under the Texas “veggie libel ” laws –  laws sponsored by the meat industry and designed to give the it free rein to silence criticism. There is a doctoral study on the case here, which I link to mainly because the supervising academic is the wonderfully named Professor Hamm.) By apparently shifting blame onto a surprising source, Cowspiracy was able to use a little of its own fear, uncertainty and doubt tactics against the liars of the meat industry. It was a clever approach, that served its purpose in publicising a very concise and clear summary of the issues around a terrible and growing disaster that was close to being immune to criticism. I highly recommend the film.

However, while environmental issues may have been what drove me to become vegan at last, what is keeping me so is a broader mixture of motives. Not least among them is the fact that it is quite pleasant. I am feeling very well, thank you very much for asking, despite still liking a couple of beers most nights and having smoked for much of this past summer. At the age of forty-nine, I cycle to work two or three times a week, towing a trailer with about twenty kilos of paperwork and laptops in it. Last week, my total mileage, including a leisure trip into Newport on Saturday, was over fifty. I have not had the routine two colds a  year that I used to get and am nowhere near as unhealthy as I was when I was a taxi driver. I am back down to a thirty-four inch waist, having got to a point at one stage, on a dairy-rich diet, where thirty-six was tight.

What has surprised me is how veganism has changed my attitude towards animals: the cruelty blinkers do drop. In trendy vegan-speak, your compassion is heightened by not participating in the cruelty. I have always considered myself a little over sensitive, for a man, but this past year, I have been surprised by the degree to which the level of suffering in the world has bothered me, and my inability to shut it out. Powerless, I sign petitions and rant on Facebook, but it does no good. My politics have become less domesticated; the neutering effect of the media fog no longer works on me and I am looking elsewhere for my explanations of what is going on in the world.

For a middle aged man, who grew up in an agricultural area, and whose life has been marked by a desire to fit in and be normal, calling oneself a vegan feels like a peculiar step: one of those irreversible decisions. It is fourteen months since Amanda and I decided to try it for a month and I have no desire to go back. I still try to be a little flexible where it might cause awkwardness; in restaurants or at friends’ houses, but I have got a point where I pay a digestive price for that flexibility, and I am also more practised at working around the difficulties; taking some non-dairy milk with me for tea, or phoning ahead to arrange something with the restaurant.

Clothing is an interesting area, where I am really noticing that I have crossed a line. I could not afford to just throw out my clothing: I am still wearing leather boots, for instance. However, I have needed to replace some clothing, particularly for cycling. I have always worn merrino wool baselayers in the winter, but I have just bought a couple of bamboo-viscose baselayers. They took a bit of finding, and they are not cheap (though no more expensive than the posh wool ones that have now developed holes through overuse) but they are better, in terms of resisting becoming wet and smelly under heavy use, and in terms of wind resistance and cosiness, than the animal hair products they replace. Cycling shoes, fortunately, don’t seem to use much leather nowadays: there is plenty of choice: I just need to save up, but even the cheaper Specialized ones seem to be vegan friendly. As for day-to-day footwear, that is still undiscovered country. I have had my Docs resoled, and intend to continue to do so: it is the right thing to do. Surprisingly, though, I do feel a little sensitive about the fact that they are leather, even though I think the reuse rather than replace principle trumps the squeamish, disassociate yourself from the death industry principle. I have my eye on a pair of rather nifty vegan boots, but they will have to wait a few months yet.

This started with my sister, and it will end with her. She eats meat now, and that is her choice. I do not judge. In her teens, however, she was quite intense about injustice, cruelty and illogic, and her wide ranging cultural influences have effected me throughout my life. On her bedroom wall, among the posters for bands like Everything but the Girl and The Smiths, Crass and The Cure, she had a flyer from an animal rights meeting. It contained a quote from Peter Singer, the great philosopher of animal rights, which I now understand to have been a borrowing from Jeremy Bentham. That quote has stayed with me, nagging at me like a sort of inevitable moral burden, through my progress from meat eater, to vegetarian, all the way to the point where I could no longer ignore the fact that my consumption and luxury rested on an ongoing monstrosity that was hurting my soul, and the collective soul of humanity. The flyer had a picture of a lamb, pictured from a distance, from above, looking alone, wobbly, threatened by its isolation and physical vulnerability. Beside that image, Singer’s words said:

The question is not, can they think, or can they talk. The question is, can they suffer?

A kind reader, Jamie In Chile, on the Vegan Forum boards, pointed out that I had misattributed the Jeremy Bentham quote.