A temporary vegetarian 

My wife is a dietitian. Starting yesterday, she and the team of dietitians she leads are trying out some of the clinical and controlled diets that their patients experience. So, for a week, my wife has chosen to be a temporary vegetarian. 

Two of my daughters are already vegetarian; the other is a devout carnivore. But, for this week, the whole family is having a go at the vegetarian thing, in solidarity with my wife. 

We’re into our second day and it’s going OK so far. We bought a lot of vegetables and vegetarian food at the supermarket yesterday. We didn’t buy any fish or shellfish – we’re not doing the ‘pescetarian’ cop out, but we’re also not trying the full vegan thing either. I will struggle enough with just a vegetarian diet. 

One thing I insisted upon was trying some of the facsimile products, like Quorn ‘chicken’ nuggets. We will make some meals from scratch, but I wanted to try some of the foods which are considered as ‘cheating’ by some proper, permanent vegetarians. If one likes meat, but for whatever reason chooses to be vegetarian, then why not have some things which are meatlike in taste and texture?

We have been trying to have one or two meatfree evening meals a week, so we’ve already tried some products. I find the Quorn Mince an unconvincing texture, so we just use it to bulk out a smaller amount than normal of proper beef mince. This week, we’ll have only Quorn mince, so I’ve decided that chilli sin carne would be the best way to disguise it, with kidney beans, peppers & onions adding some bite and texture. 

As well as trying the food, I will also be attempting to cook some of the meals. Normally, I struggle with contamination OCD intrusive thoughts so much that it renders me incapable of handling raw meat products. The decontamination rituals make preparing a meal distressing, prolonged and impractical. So I’m seeing how I deal with veggie cookery. I will still have to face handling things like eggs, so there are some pretty big triggers remaining. It’s still going to be a challenge. I will do my best. 

I’m keen to try a couple of Indian and North African recipes. I’d like the experiment to be a balance between cooking from scratch and lazy convenience foods. 

My wife will be taking professional nutritional, qualitative, cost and environmental impact notes throughout the week, in order to present her findings & experiences to her team. I think that the added data of the whole family participating will make the experiment much more useful. Since it’s only day two, I haven’t yet started to crave bacon sandwiches, but I expect to. From past experience, vegetarian ‘bacon’ is both weird and disappointing. I do intend to try doing a veggie fry-up though, with veggie sausages, which are OK. 

Do I expect to go permanently vegetarian by the end of the experiment? Not a chance. I will always be carnivorous, but it would be good to broaden the repertoire of vegetarian food which could be interspersed among the usual non-stop meat frenzy. 

The experiment ends

It was an interesting week. We set out with a few objectives and achieved some, but not all of them. We had some of our preconceptions challenged and confirmed other things we expected to be true. 

  • We all stuck with the experiment without lapse for the full week
  • We ate more processed products than we intended to, cooking fewer things than planned completely from scratch
  • My vegetarian daughter who still lives at home ate a more varied diet with fewer processed products than usual during the experiment 
  • The range, quality & texture of processed products has improved greatly since I last paid attention to them
  • The texture issue is still variable. Fake chicken nuggets and chicken burgers were convincingly like cheap chicken products, but without the gristle. We’d get them again. Fake meat pies were sub-football-ground quality. We wouldn’t get these again
  • The quality of food based upon price wasn’t consistently equivalent to the meat based version. Processed vegetarian foods aren’t always great value for money
  • Both me and my youngest daughter regularly felt hungry and unfulfilled throughout the week. I tried increasing carbohydrate intake to compensate, but this didn’t help
  • The nicest meal of the week was a chunky veg chilli prepared from scratch
  • The other really enjoyable meal was a barbecue, the highlight being satay kebabs made of peppers, onion, courgette and haloumi. These will be a part of all future barbecues
  • The issue of farting wasn’t as bad as anticipated. I expected a remake of the Blazing Saddles campfire scene
  • I did however find that the instant I woke up in the morning, I had to dash to the bathroom for a “long sit”. The sudden increase in vegetable and fibre intake had a noticeable effect in this respect
  • The flavour of the processed products was often quite strong. It felt over the top at times. Was this to disguise a bland base product? Maybe. 

So, will we repeat the experiment? No, I don’t reckon we will. Will we eat fewer meat based dishes, more vegetarian dishes and more vegetables? Definitely. We will also be trying a more varied diet, with more seafood and less red meat, which is a positive outcome. I’m glad that we joined in with my wife’s experiment. It was educational. 

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    Vote for the other guy. 

    Get off your arse and vote!

    Only 36.8% of the U.K. voting population voted for the Conservatives on 5th May 2015. That’s all it took to let them continue dismantling, asset stripping & privatising the NHS and social care system in the UK. 

    63.2% of the voting population either voted for someone else or didn’t vote at all. We ended up with another Tory government because of fear, self interest and disinterested apathy. 

    Do you want that to continue? No?

    Well what are you going to do about it then? What am I going to do about it? 

    We need to vote differently. We need to vote tactically. But how could we agree on which non Tory candidate to vote for?

    It’s pretty straightforward. Vote for the other guy.

    What other guy?

    The man or woman most likely to beat the Tory in your constituency. 

    But they’re Labour! I’m a LibDem supporter. I can’t vote for a party which isn’t the LibDems. 

    Yes you can. It’s a protest vote against the Tories. The same applies if you’re a Green Party supporter. Or a Labour supporter in a constituency where “the other guy” would be the LibDems or Greens. 

    I’ve never voted Labour. I can’t stand Jeremy Corbyn, but I will be voting Labour this time, in the hope of unseating the pompous prick of a Tory MP that’s in the seat now. 

    I’m asking you to do the same. No matter how much you despise the party most likely to beat the Tory in your constituency, ask yourself, “do I hate them more than seeing another Tory government?” If the answer is “No”, vote for them. Encourage your friends, colleagues and family to vote for them. Encourage apathetic voters to get up off their lazy arses and vote for them. 

    Are you with me so far?

    So, just say we all do this, won’t it end up in a total clusterfuck? Well possibly, but it would be hard to achieve a clusterfuck anywhere near the scale of the Tory/UKIP caused post-Brexit-vote economic meltdown. 
    I’d rather have a coalition of Labour, LibDem, Green, Plaid Cwmry, SNP and independents than have the Tories continue with their anti poor, anti disabled, anti refugee, anti people onslaught. 

    Will people-led tactical voting work?

    If enough people do it, yes. Every single unseated Tory MP is a small victory for us, the little guy. A small slice of revenge against those who would throw us aside. 

    What if it doesn’t work?

    What could be the worst possible outcome? Another Tory government anyway? That’s going to happen for sure if we do nothing. 

    We can’t go quietly like lambs to slaughter. Regardless of the outcome, we need to make a protest, make a stand. 

    Get off your arse and vote for the other guy! Every single vote can make a difference. Let’s take these Tory bastards down. 

    Here’s a link to a tactical voting site which lets you see who best to vote for where you are:

    www.tactical2017.com

    The closest marginal constituencies, where every single vote is crucial are:

    • Aberconwy: Vote Labour
    • Bath: Vote Lib Dem
    • Bedford: Vote Labour
    • Berwick-upon-Tweed: Vote Lib Dem
    • Bolton West: Vote Labour
    • Brecon & Radnorshire: Vote Lib Dem
    • Brighton, Kemptown: Vote Labour
    • Bristol North West: Vote Labour
    • Bury North: Vote Labour
    • Calder Valley: Vote Labour
    • Camborne and Redruth: Vote Labour
    • Canterbury: Vote Labour
    • Cardiff North: Vote Labour
    • Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire: Vote Labour
    • Cheadle: Vote Lib Dem
    • Cheltenham: Vote Lib Dem
    • Colchester: Vote Lib Dem
    • Corby: Vote Labour
    • Croydon Central: Vote Labour
    • Derby North: Vote Labour
    • Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale: Vote SNP
    • Eastbourne: Vote Lib Dem
    • Gower: Vote Labour
    • Hazel Grove: Vote Lib Dem
    • Kingston and Surbiton: Vote Lib Dem
    • Lewes: Vote Lib Dem
    • Lincoln: Vote Labour
    • Morley & Outwood: Vote Labour
    • Oxford West & Abingdon: Vote Lib Dem
    • Peterborough: Vote Labour
    • Plymouth, Moor View: Vote Labour
    • Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport: Vote Labour
    • Portsmouth South: Vote Lib Dem
    • Reading East: Vote Labour
    • Southampton, Itchen: Vote Labour
    • St Ives: Vote Lib Dem
    • Sutton and Cheam: Vote Lib Dem
    • Telford: Vote Labour
    • Thornbury and Yate: Vote Lib Dem
    • Thurrock: Vote Labour
    • Torbay: Vote Lib Dem
    • Twickenham: Vote Lib Dem
    • Vale of Clwyd: Vote Labour
    • Vauxhall: Vote Lib Dem
    • Warrington South: Vote Labour
    • Watford: Vote Labour
    • Waveney: Vote Labour
    • Weaver Vale: Vote Labour
    • Yeovil: Vote Lib Dem

    But don’t take my word for it, look at these sites too: 

    Key seats guide – click here

    Guardian tactical voting guide – click here

    Now get out and vote!

    The man who stared at sticks

    A weird title for a blog post, I admit. But it was a realisation I made one morning while gardening. I should explain. This is a progress report, of sorts. And amazingly, there is some progress. 

    The “sticks” are a mixture of things that I have recently planted, things that were already there, planted previously by my wife, and things which had languished in pots for several years. And yes, many of them did and do look like dead sticks, stuck in the ground by a wishful fool. 

    The new sticks are ten silver birch saplings, about 45cm tall, which I planted in February. Nine of them are still exhibiting stubborn stickyness. But one… One has already produced its first leaves. For a total of £12, I shall be happy with one successfully growing silver birch, but I do continue to stare at the other nine in hope. 

    I have also planted several neglected twigs and sticks which my wife had bought in the last couple of years, but which had been left at the side of the house, neglected in the pots they were bought in. I’ve had mixed luck with these, but surprisingly more have survived than I expected. The only thing that properly, totally died was a rose bush, but it was a spiky bastard anyway. I did feel sorry that it had died of neglect, not getting to be the great big spiky bastard it deserved to be. 

    One rather sorry looking plant which I took a particular interest in was the remnants of a yellow barked dogwood bush. It was little more than the withered stumps of a few twigs, but I gave it a chance, planting it between a new red barked dogwood bush and a new variagated holly bush. For weeks it sat there forlornly. To all intents and purposes dead. Visually devoid of life. Barren of growth. A stark stick sticking stickily from the spot it was stuck. Every morning I stared at the little dark bits on the twigs that I thought might be leaf buds. Nothing. No change. 

    Meanwhile, the new dogwood beside it was already starting to open up its first couple of lime green leaves. Hmmmm. Was I being unrealistically optimistic? After all, it was a plant which had received no care or attention for a couple of years. Who could blame it if it had withered and died? I studied each little detail of the dogwood stick, day after day. Was that a tiny, almost imperceptible change I had noticed? Was I just deluding myself? I couldn’t tell either way, so I erred on the side of caution and didn’t get my hopes up. It still looked dead. Most probably was. …I’ll give it one more day. 

    Then one day after weeks of discouraging stickyness, near the base of one of the stems, one of the little black pokey out bits (technical gardening jargon) looked a little less black and ever so slightly green. This time it wasn’t misplaced optimism or hopeful delusion. The stick wasn’t a stick. It wasn’t dead; it was still a plant. Not much of a plant, granted, but a plant nonetheless. It had tentatively begun to take the belated opportunity I had given it by replanting it, watering it, feeding it plant food and sending encouraging vibes to it during each morning’s staring session. 

    Over the next few weeks, most of the little black bits turned green and gradually opened up as leaves. The dogwood is slowly giving it another go. It is still dwarfed by its neighbours, but it is alive. A small plant which had been a small stick. 

    As I have said previously, one reason that I am trying gardening is to teach myself a few new life skills and learn a few things about who I really am. Coaxing sticks back to life seems a typical thing for me to do. Rooting for the plucky underdog. Attempting what seems impossible. Stupidly optimistic in the face of the evidence in front of me. I suppose that I’m drawing a clumsy parallel between my own “back from the dead” recovery and those of the “dead” plants I’ve nurtured. What would I have done or thought if they had all died? How would I have rationalised that?

    But clumsy or not, there is a parallel, a lesson to be learned from nature. Nearly dead isn’t dead. It’s alive. Not doing-joyful-cartwheels-in-the-park alive, but alive nonetheless. It is possible to experience adverse conditions, sustained neglect, trauma and things which could kill, but remain alive, deep down, in some tiny way, at one’s core. But don’t just take my word for it. This is the shattered stump of a tree blown down in the recent winter storms. 

    Nature has ways of helping organisms to survive adversity. They may look dying, dead or gone, but a tiny spark of life remains. Looks can be deceiving. Evidence can be misleading. Dormancy or self protective retreat are not death. With the right care and persistence, that tiny spark can reignite the chain reaction of growth. 

    That growth might be initially slow, ugly even. But it is growth. It is the undeniable resurgence of life. Some sticks take longer than others, but I am patiently, cautiously hopeful for most of them. I continue to stare at sticks. 

    Irish or not?

    Or, when is a shamrock not a shamrock?

    Many people, Americans especially, when visually representing St Patrick’s Day, Ireland or Irishness use an image of a four leafed clover. This may derive from the combined notions of “the luck of the Irish” and of four leafed clovers being a lucky omen. That is as close an actual link as I can think of. 

    This concept is wrong. A load of oul’ ballicks. 

    Let me tell you a little secret known only to me and every bookie on the planet. The Irish aren’t even particularly lucky, certainly not when it comes to betting on the horses. 

    Yes, you can get four leafed clovers in Ireland, but they’re no more a symbol of Ireland than a lucky rabbit’s foot, the lucky underpants you wear to all football games, a bald eagle or a red maple leaf. 

    The symbol which is associated with St Patrick and therefore Ireland is the shamrock. But hey, they both look sort of the same. A four leafed clover, a three leafed shamrock. Big deal. What does it matter?

    It matters fundamentally. The shamrock is associated with St Patrick exactly BECAUSE it has three leaves. St Patrick used a three leafed shamrock to demonstrate to the pagan Irish the concept of The Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three parts of one whole, connected together. Three parts. Not four. 

    This isn’t just a matter of petty pedantry or visual semantics. To celebrate a Saint’s day by demonstrating a fundamental lack of understanding of one of his most famous teachings is dumb, lazy and disrespectful. 

    So if you’re going to celebrate Irishness on St Patrick’s Day, show the man some respect and celebrate it correctly, with shamrock and a wee drop of Guinness or Whiskey. Don’t celebrate “Patty’s Day” with four leafed clovers and lager beer dyed green. Real Irish people don’t do that. 

    Four Leafed Clover:

      

    Shamrock:

       

      

    Growing as a person

    I have been encouraged and inspired by my wife’s gardening, my kids at school gardening club and by the gardening tweets of @OCDTrudy to try a bit of gardening myself. 

    I am not a natural gardener. I have in the past struggled to even remember to keep house plants alive. But I have had little glimmers of green fingered tendencies through the years. Aged 10, I once broke a twig off a privet bush. I felt so guilty that I “planted” the twig in my front garden and nurtured it into a small privet bush. 

    In adulthood, my attempts at gardening have involved planting nasturtium seeds and the occasional winter pansy plant. Not nothing, but nearly nothing, in gardening terms. In the last few years, I didn’t venture much into the garden at all. My wife has always been the gardener of the household. I stared through the conservatory window, like a prisoner looking over the prison wall at the greenery outside. 

    I absolutely love being outdoors and I love seeing the beauty of plants, trees and flowers. But my fear of failure prevented me from trying to garden. I had myself convinced that I am the grim reaper of plants, my toxic presence extinguishing the life from them. Me plus plants equalled dead plants. 

    As part of mindfulness practice, I have become more heedful of the changes in nature and the seasons. It has helped me gain a more cyclical view of time, rather than a linear one which sees death and darkness as the endpoint of each year. 

    I have seen that nature merely draws breath, waiting for the year to turn. It doesn’t die. It rests. Regroups. Waits patiently for the return of the sun. 

    So, rather too late last year, at the end of May, I sowed wild flower seeds and waited. Waited and watched. Watched and waited. Nothing. The grim reaper of plants had struck again. I had failed. This was a big deal. I don’t fail. If I think I might fail at a thing, I either don’t do it at all or I go to extraordinary lengths to succeed to an exceptional degree. Succeed or don’t do the thing at all. There is no try and maybe fail. Failure doesn’t happen to me. But last Summer it did. 

    Fuck! FUCKFUCKITYFUCK!

    I did a thing that totally failed. I had to face up to failing at something. Failing spectacularly at something that I had in truth expected to fail at and I had been proven right. Why had I done this to myself. I do not permit myself to fail. And yet, I had knowingly failed. Had I deliberately self sabotaged? This didn’t sit well with me. But I had also set myself an objective of learning to fail. Learning to know what failure feels like. Learning to cope with failure, accepting it as a possible outcome and learning something from having failed. I needed to learn that failing sometimes is OK. This might sound like a rudimentary life skill, but it’s one I’m still trying to learn. 

    So, what happened next? Did I give up?

    No. I took stock of what I hadn’t done correctly. I read some of the lovely gardening books I had bought for my wife over the years. I started to ask my wife lots of annoying questions as she was gardening. I learned and I began to plan. 

    What needed to be done when?

    In my incredibly task driven mind, I was drawing up a plan of attack on the garden. I started to schedule task alerts into my computer/phone diary. I do this with everything. I could tell you the weekend that I will put up my Christmas tree in 2023. Yes really. 

    I was also looking at other people’s gardens, parks and National Trust gardens to see what I liked and didn’t like. Taking photos. Remembering names. Looking things up when I got home again. Working out what was within my very limited skill set and what was too ambitious for a keen beginner. 

    I was giving myself a chance to succeed a little more at the second attempt. Some of my forays into pruning and planting last Autumn were supervised by my wife. Other, wider family responsibilities for my wife however, mean that a lot more of my activity has been unsupervised. Oh dear. Yes, I have killed a few plants, but much fewer than anticipated. 

    I have enthusiastically continued to plant, sow, trim, prune and fertilise according to the increasingly busy schedule programmed into my phone. These are experimental times for me. As mid March approaches, only a few of the bushes I have planted are showing signs of buds and leaves. But I am also learning patience. Every morning, I pootle round our little back garden and tiny front garden noticing the infinitesimal changes in things. Sometimes I haven’t a clue whether these are good changes or bad – they’re mostly good. There always is some tiny change to look at. Since regrouping my gardening mindset last Autumn, tiny changes have kept me going.

    So, as Spring approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, I have to reign in my natural impatience and instead notice a leaf here, a flower there, an occasional shoot emerging. 

    Will I succeed this year? Only time will reveal the answer. I am hopeful, but I know that it is a learning process. Not everything will work, but that’s OK. Partial failure is OK, because that means partial success too. I am learning how to fail. I am also learning how to succeed in a meaningful way. Given the number of seeds I have sown and bulbs I have planted, if only 20% of them grow, the garden will still be a riot of colour, mostly orange and blue, in the months to come. 

    And next year will be better, not because it has to be at all costs in order to beat my previous best attempt, but because the grim reaper of plants has swapped his scythe for secateurs and success for happiness. Well, I’m trying to.