Conscience is a funny old thing, this morning I got up early as usual but I felt lousey. I did not sleep well, why was that exactly? Was it worrying about my shambolic life, or the state of the world, or the possibility of Donald Trump becoming President of the U.S.A? Was it hell, Nope, I laid awake, because of a fish tank, a Romanian, a talking pig & an old man called Harry.
Now I think my night of insomnia needs some explanation, you see it’s roots stretch back more than a century ago, that was when Harry was born, in a working class family in a town in central England. Harry was my Grandfather, he passed away when I was ten, but I spent quite a lot of time with him when I was a youngster, when my parents were working and I had no school I would often be left with my Grandad Harry & Grandma Alvina. Now Grandad was a lovely fella, he was quite short, and by then aged, but he would entertain me when I came to stay, he always had a smile on his face, told jokes and spoke in rhymes, and sang songs, very old ones. My Grandma though also kind to me was a bit of a witch, she would endlessly pick on Grandad, and to escape her we would head off together to Grandads garden shed, this was a delight, he had made it into a workshop, it was full of tools and benches, blocks of wood, screws, nails,bolts, we spent hours in there, me making a mess and constructing weird and wonderful inventions, Grandad telling me jokes and stories, one day I asked Grandad why he walked strangely ( he had a limp ) he then talked about the accident. You see Grandad had followed his father into the same profession, one day at work , for reasons best known to him he decided for comfort that slippers would be better to work with. Unfortunately whilst working my grandad managed to drop a meat cleaver with force onto his foot, it did what it was designed for, and cleaved open his foot.He never walked in quite the same after that, but from then on I understood that my Grandad had all his working life been a Butcher.
At the appointed hour lunch would be ready, we would leave the shed and head back to the house. On the table would always be a very English meal, a big hunk of meat or a bloody great big chop, potatoes, (usually mashed), one vegetable typically peas or carrots, the whole was served with a gloopy & dark, meaty gravy. This I came to understand was what real food was.
My father, growing up with a Butcher for a father also learnt that real food, proper english food was meat & two veg ( one had to be potatoes ) and gravy. He in turn continued the line and taught me that if a meal wasn’t meat and two veg then it wasn’t a proper meal, we never had “that foreign muck” – a euphemism and catch all for anything from curry to spaghetti, any food not English.
And so I in turn continued the family line, a meal wasn’t a meal without meat,( though I began to develop a real taste for all sorts pf foreign muck). Now from time to time I would come into contact with a veggie, at one time many years later we had a very sweet au-pair, by the name of Anna, she was a little Kiwi girl, and a veggie. Being a veggie made not one iota of sense to me & I think I was actually rather unpleasant to that girl, purely on the grounds of her not eating meat, I decided she was just weird. This looking back was something I now regret rather a lot. What a stupid man I was.
A few years later I remember having a very vivid dream, in it was a talking Pig. The Pig & I were friends, I dont know why but in my dream I never questioned either of those things, his ability to speak or why we were friends, but anyway my friend the Pig turned to me and asked me why I ate his brothers and sisters, did I not realise how sad it made him? I replied that I was deeply sorry, I could’t help myself, I just loved the taste of bacon. When I woke I put the dream down to just one of those things, a weirdness that happens in dreams, and I carried on eating meat, regardless, but I didn’t forget the pig who could talk & what he said to me.
Over the years I became more accepting of vegetarianism, I would even eat veggie dishes from time to time, but I still felt that a proper meal had to include meat, when I read that the Dali Lama on medical grounds had been advised to consume meat as part of his diet I kind of found a satisfaction in that, it was ok to eat meat, if the Big DL did so could I, couldn’t I? But there was a nagging doubt…………
The summer before last I was working with a Romanian guy, Stefano, on a hillside in Italy, helping him with a vegetable garden, despite the lack of a common language and having little in the way of shared vocabulary we became friends, one day Stefano asked me if I liked rabbit, I replied immediately Yes. I remembered rabbit pie, how delicious it tasted, how long it was since I had eaten it.
After work Stefano took me to his little small holding, to a long shed, inside were chickens and rabbits. He took a plump white rabbit from a cage, we walked outside and whilst I held the rabbits back legs he slit it’s throat, between us we peeled off the rabbits pelt, I gutted it, threw the entrails still warm in my hands into the hedge, thanked Stefano for the gift and headed home. That rabbit was cooked and I ate it, I felt I had to eat it, but it did not taste deliscious in the slightest. I regretted that animals demise, every mouthful one of regret.
Last night walking through Chinatown looking for a restaurant my son & I stop at a shop window, in it are fishtanks, inside the tanks are Crabs & Lobsters all alive in the bubbling waters, they are waiting to be bought, then boiled whilst still alive and eaten. There is something terribly sad about watching these beautiful creatures, taken from seas and oceans and spending their last few hours in a Chinatown shop window. We walk on………………
Harry bless him and my father for that matter would never have understood it, but being a vegetarian is something that makes more and more sense, with it comes the thought that the world is indeed a surprising place full of the unexpected and that where it takes us even more so