The Humble Have Beans

I knew I wasn’t a natural at being vegan when I spent ten minutes staring at a yoghurt trying to remember what it was made of. The fact it was white hinted that it was probably dairy-ish, but other than that I remained unsure for a worrying amount of time.

I was ‘going vegan for the day’. I felt under a lot of pressure and kept pausing to question key things, like ‘did this sandwich once have legs?’ and ‘did this come out of a teat at any point?’ If the breakfast yoghurt dithering was anything to go by it was going to be a long 24 hours.

I was doing it for my friend Wendy. Wendy finds her birthdays hard, for reasons known to her friends. So she made this year’s mean something else. She could think of nothing she wanted more – more than any presents or stream of proffered drinks or social gatherings – than to invite her friends to be vegan for a day. She tried to calculate how many animals would be saved by us giving up meat and related products. This makes her sound a bit heavy and didactic, but she is nothing of the sort. She is unstinting in her passion for animal rights but never makes us feel like chumps for liking bacon. She has the sweetest heart I know.

She puts her money where her mouth is too, our Wends – protesting, saving badgers, volunteering at sanctuaries – and never to make herself look good. She just does what she feels is right. And this year on her birthday she started a small movement. Not to preach, or to convert, not to feel good about herself, but to turn her special day into a pragmatic approach to reducing the demand for cruelty. It’s easy to give a day to Wendy. Loads of us said yes.

Mid morning, as I found myself beseeching a doughnut to just give in and tell me if it had egg in it, I had a revelation. Baked beans. I have always had a profound respect for the humble bean. They would get me through. And they did – until dinner. Then I had another revelation. Chips. I could have chips and for one day it would be the choice of an elevated conscience, not the guilty decision of a dirty one. Chips heroically consumed, I knew I was on the home straight.

At a bar later that night, we all stood round chatting with Wendy, and I was somehow glad that we didn’t much discuss the shared theme of our day. Chips and beans didn’t feel like much of an effort, really. Not far off an ordinary day. I was glad I’d done it, but I was uncomfortably aware of the hypocrisy of making an easy gesture I would no doubt go back on shortly afterwards. It’s not that I am a savage carnivore whose incisors pang for steak – I don’t eat a lot of meat – but I don’t feel ready to give it up. As for the animal-related products that pass through just as poor living conditions, treatment and processing as the bloodier production of flesh – well, that’s an even trickier sacrifice – not because I crave those things in isolation, but because they seem to be everywhere, in everything.

Though my intake that day was easy in the end – convenience food at its simplest, the thought and decisions constantly whirring behind all I stuff I bypassed was not. My vegan day made me realise that my eating meat is not a preference more than it is habit and laziness. I don’t want to have to think. I selfishly pick other things to be my life’s priorities, and a big ‘change’ would slow me down.

Vegans have to really think. Vegans have to research. They have to stay focused. It takes effort and resourcefulness and creativity if you want to eat well and not get bored.

I considered having vegan days more often; being more organised and actually earning my right to cry over stories of animal cruelty, knowing my tears alone don’t mean a bloody thing. And I wrapped up a tin of beans for Wendy, as a silly memento of the day she made us all think.

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The £9 Britney

It cost me nine quid for a start. That’s Reason #1 in why I should have suspected the haircut wouldn’t end well.

Reason #2 was the fact I had interrupted two perma-sniffing Ukrainians in what looked like a half-hearted game of scissor darts. Tumble-weeds of split-end sweepings wafted across the floor in an eerie wind.

“Hi. I have forty minutes. I wondered if you could sort this mess out in that…”
“Sure sure, yes. I take you over.”, One Of Them answered brusquely as she simultaneously took my coat, sat me down, and choked me with a black cape tied too tight. I gagged like a bileous superhero and tried not to be offended by her desperation to plonk me down. My hair wasn’t that bad, was it?

“You can do it dry if you like.”, I offered, conscious of time. Nothing good ever came out of that sentiment.
“So, you obvussly want all this to coming off?”, she gestured with the bottom ten inches of my hair like a flick-blade. I quietly said I was thinking more like three inches, just to take off the wonky bits that had built up from my ill-advised home self-trimmings.
“Rilly? (Long pause in which I maybe blinked a full three times). Ok.”
And off she went. Snip snip.

I don’t know what was more unsettling – watching her cutting my hair in the mirror, being able to watch myself watching her cutting my hair in the mirror, or being able to watch twenty of myselves watching twenty of herselves cutting my hair in the kaleidoscopic mirrors around the salon. She moved like a majorette who had recently switched to ninja arts and kept dropping the nunchucks. Her scissor blades kept snagging on my cape.

“I’ve never said this before, but I saw a picture of Britney Spears with these sort of fringey flicky bits and I wondered…
“Sure sure. I do.” She muttered as she dragged thinning scissors down the canopy of hair wailing at my cheek. I saw my hair fall to the floor in slow-motion.

I thought of Britney. She’d had some hairy rides with scissors and stuff and had come out of it ok. I wondered if the sartorial tragedy I saw unfolding in front of me would earn me a pity residency in Las Vegas but I knew I’d never be able to pull off the sequins. I choked on one once. No one is going to pay two hundred dollars to see me panic-choke and gesture for a Heimlich from Barry Manilow in the front row.

She finished up. Pulled my lengths long and tight against my face like she was trying to exorcise demons from my follicles, then plonked her scissors in a cup. She wrenched my poor cape from me. It was like being parted from a cousin in an Auschwitz queue. I wondered what would happen to it.

I did the British thing. Beam. Teeth. Bluster. “Gosh, that feels so much better, thank you!” as I limped over to the counter to pay. I stared into my purse and wondered if Matt would still love me with my new head.
“Where’s your tip box?”
Rattle. Infinite echo.

I re-entered the cold feeling lighter, nervous of my first glimpse of myself away from the stilted trippiness of the comedown salon. I pondered hair and femininity and style and hiding behind a mane and the art of tipping and Britney and assertiveness and paying more than nine pounds in future, when I realised I’d left my coat and had to go back. Which was handy, because I wanted to check I still had all my ears.

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Killing Kids With Christmas Trees

My Christmas tree is a sorry thing to behold, it really is. I’m staring at it now. It’s naked, and bent to one side with all the indignity of a groom on his stag do, leaning against a lamp-post with his tackle between his arse-cheeks. The decorations came down last week, with the promise that the tree would soon follow, but ‘soon’ is as vague as you want it to be, isn’t it.

I can’t even take the glory for Phase 1: De-rigging. Matt did it while I finished my dinner one night. I think he made the most of me being a painfully slow eater to take action. With a decisive flourish no less – whipping the shiny things off as quickly as Sid James would a cackling nurse’s bra, and laying them neatly in a box for next year. I stared at him while he did it, chewing like a cow on cud.

I was quietly affronted that it had taken him no time at all to completely undo the hard work I had put into scattering a load of cheap tat betwixt the rapidly desiccating branches of a prematurely felled fir, but I was also a bit aroused by his no-nonsense action so I forgave him.

I’d had every intention of doing it at some point anyway. I really had. Mainly because I had been reminded of my laxness when my sister had reminisced, aloud to everyone on Christmas day, how I had once taken my tree down in June. I was about to haughtily defend myself when I was visited by the flashback of throwing a shrivelled brown corpse from a second floor window (surprisingly tricky) on a blazing summer’s day and decided to keep my mouth shut. I knew then, as my sister laughed, as I pretended to laugh, as Matt stared at me with a big grin that just about covered his panic, that I would have to pull my socks up this year and aim for a February deconstruction, at the latest. For the sake of my relationship. For the sake of not defenestrating a fir and killing a skipping kid newly broken up for summer hols. Christmas shouldn’t kill kids when they’re not expecting it. I know that much at least.

Despite my good intentions, you understand why I felt a bit hurried. I felt like Matt was saying “Hey, weird girl. See the big tree that wouldn’t naturally be found in the corner of the room, still in the roasting tin you put it in because we didn’t have a fancy bucket? Well, one more day of it being there and it stops being cute and festive and just turns into a reminder that we’re rubbish.” I wasn’t ready. I am quite used to being rubbish.

On the whole though, I think it looks like we’ve found a nice collaborative system. Matt strips the tree and puts the box in the loft, and I murmur vaguely about the indeterminate time hence when I shall drag the corpse of the Christmas past down the hall and brazenly into the street, my furtive lobbing days proudly behind me. Maybe that will be our Christmas tradition. I suppose new ones get made all the time. My best friend decided whiskey macs and glazed hams on Christmas Eve are to be his new tradition, and why not. I suppose that’s part of the fun of being a grown-up – you get to make up traditions according to your own sense of fun.

Maybe mine could be finding different seasonal outfits for a tree that doesn’t want to leave.
Maybe Matt would find that fun.

Hang on, I think I’ve got a spring bonnet somewhere…

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Bird in a Black Tie

I tried something different on New Year’s Eve. I dressed as a bloke. I didn’t actually beard up or pad my pants with socks or anything, but I took what I thought would be the easy way out of a black tie soirée. I don’t mean I shinned down the drainpipe when the canapés ran low. I mean I opted for a low stress option. I took it literally. I wore a black tie. And a man’s white shirt.

That afternoon I had been on a charity shop spree with the girls, and when I joked that I was tempted to go as a bloke to save the anxious lady trussing, they said “why don’t you then?”

Charity shops are the right places to take your friends up on a sartorial challenge. Need a man’s white shirt that doesn’t gape at the boobs and a thin black tie for a 10-12 year old boy? Look no further than this potluck bin, madam.

Thus was it decided. No dress for me. No laddering of tights, no rotating strapless bra. A white shirt and a bar mitzvah tie. I didn’t even wash the shirt. I got it home and when I realised it smelled clean and not of geriatric puke, I just whacked it on.

Initially I whacked it on with a skirt and tights, thinking I looked a bit preppy, like a prefect with a hipflask. But when Matt’s eyes popped out of his head and he said, between fondles, that it might be a bit ‘risqué’ for company, I got a bit huffy about outdated saucy connotations ruining everything for us non-prostitutes. So I put some black trousers on and thought I’d feel better.

But I didn’t. I felt like a nob. I felt like I had tried even harder in not ‘trying’, even sluttier than if I’d worn the slurpy dress that once popped a nip out as I suckled at a vodka luge. I was cross that my solution hadn’t solved the problem. Cross that I should feel just as uncomfortable in a dead man’s shirt with a ripped elbow with no bits, no obvious femininity, no ‘effort’ on display.

The little bell in the feminist ward of my brain rang out: “Oi. Dipstick. It’s because you’re not supposed to wear the timeless power garb of men – you’re supposed to be sculpted in a dress pleasing to the eye and hurtful to the waist.” I shushed the little bell. I didn’t have time for feminism; I was running late and Matt had got ready in a man-typical five minutes and was casually strumming his guitar while I stood, hating myself.

Then I realised something. There is something about any kind of ‘proper dressing up’ that always makes me feel naked. In both expensive dresses and cheap dresses comes the same awkwardness. In revealing dresses or modest dresses, a similar feeling of exposure. In costumes for telly or plays, always a strange displacement. The fact is most sane people feel a little daunted when they think people might really be looking at them. Like, really looking. And in ‘dressing up’, you’re sort of inviting the society of glances, the culture of being watched. Which is a bit bonkers when you think about it.

I think, really, I mostly got cross with myself that, despite all my maturing and emboldening, I might still not be ready for the statement that is “I am bored of dresses and shall tonight be wearing the same as you, Big Bob McManfist.”

I wonder if it will always be that way or if I’m due an enlightening period in my late 30s of totally not giving a dog-doo. I hope so. I have a fancy for waistcoats and pocket-watches.

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