Archive | Ethics RSS feed for this section

How I Became a Heretic.

2 Nov

  I love my parents and recognise that they are very good people. Yet I have spent much of my life rebelling against two of the most important things they tried to teach me — their religion and their diet.

  When I was 17, I got sent into an empty room to eat alone. This was a surprising turn of events considering I belonged to a very loving, Christian family. What was my crime? Well, it was to sing a well known hymn while my parents and my sister were eating their dinner. Normally mum and dad, being devout Christians, would have loved to listen to a melodious hymn. They enjoyed singing hymns every Sunday when they attended chapel, and my sister, Glenys, and I, were taught to sing them at Sunday School. However, on this occasion, I was using the words to point out what I considered to be the hypocracy at the heart of their life-style. The hymn goes like this:

       All things bright and beautiful,

       All Creatures great and small,

       All things wise and wonderful,

       The Lord God made them all.   ( Cecil F Alexander — Hymns for Little Children — 1848.)

  How could such innocent lyrics possibly be the source of a family controversy? Well, it’s because, while I was singing the hymn, the rest of the family were devouring the dead body of one of those very, “bright and beautiful” creatures that the Lord God had made. The words are idealistic and child-like, but conceal the real story. In the society and family that I grew up in, it was taken for granted that animals, birds and fish had been put on earth merely for human use ( and abuse) and pleasure. ( it still is.)

  In the 197o’s, the popular TV comedy act: The Goodies ( Tim-Brooke Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie) stripped the hymn of its naivety and sentimentality, when they parodied it in their song: “I’m a Carnivore.” Their version read:

     All things bright and beautiful,

     All creatures great and small,

     The cuddly and the furry ones,

     I love to eat them all.

  This seems particularly strange as Bill Oddie at least, was identified as being a wild-life lover through his association with programmes like “Spring-Watch” on BBC. Maybe it can be seen as bad taste to make a joke about the deaths of innocent creatures, but at least this version tears away the veil of hypocracy and tells it as it really is, in our so-called compassionate, Christian society.

  At 17 years old, I became a vegetarian. ( see previous blogs.) The penny dropped in my mind and I realized that by eating meat I was supporting an industry that murdered millions of creatures every year. It was an annual, horrific holocaust, largely uncommented upon in everyday life. Up to that point, I had subscribed to the widely held view that animals and birds lives had no value except to provide a service for people or food for human stomachs. Once I realized that I fundamentally disagreed with this selfish, human-centric view of the world, I stopped eating meat straight away. I didn’t want to be responsible for countless unnecessary deaths. The industrial scale slaughter of animals would no longer be done in my name.

  But what about my parents? Weren’t they supposed to follow the Christian ideas of: gentleness, compassion and love? Why didn’t they agree that the taking of a life, any life, is wrong? Afterall, one of the Ten Commandments, supposedly given to Moses by God, said ” Thou shalt not kill.” From that time onwards I have viewed meat as murder. Compounding that murder by eating the victim’s dead body seemed to me to be absolutely gross! I genuinely could not understand why my parents –  good, caring people and devout Christians, could not see this. A screen seems to have dropped down in their minds, preventing them from viewing the animal world in any other way. The singing of that children’s hymn, extolling the wonders of nature and the miracle of God’s creation, was my attempt to make them view their meal in a different light. I wanted them to see “life” when they looked at an animal, rather than just seeing “food.” However, I failed miserably and got sent away to eat alone.

  46 years later I am still a vegetarian and trying to become a vegan. My mum and dad still routinely eat meat and fish and think nothing of it. My younger brother Graham, also became a vegetarian, independently of me, but it never made them stop and think — “Well, both our sons think eating meat is wrong. maybe we should think about their reasons and reassess our diet.” Not a bit of it. They just carried on, regarding themselves as “normal” and their two vegetarian sons as “odd.” One of my friends, Malcolm, took the same decision when he was 17. When his bemused parents asked why he was refusing to eat the meat on his plate, he replied that he didn’t want his stomach to be used as a tomb for a corpse. I wish I’d thought of that back in 1967, but I don’t suppose it would have made any difference.

  You might think I am being very unfair, picking on my poor parents, when they are actually belong to the vast majority, whereas Graham, Malcolm and myself are members of a tiny minority. I am using them as an example because I am so close to them and this increases my perplexity about how they can be so different from me. How can good, decent people casually sanction murder? At the time I first challenged their views, I thought things were made worse by them purporting to be good Christians. Wasn’t this the religion that presented it’s founder as the “Good Shepherd”, looking after every member of his flock? As a child, I loved the idea of Jesus being born in a stable ( an animal’s home) and placed in a manger (an animal’s feeding trough), with a cow, sheep and donkey sharing the magical moment of the nativity. I cannot remember there ever being an abattoir in the background. I loved the carol “Little Donkey” which revered the dumb animal which carried Mary to the birthplace of her special son. Later, that same humble creature was given pride of place when Jesus rode into Jerusalam on Palm Sunday. Then there were all the stories of St Francis of Assissi being kind and loving to animal and birds. It seemed from these stories, taught to me at Methodist Sunday School, that love, care and respect for all the creatures of God’s world was a central feature of the Christian philosophy. When I was young, I believed that Christianity stood for love, charity and kindness to all living beings.

  Thus it was very difficult for me to equate “compassionate” Christians, with their sanctioning of the slaughter of innocent creatures.  The shield had lifted in my mind when my grandad casually extinguished the life of a poor chicken right in front of my eyes. This was his Christmas gift to us. ( see previous blog “How My Grandfather Turned me Into a Vegetarian.”) My dad, who as a lad, had helped his father slaughter countless pigs and chickens, thought it strange that I refused to help him prepare the dead body for the table. He probably thought I was just being squeamish and a bit of a softy. I was a disappointment to him, as he was to me. A gulf, created by our opposite attitudes to animals, yawned between us. To him, animals, birds and fish were there to be exploited for our pleasue. To me, animals, birds and fish had as much right to live their lives as human beings. I regard all life as sacred. So began our war of words. I sang hymns sarcastically to try to make him realise the inconsistency of his position. He sent me into another room and said that if I didn’t eat the meat provided for me, then I wouldn’t get anything else. ( my mum fed me in secret for a time while dad was at work.) Dad and I both soon backed down and tried to paper over the cracks, but I have never changed my mind and neither has he.( or mum for that matter.)  There has been an unspoken, uneasy truce ever since.

  It’s only recently that I’ve come to realize that for my parents, and many others, eating meat is actually part of being a Christian, instead of flouting Christian principles as I had first thought. Christians, it seems, regard meat as God’s gift to them. That is why they say Grace at the beginning of a meal, thanking God for what he has provided for them. They seem to believe that the killing and subsequent eating of a living creature has been sanctioned by God. In the past, in medieval times, vegetarians were branded as “heretics” as they were insulting God by refusing to accept His gift. “Heretic” was the label given to anyone who did not follow the strict rules set by the power brokers at the head of the established Church. As such they were liable to be punished, including being burnt at the stake, because, as is well known, Christianity has not been renowned for its tolerance and compassion over the years, despite Jesus’s preaching. Hence, in this sense, I became a heretic the moment I chose to be a vegetarian.

  I have also recently come to realize, after reading Colin Spencer’s excellent book: ” Vegetarianism: A History”, that the most sacred Christian ceremony, the Mass or Holy Communion, is really a celebration of meat eating. Christians actually believe they are consuming the body of Christ and drinking his blood when they are partaking of their bread and wine. So eating flesh is validated and drinking blood is not just the activity of vampires.

  All of this is sanctioned in the Bible. When I was young I was told that the Bible was the word of the one and only God — which conveniently ignored the Qu’ran, which is the word of the Muslim God ( Allah), the Veda, the word of the Hindu God, the Guru Granth Sahib, the word of the Sikh God, the Buddhist scriptures, and so on. Now I realize that the Bible is just a book, or a collection of books, written by people. So not surprisingly it contains words that back up the life-style and belief systems of the majority of people, particularly of those in power.

  It’s interesting to note that the Bible has been heavily censored. Inconvenient gospels such as those by the disciple Thomas or Mary, the mother of Christ, were left out because they didn’t fit in with the views of the most powerful early leaders of the Christian Church such as St Paul. Ancient documents such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the late 1940’s, give us a glimpse of what was censored, because it did not fit into the theological straight-jacket imposed by Paul and his followers. Many early Christian sects were in fact vegetarian, leading ascetic lives in order to cleanse themselves of earthly pleasures. This they thought would enable them to concentrate more on spiritual development. One such group, based in Jerusalem, was led by Jesus’s brother James. It was characterised by its belief in non-violence toward animals as well as toward people. It was very suspicious of Paul and his followers. However, in the subsequent power struggles for hearts and minds, Paul came out on top and so was able to mould the early church to fit in with his own beliefs and life-style.

  One such belief was in the Jewish dietary laws, which say that God had declared certain creatures as unclean and therefore not to be eaten, while certain other creatures were clean, and so could be consumed with God’s blessing. Paul, who before he became the chief of the Christians had been a devout Jew, following all the strict rules of Judaism, carried these dietary ideas into his new faith. The Jews had possibly developed this meat- eating religious philosophy in reaction to the Ancient Egyptians who had enslaved them. Once free, they wanted to distinguish themselves from a culture that revered and even deified animal and birds. Many Egyptian priests also embraced a vegetarian, ascetic life-style to enhance their spiritual journey. So possibly to separate themselves from the philosophy of their former masters, the Jews adopted a policy of subduing animals rather than venerating them. Thus meat-eating could have developed amongst the Jewish people for anti-Egyptian political reasons. Subsequently, this was carried forward into the customs and practices of Christianity by the likes of influential Jews like Paul.

  When I challenged my parents and other church-goers about their carnivorous eating habits, by pointing out the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, they countered by saying that that rule only applied to human beings, not to animals. They pointed out a statement in another part of the Bible in which God gave people dominion over all the other creatures of the world. It’s funny how God always seems to agree with the dominant majority of human beings! This chilling passage comes in Genesis 9:2, and has formed the basis of all the Judeo-Christian dealings with the rest of the animal kingdom ever since. It reads: ” And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.” So, according to this pronouncement, God wants a world based on fear and dread, rather than on love and compassion which Jesus promotes in the New Testament. Which world would you rather live in? Genesis 9:2 sounds almost like a section from Mein Kampf or a Nazi master -race manifesto. Just substitute: beasts, fowls and fishes for : Jews, Gypsies ( Romanies) and Slavs, and you’ve got it! Nazi racial theories deemed non Aryans such as Slavs as sub-human, fit for enslavement and to be killed at will, whilst Jews and Gypsies were described as :”life unworthy of life”, fit only for extermination. How is this different from most human being’s attitude to the animal kingdom?

  The blood-curdling Old Testament passage quoted above, comes in the section that relates what happened after the Flood. It seems heavily ironic that Noah saved all that wild-life from the rising waters by taking them on board his Ark ( following God’s supposed command), but then celebrated landing on dry land by killing some of the very creatures he had “saved” in order to have a feast.( again following God’s supposed command.) Contradictions abound. This in turn follows the description of the Garden of Eden earlier in Genesis, where everyone and everything is happy, living in harmony and enjoying a vegetarian diet. Eve was warned about the apple on the tree, not the leg on the lamb.

  It’s a dangerous business quoting the Bible to validate one’s views. Apart from the mixed messages about the rights and wrongs of killing, there is the example of the Old Testament preaching vengeance ( An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth), while Jesus in the New Testament espouses forgiveness and loving one’s enemy. The thing is: the Bible is not really the word of God in my opinion, but the words of many men. The women, by the way, seem to have been mostly edited out. I think it would be safer to follow one’s own conscience rather than trying to follow the contradictory messages of the Bible.

  I think men grew to like the taste of flesh, so conveniently inserted into the Holy Book the idea that God gave them the right to eat it. This in turn, indicated that meat was God’s gift which it would be sacrilegious to refuse. In early religions, lives were sacrificed as gifts from humans to gods. Christians seem to have turned this concept on its head and claim that lives are now sacrificed in order for God to give the gift of meat to humans.

  The result of all this contradictory and hypocritical mess is that I have not only rejected my parents’ carnivorous diet but also their Christian beliefs. Being faithful Methodists, I have been sorely tempted to point out that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, totally eschewed meat- eating.( for ascetic, spiritual reasons.) However I know that it will never stop them from munching their bacon sandwiches or devouring their pork, beef or turkey roasts. Afterall, meat is a symbol of wealth, success and status in our society, as well as of human domination over the world.( a world that humans are swiftly destroying.)  Meat eating is also sanctioned by God! How can mere sympathy and compassion for other living creatures stand-up against all that?

  The chasm between my beliefs and those of my parents remains. But what can I do? Despite being a vegetarian and a heretic I still love them and would never wish to upset them by singing “All things bright and beautiful” again.

Advertisements

I’m Confused — I Thought Murder Was Wrong!

25 Feb

When I got to the age of around 16-17, I first started to realize about the enormity of death. It horrified me. The thought of not existing any more, of being swallowed-up into oblivion, was simply terrifying. It was the stuff of nightmares. So I ended-up doing what most people around me seemed to be doing — I kept busy, constantly distracted myself with stuff to do and never talked about dying. In the West, there is this unacknowledged conspiracy: that if we don’t talk about it and if we try not to think about it, then it’s as if death doesn’t actually exist.

That’s why when someone sadly dies ( we usually use the euphanism “passes away”), many of us don’t know what to say to the bereaved. We are just not used to talking about the awful subject and so we are lost for words. It’s happened to me as well. All I can think to say is:”You are in my thoughts at this difficult time” or “If there’s anything I can do, don’t hesitate to ask.” It’s an awkward subject to broach, especially if the bereaved person is in a state of shock, as if they never imagined that death could claim someone close to them.

When I was a late teenager this fear and dread of death provided me with the strength and motivation to make one of the most important decisions of my life. I decided not to avoid the taboo subject anymore. I also vowed that I would no longer be knowingly responsible for any unnecessary death. You might think that that’s an obvious and reasonable stance to make in our “civilised” society. Afterall — murder — the deliberate taking of another’s life, is our most serious and condemned crime. Everyone agrees with this, except perhaps for the odd psychopath. Underpinning this is one of the Ten Commandments: ” Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Surely everyone agrees with that? Or do they? It was as I reached my later teens that I sadly realized that many don’t. The first thing I discovered was that I belonged to a species that was constantly taking each others’ lives, in the phenomenon known as war. ( see previous post — “Realizing About War.”)

Human beings unfortunately spend inordinate amounts of money, time and effort figuring out new, more efficient and more horrific ways to kill each other. In the 20th Century alone we had: artilliary bombardment, poisonous gas, machine guns ,shrapnel, grenades, aerial bombing, incendiary bombs creating fire-storms, concentration camps, starvation in ghettos, Atom and Hydrogen Bombs dropped on unsuspecting civilians, nuclear missiles, germ warfare, land and sea mines, cluster bombs and napalm — to name but a few. They are just from the top of my head and I’m not a military expert. All that’s on top of the more mundane shooting and stabbing. We like to blame the murderous campaigns or weapons of mass-destruction on evil ogres such as Adolf Hitler , Saddam Hussein or Colonal Gadaffi. We also blame evil organisations such as the IRA or Al Quaida. It always seems to be someone else’s fault, but we’re all at it really. There has been warfare somewhere in the World every single year since the end of the Second World War, which was supposed to have brought us peace in 1945. Also, wasn’t the Great War of 1914-18 supposed to be have been “the war to end all wars”? I think this continuing situation is tragic. It has led to untold misery and appalling loss of life. It’s still happening today in Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia, to name just 3 war-torn countries.

So why isn’t everyone a peace campaigner? It’s a very good question which I cannot properly answer. I have tried to be a peace campaigner. I have: marched, petitioned, lobbied MPs, been in vigils and sit-ins, discussed, debated, written letters, canvassed door to door and taken part in all kinds of peaceful protests. I have even acted in a play “what I wrote”( with apologies to Ernie) called “Protest and Survive”.  But war rages on and the horrendous threat of a nuclear holocaust still hangs over us. In fact, unbelievably, peace campaigners have been branded and castigated as: cowards, defeatists, traitors or extremists. In the days of the so-called Cold War when our enemy was supposed to be the Soviet Union, peace-campaigners were also labelled as : commies, reds or pinkoes. When I was active in CND in the 1980’s, my group in Tyneside was expelled from the pub where it met because it was upsetting the drinkers to have communist-sympathisers and traitors meeting in the room upstairs. A sympathetic local hotel owner took us in.

These days it is difficult to criticise the British army’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan ( or “The War on Terror”) despite all the suffering and killing on both sides, because so many people have relatives or friends fighting out there. Saying that you are against the war and in favour of peace would be seen by many as being disloyal and unpatriotic. One little known ( and trivial) consequence of Britain and America’s illegal invasion of Iraq was that I broke up from my girlfriend of that time. At first she seemed to agree that it was wrong to use armed force to bring down another soveriegn country’s government and that it would be setting a terrible precedent. However, once our troops invaded, she thought it was important to close ranks and support “our boys”, probably taking her cue from the overtly chauvenistic tabloid press. So even those close to me disagreed with my idea that war was wrong. I saw this as a fundamental moral isue and found it impossible to continue the relationship. Maybe I should have chosen somebody from the million who marched through London proclaiming ” Not in my name.” At least the unprecedented size of the peace march reassured me that I was far from alone in being opposed to war.

My simple idea that war is wrong has turned out to be very controversial and troublesome for me. Human beings seem to be naturally prone to kill each other and concoct endless excuses in order to carry on doing it. It seems that if one has a “just cause”, then it’s OK to kill and OK to die. However, what constitutes a just cause is highly controversial. Is it acceptable to kill or die for land, for living-space, or for natural resources such as oil? Is it OK to take or sacrifice life for: a political cause, a religion or an economic system? The matter gets even more confusing when the original cause of a war is forgotten or changed. For instance, Britain entered the First World War to defend Belgium’s neutrality, but during the course of the conflict, British and other allied troops violated the neutrality of Greece. In the Second World War we entered  to support Poland against Hitler’s totalitarian Germany only to sacrifice the Poles to Stalin’s totalitarian Soviet Union in the peace negotiations at the end. How can you tell I was a History teacher? Sorry! To cut a long story short, it seems that all humans need is a cause ( ie — an excuse) and they will kill each other on a massive scale.

The second big decision I made when I was 17 was also to do with not wanting to be involved in unnecessary killing. It was my decision to become a vegetarian. ( covered in previous blogs.) Animals, birds and fish have lives too, I said to myself, and human beings have no right to extinguish those precious, unique lives, simply to provide a” tasty” meal. Once I’d made that fundamental decision, I couldn’t imagine anything more revolting than agreeing to a living creature being slaughtered for me and then eating its dead body. To my surprise, my Christian parents disagreed. They were against murder but thought there was nothing wrong in murdering animals in order to eat them. It upset me that they were kind and compassionate people but didn’t extend that compassion to the creatures we shared the world with. I tried to argue with them and point out the hypocracies of their position, but to no avail. It was if I was speaking a foreign language. I even sang one of their favourite Methodist hymns at meal time:  “All things bright and beautiful,  All creatures great and small,  All things wise and wonderful,  The Lord God made them all.” Then I would dramatically get up and leave, leaving them to eat one of God’s creatures that had been “sacrificed” to accompany their potatoes and veg. For the rest of life I would be a vegetarian as well as a peace campaigner — a painful double-whammy in some peoples’ eyes.

As you know, most people agree with my parents rather than with me. Human beings rule the world and are indisputably at the top of the food chain. I think that humans should use their position of absolute power responsibly and compassionately in accordance with their own rule of “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” However, I am naive to think this. Being in a position of total dominance is like being a Nazi in control of a concentration camp. Just like the wretched inmates of Belson or Auchswitz were mistreated, abused and slaughtered by the so-called “master race”, so the inmates of the animal kingdom are mistreated, abused and slaughtered by their human “masters”. It’s a very simple example of Robespierre’s adage: ” Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” To me, it is utterly depressing that the majority of humans choose to use their power “corruptly” rather than “compassionately”. However, as soon as I open my mouth and start saying stuff like this, I am quickly shouted down and accused of: preaching, being emotive or even being extremist. It seems that one is labelled as an  “extremist” if one disagrees with the majority view. The majority of human beings have deemed that other living creatures have been put on this earth to serve us, by providing us with: food, clothes, labour, sport, companionship and bodies for scientific experimentation. In other words: other creatures are expendable. Unfortunately, only a small minority share my belief that animals should be allowed to live their own lives without interference from us. I think a true test of a civilised society is how the strong treat the weak. Do the former care for the latter and protect them, or do they neglect, abuse and exploit them? I think responsible human beings should pose this question with regards to the animal kingdom as well as to the weaker members of their own species.

I am no longer afraid of death. As I get older I have grown to accept its inevitability instead of resisting it. As the trials and tribulations, heartaches and problems of life take their toll, I am gradually getting round to viewing my own future death as a welcome release. However, I still value my life so far, as it has brought me so much joy, happiness and fulfillment. I am now 62 and am still clinging on to my simple teenage belief that the unnecessary taking of life is wrong. No amount of name-calling, sneering, mocking, aggression or criticism will change my mind. This simple, basic belief has led to much trouble and anguish in my life, because so few other people have shared it. Sometimes I feel as if I was born into the wrong world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world that valued and celebrated life rather than one that revels in death and destruction? That’s called a pipe dream.

Teenage Christmas Angst — The Scales Drop Off.

26 Nov

On December 25th, 1967, I just walked the wintry streets all day. For company I had a small, close-knit group of friends. For sustenance I had a small Tupperware box of vegetables in cheese sauce, kindly donated by my sister and pushed into my hands as I left the house. So what on earth had happened? Had I been rejected by my parents? Why wasn’t I with my family, exchanging presents and pulling crackers in the warmth of the house? Why wasn’t I looking forward to the richest, tastiest meal of the year?

Well, I had not been disowned. It was MY decision to go out all day and brave the December weather. I was in my late teens and I had been doing a lot of hard thinking. Once I had realized that my parents’  lifestyle and opinons were not set in concrete, I hastened to develop my own independent ideas. This incredibly had led me to reject several key components of our traditional family Christmas which had previously given me so much enjoyment as a child. By 1967, aged 17, I was determined to boycott much of it. To the bemusement of my well-meaning but long-suffering parents, I swapped the cosy but claustrophobic Christmas at home for the cold freedom of the streets. My friends and I forsook our lavish Christmas dinners for a small snack in a damp park. We did this because we wanted to show that one didn’t have to follow the diktats of tradition. It was possible to wriggle out of the straight-jacket and do something different.

We pretentiously read poetry to each other, imagining we were Allan Ginsberg- like rebels. OK, we were nothing like the Beat Poets of 10 years earlier but we did empathise with them to a certain extent, as we too felt beaten down by the conventialities of society ( I believe that’s how the “Beat Movement” got its name.). Unlike James Dean however, we were rebels WITH a cause. We wanted to expose the less acceptable aspects of Christmas in our opinion.  We no longer viewed the festival through rose-coloured spectacles, but in a newer, harsher light. To use another analogy, the scales were dropping off. Here are the reasons why.

[Don’t get me wrong. My parents were ( and still are) loving and generous. They organised many wonderful Christmases for me as a child. ( see last blog: “Childhood Christmas.”) However, as I grew up, I came under different influences through school, friends and books. I came to realize that there were alternative ways of looking at things.]

The first scale to drop away was the beguiling but totally fictitious myth of Santa Claus or Father Christmas. To the youngster, the idea of a kind, jolly old man,  riding a reindeer- pulled sleigh across the sky and popping presents into the stockings of every child in the world, is one of the highlights, if not THE highlight of Christmas. To the young, the presents appear on Christmas morning as if by a miracle. However it is all based on a “white lie”. The untruth is told for the best possible reasons but once a child discovers the truth, then a lot of the “magic” of Christmas instantly evaporates. It’s such a disappointment and an anti-climax to find out that it is your own parents who are delivering the presents, drinking Santa’s sherry and eating Rudolph’s carrot. It’s still nice receiving gifts but the magical aura previously surrounding them has now largely disappeared. Later on, I was to discover that Father Christmas or St Nicholas actually came not from Lapland but from Turkey, a country that does not have reindeers or elves! In fact, much of the myth of Santa Claus was developed relatively recently in the United States and Santa’s mythical clothes were changed from grey to red to suit Coca Cola who thought the brighter colour would look better in their adverts. So much for the innocent “magic” of a young child’s Christmas!

The next “scale” to drop off was the religious one. Christmas has become increasingly secular in recent years anyway but in the 60’s the Christian story of Jesus’s birth was still widely promoted and accepted, especially in our family who were devout and regular church goers. However, as I went through my teens I became increasingly suspicious of several aspects of the Nativity story, which had always been sold to me as the “Gospel Truth”. Did I really believe that Mary was impregnated by Immaculate Conception? Did I accept that Joseph, when he found out that his fiancee was pregnant, just took it in his stride and went along with the incredible, unprecedented idea that she was having God’s child? Did I really believe in choirs of angels singing in the sky or that 3 Wise men or Kings would travel a great distance to give precious gifts to a poor baby born in an obscure stable in a provincial town? It all makes a cracking story because it is so unusual but once cynicism entered my thought- processes I began to doubt its veracity. The story, accepted without question by my chapel- going parents, was about as believable as your average fairy tale. Also, I thought, why did the 3rd “Wise man” give Myrrh to a new-born baby, when this sweet smelling incense was most commonly used on dead bodies? It’s hardly appropriate I think unless you are a Christian looking for a significant symbol of Christ’s premature death.

As I grew older I came to realize that many other people also did not believe in or ascribe any importance to the nativity story. What about all the Hindus, Muslims, Sihks, Buddhists and even the Jews? Why were they not celebrating the birth of the “Son of God”? What about the athiests who did not believe in God or the agnostics who were not sure? Were they all wrong and only the Christians right? My parents would say it is a question of faith and that a true believer does not require proof. However, my doubting mind couldn’t help noticing that many more people did not believe and had no faith in this “earth-shattering” event than actually did!

Thus, despite the romanticism of the story and the beauty of the carols, I came to reject the Christian aspect of Christmas. Later, my cynicism increased when I learnt that the Church had hi-jacked the pagan midwinter festival of light. [ where people appealed to their gods for the coming of Spring, of light, warmth and of re-birth when all seemed dead and and dark in the midst of winter]. The Christian church supplanted this and adapted it for their own ends, pretending it was their festival all along. Later still, through my research as an RE teacher, I found out that historical records point to Jesus actually being born in September! So by late adolescense I had lost my faith in the Bible’s Christmas story. I did not want to go to church and hear it all again, so I took to the streets.

Another issue that forced me out into the cold was my growing awareness of the amount of poverty, famine and inequality there was in the world. I know that Christmas in the West is supposed to be a time for thinking of others less fortunate than ourselves. I whole-heartedly agree with this. The idea is constantly repeated in school assemblies and church sermons throughout the land. Businesses and celebrities adopt certain charities. The media looks for heart- warming stories of people helping in soup kitchens and temporary hostels for the homeless being set up. All this is very good. As a child I enjoyed giving as well as receiving gifts at Christmas. But I came to realize that many, if not most, of peoples’ presents were being given, not to the poor, but to people who already had a lot. How many times have you heard the question: “What can you buy for the man/woman/child who has everything?” In fact older relatives in my experience, often get so exasperated about trying to think of something to give to a child who already owns lots of toys, books, clothes, games etc., that they admit defeat and simply hand over the money!

I became more aware of this as the 1960’s rolled on .It seemed to me that Christmas was mainly becoming an orgy of materialism. This has grown a lot worse since then. Slick advertising persuades people ( especially children) that they have to have certain things or they will be missing out. Imagine being the only person in your class or on your street who doesn’t own a Kindle or a Smartphone! Poorer parents often stack up their credit cards and push themselves into debt to buy the required items for their children. By 17 I was already aware of excessive consumerism in our society, with Christmas being the time when it reached its grand crescendo. The shops were packed throughout December and there was a frenzy of frantic buying. This is still the case today with the Internet also joining in the “fun”. Postmen and women exhaust themselves delivering constant parcels to people’s doors.

On top of all this, the thought of starving people in famine- struck Africa and elsewhere, started to put me off my massive Christmas dinner, not to mention all those mince pies, cake and chocolates. I realize that much of this hand-wringing and moralising must sound terribly pompous and boring after a while. I admit I was like that as a teenager, constantly angsting as I  set out my ethical “stall”. I can still be like that today. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful to my kind and generous parents and I am not advocating that everyone should have a serious and miserable time at Christmas. But ( yes — there’s always a “but”) I could not and cannot ignore poverty, inequality and starvation in the world. At the time this made me much less inclined to eat, drink and be merry. It was the extravagent excess of Christmas that brought this reaction out of me.

The final and probably the biggest factor that made me so disillutioned with Christmas was my conversion to vegetarianism. Don’t worry, I am not going to explain this in detail again as it is covered in previous blogs.( cf — “How My Grandfather Turned me Into a Vegetarian.”) Suffice to say that my” Saul on the Road to Damacus” moment was seeing my Grandad’s slaughtered chicken lying lifelessly on our work top, its broken neck hanging at an awkward angle away from its body. My father thought he was being kind when he asked me if I would like to help pluck the feathers off and remove the giblets. At 17 he probably thought I was old enough to be able to do this “man’s” work. To his surprise though, his offer had the exact opposite effect to that intended. Instead of stepping forward to assist in this important job, I shrank away in disgust! Inside my mind I heard a distinct click — it was the “penny” dropping. Or you could say it was another scale disappearing from my eyes. Previously I had thought of our Christmas bird as a delicious piece of food and a special treat. Now I saw it for what it really was — a creature that had had its life prematurely snuffed out so that we could consume its flesh. In a previous post I have noted the irony of celebrating a birth (of Jesus) through a death. ( of the chicken.) This has sadly got to be multiplied millions of times every December as enormous numbers of  birds — chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese — are slaughtered on an industrial scale so people can stuff themselves at Christmas. I suddenly felt this very strongly and refused to eat that poor creature and have never knowingly eaten meat since. It’s no surprise that I felt compelled to go out all day as I wanted to take no part in something that I strongly disagreed with. Christmas has been a difficult time for me ever since.

Those rebellious years of teenage tantrums and walk- outs have now long gone and I have calmed down a lot.( thank goodness!) I have allowed myself to enjoy the numerous aspects of the Christmas festival which are harmless and pleasurable. This was especially so when I had my own family  and my first wife and I recreated the magical Christmases we had both enjoyed as children. I hope our 2 daughters and son enjoyed them too. Yet, I have never been back to Christmas morning church services after all those years of being forced to go. The nearest I got to this was a candle-lit carol service in Hexham Abbey, Northumberland. It was beautiful and atmospheric but extremely cold!  What’s more –I have retained that uncomfortable feeling about the explosion of consurism and over- indulgence that Christmas always seems to trigger. It goes without saying that I remain repelled by the mass killing of animals and birds simply to fill peoples’ stomachs. Last but not least, I am still enough of a rebel to want to fight against the constrictions of tradition. Why should I be forced to do exactly the same things as everyone else at exactly the same time? I know its an important bonding mechanism for the family and for the nation as a whole, but the James Dean in me still finds it pretty oppressive and I want to break out! It’s enough to make me want to go for a very long walk, or read a book of pretentious poetry! Amen.

TO BE HONEST OR TO BE POLITE?

13 Nov

This post is going to include comments that some people may find rude or offensive. I’m writing it nevertheless because I’m sick of being polite! Society ties us up in a whole web of politeness. The result is that we spend a lot of time smiling at one another and exchanging superficial pleasantries, while at the same time hiding our true thoughts and feelings. Clearly, this is often very necessary , as it ensures that for most of the time, most of the people get on with each other without coming to blows. Politeness is the oil that lubricates the cogs of society. The problem with this however, is that our real, honest selves remain locked up inside us. We are like players on a stage, acting out the various roles that have been allocated to us. We carefully follow the script but hardly ever reveal our true identities.

I recently had a dream in which I was walking around with my hands covering my face. The simple interpretation is that I was hiding the real me in order to avoid confrontation and trouble. Another common analogy is that we are wearing metaphorical masks, like characters in Ancient Greek theatre. In my dream ( and in real life most of the time), I cannot reveal that I’m an athiest just in case the other person is religious. Similarly I cannot reveal that I am a pacifist just in case the other has a son or husband serving in Afghanistan. I cannot admit straight away to supporting Arsenal just in case the other is a Man Utd fan. One of my most important life-style choices is that of being a vegetarian. ( veggies would call it: choosing a compassionate life-style.) However I have to be careful how much I say about this ethical choice and even HOW I go about saying it. Some carnivores ( or omnivores) show polite and fleeting interest, but if I prolong my explanation beyond a couple of minutes, I run the risk of arousing their impatience and even anger. If a person outlines an ethical standpoint he/she is in danger of being accused of “preaching” or of trying to take the moral high-ground. In other words, people think you are trying to be better than them. This gets up their noses. As soon as a veggie tries to activate a meat-eater’s conscience, a defensive/aggressive shield drops down and  an unpleasant scene is potentially only moments away. Thus, in order not to offend others who do not share their moral views, most vegetarians keep quiet, unless they are sure that someone is genuinely interested in their stance. The result in most cases is that my opinions about animal welfare and my respect for all life ( human or otherwise), are trumped by society’s need to keep the peace and avoid controversy.

I wasn’t always this passive and polite. When I was a teenager I wanted to shout my views from the rooftops. I didn’t care what people thought of them. I was in fact proud of my views for I had a strong belief that they were right. At that time in my life I had fewer inhibitions and like all idealistic young people , I sincerely thought I could change the World for the better. Afterall I grew up in the mythical, magical 1960’s when traditional society seemed to be in melt-down and all the rules were being rewritten. Just for one shimmering moment, in the fleeting era of “Flower Power”, it seemed that peace and love would conquer the world, taking the place of the usual war and hatred. I supported this movement wholeheartedly. The Vietnam War was at its height and for a brief period it seemed as if all that appalling violence could be swept away by a mass movement based on  love ( and I’m not just talking about Christianity.) Basically I believed in a way of living that supported the protection and prolongation of LIFE rather than a mode of existance that accepted and even promoted cruelty, misery and unnecessary DEATH. I extended my definition of Life to that of all creatures on the earth, human or otherwise. Thus I was against war, against torture, against cruel sports and against the mass slaughter of animals for food. All these views fitted naturally together like a moral jig-saw. I wasn’t ashamed to express them even though I risked arguments and upset. More controversially, I decided that in order to be consistent with my anti-unnecessary- death stance, I had to disagree with abortion too, unless there was a very special reason such as the woman’s life being at risk. This was and is controversial as anti-abortionists for some reason tend to be on the right of the political spectrum, whereas all my other views fitted nicely with those on the left. So as well as arguing with carnivores — sorry– omnivores — and supporters of war, I now got embroiled in heated exchanges with feminists who insisted on “the woman’s right to choose” and said I had no right to even have an opinion on this as I was a man. The unborn child who was having it’s life extinguished even before it came out into the world, seemed to have been forgotten in all this. So as an adolescent I fervently supported the rights of people to live in peace, the rights of animals to have a life and the rights of the unborn child. Then I got a bit older ( some people would say I grew up) and all went silent. So what happened? To put it succinctly: politeness descended like a fog. My views got lost in an enveloping mist of good manners.

Once I became a young adult with growing responsibilities such as: a family, a career and eventually a mortgage, my priorities became more personal. Idealistically trying to change the world now had to go on the back-burner. I could not continue challenging people about their views or their eating habits without running the risk of stalling my career and socially isolating myself. If I had kept “banging on” about the evils of war, the abominations of abattoirs or the rights of the living foetus, my colleagues, friends and even family would quickly have got tired of me. The dinner-party invitations would have dried up and promotion opportunities at work would have disappeared. Eventually I would have been branded an “extremist”, that is: someone who is unwilling to compromise. So, there’s that dreaded word — Compromise. Nobody wants to be compromised but most of us end up doing it anyway, of our own volition. We water-down our views or keep quiet about them in order to get on with other people and be a success in society. I don’t know whether I should be ashamed to admit it but this is what I did in my twenties. Some would say I became a realist instead of continuing to be an idealist. I wanted to be a popular and accepted member of my community and so I made the necessary adjustments. In other words I became a conformist. Thus it was that I hung my “Superman” suit up in the wardrobe and concentrated on living a pleasant everyday life by fitting in. Besides, unrelenting challenging, arguing and campaigning had been draining and debilitating. Constantly swimming against the tide is very tiring. As a result, I decided to go with the flow and my more controversial views were hidden away to avoid embarrassment. Some would say that it was the coward’s way out!

For more than a decade I kept quiet, trying to be nice to everyone and not rocking any boats. I led a very happy family life with my wife and children and I got on in my teaching career. Schools in fact are great places for conformists. They try to be a microcosm of the wider society and the whole ethos is on  “fitting in”, from wearing the uniform to following all the rules. They are not such good places for “rebels.” One of the first things I had to do was get my hair cut. Up to that point I  looked like a cross between George Best and George Harrison.( or so I imagined.)  Now I was forced to look like an American GI going to war! I also had to get used to years of slavery to the collar and tie as I masqueraded as an upstanding member of the “establishment” Both at home and at work I generally avoided controversy and I was rewarded with social and vocational success. I was pretty happy most of the time.

However nothing lasts. Mrs Thatcher came to power in the 1980’s with her aggressive and destructive ( in my view) right wing doctrine. Unemployment reached frightening proportions, the pointless but dreadful Falklands war was fought, the miners’ strike was smashed, along with many of their heads, and dangerous Cruise Missiles were arriving at Greenham Common from Reagon’s America. On top of this, environmental issues such as pollution and destruction of habitats were getting more and more urgent. CND was revived and Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were born. All these developments meant that I was radicalised again, as were many of my friends and family. It was no longer a case of hiding away one’s views in order to keep life pleasant. It was now the time to stand up and be counted. So I donned my duffle coat, put on my badges and found myself:  on torch-light processions, writing protest letters, lobbying my (Tory) MP, signing petitions , going door-to door canvassing, joining the Labour party ( and attending boring meetings) and going on a wide variety of demonstrations. I became a peace campaigner and in a small way, an environmental activist. It felt good. There were millions of us. Taking part in mass marches, I felt energised and empowered.  It was good to be fighting for positive change rather than timidly keeping quiet or sitting on the fence. Unfortunately millions more were either apathetic or downright hostile to the causes I supported and the Tories under Thatcher and then John Major unbelievably won 4 elections in a row! Eventually I and many others got tired and dispirited. Ten years of campaigning had burnt me out and I desperately needed to rest from the fray. So I lapsed into the “quiet life” again.

The temporary abandonment of my activism was also necessitated by an unfortunate series of crises in my private life in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Separation, divorce, not being able to live with my children and further relationship turmoil, all now took over from trying to save the world. I had to recover from the traumas, lick my wounds and reconstruct my life. It was quite a long time before things settled down and were more or less stable again. Eventually I found happiness once more, becoming a grandfather twice over, falling in love and even remarrying. By 2006 I at last managed to escape the tyranny of work after a tough few last years, and discovered the joys of slightly early retirement. I kept my more contentious views and concerns largely under wraps and avoided controversy. Everything in my garden seemed rosy. What more could I ask for?

However, underneath all this surface contentment, restless rumblings of dissent were once more stirring inside me like a dormant volcano coming back to life. Why did this happen? Why did I want to threaten my new very happy life? Well first of all, my fundamental, heartfelt beliefs had never actually gone away just because I hardly ever aired them in public. If anything, they had grown stronger and deeper, like good wine maturing in a cellar. They were beliefs that formed the foundation of my life. Although hidden away, they are what defined me as a person. I wouldn’t be Stuart Bates if I wasn’t a pacifist, a vegetarian, a socialist ( with a small “s”), a “Green”, a Republican, and so on. These principles shape me as much as my various roles of: husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, friend etc. Once I was a retiree and had more time to think and reflect on life, they inevitably rose to the surface again. Also, I’ve found that one advantage of getting older is that one is not so much in thrall to all the niceties and rules of etiquette that can prove so limiting in one’s life. William Blake memorably called these restrictions: “mind-forged manacles.” As I got past 60 and had less responsibilities to tie me down, I increasingly wanted to break free from my shackles and reveal my true self. I wanted to be honest and not be “economical with the truth”, to quote a famous cabinet secretary.

Many older people get this feeling. They lose some of their inhibitions and become so-called “grumpy” old men and women. They even made a humorous television programme about it and so I found myself in the illustrious company of Rick Wakeman, Ben Elton, Dawn French and others. It almost became fashionable to be “grumpy”. I prefer to call it being “honest”. However, other people think that older people can be as much of an “embarrassment” in polite society as children. Afterall they might just suddenly blurt out what they truly think instead of just saying what they think others want to hear. Older people, like young children, don’t care so much for the consequences of their words and actions. I would argue that they do not so often allow their true, honest selves to be smothered by the niceties of polite society. I am still courteous most of the time but think that it is also important to speak out. In this 21st century, Britain has been constantly at war and has proved to be an aggressive, militeristic nation, just as much as it was in the infamous days of Empire. We dress it up as supporting “freedom” and “democracy” but we still end up invading other countries and killing and maiming lots of people. The real reason is to get oil and other natural resources.( in my opinion.) We have even ended up torturing people and have apologised only when we have been caught. Yet the British still think of themselves as the good guys and describe their invading soldiers as “heroes”. Yes, there’s lots to speak out about and lots of potential arguments in store because so many have relatives in action in the armed forces. If you speak out against war you are accused of not being patriotic and even of being a traitor. Society has lots of techniques with which to gag its critics. And that’s just one controversial subject. There are plenty more that need to be addressed instead of being swept under the carpet of polite society.

Probably closest to my heart is my deep concern for animal welfare. I am against the abuse and exploitation of animals and birds be it through sport, in laboratories , on farms or in abbattoirs. Some of the stuff I read about makes my blood boil and makes me feel physically sick. And yet most people’s response seems to be either they “don’t know” or they “don’t care.” To me it’s simply a case of “Ignorance” or “Arrogance” How can I be expected to keep quiet about all this in order to avoid awkward moments in social situations? I have been emboldened in this by reconnecting with the friend who I turned vegetarian with in our mid-teens, all those years ago. Vic has not changed his fundamental views in his lifetime and neither have I. The trouble is that I am increasingly encountering people who believe: its OK to torture animals in order to find a cure for human diseases, it’s OK to eat animals’ dead bodies because they are very tasty and it’s OK to whip race-horses excessively in the name of creating an exciting finish. How can I remain quiet about all this?

I am sick of being policed by politeness. It’s cords still tie me down to a greater extent and I will probably not subject anyone to an outright attack. However I no longer try to disguise my disgust and dismay when coming across something shocking. For instance I was recently confronted with the grisly sight of a bloody, medium rare steak on a restaurant table. To me it was  obscene but the others in my party all drooled over it and couldn’t wait to get their teeth into it. To me it was the grilled corpse of a poor murdered animal. But apart from my look of horror, I meekly remained mute and pretended to be pleased with my vegetarian alternative. So I spoke out to my diary, to my wife and now in this blog. Sorry about my emotive vocabulary. It’s embarrasing isn’t it?

I know that some of my relatives regard me increasingly as a “loose cannon”. They fear that I might “go off it” at any time. ( and they may be right!) But I believe that honesty trumps politeness in most situations. At least it should do. What is the point of life if we all hide behind euphanisms and never say anything meaningful?  What’s the point in having views if one is afraid to express them or to act upon them?

So now, in my 60’s, I am embarking on another decade of campaigning. My Facebook “friends” are already getting fed up with my vegetarianism and for constantly reminding them about the shocking abuse of animals. However, as I have said, nothing is gained through being always quiet and polite. Anyway, it’s very uncomfortable sitting on that fence all the time!

How My Grandfather Turned Me Into A Vegetarian.

10 Jul

I became a vegetarian when I was 17. I am now 61 and have not knowingly eaten meat or fish for 44 years. A lot of this was down to my paternal Grandfather – George Arthur Bates. George Arthur, my dad’s dad, was a coal miner and later a steel worker. In his spare time he tilled a large garden and allotment, groaning with fruit and veg and he also ran a small holding ( tiny farm) where he reared pigs and chickens. ( and a pony he had “rescued” from the gypsies.) Thus much of the family’s food was home sourced. It was the small-holding that gave George Arthur his nickname : “Piggy Bates”. My father, Maurice Reuben, inherited this name with all its unfortunate connotations. He may well have experienced a hard time at school because of it. Dad grew up in the 1920’s and 30’s, being quite used to home-produced eggs, ham, bacon and sausages. In the days when a chicken was still regarded as a luxury ( before the mass-production of modern factory-farming), the family would treat themselves to one of their birds on special occasions.

A perceptive friend of mine who shared a few pub meals with my parents and I, noticed that no matter how long dad deliberated over the menu, he always ended up choosing gammon. My friend asked dad whether his choice had something to do with looking after pigs when he was young. Maurice nodded and proceeded to tell us how he used to help his father slaughter pigs, chop them up, salt the pieces of meat to preserve them and then store them in barrels which were kept in the cool of the wash-house. Obviously, this was before the all embracing rule of Health and Safety regulations. I was amazed at this story! It sounded like something from the Middle Ages, yet here was oral testimony of my own father doing it within living memory. “Gammon”, according to the dictionary, is the bottom piece of a flitch of bacon, including the hind leg. A “flitch” is defined as a side of pork, salted and cured. Apparently a flitch was awarded annually at Dunmow in Essex ( near Stansted airport) to any couple proving conjugal harmony for a year and a day. It was hard to imagine my own dad, up to his ankles in blood, gore and salt, working away to preserve meat for the winter. It’s a far cry from visiting a supermarket freezer and picking out a pre-prepared, cellophane- wrapped steak or a packet of frozen sausages.

It was then that I remembered grandad’s gruesome stories. He thought they were hilarious but my sister and I were horrified.One was about a pig he was trying to slaughter by slitting its throat. The pig struggled free and ran squealing down the road at high speed. My grandad pursued it for 5 miles but he never lost his prey because of the thick trail of sticky blood it was leaving in its wake. It finally collapsed, presumably due to loss of blood, and my grandad was then able to finish the job in the middle of the road.

Another story was about chopping a chicken’s head off on the kitchen table and seeing it leap up and run madly around the kitchen minus its head, before it dropped dead. Grandad thought this was a scream but I failed to find the funny side of the tale. I imagine this must be a common phenomenum, as panicking people are often described as being like “headless chickens.”

One Christmas in the mid 1960’s, Grandad Bates presented us with one of his chickens. This was regarded as a treat for us, as birds, whether chicken, goose or turkey, were too expensive for our family to afford. Up to that point we had usually eaten pork for Christmas dinner, presumably from one of grandad’s slaughtered pigs. This time however, we were being “honoured” with a chicken. As I stood by the small holding with my dad, grandad grabbed a chicken, wrung its neck in a flash and gave it to us. My dad was pleased but I was shocked by the casual, unfeeling brutality of the act. A life had been instantly extinguished to provide us with a meal. Ironically we were to celebrate a birth by means of a death!

Up to that point, I don’t think I had really connected the flesh on my plate with the living animal, bird or fish that had so recently roamed the earth. Like many others I suspect, I regarded haddock or a cod as something tasty to eat, not a fish that had been swimming in the sea, while sausages and bacon were part of the “full English” fried breakfast, not a sensitive, intelligent mammal that lived on a farm and that featured in childrens’ story book books with pink flesh and a cute, curly tail.

I suppose I should thank George Arthur for giving me this revelation. It led to me changing my life and becoming a vegetarian. A schoolfriend, Vic, and I started to research the subject. Vic showed me a graphic Sunday supplement article about what happened to animals in our abattoirs. The mass slaughter of animals by shooting metal bolts into their brains was almost too horrifying to read. The article also spoke of the brutalisation of the people doing the constant killing, leading inevitably to further abuse and cruelty. Many years later I was not surprised at all at the secretly filmed footage of workers at a Bernard Matthews turkey farm playing baseball with live birds!

Back in the 60’s Vic and I started asking more and more questions and always came up with depressing answers. In my own family for instance, I found out that Thomas, my maternal Grandfather’s favourite dish, black-pudding, was actually made from congealed pig’s blood! ( yuk!) Meanwhile my old friend, George Arthur, loved tripe, which was not a fish as I first thought but part of a cow’s stomach lining! It seemed that we were all eating dismembered body parts as a matter of routine and thinking nothing of it — steak and KIDNEY pie, LIVER and onions, LEG of lamb etc. My maternal Grandma, Alice, liked to serve TONGUE as part of high tea. Now I fully realized what I had been eating, and was retrospectively horrified and disgusted.

Seeing grandad’s poor chicken lying lifelessly on the kitchen work-surface, its head hanging limply away from its body, was my “Saul on the road to Damacus” moment. From that time on I was not to eat any more meat or fish. Dad invited me to pluck the dead bird and take out its giblets. He was obviously used to this and thought it a routine thing to do. I not only refused to help him but also refused to eat any of it on Christmas day. At first my dad mocked me and mum was concerned that I would fall ill or even die if I didn’t eat any meat. Dad ordered my mum to keep giving me the same piece of meat for every meal until I gave up and ate it. He was trying to be the stern Victorian father, recreating his own upbringing. But this tactic did not work. My mother took pity on me and fed me while dad was at work. However, she did try to trick me by hiding chopped- up sausages in my mashed potatoes!

Later on, my younger brother, Graham, also became a vegetarian, completely independently of me. ( he is 15 years younger.)  I imagine that my poor, bemused parents must have wondered where on earth they had gone wrong. To them, animals, birds and fish were just a source of food for us human-beings. They have never thought that eating meat can be seen as: a moral, ethical, economic or religious issue that one must take a stance on. In this instance, my mum and dad , Maurice and Jessie, form part of the vast majority who don’t think that the taking of a creature’s life is wrong. The majority of people enjoy their powerful position at the top of the food chain without having any trouble from their consciences or feeling any responsibility for the countless lives that have been wiped out on their behalf. We vegetarians believe that the unnecessary ending of any life is wrong and want no part of the industrial scale slaughter that provides meat for the masses. We value our consciences above our stomachs.

But, as you know, becoming a vegetarian means also becoming a part of a tiny minority. This is the reason why for most of my life, I have felt that I have been living in the wrong world, like a square peg in a round hole. Thanks a lot Grandad!