Thursday, 24 February 2011

Last Will & Testament
Friday nights reserved for basking in the glow. The evening's Body Balance class and circled TV listings providing my saintly hue. The light from within and without animating my frame. That's as far as sainthood goes. Flies on the wall could confess I argue with the screen. Not backwards in coming forwards in voicing my concerns, addressing those depicted as if they were present in the room. Vocals rising, ready for a fight. This latest disagreement brought about by BBC2's Can't Take It With You. A real-life series following sets of couples with their demise in mind. The dilemma: who should get what and why. A fascinating process of debate ensues, friends and relatives included. Options laid out and fears stripped bare to reach an understanding. A post-decease statement to satisfy both parties.

What's my problem with this? Nothing, but the taboo. Surprised by people's reactions to the end of life, confronting this alive. Death, a subject brushed aside. Not a topic for the living. Me, I feel the opposite. Death is not taboo. Never shying away from it, not understanding those that do. What is there to dread? My belief grounded in the knowledge that with life comes death. Others revering death in spite, condemning animals to it every day. Beings who have no time to make that journey to acceptance.

Dying not the issue here, but the family estate. Who deserves to benefit from property and funds? Entitled to an equal share? Complicated preferences require thrashing out. One partner not necessarily submitting to the other. This, the expectation when parting with your portion. Couples now divided. Who's right? What's best? Does it really matter? Why can't all be divvied up, to do what each desires? Leave it to children, aunts and uncles, or a charity for cats. Who are we to decide what is valuable to others? Coupled up, my answer would be this: “Half of mine is not always yours. I need to do as I see fit.” Then there's inequality, a hot topic for recipients. A dinner planned to bring their differences to the fore. Words chosen carefully avoiding a dispute. I've invested time, money, energy in this family or business the overriding theme. Single me out or not at all. Make the right decision. Fairness, this big society's scheme.

Time for talking over, instructions can be given. A pen provided to supply your signature on the dotted line. Discussion of death important to make your wishes known. Unfair to leave animosity behind or confusion about what to do. My proposal drafted, expressing my requests beyond the grave. How I want my funeral to what to do with my effects. There's no morbidity in these thoughts, but a practical view of life. Why burden anyone else to make this choice when I'm perfectly capable now? There can be dignity in dying and relinquishing your claims. For in this final analysis, the act of dying to yourself, "It's between you and God, it was never between you and them anyway."

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Value For Money
The People's Supermarket in Lamb's Conduit Street, my new Sunday night documentary treat. Food and shopping, these two words collide causing the average person dread. This concept, a little different – the objective to rejuvenate trade of our perishable goods. Manned by volunteers who pledge their time, a supermarket “owned by the people for the people” - a new communitarian form of the grocery shop. “Good food at affordable prices”, the people's chant. Chef, Arthur Potts Dawson, the co-founder of this scheme. Leading from the front to prevent food waste, unfair play, and the likes of Tesco blocking his path. “Be the change you want to see in the world”, Mahatma Gandhi said. Dawson clearly demonstrating this attribute - The People's Supermarket a tide for change?

Ripples on the surface, but absent of waves. The Big Four so far undaunted by its presence. Dawson inspired by a food cooperative in Brooklyn, New York. Here, consumers must be members – you have to join to work and shop. The same principles applied to the British version with one subtle difference. Joe Bloggs off the street can elect to buy. Only members guaranteed a further 10% discount off their weekly stock. This, I feel an error, preferring the American model. Made to join, everybody contributes the same effort – their time, in order to reap the benefits. To shop, you have to work. Pride and community at stake, the project a more secured success. This opt-out clause failing to bring society together.

Reaping what you sow should be the big society's quest. Voluntary work demanded if unemployed or on benefits. A sharing of skills and labour. The People's Supermarket, trusting members to commit. Their challenge: one compulsory shift a month. Four hours all it takes, but it seems this is a lot to ask. Sacrificing previous time a problem, expecting others to do the work. A nation of complainers with little sense of responsibility. Will this scheme flourish or flounder?

Herein my dilemma lies: Is The People's Supermarket any different or better? I hesitate to reply. Surely all supermarkets started out this way, before the acorn grew into a tree. I don't believe the Big Four can be beaten, for it is the industry that needs to change. Its ethos of cheap food for the everyday, forcing suppliers out of business in meeting their quality demands. Judging produce by its size, shape and appearance, much like an anorexic judges herself. The public complying with this shared scrutiny. Arthur Potts Dawson is highlighting these areas, but I desire a more novel approach. Shelves stocked with perfectly edible food waste. Reducing food waste and lessening the burden on the consumer's purse. The industry prevailed upon to act in our interests and stop the food cull.

A future resting on a dream... Recognizing the value of food, allowing our senses to decide. Our judgment discarded of misshapen fruit and veg. A fair wage provided to growers, reflective of their worth. Voluntary work the norm – giving back to the community an essential way of life. A vision emerging: true value for money with a helpful spirit.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


Hairbrush in hand, I stride into my “live lounge”set and belt out Aretha Franklin's hit single. The empty furniture my captured audience. My vocals drowning out creaks of protest. What is this rendition in aid of? I'll let the lyrics do the talking: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me...”

Respect: treat or regard with deference, esteem, or honour; treat with consideration. A word liberally applied to our relations with people. “Respect your elders” a common phrase – one we've no doubt all heard in our youth. Wisdom contained in a single noun, but is this usage it's only significance? Respect communicates different meanings depending on its context, and for me it's a word of cautionary advice. To explain my position however, I have to wade into the tempestuous, and often political, climate debate. With brand new wellies on, let the wading commence...

BBC4 Storyville: Meet The Climate Sceptics the inspiration for this piece. A documentary exploring how the voice of science is undermined by sceptics. Those unwilling to accept their contribution to emerging global concerns. Responsibility, or lack of, a common theme to all societal ills. Hostility between the two camps – Believers and Sceptics, spreading like BP's oil spill into every facet of daily life. The Sceptics convinced there's a hidden government agenda, while the Believers try to quell the distrust. An argument over modern comforts vs environmental evidence. Each buying into their own version of the truth. Who is to be believed? Al Gore declared “The truth is out there”, but are we any closer to it?

The truth is there, but it's a subjective reality. Neither camp alleviating my anxiety – this disconnection to the place we call “home”. I don't care for global warming politics nor the facts and figures. The eyes do not deceive. A planet plainly in distress – heatwaves, floods, severe cold and drought, just a few of the extremes. The devastating effects played out for all the world to see. Hell on earth unleashed by our disrespect and greed. Respect, surely now our number one priority.

My choice made by reminders of childish fun and innocence. Games of make-believe. The rain dance a favourite activity. Whooping and dancing to the beat of my own drum – a native call for rain to fall. My faith in nature affirmed by a single drop. Respecting the earth a primal urge. I worship the ground I walk on – paying homage to Mother Earth. My truth summed up out of RESPECT: Reducing Emissions Saves Planet Earth Creating Threats. Far better to take action in my view, than do nothing at all.

Position verified, my singing can resume. This last line of advice my gift to you: Give “A little respect (just a little bit)”, before there's no song left in the land.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Easily Swayed

Knelt at the edge of my bed, hands in customary prayer position, I begin my confession, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned...” What exactly am I guilty of?, you may ask. Apart from not being a Christian, I've been mouthing off about my so-called fellow veggies again. Accustomed to such rantings, us veggies are not as placid as we might appear. My latest tirade reaching unprecedented heights.

Who is in my line of fire? Veggies who fall off the wagon that's who. Snippets of one too many foodie shows increasing my disgust. The highlight, veggies failing the ultimate test. Their golden ticket – a pretty piece of flesh. A tasty morsel waved under their nose and popped in their mouth. No access denied or an admission of guilt. A “hmmm, tastes good” the only words to escape from their lips. The presenters unconcealed delight that another veggie has returned to the fold. A black sheep in their midst.

The studio audience rippling with laughter at the idea that a meaty mouthful somehow doesn't count. A baby again - spoon fed, accompanied with obligatory choo-choo noises and an “open wide”, only this time in adult guise. These dainty bites proving irresistible to even the most ardent veggie. Fresh faced newbies tripping up I can understand. Making the decision to go veggie is easy, following through the difficulty. I fail to grasp however why veggies of some years standing are so easily swayed. What makes these otherwise competent individuals turn their back on a philosophy they once held dear?

The temptation of meat can prove too much for some. Previously untried meats a sinful treat to be chewed, swallowed and critiqued. Untapped meat markets persuading eco-veggies this is the future. The environmentally friendly solution. Wild animals roaming free ripe for the kill. A dollop of red sauce to enhance the flavour. Ketchup or not, the fact is plain – with meat comes murder. Farming in one form or another an inevitable result of consumer demand. Others are naturally born carnivores, for whom a full vegetarian diet doesn't suit. I respect that and applaud their efforts, but wish the veggie name hadn't been adopted in vain. Fuelled only by positive connotations. Hypocrisy, a vegetarian nightmare, breeding misconception and contempt. Implying that vegetarianism is a whimsical phase, a veg-life crisis.

Persuasion tactics weakening others resolve. The veggie lifestyle, an unhealthy affair. Deficient in protein and not suitable during pregnancy. A blasphemy if ever there was one. The consulting room entered, bible in hand. Hard evidence dismissed and plea for more veg-enlightened professionals shunned. No room for reason. The medical world is GOD, so fall in line. Snubbing their advice demands an iron will.

Easily swayed a new veg craze? That sought-after golden ticket? I shudder at the thought.