Nigel Slater’s not-so-poignant love of bacon

How can you say you “respect” something you also eat? I ask you. Or whose milk and eggs you take away. Who is disposed of once past its ‘useful’ life.

Today’s Observer Food Monthly is a vegetarian special. Its editor Nigel Slater seems to have been taking lessons from the irritant food critic Jay Rayner on the enduring food world pass-time of Bait the Vegetarian. His thesis: his love of bacon sandwiches, which trumps his deep urge to become vegetarian, is vindicated by his deep love, knowledge and appreciation of live animals and the humanity with which the ones he eats are reared and killed.

He writes in faux penitence “But it’s still eating dead animals. No matter how good a life they have led”. And directly after that he writes “I’m not proud of it” and in five small words consoles his conscience and dispatches the opposition. “I’m not proud of it” he says piously “so you can’t blame me” he means. We all have our bad habits, after all, and his include – all in the course of this minute editorial – touching meat, eating roast pork and the objects he cooks in its juices, pork pies, sausages, lamb cutlets, chicken breasts. Why write about it, Nigel? When you conjure up “a bird with its beautiful plumage strutting proudly in the farmyard”, or ” the cute little lamb … frolicking in the field” and then with cleaver-like abruptness puncture these idylls with images of you eating them, I see a disingenuous, broken-down attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable – the contents of your fork and the contented living animal. You know you can’t. You say it yourself. But whereas you work hard to make us find your conflicting urges poignant – “It is simply that a bacon sandwich will always get the better of my conscience” – I can’t square it. It’s a dodge too far.

I loved meat and I gave it up. Later on, I gave up cheese, eggs, milk, butter, mayonnaise and meringues. I want everybody to give it up – because it’s the right thing to do for the animals we eat and take from, for the wild animals that live on the land we take up to farm animals and food for those animals, for the growing human population whom animals cannot sustain, for animal farming’s contribution to global warming – and because I don’t want to be tempted by it any more. Meringues. Meringues. I gave up meringues. Souffles, fools, pannacotta. It took half my life to achieve it (just over two years ago now) but unlike you I never rebelled against my conscience, I never dug my heels in. I never said “never”.

Come on, man – don’t rub our noses in it with this talk of what you can’t deny yourself. Because we vegans need you people to save us from soya, stir fry and ‘cheese’ made of potatoes. We need some proper, radically original cuisine and we need it to percolate to our local places. So tell Locatelli, tell Ramsay, tell Rayner.

I write this because you don’t answer my (2) emails.

The vegans are coming

Not that all publicity is good publicity but I’d suggest it’s been a good week for veganism, which is finally entering public consciousness as a proposition worth considering. I’ll know that’s true when Spiked publishes one of their scorn pieces on it.

For example, in her elimination from Dancing with the Stars, according to the Daily Mail (25th April 2007) Heather Mills “made a bizarre plea to the audience to go vegan, suggesting they take part in a ‘No Meat Monday’”.

In the Times Higher (20 April 2007), professor of sociology David Nibert wrote (behind a subscription)

“For human beings concerned about the ongoing oppression of humans, cows and other animals becoming a vegan may be the most effective political action of a lifetime.”

Yesterday, getting vegan shampoo from Lush on Carnaby St (while trying to avoid inhaling the chemical cocktail pall which hangs over the shop), I was given a ticket for a makeover at B Cosmetics, a grotesque place styled like maghreb cathouse, which is nevertheless almost 100% vegan (I’m told). I went in, got my ‘make-over’ (which consisted of having my eyes and lips plastered in muck) and left without buying anything. Though I now know I suit the colour bronze.

Crossing into Covent Garden to look for canvas shoes for work (when to be honest all I want, really, is Gola jazz shoes – white) and realising that all the nice ones cost silly money I strayed into Birkenstock where I found, in the north-east corner on the top shelf, a vegan range. I left with black vegan Milanos sandals – with backstrap – and although I’ve got mixed feelings about their appearance at least they’re vegan (maybe I should write to Gola though) and, with the discount I negotiated for having to take a display shoe, only cost a few quid more than anything else, and can be repaired. And they are, after all, terribly good for my poor abused little trotters.

A polarised week

Very good and very awful, at different times. Always interesting.

On Monday met Matt P in The Olde Mitre, Ely Court off Hatton Gardens. Interestingly, Ely Court occupied the site of the Palace of the Bishops of Ely – the origin of all the historical and geographical anomalies in the area – and until recently was under the administration of Cambridgeshire and bore a Cambridgeshire post code. More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isle_of_Ely. We’d been going to take pictures but the light was indifferent so we went there instead – my favourite pub. He’s in the beginning of a new relationship and may move to L.A. to give it his best shot. But first he hopes to persuade his ex-girlfriend and co-home owner to sell her share to him and move out. It won’t be unexpected exactly for her, but she’ll be lucky if she manages to find somewhere to rent which will allow her to take the dog. Plus she’s a student clinical psychologist and dogs cost money and time. Hope everything works out for them – they’re both old friends.

On Tuesday, we noticed that something awful had happened to the VLE – all the discussion forum posts had gone. Mysteriously, just like the last time we had a VLE disaster, the boss had gone on holiday (I mentioned this for a joke over lunch with Computing Services, but they dismayed me by nodding soberly and told me it had happened before. Then we (the front end educational development people) had a major debacle trying to get IT Services to deal with it. The problem is that when the former sysadmin, the talented, committed Moodle enthusiast who had overseen the inception of Moodle here left, that part of his role wasn’t acknowledged by ITS and his successors are rejecting responsibility. So ITS have hired him back as a consultant and developer – but he’s not under a support and maintenance contract and he has a dayjob. Then the server fell over, for no discernable reason, for the second time in a month, leading sysadmin to post a hardware maintenance ticket. He also told us to get our Moodle Partner on the case because they couldn’t do anything about apps problems so (unconvinced but powerless) I posted a ticket. The Moodle Partner – call him Tim – seemed to have forgotten half the details we gave him last time round, and some of the others were obsolete. We embarked on a mind-bogglingly convoluted chain of communication between us, him (only contactable through this ticket system), former sysadmin and current sysadmins. Then Tim started taking the VLE down without giving us time to warn people – this was double bad because we were in the middle of deadlines for uploading summatively assessed work. SG and I diverged about what and how to advise staff, and what to request from Tim. Trouble was, we couldn’t gauge whether it was reasonable to ask Tim to give us an hour’s notice every time he wanted to take the VLE down to experiment with something or whether this would interfere with his problem-solving. I tended to think that anything less than 10 min was alright without notice, but SG disagreed on account of the disruption to strung-out students trying to upload coursework and then get wasted. To cut a long story slightly shorter, Tim managed to set himself up to work offline and we arranged scheduled downtime for Sunday. The worst-case scenario was a revert to our last good back-up – Monday 4 a.m. – but any changes to course areas in the interim would be lost. Our first priority was the Assignments. I searched the logs (our logs are fucked too, displaying numbers in a column for meaningful titles – Tim says that’s the same problem and it points to a corrupted databased association) but Moodle doesn’t make it easy and I had to alter the php to add 7000 records per page and then run a text search for “upgrade assignment”. to see who was using the Assignment tool so that we could advise them to switch to their contingent systems for collecting work. Only about 7 imminently, only one of whom was using Gradebook. So we found them, but we had to be careful with advice – ended up suggesting that they closed the assignment, downloaded the existing submissions and request any outstanding by email. Next we had to figure out whether it was worth getting tutors to Back Up their course areas so that they could Restore the week’s changes to Monday’s version. In the course of experimenting, it emerged that Back Up and Restore are fucked, for the aforementioned reason. And the reason for that reason? The Moodle Partner says moodle.org released 1.7 before it was ready, and the attempt sysadmin made to upgrade to it back in March fucked up everything – a timebomb waiting to go off. All in all it’s been diabolical. And our boss won’t respond to email or calls in the holidays (quite right) so we’ve been on our own again.

On Wednesday I went to see a couple of psychology academics I work with on a soft skills self-assessment project, and it emerged that the Learning and Teaching Head had warned them off it without consulting my department – apparently their work encroaches on Personal Development Planning (no, it complements it). He comes across as unbelievably territorial. I think we’re back on track though – well, I instantiated it in the meeting write-up anyway. I subscribed to Smoke for the aforementioned former sysadmin’s birthday. That evening on the way home I saw a boy – maybe a smallish 12yo – drag an even smaller boy out of the Ideas Store in Whitechapel towards the Sainsbury’s car park, kicking and slapping him. Another woman and I intervened – she pulled the littler boy away, and about that time the security guard arrived and the older kid ran away to a group of older boys hanging round the carpark. I had the red mist so I followed him and began to upbraid him. He screamed at me to fuck off and when I continued he came up close, made to hit me and then stab me with the car key he was holding (how come?). His friends gave him a way out before he did. I’m ashamed of myself. All I needed to do was to tell him that he mustn’t us physical force and if he has a problem with somebody he should resolve it with words. Instead I yelled at him like a harpy. Like a bully.

On Thursday, we were frantic about the VLE until 5.30, then a bunch of us went to the book launch of a minor celebrity psychology academic who specialises in personality. I got so drunk I was nearly sick, and had an unpleasant conversation with the Learning and Teaching head who leaked (deliberately? He was drunk, too) that there is an imminent review of my department, and hinted that he would be taking us over. Deeply unpleasant conversation in which I had to keep my wits about me, but at the same time at least we’re talking freely. I’m not sure that working under him would be any worse than the state we’re in at the moment, but that’s the best I can say. That night I woke still drunk but with grim tidings of the mother of all hangovers at 3 a.m. and had to eat last nights’s pasta out of the pan to stave it off.

On Friday I woke gingerly but the pasta had more or less saved me – though I had to eat a jam doughnut on the way to work (80p from Whitechapel – for pity’s sake, when did a doughnut start costing 80p?). I’d had an invite to a local conference on women’s writing from the Caribbean, and that was a revelation. Nothing like the conferences I’m used to – presentations last ages and involve reading your work aloud. Which I understand, because each work – whether it be crit, poetry or fiction – was itself a crafted piece with chosen words in a deliberate order. Hardly anybody used PowerPoint. Very different from learning technology conferences – a revelation. I understand creolisation better, and also much enlightened about the legacy of Caribbean slavery – for England and for the descendants of the enslaved (almost all Caribbeans of African origin). I also better understand the work that cultural scholars do. There were readings from Grace Nichols, too – I was lucky to go. Then there was more VLE grief and then I decided I didn’t have it in me to go to Greenwich for a drink but came back to the bosom of Barkingside, and here I am, next to Matt watching A Scanner Darkly.

Israel academic boycott at UCU inaugural congress

Ah well, futile to hope that it wouldn’t pop up again. A fifth (I believe) attempt at an institutionalised academic boycott of Israel soon to be debated at the inaugural UCU Congress.

Between 30th May and 1st June 07, in the region of 200 motions (some of which are amalgamated and others of which will be submitted late) will be considered at congress. Where it made sense to the committee, they linked these to April’s Report of the Transitional Arrangements Committee.

The boycott-related motions are as follows:

In Section 4: International and European Work, after para 44

  • (Transitional Arrangements Committee)
    Insert new title International greylisting and boycott policy
    In1 Policy on international greylisting and boycott (Transitional arrangements committee)
    Congress endorses the policy on international greylisting and boycott in UCU/16.

That refers to the policy painstakingly worked out in response to the decisive throwing-out of the 2005 boycott amidst accusations of undemocratic behaviour and to allay a general suspicion that our already-undermined academic elite is populated by racist goose-brains. It’s good, considered, policy which demands evidence of specific and exceptional transgressions, requires particular outcomes which signal that a given boycott can end, and allows no room for dramatic gestures.

Followed by this:

  • (Canterbury Christ Church University)
    In2 Academic Freedom (Canterbury Christ Church University)
    Recognising the unique importance of Academic Freedom to colleges and universities, Congress determines that:
    1) any motion passed at this, or a future congress, that restricts academic freedom in any way, that motion will be put to a ballot of all members with a brief statement of arguments for and against before becoming, if supported, UCU policy;2) any motion passed at this, or a future congress , that calls for an academic boycott of one or more colleges or universities outside of the UK, when such a boycott has not been requested by properly constituted and quorate branches of academic unions at those colleges or universities, that motion will be put to a ballot of all members with a brief statement of arguments for and against before becoming, if supported, UCU policy.

I’m finding it difficult to evaluate this one – in the case of Israel this wider involvement of membership has in the past preventing policy being hijacked by a disreputable minority of monomaniacally dedicated boycotters. But would it work in cases other than Israel? Is the intention that the hassle UCU would have to undertake in ballotting the membership reinforce the exceptional nature of academic boycott? Whether it’s a test of boycotter’s commitment or a move to hamstring future boycott initiatives with bureaucracy, either way the outcomes are the same: membership would have to be solidly behind any prospective boycott.

More wearyingly, in para 45, Middle East

  • Brighton University and University of East London (composited, presumably because it was boring)
    In3 Composite: Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions (University of Brighton, Grand Parade; University of East London, Docklands)
    Congress notes that Israel’s 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement.Congress deplores the denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students.
    Congress condemns the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation, which has provoked a call from Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.Congress believes that in these circumstances passivity or neutrality is unacceptable and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.Congress instructs the NEC to

    • circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches/LAs for information and discussion;
    • encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions;
    • organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists;
    • issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action.

This one is problematic for the same (dreary, boring, depressing) reasons as the previous boycott motions – it sets out a spurious list of specific evils, all highly debatable, but stops short of broadening out the underlying principles to other countries: in this way it singles out Israel and in this way it is antisemitic. Nothing has changed internationally; the only thing that will get this motion through 2007 congress is a national change of opinion – but I get the impression (from Anthony Julius’ analysis – see bottom of this earlier post) that if there has been one it has been against those who want to single Israel out for punishment. For these reasons and for reasons of irrelevance to UCU business, this has no place in UCU policy – I seriously hope it falls and if it doesn’t I hope delegates are able to argue the case for circulating and staging more than one side of the argument.

  • University of Birmingham
    In4 European Union and Israel
    Congress notes:1. That since the Palestinian elections in January 2006 the Israeli government has suspended revenue payments to the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the EU and US have suspended aid, leaving public-sector salaries unpaid and earning the condemnation of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions;2. That Israel is seeking to upgrade its relations with the EU to the same level as Norway and Switzerland, permitting free passage of goods, people and capital, while denying these freedoms to Palestinians.Congress resolves to campaign for:1. The restoration of all international aid to the PA and all revenues rightfully belonging to it;
    2. No upgrade of Israel’s EU status until it ends the occupation of Palestinian land and fully complies with EU Human Rights law.

Tired, stale stuff. Again the determination to view the freedom of movement of Palestinians as a matter of Israeli whim, ignoring matters of Israeli security. Again the refusal to acknowledge the Palestinian role in the conflict, and again the expectation that Israel should put all other international relations on hold and stand in the corner until they’re sorry. Even more bizarre (if it weren’t so familiar) is the absence of even a mild call from the same campaigners for the powers in Iran or China to shape up. As for Israel’s standing with the EU, the same rules apply as for other states in that situation (if these are costs and benefits to the more powerful member-states Israel would probably be an asset) but that’s neither here nor there because the dual campaign is a long-distance departure and unhelpful diversion from the business of an academic union. Members who wish to pursue their Israel-bashing hobby shouldn’t use UCU policy as a vehicle.

The weekend – pub crawl, Hogarth and Hainault Forest

Eventful. Matt’s birthday pubcrawl began at the Black Friar at Blackfriars with the intention of progressing up to The Jerusalem Tavern in Farringdon. The method was www.fancyapint.com, a web site I really rate highly. Significantly, thinking about it, it’s not a Web2.0 phenomenon – at least not in the ‘social’ sense anyway, though they’re mashing up google maps these days to present their pub walks. Each fancyapint review is by a single unattributed author and there’s no discussion, which I prefer rather than, say, beerintheevening, where the qualitative review consists only of unmoderated discussion. First rule of discussion boards: have somebody ‘weaving’ the contributions together at regular interviews, and make these woven posts prominent. Anyway, I made another A4 with a googlemap and integrated fancyapint reviews in textboxes, and we we got through 4 of those – the aforementioned Black Friar, The Cockpit on St Andrew’s Hill (nice staff, evocative setting, nice mouse!), The Olde Cheshire Cheese just off Fleet St (I always think I don’t like this pub and invariably find it charming – the Sam Smith booze is vegan too), and the Star Inn on Carey St behind the Royal Courts of Justice (great pub). Good night.

Saturday Matt and I decided to catch Hogarth at Tate Modern. Whopping £27 for tickets and audiotour – and unlike Amsterdam’s Reichsmuseum with the mellifluous local actor who had been visiting the museum all his life first with his grandfather and lately as a grandfather, the tour wasn’t very good. I was dismayed when we entered at the number of people crowding round the works and couldn’t imagine how I was going to get close enough to them to see the detail (you have to get very close to a Hogarth modern moral subject to see the syphillis lesions or roving hands for example). It got slightly better as people spread out at their different paces, but I spent a lot of time queueing and it took me two and a half hours to get round. I don’t know art. Rembrandt was a better painter, though. If you look closely at Rembrandt’s suggestive brushwork it looks more deliberate than Hogarth’s. Hogarth’s engraving and etching is wonderful, but there’s a crudeness to his paintings that’s nothing to do with their down-to-earth subjects. My favourites were his narrative works – the Harlot’s and Rake’s Progress, Four Stages of Cruelty. Also Gin Lane and Beer Street. Before and After held me for ages – the bestial urgency of the bedchamber rapist and the panic of the women – who, complacently alone with the men in a bedchamber and alternatively the wild woods, clearly have urges of their own which unlike the men they can’t afford to satisfy outside wedlock, and who demur chastely – their panic as they realise that they’re powerless to protect their most valuable asset and their pathos as they beseech the men after the event. What particularly fascinates me about Before and After – besides the woodland rapist’s gaping fly revealing pubic hair and softening penis and the ungainly bedchamber rapist’s wig dislodged in the scuffle – is the ingratiation of the women’s reaction to the rape. Rather than escaping to raise the alarm, she abjectly reaches for him. Is she supposed to be beseeching him not to compromise her reputation, for a proposal of marriage (and does this force her to subdue her horror) or, in the case of the woodland woman, for the post-coital tenderness all of the men so manifestly fail to evince? The assault leaves the woodland woman flushed and aroused with half-shut eyes and lips parted – you get the impression that while he is spent her desire has only just awakened. While each of the rapists are glassy-eyed with regret – although the woodland rapist seems at first to be holding the woman’s hand in dutiful affection there’s something in his posture which suggests that he may be encouraging her to her feet. The police would probably get a lot out of using these pictures in training around rape, where they have an appalling reputation.

Today we went to a restaurant in Chigwell Row called Blubeckers as suggested by Matt’s mum and dad. Fruit for starters with coulis. Could have had potato skins. Alright, but what was I going to have for dessert? (Nothing, and they forgot to leave off the creme fraiche the first time.) They had a vegan dish with which they’d evidently decided to kill two birds with one stone, because it was also the wheat-free dish. I ate it and it was unremarkable, practically tasteless lentil and spinach cottage pie (the mash topping wasn’t even golden). My coffee cup had lipstick on it. Everybody else enjoyed theirs – good, but I’m not satisfied by the mere presence of an animal-free dish – it also has to taste good. The vegetables were alright in terms of variety, but overcooked. Blubeckers in Chigwell is a nice place – lovely setting, but lacksadaisical if friendly staff.

Then we walked through Hainault Forest to the farm where I saw a bunny with head hair, stroked a goat and saw both a little owl and three barn owls – first time for me. Now it’s 8 and the weekend is over :-(. Dinnertime.

The Star Inn at Dylife – under new management

Update January 2014: brilliant – as of December ’13 the Star Inn at Dylife is under new management. It’s going to be refurbished – see its Facebook page for progress and opening times. To celebrate I changed the title of this post to something more promising, and the following post is of historical interest only.

~~~

We’re planning our summer long-distance walk. It’s going to be the mid and higher sections of the Cambrian Way, having done the lower section over 9 days last year. Although 19 country miles is a hell of a long way in Wales, it will be worth it to avoid the Star Inn at Dyliffe (or Dylife) with its ungracious, racist staff and malodorous rooms. When we stayed there in 2005 on Glyndwr’s Way they wouldn’t serve breakfast before a sluggish 8.30 a.m. although 6 of their guests were on long distance journeys which required an early start. They and some friend who dropped by had a prolonged joke in the bar about slipping bacon into the sandwiches of a group of orthodox Jews holidaying down the road, for whom one of them was catering. They insulted absent guests in the presence of other guests. Their packed lunch was both meager and unappetising, not to mention untrustworthy (I’d told them I was Jewish soon after the racist incident). The room was shabby, ugly and smelt of chip fat. Others have called the Star Inn ‘grim’ – it’s the worst place I’ve ever stayed. Rather sleep rough than give them a penny.

Update: read the comments below for some alternative places to stay in the area.