Sunday, 23 March 2008

Blogs....and blogging

Well I spectacularly failed to notice that I had been blogging for a year over on Itchy Feet At Forty so thought I might as well use my missed blogoversary as the starter for this post. In that year I have seen blogs that I read come and go. Dog blogs, people blogs, food blogs, political blogs, photo blogs, whatever. Keeping up to a blog is not difficult. Keeping it focused is. So when I started Itchy Feet - it was with the intention basically of writing about anything and everything since I left the UK. There is no way when you reach 40 years of age that you can kid yourself you are still a 20-something-year-old. Much as you might like to and hard as you try. The first 40 years of my life were pretty good and I achieved more than some people - less than others. Good enough for me. But I had a serious fear of the next 40 years (depending on how long I lived but using 80 as a proxy for life expectancy) being boring as hell. How could I say I did a, b, c, d and e before I got to 40 - and then I did nothing of any note afterwards? Lived in the same boring street in the same nice middle-class suburb and went to the same boring office every day? No. While I may have moments (sometimes longer than others) of madness, the thought of 40 years of nothingness was enough to send me absolutely off it. So the job got chucked, the house got sold, and we set off with the Landy, the trailer, the tents, and the two dogs. Somewhat later, when I reluctantly dragged myself back to civilisation and reconnected to the Internet, I started blogging. And thought the start of my travels at 40 was a suitable cut-off point for my blog. Nothing before 40 would be allowed on, anything after was fair game. But of course it doesn't work like that. People who want to look at dog pictures don't want to look at Land Rover pictures. People who look at Land Rover blogs don't want to read about queuing at the bank in Spain. People who read about life as an ex-pat don't want to read my rants about why homeless people shouldn't be treated like garbage. And so it goes on. There are a few people who do read my different blogs - I know this because they have told me. So thanks for that. But generally the target audiences are different. One of my blogging "colleagues" (does one have blogging colleagues?) radically changed her blogs and her urls because her audiences were hitting on the wrong blogs. The political ones were hitting on her fashion blog. The religious ones were hitting on her dog blog. After the change around she ended up with more comments on her blogs. It's a crude indicator but one that shows she took the right approach. It didn't take me long to work out the dog needed his own blog. I thought I could keep the Land Rover stuff on Itchy Feet, as it is part of our life here in Spain. But it is such a specialised interest and gets so many hits from search engines, that it is actually better off being totally separate. And this blog is just pure self-indulgence for when I want to rant about something. Or someone. So after a year with Itchy Feet, I think it is more or less on track. It's basically a news blog, and this is maybe the leader column when something provokes me enough to write a few acid words or a few thoughts. Just Land Rovers provides the motoring pages, and Pippadogblog provides - well - the dog pages I suppose. I don't blog every day. I try and do at least a post a week on each blog and maybe more some weeks. I enjoy doing it. Why would I not? I haven't spent years being paid to write not to enjoy it - and on my blogs I can choose my own subjects, I have total editorial control, and I can publish for free. I don't do it to get 20 or 30 or 40 comments on every post. It's nice to get a few and as one (dog) blogger said: at least you don't feel you are barking in the wilderness. In more than a year I think I have had two or three spam comments. They were nothing offensive, but I don't want my work to generate hits for something that is nothing to do with my blog. Just like I haven't bothered with advertising. I think it spoils the appearance of blogs and, I can hardly claim to hold the moral high ground with my principles and then succomb to google ads. But I was mildly amused the other day when I skimmed a relatively new blog. It was nothing outstanding. Average photos. Average text. I thought the print was too small but that is always a pet phobia I have. I've had plenty of battles with irritating designers who never consider that the content of the text is important and just look at the overall impression of block text in the whole scheme of things. And there are still far too many people who don't realise not everyone can read 10pt. Anyway, we all have to start somewhere with our blogs so I thought I would leave a comment (so they weren't barking in the wilderness). This proved difficult. No. It proved impossible. Then I read later that they weren't accepting comments. They didn't have the time to moderate all the spam they would attract. To anyone who is thinking of starting a blog - and those of you who already have them - I think it is really considerate to accept comments. There are plenty of options for restricting them, including full-blown moderation only, pesky word verification strings, and a whole raft of choices for who you are prepared to accept comments from. The blog I read has literally a handful of posts. The subject matter is not exactly hard-core porn. It's not even an animal blog which would be far more likely to attract comments. I can understand a blog like the Daily Coyote stopping accepting comments because it was just receiving too many every day. It had absolutely loads. There aren't that many coyote blogs around. It has novelty value, good photographs - and above all, cuteness. A couple of average-looking guys, without much hair, and without the backdrop of the Wyoming bush are hardly in the same league. Even if they think they are. So it strikes me as being remarkably precious that someone thinks they are going to get bucketloads of spam on their mediocre blog after a few weeks and five or six posts. I can't even rant about it. I think they are so far up themselves that it is just laughable. And, that's one blog I won't be going back to read again.

Monday, 17 March 2008


We've had four dogs in around 20 years. The first three came from rescue homes in the UK, the last one found us on the street in Spain. We were both brought up with dogs, so once we got our own house, a dog just seemed right for us. We hadn't got much else in the house. We bought a fridge, a washing machine and a second-hand cooker. Oh, and a futon mattress which went on the floor. And that was it. The dog was next to arrive. We got him as a pup from a Blue Cross place. It was a nice place, very clean, and sadly far too full of dogs and other animals. The black lab we homed apparently had a pedigree which we could have if we paid extra. We weren't interested in the pedigree so we didn't. We wanted to home a dog that someone else didn't want, we didn't want a cheap pedigree dog, that wasn't why we were there. He was very good, very clean - we took him out into the garden at regular frequent intervals, and gave him all our attention. As he got bigger we took him down the riverside and started to teach him simple commands. He was pretty obedient. Later we took him for training. He jumped out of the window of the car when we arrived. Perhaps we should have signed up for agility instead. He then promptly vomited on the training ground (he was always pretty good at that anyway, ever since the first day we picked him up - he had just been fed in the kennels before we took him home). The next time we went to training we left the window up. He didn't vomit, but he did leave a nice pile on the training ground when he was walking up and down. Labradors are great dogs with beautiful temperaments. They also have a stubborn streak of independence. We figured he wasn't keen on training. And we never took any other dogs to training either. The next ones were older anyway, and seemed well-behaved. Paddy (setter/lab) liked to chase cats and birds and Prince (GSD) was, well, Prince. He was probably the most naturally obedient of the lot - but always with a slightly quizzical look on his face. He might as well have said: "You really do ask me to do some stupid things ... I KNOW what to do. I am a GSD." This is not to say that training is not a good idea. I think it is. It just hasn't been for us. Nor did we ever use a crate. We had not heard of crate training until we came to Spain. I was flitting through an English newspaper and there was an article by Chris the Canine Counsellor (ok not the real name). Chris the CC was recommending the use of crates for training. It sounded to me awfully like, when you are busy and don't have time to watch your dog - bung him/her in a crate. Don't want to clean up any mess in your house - because you can't be bothered to take your dog outside often enough when they are very young? Bung them in a crate overnight, or when you go out. The added advantage is that a dog loves a crate. It is a home to them. It is a den. I am not a dog. But I would not like to be bunged in a crate when someone couldn't be bothered with me. I would not consider it a safe zone at all. I would consider it a horrible confined jail. Chris the Canine Counsellor soon became Chris the Crater in our view. Since then I have read on the Internet that every person - and their dog, obviously - love crates, and swears by them as a training tool. Each to their own. I am a big believer in everyone having their own opinion. And mine is that I do not agree with crates as a prime training tool. I was brought up with three dogs, and have had four of my own, without a crate in sight. So I do not wish to be told that I am wrong by some pretentious person who thinks they have a doctorate in dog training or whatever. My dog philosophy is very simple. I have led a busy life. I have tried to home dogs that at some point may well have been killed because no-one wanted them. I am sure I am not a perfect rehomer. But my dogs have been given a home, they get regular food, taken out, they are nine times out of ten on the lead (apart from beach runs), they have the run of a warm house, and they are rarely left alone for long periods. They haven't chewed - apart from a couple of inexpensive flip flops - that I left lying around like an idiot, and they have always asked when they have wanted to go outside. They are, in all senses of the words, companion animals. My parents bought pedigree dogs. Firstly two boxers, and then a Rhodesian Ridgeback. They were very status conscious - my parents, not the dogs, although maybe the dogs were too. Who knows? I loved them to bits - I grew up with them all, and they were always there for me. But when it came to choosing my own dog in my own home, I just could not think of paying money to a breeder to buy a pedigree dog. Why? I am not interested in a dog's eminent lineage, nor am I interested in someone making money out of breeding dogs. It really sticks in my throat. I haven't looked up the figures because I hate reading abandoned dog information - but there are far too many dogs who are ditched and then killed. Far too many left in no-kill shelters because they maybe aren't cute enough. Why buy a dog to line someone's pocket when there are so many good ones waiting for a home? Maybe for outward displays of wealth and defining an image. The "macho" dogs - rottweilers, dobermans, ridgebacks, boxers, GSDs. (When we homed Prince, the kennels were full of unwanted GSDs). The "country" dogs - labradors, setters, pointers, spaniels. The working/hunting dogs - terriers, and that includes the previously mentioned country dogs. Each choice of paid-for dog is a way of defining someone's image to the rest of the world. And as for showing dogs? Oh, look, their ears stick up at exactly the right angle, and have just the right amount of correct colouring in them. Similarly the tail is not too long, not too short, and not too bushy - just right. "We show Moxy and Doxy" (or whatever they are called) "and you can tell how much they love it dahling." Get out of it. It's obvious who loves showing the dogs. And no, I don't watch Crufts and haven't done for a lot of years. You can always tell when bitches have given birth in Spain. The streets are suddenly full of new stray dogs. Some get homed. And rehomed. Again and again. Others don't. Others die or get killed. The first year we lived in Spain, someone drove down the side street next to us and threw out a very young pup. I had read all the horror stories about dogs being tied up to the gates of houses owned by foreign people so I was fairly paranoid. We had our dogs from the UK, and the day it happened we agreed not to take this pup in. Neither did anyone else. It struggled over to the finca gates across the road, where it could hear/smell the other well-fed, looked-after dogs. It cried and whimpered all day. Eventually it died. The man who works on the finca came out with his shovel and chucked the tiny dead puppy in the rubbish bin. I do not dislike beautiful pedigree dogs. I admire them as much as the next person does. But I do question the values of the people who buy them - when other dogs are being discarded as rubbish on the streets. I said I was brought up with pedigree dogs, but the last dog my parents had - after I had got married and rehomed the lab - was rescued from the local RSPCA shelter. It took them a long time, but they finally bought into the ethos of rehoming an abandoned dog. And he lived with them for years. So to anyone who is thinking about spending big bucks on that perfect pedigree pup - remember the equally perfect dogs that are on death row, just waiting for a reprieve.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Politics - and the right to vote

So what to say about politics - about the right to vote, for whom to vote, and how much does it really matter? In no particular order - apart from the first one..... The right to vote was hard-earned a) for women and b) for anyone who wasn't landed gentry. I'm talking UK politics here before anyone argues. Naturally male house-holders got the vote before women with money. Men being more entitled to vote as you would expect. The thinking responsible species. *irony* I vaguely remember learning about the electoral reform acts at school. And that the road to universal suffrage was not easy. In my idle browsings on Tinties, I have noticed some serious garbage about who should have voting rights. Actually often I struggle to find anything that isn't serious garbage. Onto suffrage. Voting rights - for men obviously - started to change in the 1830s. During the nineteenth century, men's rights improved. Women didn't exist. By 1884 more than 50% of the male population could vote but women were still nowhere. The Suffragette Movement started in the late nineteenth century, so that eventually - after the First World War - women finally got the vote. Let's get this right. Property-owning women over 30 finally got the vote, although naturally the law was also changed to improve it for men too. Men over 21 could vote - and there were no property restrictions on them any more. A dainty little step forward for women. Ten years later voting was made equal. No property restrictions and voting at 21 for men and women. That's nearly 100 years from the Electoral Reform Act in 1832 to 1928. For women to get equal rights. And when I did my journo exams in the late twentieth century, everyone had the right to vote apart from peers of the realm, convicted felons, and people in a psychiatric institution. I have no idea if this has changed as there have been a number of new acts since then. But what does rack me off is arrogant, self-opinionated gits who seem to think that the right to vote is a privilege that has to be earned and that people are NOT equal. That some people have more rights than others. In fact, that the right to vote needs a load of qualifications. To achieve suffrage you should be a property owner, have a full-time job - obviously - or your own monied business to show how clever and money-grabbing you are, and you should pass a citizenship test, to name but a few ideas that I have seen. Your average person who lives on the side of the road is nowhere. We only want people with money to have a say in our society. Why should someone living on benefit vote? Or a student? Or a pensioner? Or someone without a job? Or someone on sick pay? Let alone someone without a permanent address. What do they value in our consumerist, monetarist terms? They just cost money so they shouldn't vote. Yes. Suffrage in a so-called democratic society is a privilege - in comparison with societies where people are still not "free" and can not freely vote. And it is one that - for now, is - granted to everyone. (Apart from people who fall within the exemption clauses). We are not going back to the 1830s and the days of white male landed gentry. Nor are we limiting the vote to those who think in the same mould as we do. The right to vote is one of the few areas where there is still a vague pretence that people are all still equal. What is it with you sexist, bigoted, white, men in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and ... hell, whatever age you are, what is it with you selfish fuckers anyway? Do you not understand compassion or tolerance? Why do you think you are right? Or even superior to anyone else? Monied and opinionated white male supremacy eh? Why do you want to take away the right to vote from someone worse off from you? Or just someone different? Do you know how many years it took to achieve universal suffrage? Miserable toerags. Get a life, and stop victimising everyone else. Anyway my proposal for what it is worth is as follows. The right to vote should only be accorded to property-owning women - over 30 naturally, who have at least one degree, preferably two, a trade qualification as well, and money in the bank. Fuck your silly citizenship tests - that any person with half a brain can pass - let's see how clever you really are. And how much you have contributed to society, and how much you have taken out too. Your education? Your skills and training which may well have come via the public sector - including the armed services - if that's where you learned a trade. Oh, and those nice little benefits that you don't want everyone else to have? Child benefit too eh? How many of you with children haven't claimed child benefit - it's your right isn't it? Greedy gits - one law for you and one for those who aren't as lucky. You wouldn't pass my test. I think I will leave point two about politics for another day.

Friday, 7 March 2008

On Power and Influence

I have three books on my desk at the moment. One is a desk diary from last year that I am using as a notebook. The second is a Spanish English dictionary. The third is Understanding Organisations by Charles Handy. So, this is the second book tag that I am doing, after being asked by Blue. Page 123 is the start of Chapter 5. On Power and Influence And the first five sentences are: "Motivation theory, role theory, leadership theory are all ways of describing why people behave as they do and how it is that others can set them to behave as they do. It is time now to look at this problem in a more general way, at the overall problem of power and influence. "Power and influence make up the fine texture of organizations, and indeed of all interactions. Influence is the process whereby A seeks to modify the attitudes or behaviour of B. Power is that which enables him to do it." Although this is a classic management theory text book (or was when I did my MBA), it is just as applicable to life, and indeed Handy goes on to say something on those lines. And personally I would call it power and manipulation, but that's probably a cynical way to look at it. It wasn't intentional, however this post does follow on from the last one. So I'm going to cheat and include another quote from further down page 123: "Complete individual freedom is the perquisite of the hermit and the recluse; today perhaps only the solitary artist or poet, the tramp or the hippie can enjoy that luxury." No Charles. I have to say I don't think the guy who died in the rubbish bin enjoyed complete individual freedom at all. His choice to live on the streets? Maybe, maybe not. Could he choose what he wanted to eat? Or drink? Or get up in the morning and look at his vast array of clothes in the wardrobe before deciding what to wear? Or even, could he choose where to sit on the pavement before the police decided to ask him to move along? No, none of us have freedom, and individual freedom seems to be getting far less to me. I would also argue that the only way to achieve any sort of freedom is to have a shitload of money. But it certainly does not come from poverty or opting out of society. And another point. I took the quote from the fourth edition of his work, published in 1993. The first edition dates from 1976. In his intro to the fourth edition he says that things have changed considerably in the intervening period. He also says that he was appalled when he read his first edition and realised he had written it entirely for men. And he was pleased that the work of organisations had changed a lot - presumably to reflect the fact that women weren't always just seen and not heard. He added that in his third edition of the book he apologised for his sexist slant. But in this one he had done something about it. Really? I haven't compared the two editions - even though I have them both. But I do think the quote above: "Power is that which enables him to do it." refers to men, or a man. That doesn't seem non-sexist to me at all. It is still the automatic assumption that men have the power. Indeed they do. So although it is sexist, and uses a gender-specific pronoun, it is also an accurate statement. I wish it wasn't. I also think, however trivial it sounds, that continuing to use language that suggests the default (especially in positions of power) is male, just perpetuates old-fashioned, autocratic, patriarchal thinking. It is a long time since I stopped calling women chairman if they happened to chair an organisation (certainly before the fourth edition was published). I went through the dilemma of whether to call them a chairwoman (says they are women - is that relevant? no), a chairperson (just sounds clumsy), or chair (something to sit on). But words and their usage change, and I became quite happy using chair. Some of the women weren't - they wanted to be called a chairman, "Madam Chairman" in fact, because they were as good as the men, but slightly special. Oh dear. Perhaps Mr Handy will have changed his latest edition - I haven't seen any updates since the fourth. I should also say that I bought a couple of his later books - The Age of Unreason and The Empty Raincoat. At the time I was in full-blown career mode so thought the idea of having different portfolios at different stages of your life was a load of rubbish. The wisdom that comes with age. It seems spot-on now. But power and influence? Or maybe power and glory too? It's still with those nice white men with money - isn't it?

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Life's rubbish

A couple of years ago we were sitting on the terrace chatting to some friends. They come to Spain every year for about five weeks. We met when they rented a flat up the road, although normally they rent a flat in our nearest town. They are a similar age to us, they don't eat meat - she's vegetarian, he eats fish - they don't smoke, they don't have any children. They are quite into animal rights to the extent that they have been on marches - eg opposing the transport of calves for veal. It was enough to start up a conversation the first time we met and we have kept in touch for the last four or five years. She's an agricultural worker and he used to be in construction, but doesn't work now because of health problems. They aren't rich, they aren't poor. A bit like us. One day, I don't know how it came up, we were talking about the homeless people who sit on the streets in town waiting for people to give them money. Our friends said they never gave them any money and asked if we ever did. We said yes. There was a pause in the conversation, and the friends then quickly said how much they admired us - but then asked, obviously totally perplexed - why? Well, we certainly don't do it to gain anyone's admiration, nor do we do it for religious reasons (we are not religious - ironically our friends are). I guess the simple answer is that we wouldn't like to be in their position - there but for the grace of god and all that - and we can afford to give a euro now and again to help someone eke out a daily existence. Maybe it goes on alcohol, maybe it goes on cigarettes. Maybe it goes on drugs. My choice to give, their choice to spend it on what they want. My very generous donation of a euro isn't given with the condition that it must only be spent on things I consider appropriate. If I really wanted to impose my view on them I could buy some bread, or some fruit/vegetables and give that to them instead. I happen to think a euro is more use. Afterwards though we thought about it. We had started giving to quite a few homeless people. We decided to cut back and stick to the ones with dogs - or the ones who were around all year and didn't just blow in for the summer holidays. Many years ago - when we were hard-nosed and hungry - we never gave to anyone. When I worked in London I used to travel home through Euston Station. (No, this is not a Monopoly game). If I wasn't dodging the guy yelling out "Socialist Worker" as he tried to sell the magazine to well-off commuters, I was dodging all the tramps. (They were called tramps at the time). Why didn't they get washed and get a job? I thought to myself. Idle layabouts poncing off hard-working righteous members of society ie me. They probably have loads of money anyway, I continued to myself. Nope. They are not getting one penny out of me. I am not a soft touch. You can tell it was Thatcher's Britain. And I was a good Thatcher's eighties babe. A few years later I was back in journalism and one of my left-wing feminist colleagues said loftily that she never gave to Big Issue sellers (to my surprise). "It's just an excuse for the miserable government not to put the correct structures in place," she declared. She was hardly Ms Generosity either. I seem to remember she was a mature student at the time reading sociology at Hull and worked on the paper in her holidays. She married a pretty well-off merchant banker and promptly became Mrs Merchant Banker. Clearly a woman of principle. (ie self first). So we ignored Ms Radical Student aka Mrs Merchant Banker and gave to some of the Big Issue sellers. But then stopped - for lots of reasons. I thought it was pretty insulting for people who genuinely needed money and work, it certainly wasn't a real job, and there was also a lot of negative publicity about Big Issue generally at the time. I got bored with reading it as well. Since I chucked my job, I have had lots of time to think. Probably too much, but at least I'm not thinking about work. I live in a beautiful part of the world. I own my house. I have enough money to buy food and pay the bills. I am warm, even on cold days. I'm a big believer in Maslow's triangle - and I have all my physiological needs - food, warmth, and shelter. Homeless people have none of these. We have seen some of the local homeless men walking into town, wearing the same dirty clothes, their shoes or boots falling apart, sometimes with a shopping trolley containing a few plastic bags of tat - all they possess in the world. Partner was speaking to one of them a while ago. There are a few safe places where they go to sleep. They try and team up because it is safer that way, and one might be awake while the other sleeps. It's one of the reasons some of them have dogs. Why are people so sick that they want to rob or assault homeless people? Do they harm anyone? No. They don't even beg. They don't come round sticking white heather in your hand and cursing you with bad luck if you don't buy it. Nor do they drag a brood of tiny kiddies around with them, and stick their hand under your nose saying "My children are starving, please feed them." Or as it is here: "Por los niƱos, por favor" in a whiney voice. One of the "regulars" is Dutch. He had a good job in Amsterdam but left because of the ease of obtaining drugs. But the drugs always find you. They are easy to get hold of here too. He's pretty honest though. One day Partner was reaching in his pocket to get a euro and the guy said: "No, it's all right. I've made enough today. Keep it. But thanks." It's often the men who give to them. Sometimes it is the northern Europeans - Germans, Dutch, British - sometimes it is the northern Spaniards. These homeless men are people, they have a life, they merit respect like anyone else. Who knows what has happened to them? None of us are perfect and it isn't up to me to judge them. I wouldn't like to be in their soulless shoes. But when Partner came home and told me about the German man who had been found dead inside a rubbish bin, I was gutted. Partner didn't know the detail. Maybe he had dived in looking for food and couldn't get out. Maybe he was drunk or stoned. He died where many people consider he belonged. With the rubbish. No-one to care for him, to look after him, to help him, or even to miss him. I think we live in a shit society when something like that happens. I think we live in a shit society for lots of reasons, but this is just one example. Nothing in place to help him. No shelter, no food, no money, no warmth. And people walking past him every day, ignoring him. Just part of life's detritus. I guess the good news for the selfish bastards that think like that is they won't have to walk past him any more. One less dirty scruffy homeless person on our pristine streets.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

You don't come from round here

I was brought up to be inherently racist. Black - or coloured people (as I think they were called at the time, and most of them were from the Indian sub-continent) - were dirty. So said my dad. One day I asked him how he knew that these people who did not have a white skin were dirty. I got a lofty comment. "I have seen them in North Africa, they live a dirty life," he said. (This was the guy who hated getting in the bath, and grudgingly got in a shower once a week.) Cultural awareness was not his strong point. Of course, naturally this view did not extend to people he knew personally. So if he felt the Asian market stall-holder next to us was being victimized he would stand up for him. If he met a group of West Indians in the pub, he would talk about cricket with them for hours and cheerfully buy drinks all round. Do money and sport transcend racism? Doubt it. I realised how incredibly racist I was one day in a car park in Newcastle. A tall rasta guy approached me. I was petrified. I looked round. There was no-one else to be seen even though we were in the city centre. I froze. "Hi, do you want my car-parking ticket? There's an hour or so left and I'm going now." Duh. Very Big Time. I have never forgotten this moment because I realised then what an absolutely prejudiced rich white woman I really was. But realisation is a start. So here in Spain racism is abundant. The Moros (blacks from North Africa) get it far worse than us. In fact all the Spaniards who come here on holiday or move into the village are ignored/given grief. Like a lot of European languages, the Spanish for foreigner is stranger - extranjero - someone who doesn't come from our street, our area, our estate, our village, our calle, our barrio, our pueblo, our provincia, our communidad. When I was a kid, it was the same. Territorial disputes. You don't come from round here. Typical racist/extranjero criticisms: "They steal our jobs." "They are not the same as us." "They don't want to integrate." (Do you want to integrate with them/us?) "They eat differently." "They think differently." "They want something for nothing." "They look different." To me racism, or exclusion, is something more than a colour of skin. It's a fear of something/someone you don't know, sometimes jealousy, unwillingness to accept differences, patronisation of people who you don't consider to be on your level, oh, and finally, just not people that we want to mix with. For whatever reason. I accept I know very little about racism. But I've finally been on the receiving end of it, and that's from a white monied educated position of someone with privilege. And I can tell you it still stinks.

Questions not to ask a veg*n

When people find out I'm vegetarian, they invariably ask why. Sometimes they say: "Is it for ethical or health reasons?" That's an easy one so I answer "ethical". And hopefully the conversation stops. But sometimes they just ask why. So the answer to that is "Because I don't like eating dead animals." And it usually stops after that too. Often they hastily justify their own diet with "We hardly eat any meat, we are almost vegetarian too." Like why tell me? I don't care what you eat. But if they are really persistent, they ask one or more of the following: 1. What about your leather shoes? (belt, handbag etc - usually shoes) 2. What about the poor dead screaming vegetables? 3. Do you realise that if people didn't eat meat there wouldn't be any cute little lambs and nice cows for us all to look at? 4. Don't you miss bacon sandwiches, a good roast (insert meat of choice) 5. Where do you get your protein from? 6. How on earth do you get all the right vitamins? and the classic 7. But what do you eat? And the answers are: 1. No, they aren't. 2. Very funny 3. Yes 4. No 5. Legumes, tofu, seitan, tempeh, plus all the complementary sources 6. By eating a balanced diet 7. Anything that comes from a vegetarian source and hasn't been killed. These are very boring questions that I have been asked millions of times. However, people invariably think 1-4 are thought-provoking, witty and original. They aren't. Not even when heard for the first time. The ones who ask 5&6 really think they know what they are talking about. The ones who ask 7 are stupid and lucky if they get an answer at all. Do I ask other people what they eat all the time? This is not "What do you like to eat, or what is your favourite meal?" This is a downright nosy insulting question. Why would I want to know what you eat from first thing in the morning to last thing at night? I don't. So don't ask me. Or go and ask a few non-vegetarians the same question and see what they say. The other question of course is: "How long have you been vegetarian?" The answer to that is "Too long to be bothered to count the years." And the implied - but unspoken additional answer is "And too long to answer your silly questions." The truth is I have been vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) for a lot of years. I'm well-informed about it. But I'm not interested in having a discussion, justifying my choice, or educating anyone about it.