All posts by lynseycalderwood

About lynseycalderwood

Amnesiac vegan lesbian writer with a penchant for prison dramas, rom coms and 80s cartoons

Human Bean

 

Photoforblog.jpg*T-shirt says: ‘People assume that gender is a strict binary of male and female, but actually – from a non-linear, non-subjective view point – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… gender-bendery… stuff.’

 

It’s been almost two years since I wrote ‘The Last Post’, but recently I’ve felt the urge to revisit this project because I wanted to come out publicly as ‘not-a-lesbian-anymore’.

To be fair, I don’t think I was really a lesbian to begin with. It was a label that was almost perfect for me, but not quite.

Back in 2002, after taking part in two of Diane Torr (dancer, educator and pioneering drag king)’s ‘Man For A Day’ workshops, and reading everything I could about gender roles and gender identity and transgender people, I told a group of young women in my lesbian peer support group that I considered my own gender to be ‘neutral’. Unfortunately, no-one really had a clue what I was talking about, so I reluctantly abandoned the conversation for another decade and a half. Of course, I hadn’t heard of the term ‘non-binary’ back then, and I doubt any of the L.I.P.S lassies had either, because most folk I knew were still grappling with the idea that sexuality and gender were two totally different things!

I suppose, by the time this blog goes live, quite a few folk who know me will already have been told that I am now using the label ‘agender’ to describe myself: this is a gender identity that falls under the trans and non binary umbrella and basically means that I am not male or female or any gender in between; I have also been asking people to refer to me using the pronouns ‘they’, ‘them’ and ‘theirs’ because I feel they are more representative of who I am, and I do want to be visible.

(I’m trying really hard to explain all this clearly, but if anyone is bewildered then this link might be useful: http://www.transstudent.org/gender)

As well as switching my pronouns, I prefer to use neutral terms to describe myself: ‘person’ or ‘human’ instead of ‘man’ or ‘woman’; ‘sibling’ instead of ‘sister’ or ‘brother’; ‘child’ or ‘offspring’ instead of ‘son’ or ‘daughter’; and ‘partner’ or ‘other half’ as opposed to ‘girlfriend’ / ‘boyfriend’.

There’s a list of gender-neutral terms here (http://genderqueeries.tumblr.com/titles) and some of them are truly awful and I would never use them in real life, but there’s a few I really like: ‘Nibling’ (gender-neutral term for niece or nephew) is particularly cute.

So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the conversation surrounding my gender has been very positive. Although, Antonia did announce to some of our friends in the pub the other week that I was ‘asexual’.

‘No, hen,’ I said, ‘that’s a whole different thing!’

I’d like to be very clear: I still fancy Antonia; I still fancy women. Those things haven’t changed. I’ve not really changed. I’ve just discovered new words that better reflect my sense of self, and with that I’ve regained much of the confidence I had fifteen years ago.

I don’t know for sure who or what I’ll be in the future. I used to think that gender and sexuality were things that were fixed, and that anyone who came out more than once had just made a mistake… not anymore.

I think I’m simply the sum of my likes and dislikes and the experiences I’ve had so far… and those experiences will fade and new ones will take their place. And I’d like to think that no matter where I am or who I’m with, or what my circumstances are, I’ll always be a decent fucking human being.

The Last Post

  

Today is my thirty-seventh birthday and the first anniversary of my residency in England; it’s also my final post for this blog.

Right from the start, I’d always intended for Bean Love to be a year long project, so I’m really happy to have gone the distance with it, even if I did go a little off topic a lot of the time.   

Back in the summer of 2014, when I decided to chronicle my house move from Renfrew’s concrete jungle to Sudbury’s soporific pastures, I knew that I would also be embarking on an intense psychological journey that would not only catapult me, as a disabled person, into a greater state of independence, but it would push me to diversify my writing even further as well as making or breaking my relationship with Antonia. I wanted to record my journey in a way that I could share it with people back home who I was unlikely to see for a while, which is why I chose to make the blog public. I’d also just finished reading Alison Bechdel’s ‘The Complete Dykes To Watch Out For’, and it reminded me of some of my friends and what I call the ‘Bean Scene’, and I was tickled by the idea of writing about queer culture and the way we gay ladies often perpetuate lesbian stereotypes ourselves.

Antonia, the wee delicate flower that she is (or was) said that moving to Glasgow was a ‘culture shock’ for her: she’d never before been exposed to the grittiness of West Coast living, nor had she encountered off-licenses with electronically-tagged Buckfast bottles; she’d also never heard anyone refer to their friend as a ‘cunt’ by way of friendly greeting and, as a result, she gained a whole new vocabulary in the three and a half years she spent there.

But was it a culture shock for me? Well, yes and no.

Sudbury is different from both Renfrew and Glasgow in lots of subtle ways: for instance, a garden here is not a garden unless it is at least half an acre, and most people talk ‘proper’ English and can’t understand half of what I say; there aren’t many buses in Sudbury either, because not many people need to use the bus – Antonia says most folk in this town wouldn’t even consider having less than two cars per household and that her family (of six) once had half a dozen cars in the driveway, and that was when two of them couldn’t even drive. Then there’s the ladies at the tennis club, who were terribly offended by the whole Scottish independence thing because they couldn’t understand why ‘but why?!’ Scottish people wouldn’t want to be in the United Kingdom. Of course, everyone is Sudbury is perfectly polite and nice to me – at least to my face – and on one of the two occasions I’ve heard someone shouting in the street here, one of the culprits sounded like they were from Govan.

Much like Renfrew, there’s not a big bean scene in Sudbury, nor is there a vegan one. But I know we’re not the only queers or meat avoiders in the village because I’ve seen a few lady-couples tramping around town in their wellies and Barbour jackets; and after recently joining the Suffolk Vegan group on Facebook, I’ve discovered there are a few fellow herbivores hiding in plain sight in Gainsborough Street’s ‘Niche Café’ behind their super salads. There’s also not much going on in terms of literary events and networks; and after my own attempt to start up the ‘Breakfast Writers’ Club’ failed, I joined the over fifty-five’s group at the library (and so far no-one has complained that I’m nearly two decades too young).

If my recent trip back to Scotland has taught me one thing it’s this: I am incredibly lucky to have lived in a place that allowed me easy access to the various diverse communities that helped shape the person I am today; and this, in turn, has prompted me to think about going back more often, as well as making me want to put more effort into venturing out into London and some of the other East Anglian towns in search of my tribe.

Overall, I’m stepping up my game in the coming year: I’ve been invited to an interview in East Acton with prison arts organisation the Koestler Trust, and I’ve posted my application for an eleven-week course aimed advanced writers in Covent Garden; I’ve also just signed the lease on my apartment for another year. And whilst, this may be my last post on this blog, I’m not saying I’ll never blog again, nor am I saying this is the last you’ll hear of Bean Love… a wise friend recently suggested that I should consider rewriting it as a work of fiction… and, you know what, I just might do that…

Summer In Scotland

  
Last week, Antonia and I were back in Scotland; back visiting friends and family and old haunts.

We set off early Saturday morning with the intention of stopping for lunch at Hebden Bridge (the lesbian capital of the UK) but, due to traffic constraints and Antonia accidentally driving in the wrong direction, we fell four hours behind schedule and ended up in a motorway Marks n Spencer’s instead of a quaint wee vegetarian village café.  

The weather in England was practically tropical, but as soon as we hit Gretna Green there was a downpour – I was completely oblivious to this as I was busy reading aloud to Antonia, so I got some very strange looks when I stepped out of the car during our penultimate pee-n-tea stop wearing shorts and bright orange sunspecs. When we eventually arrived at Fiona’s house in Glasgow, she also commented on my attire; and when I told her I’d packed three pairs of shorts she replied: ‘You’re optimistic’.

The next day, I decided to wear jeans; and Antonia, Fiona, Sophie and I went to Ayr for a coastal drive via the nearest Tesco, where we picked up a box of vegan Cornettos to eat en route. Antonia’s plan was to do some ‘wombling’ on the beach but we stopped first at a local pub and she and Fiona became engrossed in watching Wimbledon. Sophie and I eventually got bored of making ‘Wombles of Wimbledon statements’, and watching them watching, so we went for a walk along the seafront. Later, we discovered that the vegetarian café we’d planned to visit was shut on Sundays, but we had a really great meal in the Chestnut hotel instead.

My dad’s birthday was on the Monday. Antonia and I went for another coastal drive around Wemyss Bay in the morning, and then at 2.30pm we took my dad to see the new Terminator film – I got very excited when Antonia pointed out Emilia Clarke from Game Of Thrones playing the new Sarah Connor; and although we thought she was very good, we both still prefer Lena Headey (Sarah Connor Chronicles, 2008-2009).

On Tuesday, Antonia dropped me off in the city centre and I went to Caffe Nero for a slushy drink (some habits die hard) and sat outside in Buchanan Street watching pigeons and street performers, whilst she went off to catch up with her old college cohorts. Afterwards, I met my friend Tracy in Paisley for lunch and we chatted and charity-shopped and I bought several second hand paperbacks to add to my ever-increasing must-read pile. Antonia drove out to get me later, and we joined my family for dinner at the Toby Carvery (which is surprisingly vegan-friendly). We ended the night by going to Ikea to look for another bookcase for me before stopping off at Tesco again on the way back to Fiona’s to get yet more vegan cornettos.

On Wednesday, I met my crime-writer friend Elaine for coffee and we moaned about books and our writing and our mad families. It was great to see her, after a year of missing our Waterstones meet-ups, and I was so engrossed in conversation that I had to sprint down Buchanan Street to make it in time for lunch with my poet-friend Nicola. It turned out that Nicola was running late too, but I ran into Michael, another writer-friend, and it was nice to see him and be able to chat about books and his writing while I waited. Nicola and I both ordered seitan burgers when she arrived, and we also talked about books and our writing and our mad families. Afterwards, I went to my parents’ and my mum told me all the same stories she’d told me the night before, and as I was leaving asked if I’d heard about her neighbour – the one with the two sticks who can hardly walk – absconding from the hospital while she was in to get an operation. Somehow, my mum had managed to miss out this crucial bit of gossip which involved a door-to-door police search in the early hours of the morning and a sixty-something woman in a medical gown!

On our last day in Glasgow, I went shopping and was accosted on Buchanan Street by a middle-aged man who asked if I could give him fifty pence. I told him that I had no money, to which he replied: ‘Welcome to my life, I wake up with no money.’ I then told him I was on benefits, thinking this would get rid of him. It didn’t. He proceeded to follow me around town asking various questions about which benefits I was a recipient of and at what rate, as well as giving me a detailed financial breakdown of what he received. It took me almost an hour to detach myself from him and not before he insisted that I shake his hand.

 I then went to meet my friend, Jane, another writer who recently had her debut novel published. Over lunch, we talked about books and our writing and she convinced me to think again about rewriting my novel King Street – the problem novel I first drafted about eight years ago – with a crime fiction slant, but to perhaps to start it again without looking back at my previous material.

Later, I went out to dinner with Sophie, Fiona and Antonia in Saramago and I retold them what had happened to me with the beggar in Buchanan Street. As they sat sniggering, I wondered if there was any scope for turning him, and my mum’s hospital absconding neighbour, into fictional characters.

On Friday, during the drive home I got an email to say that an extract of King Street was to be published in issue nine of Glitterwolf magazine. Obviously, I am very pleased about this: knowing that my work has found an audience makes toiling over the manuscript worthwhile; however, I am still trying to decide whether to call it quits with King Street (after all I have had three published short stories out of the idea) or whether to take a long and winding road to writing draft five from scratch.

Talking A Lot Of Shite

After nearly two decades of being vegan, I’ve somehow recently managed to end up with constant constipation.

It’s come as a bit of a shock actually, especially since I’ve long prided myself on having the perfect poo (as according to the theories of diet guru, Gillian McKeith): years ago, one of my ex-girlfriend’s had a copy of ‘You Are What You Eat,’ and we sniggered our way through the parts of the book that talked about all the things that your stool shouldn’t look like, before I smugly came to the conclusion that my number twos were consistently of the right consistency during my twice-daily bowel movements. My ex, we decided, had too much fat in her diet (because her poo floated) and her brothers ate too much dairy (because theirs’ always stuck to the inside of the pan).

I am not joking. I was really quite pleased with all I achieved in the bathroom.

Anyway, I never had this problem till I moved to Sudbury – except for the times when I came here on holiday. And I’ve always maintained it was to do with hardness of the English water. Antonia had the opposite problem when she first moved to Glasgow: her IBS flared up.

The thing is, I don’t understand how someone with a very high fibre diet that includes at least one daily dose of beans (either on toast, in a chilli or simply from a carton of soya milk) can have trouble going to the toilet. I mean, if my bowels were just sensitive to the local tap water, then surely after almost a year of living in England they should have adjusted, not gradually ground to a halt?!

To be fair, I have recently changed my breakfast habits: instead of wholemeal toast or cereal I’ve been whizzing up smoothies made from bananas and berries and whatever other fruits I can find, together with kale and pond-scummy spirulina; because I wanted to be healthier and get a head start on my seven-a-day fruit and veg portions – and although I totally understand that eating the skins of fruits would be better for me, I don’t think it matters since I also usually chomp my way through a couple of apples, a half punnet of cherries and at least one large salad every day.

Lunch is usually a sandwich with hummus or plant-based cheese or avocado salad, and ninety percent of the time I eat seeded wholegrain bread. Dinner is almost always a mixed bean chilli, a lentil-based dish or something with lots of iron-rich leafy greens. And the snacks I have in between are five seed crackers or oat cakes or toast, all of which provide plenty of roughage.

So I’m perplexed.

I wasn’t keen on the idea of taking laxatives as it took me back to my days of being a teenage bulimic, but I had a look in Holland and Barratt just out of curiosity and was surprised to discover that none of their ‘natural remedies’ were vegan as they all contained lactose. Antonia’s response to that when I told her was: ‘That would have worked really well for you, hen… because you know dairy products give you diarrhoea.’

In the end, I got a two-hundred-and-fifty gram bag of prunes from Waitrose – I used to liked prunes when I was a teenager and regularly had to put up with my parents’ stupid ‘well, you’ll shite tonight’ comments. Maybe it was because I was vegan, or maybe it was simply because I ate a lot of other dried fruit, but I never noticed any difference.

One hour, two large glasses of water, and half a bag of prunes later I started to feel a bit sick. Two hours later, Antonia arrived and I began complaining that I still hadn’t been able to go. She said that me talking about prunes and constipation made her want to run to the toilet. Shortly after, on exiting my bathroom, she announced: ‘Mine’s smelly but otherwise fine.’ Charming.

Three hours later and I am still waiting…

Penning Anger

Recently, whilst updating my CV, I was reminded of the first poem I ever had published (in ‘Big!’ magazine): it was written during the time I spent as a fifteen-year-old inpatient in an adolescent psychiatry unit, and I use the word ‘poem’ very loosely here, because really it was just a rant with a rhyming scheme.

Back then, I was very angry a lot of the time: angry at my parents because they’d sent me to that place, and angry at the medical staff because their job was to ‘spy’ on me; mostly though, I was angry at myself and my lack of control over the situation; and the only thing that made me feel better was channeling my thoughts onto paper. Of course, I had a lot of alone time in the unit, so I had ample opportunity to write a lot of hateful letters over the three and a half month period I spent locked up; some of them were to my friends complaining about my ‘arsehole’ parents who’d left me in that place to rot, and about my ill-treatment at the hands of the ‘evil’ psychiatric nurses who followed me everywhere and were clearly out to ruin my life; but most were to Victor Bog-off, the foul-mouthed editor of the Big! letters page, who replied to all correspondence from his fans by showering them with abuse. I can’t remember what I said in those letters, but I know I wrote to him on average about three times a week with all my various woes, and it didn’t deter me when everyone else around me said his mailbag would be so full of other people’s letters he’d never get to read mine. 

Ironically, when the poem (which contained the last line ‘so bog off you great piece of snot’) was selected for publication, I was completely unaware of it – and I only found out that it had made it into print when I received a variety of stares, sniggers and whispers as I trotted into the dinner hall on my very first day back at school after my release; and one teenage girl I vaguely knew held up her copy of Big! magazine and cried, ‘oh my god, you’re famous!’

It’s interesting for me to look back on these small triumphs because not only does it help to see how far I’ve come, but it also reminds me of how much my outlook on life has changed: nowadays I’d rather turn tragedy into comedy; and I’m driven, not by rage, but by the ability to look at life from many odd angles and to laugh at myself.

Orange Is The New L Word

   
 

Today it came to my attention that I never did find out who killed Jenny Schechter in the final instalment of ‘The L Word’.

The groundbreaking series about a group of mostly middle-class lesbian pals living in LA, which ran for six successful seasons during the mid to late noughties, was one of my biggest TV staples back in the day; and even though the emotionally unhinged and often manipulative Jenny (played by Mia Kirshner) was my least favourite character, it still bugs me that her murder / accidental death / suicide via drowning was left unresolved. So, naturally, I spent the afternoon thinking about it, and wondering what would happen if one of the other characters did get convicted of bumping her off, and how that person would fare alongside Alex and Piper and the rest of the lags in Litchfield Penitentiary in the event of a cross-over episode/s with ‘Orange Is The New Black’.

Of course, I’d previously heard the rumours about the spin-off prison drama ‘The Farm’ starring Leisha Hailey, where her quirky character Alice Pieszecki is banged up in a Californian jail after being charged with the murder. And during a frenzied bout of googling, I found further reference to the pilot series which, apparently, was filmed but later cancelled by ‘Showcase’ network. I then spent a further two hours trying to find out more information as well as hunting for a trailer, but gave up after my search revealed nothing but nasty footage of farm animals being tortured and a short horror film of the same name.

I can just imagine the sort of scenario that would take place if Alice’s character ended up in Lichfield: she’d be five and a half years into a life sentence, long-forgotten by all her old West Hollywood buddies and worn down by the unfairness of the prison system… until of course she meets Piper who straight away recognises her as an ex-almost-celesbian journalist and radio show host; Piper will then stalk and talk at Alice (despite warnings from her on-off girlfriend, Alex, that she shouldn’t get involved) until Alice wearily agrees to ask Counsellor Healy if she can be the host of a new prison radio station project. Said radio project will initially be a success, until shenanigans take place and the Healy shuts it down; but obviously not before Alice gains renewed media attention and is freed on appeal.

Antonia disagrees with this particular vein of thought. She maintains that feisty art-critic Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals), who she’s fancied ever since she saw her playing a tom-boy welder in the eighties movie, ‘Flash Dance’, would make a much better inmate; Antonia claims that a) Bette had a stronger motive for murder (Jenny photographed Bette looking like she was in a compromising situation with her old college pal and then threatened to send the pics to Bette’s partner); and b) she likes the idea of Bette going head to head with Alex Vauss.

Two of my friends also thought that rich bitch Helena Peabody (Rachel Shelley) would look good in orange jumpsuit; and a third said she’d like to see Jenny end up in Litchfield – when I pointed out that Jenny Schechter’s character was dead so that was unlikely, the possibility of an evil twin was suggested.

Personally, I think Showcase missed a really good opportunity when they turned down The Farm: even if the storyline with Alice as a convict ended up being completely rubbish, the lesbian contingency would still have tuned in just to see what happened. So, on the off-chance that producer Ilene Chaiken decides to give the series a second chance and is looking for a writer with a fresh perspective, I am keeping my Saturday nights free…

Orange Is The New Specs

  

Yesterday, during a quick trip to Colchester, my hay fever got so bad that I had to invest in a pair of protective goggles. I did look a bit silly, mostly because they were florescent orange – and I definitely was not rocking the librarian-chic-look inspired by prison drama star Laura Prepon – but it was necessary because I was on the verge of committing murder as Antonia dragged me snuffling and wheezing around a DIY store; because the last thing a person wants to hear when they are contemplating gouging their own eyeballs out, is their stanley-knife-wielding other half telling them in a high-pitched wee know-it-all voice: ‘Don’t rub them, henny, or you’ll just make it worse!’

Over the last decade, I’ve tried a multitude of different medicines and countermeasures to curb my itching and sniffing and sneezing, including over-the-counter anti-histamines (liquid-form but not tablets because the pills always have lactose in them), flower remedies and edible flowers, eye washes and nasal washes, homeopathic treatments, herbals teas and even a good old-fashioned salt pipe. However, nothing seems to work. Or if it does, there’s usually a nasty side effect which is just as bad, if not worse, than the actual hay fever.    

For instance, almost all the pharmacy-bought medicines make me drowsy – even the children’s and the non-drowsy ones – I know I’m a bit of a unique case because these side effects are aggravated by the petit mal seizures and associated neurological problems I’ve experienced ever since my brain injury twenty-two years ago (https://beanloveblog.wordpress.com/about-me/)and I have been known to start drifting off to sleep at the dinner table shortly after taking them and on a couple of times I’ve actually slipped off my chair altogether. On one occasion, I also ended up at A+E with a swollen eyeball because I had an allergic reaction to a cucumber slice I placed on my eyelid for a few seconds – oddly enough, I have no problems eating cucumber. The salt pipe did slightly alleviate the problems I had with my sinuses, and I might well have persevered with it had it not been for Antonia pointing out that I had started to produce a very unpleasant salty aroma every-time I sneezed. And then there’s nettle tea: a recent article in  http://www.veganlifemag.com cited this as a good natural remedy, and they were absolutely spot on: it cleared up my hay fever symptoms completely within twenty-four hours. However, it also made me pee non-stop (it’s a strong diuretic), kept me awake and agitated and fidgety for nearly forty-eight hours; and caused me to have such a bad allergic reaction that a health professional described me as ‘looking like I was on ecstasy’.   

I later discovered that nettle isn’t suitable for everyone: pregnant and lactating women should avoid it, as should young children, anyone who suffers from epilepsy or has neurological problems (although I’ve also read contradictory information which says nettle can aid certain neurological conditions); and if you’re diabetic it’s best to consult your GP first because it can affect blood sugar levels.

My GP sent me to the hospital for allergy testing a couple of years ago because my hay fever symptoms were so severe (and persisted from February through to November) that he wanted to make sure I wasn’t suffering from some other ailment. Unsurprisingly, the results showed that I was allergic to grass pollen, four different types of tree pollen (I now wish I’d asked which ones) and dust mites. The consultant gave me a sheet of paper with instructions on how to manage my condition. It said something along the lines of: ‘Don’t go out in the morning. Don’t go out in the evening. Don’t hang your laundry outdoors. And take coastal holidays.’ As I was leaving, she added: ‘Obviously, if that advice doesn’t suit then just ignore it.’

  
Currently, I am taking a cocktail of Vogel’s flower remedies: Luffa Complex (drops), Pollinosan (nasal spray) and Eye Bright (drops). I had some itch-relief between two pm and three thirty today and almost felt normal, but now my symptoms appear to be coming back with a vengeance. If this continues I might have to take more than a coastal holiday – I might have to move to a seaside town. I suppose there is always Brighton: it’s very vegan and very gay and Ruby Rose (Stella from ‘Orange Is The New Black’) is appearing at this year’s Brighton Pride, which conveniently takes place on my birthday.

Funnily enough, last year, when I was working in the jail, one of the prisoners told me that there had been an inside clamp down on anti-histamines because they were being sold illegally. I was completely confused by this as I couldn’t work out why anyone would want to take them if they didn’t have an allergy. The answer: they give you a good night’s sleep.

I am now starting to think that a few weeks in the hoosegow away from all the evil pollen wouldn’t be such a bad option for me: I could stay indoors and yet still toddle along to the dinner hall and the library and the gym… and I’m sure it would inspire some interesting pieces of writing…

Orange Is The New Addiction

  

‘Orange Is The New Black’ is back today for a third season, and Antonia has got her geek specs and her tributary satsumas at the ready. I did suggest dying our hair ginger and buying tangerine coloured t-shirts but she thought that idea was too last season. Funnily enough, I’ve been avoiding eating oranges because they contain histamine and I’ve been locked up indoors for the best part of the week with a bad bout of hay fever. I am also trying for my orange belt in wado ryu karate this weekend, which will come in handy if I ever end up sharing a cell with a pyschopath.

The Netflix prison drama, based on Piper Kerman’s best selling autobiography ‘Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison’ (2010, Random House), first burst onto our screens with its blend of comedy and controversy in July 2013, and has fast become one of the streaming channel’s mostly frequently watched shows; it follows the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a thirty-something, white, middle-class career woman who is sentenced to fifteen months in an American correctional facility for transporting a suitcase of drug money through customs – an offence she committed ten years before for her ex-girlfriend. On leaving her charmed life with man-childish fiancee, Larry (Jason Biggs), and her newly established business, Piper vows to make prison a meaningful experience and possibly learn carpentry; however, once she’s inside the walls of the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary, she struggles to fit in with the other women (most of whom haven’t shared her privileged upbringing) and their rules: in episode one, she is served a bread roll with a bloody tampon in it after she offends kitchen matriarch, Red Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew); and she is shocked to discover that old flame and ex-drug-smuggler, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), is also an inmate.

I sometimes wonder how I’d fare food-wise if I were ever incarcerated: on one hand I’d want to stay true to my beliefs and steer clear of eating and wearing animal products, but on the other I’d be worried about rocking the boat and making enemies of the prison wardens or kitchen staff; I would also want to avoid going without meals or important food groups because I’d like to have my wits about me in case of any altercations, but having worked as a writer-in-residence in a prison for two years I’ve heard my fair share of grumbles relating to the dinners inside and I understand that providing fruit and veg for cons is not high on the rehabilitation agenda. Obviously, this is a very good incentive not to break the law, but the idea of any fellow vegan – no matter who they are or what they’ve done – having their human rights breached bothered me, especially since I knew there must be plenty of political prisoners serving custodial sentences in the UK who are devoted to living a cruelty-free lifestyle.

 So I googled ‘Vegan’, ‘Uk’ and ‘prison’ which came up with a blog post by PETA (‘People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals’) called ‘The Top Five Vegan-Friendly Prisons In The UK’, followed by a link to the ‘Vegan Prisoners Support Organisation’ and an article from the Guardian dated 2009 which stated that after a fifteen year campaign imprisoned vegans would be permitted to buy animal-free food and basic hygiene products such as soap and tooth paste; the ‘fight’ to allow vegan prisoners to wear non-leather shoes was allegedly still continuing at that time. I can’t help thinking it’s great that this information exists, but that it’s completely useless to people who can’t access it or don’t know about it. Plus, how would you ascertain someone’s vegan status? Would someone who followed a plant-based diet for health reasons but wore leather be excluded in the eyes of prison authority? And who would get to decide how far vegan ethics would be allowed to stretch?

Most of the storylines in OITNB are about women who are in some way marginalised; and for that reason I’d love to see them include a vegan character. It would be even better if a potential vegan storyline was a bit more imaginative than the stereotypical crazy-animal-rights-activist-blows-up-science-lab-to-save-two-rabbits-and-kills-loads-of-people-in-the-process. Maybe there could be a new sexy cucumber-wielding vegan lesbian love interest for either (or both) on/off girlfriends Piper and Alex? Or a tofu-eating, kick-ass, hipster warden could take over and force Red to take meat off the menu altogether?

One thing’s for sure: Antonia and I will be under house arrest till we’ve watched all fourteen new episodes.

I’m Gonna Dance Forever

Yesterday I visited Leatherhead, a tiny wee medieval market town in Surrey, which is situated on the right bank of the River Mole. I’d never been to Leatherhead before, and I didn’t have particularly high expectations in terms of plant-based eating out options ever since I’d googled vegan and vegetarians cafes in the area and was signposted to an Italian restaurant that had a menu with a heavy bias towards tiger prawns; I only went because my sister (Nikki) combined her visit to Sudbury with the dance rehearsals she was doing at the Premier Production Studios, in the Mole Business Park, in preparation for her next tour; and I thought she might like the company during the two-and-a-half-hour drive.

When I tell people that my sister is a ‘cookie monster’, I don’t mean that she eats a lot of biscuits, nor am I referring to that fact that she worked part-time in ‘Millie’s Cookies’ during the time she was training at musical theatre school. No, I mean that her current job involves dancing around in a giant blue furry costume to a backdrop of songs like ‘The Cookie Crumba Rumba’. But, this is not the oddest-sounding occupation that she’s ever had: she’s spent time as an elf in lapland, a chipmunk on a Disney cruise, and a pink-haired tutu-wearing monkey called ‘Panzee’ in the Zingzillas high-energy road show. In the past, Nikki has toured around the UK and to the Middle East with the cast of ‘Sesame Street’ – and could potentially travel the world – and by the time this email goes viral she will be on a plane to Indonesia.

 Personally, I couldn’t do what she does: I would hate the long and unpredictable hours, and having to traipse to random destinations or live in accommodation that I’ve not picked out myself; I’d also hate having to rely on other performers turning up or getting things right and I’d probably find it soul destroying every time I saw someone younger and prettier than me bust a better move – but then that wouldn’t be hard because I’ve got two left feet and can’t even cartwheel.

 I had absolutely no intention of watching my sister rehearse – in fact, I’d decided without knowing anything about the show that it would be preferable to gouge my own eyeballs out. My plan had simply been to walk around the shops and stake out the local cafes before settling down in a coffee shop to do some writing whilst she was prancing around. And, fortunately, after turning down the cheese and nachos that bar staff in one establishment tried to palm me off with, I was lucky enough to discover a vegetarian stall at the outdoor French market which had two vegan options – ratatouille (which I love) and another dish that was made up of potatoes, aubergine and tomato that I can’t remember the name of; I chose the potato dish and was not disappointed.

  We had planned to meet up during her lunch break but, typically, my sister’s timetable didn’t run to plan. So she suggested that I come along to the studio instead. And I, reluctantly, agreed.

 And I’m glad I did. Because I was proved wrong for the second time that day.

And if ever I had doubts or concerns about Nikki’s career choice, watching her yesterday annihilated them. Not only was the dancing top-notch but the lyrics were clever (I can’t stop singing the Count’s mathematical parody of the song ‘Fame’ and now Antonia’s picked it up) and it was generally very very funny. My sister was also the most enthusiastic-looking person on the stage and I have never seen her shine so much or look as happy in her entire life; and I genuinely felt very privileged to have been given a sneaky peek into her world.

     

 

 

Cookies And Dreams

  

Last night, I dreamt that I was in New York standing outside the vegan equivalent of a ‘Millie’s Cookies’ store. It was baking hot, and I was second from the front in a mile long queue looking up at an array of neon lights advertising things like ‘dark and chunky double choc’ and ‘dairy-free ice-cream dream’; and I was so excited by the prospect of claiming my chewy, soft-baked treat, that when I got to the kiosk my mind went blank and I couldn’t think what to order.

 This, of course, is exactly the sort of thing that would happen to me in real life. If Antonia was with me, we’d go to Caffe Nero beforehand and spend an hour enthusiastically writing a list of our top favourite cookie flavours – and then we’d write a reserve list just in case they ran out of our first choices; and then we’d get to the front of the queue and end up spending an absolute fortune by buying one of everything, and probably make ourselves sick.

 I got my dream cookie in the end – a double chilli chocolate one with pieces of sour cherries and brazil nuts, and its circumference matched my handspan – and as I walked along in the sunshine I bit into it… and Antonia nudged me awake.

 After that, I couldn’t stop thinking about cookies and ice-cream all morning. And two hours later, I found this recipe: [cookieshttp://www.veganbaking.net/recipes/cookies/chocolate-chip-cookies] And, despite my previous multiple kitchen disasters, I was inspired to give biscuit-making another chance. Because, with the exception of the three egg-free cookies I bought in Edinburgh’s ‘Forest Café’ back in 2005, I have personally never managed to find a shop-bought vegan cookie that has lived up to my expectations in terms of chewiness.

That’s not to say that I think other commercially-made cookies are rubbish – I don’t – although the one I bought in the American Sweet shop in Glasgow a couple of years ago tasted like I was eating sawdust out of an armpit. I love the ‘Lazy Days’ shortbread rounds (which of course aren’t meant to be chewy) and I think it’s a amazing that a tiny wee company from a little-known Scottish village has earned shelf-space in mainstream supermarkets with a product that has been aimed at a minority palate. My gripes with other vegan cookie brands are that their products are far too sweet or too crumbly – and that’s entirely down to personal preference; when Antonia and I discovered ‘Going Against The Grain’ (another dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free company), she mowed through her fun-size sachet and saved my uneaten ones for later.

 I followed my recipe to the letter. And blamed the oven when after fifteen minutes my cookies remained squishy. After twenty-five minutes, I gave up trying to get them to ‘cook’. I later realised they’d come out exactly as they were supposed to; just like they did all those other times when I chucked my soggy hot-mess ‘failures’ in the bin. I didn’t know, and the recipe didn’t say, that you are supposed to leave them for half an hour to set.

 Antonia loved my chewy chocolate chip cookies. And so did her gran. And so did I.

 I think I’ll make chilli-chocolate ones next…