Tag Archives: London

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…

London Vegan Adventurers

Today, Antonia and I went off on a vegan adventure in London. I suppose you could argue that all our adventures are vegan ones because we are vegans and have been for years, but in this instance we did specifically go in search of previously untried plant-based products and unconquered veggie establishments.

We ended up in Bethnal Green, a part of London I’d never visited. In a cheery wee charity-run coffee-shop called ‘The Gallery Café’ (http://www.stmargaretshouse.org.uk/thegallerycafe/). I was excited to find this place because it had been recommended to me by a chap I’d met last January in ‘Inspiral’ (a vegan café in Camden which overlooks the canal) who told me that it was his favourite food venue in London. And, after sampling the food and the atmosphere, it wasn’t hard to understand why. Between us we ordered a full English breakfast (which was comprised of veggie sausages, beans, mushrooms, toasted sourdough bread and a generous helping of scrambled tofu) and a cheesy, garlicky potato bake with salad. We did our usual eat-half-then-swap-plates, although I ate about three quarters of the food because it was so tasty, and because Antonia has been ill recently and it’s stunted her appetite.

Afterwards, Antonia went to an art exhibition in Whitechapel, and I waddled a few metres along the road to the Museum Of Childhood. I had a really good time looking at all the vintage kids’ games and toys, especially the He-Man figures and the Carebears and the old-fashioned super hero comics. However, I was mildly disturbed by the 1960s stuffed koala bear toy which was a dead-ringer for the koala my mum has had since childhood. According to the placard in the MOC, it was made from kangaroo skin – and I don’t know why this should offend me more than the leather seat of an 80s chopper bike or the many happy plastic farm animals on display, but for some reason it did; and I know I’ll never be able to run my fingers across the fur of mum’s koala toy ever again.

Later, we reconvened and went to Kensington on an egg hunt. I like Hotel Chocolat (because they’ve always catered well for vegans) and I’d heard they had some original Easter goodies. However, the only seasonal dairy-free delicacy I could find was a dark chocolate ‘egg sandwich’, and I couldn’t separate that in my mind from real egg-salad sandwiches. So we sampled a couple of their hot chocolates instead and went along the road to Wholefoods. And despite there being a much wider variety of cruelty-free eggs in this shop, I emerged from the chocolate aisle with a box of Rhubarb and vanilla Booja Booja truffles (and a packet of chicken soup flavoured ‘Ten Acre’ crisps) and Antonia picked a giant Vego bar, some jelly sweets and a bag of marshmallows for her Easter treat.

(We did get some normal foodstuff as well… fat green olives, dairy free almond-cheese spread, veggie haggis… thinking about it is making me salivate so I’ll say no more…)

On the car ride home, I began compiling a list of all the vegetarian and vegan places we’ve ever been to for my new up-and-coming blog page ‘Bean There’ (it was Antonia’s idea), along with a mental plan of where I’m going for my next London Vegan Adventure.

In And Around The Rabbit Hole

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So yesterday, after several weeks of planning our first post-move-to-Sudbury trip to London, Antonia and I managed to miss the 9.30am train. Personally, I was raging because I’d booked an appointment at ‘The Rabbit Hole’ – a vegan hair salon in Shepherd’s Bush – I’d never been before, and I didn’t know where it was, and I wanted to walk around then go for lunch at To-Fu, a vegan Asian-fusion buffet, which was only a few minutes walk from the hair salon.

Antonia, non-chalantly, suggested we go to Waitrose so that she could have her daily cup of free tea, whilst we waited another hour for the next train. (This is typical of her, because she used to spend the Monday afternoons she had off college in IKEA with our friend Sophie Norman aka ‘the original bean cruncher’, just to enjoy unlimited cups of tea) She’d also brought some homemade blueberry muffins with her. Sorry, ‘enchanted bluebell’ muffins. Apparently, they’d been ‘energised with crystal magic and love’. Hmm. So that’s what she was doing in my kitchen the other day when she was dancing round, swinging a quartz pendulum over the cooker, whist making dinging noises.

When we finally arrived, it turned out the Asian-Fusion place had shut down. This was doubly disappointing because a) we only had an hour to eat lunch then find the hair salon and b) the words ‘vegan’ and ‘buffet’ rarely go together. Instead, we found a lovely wee place called ‘The Green Café’, which although not specifically meat-free, did have the best hummus and falafel wraps I’ve ever tasted – everything was homemade; and it was a bonus that the wraps were made from dairy-free naan bread, because naan usually contains yoghurt.

From there, we walked around the market and I commented on how I’d never seen so many women wearing veils. Antonia said it reminded her of the Glasgow Barras. I couldn’t quite see the connection myself: a traditional muslim woman hanging around the East End of Glasgow, in a full body burka, is more likely to receive abuse than a stall to sell her oriental vegetables on.

Dori, the Hungarian hairdresser, who owns The Rabbit Hole messaged to say that the place was ‘hidden’ inside an old barber’s shop with a yellow door – there were in fact two barber’s shops in Goldhawk Road with yellow doors so if it hadn’t been for Antonia, I might have ended up with a Sweeny Todd special.

It was dark inside The the Rabbit Hole, and as I moved through the entrance I had the vaguest feeling that I was floating inches above the ground, because I couldn’t see my feet. I was met by a hat-wearing hairdresser who didn’t actually work there (yet), but she looked like she fitted right in with the tea pot wallpaper, and the white rabbit mosaic, and the beautiful bespoke light fittings with the tea cups on the ends. Neither Dori nor Natalie the hatter seemed phased at all when I said I wanted ‘rising phoenix’ hair.

I had a lovely afternoon. And despite the whimsical backdrop, the weirdest thing that happened – apart from my crazy mane snapping a brush in two – was when two strange men barged in like mafia during my shampoo. (It turned out they were father and son, and the older man was the previous owner who’d apparently come over from Cyprus to reminisce)

It was nice being able able to say ‘yes’ to a cup of coffee with almond milk, and nicer not having to ask what was on the ingredients list at the back of the shampoo bottle. (A visit to the hair dressers’ really shouldn’t have to involve worrying whether the stuff they’re putting on your noggin contains dead prawns or some equally unpleasant animal cadaver but often does for vegans.)

When I emerged over four hours later with my new copper and blonde bonce, I had worked up an appetite. And Antonia was in a brilliant mood because she’d gotten a gorgeous new cut-price ’do because it turned out Natalie was there for a trial at the salon. So we caught the tube to Itadaki Zen at King’s Cross, where we took photos of each other eating a lot of very tasty vegan Japanese food that we couldn’t pronounce. And I dropped my chopsticks thirty or forty times and chased my rice around the plate for an hour before Antonia asked for a spoon on my behalf.

Back at Liverpool Street Station, Antonia still wasn’t completely satisfied until she’d bought a cup of tea to drink on the train whilst eating one of her magic muffins. I couldn’t eat anything else because I’d scoffed her sushi and half of her miso soup as well as my own.

When I got home it was nearly midnight, and I was so tired I didn’t even watch Wentworth.

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