Vegan. A series of sounds that when said in succession could easily mistaken for ‘nodule’. No-one wants to be vegan, or a nodule. At least, no-one wants to be called vegan. It sounds like more of a fatal diagnosis than a dietary habit. The physician turns, removes his spectacles and solemnly ejaculates an apology followed by, “We found veganism and I’m afraid the prognosis isn’t good”.
However, this is a great coincidence for someone whose teenage years failed to surrender that pubescent characteristic that is inclusive of all habits that are deemed dreadfully unpopular and, thus, unique. But I guess the second trait is delusion since veganism has never been more popular, gone viral you could say, and, what’s more, I technically am one (most of the time, except for croissants at the weekend); I just want a less creepy title.
In my current and necessarily vague adventure on a shoestring in which I attempt find a Romantic way of life in the Mediterranean (undoubtedly induced by repeats of Shirley Valentine) and I'm notably avoiding communities proudly advertising that they're vegan. Sunseed was the coolest community so far - just a few aesthetic and geographical tweaks, a handsome waiter, and I would have signed up for life. Gradually my journey is refining certain common ground that I need in order to feel sane, including subtleties like attention to details, the kind that, say, Claridges might offer, and a sense of comfy homeliness: I’m the 21st Century Goldilocks, tasting every bowl of dairy-free porridge in the permaculture world. The bowls I’m currently not able to tolerate are -
1. Working all the hours that God (or, insert appropriate belief system) sends in the name of avoiding apocalypse, doom and certain environmental collapse
2. Kitchens/bathrooms/hair that look as if soap has yet to be invented. Hygiene and personal grooming isn’t the sole domain of the vain and narcissistic; we can steward the world and not resemble extras from Planet of the Apes.
In the next chapter, after leaving a country whose language I assumed was close enough to Spanish to understand (the world of the ignorant and its short-lived blisses) all has unfolded in a most calamitous way with mis-understandings, cancelled public transport which prompted a series of frenzied accommodation annulments…more crossed wires than under the Atlantic. I’m attempting to see the chaos as celestial intervention so I'm staying as Zen / British (calm and carry on) as I possibly can, like in the eye of the storm. trying not judge myself when things soured as I arrived at the hostel collapsing on the desk after a gruelling journey up 2 steep hills with 25 kg of luggage only to hear that the showers were broken. As I clamoured for Zodiacal / you'll find this hilarious tomorrow hope, I remembered that shining global staple and its mystical symbolism: the ham sandwich, the torturous antithesis of veganism.
Rather than slices of dead pig comatosed in a carb party, think of its sweaty soothing peacefulness and, moreover, its omnipresence, regardless of circumstance and geography. In cafés, train stations, hotel receptions, tobacconists (yes, they exist outside of GCSE French text books), road side shacks, probably even on bouncy castles - that loyal steed, slightly moist, wedged between lesser classics...you will find the quiet ham sandwich. I’d perspire, too, with that much pressure to be everywhere at once. The ham sandwich, you'll find, is the original internet. Somehow.
Now, calmness in tact, despite having landed in a city in which I muttered the following words “I will never return here” but cruelly apparently I fill a Mark-shaped gap; despite my intention to be peak, my commitment to excellence (courtesy of a scattering of early years at Methodist Sunday school and Catholic grandparents), despite my puppy-like enthusiasm of holding a dozen MOOCs under my electronic belt and a will stronger than Elnett to succeed; despite knowing more facts around urban water management and urban resilience, as well as medicine’s contemporary relationship with the arts, despite being familiar with pioneering work in psychiatry in the UK, which will attempt to weaken the pharmaceutical stronghold... I find myself in Seville twiddling my intellectual thumbs and looking for the dreaded 'w' word that cheerfully rhymes with berk. Unable to reach Barcelona and a sustainable residency near there (since my geographical skills fail to realise the implications of a 1,000 km distance when it just looks like an inch on the map) unless I am prepared to become human origami in a coach for an unspeakable amount of time. Now, like the baby Jesus, I must knock on the doors of inns until someone gives me a manger and straw. Or, something like that (the Methodist influence didn’t last long).
When I feel the inner flame flickering in Seville’s industrial-strength A/C and bourgeois café mist, my head will stay high picturing an illuminated ham sandwich – steadfast, reliable, pig-headed even, in the face of the vacuous crushing wheels of overly toothy CV hand-outs. I am Zen.