Thursday, 18 January 2018

Strength

I used to like watching what the media call "gritty dramas". I loved Prime Suspect, and vivid in my memory from ages ago (2010?) is Criminal Justice II; but I think my absolute favourites were The Bridge, and Happy Valley by the unbelievably talented Sally Wainwright.

I still hold those levels of writing, directing and acting in the highest esteem, but increasingly these days I find I cannot watch them. It feels as though too much of the world's sorrow is already inside me and I have no space for any more.

Sarah Lancashire starred in Happy Valley — she was brilliant — and right now she's starring in another gritty drama on UK TV, called Kiri. It's about a tragic situation where a social worker allows a child an unsupervised visit with grandparents, and the child is murdered.

I watched the first episode with the Badger, and then the second one aired last night, straight after Love It Or List It with Phil and Kirsty. 

Just at the present time I'm scrambling to finish writing a book. It has to be in to the publisher in March, and meanwhile that same publisher will any day now be sending me someone's novel to edit that carries its own deadline. 

Our household is made up entirely of quiet people (they do play French horn and trombone and bodhran and flute and violin and piano and harp and oboe and recorder, but the people themselves are quiet), but even so daytime requirements can be . . . turbulent. Writing goes best when I start early in the morning. I often wake around half-past three or a quarter to four, and I can get a solid chunk of work in if I start then. This has a knock-on effect of course; by half-past seven or eight in the evening, I'm often ready to turn in. I fell asleep in my armchair (not a pretty sight) before Phil and Kirsty finished, and there was no hope whatsoever of watching Kiri.

So it was my intention to see Kiri on catch-up TV; the first episode was so good.

But — does this happen to you? — sometimes you can notice-but-not-notice some reality of life. And wanting to watch Kiri made me consciously aware of something I'd noticed but not noticed for a long time. 

I couldn't watch it by myself. It has too much trauma. 

I sat and thought about this, considered it, played it through in my mind, asking myself why I wouldn't watch Episode 2 by myself if I saw Episode 1 with the Badger and thought it was great. 

And I became aware that when I sit in the same room with the others of my household, there's a kind of ectoplasm — like squid ink in the water or smoke rising from a slow bonfire or steam from a wet fence when the sun comes up — a subtle presence / ambience / aura / atmosphere exuded by the other person; an emanating strength. Being with them strengthens me.

When I write that down it doesn't read as astonishing at all. "Yes," you may think. "Of course."

But I hadn't really thought about it before. 

Such influence as we have upon one another! Its negative aspects are much discussed, of course — the effects of mental cruelty and psychological/emotional abuse in gradually eroding a person's confidence and self-esteem. Yet the positive aspects, less so; especially given the emphasis on individualism in contemporary society.

But in our household all of us find strength and hope and courage in doing things together. Even something as simple as watching a programme on TV in which a person suffers and is broken down, torn by distress and unkindly treated by their fellow human beings. Even though I know it's only a story. I need the quiet, steady strength of someone sitting beside me to be able to bear watching it.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Eating simply



A maxim that serves me well: "If in doubt — simplify."

I have yet to find a circumstance it doesn't improve.

It works extremely well for healthy eating.

Veganism is trending, as more people find out exactly what animal husbandry and slaughterhouse practice means in real terms. Recipes for nut loaves and many kinds of dips abound — and aquafaba has recently become a thing.

I care passionately about the welfare of farmed animals, and I would love to be vegan, but I'm one of the many people who don't do well on vegan diet. The problems are not so much those usually raised about sources of calcium and protein and Vet B12 — those things have been well addressed long ago. Less often flagged are dietary aspects like copper and zinc. Copper abounds in veggies, while some types of zinc required to metabolise copper come from animal sources. So unless you have that type of zinc, you can end up with both copper starvation because you can't metabolise all that copper in your veggies, and copper poisoning because you ingested all that copper in your veggies. I've concluded that my way forward is lots of plant-sourced food with a small amount of animal-sourced food. The question is, what?

A few years ago I began to ask myself seriously what I came here to do — what do I need to put into my life so that I could make peace with the idea of dying when my time comes? What will make me contented now and also content with the certain knowledge that I must lay it all down at some point, possibly without warning? What will make me both happy and free?

Simplicity bordering on minimalism/essentialism is, for me, the answer. To own as little as possible, to have as uncluttered a schedule as possible, and to have vast tracts of time for thinking and looking and wondering. 

What has made me happy in this particular day? Looking at the slow, drifting flames in the wood stove. Looking at the colour of wet bark. Looking at the diamond clear drops of rain hanging from the twig-ends of the greengage tree. Standing guard against seagulls while the crows — who rejoice my heart by trusting me — eat the breakfast I put down for them in the garden. Walking in the rain. Soaking in the bath.

These are simple things. Not free — crow food, firewood, accommodation, hot water, these cost money; but not much.

It also makes me happy to push gently into grace/gift economy, so that less and less of what I do is about money. I still have to receive an income to pay my way for utilities, food, clothing, travel, books, stationery — the basic things — but I have reached a place where what I am paid for I would do anyway; I receive payment for it but I don't do it for the money, if you see what I mean. And where I can give away what I have, and work for free, I do that.

During 2017 I was ill quite a lot of the time. My own fault; I'd drifted from the diet that safeguards my health. I'd actually reached the point where I felt so ill so much of the time that I hardly had the energy to do anything, and was quietly waiting out the remainder of my time on Earth waiting for it to be over.  That could have been a mighty long wait as I didn't have any illness as such — well, only things like fibromyalgia, swollen ankles, acid reflux, a venous blood clot, dizziness, exhaustion, depression, chest pains, breathlessness; all the usual suspects. Somehow as the autumn ended I managed to get back into eating right, and slowly wellbeing has returned, such that I can write again and go for walks and generally feel more alive.

But something that is not on my To Do list now or ever is complicated cooking. My housekeeping has to be simple. Frankly, I didn't come here to make nut loaf. It has to be way simpler than that.

What I find most effective — and cheapest too, and the most ethical — is the simplest food of all. Eating what Alice and Hebe call "ingredients".

Fruit, vegetables, beans, some grains (not wheat, for me, but quinoa, brown rice, rolled or steel-cut oats), nuts, herbs, seeds, oil, spices. Just steamed, boiled, fried or baked. Quick, straight-forward. Ten-minute cooking. 

I thought long and hard about the animal sources. Dairy foods make me ill (and are both complicated and cruel to produce), and you know, I find I really can no longer fancy eating somebody's leg or liver. I mean, it just seems very strange. There's a place near us where rescued battery hens find a home, and I get eggs from them. I eat fish about three times a week. This seem to me the simplest type of animal source foods. To lift a fish from the sea and kill it swiftly is less complicated than raising a whole cow or sheep for a year then slaughtering it, butchering it, packaging it, retailing it. I feel so sad for the fish, but it got to live wild, at least. To eat an egg is simpler than eating the chicken. The rescue hens part is important to me, because I'm no fan of gassing male day-old chicks in large batches. Is that what we came here to do? Seems improbable. The rescue hens eggs also come direct from the gate of the house where they live, which happens to be next door to the chapel where I worship, and they happen to cost less than half the price of supermarket eggs as well. Stacks up well — no food miles, no packaging (you take your own), low cost and high welfare. I need only an egg or two each week.

On this very simple and basic diet I do amazingly well, and it makes my money go further. Simplicity ramifies into every aspect of life to improve healing and wellbeing for the individual, the community and the whole of creation. My breakfast today was porridge made from a handful of rolled oats cooked in oatmilk with a pinch of sea salt, combined with the fibre left over from a glass of home-made apple and carrot juice — some from a late-fruiting apple tree in our garden, the rest organic produce from the supermarket. Supper will be a jacket potato, cabbage, fried onions and black bean hummus. Followed by an orange. Couldn't be easier or more delicious. I recommend eating simply. It kind of works like fractals, making a corresponding wellness in my body and the body of the Earth which my body also embodies. Food for oneness, or something.

The picture at the top, I took back in the spring — of ramsons picked wild nearby for our salad. Another month and they'll be up and ready to pick again. Makes me happy.


Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Almost good and the imperative of confession

I decided to type this in the 'large' option of font, because I've been finding the last few posts a bit fiddling and small to read  so I thought maybe you have too. It might just be my elderly eyesight. It might be that you have the sense to enlarge the page view. Whatever — I thought I'd go a bit bigger. If it feels as though I'm shouting at you, let me know and I'll subside again for the next post.

In my lived-faith-practice, I notice the Spirit often speaks into my heart by emerging themes. Generally what happens is I notice something seriously objectionable in what somebody else is doing. Then I notice that by a curious coincidence another person in my circle of acquaintance is doing the exact same type of offending behaviour. 

Of course, in another life than my own, 'behaviour' is exactly what it is; external manifestation — the part of the iceberg that's sticking up above the surface of the ocean. I make a judgement on what they do with very little idea of what's underneath, what the behaviour is emerging from in terms of stuff they're living through, dealing with, what is triggering all this obnoxiousness, why it is they can't contain it and it has to overflow into evident ordure that reaches my nose.

Then I take it into my prayer, bringing it to Jesus and inviting the cleansing and blessing of his shalom into the person exhibiting the problem.

Without fail, before I even get the garbage I'm dragging halfway to the throne of grace, once I get within earshot the Lord says to me, "Oh yeah? And what about you?" 

And at that point I have to stop ignoring the precise same behaviour showing up in my own life, look at where and what it's coming from, voluntarily open it up for him to look at and clean out, invite his healing and shalom and almighty bleach spray and fresh air into my own dark and mildewed corners — what we call 'confession'.

And the thing that keeps showing up in my life right now at the present time in a phenomenon I call 'almost good'.

When I was a child my father spent much of his life overseas developing the export market for Eveready Batteries, and when he came home from his trips around the world he'd bring gifts and souvenirs, including vinyl discs of music currently trending in Europe, Japan, Africa or wherever he'd recently been. Singles. The Chipmunk Song caught his fancy, and on the flip side of it was David Seville's Almost Good. So this song was part of my childhood. I liked it, but particularly I was intrigued by the concept it presented — that alongside 'good' and 'bad' there was another possible category of 'almost good'. The notion stuck. 

In recent times I've been brought up again and again — in other people's lives —against the evident reality that mediocrity doesn't know itself. People who feel inadequate, aren't doing a good job, are letting things slide and allowing something good and worthwhile to dissolve and crumble on their watch. It's not that they don't mean well, it's not that they are refusing the task, it's not that they aren't standing in the gap. It's more that they are making an almighty effing mess of it, by procrastination, by half measures, by falling down on the job, by being neither conscientious nor meticulous in carrying out what their responsibilities require of them. 

Most destructive of all, is that they cannot afford to look at this and acknowledge it for the single and simple reason that to do so would damage their fragile self-image which low self esteem already renders crumbly. They look at people doing a good job and don't see the difference. Presented with the evidence that they are making  a pig's ear of their responsibilities they a) lie about it and b) blame someone else and c) talk big and lofty about their rĂ´le in it in such a way as to make someone else look bad. That faux-concern for someone else's 'weaknesses'; those dark hints about Problems that they are Dealing With (caused by someone else that they are having to mop up) that Explain Everything. Yeah, right. Mediocrity doesn't — can't afford to — recognise itself. Because steeping in the shame that acknowledgement brings is so very extremely painful. That's why. 

So as usual as I drag this lot the the Throne of Grace I tune in to the usual, "Oh, yes? Thanks. What about you?" And I recognise I have to deal with similar issues.

I see the places where in my relationships I adroitly project and displace blame for my own inability to handle interactions. I see the times where I present a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my mouth account of situations I'm part of that would all be going so amazingly well if it wasn't for Someone Else. I see the ways I conveniently downplay my contribution to a failing situation and inflate outrage over what They Did To Me. In my work, I detect the grandiosity about my own achievement and its corresponding shadow of disappointment in my failure to get all the way there, to be and to do the best I am capable of, to prepare sufficiently and carry out the task with compassion and grace and imagination.

But the thing is — never fails to intrigue me — in this examination of conscience and exposure under the steady Christlight of the Spirit, there is no increase of wretchedness and shame or guilt; only liberation and even excitement at new insight, refocusing on constructive ways forward, peace and healing. 

This is the primary way you can tell the difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the accusation of the brethren that comes from the corrupt source. The Spirit's convicting doesn't make you feel bad and it doesn't make things worse. It brings compassion and understanding, toward other people and also toward oneself; it deals with the accumulation of festering detritus in the dark corners; it improves everything.

That's why confession is imperative. Blaming other people never helps. "Let your light shine", Jesus said. If I clean up my own act so the light in me is no longer dusty and swamped, light can enter the picture — and that light alters the picture; it introduces the change I want to see. That's what Gandhi-ji said, isn't it? "Be the change you want to see in the world." That's the badger.


Sunday, 17 December 2017

Voices of dominance and submission

Things come and go in one's life, don't they? It's that way with me, at least. My awareness intensifies and then fades. It reminds me of sheep in the fog, where you know they're there but don't really see them, until suddenly one emerges and is right in front of you — they were there all along, but you see them now. Though sometimes you hear one cough.

So it is with elements of interpersonal relationship, or the spiritual patterns and dynamics underlying life — they are there but buried until your attention is attracted by something at the very edge of your field of perception — something coughs — and you turn and it stands forth and you see.

Spiritual path involves a lifelong process of clearing and simplifying, lifting out reality from all that buries and obscures it, allowing what is real to emerge and truth to appear. This develops peace, even at the same time as it usually provokes resistance and opposition. When you make truth appear, things start snarling and upheaving. Still you press on.

Back in the day, my first washing machine was a twin-tub (yours too?). How they worked was by twin compartments, one being a spin-dryer, the other a large tank for washing. The washtub had flattish rotary vanes built into one wall to agitate the water. You put in the water with a hose provided — either your own hot water from the get-go or else it had its own incorporated heater, which took awhile. You chucked in the soap as it filled. It drained off into your sink using the same hose, I think — I can't clearly remember now.  Must have done.

Anyway, there you were with a big tub of soapy water with your washing in, and at some point you turned on the rotary vanes and the whole lot started churning round and round. Then came the phenomenon I call "socks in the washing". Sometimes there'd be a thing you inadvertently put in that should not be there — a non-dye-fast garment rapidly turning everything blue/purple/pink, or a pair of cashmere socks that should have been handwashed. As the washing churned around, if you were watchful you could spot the item you wanted to remove and snatch it out as it went by.

And again, this is the same with interpersonal dynamics, the things that catch your attention as life churns around. Every now and then something comes to the fore and you get the chance to pluck it out of the mix — if you don't it submerges again, but it continues to work its alchemy, staining your whole life airforce blue. If you see what I mean.

And something I'm becoming aware of, as I watch the sheep loom in and out of the fog and the socks emerge and disappear in the churning washing of my life, is (or should that be are?) the voices of dominance and submission.

I notice the ones who like to say "No!" in a strident tone (just as an integral part of their regular conversation), the ones whose transactions are bully-or-be-bullied, the ones who put you down once they gain confidence, the ones who shut you down or shut you out, who scold you and humiliate you, who get you where they want you, who turn away in scorn from you, the ones who understand conversation as thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Or proposal-antagonism-struggle-loss/victory. I notice the authoritarian note in the voice and the corresponding meekness of uncertainty, in the same person.

In myself, I notice the desire to say, "I started it / lead it / thought of it / said it first."

I don't like it in myself, the harsh voice of dominance, laying down the way-it-is, sounding impatient. I don't like it when I catch in others the meekness of submission, when someone rolls over and shows you their jugular vein as a plea for mercy because they think you're winning, because your knowledge/skill/power is superior. 

There's something jangly in these interactions, commonplace as they are. Seeing them offers the chance to subtract some socks from the washing.

And then, also: "I'd go a little further up the mountain, if I were you," advises the inner sage. "Say less, be a little less mixed in. Watch more. Volunteer your opinion less. Walk the quiet tracks."


"The ancient masters were subtle, mysterious, profound, responsive.
The depth of their knowledge is unfathomable,
all we can do is describe their appearance.
Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream.
Alert, like men aware of danger.
Courteous, like visiting guests.
Yielding, like ice about to melt.
Simple, like uncarved blocks of wood.
Hollow, like caves.
Opaque, like muddy pools.

Who can wait quietly while the mud settles?
Who can remain still until the moment of action?
Observers of the Tao do not seek fulfilment.
Not seeking fulfilment, they are not swayed by desire for change."


(Tao Te Ching Ch 15, tr. Gia-fu Feng and Jane English) 

Monday, 11 December 2017

Winter's day

Snow. 




We have it.




Some of us are hiding from it.




Christmas.



We are ready for it.














Woodstove.



We have a fire in it.

All is calm, all is bright — here. God help and succour the refugees sheltering in the Calais woods, the lives scourged by war, the increasing numbers of homeless poor driven into destitution by bad political governance. 

Now, Lord, send them some summer, some manner of joy,
Heaven after hence-going, that here have such default!
And have pity on the rich that relieve no prisoners
From the good things you hast given, the ungrateful many;
But, God, in thy goodness, give them grace to amend.
But poor people, thy prisoners, Lord, in the pit of mischief,
Comfort those creatures that suffer many cares,
Through dearth or drought, all their days here,
Woe in winter-time, for want of clothing,
And in summer-time, seldom a full supper.
Comfort thy care-stricken, Christ, in thy kingdom.

(from Piers Plowman)







Saturday, 9 December 2017

Journalling

Dawn French has made a really groovy diary — it’s for your appointments, your aspirations, your innermost thoughts; and it has her wise observations on life intermingled, plus delightful illustrations of the quick-charcoal-sketch variety.

It would make a great present. I looked at it a long time online, enjoying it. But I’m not going to buy a copy for myself, and here’s why.

I’ve started journals a couple of times and never get very far with them, because I don’t find myself all that riveting, and I don’t harbour stuff that needs dealing with. One of the exercises Dawn invites readers to do, is write a letter on a specially provided tear-off page. This would be a letter you’ve always meant to send but never actually written, something important. Once written, you file it in a flap on the inside back cover, to give yourself time to consider well before sending.

I rarely write letters, and hardly ever write one of the Important sort. But if I need to, if the time seems right, I just do it. I did exactly that recently, trying my best to express myself kindly and humbly while at the same time bringing an end to a relationship gone sour.

Another exercise is to stick in a head and shoulders photo of yourself, then write below it what you see, and what you feel about that person.

I do sometimes keep a photo of myself in case it’s needed for the bio accompanying an article or something, or to show the hairdresser how I had my hair before when I go back for a trim — but I don’t really know what I think about me, how I come across, or what sort of person I am. I prefer myself lived in than looked at. 

And then, there’s the business of innermost thoughts. A friend once invited me to read their journal, and I was surprised by how boring it was, that person being in real life interesting and good company. Kind of lame. I’d rather not leave that sort of record behind.

Some journals are fascinating, of course — take Thomas Merton's, for example. But wise and inspiring though he certainly was, I still think he'd have done better to refrain from committing to paper his thoughts and feelings about his abbot James Fox, with whom he had such a troubled relationship. Merton being so loveable and so spiritually brave, readers naturally incline to sympathise with his perspective; but I can't help seeing that Fox had a point — yes, he surely did. 

As a teenager I did for a couple of years keep a diary, meticulously and in depth. All written in my left hand (I am very right-handed) and in the lettering style of a young child. The journal of a soul. Perhaps peculiar, but these outpourings meant a great deal to me, and a friend who was doing the same used to read my entries avidly, as I did hers. However I knew I had gone a little too far one Sunday evening when I allowed another friend to read an entry. In typical teenage fashion I asked, “Does that seem odd to you?
The reply — “I don't think it's odd that you wrote it, but I think it's odd that you're letting me read it” — struck home, and summed up exactly the problem I now have with diaries. I just don't want to be that exposed.

As a young child — five? six? — in a moment of fury I wrote in large, emphatic letters on a scrap of paper, “I hate *****” (my sister).
In 2010, the best part of fifty years after I wrote that, my father died. I have a preference for following the old gypsy tradition and burning the vardo with all its treasures and secrets still inside; I’d have called House Clearance and asked them to take what they wanted and dump the rest. My sister is not of the same mind, preferring to sort everything meticulously and conscientiously  — it is for her, I think, an expression of respect and love, as it would be for many people. It took her a long time. Some years after my father’s death — last year? the year before? — I received from my sister a bundle of papers relating to me, that my father had kept. It included some childish early writing done at school, a sentimental story about a dog (that I thought Wonderful and Amazing at the time of writing when I was seven) and a page saying what I wanted to be when I grew up (a poet). It also included that scrap of paper saying “I hate *****”, carefully curated by my father for nearly fifty years, carefully sorted and re-delivered to me by my sister. I have no idea why anybody would do that, but it tells me this: it is never advisable to commit to paper my thoughts and feelings about another person, unless they would comfort or encourage that individual if discovered. So that rules out journalling, doesn’t it? Because if you are writing with a reader in mind, sensitive to their feelings about what you have said, it won’t be an honest record, will it?

So when it comes to innermost thoughts and feelings, yes, I do share them — verbally, with a small group of people I absolutely trust — the negative and the positive alike. I will have left my true record in the memories of people who loved me and understood me well, and I think that’s as far as I want it to go. Which is why, however lovely an artefact a journal may be — and here’s another one I looked at a long time (but didn’t buy) — they are not for me.



Friday, 3 November 2017

A tangle of opposing forces

Can we talk about plastic?

I expect, like me, you’ll have seen pictures and read articles about the rising tide of discarded plastic choking the Earth, and the serious problem of tiny plastic particles swirling about in the ocean — both just being there at all and getting into the food chain (including into us). Darn! How awful.

We are strongly urged by responsible voices to stop using plastic for packaging, especially one-use packaging; small spring water bottles have come into focus.

So far, so good. Let’s stop. Sounds simple, yes?

If I start with the positive and move on from there to the hand-wringing, you’ll know when to stop reading if angst bores you.

Here are the things I’ve figured out I can do (POSITIVES).

Get some of those net bags for repeated re-use. A choice at this point — the nylon ones are also essentially plastic and will give off the plastic particles when washed. I’d go for linen/cotton ones, but will they look alien enough to cause the store cashiers to make a fuss (and do I have the psychological strength to withstand that if they do)?

Get the fruit and vegetables sold loose in bins.

Make food at home instead of ready-made. We do mostly, but I could step this up a bit. The packaging for ingredients is usually simpler than that for ready-made — fewer layers, fewer bright (toxic) dyes, etc. If we cook our own beans instead of getting the canned ones they come in very simple cellophane packs from the whole food store. I know cans aren’t plastic, but there is still a packaging issue. Oh. Is cellophane okay?

Choose the things sold in cardboard and paper over things sold in plastic. I know cardboard and paper is bad news for trees — and by heaven, we need every tree we can get — but at least it could stimulate the growing of trees to cut for paper (does it??), and we use all our card and paper packaging as kindling for the wood stove, except massive boxes that had something huge in; and sometimes even then. I can immediately think of several switches I could make — washing powder, oats . . . er . . . I can’t think of anything else.

One huge triumph for us is our egg purchasing. Eggs are important to us because we eat very few animal products, and I want to be sure we get our animal-source zinc and don’t end up with just the plant source that won’t combine with the copper abundantly present in plants, this leaving us with Bothe copper starvation and copper poisoning — and other health problems that could occur if only I knew about them; B12 etc. So anyway, there’s this person who lives right next to the chapel I go to, who sells eggs at the garden gate from rescued battery hens. Therefore, no food miles at all (because we’re going to church anyway and the hens live right there), no cruelty (no gassed chicks — all rescued birds, trotting about free), and re-using our own egg boxes. Ha!

We have already gone over to always using cloth shopping bags, and we go always remember to take them with us. Tick. Go, us!

Okay, now for the HANDWRINGING

Clothes. Oh, crumbs. Well, in future I am happy to buy merino tights not nylon, but not to throw out the ones I already have. Likewise, some of my skirts are synthetic, and for the style that suits me that’s just what they make them of. It’s taken me such an age to get to clothes that suit me, I don’t want to change them now — and anyway, they’d still be in the world, wouldn’t they? To get both clothes that suit me and ecologically responsible fibres, I’d be moving to much higher prices than I’m used to spending — eg buying new. And one of the reasons I was buying secondhand in the first place was to cut down on consumerist manufacture ruining the Earth. Hmm. This will take some thinking about.

Food.  Because I have several health issues, I have to be very careful about what I eat. I’ve found a range of foods that work for me, and some of them come in plastic packaging — eg the plant milks (almond milk, Oatly etc) come in tetrapak type cartons. They have plastic coating, don’t they? And plastic tops? Also in order to stick to eating the food that keeps me healthy and not stray ravenous into eating stuff that makes me ill, it’s important to get things that don’t taste bad. The mixed nuts at the whole-food store are hard and old and knobbly and I don’t  like them. The ones at Marks and Spencer are fresh and succulent and delicious — and packaged in plastic. What to do?

Likewise, we try to eat a high proportion of organic food because of the glyphosates that are going to ruin the lives of everyone, human and animal alike. But of course, the fruit and veg sold loose at the supermarket aren’t the organic ones — these are wrapped in plastic. The greengrocer has paper bags and loose fruit and veg, but doesn’t sell organic produce. The whole-food store sells organic produce in plain paper bags, but their stuff is often old and wrinkly and usually very expensive.

Linda McCartney veggie ready-made things are sold in cardboard packaging not plastic, so that’s good. But they all include rapeseed oil (which, ingested over time, apparently impairs breathing) and palm oil (no friend to orang-utans or anyone else who lives in the rainforest — and trees are the lungs of the Earth). 

Butter is impossible to get wrapped in paper any more, and is not cruelty free. Margarine does your heart in. Oil is the best thing — and I must remember to get the sort sold in glass bottles not plastic. Our cider vinegar comes in glass bottles, though they do have plastic tops.

It seems to me there is no counsel of perfection and — as usual — the best way is to live as simply as possible so there are fewer choices to make at any given time, moving forward incrementally like a slug towards Better Habits. Oh — talking of slugs — that’s another thing we can do of course, and are doing increasingly; growing our ow food. Then there’s the question of what to pack in it to store it in the freezer . . .