Memoirs Of A Geordie Vegetarian Childhood

When I was two we bought chips and mushy peas for tea which was a huge treat. As I was eating my dinner my family were watching the telly. On the screen I could see grey walls being graffitied and people shouting, and cheering. I remember putting a chip in my mouth and gagging, turning to my Mam and saying that I felt sick. For the first time in my entire life my Mam told me to shush as she was engrossed in the tv. I couldn’t believe it, my Mam was always supposed to care if I felt sick, that was her job! And as the Berlin wall fell on the screen, the thin illusion that I had clung to since birth, that there was nothing in the world more important than me, shattered. Never to return.

Looking back at that memory I can see faults in the narrative, I would have been far too young to remember the Berlin Wall falling. I’m not a fan of mushy peas and it seems unlikely I would have been given them. The house I remember is fuzzy and smooshed, like more than one house pushed together. Maybe this never happened. Maybe it’s more than one memory pieced together, but whatever it is it feels real, and important. I can’t see why it’s important, but it is, it means something. Sometimes it’s our false memories that are the most pernicious, and they are the ones that need to be listened too.

Flash forward a few years and I’m living on a Council Estate called Carr Hill in the Middle of Gateshead. We live in an end terrace (or was it a semi?) with a garden and a yard, and other than the fact the estate is overrun by unruly hooligans, and the police helicopter keeps us awake most nights, the house is lovely. I live with my Mam, my Sister, My Mam’s Lesbian Partner and our one eyed dog Louis. It’s the year of the election and the estate is covered in red posters, there’s an air of excitement and me and my sister will spend much of our time bouncing on our couch singing the words to Robin Hood but changing the name to Tony Blair. I don’t know who this Tony Blair character is but I do know he’s going to save us all.

Most days I walk to school with a young boy who has a yellow poster in his window rather than a red one. We race each other up and down the street as his Mam dawdles behind. He wears a Ninja Turtle t shirt and always has a blue stain around his lips from where he’s been drinking blue  pop. This seems rather exotic to me as my Mam will only let me have pop at the weekends and never in the morning, I imagine a world where you’re allowed to drink blue pop whenever you like and it’s glorious. One day his Mam gives me a yellow sticker to wear to school and his Mam and my Mam argue. I tell everyone that when I grow up I’m going to marry this boy but he tells everyone that when he grows up he’s going to marry a tree, and that puts an end to that.

Many years later I will meet this boy in a nightclub sometime in the dead space between Christmas and New Year, he will look exactly the same as I remember him, minus the blue stain and Ninja Turtle T Shirt. We’ll have a drunkan kiss as the DJ turns on the fake snow machine and all the time he’s kissing me I’ll think about his liberal mother and his thunderbird toys and the fact his sister never wore socks. Then I’ll leave the nightclub and I’ll never think of him again until this exact moment.

The School I go to is full of celebrations, we make coconut sweets for Diwali, put smarties inside red envelopes for Chinese New Year and sing songs for the harvest festival. At lunchtime I have to sit next to a sikh boy from another year as he is the only other vegetarian in the school, we get the same thing for dinner every day, half an egg and a neon orange lump of grated cheese that sweats under the schools strip lighting, and some sweetcorn that we never eat. To take the taste away of the cheese we’ll dip sugary biscuits into concentrated dilutey orange juice, much stronger than we’re allowed at home and we’ll wonder why we’re only given half an egg, sometimes we’ll put our eggs together to see if they are the same one (they are). The Sikh boy will tell me that for his family eating meat is against their religion and that they don’t eat quorn because his dad says that you shouldn’t even want to eat meat as it is so wrong. I will say that I love my dog and wouldn’t eat her so why would I eat another animal. I’ll explain that I don’t have a religion but that my family also believe eating meat is wrong. I’ll say that we do eat quorn, and sometimes we eat sausages that my mam’s friend Linda Maccartney makes. He says he eats lentils and I say I eat lentils too. Then we’ll scrape our uneaten sweetcorn into a bucket at the end of the table that the dinner nanny claims will ‘go to the pigs’, we never question this, we never wonder which pigs they are going to, even though we certainly never see any pigs around.

My Mam and her partner don’t believe that there’s a difference between boys and girls, I have my hair cut short and wear dungarees with mickey mouse braces. I hate them, I want my hair long and to wear twirly skirts and patent shoes with bows on them like the other girls. I wear flowery Dr Martins which 28 year old me would love but 5 year old me despises. Everyone at school thinks I’m a boy, it doesn’t help that I’m called Jo. All the children say I’m a boy and I get tired of saying I’m not. The dinner nanny in the lunch queue calls me ‘son’ and when I tell her I’m a girl she looks at me with pity and says, ‘of course you are son’. One day I beg my Mam to let me wear a hair band, she lets me as long as I don’t tell her partner. We buy it from the chemist on the way home from school, we get a hair band and a lolly in the shape of a whistle that you can make a noise with until you get too impatient and bite into it. The hair band is denim and I am so excited to wear it to school the next day. The next day all the children ask me why a boy is wearing a hairband, and I throw the hairband in the bin.

Fast forward again and now I live in another council estate, this time in High Heaton. Most of the houses here were bought up in the right to buy schemes and other than the occasional family or old person, now its mostly young couples who live in them. Houses sell fast here and its referred to as an ‘up and coming area’. I live with my husband and our two cats, no one ever mistakes me for a boy and I have long hair, often wear twirly skirts, and I own at least 2 pairs of shoes with bows on them.

A lot of the red posters in the windows turned yellow, then green, then red again. Tony Blair came and went, and the Tories came back in. My one eyed dog died of liver failure and I was heartbroken, and I still think eating animals is wrong.

I’m going to stop my writing here, not because I have come to the end but because I could write this forever.

I showed this writing to my loving husband who said it needed a clearer narrative, that I had to be more defined in what I was trying to say to stop it turning into self indulgent drivel. The fact is though, I don’t really know what the point of this is yet, I know there is a connection here but I can’t quite make out the shape or the form. Like when you see a star in the sky but when you look directly at it, it disappears. My well meaning husband says that I could risk it appearing like a ‘teenage diary’, but I don’t mind that, a teenage diary is better than words left unsaid. Anyway teenage diaries are magnificent, the mundane, the fierce, the confused and raw. When did we stop writing because we were worried what we said was wrong? That people would mock us? Pick up your pens dear reader, we have drivel to write!

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