It’s been the good fortune of the Grumpy Vegan to meet and get to know as friends and colleagues over the last 30 years or so some of the leading advocates and prominent thinkers in the animal rights movement. This is in addition to the countless numbers of individual activists I’ve met who quietly and heroically labour against all odds every day to make a difference for animals. Most of the time when I’m with them it is at a meeting, demonstration, conference or some other occasion that could be summarily described as “animal related.” Every now and then, however, an opportunity presents itself in which I’m lucky to spend some time socially with them. On these rare occasions, our concern for animals is ever present, but what makes them special is that they are opportunities to informally meet and talk. Yes, there’s e-mail and telephone calls and social networking Web sites and so on to keep in touch. But there’s nothing like what is crassly called in the U.S. as “face-to-face time.”
For example, I recently spent a warm and sunny afternoon in London with Carol Adams. This is someone who I rarely meet and whenever it is it’s always at a meeting or conference where, if we’re lucky, we snatch 15 minutes together away from everyone else. Carol is aware of how much I appreciate her various books and how much I learn from her presentations but what she does not know is the extent to which she influenced my thinking about our complex relationship with animals. This is not only in her theoretical writings on ecofeminism, and the column about living in a meat-eating world which I used to publish in The Animals’ Agenda magazine, but it is also about her insightful criticism of the animal rights movement and some of its actions. Anyone unfamiliar with Carol’s work would be best advised to start with two of her books, The Sexual Politics of Meat and Neither Man Nor Beast, and visit her Web site and her page on Facebook.
We began our day together at what I consider to be London’s best vegan restaurant, Mildreds. The trouble with Mildreds, however, is that when it gets busy it gets very noisy. The older one gets the more difficult it becomes to hear who you’re with speak when there’s so much background noise. So, I insisted we go straight to the restaurant for an early lunch. What’s good about Mildreds is that there are always items on the menu which can be best described as comfort foods. They do a vegan bangers (Americans: sausage) and mash to die for. But it wasn’t on the menu this time. Oh well. Never mind. I had the home made veggie burger with chips and soya mayonnaise. Carol had a mushroom flaky pastry pie. We split our meals and devoured them barely saying a word to each other than “Good!” and “Tasty!” First, I had to wait patiently as Carol insisted on photographing both our plates before we started. Probably for some future project on world veganism or something. We shared a salad, which was excellent, as an appetizer, but as this meal took place nearly two weeks ago I can’t remember what it was. Stupid me. I didn’t take notes. Needless to say Carol did. I’m sure she’ll want to tell me. She’s like that. Desserts are excellent at Mildreds, too. But we were so stuffed. Besides, it was getting noisy. Time to go.
I suggested we visit the memorial for animals in war in Park Lane. So, we set off walking through Mayfair, which is one of the poshest bits of the city. We happened to pass Stella McCartney’s showroom and offices. Carol had to take a photograph. No doubt for her world veganism project. The photograph here is one I took with Carol’s camera of her hugging one of the animal statues that comprise the memorial. It’s really quite large and dramatic but unfortunately it’s situated in the middle of a very busy two-lane road that separates Hyde Park and Mayfair. Nonetheless, I’m glad it’s there as it’s a moving experience and recommend it if you’re ever in town.
I happened to mention that the Wallace Collection was somewhat nearby. Did she want to go? It turns out that this art gallery was on Carol’s list of things to do when in London. So, I earned many points for suggesting it. We were there in no time thanks to a quick cab ride. The Wallace Collection can be best described as a huge mansion in central London built to house an impossibly rich person’s collection of stuff. We walked from room to room, mouths open, pointing out and commenting on various paintings depicting animals, including Edwin Landseer. We gawped at the opulence of it all. Again, if you’re ever in London, you’ve got to go to the Wallace.
Inevitably, Carol and I talked about books. Books we’ve read; ones we’ve heard of but not read yet; and, even more importantly, ones we’re writing. Her current focus is on Jane Austen. She recently produced, The Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Jane Austen with Douglas Buchanan and Kelly Gesch. There’s also the forthcoming twentieth anniversary edition of The Sexual Politics of Meat. I outlined the book I’m working on as well as the biography of Topsy, the elephant electrocuted by Edison in 1903, I’m co-producing with the artist, Sue Coe. We also discussed how we each approached researching and writing books. I find it helpful to hear from other authors about how they write.
Talking about books inevitably led to “Have you been to such-and-such bookshop?” And, so, we set off for Waterstone’s on Gower Street near London University. I think this is probably the best bookshop in central London given that it has a decent discounted and used section. I always try to avoid paying full price for a book unless it is for a special reason. It was a long walk past many competing attractions. A drink was in order as it quite warm. I had a nice chilled lager (it was afternoon after all). Carol had some make-do concoction because we foolishly picked a pub that didn’t stock the sherry she really wanted. Oh well. Sorry about that, Carol.
At Waterstone’s I showed her where the best bargains were. We also visited the philosophy and sociology departments. We looked for books about Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, two authors we both admire. We had another (non-alcoholic) drink in the basement café. I told Carol about my trips to Monks House where the Woolfs lived and Sissinghurst where Virginia’s friend, Vita Sackville-West, lived. These historic homes and some others I mentioned are within an hour’s drive of my home in Hastings. She’d seen “Foyle’s War” too! I said they’d just been in the Old Town filming again around the corner from my home.
The afternoon passed by quickly. It was time for me to go. Carol had to get to her hotel to check messages. I waved good bye through the rear window of the bus that took me to Charing Cross Station and home.