Tuesday, April 20, 2004


I can see the man, in the distance, and I know that he has decided to home in on me, to beg for some change.

On some days I attract the needy like wasps to cider.

I don't try and avoid him, but rather walk on my intended path, even though it now has the obstacle of him in it. He's in his mid thirties, tall, strong looking, in fairly clean clothes. As I get closer I can see that his face is scarred, burnt, and leathery. I glance at his hands, they are the hands that my mother would describe as 'strangler's hands'. The knuckles are lumpy with thick scar tissue – ever the sign of a man who has had many fist fights.

'Got any spare change?' He says, as I approach.

'Sorry, no.' I say, and keep on walking.

Now, you may think that I'm a bad person, or not, depending on your viewpoint, but I do - I used to give something to all homeless people I met, even if it was only a few cents. I used to put all my spare small change into a different pocket, and simply take some out to give away. Now this change mounts up on my bedside table, is eventually counted, taken to the bank, and added to my meagre funds.

The man doesn't give up, but walks alongside me.

'You know, I was asleep back there,' he points backwards, 'it's my patch you see. Full of rich folks, Ferraris and all sorts park there.'

'Ferraris?' I ask, and then wish I hadn't.

'Yeah, so anyway, I'm there and I've made thirty bucks, and I fall asleep, and when I wake up someone's taken it from my hat. Thirty bucks!'

I shake my head to show that I'm listening. We're still walking.

'Who would do that? Steal thirty bucks from a pan-handler?' He sounds sad as he says this, as if realising that the world was full of bad people, for the first time.

'That's pretty low.' I agree.

He changes now. Anger flashes across his face, 'Do you know how long it takes to make thirty dollars begging? Do you?'

I shake my head.

He goes on, shouting, 'I'll kill them if I find out who did it! If I catch em, I'll kill em!'

'Bloody right.' I say, agreeing.

He's getting quite excited now, 'I'll cut em up, I'll quarter them!' He makes an unholy cross motion, as if cutting a person into four bits. He sounds quite serious.

'Look,' I say, 'I'd give you something if I could afford it, but I'm an immigrant, and I don't have a job, and no money.'

We stop and he stares at me. My excuse sounds lame. He didn't even ask for it, but I felt compelled to try and explain why I'm not giving him any money.

'Aye.' He says.

I'm saved by a rich looking passer-by. 'Any change sir?' He says, changing direction, and walking with his new mark.

'Good luck.' I say.

'What?' He turns back, 'Oh, yeah, thanks.' And runs back to the man who is shaking his head.

So where am I on my way to?

The pub of course, to spend ten dollars on beer.

So, I have no money? No change to spare? Depends on your perspective. But from his perspective, I'm a lying, hypocrite.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The Compleat Vegetarian

I often joke with people that I became a vegetarian to impress a couple of hippy girls I once lived with, and although this is partially true, it is not the whole truth. At the time I had been reading a lot of books on religion, learning about meditation and generally becoming, well, more hippy than I was anyway. Slowly, over time, I began to have nagging doubts about meat.

Like a lot of people, I had distanced meat from the animal somewhat, so that pork chops were just tasty slices of loveliness and not actually a thin bit of pig. Sausages were only very vaguely connected to the cows I saw in fields. I had a minor revelation, realising that I wouldn't be able to kill a pig, or a cow, or even a fish for that matter, and so was being hypocritical in my meat eating. The conviction grew with time, and now, after ten years or more, there's no going back really.

Now, my reason for vegetarianism is a purely personal one, and not one I would advocate for anyone else, in fact, I don't care if other people want to eat meat - I don't actually have a problem with that - for me, it's pure personal, nothing more. The type of people who push their own opinions on others - what they think is right - I find arrogant and distasteful.

So, therefore, this essay isn't designed to turn you into a vegetarian if you're not already one, more, it's just an essay about some of the myths, misconceptions and dull arguments that people use against vegetarians. It's merely to inform, not preach.


"I'm a vegetarian, but I eat fish".

This is a phrase I hear quite a lot, and although I'm not a fan of labels, I do think that we should be clearer about what a vegetarian is, for a few different reasons.

One is that I don't like to be put into the same class as 'fish-eating vegetarians', as for me these people are just picky eaters. You might as well say that I don't eat fruit, but I do eat apples. It makes no sense to me - fish are animals too. Anyway, for my purposes, I'll be using the traditional definition, simple and to the point:

One who does not eat flesh, fish or fowl.

The fine lines and boundaries of this definition are discussed later in this essay in the arguments section.

The other main class of vegetarians are the vegans, who can be thought of as an extreme vegetarian, as someone who won't eat anything that exploits animals, and perhaps won't wear any leather, etc. Many vegans won't eat honey, due to bee exploitation, and will carefully examine additives in food to check for suitability (some additives are blatantly animal-based, discussed later in the pitfalls section).

No matter what you think of vegans, you should be aware of them and the differences between them and just general, run-of-the-mill vegetarians.

There are different attitudes within the vegetarian community to how strict you should be in your diet. Many vegetarians will eat any cheese they can find, oblivious (or not caring) that a lot of cheese is made using a calf stomach by-product. Likewise, they might eat any sweets that they can find, despite the fact that they may contain gelatine, which is a fish by-product.

Now the reason for this is as diverse as the reasons that people become vegetarian in the first place, which can be broadly categorised as follows:

1. Spiritual / religious reasons (life is sacred).
2. Squeamish disposition (I couldn't kill a bunny rabbit).
3. Health (It's good for you, eliminate risk of strokes, etc).
4. Picky eating (those fish-eaters again).
5. Ethical (animals are treated badly, I don't eat meat as a protest).

There are probably more, as I say, there are many reasons.

Another reason for having good labels is so that when I tell someone in a restaurant that I'm a vegetarian, then they'll understand and give me something that I can eat. This is where fish-eaters that call themselves vegetarians muddy the water somewhat.

The word doesn't translate well either. In South Korea I had a tremendously difficult time getting vegetarian food (outside of Pizza Hut Margaritas). When I used the words in my phrase book, dishes would arrive full of fish, or chicken generally. In the end I got a kind young man to write down for me, in Korean, on a bit of paper, 'I'm a vegetarian'. The translation was a full side of paper, as it had to list every single thing that I couldn't eat - 'I cannot eat chicken, beef, pork, fish, bacon, squid, eel, etc..'

The same trouble can be had in Japan, where 'vegetarian' dishes often appear, topped with bacon.

A tip for you travellers in Asia - try asking for 'Buddhist food', or 'Monk food'. If in India, try asking for 'Jain food', which is Vegan (you'll have no problem getting plain old vegetarian food in India!).

The History

"It's just a fad."

People have been vegetarians for thousands of years, and the fact that it is still around should tell us something. Mind you, war has been around for just as long, and that isn't necessarily a good thing.

The Arguments

"What about a mushroom? Do you eat mushrooms?"

Vegetarians either spend a great deal of time arguing with meat-eaters, or simply learn to smile when people taunt them and offer half-baked, ill-informed bits of information. I'm in the latter group, having spent five years or more defending my values, now I simply don't bother. It isn't important to me. It is however, important to realise that people that want to argue with you about how wrong it is to be a vegetarian, are extremely unlikely to be convinced by your arguments or ever, ever change their minds. Better then to save your breath and live a little longer.

Anyway, these are some of the top arguments that people use to attack vegetarians, and some responses to the same.

1. Starving to Death

"If you were stranded on a deserted island, would you kill and eat animals to survive?"

Quite frankly, yes. The whole point for me is that because I have a choice, that I can live happily and healthily without meat, that I choose to do that. If that choice is taken away, then I'll kill the wild pig, apologise, and roast it over a fire like any other hungry castaway.

I'm never exactly sure what point people are trying to make with this argument, it's as if they think that by making say that you would eat meat under certain circumstances somehow validates meat-eating as a lifestyle. The fact is that I'm not attacking meat-eating, nor the people that do it, I'm merely defending my life choices. So what if I would eat meat if I was starving? People who are starving eat humans too, to survive, but wouldn't consider doing it if they weren't forced to by fear of death.

Cannibalism is an interesting defensive tool. If you ask someone what they think about cannibalism, they would probably say that it is disgusting, or that they would do it only to survive. Well, I feel exactly the same about eating any animals, not just humans.

2. Nutritional

"You can't get all the vitamins/minerals/protein you need without meat."

A myth. There's nothing you can't get from a vegetarian diet.

"It's unhealthy for a child to be brought up as a vegetarian."

Nonsense. I'd like you to tell that to the hundreds of millions of Indians that are vegetarians from birth, and have been for thousands of years. A common counter argument to this is for people to point out that Indians are small compared to westerners. I find this generally offensive, frankly. Also, you may think that some westerners are actually a little too big - in a rather obese way.

3. Evolutional

"We evolved to eat meat - look at our teeth."

There's no denying that we have the kinds of teeth that other omnivores (animals that eat meat and plants) in the animal world have. Those troublesome canine teeth eh? There's no doubt that we evolved eating meat, since the dawn of time, but we've always eaten vegetables and plants too, and as soon as we could we settled down a grew crops as well as keeping domestic livestock.

I'm not trying to argue that it isn't natural to eat meat. We also evolved to resolve our problems with violence and killing, but we restrain ourselves (mostly). This is the thing - I'm aware of the choice, and I find, personally, that to live by not eating meat is a nobler existence. In a spiritual sense, again personally, I find my life purer without the lives of animals on my hands. If you're not spiritual, you won't understand, but that doesn't matter.

My only point is this: does the fact that you evolved doing one thing mean that it should continue to be done, without exception, into the future? This isn't a question that I can answer for you.

Another thing to point out here is that holy, historical figures, have had different attitudes to eating animals. Jesus fed the masses with fish, and we have to assume that he ate fish along with them. Buddha on the other hand ate no animals. If Buddhism had spread as Christianity has done around the world, then this essay would be redundant, we'd all accept vegetarianism as an understood (if not practised) thing.

A further note here: it is generally unwise to bringing up religion when arguing about vegetarianism - it just fuels the fire.

4. Feeding the World

"If everyone in the world was vegetarian, there wouldn't be enough food for us all."

The implication is that if we used all the cow fields for crops, we would all die of famine. Well, half the world is already dying of famine, you could point out to begin with. It's also a myth - ask any farmer, you can feed the same amount, if not more people with grain grown in a field than with the same field filled with cows.

Anyway, I'm not asking for all the world to turn vegetarian.

5. Eggs and the Grey Area

"Do you eat eggs? Eggs are life."

Well, welcome to the grey area. Where do you draw the line being a vegetarian? The grey area is a vast one, from the extremes of vegan bee exploitation, to the fish eaten by the picky eaters. We all draw a line somewhere in that area and try not to cross it.

Gandhi ate eggs incidentally. He didn't for many years, being a strict vegetarian and believing eggs to be life cut short. One day a man pointed out to Gandhi that the eggs were not life-to-be, as the eggs had never been fertilised by a cock. The eggs, if sat on by the chicken would not grow and hatch into chicks - they would just rot and decay. Unfertilised eggs have no life potential - they are, to put it bluntly, chicken periods.

You can rest assured that the eggs that you buy at the supermarket are unfertilised eggs and devoid of life. The chickens that lay these eggs will probably never see a cock in their entire lives. Some argue (myself included) that you should only buy eggs from free-range chickens, where the animals can run around outside and don't just live in a two foot cage for their whole existence.

The grey area extends, so people like to contend, to such things as snails, clams and mushrooms. What constitutes life? People will ask. Is it a face? Eyes? Legs? A Brain?

A difficult question indeed. We must all draw our own lines and come up with our own definitions of life that we won't devour. Plants are alive too, but we have to eat something. I imagine that if plants ran away when we tried to pick them, then I would tend to class them as life too and become a fruitarian or something.

Fruitarians. Ah, if you do extend life into plants then the only thing left to eat is the fruit of plants, which the plant produces specifically to be eaten and distribute their seeds. Picking fruit doesn't kill or hurt a plant, in fact, it helps it. Nuts fall into this category too.

Fruitarians tend to look a little pale, as it is hard to fulfil all your body's dietary needs on fruit and nuts alone.

And lastly, mushrooms. Mushrooms are the fruit of the fungus which lives under the ground. They serve only to distribute spores. Picking a mushroom does not damage the fungus.

6. The Bacon Sandwich

"But how can you live without bacon sandwiches?"

Well, it depends on your reasons for being a vegetarian. If you have a good reason, you can live happily without bacon sandwiches. If you have a less solid reason, then you'll cave in one night after a couple of pints, and eat two or three in one go.


"Don't read the label!"

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of products that are added to foods which are animal based, which renders seemingly innocent foods inedible to some vegetarians. I'll list some of the more common ones:

Rennet (Pressure in French): Some kind of cow-stomach-lining by product used in cheese making. Alternatives are cheap and widely available, but under-used. It can be particularly hard to find parmesan cheese without rennet. Goat cheese is usually rennet free.

Gelatine: Some kind of fish based material used to thicken things, like sweets, yoghurt and ice-cream. Again, there are alternatives, but they are under-used.

Whey powder: A by product of cheese making, may not be always be vegetarian. These appear in a wide variety of products.


"How do you cook rice again?"

If you want to be a vegetarian, you'd better learn to cook, or you'll be eating a lot of junk and get spots and fat, or eat nothing and get much too pale and thin.

Look at the average meal in India - a vegetable based dish, lentils, bread and yoghurt. This is a good meal with all food groups accounted for. You might also, during the day, eat an egg and drink a lot of sugary tea.

You need to ensure that you eat a varied diet when a vegetarian. If you find yourself eating the same thing, day in, day out, then there's something wrong, and you'll get sick. The body is very good at adapting to a poor diet, so you'll survive for a long time on a poor vegetarian diet - you can survive surprisingly long on bread water and lemons, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Ensure that you eat bread, rice, pasta, beans, lentils, nuts (people always say that don't they? I use nuts in cooking sometimes), plenty of cooked and uncooked vegetables, fresh fruit (or at least fruit juice), butter or margarine, oils, eggs, milk, cheese, tofu, yoghurt, salads, and some cake. If you find yourself eating all these things during a week, then you'll probably do well. Listen to your body, if you crave something, eat it, but don't give into excess and only eat cake all week. You need variety!

People worry too much about how much protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, folic acid, iron, zinc, etc, etc, they are getting every day. All I can say is that as long as you eat a balanced diet as described above, then you'll be fine. Don't stress about the details. The ill people are the people who don't cook their own meals, but live on junk food, fast food, take-away food and pre-cooked food - I'll say it again - learn to cook if you want to be healthy.

And, lastly, the secret of vegetarian cooking - herbs and spices. If you think vegetarian cooking is bland and tasteless, then you've obviously never eaten Indian, Thai or Chinese vegetarian food. The use of herbs and spices is most essential in vegetarian cookery to avoid the dull, insipid, tedious, pasta with red sauce that tastes of nothing, that everyone cooks for you when they know you're a vegetarian. 'What shall I cook?' They scream. 'I know, a tin of tomatoes on top of some pasta - perfect.'

Wednesday, April 07, 2004


Have you ever seen that film, Memento? Well, if I drink spirits, then my life becomes like that.

I sit here, today, with unexplained bruises, an empty wallet, and a sore head. What the hell happened last night?

It begins in the London Bar, where I was soundly ripped off and spent every penny I had in a terrible drinking game, designed, I think, to make the newcomer pay for everything.

And then I leave the bar, with my $60 bill, and stagger into the street. Still lucid at this point, and consider my options.



I'm in a bar. I don't know it, it must be new to me. I'm standing between a booth by the window, and the bar itself. It is busy. I don't know if I have a beer here or not. I wonder if I should sit at the table. Then...


I'm crouching in front of a car. What am I doing here? I'm hiding, obviously. From what? I'm not sure. The street is typical east end Montreal. It is quiet, I have the feeling that I've escaped my pursuer for now. But why am I hiding? I think back...


I'm in a bank. It is late at night and I'm clutching my cash-card, which I'm staring at. I'm not sure if I have just withdrawn cash, or am about to. I have the feeling that I'm deciding something important. A taxi waits for me outside...


I'm staggering along. It is dark, very dark. There is an old train to my right. The ground is uneven and stony. I stumble a great deal. What am I doing here? I don't know. I walk on, unsure of my destination. I'm tired now. The empty trains around me seem as tempting as a warm bed. But I resist, I feel that I have to keep on going. To my left is a steep slope and I worry about falling down it. I walk across tracks. There are no moving trains. Empty warehouses pass me by on my right hand side...


'Do you have any ID?'


'Any ID sir?'

'Sure, I have some.'

I fumble in my pocket, extract my wallet, and take out a few cards. I stare at them. They all mean nothing. I realise that I'm drunk. I offer them all and the police officer takes my driving license from amongst them.

'Where do you live?'

This must be a trick question, as it's written on my license, I think. But I decide to tell him anyway, I'm feeling miserable and want to make friends with the police.


'That's it! I live there!' I'm excited as I leave the police car, thanking my saviours, and make my way home, at 3am.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Bily Kun

Ah, jazz night. I used to go to a great little pub in Lancaster, England on a Sunday afternoon where a jazz band used to play and they gave away free sausages. It was, inventively, called 'Jazz and Sausages', or something equally clever. The point is this though, I used to love those Sunday afternoons in that pub.

So, I see something called "Jazz - Frans Ben Callado", advertised at the Bily Kun at 6pm on a Tuesday. I pack my bag and head down there for five thirty, to get a seat.

The Bily Kun is famous (at least for some people) because of the ostrich heads it has, stuffed and mounted on the walls. A whole line of the birds leer at you as you drink your pint, and I suspect that the odd feather floats down as they creep into decaying old age. I often wonder if people would be as enthusiastic if they had cow heads on the wall, or horses.

But, they certainly add character, along with the wall of light-switch fittings, old wood, and comfy 'sofa-area', where you are forced to rub knees with strangers on busier nights.

The crowd, pre-jazz, is different to the usual Friday night techno-lovers, I note – suits, rich dresses, cultured accents, raised chins, older average age. I fancy that the atmosphere is like the bar in any theatre, ten minutes before curtains.

An old man with a silk scarf leans towards me and asks a question about something finishing. All I catch is 'blah blah blah terminer?', the rest is lost in the noise of the pub.

I suspect he's asking if the band has finished already, but I err on the side of caution and say, 'Je ne sais pas.' Which is true.

At ten to six I start to have doubts. There is no sign of any band. There is a piano, but nothing else. There is jazz playing over the speakers in the bar, but nothing live is going to happen. My heart sinks – this isn't like my Sunday afternoon fantasy at all.

Six O'clock comes and goes and I realise that the odd crowd is merely the after-work drinkers, and that's why there are suits and nice dresses and older people too. The theatre atmosphere is all in my mind.

I drink my pint and leave. I prefer it on Friday night.


1. Address: 354 Mont Royal, Montreal

2. Telephone: (514) 845-5392

3. Map Link: View

4. Nearest Metro: Mont-Royal

5. Website: www.bilykun.com

6. Additional: (Alleged) Live jazz on Tuesdays

Keywords: areaplateau metromontroyal musicdj musictechno musicjazz


Barraca brings back hazy memories of an extremely long and confusing film, watched at mostly-naked hippy festivals, some years ago. So, I'm loaded with these connections when I wander in, at about 7pm on a Tuesday.

It's thin, and artsy, but cosy and well lit too. There's a terrace at the back that reminds me of my Dad's back garden, and a long bar where expert and inexpert barstaff alike mix cocktails and count their tips in quieter moments.

I take a seat at the bar and try to scan the beer pumps before the barmaid reaches me. She arrives too soon and I decide on the closest – St. Ambroise.

I order a pint of it. She stares at me with a look of incomprehension.

I try again, pointing too. She looks at the pump, and then cranes her head around to the front to see what on earth it was that I'm trying to say so badly. She gives me a look which is a mix of amusement and weariness.

I start to remember that St. Ambroise is pronounced something difficult like 'ahmbrwah', and not like my Anglicised version of 'am-broze'.

The barmaid now makes the usual gestures of 'big glass', 'little glass' rather than trying to speak to me any longer. I make a 'big glass' sign and try and smile convincingly.

When I get my pint it's missing a lot of beer, so I ask for a top up using international bar sign language. She doesn't mind.

Then a young woman comes and sits very close to me on the next barstool. There are plenty of barstools further away, but she chooses the one next to me.

She orders a drink and then sits there fiddling with her fingers, or rubbing her thighs with her hands. A tension builds.

I imagine what it would be like for me if I wasn't married in this city, and was trying to meet women in bars. Difficult, I conclude. If I have trouble ordering beer and talking about the weather, then what hope would I have?

We sit in silence, side by side, for fifteen minutes until her boyfriend arrives, finally. I'm thankful as they get up and leave. A few minutes later my barmaid arrives with plates full of tapas and drinks. She looks at the empty barstool next to me and says to me, 'Did you see them leave?' In English.

I didn't.


1. Address: 1134 Mont Royal, Montreal

2. Telephone: (514) 525-7741

3. Map Link: View

4. Nearest Metro: Mont-Royal

Keywords: areaplateau metromontroyal foodgeneral atmoschilled