Vegetarianism

People tend to assume I’m vegetarian because of some deeply-held radical belief that meat is murder. I’ve even had some friends ask if it’s OK for them to eat meat in my presence. Well, I like mammals, and I don’t think they should be mistreated, and I don’t personally feel I should eat them; but the fact of the matter is, I’m vegetarian primarily for a much more mundane reason.

I don’t like the taste of meat.

I never have done. As a child I found chicken and turkey palatable, so long as there were no bones involved. Beef was OK as long as it was flavored with something and minced up so you couldn’t tell what it was. Every other kind of meat I disliked to a significant degree, and I loathed pig meat of every variety, from tough salty unpleasant pork chops to greasy fatty salty bacon.

(You there at the back, stop drooling.)

The worst part of all was the fat, which made any kind of meat-on-the-bone sheer torture. The texture of white fat on my tongue provokes my gag reflex. My mother, of course, thought it was a ploy and that I just wanted to eat candy or cookies or something instead. Well, frankly I wanted to eat anything instead; I’d have gladly eaten sawdust to get out of having to finish those pork chops. Same goes for liver and the other disgusting animal organs that people used to eat in England in the 1970s.

My mother dealt with my reluctance to eat meat in the time-honored way of mothers everywhere: she laid a massive guilt trip on me.

There were poor families who would have been delighted to get a piece of liver like that. There were children starving in Africa who would find a feast in the scraps of meat carelessly left on that pork bone. There was no way I would be allowed to leave the table until I had eaten everything, every last scrap, and I was clearly a horrible child for even daring to think otherwise.

And so it was that I was programmed to be unable to leave food on the plate. Not even the smallest scrap. And the same programming rendered me unable to tolerate the wastefulness of an unscraped yogurt carton or a ketchup bottle being thrown out while there was still a good tablespoon of ketchup in it.

There’s a sting in the tale, though. It turned out that the behavior my mother carefully instilled in me drove my dad nuts. The sound of cutlery on plate was like fingernails on a blackboard to him, and the sight of me licking a yogurt carton lid would make the red mist descend before his eyes.

After six years in America and a lot of effort, I am beginning to deprogram myself, because an inability to leave food uneaten in America is a dangerous health hazard. A couple of weeks ago I left some food uneaten at a restaurant because I had sated my hunger. Today I turned down a portion of french fries and let someone simply throw them away. OK, I still lick the yogurt carton lids, but it’s one step at a time, you know?

Space

I’m not sure I can explain why space travel means so much to me.

One of my earliest memories is of sitting with my grandfather, watching one of the Apollo moon landings on TV. I’m not sure which one, but since the Lunar Rover was involved it must have been one of the later ones. I would watch Sci Fi TV shows with him as well. “UFO”, in particular, and sometimes “Dr Who” if it wasn’t too scary.

Later I began reading SF, starting with Arthur C. Clarke. By then “Space:1999” was on TV, and soon I read the novel of “2001”. I remember working out how old I would be in the year 2000. With some delight, I calculated that I would be the right age to be one of the people working on the moonbase. So that became my plan.

I learnt everything I could about the space program. I collected books about astronomy, and books with diagrams of how rocket engines worked. I learned about relativity, zero gravity, orbits, black holes, red shifts and how zero gravity bathrooms worked, all before I’d got as far as trigonometry at school. I memorized the sequence of vehicle maneuvers for an Apollo moon landing. I studied souvenir brochures from the Kennedy Space Center, with pictures of the Vehicle Assembly Building, Skylab, Soyuz, Gemini, and the Angry Alligator.

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True confessions

I feel bad that I don’t really have anything to contribute to Racheline’s True Confessions thread. Or at least, nothing that isn’t dull and obvious. For example, I like porn, but so does 97% of the male population. Someone posted that they have people on their friends list that they’d quite like to fuck… well, doesn’t everyone? At least one or two…

There’s a Momus song, Platinum, that includes the following lyrics:

If I told the truth I’d like to live my life again
Walk around my youth in somebody else’s skin
One life’s not enough for all that we contain
Nothing’s going to save us now

[…]

Take me to the place where my decisions are relived
Give me answers to the question
‘What would have happened if…’
Beyond the third dimension, beyond the fourth and fifth
In a parallel universe

This gets to the heart of the matter. Because it may seem bizarre, but I feel like I’ve missed out by not making all the fucked up mistakes other people have made. I spent most of my childhood working hard; either working hard on problems set by teachers, or working hard on problems I set myself. While other people were out getting drunk, stoned or laid, I was at home writing essays or grappling with 6502 assembly language.

I’d be the first to admit that things are pretty damn cushy now as a result. Yet I often think how wonderful it would be to have a second lifetime to do all the ill-advised stuff in. A second life in which to take up smoking, cheat on people, steal from shops, have one night stands, hitch-hike around the world, inject illegal drugs, try a career as a porn star, run up massive credit card debts, and so on.

And what is so sad about stickers on apples? I don’t get it.

F.A.B.

A while ago I contributed some work I’d done to a knowledge warehouse database at IBM. I also put it up for download on the Intranet. It was a set of templates which basically let you build dynamic auto-indexing web sites in the standard IBM look and feel in a few hours, using Lotus Domino.

It turned out that there’s a rewards program, and my contribution was voted the biggest time saver contributed that month. I got a gift check as a prize, and I spent the check on the complete DVD set of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds—which arrived today.

Gerry Anderson’s TV series were a very important part of my childhood… Thunderbirds, U.F.O., Joe 90, Stingray, Space:1999, Captain Scarlet, Terrahawks… I even watched Space Precinct, though I think I’d count that one as a failed experiment. I’m a pretty major league fan; any time there was a Gerry Anderson show on TV, I’d watch it. I remember watching the TV pilot for Into Infinity, which is obscure enough that it got forgotten when they were assembling the (otherwise excellent) Complete Gerry Anderson Episode Guide.

Some of the series were truly strange. Secret Service concerned a Parish priest who was an undercover agent for an intelligence service called B.I.S.H.O.P., and who went on missions with his assistant—who was miniaturized and able to fit in a suitcase. Umm… yeah.

Another interesting one was U.F.O., which was almost the reverse of The X-Files: in U.F.O. the heroes are a shadowy organization defending the earth against alien invasion, whilst at the same time keeping everything secret from the general population. All this plus ESP, organ thefts, and posession by alien cats… Some episodes were as mysterious and mindbending as The Prisoner, which isn’t entirely surprising since some of the same writers and directors worked on both shows.

However, Thunderbirds has always been Gerry Anderson’s best-loved series, in the UK at least. My grandfather worked at the film studios where they made the series, and somehow managed to get me one of the Thunderbird 5 models!

What made Thunderbirds exceptional was the special effects. Derek Meddings pioneered many techniques that were later used in big-budget movies; indeed, Meddings went on to produce the effects for the Superman movies, Batman (the movie), and several Bond films. The thing is, ironically Gerry Anderson didn’t want to make puppet shows for kids—so he made puppet shows with the production values of live-action movies, or as close as he could manage. Detailed sets, innovative puppet designs to enable automatic lip-synching, and lavish effects shots.

Another thing that distinguishes the shows from many other series is that they were positive, without being saccharine. Gerry Anderson managed to come up with a wonderful formula that could be suitable for kids of all ages, yet still exciting. The heroes aren’t renegade cops or strange beings with superpowers; they’re more like the firefighters we’ve suddenly rediscovered as heroes since this time last year. The International Rescure team are the sons of an ex-astronaut, who place themselves in danger to save other people’s lives. Sure, they’re helped by amazing vehicles and other technology invented by “Brains” Hackenbacker, but really they’re just ordinary guys trying to save innocent people.

It was a world kids really wanted to believe in, which is why so many of them still watch the episodes today as adults. Sure, it was just puppets and models, and the sci-fi science was often dubious, but so what? Has there ever been a true Hard SF TV series? Just sit back and suspend your disbelief, anthropomorphize the puppets, and let yourself be engaged by it…

Watching City of Fire this evening reminded me of the mythic power of the world of Thunderbirds. In that episode, the 350 storey Thompson Tower catches fire after an explosion; gasoline from parked cars explodes into an inferno, and before long the tower has crashed to the ground. A family is trapped beneath the burning rubble, and only International Rescue can save them…

It may sound ridiculous, but almost a year ago I was watching an eerily similar event, wishing International Rescue were going to appear, asking myself why The Mole doesn’t really exist, why International Rescue don’t really exist…

Condensed milk

When I was young, my mother would sometimes—as a treat—let us have some evaporated (condensed) milk. It was served in the kinds of places you’d expect cream to be served—on top of pies, that sort of thing. I’m not sure why my family used evaporated milk instead of cream. Maybe we couldn’t afford cream? Maybe it was a health issue? Whatever the reason, the evaporated milk was carefully rationed out as if it were cream.

As a result, I craved it the way normal people might crave cream. And when I went to university, one of the first things I did was to buy myself a tin of evaporated milk and gorge on it. Any kind of dessert became an excuse for more evaporated milk.

Last week I bought a tin of evaporated milk…