How To Be Nice and Normal (part one)

Okay, let me start by saying I am a normal person. I was brought up in a normal street, in a normal town by my normal parents. I have a normal job and have normal interests.

I grew up in a town called Colchester in Essex, but I was born in Germany in 1988, where my father was posted in the British Army. When I was six months old, we moved back to England and my father left the army and went to work for British Rail. My mother, a night care assistant, had a keen interest in Persian cats and her and her sister bred pedigrees for a while in the 90’s. We always had at least five cats and one dog in our house. Although I don’t condone cat breeding, I believe this was how my love for animals bloomed.

My parents bought their first house when I was about three and it eventually became a home for a menagerie of animals. Although it wasn’t always perfect, it was great to have the experience of looking after so many different animals. We had cockatiels, fish, canaries, dogs, hedgehogs, cats, rabbits (to which I was allergic I later found out)  and best of all, ferrets. The first ferret we cared for was an injured little fellow who was found by the railway tracks. I’ll never forget Monty, as he was the friendliest, gentlest rescue animal I’d ever met. We kept him, along with other rescues for many years.

So, a fairly normal upbringing. I say fairly, because there came a time in my parents’ lives when they became interested in animal welfare. I think it was around the time we first heard of the link between bTB and badgers. They joined the local badger group (North East Essex Badger Group) and became very involved in sett monitoring and the like. Many times I sat in the car while my father loaded a dead badger he’d been called about into the boot. We would bring it home to measure it, weigh it and record any other information about it. I don’t remember what he did with the corpses, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything weird! We would spend hot summer days at shows and fairs, sat with two taxidermied badgers on a stall, giving out stickers to children and getting people to sign petitions. I also remember my father spending hours cutting out badger shaped mdf boards with his jigsaw and painting them. The best bit was that he would sneak out after a night shift and put them on roundabouts to raise awareness of badgers’ plight. My dad, the original Banksy.

The badgers inevitably led to other wildlife causes, and we ended up becoming members of the League Against Cruel Sports. My mother was proud of her navy LACS mug and would use it whenever we had people come over. We went out a few times with the hunt saboteurs and I distinctly remember being threatened by a very effeminate huntsman on his very large horse. A few times we went to the anti-hunt rally on Boxing Day in Maldon and one year I almost got on the news, had I not been gurning so much in front of the camera (I did get in the newspaper, though).

All this took place before I became a moody, uninterested teenager. I think it all became a bit uncool when I (being on the chubby side) was named the “Ten-tonne badger” by some boys in my class.

And so passed my awkward teenage years, my early working life and my first boyfriends. I eventually met my now husband and my interests began to change. I can’t even remember what started it, but I took to spending my mornings on Twitter. I was that person on your feed that bombards you with petitions to sign. I signed up to various animal charities and even did a skydive for Wood Green Animal Charity (which I wouldn’t recommend to anybody in their right mind. The skydive, that is.) I would receive magazine after magazine telling me of the plight of animals in circuses, zoos, abusive homes, slaughterhouses and laboratories. I began to read about the lab animals in particular. They were being experimented on for cosmetics, household cleaners, medicines, you name it, they injected or ingested it. I suppose I could see the reasoning behind medicinal experiments (not that I agreed), but mascara and detergent?

I must admit that I probably read some far out stuff about it all, but I also read some decent material, too. Most of which came from the BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection). I liked their Cruelty Free campaign. It was simple: boycott the brands and companies that condone vivisection and choose a company that carries the ‘Leaping Bunny’ logo instead. So, I looked at every product we bought — shampoo, detergents, toilet cleaner, toothpaste, bars of soap and all of my make-up.

Boy, was I surprised at what I found. Turns out that the majority of mainstream products are really owned by about six big companies. These big companies are, according to information provided to me on the net, unscrupulous. But then, they are massive corporations. The big names I found in our cupboards belonged to Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser, Procter and Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Mars and L’Oreal. I had no idea, for instance, that Wall’s ice-cream belongs to Unilever. James Wellbeloved pet food belongs to Mars. Pampers nappies belong to Procter and Gamble. Even more worrying is that The Body Shop, who specifically sell their products on the premise that they aren’t tested on animals, are owned by L’Oreal, a company that does test on animals. Now sure, you could buy from The Body Shop and their products won’t have been tested on animals, but you’re then effectively giving L’Oreal your cash to spend on other products that may be. Did you know that Marmite and Dove are both owned by Unilever? I don’t much care for Marmite (I hate it, actually), but it’s funny how these huge corporations have their fingers in so many figurative and actual pies. It may or may not interest you, but I think it’s interesting when you can dig deeper and find out who belongs to who.

Anyway. One day, after much reading, I emptied my cleaning cupboard and my make-up bag and gave what could be used away. I discovered that The Co-op was a brand that was BUAV approved and had been for some years. It was very handy and we stocked up on our household and personal essentials there. It was a steep learning curve though, as we hadn’t anticipated that food items would come into the matter. All of our regular brands were now out of bounds and we didn’t even have the BUAV to help us there. It was best just to stick to own brands. We gradually found some nice companies and some big names that we could buy — Superdrug’s own branded cosmetics were all BUAV approved, as were M&S and Sainsbury’s and later on, Morrisons. The list gets bigger every day, I’m sure, and it’s quite heartening. When I first set out on this journey I felt like it couldn’t make much difference, but I believe consumer power does work. Speaking of which, I couldn’t have gotten very far without the help of a magazine called Ethical Consumer, which does just that. It gives you the knowledge you need to use your consumer power well. Based on a points system, it tells you which companies are most ethical in each field — say environmental impact or animal welfare and the like. I found it really useful and found some great companies because of it.

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