How To Be Nice and Normal (part two)

So that’s how it all started for me. It became part of my daily life and eventually seeped into other areas of it. In fact, I remember the day I became a vegetarian quite clearly. It was a nice day, and I was at home. The post arrived and my Ethical Consumer mag was in it. Leafing through it, a jumble of inserts fell out, and one from a charity called Viva! caught my eye. It had pigs on the front and inside told the story of farrowing crates. I read it and sat on the sofa thinking “I don’t think I want to eat those sausages in the fridge”. And that was it. I didn’t eat meat from that day on. My husband was a little dubious at the time as we’d both previously guffawed at vegetarianism. But very soon after I gave it up, so did he.

Again, another steep learning curve to tackle. No more sweets, some wines were clarified with bits of fish, some cheesecakes had gelatine in… It was interesting. We were also now that awkward vegetarian couple who you dreaded cooking for. And let’s not forget the age-old questions: “Do you eat fish?” and “How do you get your protein?” People joke about it, but I am always being asked about my protein requirements. Sometimes I feel like saying, “After this much time without enough protein I think I’d be dead by now.” But I don’t. Because I’m nice.

Which brings me to the point of this little exercise. How to be nice and normal. By which I mean how to live a compassionate life without wearing any hemp trousers or foregoing sanitary towels. I’m sure those cups are brilliant, but I’m just not into that. And if you’re a man reading this and you don’t know what I’m talking about, I suggest you keep it that way. For your own sake.

Now, I’m no saint. I can be horrible if I want to be and I can gossip and stir as well as the next woman. But since meeting my husband (a very compassionate man), I feel like I want to be a better person. I guess it’s catching. And doesn’t it give you that great feeling when you do something nice? Instead of going out of your way to avoid the Big Issue seller on the street, why not go and buy one? They’re actually an interesting read, and he’s really trying to make a difference in his life. Yes, it’s cliché, but you know I’m right. If there’s anyone you should avoid in the street, it’s those bloody ‘Chuggers’ that follow you into the doorway of the nearest shop:

“Ello there darlin’, how are you today?” A handsome young man in a pleather tabard moves in.

“Er.. No thanks…I’m just on my way to…” I begin hunkering down, walking quicker and removing eye contact. A forced smile is plastered on my face.

“Aw, babes, you break my heart… talkin’ of which, would you like to dona-”

At this point I run away into Boots and hide behind the lubrication aisle.

No, I do not like the Chuggers.

But I do have time for the older gentleman standing quietly outside M&S who is collecting for the donkeys. And I will buy the homeless man sat on the ground a bacon sandwich (I won’t force vegetarianism on the homeless — I know how bloody tasty bacon sarnies are) and a cup of tea. You know, I felt amazing after doing those really little things. I jumped out of an aeroplane for charity once, and I can categorically tell you that buying someone a sandwich is infinitely more fun than a tandem skydive from 11,000 feet. You know what they say: no act of kindness is ever wasted.

Another, maybe odd, thing to do is move animals out of the road (if it’s safe, of course). I often drive early in the morning and it’s like a horror scene some days. On the best days there are no dead bodies or they’re squished beyond recovery. On the worst days they are still alive, lying in their own blood in the road. On more occasions than I’d like to mention, I have stopped my car to move an animal, only to find it severely wounded, slightly maimed or just dazed. I have also seen the worst side of humans on these mornings. Now my husband tries to tell me that sometimes people don’t realise they’ve hit an animal. Yes, this is true. Only yesterday I moved a handsome young fox that had obviously run out and clipped his head on a car. Probably went unnoticed. A quick death I reckon (and hope). What I absolutely cannot understand is how people can drive over (yes, over) a live, injured animal. The image sticks in my mind and I don’t think it will ever leave me. Let me tell you a couple of stories that I hope will stir something in you, as it did with me.

On this morning I had stopped on the side of the road to move a muntjac deer. I thought he was dead, but being a large obstruction in the road, I decided to move him.  As I ran towards him, I watched in horror as the cars trundled over his body. Sickeningly, I saw him flailing around in the road. I picked him up and placed him onto the grass verge. I sat and called the RSPCA, and whilst doing so, he died next to me. I think I cried all the 25 miles to work.

A few years later I was again, driving to work when on the crest of a hill I saw some magpies fly up. A dead animal ahead, I thought. Yes. A dead rabbit? I’ll move him. I got out, rubber gloves on and began to walk over to him. Just then, a motorcyclist stopped next to me and, thinking I’d hit it, asked if I was ok. I explained that I hadn’t, what I was doing and said thanks anyway. Off he went, and I turned to the rabbit. Then I saw it. This wasn’t a rabbit. It was a leveret. I’ll never forget the moment I looked into its gorgeous eyes, because they were looking up at me. It was alive. Its entrails were hanging from its bottom and there were long circular blood trails all around it where it had tried to move out of the way. It looked at me, panting desperately. I wasn’t and never will be prepared for something like that. I didn’t know what to do. I really don’t think that I could kill something myself —  And isn’t that selfish? I looked around. There he was — the motorcyclist! For some reason, he’d stopped up the road. I frantically waved him down and he came back. I explained that it was still alive and asked if he would be able to put it out of its misery. Yes. I watched this little leveret close his eyes and then slowly open them again; he must’ve been so tired. The motorcyclist told me to turn away. And I did. I heard his heavy boot crush that beautiful little creature and then he moved him into the hedges. I thanked him and we parted ways. It was a long time until those blood trails disappeared from the road, and I think it’ll be even longer before that little leveret disappears from my memory.

So the point of those awful stories? Please don’t assume they’re always dead. I’ve picked up many more animals that have successfully recovered from the roadside — a maggoty hedgehog, a dazed pigeon and a baby rabbit (lying next to his dead mother) to name a few. If you’re prepared correctly, you can easily collect them from the roadside and drop them at a vets or have them collected by the RSPCA. Just make sure you have a box handy or you could have an escaped pigeon in the foot-well of your car, shitting all over your carpets and seats (don’t do this — it’s stupid and dangerous, obviously).

Compassion is a wonderful and terrible thing, because it makes you empathetic. And it’s empathy that keeps me awake at night sometimes. I tortured myself for weeks thinking about how much pain that leveret was in. What it must’ve thought when the magpies were pecking at it. How tired it felt. How scary the cars were as they roared past. The coldness of the tarmac on his paws. That, more than anything so far, has disturbed me. And you know, sometimes it makes me not want to stop because it might happen again. But if it’s not totally squashed into the road and it’s not too dangerous to stop, I’ll move it. It’s also a bit of respect, too, don’t you think? You wouldn’t leave your grandma out in the road to get mushed into the tarmac, so why leave that cat / deer / rabbit / pigeon / other silly animal that doesn’t know the green cross code? I know that it can’t be helped most of the time, and not all people are monsters, but it makes me sad all the same.

How are we doing so far? I haven’t depressed you too much, have I? The basics really are: don’t buy your blusher or your bleach from shitty companies. Go vegetarian. Or if not, have one veggie day a week. Chuck a hi-vis jacket, a box and some rubber gloves in your boot and go save some animals’ lives (safely, of course… Hazard lights, people!). Oh, and buy a Big Issue once in a while. Do it all, or nothing at all… This is just the way that I like to live. It’s my opinion and we all know that opinions are like arseholes. Everyone’s got one (and sometimes they stink).

A few other awesome things to do:

  • Give your stuff to charity. By the time you listed it on eBay, sold it, wrapped it and took it to the post office, you could have dumped it on the lap of some lovely volunteer and gone on your merry way. One man’s tat is another man’s soon-to-be tat. And so the world keeps turning…
  • You could be the volunteer in the charity shop, having someone’s stuff dumped in your lap. Imagine nosing through all that. All for the charidee, man. Or do a bit of cat-cuddling for Cats Protection. Yes, you can cat-cuddle. I did, and it was great.
  • If you like meat too much to give it up, then do the Meat-Free Monday thing. You could have mac’n’cheese, omelette and chips, veggie pizza… there are lots of things to choose — it’s all tasty. Supermarkets do great vegetarian foods nowadays. Except the bacon. Don’t try the bacon. And if you cannot go without your steak and chips try to buy organic meat.
  • Smile. I am a care assistant and it’s actually amazing how much difference smiling can make. I think it makes you a cheerier person inside. Smile and the world smiles with you. It’s true, ya know.
  • Say please, say thank you, say sorry and always cough into your elbow. It’s good manners, dammit. Thank you

So like I told you at the beginning — I’m a normal person from a normal background. I don’t have hairy armpits or wear toe-rings. But I want to be a nice normal person. Not the normal person that spits in the street or chucks their McDonald’s bag out the window of their car (because they couldn’t possibly leave it in the foot-well until they got home). And just to clarify: I’m nowhere near the nice person that I want to be — and I probably never will be. None of us will be. It’s impossible to be nice all of the time. I’m a person and you’re a person and we might not like each other. We might go home and bitch to our husbands about each other. But the next day, we’ll wake up and think: maybe she had a bad day / maybe she’s scared of me / maybe I’m scared of her / maybe I’m crazy and I imagined it.

In all, be nice to everyone and everything whenever you can. Please (see?).

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