Vegetarianism

As far as I know, my mother became a vegetarian in 1939/40, at the very beginning of the war, when she was a student at the Royal College of Art in London, and before it was evacuated to Ambleside in the Lakes. Again as far as I know, she did so largely for health reasons. I heard of a Dr Pink who seems to have persuaded her to give up meat. A subsidiary reason seems to have been that rations for vegetarians were rather more generous.

The result was that I, and my three brothers, were all brought up as vegetarians. My father was not a committed vegetarian, but when at home only ate meat on the rare occasions we had visitors who did. I was also offered meat at such times, and have the impression I accepted it. I used to remember that I’d eaten meat for a while when I was six, possibly in connection with my two-month stay with my grandparents at Featherstone Castle, while my mother was on an art scholarship trip to Itlay. But this memory seems to have been erased, and so now it’s only the shell, a memory of a memory.

I did certainly started to eat meat when I entered Hillbrow prep school, firstly under the headmastership of my grandfather, and then later under that of George Bennett. However, when my father took over as head in the Michaelmas term of 1954, my mother cooked vegetarian food for Jeremy and me, and later for many other boys as well.

Gradually my mother’s vegetarianism took on a moral and spiritual dimension. She would periodically visit her beloved vegetarian doctor, Gordon Latto, in London, sometimes with us, sometimes alone. While there she’d take the opportunity of visiting art galleries, catching up with old artist friends, and spending time at St Martins in the Fields where she knew and admired the vicar, Austen Williams. I remember her telling me that after one such trip in the fifties she became convinced that she had a vocation to bring us boys up as vegetarians and to spread the good word about this better way of living.

This had a number of consequences.

1. Trouble at Shrewsbury. For the first two years I was at Severn Hill, Shrewsbury, my housemaster and his wife were opposed to my vegetarianism and tried to persuade my parents to get me to give it up. Since I was largely vegetarian out of loyalty to my mother, and my separation from her made my wish to support her more intense, I felt myself being tugged in different directions by my father, who would have liked me to join the carnivores, and my mother, who was determined I should be a torch-bearer for vegetariansim. As a result I started to correspond with my parents separately, as can be seen in Box 5/1 of the MO archive. House meals were quite inadequate to my needs, mouldy pieces of cheddar substituting for meat and peanut butter instead of marmalade at breakfast. If it hadn’t been for my mother opening an account for me at ‘The Healthy Way’ in town, which I used liberally to stock my tuckbox, I would have been even more mal-nourished than I was. Things at last came to a head when my mother attended my confirmation. We were invited to supper with ‘Long-Walk Jack’, the owner of the Healthy Way, and his wife, at which the possibility of my lodging with them was provisionally agreed. Shortly after, however, my father came on an emergency visit, the aim of which was to decide between removing me from the school or getting me a better diet. The latter was agreed, and I stayed on. In my last year there was a change of housemaster, who, together with his wife, was much more sympathetic, and I have memories of sumptuous meals – much better than my fellow pupils who looked on with some envy! As an aside I should add that ‘Long-Walk Jack’ was so known because after he was diagnosed with cancer of some kind, he walked from John O’Groats to Lands End to cure himself, as far as I know successfully. His adventure was reported in the local paper, the headline being ‘Long-Walk Jack.’ His adventure was certainly in my mind when I set out to do something similar.

2. Attitude to animals

3. Interest in ethics.

4. Relationship with mother, particularly as a result of the criticism she suffered.

While at Featherstone we had a veritable menagerie, some of the animals our own, some farm animals, some the animals of our employees. Among the first were cats, rabbits, budgerigars and tortoises. After we moved south we continued to have cats and budgerigars, and my parents took over my Great Aunt Aline’s and later my Grandmother’s dogs after their owners died.

[Mrs Broadbent. Shooting. Uncle David.]

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