Tag Archives: Joy

Looking for Europe 10: Bristol – cloud 99

October 26th

I may have questioned my own sanity at 6:30am that morning but Switchfoot well and truly proved to me once and for all that they were worth travelling for.

Despite delayed trains I successfully made it to Bristol ok, met Jude, and obtained super hot burritos for lunch (Mission accomplished)! We found the venue, and as in Glasgow it turned out to be a litle confusing again inside trying to find the correct room in an open students’ union building. The guys had posted an earlier Meet&Greet time than their original email, but we took this with a pinch of salt, knowing how Switchfoot time tends to operate; they actually overran by 1.5hrs! 😀

We hung out for ages with the other VIPs, chatting, during which time I spotted a tour poster on one of the notice boards, and one of the others claimed it to get signed as a souvenir! Although it ended up being a bit of a wait, at least we were indoors and on sofas, and whilst we were there we got to chat to Chad, Tim and Drew (with daughter in tow) a bit as they arrived, and also to Josh from their crew. Drew said again we were joint SwitchFam queens (I really do have to hand that to Jude!), ‘possibly of the EU or international ‘fam, possibly secret agents…’ 😀

After they had all gone inside, we were talking about how we became fans when finally we heard them start soundcheck – and they were playing Holy Water!! Ahhh let me in!! It sounded amazing, and is definitely one of the songs I most want to hear them play. They let us in after they finished that song and took requests, playing Gone, and then playing On Fire at Jude’s request. It sounded incredible!! I went right to the front again and wowwww! I was happyyy! 🙂

The Meet&Greet itself felt a bit awkward today, the guys were sweet as ever but we didn’t really know what to say to one another. I did request Healer Of Souls again since I knew a lot of my friends who were coming are really into that song (not to mention how much I still wanted to hear it after the sound hadn’t been great in Basel!).

By the time we came out it was close to showtime, and my husband and friends were arriving. We met up and got in the queue, and M sat on the floor making and eating sandwiches whilst we waited! We also found a stack of gig flyers, which we handed out to anyone who wanted one; a good sign..? The last time I had found flyers for a show was in Mannheim and that had been a very special night.

Everything was still running late but eventually we were let in. I was first, so with complete choice of where to stand I went Tim’s side of centre. Jude had a sidestage pass again! I hung out with M, our friends, and friends I’d met at the VIP event, it felt like lovely family gathering.

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Oh my was this show worth the wait!

They opened with House Burns tonight, and however unsure I’d previously been about this song as an opener, this time it was an absolutely awesome, flawless start, and the sound was pretty much perfect! 🙂 🙂 🙂 There is a certain line of this song that I remember Jon singing ‘to me’ a couple of times back in the spring; he did it again in Glasgow, and yet again tonight, which got me wondering if he does it deliberately! But even one song in he was already giving me a lot of eye contact at this show.

Then they played Stars, and with so much energy! Jon introduced Tim as his little brother, saying ‘This means this is a family event, we’re all family here tonight’; it certainly felt like it.

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The energy continued to ramp up as they went into Dark Horses. Funnily, for the ‘made my mistakes’ line Jon wasn’t at the mic like he almost forgot he needed it! 😀 But they rocked hard, even adding a bit of a solo.

They turned it up even more, playing Bull to the delight of my friends, Jon venturing into the crowd, balancing on a rail and sending everyone wild! By this point I was enjoying this show as much as I had any of my previous favourite shows. The sound, volume, setlist, crowd, Jon’s interaction, and the level of energy and quality of singing and playing from Switchfoot was combining into a perfect storm of happiness.

But it carried on getting better! I filmed YLIAS, which you can watch here; Drew’s solo was incredible as ever. That led into LAIWTF, which Jon introduced saying ‘I’m obsessed with the idea that love is the anti-entropy. In a world where everything’s falling apart, lose yourself with everything to gain.’ The crowd were really into it!

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And then they did indeed play Healer of Souls – AAAHHHH!!! I had my banner out on the rail and Jon looked over at me before starting to ask for it so I threw it him and he held it up, getting it the wrong way round twice (‘…one of those rubber sole moments…’) He asked the band what key it was in, but there was no question he knew how to play it. They were so good, all solos and yelling, and although I was filming (evidence here!) I rocked out with them.

And then Oh! Gravity. OH!!! The energy surely couldn’t get any higher?! I was totally losing it, my legs wanting to give way under me but so stoked I was jumping and yelling with total abandon!

Before I actually caught fire they changed pace a little, playing Hello Hurricane acoustic; they had brought with them a new ‘fancy’ mic for the purpose, better designed for picking up their acoustic performance than their usual vocal mics. They brought Chad to the front, which got a ‘wooo!’ from the crowd; as they set up Jon commented that ‘at this point in the show it’s traditional to ask a question to which the appropriate response is always ‘woo!’ Doesn’t matter what it is… how are you feeling? ‘Woo!’ How’s your mother? ‘Woo!” The new mic sounded great, a whole different sound quality that was really nice. And from there they went into IWLYG. Jon sounded so good, and Tim’s bass was shaking the floor!

And then something really special happened; Jon said that on this tour they wanted to honour the UK’s rich musical heritage by playing a song from each city they visited, and tonight they played Teardrop by Massive Attack! Oh my gosh these guys can so play!! Here is a video, which entirely doesn’t do it justice as the sound has distorted a little, but if I can take you there in your imagination, imagine you can feel the sound reverberating around the room and right through you, and those vocals arriving straight from heaven :’)

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Teardrop led right into Where I Belong; I was already gone but this did me in big time! 🙂 I threw Jon my banner again, but then I just let the music sweep me away. I found myself crying happy tears and shaking and pretty much kneeling in prayer on barrier giving thanks to God and the band. I expected this to be the end of the show, but no sooner had that almighty yell faded they suddenly went into Meant To Live! I was undone!! More happy tears! 😀

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That was the end, but of course there was an encore, and they came back on and again played Float. It was so much fun, I danced as crazily as ever, enjoying the bubble party, and there was some wonderful chaos when Jon attempted to crowd surf but disastrously picked the wrong part of the crowd and discovered that gravity did exist after all! He made it back onto the stage nonetheless, and I helped him back up. They incorporated a snatch of Hope Is The Anthem into Live It Well, and then finished me off with Dare You To Move, again rocking out in happy tears to stop my legs giving way and finishing up draped over the barrier, absolutely wowed!

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It was the best show I’ve ever seen. It’s something I’ve struggled to explain, but it was a synergy of all the right elements that made it an incredibly powerful experience that I will call a kind of holy ecstasy that just ramped up and up. Wowow! I had no idea music could transport me like that..! Afterwards I could barely speak, it was very, very special. :’) I’d had a small taste of that kind of feeling at Jon’s solo show a few months back, but I’d put some of that down to experiencing that voice of his like never before, but this was definitely the whole experience of the music; God was in it, and I soared even higher than I’d been before. I’ve never seen the guys play like this; I’d been to higher intensity shows, but that was constant high energy, and I just wasn’t coming down from the ceiling!

There was no aftershow, but a group of us hung out by the bus, ostensibly so that one of the fans could get his favourite album Nothing Is Sound (NIS) signed, but really we wanted to see them and I absolutely had to thank them. We got to speak to all of them eventually, though it was touch and go as they had to make a ferry and the timing was tight as they were meant to go at 12 but were still not on the bus. Thankfully it was not so cold as the previous night!

Chad arrived first. He gave me a high five, and was sweet but implied that we probably shouldn’t stay.

Then Drew came out to hang properly with us, and was absolutely lovely like he had all night. He chatted about NIS quite deeply, all the heartache that went into it and how meaningful it was, the lyrics, Shadow, Politicians, The Blues… Two friends after the show independently commented how ‘Jon is a very sweaty man!’ 😀 They joked about it with Drew too, and he agreed and was like ‘yeah he’s like it all the time!’ 😛 😀

Next Romey arrived. He was very touched at our appreciation but was also anxious about the ferry as he didn’t think they’d make it, and was worried they’d have to cancel their shows.

Then Jon came over. He was so chilled!! How?! We talked about the show, I told him how amazing I’d found it, and there were laughs about him being dropped in Float! We ended up talking about weather, how hot it was back home and that he liked Fall best, and I thought to ask him a geeky question about water temperatures as he’d joked about our sea being cold and I wasn’t sure how it compared against San Diego, being as we have a warm current and cool climate and they have a cold current and hot climate. He asked Celsius or Fahrenheit, I asked if he spoke Celsius as my Fahrenheit was nonexistent and he laughed and thought, and then failed to translate! I said it was about 16°C here and lovely, and he said their sea temperatures range from 60-70°F usually. Translating afterwards, I conclude they would indeed find our seas cold, even if to me 16°C is leave-the-wetsuit-at-home warm!

Finally we also saw Tim; we almost didn’t see him as he was online with his wife, but he did emerge and sign the CD, I think Jon had sent him. I congratulated him briefly and he talked a bit about bass with the guy whose CD it was.

My friend said to me at the end that I looked like I was on cloud 99, and I think that was pretty accurate. Ahhhhhhhh!!!!! :’) A perfect evening. 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Looking for Europe 9: Glasgow – 500 miles

October 25th

I cannot believe this is happening. I cannot believe this is happening. I cannot believe this is happening.

And yet, my alarm is ringing at 5am and I am ready to go!

This was my third time following Switchfoot on tour; it was also the first time I’d followed a UK and Ireland tour, and what has been blowing my mind since it was announced is that it comes within five months of their last visit. I have never known anything like this to happen. Having concluded that I probably wouldn’t try to follow every date on a tour again after the beautiful chaos of the last tour, I immediately went back on my word when these dates were announced. Perhaps if it involved travelling to new cities and countries I would want to spend more quality time there seeing the places I was visiting. But these shows were happening in my own country, in towns I mostly knew and was quite likely to revisit in future, so the pressure was off to go sightseeing. So tickets were booked, and travel plans forged (in that order; always buy tickets first, figure out logistics later!).

The last few days before leaving dragged by. I’ve had a countdown app on my phone since we first found out last year that they were playing BCDO here this spring. When the first of these dates was announced, during tour part one, I set it going again. Since it hit 50 days left, time has disappeared remarkably quickly; it felt as though 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 all came within a week. And then, 7 days left. Each day of that final week seemed a week long in itself! The morning of the 24th I looked at the clock on my screen at work after I’m sure being at my desk for around 5 hours, only to find it was just approaching 10am! It may have been the longest day of my life, and my mind was definitely elsewhere!

However, that 5am alarm eventually rang, and shortly afterwards I was on the train up to Glasgow, cradling a takeaway cup of tea and admiring the autumn colours as the sun came up on this beautiful day.

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I arrived in Glasgow at lunchtime, met up with my concert buddy friend from France, and we checked into the hostel with just enough time to pack our things for the show and head back out.

We caught the bus up to the university and found our way to the Queen Margaret Union. We then realised we weren’t sure exactly where we were meant to be! It was an open students’ union building with several venues inside and students coming and going continually. Clearly we weren’t meant to be outside the building, so we looked around inside, and eventually asked in the reception and were pointed in the right direction. A small group of us gathered outside the door to the room where Switchfoot were playing, but after waiting a while the staff asked us to go up and wait in the bar on the floor above until 5:30.

The wait for the VIP event to begin was somewhat awkward, a small nervous group of us waiting impatiently. I got chatting to folks, and it got even more awkward when it transpired I was following the tour and had done before, I pretty much got interviewed about the whole experience!! I didn’t mind but really hope it didn’t sound like bragging, this is all about making back many years as a fan fail and I still owe the guys a lot of belated support.

But no matter how many times I’ve met them, I admit I was freaking out a bit; for many reasons I don’t usually give them gifts, but this time I did have a birthday gift for Jon and I felt nervy about handing it to him. I also had a birthday card for him full of sweet messages from the SwitchFam, and the thing I was perhaps most anxious about handing them, yet another letter, this time just making sure they knew how political references to ‘Europe’ would be on this tour, letting them know there was no obligation to take my ‘Europe is where the light shines through’ flag on stage if they didn’t want to go there, and explaining that they were really helping me to grapple with these difficult political times, that Europe is the UK’s wound just now and that wherever we stand on it, we should be able to agree on that and try and seek the light through it.

As we waited we had some great conversations about how we’d come to know Switchfoot, about past shows we’d seen, about their music and how important it has been to us.

Time crawled past in slow motion; it was 5pm for about an hour!

Suddenly we realised that through the floor we could make out they were soundchecking Hello Hurricane! I tried to wait until we were called back down… but Jon was singing and I couldn’t stay put. I cracked and ran down to listen outside the door, and everyone else, equally desperate for an excuse, took it as a cue to move too. Oops!! 😀

Finally Chico came out to hand us our VIP passes and let us in. He didn’t ask my name. Drew had also seen me in the queue earlier and said he recognised me, and called me the queen of the UK SwitchFam, to which I said I don’t know if I can claim that, Jude isn’t here yet!

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In addition to Hello Hurricane, we heard them soundchecking Bull (In A China Shop), Love Alone Is Worth The Fight (LAIWTF), Travis’ Sing (wow, they sounded great!! This song used to be on their preshow playlist but I’ve not heard them cover it before), then we were let in for Float and I went straight to the barrier and danced like it was a concert!

Jon took a request for their second song from everyone there. He listed them back as best he could remember and asked Tim which they should play, and they agreed on Yet – which was my random request as I’d been listening to it a lot the past week and had seen it on a recent set list. He then asked whose request it had been, and there was mutual embarrassment when I sheepishly put my hand up (‘We honestly hadn’t arranged that!’)! I’m pretty sure he used my name too, which stunned me; I’m not surprised he recognises me by now but to remember my name straight away before we’d been reintroduced was special :O They spent ages setting up to play Yet, it was so sweet of them to do it. They had to work out how they were going to play it; they said they hadn’t played it in ages, though I’d seen it on a setlist from their summer tour, hence requesting it. Chad came to the front with muted drums, and Jon jammed on the harmonica, even leading us in ‘If it doesn’t break…’ the way I’d heard him do on the live album, despite there only being a few of us, it was very cool. You can watch it here.

Then it was Meet&Greet time. I got a poster signed for somebody I was planning to send some things to, then handed my gifts to Jon. I showed him the local hot sauce and chocolate coffee beans I’d put in, which again he seemed extremely enthusiastic about, despite being less jetlagged than they had been in Amsterdam! Then I showed him the card we’d made; I flicked through it to show him all the messages at a glance, highlighting one or two to him, and he seemed really touched by it. Afterwards we headed back outside to wait for the show.

The venue was very small, and a little grimy, but in my experience that can make for a great show! I went to Drew’s side of the stage, but as the venue filled I got pushed towards the centre. I had a great conversation with one of the other VIPs, a guy originally from Nigeria, about the depth of Jon’s lyrics.

A band from Sheffield called the Alvarez Kings were supporting Switchfoot for the whole tour. They played good, catchy tunes with a lot of energy; their drummer is very good, the bassist lively, and they threw in a lot of nice harmonies, plus a bit of swearing!

Then it was Switchfoot time!!

They kicked off with the full electric version of Hello Hurricane, which they haven’t played much for some time.

Keeping the energy up, they went into Stars. Part way through, Jon climbed up onto the amps, then broke from the song to get the crowd singing The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond (appropriate as they’d spent the day there), then  jumped down and went into 500 Miles by The Proclaimers!! Well, that brought the house down!! Jon barely knew it at all, but belted out as much of it as he could remember before just descending into ‘DAH DADA DAH!’, the crowd laughing and jumping and filling in his singing, it was the best! 😀

Meant To Live followed, starting with an awesome intro jam on four guitars transitioning into the opening riff, which was passed around the band between their guitars, quite a dramatic effect. It was already getting sweaty, Jon pouring water over himself!

Then he went into the crowd for Bull and worked the crowd from a railing at the back, holding a hand to balance himself. It was a lot of fun.

Tim kicked off This Is Your Life with his powerful bass riff. Jon got everyone singing ‘Yeah!’ with him as a call and response, and then as the ending of the song repeats the title question he picked out individuals in the crowd to direct that question to each time he sang it.

Drew was improvising from start of Your Love Is A Song (YLIAS). The solo began with a duet between Jon’s harmonica and Drew’s guitar, then Jon left Drew to it, and he gave us a really epic solo; there were some precious smiles between the guys.

Jon introduced the band, and then Where The Light Shines Through (WTLST), saying ‘Let’s hear it for wounds!’ He did take my flag up on stage briefly, saying ‘Glasgow is where the light shines through’, and Josh got it back to me immediately. They started with a solo, throwing in complete pauses, which was awesome! Similarly to Budapest, Jon and Drew played a sort of solo trading game with Jon playing a phrase and seeing how Drew would respond to it, and like Budapest it seemed like he was cheekily throwing him some weird ones for him to play with! And he again got the crowd singing ‘Yeah-eah-eahhhh!’ in response. This song really is incredible live.

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Clearly having fun, Jon introduced Gone by throwing in the opening riff from Chem6A! There was much forgetting of lyrics; he got the crowd to help with the first verse, holding up the mic stand to us, grinning, before taking back over and having no trouble with the rest of the song! They rocked up the ending with a drum jump.

Bringing it back down, they played Only Hope, acoustic to begin with, with the band simply adding chilled ambience. They left out the second verse and went straight into a rocked up ending, and transitioned straight into I Won’t Let You Go, which was beautifully sung with evident feeling.

A short interlude of Shadow Proves… introduced LAIWTF, and then Jon got everyone ‘oreo’ing along. Then they played (If The) House Burns (Down Tonight), dedicating it to the firefighters who have saved their homes and communities many times, and to the feeling of driving away from your home not knowing if would be there when you return, and realising that the human souls there in the car with you are worth infinitely more than all you leave behind.

Dark Horses just rocked, and they ended with When We Come Alive.

For the encore they came back on to play Float; Drew seemed to start in the wrong key but quickly adjusted. And oh the joy – they brought the bubbles and disco ball with them!! This is the first time I’ve ever known them bring the fun stage effects they use in the States with them across the pond, and it was so much fun! And of course Jon crowd surfed, and thanked us for his first proper surf since arriving here 😀 Live It Well followed, introduced as a campfire song, Jon asked us to picture it. And they finished with Dare You To Move, which was just gorgeous.

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Then there was a proper encore, and they played Where I Belong. Jon took my banner, and this time actually threw it back to me at the end! 🙂 I closed my eyes and just soaked in that end yell like I was just receiving it. At the end there were emotional thanks from Drew, and the crowd carried on singing long after the lights went up.

Overall the show felt like a truly joyful start to the tour. However the sound hadn’t been quite right; the guitars were turned up extremely loud compared to the rest, so they drowned out everything else when really going for it.

I managed to meet a couple of friends I’d only met previously online, one doing photography, and the other waiting for an aftershow, both lovely. The wait afterwards was cold!! I put on all my layers, plus the wet banner to dry it off and attempt to keep warm! But Jon did eventually come out to us. There was much joking with him about the temperature (‘You’re cold?! I’m from San Diego! This is Scotland cold!’ ‘No, this is Scotland tropical!’). He played Caroline (‘Southbound Train?’ ‘This one’s like Southbound Train… and also in the right key for my harmonica!’), Inheritance, 24 with its back story, and Your Love Is Strong. He said he’d seen a rainbow over Loch Lomond that morning and said it was like finding gold. He said these moments could be like gold, and I said that they are. He thanked us at the end, and we let him go.

My friend and I just made last bus back! We wished we’d had time for photos, it was so pretty.

We got back at 1:30am, in time for not nearly enough sleep before getting back on the early morning train back to Bristol 😛

Day 2, and I was already wondering what in the world possesses me to do this?! 😀

‘And I would take the train 500 miles, and I would take the train 500 more…’ 😀

(You can find my write ups of the spring Looking For Europe tour starting here)

Liturgy in the waves

Whilst I’ve been quiet on the blog, I’ve got really into bodyboarding this warm sea season.

I’ve been having an occasional go for about five years now, but this is the first time it’s really got hold of me. My previous attempts were embarrassingly laughable. I’ve joked that I spent more time clinging to the underside of the board , thinking I’m sure this isn’t how it’s supposed to work and wondering what went wrong, than actually riding on top of it! And I was only half joking; upside-down boards happened far too frequently! I was scared of any waves approaching my own size or bigger. I couldn’t read the sea so waves would rear up and take me by surprise. My attempts at catching them were complete trial and error, launching at waves of any stage of formation and just hoping I didn’t fall off if I happened to time it right. And most of the times, I did fall off! But it was so much fun when I did catch one – even if at some point down the beach I did end up on the wrong side of the board.

This summer we had two consecutive weekends away in good surf spots with different sets of friends who wanted to spend time bodyboarding. Over those two weekends we had five whole days catching waves, and although I had boasted of my unfortunate talent for upside-down waveriding, I was surprised to find I was actually staying on top of the board. What’s more, over the five days, I found I was making a lot of discoveries and truly learning something each day. By the end of the first weekend I was reading the waves, knowing when to launch, and catching the majority of the waves I attempted… and pushing out further into the larger waves further out too. I learnt how to choose a good wave, how to steer, how to angle the board, and how the waves change in mood, power and difficulty from beach to beach, day to day, tide to tide. Of course I developed a new special talent for overshooting the board when launching out and sliding right over the top, and once or twice found myself barrelled head over heels under a massive breaker, momentarily wondering how I was going to escape, but on the whole it’s been going great.

I’ve been out boarding several times since to take advantage of the nice autumn sea temperatures and quieter beaches. I’ve officially got the bug!

So, is it play? Is it therapy? Or is it worship?

I think it’s definitely all three, but the mix varies depending on where the sea and I are at. It began as pure play, but it’s been healing at times too, and I’ve started to find it can be an act of worship.

A couple of Sundays ago I was in Wales with fiends. We spent the morning celebrating Harvest at St David’s Cathedral, and then went down to Whitesands Bay for the afternoon. Wowww!! I was already feeling celebratory and full of joy and thankfulness as a result of the Harvest service, but the place was so stunning and the waves so beautiful and glittery it all just overflowed. The worship on the beach felt like a seamless continuation of the worship in church.

First of all, it is nearly impossible not to bodyboard in a state of mindfulness. All the senses are involved, and you have to pay attention to what is immediately going on around you and be immersed completely in the moment, fully awake to where you are and what you are doing. You smell the sea air; your eyes feast on the colours, light, contrast, drama and movement of the sea and sky and wildlife and other beachgoers; there’s no avoiding the taste of saltwater; you hear the hiss, fizz, and roar of the waves, and your own laughter and whooping; and you feel all the textures of the sea, the sting of salt, and of cold water on hot skin, the feel of the board, soft sand, rough stones, the sometimes violent slap of waves, gentle rising and falling, warmth, wet… In the sea I am really in the now, and it is incredibly centring.

At risk of sounding clichéd, it is something like baptism with every wave or spray that breaks over me, reminding me of what is washed away and blessing me with new life.

It’s a humbling experience. In the sea I get the smallest glimpse of the size and power of its maker, and my contrasting insignificance. It’s amazing to be out in nature, surrounded by this huge unknown, unpredictable, power, tumbled about in it, but to be able to play in its edges and get to know it a little nonetheless.

I find myself full of thankfulness! It’s a grace experience, an undeserving land creature immersed in such beauty and laughter that’s completely not my own element, and seeing waves presented to me as perfect curls to play with. At its most beautiful I can never believe I’m experiencing it. Every good wave finishes in hallelujah, thank You, as it brings me to rest on the beach. More often than not I find I fetch up in a prayer posture, on my knees or face down at the edge of the surf, and thanking the sea and our God just flows, before I get up and run back in. It comes naturally, but I’ve also begun to make a conscious discipline of turning to say thank You for every good ride, as it develops in me a lasting attitude of thankfulness.

There are moments of quiet contemplative solitude…  and then there are moments of shared joy when catching the same wave, high fiving and cheering at each other’s good waves, and teaching one another skills.

At the end of a good beach day I come away full of joy, re-set, with a bigger, truer perspective on our size and significance compared to our beautiful world and the one it comes from. I am reminded so much how good the world can be, and that for all its problems, that is only ever part of the reality and there is still so much to enjoy and celebrate. We get immersed in the big news of the day, and forget that we are transient, and that some things are that much bigger and better and more lasting than we are. The sea brings me back to that truth.

I come home with waves in my mind, still feeling the rise and fall of the swell, the sea still alive before me every time I close my eyes.

Bodyboarding is no substitute for church. That day at Whitesands was made all the more meaningful following on from a service, and a service of thanksgiving in particular. But it can definitely be a powerful, playful worship experience, as the formal liturgy of church finds its way into the everyday world, and I hope I never lose that.

A decade vegan

I have been vegan for ten years this year! I was 24. I get asked about it a lot, so here’s my story:

I never actually went vegetarian.

I grew up a real meat lover in a normal omnivorous household. My favourite foods were roast dinners, steaks, seafood, and meat stews. And pizza. But it had to have pepperoni on it really. If I was taken out for dinner, it was always my mission to order the meatiest thing on the menu that I was allowed; the biggest steak, a whole chicken, a mixed grill… When my younger sister went vegetarian when we were older children, I mocked and criticised her mercilessly! Surely it was unnatural, we evolved to eat meat, we need it to be healthy..?

So, what happened?!

I’ve always been passionate about nature, science and the environment, so studying environmental science at A-Level and then university made perfect sense (if you’ve not come across it, environmental science is the scientific study of all aspects of the natural world; the physics, chemistry, biology and sociology behind weather and wildlife, geology, oceans, soils, landscapes and more, and the way they interact…). I was 17 when my A-Level ‘Env’ class studied a module on agriculture and food production. For the first time, I had to really look closely at the way my food was produced. I knew meat was made of dead animals; I unemotionally thought this a fact of life and quite natural. It wasn’t a surprise to me to learn about how animals are grown for food and slaughtered. What did shock me was how unnatural we have made the farming system, and how much of an impact it has upon the rest of the natural world.

The kind of farms I thought of as a child, small land holdings run by a family, keeping small flocks and herds of a range of farmyard animals, are largely consigned to history.

Today, most of our food is industrially mass produced. Animals do not have names. Large companies run the farms purely for profit. Many animals, chickens in particular, never see sunlight or reach anything near adulthood before slaughter, and have been selectively bred away from their natural shape and size to produce more meat or milk than their bodies can physically support, crippling them in various ways before their early slaughter. Those that are kept outdoors are kept on huge scales, and unable to be supported by grazing the land they live on, require feeding with tonnes of mass-produced animal feed. This has to be grown of course. To do this, vast amounts of land many times the size of the livestock farms themselves are required; land is constantly being deforested to grow more and more animal feed, including in the rainforests, and to keep producing the quantities of animal feed needed requires constant inputs of industrial fertilisers and pesticides to be produced and sprayed over the land. Gallons of water are needed to irrigate the feed crops, as well as to rear the livestock themselves and produce the meat. Both the production of feed and livestock farming cause shocking amounts of pollution; water pollution from run-off contaminated with fertilisers, pesticides, slurry and bacteria, impacting aquatic life and human health; air pollution from spraying agrochemicals and from ammonia from industrial poultry units; greenhouse gases from the methane the livestock produce, fertiliser production and transport of feed. In addition, stocking animals at high densities of the same species leads to disease outbreaks. In many places, this is mitigated by routinely feeding antibiotics to livestock, but this is leading to the rise of antibiotic-resistant disease in both animals and humans.

The more I learnt (and there is more), the more I became convinced that industrial livestock production was not environmentally sound. I cared deeply about the world we live in, so because I could no longer eat meat without knowing how it was produced, I felt I needed to make sure that any meat I ate had been produced to good environmental standards.

So I did some research, and decided that certified organically farmed meat was  produced in much more sensitive ways, with much higher environmental and welfare standards than factory-farmed meat. So I decided to go ‘organic vegetarian’ – vegetarian, unless the meat was organic. Because organic farming has higher standards it costs more to produce, so is more expensive. So I therefore ended up eating less, but better quality, meat. I was not at all vegetarian, but I was eating many more vegetarian dishes, and eating vegetarian food or seafood when eating out. I got used to eating a wider variety of foods, and to the vibrant flavours in vegetarian cooking, though I still loved my meat.

I lived like this for a couple of years before it occurred to me (or I had to admit to myself!) that eggs and dairy were also factory farmed, so for consistency if I was going to cut out all my support for intensive livestock farming, I’d have to go organic there too.

And this is where things got tricky.

Milk and eggs are ingredients in a lot of foods. Reading labels to find out if they contained animal ingredients, and if so, how they had been produced, got boring and time consuming. And the social impact – having to ask, before anyone fed me, ‘Is it organic?’! Nope.

I was living this awkward ‘organic vegan’ lifestyle when I moved to my second university. And it was here I met several real-life vegans, including the man who became my boyfriend and then husband. They seemed to have it a lot easier than me! They didn’t spend hours in the shops scouring ingredients lists. They could shop and eat out in normal shops and restaurants. They didn’t have to ask socially awkward questions – a simple ‘I’m vegan’ sufficed to explain their diets. And they could eat chocolate!! I’d previously assumed being vegan was miserable and difficult, and probably unhealthy, but the reality I encountered was anything but!

So, I gave it a try. I was helped by the discovery that, to me at least, soya milk tasted far, far better than the cows’ milk I’d hated the taste of all my life! I missed and craved all sorts of animal-based things. But I made what turns out to have been a very wise decision to be extremely gracious with myself; if I had a craving (for cheese or pork for example), I would wait a short while to see if the craving went away (as it sometimes would). If it didn’t, I would allow myself to go and get some (if I could find it organic!), eat and enjoy it, and then, be vegan again the following day. I found over time the cravings got fewer and further between, and went away more quickly. I found I was having to give into them less and less, and eventually, after a couple of years, I found I just wasn’t feeling the need to buy animal-based foods. Today, whilst I do remember what animal-based foods were like and that I enjoyed them, it no more occurs to me to eat them as it would for me to eat cardboard. It doesn’t register to me as food.

The final straw was unexpected. I was on a train, passing through some beautiful countryside, where a few extremely sleek and contented looking cattle were happily grazing in a huge, open landscape. I thought to myself as I passed, ‘This is how farming should be…’, and was just beginning to feel pleased with myself when I heard God say to me, ‘So who are you to cut short those happy lives?’. Wow. I was hit with the compassion for animals that I’d never really experienced before. It was a perspective I’d not even thought of, that yes these animals were living happily on such farms, but that in demanding meat from them, I was taking that happy life away prematurely. So. No more meat.

Over that time I’d also learnt more and more recipes. I’d got a lot more creative and adventurous with my cooking (and started writing recipes!), finding ways to produce my favourite meals, desserts and snacks without animal ingredients. I actually put on a lot of weight (this was a positive, I’d been underweight for years), mostly I think from baking more than ever!

The last thing to go was the seafood; I’d been convinced for a long time that this was free from the concerns of factory farming, which was largely true for wild-caught fish at least. However, much of our seafood is also farmed, with similar associated problems, plus requiring huge amounts of wild-caught small fish for feed, to the detriment of seabird populations (as a bird lover this is the killer for me!). And wild caught seafoods have a myriad of associated environmental and ethical issues of their own. I realised, reluctantly, that this was also an ethical minefield I was best off out of. In my 24 years to that point I concluded I’d already eaten my fair share of the world’s fish stocks, so I decided to stop. That was a little sad; however, there is so much good food still out there for me it really hasn’t been a major loss. Including chocolate. 😉

Most foods are not made from animals at all, and are therefore on the menu. Almost everything that is can be replaced straightforwardly, especially if you have a good grasp of what flavours and ingredients suit the cuisine you are cooking. For a long time, the only things I couldn’t replace were cheese (for sandwiches and crackers – I could make cheesy sauces and substitute tahini for melted cheese in many recipes), meringues and seafood. Hardly a hardship, especially gotten used to over a period of many years as in my case.

When I went vegan a decade ago, veganism was about where vegetarianism had been in the 1970s – very much a minority lifestyle, seen as a bit unusual, not generally well understood, and you’d have to go to a vegetarian restaurant if you wanted a good meal out, though you could find something to eat in most places, especially if you looked them up beforehand and explained what you did and didn’t eat. There was great icecream and chocolate and yogurt and cream cheese available out there, in specialist shops mostly, but other ‘cheese’ substitutes resembled vanilla-and-Wotsit/Cheeto-flavoured plasticine!

Over the past decade, veganism has grown by over 350% in the UK, and the revolution has been really noticeable the past couple of years. Today veganism is about where vegetarianism was when my sister went veggie as a kid around 20 years ago; you could find something to eat almost anywhere, it was normal for a restaurant to have vegetarian options marked on the menu, sometimes including desserts, and there were a few lazy options like ready meals available if you searched, most people knew a vegetarian, and people generally knew what being vegetarian meant.

We’ve discovered that coconut cream whips like double cream, that the water from a can of chickpeas froths up just like egg white and makes a mean meringue (admit it, egg white is just as gross in its original form…), and even cheeze is becoming edible as some sort of cheese, even if it rarely resembles the particular variety of dairy cheese it claims to mimic. I now have a few brands I buy regularly, after almost a decade cheese-free! And oh how I am having to re-learn the art of self-control now that new vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants are opening up all over town, and café after bakery after tearoom, that I have to walk past every day, now serve irresistible vegan cakes..! Waistline expanding.

My favourite foods today are thai curries and stir fries, chocolate ganache pies, and pretty much anything involving roast aubergines! And pizza. Especially with veggie pepperoni. 😉

As now a relative old-school vegan I’m having to up my game with baking and cooking, and re-learn what I thought were my limits. But over the years I’ve also discovered more and more reasons I’m convinced that veganism is a step in the right direction; it’s no longer just about the environment, though that remains my passion; it’s about loving my global neighbours, about walking kindly alongside other species, about health, about my worship and that of the rest of creation, about understanding others with special diets, and about a love of food and creativity.

Let’s see where things head over the next ten years; I hope we can really begin to shape the world into something a little better.