She’s a saucy little minx, that city. Just when you think you’ve had your fill, she crawls back under your skin and into your soul. Don’t get me wrong, London is one hell of a girl to have on your side. She treats me right, shows me inspiration every day and isn’t so bad on the eyes either.
The thing about London that truly soaks me to my bones is the history of the city and subsequent marvel that accompanies such antiquity. I can smell it in the air and touch it in the streets from the instant the plane touches down. To visually witness certain sights and events and buildings will never cease to amaze me, no matter how cliche and “touristy” they may be. I’m looking at you, Big Ben, you big beautiful clock tower you.
Which, of course, brings me to the other side of London’s, or perhaps more broadly, England’s past I have always been dying to experience: the taste of a bygone era.
I’ve just touched down in Los Angeles from my annual time in London and it’s neighboring areas. There are so many options for eating healthy that really, I can’t complain in the slightest. The problem? I wanted to experience the REAL London, just like I wanted to experience the real Munich and Dublin, which were other stops on my agenda (but more on those mistresses later). And when you want to grasp the truth of a city, food is involved.
I knew going into this that it would not be easy. I was staying with my closest friends, some of whom I have known for nearly a decade. These friends all happen to be male, and when you have friends of the male species whom are British, some things are certain, especially when it comes to the business of chowing down.
For starters, your male friends will be more surprisingly aware than you thought possible that “Bridge has certain restrictions” and will be quite receptive to what you can and cannot eat. As my one friend Dan kept saying over and over “yes, but remember, no land animals or cheese for Bridge.” The expression “No Land Animals” became such an ongoing joke that I am still considering having it printed on shirts for us all to wear like we’re part of some British food gang.
Second, you will always have beer with your meals. In the event your friends are feeling abnormally kind and classy at that particular dining excursion, wine will come into play. Either way, you’re going to get a bit tipsy at every single meal of every single day. Let me repeat that: You will have alcohol at every. single. meal.
This is an unfortunate reality to my life: I sadly have not been able to eat certain meats since I was about 16. There was a period when I was 18-20 where I decided to eat whatever I wanted again; the instant I gave them back up, my guts reacted positively to the change. I’ve not looked back since then and have no plans to ever dip into the pork, chicken, beef, etc. pool again. Strangely, though, my insides have a truce with certain fishes, at least for the time being.
As if the “no meat” clause that was written somewhere in the contract of the building of my intestines wasn’t enough, my body also decided a long time ago to have a volatile relationship with alcohol. Unlike fine wines, it doesn’t seem to have gotten any better with age.
Meat and alcohol, the 2 simple things that the majority of those over the age of 21 within the United States swear by and I could barely look at them.
But again, this is London, where traditional beef stews and roast dinners are on nearly every single pub menu. And yes, you read that right: I found myself in some pub or another on an almost daily basis.
And thus I present where the silver lining of me being able to eat fish comes into play. I can honestly say that I most likely ate fish and chips about a dozen times when I was in London. I also was able to stomach a pint with each meal, though some days it didn’t go over as well as it did with others.
On my last night in London, Dan, myself and our other friend Matt decided to have one final night out before seeing me off back to LA the next morning. As I mentioned previously, these 2 were part of a group of 7 guys that I am so close to, I simply tell people they are my brothers rather than fully explain that they may be some of the only people on the planet who really get me. Dan and I waited for Matt to get out of work, and naturally, I chose to suck down one last plate of fish and chips.
Rookie move. While Dan and Matt are always concerned about what I am eating, that night, what I was drinking was not up for discussion. Jäger bombs, beer and an attempted kidnapping by a 21 year old Irish colleague of Matt’s was apparently on the agenda. Even though it was spaced out over roughly 5-7 hours, I still found myself hanging out with my trusted BFF Porcelain Throne at about 8 pm. It was my own, doing, really. Any other 27 year old could handle a pint of beer and shot of Jäger mixed with some fish and fries. Just not one who has Crohn’s Disease.
I’ve mentioned this before, back in my extended essay “It’s kind of a funny story” that I wrote on my birthday of this year: that’s the thing with Crohn’s. You start feeling so good and so healthy, you forget that you need to tread lightly because you are, in fact, sick.
When I got out of the hospital this past March, I hit the ground running in my attempt at “recovery”. I cut out all the foods and drinks the doctors told me to, I began exercising 5 times a week and barely went out with my friends. I immediately booked my flights to England, then began binge watching horrible tv shows (Reign, anyone?) and started writing new novels whilst re writing existing ones I had already completed. I stuck to 2 food groups: salmon sushi and water. I was working out so much, by June, I had the beginning of a 6-pack. I hadn’t touched alcohol in God only knows how many months.
In the middle of July, something snapped in my mind. I was invited to an old friends birthday party who I hadn’t seen in awhile. I ate a few bits of food that I figured (key word here) was all I’d be able to stomach and talked and caught up with people that I had neglected to see since the Ice Age ended. Afterwards, they were all going to a bar that I hadn’t set foot in in about 3 years. I decided to tag along.
About 30 minutes into us being there, a group of 4 men walked in. One had a full arm sleeve and looked like an extra from The Outsiders; another was tall and had a chipped front tooth. The other 2 had enough facial hair to walk out with wives in less than 10 minutes flat. As we later found out, 3 of them were from Manchester and the other was from Munich.
Most likely because everyone apart from myself that I was there with was single, they joined our party and shots began flowing. I declined the first 2 rounds and made my way to the bar for another glass of water. One of the Englishmen came over to order more booze. He asked why I didn’t drink and I gave him the brief run down about the recent hospital stay, Crohn’s and my health. He listened curiously and politely and when I finished my pre rehearsed speech, he said something I couldn’t shake for several days:
“Well that sucks. I’m glad you are eating right these days and feeling good but really, life is for living and as awesome it is that you’re alright now, seems like you aren’t really do it. Being healthy doesn’t mean you need to stop feeling alive.”
I stood there, completely speechless. He was right, really. With Crohn’s, you have to be careful, but with the exception of making time for writing, I had taken my illness to a completely unnecessary level. I was using it as a crutch and an excuse.
I want to be HEALTHY, not flawless. I want to feel good about myself, my body, my insides, not be the next Jillian Michaels. I just want my stomach muscles to be prepared for when I do have a crazy moment of food intake. I’m not saying I don’t want to be aware of my condition, I simply want to be aware of how it influences my life.
So yea, I did throw up in London on my last night there. But I also had an incredible time and lived the experience I was begging to have. I got to have my taste of a bygone era in a city that captured my soul.
And hell with it anyways, my body forces me to throw up nearly weekly as it is. Thus is Crohn’s Life. Good news is, it’s my life and I’m living it now.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front all the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” – Thoreau
PS Those 4 guys that walked into that bar in July? I ended up in Munich with them for Oktoberfest. Because sometimes, you just have to live.
PPS To read my essay (no, not this one, the other one!) I mentioned, “It’s kind of a funny story”, please click here: http://bridgetblack.tumblr.com/post/87125396398/its-kind-of-a-funny-story-10-years-with-crohns