It all started in Bristol and ended up in Liverpool via the North Pole. I blame Tim Barford. Tim is a committed vegan as well as the brains and driving force behind VegFest UK, Europe’s biggest veggie events. He is also a fanatical supporter of Everton Football Club. A few years ago he invited Neil down to his fledgling vegan festival in Bristol. I accompanied Neil there and we were blown away by the location and scale of the festival. For reasons long forgotten we never went back down till this year.
In the meantime, Neil had developed a low fat energy bar. He contacted Tim to see if it would be possible to promote the bars at the festival. As it turned out this was not possible but Neil and I decided to go down anyway to see how the festival had progressed.
If we were blown away six years ago, we were staggered when we got to the festival this time. The location had moved to the amphitheatre in the docklands area and now incorporated a sound stage and many more stalls and food outlets. Tim had also assembled a stellar line up of artists including The Farm, Peter Hook, 808 State and the Happy Mondays. We ended up having a brilliant weekend.
Neil is a quiet and modest man, the last thing on his mind is to get up in front of a group of strangers and do a talk. Yet somehow Tim persuaded Neil to join him on stage at one of his talks and demonstrate Neil’s latest concoction, a low fat food replacement smoothie. The stuff of nightmares for Neil.
As it turned out Tim was brilliant with Neil, using his own confidence and enthusiasm to get Neil not just to stand up in front of an audience but to talk fluently and confidently about his football career and to do a very successful smoothie demo.
On the stage prior to this was Fiona Oakes who runs the Tower Hill Stables animal sanctuary with her husband Martin and mother Meg. Fiona runs marathons all over the world with the sole intention of raising money for and the profile of the sanctuary. Fiona had just returned from running the North Pole Marathon when we saw her at the Bristol VegFest. We were shocked to hear Fiona say that she had never liked running but had always been good at it. But we were inspired by her because she said she was motivated by a higher cause, to save the animals. It was all about the animals.
It was an epiphany for Neil and for me. We decided there and then that we both had to make better use of our skills and knowledge if we wanted to be true to our own ethics. As Neil said if Fiona can get out of bed at 2am in the morning to do a training run that she hated every minute of driven by her cause then surely we could get over our own inhibitions and concerns which paled into insignificance next to that.
Apart from still being super fit and a shining example of what can be achieved on a low fat vegan diet, Neil is encyclopaedic on all things to do with health and fitness. In addition, Neil was getting frustrated with the emergence of ‘plant-based’ dietary regimes many of which include animal products and/or are not based on any vegan ethics. So Neil coined the term ‘plant-exclusive’. Given the success of his experience at VegFest and with his commitment to and passion for exercise, ethical veganism and a ‘plant-exclusive’ diet I suggested to him that he should promote his own experiences and ideas. I expected him to say no. He said he would think about it.
A couple of days later he rang me. “I’ve been thinking about what you said. I like the idea but I want you to help me.” I said “Great, when do we start?” He gave me possibly the worst response he could have. “When you lose some weight and get fit!”. I was taken aback and not a little hurt. I knew I was miles away from Neil’s level of fitness but for a 58 year old who likes his food and a tipple now and again (emphasis on again) I thought I was in pretty reasonable shape. I walked at least 3 times a week dammit.
However, Neil is nothing if not honest and he said “if you want to join me on stage promoting a low fat vegan diet and my fitness regime then you need to be doing it or I’m not doing it”. Oh for the quiet and timid Neil before Tim had gotten his hands on him!
I was the perfect example of the type of person Neil wanted to target. Over 50, a committed vegan, overweight and not as fit as I could be. So I knew it made sense. I knew I could probably cope with the diet change but could I really force myself to go over the threshold of a gym? I have always hated gyms and what they stand for and I have had an especial dislike of weight (resistance) training. Neil would not budge so I had to. I agreed. But only with the proviso that we had some sort of scientific proof that the regime was working . More of which in the next post.
Time will tell if I end up condoning or condemning Tim Barford and Fiona Oakes for unleashing on me the force and might that is now Neil Robinson, Great Vegan Athlete