About a fortnight before Christmas I had a terrible fright. I had spent the afternoon meeting a friend over coffee at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, a favourite haunt of mine, well known for its savoury croissant sandwiches at lunchtime and an imaginative choice of baking to follow. The place closed at 5pm, we said our goodbyes on the pavement outside and I contemplated my options.
Immediately opposite, across the eastern end of Queen Street, before it becomes York Place – the current central city tram terminus – was a bus stop where I could get my bus home. A hundred yards or so to the right was a double pedestrian crossing, which would have guaranteed safe passage, but I was tired and didn't fancy walking the extra distance. There was a lull in the traffic both sides, but it was dark, I was wearing a face mask and a pair of bifocals, which tend to mist up above the mask. I also had on my heavy dark winter coat, a cross-body bag and was carrying a small shopping bag. I calculated the odds. I reckoned I had time to cross. So I stepped off the pavement and immediately found myself sprawled in the roadway, glasses tossed to the ground.
You hate yourself when this happens. I was in shock. I couldn't move. But within seconds a young woman was at my right hand side, trying to help me up. She wasn't strong enough. Then a young man arrived at my left and between them they got me and my glasses, fortunately unbroken, to the other side of the road before the traffic started to move again.
There was a welcome bench beside the bus stop. I sat down, gratefully. The young man disappeared, but the young woman joined me. We established we were getting the same bus, but I was barely articulate. Had these two young people not helped me as promptly as they did, I shudder to think what might have happened.
There was a junction with traffic lights just beyond where I had crossed, and a pedestrian crossing across North St David Street leading up to St Andrew Square, but none directly across Queen Street. You always hope traffic will be careful coming up to traffic lights, but they would have been green, and drivers might have been impatient to get home at the end of a working day. Would they have seen me in my dark coat, a bundle of clothes on the road? But what had caused me to fall? Across the road, I saw that at the point where I had stepped off the pavement there were two rather uneven steps down, not just one. In the dark, and with the face mask further obscuring my view, I hadn't noticed.
My own stupid fault. But a definite warning. I'm no longer as young as I once was. I won't take such a risk again. Some months ago, a friend my age also had a fall, resulting in a cracked femur and a subsequent hip replacement. My winter coat probably preserved me from injury and the two young people from anything worse. Phew!
Now, from time to time, I do enjoy a bacon butty. Whenever we spend a holiday in a hotel, I always have a cooked breakfast, something I rarely do at home. However, married to a Muslim, who doesn't eat pork, I don't often buy ham or bacon. I can, and do, occasionally, but it doesn't seem sociable when it's against one's partner's profound beliefs and the smell of cooked bacon is quite pervasive.
So when we visited one of our large, local supermarkets last week I was intrigued by its range of vegan products, including some meat-free, smoked bacon rashers. Now my circumstances are peculiar to me, but why would anyone want to buy bacon that isn't actually bacon? It's a paradox, an oxymoron: meat-free bacon. I suppose it's playing to those who might want to experiment with veganism without wishing to sacrifice a taste for non-vegan foods they have grown used to. I examined the rashers lying neatly in their container. They certainly had an air of slices of streaky bacon, but something wasn't right. The colour of the fat perhaps? It could have been made of marzipan. Not quite a child's sweetie version of proper food but definitely not the real thing.
I decided to try it anyway. When I took it home I examined the ingredients. The main ones seemed to be soya and wheat protein. There was water, soya bean oil, rapeseed oil, salt, carageenan, guar gum, methyl cellulose, natural flavourings, colouring foods, including blackcurrant, radish and apple, starch, smoke flavouring, bamboo and/or potato fibre and citric acid. They didn't exactly make my mouth water, but detailed lists of ingredients on packaging can be like that anyway. I'm used to checking that products don't have meat elements, like beef or pork gelatine in desserts, for instance.
I fried a couple of rashers. There was next to no smell, certainly none of the normal succulent, come hither smell of frying bacon. I also wasn't sure when they were ready and overcooked them on one side. My husband wasn't disposed to try them, but I ate them. A bit like cardboard, I thought. The next day I fried another two rashers, more carefully this time and ate them between two slices of toast. I could faintly detect something of the flavour of bacon. How can they do that? They are advertised as 'High in protein', so I did feel I was consuming food. But it was strange. Is this the way of the future? No meat, no dairy, as the demands of climate change crowd in upon us?
Gillean Somerville-Arjat is a writer and critic based in Edinburgh