Last minute summer eco reads

Ethical Superstore presents this exclusive book extract of the new, and hilarious true tale of one man’s journey from self-confessed planet-killing lad to eco-friendly, green-crusader There’s A Hippo In My Cistern. Caught between his conflicting London life of lads and lager and his developing relationship with a radical eco-babe, Pete May tells here of parties at George Monbiot’s in the embryonic days of the Oxford Green movement, as part of his slow conversion from bad football-crazy lad to good greenie a decade later.

In my new Oxford circles the guru of the Greens is George Monbiot. Everyone speaks about him in awed tones and refers to him as simply ‘George’. He’s a Fellow (is that the academic version of being a lad?) at the university and writes columns for the Guardian.

George is the most intellectual man I’ve ever met. His parents are rumoured to be keen Conservatives, but then so are mine. George is a radical with a great grasp of figures and an incisive mind, dedicated to fighting planetary pollution.

He isn’t exactly a football fan though. He says he went to an England game at Wembley once and it epitomised everything he disliked about xenophobia and nationalism. At one of the regular Green picnics we discuss TV. George says there’s so much he can do without watching TV. He could write a column every day there are so many issues to research. He claims that TV is like a boxed fire in the living room. Humans used to tell stories around the campfire but now that oral tradition has been lost.

I discover just how different the Oxford Greens are to my usual acquaintances at a dinner party one night. Everyone speaks of Papua New Guinea as if it’s a suburb of Oxford. The après lentil-bake conversation moves on to private schools and bizarre initiation rituals. One of our party mention something involving a cardboard box and a banana. When my turn for an anecdote comes I have to confess that actually my school didn’t have an initiation ritual. George Monbiot is fiercely anti-public school and decries them for producing ‘emotionally stunted’ members of the ruling class. The revelations about my state school education cause some interest. Suddenly I’m studied with as much interest as if I was an indigenous person from some obscure tribe, which I suppose in a way, I am.

My true inauguration into the Green set comes with an invitation to George Monbiot’s party. No one drives to this venue. In the front garden of George’s two-storey house is a huge mountain of mating bikes. Racing bikes, granny bikes, mountain bikes. Piled on top of each other like a bizarre cyclical sculpture. The sort of thing the EU should do something about.

Inside it’s squeezing room only. In one corner of the living room stand a group of bearded Newbury veterans and members of the Donga Tribe, jamming on bongos, violins and harmonicas singing in pseudo-folkie voices and occasionally blowing tin whistles.

Many guests appear to have been issued with ethnic trousers with drawstrings. A man in a rainbow jumper is slumped on the stairs. Collarless shirts, tweed jackets and endlessly patched trousers are everywhere. This party would never feature on a Glossy magazine’s lifestyle pages. Not a high heel, short skirt or a glass of champagne in sight.

George is unfailingly friendly, performing introductions as if he’s on Question Time. The guests appear impressed by the mention of my commissioned book, but there’s a silence when I mention it’s on something called football. At times it feels less a party and more like a convention of anthropologists. No wonder we have global warming; it’s because the Oxford Greens are doing so much flying around the world studying deforestation, indigenous tribes and Fairtrade fruit.

It does make me wonder if my split existence can really continue. It’s football and TV versus Green picnics and story telling, showbiz parties in London versus tin-whistle affairs in Oxford. Is love worth a future of drawstring trousers? The only solution is to try and not think too hard about it and to gratefully sup several bottles of organically-brewed beer.

There’s A Hippo In My Cistern, published by Harper Collins, is available at Ethical Superstore, priced £7.99.

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