When the Soviet writer Solzhenitsyn was in the gulag, he used to sew bread rations into his mattress, so that if the guards withheld his food, he wouldn’t die.
My sister helpfully reminds me of this as I head off for a week-long juice cleanse, offering to pop a sewing kit in my bag. But there is no bread — nothing chewier than juice, broth, herbal tea — on a juice cleanse. If she were here now, five days in, I’d most likely eat her. As each day passes, the potted plant in my room becomes more nervous.
Yet I have done this before. Twice. I hope to make it an annual thing; like getting your car serviced, except instead of an oil change, it’s beetroot juice and meditation.
The woman who runs the retreat I’m on, at Combe Grove near Bath, tells us about her family. Her aunt is 94, and has been vegan since the 1940s (imagine how hard that would have been); Auntie Bridget still teaches Kundalini yoga, and has just come back from a month in Chile. I want to be Auntie Bridget.
When last on this week-long cleanse (which also involves therapeutic work — the thinking is that your old emotional blockages are easier to access when there is no wall of carbs separating them from you) I felt like ass on a stick for the first three days, but great afterwards. Reinstalled. Rebooted.
This time, instead of wanting to leave after three days, something different is happening. It’s as if my body knows what to expect; like Inside Out, that Pixar film about emotions, it’s sending messages up to my brain not to freak out, that it’s got this. And when the body isn’t concentrating all its energy digesting last night’s pizza, or fogged with sugar, your focus sharpens. You become like how we used to be, before processed food and Deliveroo; alert, awake, senses sharpened. Post-hangry. Alive.
As we move from the fly-and-flop model of holiday because (a) flying and (b) your liver and digestion often need their own holiday afterwards, health tourism is on the up. Looking after yourself is the new black – we may not all end up like Auntie Bridget, but neither do we have to automatically surrender to grimly falling apart as we grow older. No – we can fight back, our weapons grown in organic soil.
They’re feeding us tomorrow. The British and Irish group — there are people here from Cork, Tyrone, Mallow — have displayed heroic stoicism. Nobody has eaten anybody else. One man has been here ten times. But still, by tomorrow we will have gone almost a week without chewing anything, and it could all go a bit Lord of the Flies if we were to keep it up. The fat ones would be the first to go, so I’m relieved about our imminent raw vegan dinner. And yes, it is possible to be wildly excited about courgetti and avocado. I’m salivating even as I type.