I wrote about “My Neighbour Joe” in a previous note. He was a taciturn man and it took a while for us to get to know much about each other. In time, he asked me what I did and what my work was.
“I’m a naturopath.”
He thought about that for a while, maybe an hour or two as we worked away on removing a slab of concrete that had been put in the centre of my back garden by the previous owner. She must have been focused on domestic things and been determined to have all their clothes swinging in the Australian sun for most of the week.
“What’s a naturopath then?” Joe asked.
I took my time to explain, mostly between puffs. Although Joe was grey haired to my thirty-five-year-old blond hair, I already knew I had to work hard to keep up with him.
He was clearly unimpressed by the idea of a naturopath taking over from his doctor, but he was interested in the nutrition side of things.
“Should I change my diet then?”
“I don’t know Joe, it depends on what you eat now and how you feel. What do you have for breakfast?”
Long pause, but I knew better than to rush him.
“The usual, you know.”
With further but gentle prodding, I got it out of him.
“Cornflakes, milk and sugar, toast, margarine and marmalade.”
“Just a cup of coffee and a couple of biscuits, usually digestives.”
“Usually a sandwich.” As this transpired, his sandwich was mainly white bread, margarine and ham or cheese, plus a slice of tomato and a leaf of lettuce. In the afternoon, he had more coffee and another couple of biscuits, mostly chocolate this time. I was working hard to conceal my dismay. This was not the sort of diet I would recommend. I had better hope though, for dinner.”
“Meat and veg, either steak, a chop or a piece of chicken (this was getting better), with frozen peas and mashed potato (not so good). Then ice-cream (not good), usually with some tinned fruit, it is easier to keep on the shelf.”
Finally, he saved the day – at least slightly. It seems he sat in front of the television most evenings with a bowl of fresh fruit on his lap, mostly grapes.
“Should I change my diet?” Joe asked.
“Do you feel well? Do you have any health problems or aches and pains?”
I thought this unlikely as he could run the 300 yards of his lengthy garden almost as fast as I could. He climbed his tall trees to lop off branches and was generally physically active, nor had I ever known him to be unwell.
“No Joe, I wouldn’t change a thing. You have obviously found a diet that is exactly right for you.”
Clearly, his diet could be improved, at least in quality: wholemeal bread with butter instead of margarine, more fresh vegetables, less ice-cream, but it would have meant an enormous upheaval for him and probably without short-term gain. He would have been unimpressed and unsettled.
It would have been entirely different had I not thought him to be in his 60s – retired at least – fit, well and healthy and deeply entrenched in his current routines.
We continued to work in companionable silence.
I moved to a new house a few years later and lost touch with him. He didn’t like to talk on the phone, or write letters, and so I do not know how his health developed. I suspect it is important to know when to leave well alone as well as when to offer or intrude with help.