Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Huge skies north of London

It wasn't until I discovered the countryside north of London that I experienced these huge, endless skies which make you feel that you can touch Heaven. I had seen skies like this in rural America and marvelled at them then. Every time I drive out of London and reach Buckinghamshire, the magnificent skyline begins. BBC3 in the background with preferably Dvorak or Schubert and I am lifted outside of the monotony of daily living. This vista and a melody to move my innermost core remind me of the fragility and beauty of life. Simply wonderful. Funny, isn't it, how sometimes everything we need is right there waiting. Last night on my way home from work:
Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

What that selfie says about you...

I'm in the second half of my life which means that I'm in my 50s. This is a strange time to be alive- no longer young and nubile and not officially a geriatric either. As the body ages, the thought of mortality is ever present on our minds. There is a sense that time is running out and all those things that we would like to still do, well, we may never be able to.

The luscious ripeness which women, in particular, display in their child-making years, disappears completely after the menopause. By your 50s you have grown into your face and body and if you don't like what you see, that says more about what's in your head than on your face.

I wondered what had become of my classmates from my primary school and secondary school years and how they looked today so I spent several hours one weekend trawling Facebook. To be fair, everyone looks pretty good and without wanting to sound like a snob, I think a lot of that has to do with upbringing- our families tended to be middle class professionals and our mothers or housekeepers cooked the evening meal every day. Families ate together and as I recall from spending numerous sleepovers at the homes of my schoolmates, all of our families lived pretty much the same way and certainly a shop bought ready-made meal was never served at the dinner table. It would appear that our diets have kept us looking passable in our latter years.

Judging from the happy family snaps, and umpteen selfies, I can only assume that the subliminal message behind sharing these photos on a regular basis, is 'Aren't I lucky'? and 'Aren't I beautiful?' Naturally, every posted photo receives the desired approbation that yes, 'Aren't you lucky!' and 'Aren't you beautiful!'.  After several hours spent seeing a pattern of 'Look at me!' and the resulting seal of approval over and over again, I suddenly began to feel, a) queasy and b) uncomfortable with my own life.

'Cogito ergo sum.', barked my hound as he took yet another selfie, slowing down our walk considerably. Photo copyright SvD.

What about Miss Frump who has a genuinely engaging and interesting personality? Why isn't she on Facebook? Remember the girl at school that no one found attractive- she was too fat, smelled and had greasy hair? Chances are she looks like an older version of herself now but you can be sure she's not on Facebook. Why would she post a selfie in her size 20 dress? How would we make her feel to know she never married or had children, never had more than the occasional badly paying job and is essentially so nondescript she could be invisible. Miss Frump might never have the courage to admit her averageness because guess what, not a whole lot of pats on the back will come her way. Like the virgin who watches porn, Miss Frump probably surfs Facebook longingly wishing she could be a part of the action, desperate to join any reality apart from her own.

From a philosophical perspective, Facebook takes the non-participant on a toxic journey which can only result in self-loathing. The message is that we are the sum of someone else's view of ourselves. If we're attractive, if we can display the smiling-family-with-adoring-spouse photo, we've won the lottery in life and somehow we are better. The snapshot of smugness seems to be our only accomplishment. Out of the  dozens of profiles I viewed on Facebook, no one made mention of what was going on in their heads and what they had learned from life. After all, we're in our 50s with more than half a century of experiences to brag about, yet is the end game of life a photograph of our perfect irreality? And the idea that we are 'better' than others which is why we are willing to shout about it in a public domain, creates a dangerous precedent: remember 'some animals are more equal than others'? An undercurrent of narcissism pervaded more or less every Facebook profile I visited. Co-operation, community, solidarity, empathy, an interest in other people, the human condition, the soul life, all of these are alien territory to the narcissist. And if you hadn't realised, it's all about me.

Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Give me the sodden British countryside any day.

How I wish I grew up on a farm such as this. I would have spent all my time playing with lambs and fishing for guppies in the babbling brook. Some kids play pokemon, others live in their imaginations, chasing butterflies. This remains my idyll where my muddied wellies are my faithful companions (and my two hounds). There is more poetry in the dawn and setting of the sun and in the dance of starlings or wild ducks streaking against a crimson sky than there could ever be in humanity.

Photo copyright S. van Dalen.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Sunshine and showers

I was born at 2.30pm which explains why I was never an early morning person or so I thought until I conditioned myself to get up at the crack of dawn. Human beings have an incredible built-in mechanism which allows them to get used to most things and to program our minds however we want, even in matters of the heart.

I've been thinking of a former French boyfriend quite a lot in the past few weeks. When that happens it usually means the person in question is wondering about me too. I think we were madly in love once- I use the word 'think' because more than twenty-five years have passed since we met. Were we? Who knows? The fact is we're not together and much has happened in both of our lives, the equivalent of War and Peace in mine and I can only assume, the same in his.

There is no trajectory in anyone's life which is plain easy and nothing is ever what it seems. One of my university friends deliberately cut off contact because she struggled financially and found herself unemployed. I only learned of this some twenty years later and by chance from a third person. In our shallow and facile 21st century living where social media dictates that we are all wonderful, successful and beautiful, if you're out on a limb, you don't actually want to be reminded of not being perfect. The same could well apply to my French boyfriend. Although he was relatively successful and well-known when we met, there's nothing to be found about him on the internet. Does this mean he is dead? Or could it be that he disappeared into obscurity and is padding peacefully around in his slippers talking to his houseplants? Maybe he became a drug addict and his career crashed. Maybe he lost all his money and is living on social benefits on an estate reminiscing about the life he once had and the one woman he should never have let go.

None of us will ever fully understand if we made the right decisions in our lives. The late John Hurt famously replied when asked if he had regrets, that yes, he regretted everything because in hindsight he could have always behaved differently. Just as my heart was broken, I'm responsible for breaking a few too and pretty shamelessly at the time although I only understood that after the fact. And yes, I probably should have listened to my mother and married DR BORING WITH ZERO PERSONALITY but at least by now I'd have been enjoying a comfortable retirement trapped in an utterly loveless marriage for the sake of it but thankfully too comatose to notice. (Cue the joke of the husband and wife who claim to get on very well because they never speak.)

I still have the couple of love letters my French boyfriend wrote to me. The last time I found them by accident as I was throwing stuff away to prepare for a house-move, I couldn't believe my eyes. I remember it all as if it were only yesterday: the way we looked at each other when we were introduced (when kismet had to be and was not forced through a computer screen), that feeling of 'there you are', how he captivated every waking thought, and yet if we were to cross paths in the street we probably could not bear to speak to each other. I think that's true love. When no amount of words could express what could have been or should have been and how sorry we both must be that we didn't have the guts to forge a life together. Sometimes there are those who place their stamp so indelibly on our hearts that it is simply too painful to revisit the past or even see them again because we could never recapture what we once had. So what do we do instead? We convince ourselves that life must go on and we just carry on.

My late mother had no end of suitors in her time and turned down many marriage proposals before she deigned to marry my father. One suitor, a Frenchman called Claude, never forgot her. Several years into her marriage with children of her own, my mother was riding down an escalator in the London Underground one day when she heard someone call her name. It was Claude. They spent hours over coffee filling in the gaps of the previous two decades. Claude eventually died and to the end kept photos of my mother which he would often gaze at wistfully. Claude's wife, Marie, informed my mother of this after Claude had died. Even when Alzheimer's had destroyed Claude's memory or so it would seem, the one person he remembered and would speak of was my mother.

Love therefore shares a lot in common with our British weather which is notoriously unpredictable and follows no particular pattern. For example, it's not unusual for warm sunshine to follow an endless freezing downpour or for a menacing cloud to suddenly waft away revealing the bluest of skies. And in the summer we moan endlessly that it's too hot and how we wish it would rain! In the course of life we will experience both sunshine and showers and more often than not, it will rain on the days we forget our umbrella at home. We discover too late that matters of the heart are as transient as the clouds in the sky and when we look back, we only can see the happiness we thought we knew.

Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 27 January 2017

'Clean eating' = AAaaargh!

I watched the lovely Ella Mills on you tube the other day out of curiosity as the 'clean eating' movement was garnering criticism in the press. She was making a 'risotto' by puréeing squash and pouring it over rice. That ain't a risotto, honey. That's puréed vegetable mixed with boiled rice. Risotto is made with Arborio rice, stock and takes time over a gentle heat. It's a bit like calling me Sophia Loren when I'm obviously not her.

I despair and have much experience of being a vegetarian- I used to live on soya mince and other 'good' stuff. Having been brought up eating bloody steak I eventually relented and returned to my carnivorous ways when I began working in London where the pace is relentless and the hours long. London is so competitive that you could arrive at work and before you've eaten your croissant, be shown the door. Stamina and balls are required to survive London and a vegan diet would leave you exhausted, cold and prone to much farting. Hardly conducive to schmoozing clients on The Sunday Times Rich List.

Here's the thing that all these deluded and no doubt, overly idle devotees are missing: a vegan diet was derived for the purpose of achieving spiritual awareness. By not consuming meat and the energy of animals, one was meant to become enlightened and closer to reaching nirvana or bliss. Meat is grounding- it is heavy and hard to digest and keeps us rooted. In order to achieve enlightenment, the body must be light and the mind clear. The yogi in India who's life is dedicated to spiritual awakening survives on fruit, nuts and pulses and would not dare to corrupt his pathway to bliss by consuming animals products, even cheese or eggs.

The trend of clean living is nothing new but its application in today's society is as always, misguided. One wonders who comes up with the next trend for the sheep to gobble because that's what it is. The irony in the preparation and purchase of ingredients of the 'clean living' movement is that it is expensive and relies on processed vials of this- or-that extract or powdered roots or enzymes extracted from the tooth fairy's breath. Let's be clear- those vials are overpriced and are made by a large scale manufacturer whose sole purpose is to turn a profit. The supreme irony therefore is that in order to clean out our systems, become healthier and save animals from being killed for food, we should spend more and support globalisation in all its destructive glory.

The lovely Ella Mills is 25 years old with an excellent pedigree. She clearly saw a gap in the market hewn from her own experience of eating badly, saw the light as it were, and in the process improved her health and her bank balance. Good for her. But as a serious French cook myself who loves food, the preparation of it, the respect for it and in memory of all those during the occupation of Paris who during WW2  ate cats to survive, please don't tell me that this trend of 'clean eating' is anything more that complete nonsense. If you want to get healthy- eat unprocessed food in as close as possible to its natural state. And don't eat a lot of it. Everything in moderation except fads of which none is better than any at all.

My homemade organic lamb stew with hand made buttery dumplings.
Photo copyright SvD.

And here's what I look like now- in my 50s, stressed out, work long hours, up at 5am to walk my hounds, red wine every single day with supper. No health problems, ideal weight, normal blood pressure. Just suffering with an aversion to gullibility.
Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

My favourite things

Every once in a while I find something in an antique fair that makes me go: 'Wow!!!' and I literally just have to have it. Here's an example: A disjointed hare. Around where I live, these hares are meant to bring you good luck. Isn't he lovely? Pride of place in my study where I simply cannot stop smiling when I see him.

Photo copyright SvD.