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Monday, 26 January 2015

Libby Lane - not in my name

Libby Lane, the first female bishop in the Church of England was consecrated today. Two things stand out - there was a lone protester in the ceremony at York Minster and overwhelmingly, all the  messages on Twitter are of delight and support for this 'great move'. The CoE sees itself as progressing change by allowing women to become bishops. I take issue with religious doctrine and the word 'change'. It is quite impossible to be all things to all people hence the schism within CoE over the issue of homosexuality within its ranks, a debate which has divided many particularly the more conservative members of the church. Of course this raises the argument that one 'should get with the program' and 'move with the times'. Yet there is no neutral agenda ever. The very word infers a game of politics where someone will benefit. And where there are winners, so too are there losers.

The Catholic Church is wholly inflexible on a number of core issues which define the church's teachings. Whole continents would literally have to be displaced before the Church would assuage demands for 'radical change'. One might hear murmurs of 'subtle' shifts but is it so? The process of research, discussion and consensus within the Catholic Church takes years and remains to this day highly secretive. So one is politely advised not to hold one's breath. But in the meantime, the church remains what it had always intended to be: a set of ideas borne of spiritual searching and a saviour recognised as Jesus Christ who offers comfort in a cruel world. We go to church in order to feel lifted beyond the confines of our earthly lives. The message in the church's teachings has always been about love which in its purest form, has no agenda.

Photo copyright SvD.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

50 Shades of Grey = Oh, dear!

When 50 Shades of Grey was selling like so many hotcakes that its author began earning zillions per second and women literally all over the world were left panting at the frisson the book's hero was wont to cause, I was probably gardening. Popular culture and I have a dislike for each other- mostly because I have a pathological hatred of being told what to do or to think. So if a book's on a bestseller list, it'll be another hundred years before I get round to buying it (and only because I found it going for a song in a charity shop). But I must confess....

Because I don't have a TV, I get all my news on the internet and every so often if I want to download the video of the furry dog speaking German or something, those darn movie trailers pop up and cannot be stopped. 29, 28, 27 secs and one is forced to watch the same drivel over and over. (By the way there are movie trailers that give the entire plot away and I cannot understand who thinks this is a good idea but that's a story for another day). So there I was attempting to eat a packet of crisps, with bits falling onto my old jumper full of moth holes, and "Mr. Bloody Grey Will See You Now" kept thrusting out at me from the computer. Eventually I succumbed to my cheap, despicable curiosity to know why I should read the said book and managed to retain a modicum of respect by not actually purchasing a copy but rather by finding a website that had pre-digested (i.e. condensed) the entire book into half a dozen pages. Every event/plot sequence, description/ interaction between characters along with explicit extracts of the sex scenes were kept intact. So my encounter with Mr. Grey lasted around 3 and a half minutes by the time we had both been satiated with what, well, let's not go there. I think I must have looked like Alice in Wonderland with mouth agape and glasses hanging off the tip of the nose and then suddenly the urge to rub one's eyes and go, "Good grief, that's it? That's what women the world over consider a good read?" At that precise moment I must have come very close to contemplating hari kiri.

Let's put 50 Shades into perspective. Everyone agrees it ain't a literary masterpiece. So no one's buying it because it wreaks of Jane Austen-esque quality. Secondly, the two main characters are in their twenties, an age where all manner of sexual shenanigans are par for the course given that one is entitled to live a little in one's youth. Two protagonists of the book are young and therefore beginning a journey of some sort. Perhaps the author considered this very carefully in order to make as much dosh as possible. Sequel after sequel can keep coming before those two make it to 50. But I would beg to argue: sequel after sequel of what exactly? The first book was about two people tortured and angst-ridden. There is only so much torture and angst one can consume in vast quantities in one's life before it becomes self obsessive and deranged and NARCISSISTIC. The plot is about as obvious as that fly floating around in my soup bowl- it is without doubt that he will fall for her as she teaches him to love. And they will no doubt replace the S&M with baby blankets in pink and blue because the prospect of a relationship surviving on one person abusing the other makes for a very sick story indeed and intolerable in the long term or for more than half a nanosecond in my case.

The irony of 50 Shades is that there aren't any, no character development per se. A thin plot about a damaged character and a young virgin discovering sex, mistaking it for love and wanting more, but somehow this is attractive enough to sell to a voraciously hungry and infinite market. Here's the thing: 50 Shades ignores all the tried and tested rules of writing a memorable story- clearly defined characters each with their own arc or personal journey, sub plots with equally memorable characters, an easily recognizable tone or theme running through the story (redemption, trial through adversity, doomed loved etc), a strong opening ("Aujourd'hui maman est morte.", "It was the best of times, the worst of times."). In 50 Shades, we have the following opening: “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.” And there you have everything you need to know about 50 Shades of Grey, the books and the movie: me, myself and I once again infatuated with myself. And quite possibly some of the lowest standards in writing ever on planet earth.

From a philosophical perspective, eons from now, wise men will be pondering the meaning of vacuous, pointless, forgettable prose sent merely to test minds that would otherwise be challenged unless immediately gratified sexually. A bit like furtive sex, trashy literature happens fast and the bang is supposedly worth the effort. A more tragic tinge on the popularity of this senseless book is that women have rejoiced in the bondage scenes which essentially demand a passive female participant. When she's not being told what to do, she's happy to be abused. So much for feminism, that filthy little word. Once again we don't get a strong but bruised female with half a brain, oh no, we get depth greater than entire oceans: “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.” Suppose we switched that first line to: "I would have wanted to cry but felt my heart more arid than a desert."
"J'aurais voulu pleurer mais je sentais mon coeur plus aride que le désert.", André Gide).

The film has been hotly anticipated and is due for release any day soon - hence my overdose of the trailer. Are packs of women expected in the cinemas who will masturbating in frustration in the back seats? Will there be an orgasmic chorus chimed to perfection with the simulated onscreen gymnastics? Truly the popularity of this tiny book is both comical and depraved- a perfect reflection of a shallow, clueless and brain dead populace. Frankly, the whole thing just makes one want to weep great, big tears of sadness, without a drop of sexual ecstasy in any of them.

Study in black and white, oil on canvas, copyright SvD.


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Radio: Happy Days!

Now that I'm doing the Sunday Weekender on Susy Radio, I do get to meet some interesting people. This is me last Sunday, with Cannes Film Festival winner, Olga Matkovska, who won for her short, Ridley's Corner.


Sunday, 18 January 2015

Food allergy/intolerance/etc- WHATEVER!

When I was growing up in the 60s/70s, I cannot recall a single classmate who had a food intolerance or allergy. My contemporaries scoffed everything in sight and memories of childhood birthday parties and teenage Barbeques included food and lots of it. The only difference I can fathom between the life then and the so-called allergies that seemingly everyone suffers from now, would be this: in those days families ate together - the main meal  of the day was consumed in the evening when the head of the household had returned from work and the children's homework was finished. The meal was invariably prepared by the mother and together the family would catch up on the day's events and almost always, the meal would end with an argument about who would wash the dishes. On Sundays, the roast with all the trimmings was a much anticipated feast and as the children got older, everyone chipped in with the preparation of the meal.

This week the subject of food and diseases mysteriously disappearing after a radical shift in diet was all the rage in the press. I find the born-again-food-obsessives to be a bit of a joke, really. Essentially food obsessives are those who never ate properly and used to survive on a diet of processed food and snacks. All of a sudden, when their bodies start to object to the abuse, these food-obsessives finally learn how to eat properly, write a book about  it and become lifestyle gurus. They would have us spend hundreds of pounds on ingredients, condiments and seasonings, plus dedicate hours every day to the preparation of dehydrated raw food recipes or brownies in anything but name. That's all well and good but I often argue that human beings evolved eating really simple seasonal food. When our ancestors weren't dragging women by the hair into a cave after consuming half a raw dinosaur, they were roasting a piece of meat and snacking on berries and nuts (to give them energy to chase women and hunt). Food consumption is about time and place and budget. In the UK, we have a long history of eating gruel (cereal boiled into a sludge that is actually very healthy) and washed down with beer while snacking on oysters. Oysters used to be very cheap hence their popularity. Beer was safer to drink than water and again, gruel was cheap but nourishing the latter being vitally important in order to survive cold temperatures.

I eat a very simple diet. I love fancy French food but on a day-to-day basis, I eat like a peasant. Slow cooked meat and vegetables, casseroles that I make in bulk and freeze- easy, bland and very nourishing. And if it isn't in season, I don't eat it. This is my small homage to nature and the universe- to respect the cycle and rhythm in the natural world. My reasoning for eating the way I do is this: I'm middle-aged and I would rather have good health than loads of money in the bank. Both my parents spent years lingering in bad health before they died. I am determined not to go down that road and therefore keep myself as healthy as I can but I don't obsess about it. I eat chocolate after a proper meal. I drink wine every day but never have more than two glasses. I love cognac after supper. I refuse to be faddish about food and permit me to say to all celebrity chefs out there:  food is not entertainment. Food is about life and love. I cook for people I love. I cook to live. And be happy.

This is what I cooked and ate last week:

Shepherd's Pie with Brussels Sprouts (stale Camembert cheese made a nice topping):

 Chicken Livers with Cavalo Nero and Bacon:
Mutton Stew and Boiled Rice:


Sausages with Puy Lentils:

Spatzle with Sauerkraut:


Beef Stew with Chips and Sprouts:

Photos copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Regret versus remorse


Before my father died, I wrote him a long letter about what he had meant to me and how much I adored and loved him. I learnt that to my father's dying day, the letter remained beside his bed and he would frequently re-read it. I LOVED my father, a deep, moving love in which whatever wrong I had committed, knowingly or unknowingly, was irrelevant- the unconditional affection that came from my papa is something I have never experienced since.

Deep love resembles deep remorse in the depth of its sheer emotion. Remorse stirs up huge feelings of guilt and sadness at something which we have done and by which we will measure ourselves forever. Remorse is the memory one wishes one didn't have. Regret on the other hand, is the facile, skin-deep attempt at sorrow and which is usually followed by no change in behaviour whatsoever. The Chairman of the Board regrets to decline your kind invitation, etc. The adulterer regrets cheating on his wife. The mistress regrets being a mistress and so on. Remorse on the other hand is the catatonic reaction to all of the above.

I always read very old books, preferably from the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, where the written word conveyed the tragic-comedy of human existence without the more colloquial familiarity of modern-day authors. The concept of regret versus remorse has posed a moral dilemma forever. Since time immemorial, philosophers have sat around reflecting endlessly on why they suffer more from regret than remorse- and are pained to discover how vain their own thinking is. Remorse stirs up connotations of guilt after pleasure, a theme that has filled entire libraries and even started wars.

Last week we had the most awful and tragic events take place in Paris. None of it made any sense and now that the dust has settled and sadly, the French have begun to bury their dead, there is a tortuous cloud of regret and despair hanging over the capital and indeed every Western country on the planet. The Latin word for remorse is paenitentia which translates as ‘repentance’ or ‘penitence’. When we do bad things, our soul must experience a type of penance that leads to retribution. However much it has become fashionable to be an atheist, we cannot ignore the root of our language which is found in the concept of a God who demands that we occasionally examine the very core of our being. (Interestingly, had language evolved without a God-like figurehead serving as arbiter and insisting that we be guided by moral parameters, one wonders how humanity would have endured. Atheists would have us believe that none of this actually matters but that argument is hollow when we can look back and see the 2,000 years of history in the Western world that is due in large part to a hunger for faith. This raises an interesting conundrum at the heart of the attacks in Paris last week given that they were supposedly about a faith.) But let us return to regret and remorse.

Frank Sinatra famously sang, “regrets I've had a few but then again, too few to mention.” I concur. I regret very little in my life but I do suffer with a mild case of remorse every now and then. But there is only so much wringing of hands one can tolerate in one lifetime and I am quite thrilled to be able to slam doors shut and exclaim, “Tomorrow is another day!" Without such an ability to pursue happiness despite tragedy and to maintain an effervescent optimism (and this despite the car literally hanging off the cliff), well, these are great attributes which show a strength of character that separates the men from the boys, in my humble opinion. Of course, one should suffer, and suffer, and suffer even more for all the bad things one has done but if that was all we were wont to do, the earth would literally screech to a halt and we would all be catapulted into space (or essentially, nothingness).

As always, I find an understanding of this crazy world in the natural cycle of life in the woods on my daily walks. Plants and animals do not walk around tormented by guilt, drowning in a need for penance and a wracked conscience. This is a human failing, perhaps to not move onwards and away from the errors and mistakes we are destined to make. Or worse yet, to not even see them as they come hurtling towards us.

Perhaps in the wake of CharlieHebdo, we should all remember the fragility of human life, whatever our beliefs.


 Photo copyright SvD.


Monday, 12 January 2015

Three little piggies


These little piggies were very inquisitive when they saw me. I adore pigs- they are bright and friendly. Says more about them than us, I fear.
At Tablehurst Biodynamic Farm.

Photo copyright SvD.