Wednesday, 15 June 2016

My latest article on The Huffington Post

June 15 2016
Me and my shadow. Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Original Thought: Is This Love I'm Feeling?

Re-reading De La Rochefoucauld's Maxims and came upon this most magnificent one: Il y a des gens qui n'auraient jamais été amoureux s'ils n'avaient jamais entendu parler de l'amour. There are people who would never have been in love had they never heard of love. At first glance, this slightly confusing maxim forces a double take. Is De La Rochefoucauld saying that love is an awakening? Is he saying that love irrevocably is and therefore cannot be denied? We're all familiar with the Hollywood take on love - a compelling force that literally stops us in our tracks and then sweeps us off our feet. We've had the experience too- the sharp intake of breath, the deafening thumping in our chests, the feeling that suddenly the happiness of the other person is all that matters. Love, that breathless sensation, quickly all consuming, becomes our reason for getting up in the morning and our reality.

However reality is truth grounded in fact. For example, let's take the following sentence: I watched an apple fall from the tree. A sentence could not be more unromantic if it tried. 'An apple fell from the tree' is a statement of fact. Love, on the other hand, is an emotion. And emotions from a philosophical perspective are illusions.

In his thought-provoking maxim, De La Rochefoucauld is enlightening us to the following: our reactions to the world we live in and even our emotions are unoriginal. Put another way, anyone who does not question convention or express indignation from time to time doesn't know their own mind. Like Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew, it is good occasionally to declare that the sun is the moon. According to De La Rochefoucauld, original thought is something that ordinary human beings don't possess unless they choose to challenge themselves. And so it follows that if we had never heard of the concept of love, falling in love would never happen. In other words, do we know what we actually think? (Perhaps nowhere else could the answer to that question be more explicit or obvious than in our opinions on the EU Referendum.)

The implications of being in control of one's mind are very far-reaching. We live in an era of great turmoil on all fronts: political, religious, economic and the specter of war is ever present. Being strong mentally creates a buffer of sorts: it can help us cope with uncertainty and also spare us unnecessary worry. But here's the riddle within the enigma: knowing oneself, the journey towards self-awareness and ultimately contentment, takes tremendous courage. In order to learn from bad experiences and choose to either succumb or overcome, demands stores of innate strength and self-belief. Along the journey of self-awareness we form a unique set of convictions borne or good and bad experiences, which will in turn become the template for our future behaviour. Without the determination to know ourselves, life can be a complicated obstacle course, which at times is impossible to navigate. 

When we read De La Rochefoucauld's maxim again, it is a profound insight into the necessity of having a strong mind.  A literal acceptance of anything is a wildly reckless thing to do because crucially, it absolves the individual of all responsibility of their actions and weakens their resolve.

Had we never heard of love therefore, we would be incapable of feeling it. Original thought- the ability to think for ourselves, create ideas that are unique and to establish the parameters by which we define who we are- is sadly becoming a rare thing indeed. Instead of thinking, we react. Just look at the immense popularity of every new fad diet or the confusion that surrounds what is good or bad to eat. It is also becoming harder to find heroes or those to emulate who represent something that is out of the ordinary and who possess a fortitude that is neither self-serving nor for the purpose of brazen self-aggrandisement. In today's world who can we say has incomparable honour and nobility of spirit that is not for sale?

Walk down any high street and you will see people who are the carbon copy of someone else, not merely in their dress or appearance but in their aspirations, lifestyle and crucially, thinking. Put another way, challenge your perception about what you know when you read the following statement (overheard on a train) and consider what's wrong with it: My very excellent spiritual healer smokes and occasionally takes anti-depressants.

I fear we are all becoming narcissists, masters of self-deception and frauds, permanently choosing our reflection over the discovery of who we really are.  Remaining lost in translation condemns us to never finding ourselves and renders us more vulnerable- without a strong mind it is harder to cope when bad things happen and to be gullible, handing the remote control to someone else. Is a man without thoughts of his own of value to society? Perhaps therein lies the conundrum. Or perhaps an absence of thought is the dream of every politician, pharmaceutical manufacturer, health guru, astrologer or other peddler of what we should be thinking.

A study. Photograph copyright SvD.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Of Wildflowers and Strangely Important People

This weekend, as always, I set out on my long walks with the hound for company. We are blessed in this magnificent country to have an abundance of flora and even a brisk walk in the woods is something of a botanist's dream. Through open pasture and into woodland this weekend I came across the long-awaited signs that Spring is here to stay: flowering nettle still in the pale, tender leaf stage (good for making soup although I find it somewhat bland), forget-me-nots (I always think of my late father when I see these), borage (bring out the Pimm's) with its deep lilac flowers,  daisies, buttercups, dandelions, plantain, the sulphuric-smelling hawthorn flowers. A family of blackbirds was foraging for nest-making materials and settled on pine needles (ouch! Will be a prickly bed for the babies!). A kestrel glided past and hovered more or less over the hound and I in completely still abeyance as he waited for his prey to move ever so slightly and then a perfectly timed dive and it would end for many a shrew or field mouse. Baby rabbits and their parents hopped along in full view of the hound who is somewhat blasé towards live food preferring instead the supermarket variety. What a delight to be amongst new beginnings! How glorious to see the blackbirds making plans for tomorrow. How spell-binding to watch the kestrel dance silently in the sky. Nature gives us the greatest gifts for free- the chance to forget our worries, our problems and all anxiety and just marvel instead. How magical to feel sunlight and happiness!

Dandelion seeded flower head. Photo copyright SvD.

Photo copyright SvD.

As I walked along I came upon this sign. Nice to know that the saints still live among us.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Why I'll be voting Brexit

The debate is heating up and let's hope that everyone exercises their right to vote on June 23. No doubt the terminally ignorant will refuse to vote because they can't be bothered but I for one will not be missing the opportunity to have my say.
I always vote and especially for two reasons. One, my very good friend, Dee, who lived well into her nineties and had seen it all, reproached me for my blasé attitude towards voting (I couldn't be bothered either). Dee reminded me that women had given their lives in order that I should have the right to vote. From that moment on I hurried down to the ballot box in earnest. So please, be cynical by all means but don't be so apathetic that the democratic process means nothing to you.
The second reason I vote is because I've lived too long. Let me explain. There comes a time in everyone's life where a certain amount of clarity suddenly happens, like a light bulb being switched on. By age 50 one has generally seen and experienced every category of the good, bad and ugly on the planet. Very little is shocking but a lot is worrying. For example, the current problems with migrants, useless and self-serving politicians, the crazy ones intent on blowing things and people up, and the rampant corruption that has inveigled itself into the core of our society, those things worry me more than global warming. I might not live long enough to see the earth turn into a desert but I do pay tax. I'd rather have a say as to how my taxes are spent, thank you very much. And for that reason I'll be voting out as I don't think staying in the EU makes any sense at all. I would hasten to add that all those who want to stay probably have a personal stake such as a house in Tuscany or some other economic interest that they don't want affected or to lose.
For all intents and purposes, I estimate that not much will change with regards to Western Europeans currently residing in the UK and as was the case pre-EU, the UK will have treaties with wealthy countries to allow travel without needing a visa. Citizens of poorer parts of the world will probably have to pay exorbitant sums and jump through hoops in order to travel into the UK. This is how it used to be and it would make perfect sense to return to controlling our borders. As a frequent traveller to France, it worries me endlessly how no one even asks for my passport let alone my hound's.

The UK will also regain a level of independence. We currently have to pander to The European Court and judges sitting outside of the UK are making directives that impact our daily lives. Furthermore, the EU costs us a lot of money and in terms of value for money, I fail to see what that is apart from surrendering our sovereignty and our ability to decide when a Cornish pasty is not a Cornish pasty. Such earth-shattering revelations don't actually make my life more worth living. I would prefer to see potholes fixed, less illiterate feral youngsters, more jobs and a greater sense of patriotism.
The rot in our financial services- the tremendous breadth of corruption that enables the savvy to get obscenely rich on the back of someone else's paucity and to rig markets to suit their end game, none of that will change if we stay in the EU. (You can be sure that on June 24th someone will have made a killing hedging the euro against the pound). In response to the financial crisis of 2008, the EU proposed a Banking Union of member states to regulate the banking sector and protect deposits from disappearing altogether. When Greece defaulted on its loan repayments recently, Greeks automatically rushed to empty their accounts, so convinced were they that the Union would protect them.
The argument of losing jobs if we leave is also speculative. Our manufacturing is dying- see Tata Steel. We are not competitive because our costs are too high. In a world of sweatshops and it must be said, expectations which differ to ours, we cannot compete. In the Third World however measly the pay it puts food into hungry bellies. In the West we want to have it all. There is a fundamental difference in the way we expect to be compensated for the effort we put into our jobs. For example, I once advertised for an assistant, one young woman I interviewed balked at the annual salary on offer and exclaimed that she would get more per month if she ‘had a sprog for a footballer’. Is that person going to work sixteen hours a day or make sacrifices in order to succeed?
Our rising energy costs which are some of the most expensive in the world, force us to be less competitive. Food is ridiculously overpriced and how anyone on a meagre wage can actually eat properly is a minor miracle. To be fair and as a former avid vegetable grower, our climate is not conducive to food production except for seven or eight months of the year and therefore in order to satiate our expectations once again, we are forced to import food.
Politicians too easily absolve responsibility for all that is wrong in the UK by declaring their hands are tied (viz the migrant crisis where any policy has to toe the line with EU Diktat). Crucially, answer this: is the UK government fully engaged in EU policy development, after all, that was what was written in the ‘rule book’.
For all of the above reasons, I'm out. It’s adieu from me to the EU. Ignore the scaremongering that we would lose jobs: we might actually become more competitive because we will have to.

This is me. Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Graceless Age

At the supermarket check out this week, standing at the till when the lady behind me in the queue stated in a very calm voice to the cashier: "You're too fucking slow. I haven't got all day, you know." Both the cashier and I looked at each other too startled to speak. The sort of look that an unexpected rectal examination would provoke. The lady in question then carried on chatting with her male companion repeating more of the same in an entirely matter of fact way. Sadly, the occurrence of gracelessness is all too common.

I walk my hound twice a day and deliberately seek out places where I won't encounter wild animals, aka other humans. If I see another dog walker I generally cringe if their dog is off the lead. Invariably as I attach the lead to my hound to ensure that chances of a confrontation decrease, and as I ask the person whose dog is charging towards mine: "Is your dog OK with other dogs?", the response is usually: "It wouldn't be off the lead if it wasn't." Naturally at this point their dog has a go at my dog. I then hear the usual asinine excuse: "He's never done that before." Of course, bloody not. Unless one is psychic it is difficult to gauge how dogs will react to each other. Some dogs can be very friendly like mine but then he might encounter another dog who is having a bad hair day. The best line of defence is to always put the dog on a lead. That is unless you're brain dead and ignorant. I have resorted to telling people that unless they can control their dogs they should shoot them dead or themselves in whichever order.

In France recently, as I returned from a long, divine walk away from the human race, I crossed the square in a quaint village and two dogs appeared out of nowhere and proceeded to attack my hound who was peacefully by my side and on a lead. The cafes were bustling and all of the tables in the square were filled with patrons, dining, drinking, smoking in that very French way. A perfect afternoon of meditation and communing with nature and the Gods was ruined in an instant. Where was the owner as my beloved hound was being attacked? Sitting at the cafe finishing her meal. I shouted out for all to hear: "Who is the owner of these dogs!" No response. I yelled the same question even louder. The square fell silent. All eyes were on my hound and the two little shits attacking him. Eventually a woman's voice was heard to call the dogs over to her. They ignored her completely. A long pause. She called again. The dogs continued to ignore her. I was beside myself with anger. Eventually the woman came over and tried to control her dogs which she was completely unable to. The animals would not obey her. After much screeching on her part and without success, two men from the cafe came over and succeeded in grabbing the dogs off mine. No prizes for guessing if the lady apologised. But she got an earful from me. Being French she clearly didn't give a rat's arse what I thought and obviously I had ruined her lunch.

Gracelessness has become so engrained in today's society that no one seems to be aware of how debilitating it is to the human spirit. When we detach ourselves from the effects of our actions on others, we become shamelessly egotistical where nothing matters apart from ourselves. The Kardashians are a good example of this: they don't care how debased and vulgar they appear, they're going to do it anyway because it makes them rich. They are inured to knowing how revolting they actually are.

Why not decide to regain our grace? The human spirit wants to soar and lays patiently in wait. But beware, a lifetime of indifference to our potential will snuff out all that we should and could be. Ironically, it takes the same amount of effort to be a graceless degenerate as it does to soar. How tragic that one chooses to be the former. Just a thought.

Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 25 March 2016

On the week that was

Adam Johnson

I've posted on Twitter that I don't think the girl is entirely blameless and therefore the sentence was not in my view, commensurate with the crime. Of course underage sex is morally dubious but Mr Johnson didn't have sex with the girl.

Our society is becoming more and more promiscuous- we have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in the world, second only to the US. In 1964, 5% of girls had had sex before the age of 16. In 2002 that figure rose to 38%. A higher proportion of girls are experimenting with sex well before they have reached maturity. My question therefore is this: were these girls groomed into having sex or did they willingly rip their knickers off?

Who do we blame for this 'phenomenon'? Apart from the ease with which contraception is available paving the way for earlier sexual intercourse, there is another reason why we got to this point. Television and access to pornography. In a world of double standards, the BBC, for example, produces bonk-a-thons such a War and Peace, a diluted, frothy adaptation of one of those books that one would not normally read due to its interminable length and plodding prose. The book is about an evolving society under the threat of war yet the TV adaptation was primarily about sex. The depiction of all major themes that deal with society as a whole finish in the bedroom according to TV and film producers. Character development is thrown out the window- see The Night Manager who ends up shagging his boss' girlfriend and when it happened, was quite unexpected indeed. Did they have any conversation or obvious flirtation that led to wanting something more? No. All of a sudden they end up in a hotel room and the anticipation of an explosion about to happen (pardon the metaphor) wasn't there. Could a film be watchable without sex? Is everything just about sex? What sort of message does this send out to young, impressionable minds? And worse yet, who takes responsibility for this subliminal conditioning?

I also think a lot of parents need a kick up the backside for not monitoring their kids. We have sunk to such a low level in this country that we behave worse than animals. When we're hungry we reach for the ready-made pizza etc and families no longer communicate over a shared meal. Children crave routine and when they don't get it and are left to their own devices they end up with a skewed interpretation of reality. And when everyone finally wakes up it is unfortunately too late.

I don't accept that Mr Johnson groomed that girl. I believe he was just a deluded, immature hormonal male who took advantage of the attention he was getting. He is not unusual in that respect. A rich, young man will easily suffer with illusions of grandeur especially when he is used to having anything he wants. The immediacy of texting doesn't help either.  A love letter written by hand is not the same as staccatic half sentences which by their sheer brevity force the issue. No one writes eloquent poetry by text. Subtlety or any air of mystery which makes a romantic heart warm quietly is lost in today's world of 'I must have it now'.

In all of this, life has become pathetic and not what it should be. While we're here on earth we should strive to become a better version of ourselves not degenerate on a permanent basis. But I guess that's too wishful thinking.


Now that both of my favourite places- Brussels and Paris- have become targets for terrorists, I will be staying at home and discovering more of the UK. Much rhetoric has been spewed by so-called journalists about these terrorists but my question is this- what's the solution? How, might I ask, did immigrants get into Europe who are so obviously anti-West? Why is it not mandatory that anyone who chooses to live in Western Europe must be fluent in that country's language, must bring some skill and must become a fully fledged taxpayer within a finite period of say, one year or their benefits will be terminated and they will be deported. Enough of the rhetoric. Either shape up or ship out.


An even more mind-blowing and almost out of body experience this week- two middle class professionals asked me why I choose not to drink milk. When I said that I think it is morally wrong to force a cow to give birth then separate her from her calf and having heard cows screaming for their calves, I simply cannot stomach drinking milk that was not intended for me. What was the response I got? That these two dear ladies had no idea why cows produced milk in the first place and had never given any thought to where milk comes from. The times we live in are Kafka-esque indeed.

 Photo copyright SvD.