Friday, 27 September 2013

My latest article on The Huffington Post

What a wonderful world....

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

You may not hear from me for a while

Dear all

I have just heard my mother is dying. I may not be around for a while. My weekly article on the Huffington Post should appear as normal on Friday but after that, please understand if I'm not around.

Kind regards


Copyright photo and painting "Suburbia" S. van Dalen

What a wonderful world...

...we are fortunate in the UK to live in a very green and pleasant land. Much of our natural landscape is untouched, untamed and so old that I get entranced just looking at it. What a shame that school kids don't get taught to respect and love this ancient country of ours where the Romans marched on  purposefully built 'ways' and Pilgrims went in search of spiritual sustenance on foot, walking for days on end the length and breadth of the land. When I'm in the woods I find the atmosphere so peaceful that I can hear the breathing of a deer hidden from view and waiting patiently for me to pass by. I know when the crows are attacking a nest and can hear the plaintive cries of the mother dove incapable of protecting her chicks. I can tell when the squirrels are mating as they play a game of 'clack, clack' a type of calling game as they chase each other across treetops. I know when the blue tits have eaten enough because they literally sing a shrill ''trrr, tweet, tweet, 'trrr, 'trrr", when their tummies are full. And I know it's the Autumn now because I can smell the damp from the rotting leaves that are beginning to carpet the ground in the woods.

My connection with the natural world has heightened my own intuition and understanding. There is such abundance in nature that it is hard to imagine why anyone still goes hungry in the UK. There was a time when peasants collected and ate what was available and just enough. Today we gorge ourselves on processed 'food' wrapped in wasteful packaging. The supermarkets extort money though organised racketeering when in fact, a handful of cobnuts, a few wild mushrooms and blackberries which are all plentiful at this time of year,  would have sufficed hundreds of years ago.

The natural world is more exceptional that we can imagine or fathom. Like this spider's web. I took this shot early this morning as I stepped out into the unusually warm garden. On the clothes line a spider had been busy overnight. The rising sun was in front of me as I took the shot...I'll not say more and let you decide. (I think I can see where the spider began his web. Can you?) That's another thing nature taught me: don't ever think you've figured it all out and be prepared to be amazed.

 Photo copyright SvD.

And one more lesson nature teaches: contemplate occasionally and commune with that ray of light.

Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 23 September 2013

How my family broke my heart

In this life we can be lucky, we can be happy, we can have it all. Or so it seems.

This is a story of nothing being what it seems.

Once upon a time there was a man who was born into poverty and through hard work and determination saved diligently while working as a teacher and at the age of 28, was finally able to go to university. He graduated from St. Andrews University as a chemical engineer. He fell in love with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and on the fifth chance encounter with that woman, he proposed marriage. She said yes. They married against the advice of their families, spent their honeymoon in Innsbruck and soon after entered the British Colonial Service where they embarked on their first posting. Three children were born of their union.

Seven years later the family moved one last time and settled for good. The children grew up in an idyllic environment, in a large house and attended the best schools. There was an early sign of disharmony where slapping replaced reasoning and scenes of great drama played out daily. Those of a more sensitive disposition suffered greatly in such an environment.

In 2006 the head of the family died after languishing for several years in the throes of a disease related to shattered nerves and a broken spirit. They say the best way to train a dog is to break its spirit so that it will never disobey you. Humans do that to each other as well.

Human beings have a great ability to endure dark and terrible things and like the circus clown, conceal a bleeding heart with a painted smile. Love is both a noun and a verb; it implies an act of doing and a type of being. The nearest relation to deep love is divineness- a God-like act, devoid of all ambiguity yet honest and true.

In our daily lives, we compromise our existence away. We never really say what we mean for fear of offending or suffering the consequences. Many a marriage is a compromise - staying together for the sake of staying together or for a thousand and one reasons but the real reason being fear of life.

The end result of crappy marriages is unhappy children. The family unit is how human beings become socialised. It is where children learn to conform to the demands of society - to eat with a knife and fork, to be considerate, to develop social graces, to learn how to behave. A baby enters this world crying and its parents weep with joy. The child grows up and weeps at what its life has become.

When there is betrayal in families there are no victims and no winners. Betrayal is like setting fire to a house where not only does the house implode but all the occupants perish as well. Everyone loses.

We come to this world and are soon gone. But while we are here we choose how we wish to live. It is true that suffering is part of life but what distinguishes homo sapiens from plants and animals is that we knowingly hurt each other. There is no animal on earth that consciously will torment and sadistically harm its own kind.

Therapists the world over have grown rich preying on those who cannot answer for themselves the following question: why do people hurt each other? Because they can. If we take away the will to choose to hurt another we are left with an understanding that harming other people is wrong. When we decide to carry on regardless, we are essentially lost for good.

The following Latin saying sums it up: the wolf changes his coat, not his disposition. We are who we are before we are even born. Furthermore if we understand the temporary nature of life, our acts reverberate a thousand times more in every breath we take. Put it this way: by doing bad things we are reinforcing who we are but also condemning ourselves forevermore. Worst of all we will never become better versions of our flawed selves. Rather than reaching for the stars we choose to remain in the gutter.

My brother, who is a lawyer (along with his wife, who is also a lawyer) have chosen to do something truly heartbreaking and in the process, rob his two sisters of their peace of mind and cause the family to implode. When I learned what had happened in my family, there was a swell of disbelief, extreme sadness and complete devastation. The only reason I carried on was my faithful hound whose smiling face greeted me every morning as my heart disintegrated piece by piece. There were times that I cried myself to sleep. I wept mostly for my father who was a good and loving man and whose downfall was to love too much. I wept for myself for having to carry this burden for the rest of my life. I wept for the loss of the image of happiness that I craved.

When I look back at my life I see the many mistakes I have made. I also see the things that I did despite knowing they were wrong. I am aware of what I did and I regret my actions. Would I change any of it? Who knows? What I think now at the median point of my life stems from a maturity and the 'school of hard knocks'. My behaviour today is very different to the fatuity and recklessness of youth. Would I do any of that again? No. I have learned from my stupidity and have moved on.

My brother, on the other hand, is like a needle stuck on an old vinyl LP. He could choose to change the situation as it is but cannot see the value to himself of doing so.

I collect rocks, stones and pebbles. My house is full of these objects spilling out of cupboards, turning up in hidden corners and being fished out from under chairs. These ancient bits of our earth get washed up on the shore, get dug up by torrents of rainwater and get kicked around by restless feet. Rocks, stones and pebbles all share one thing in common - as hard as you might squeeze them in your hand, no blood will ever come out of them.

Copyright photo and painting, oil on canvas, "Cocktail" by SvD.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Atheists are blind

God, that old chestnut, has been bothering philosophers/thinkers/shamans/priests since the moment humans began to string two sentences together and transcribe their thoughts some twenty six centuries ago. From the first evidence of Vedanta prophecy as recorded in the Bhagavad-gita, right up to the the present day, we remain confused.

The Dutch national motto is "I will endure" and that sums up the human condition and pretty much the existence of faith, belief, hope, call it what you will, that something will enable us to soldier on in the maze of life. Whether or not we believe in anything, the mere fact that we are here and must go through all the trials and tribulations that life throws at us, and this despite the free will that atheists celebrate, is testament to something greater than ourselves.

Humans, as we know, when left to their own devices can be hopelessly inept and devoid of common sense hence the reason that law and organised religion were so vital to the development of society.

I am enthralled when atheists proclaim their belief that God serves no purpose. A walk in the National Gallery right here in London, where on display is the civilising of mankind through polytheistic and monotheistic-themed art, is a free lesson available to all. The history of art in the West is essentially the story of the evolution of thought towards the liberalism of today;  contemporary art is so abstract it appeals only to the nothingness inside our heads as we have divested ourselves of myths, legends, religious guilt and morality altogether.

The greatest thinkers whose treatises remain relevant to this day, were motivated by questioning the value system they inherited from their parents- ultimately those beliefs were religious. Had it not been for the search for proof of the existence of God, entire schools of thought would not have even occurred. In a sense, the very rebellion of the existence of God is not productive in any way except to say that the whole concept needs destroying.

Humans are good at destruction- our politicians are keen to bomb, shatter, annihilate ancient civilisations unless they bend to their sway. That thinking is more anti-human than anti-God. Similarly, atheism is the manifestation of the pure ego, unbound by a reliance on anything or anyone, least of all a cumbersome set of religious tenets that offer guidance on how to behave and even think.

In nature there is an order that is astounding to behold. There is a cycle that possesses its own rhythm where timing is everything. Equally, extreme weather patterns can disrupt the balance of nature and send it off the edge. In which case we can always blame God. Nature is incapable of pointing blame at anyone or anything. Nature endures because it must, because it is.

When we look to make sense of our world, we forget that we share a similarity with  nature and its cycles. In the process of living we are also dying, as the flower turns to seed which signifies the end and also the beginning. Humans age and decay in the same way that leaves turn to russet and brown in the Autumn.

Our search for God is a hopefulness that we too might find ourselves.

Go for a walk in any green landscape near you. You will see what atheists refuse to believe exists because they choose to be blind.

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Learn to be still

As I walked home with the hound today, I was deep in contemplation, marvelling at how silent the woods were, how peaceful and perfect everything was.

We take silence for granted and yet it is deafening. Silence forces us deep within ourselves, where in our inner being we hear the roar of past misdemeanors, the howl of regret and the whimper of sorrow. My walks are my meditation, a necessary part of my day and without them, I would be less centered and calm.

What more do we wish for in life besides a tranquil and still willing heart? To be able to see the good in others and ourselves?

To be still is in fact to be whole.

These two deer were watching me in my contemplation. They stood without moving, silent observers and yet how we could learn from them!

Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


...that's two weeks in a row I've forgotten to record my show at Ridge Radio and place a link here. Please do catch the show on Fridays at 1pm (if at all interested or inclined or bored rigid with life and have nothing better to do..)

Wind Down Fridays on Ridge Radio

And on the subject of radio, I'll continue reading from my book, Maestro, tomorrow on blogtalkradio at 12noon.

Your Happy Memories on Blogtalkradio

Friday, 13 September 2013

My true love

At long last my true love comes to me. If I kiss him he might just turn into a prince. That is if I can risk kissing the natterjack toad whose skin is quite poisonous. This seems to be the dilemma in relationships, don't you think? And of course he was running away from me as I got close to him!!!

A natterjack toad in my garden tonight.

Photo copyright SvD.

Things I saw in the woods today, part 47

Spiders are quite mysterious things. "Spider embodies the ancient soul of existence reverberating with creativity and predation." Taschen, The Book of Symbols. This is one I saw in the woods today. He resembled a crab dangling in mid air until you look closely and see the legs knitting away, spider-style. I read an article in Le Monde once about how French scientists were researching spiders' webs. Apparently the web is a tremendously powerful thing despite its fragile, silk-like appearance. For example, if left forgotten for too long, my gardening clothes become host to colonies of spiders and their webs. I have washed these clothes many times at 60 degrees in the machine and there remain traces of the original webs to this day.

Spiders are resourceful too- they cover large surface areas with elaborate webs in order to increase their chances of catching more food. Fishermen do the same thing! I once came home from holiday after only 7 days to discover all of the doorways throughout the house thickly webbed from top to bottom. I often wonder what would have happened had I been gone any longer! Perhaps if I forget to wake up one morning....

And finally, a story about an ex-boyfriend and spiders: a very gorgeous French boyfriend- this is many years ago when I was prone to falling in love constantly- and I went off on holiday together to an isolated cottage on a beach in Trinidad. I remember the name of the cottage well: Breakfast River. The cottage was owned by a retired gentleman who wasn't that keen on housekeeping- the cottage was shut up and left to its own devices when no paying guests were in residence. To cut a long story short, the boyfriend and I spent all of our holiday dodging huge black tarantulas of the deadly variety that found it very hard to share their space with us. They also had a nasty habit of crawling into the bed and having a snooze under the sheets. The relationship didn't last but the memory of that holiday will remain forever.

Photo copyright SvD.

Two deer confronted the hound and I on our return from the woods. And then they were gone.

Photo copyright SvD.

I know what I see when I look at this tree but I'll leave it up to your imagination to associate whatever you want with it. PS Please DO have an imagination.

Photo copyright SvD.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Latest article on the Huffington Post

This week, Hollywood Director/Producer Harry Winer (remember Hart to Hart with Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers?) shares the five things that matter to him.

Please have a look Samantha on the Huff Post

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

How to make a bird's nest

When I was little I thought bird's nest soup was made from real birds' nests! This caused me much anxiety as a child. Now I'm all grown up, I understand things slightly better.

The hound and I came upon a discarded bird's nest this morning. Had it fallen out of a tree, pushed by the wind? Autumn winds are arriving now which always signifies the end of summer. Or had the mama and papa decided that since all their progeny had flown the coop they were off to warmer climes for a much needed break?

This nest is most certainly that of a crow. I observe the crows daily- they tend to sit at the very top of the trees scouring lesser mortals and prey below. Their nests are also very high up in the trees. Small birds would find it difficult to construct such a large nest with their small beaks. (Everything is relative, as Einstein famously said.) And why build a big nest when you're only knee high to a grasshopper yourself?

The nest appears to have been made with young beech twigs- the supple, malleable, immature wood that emerges early in the spring. The early shoots of the beech tree are pliable enough to weave into each bird's design. Birds understand timing better than us- what use would be the sturdier, thicker branches in full summer to make a nest with? And the nesting season would be shorter too as the autumn winds would pose a risk to growing chicks.

There is a cycle in nature that we humans have abandoned because it no longer suits our purpose. We've lost the ability to see with our nose and feel with our ears. If only we would return to our simple, unfettered state, like the wild birds, and follow the natural order that has been here since time immemorial.

 Photos copyright SvD.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Be brave

Sometimes we just have to go it alone. Take a chance that we are doing the right thing and trust that everything is as it should be. It takes strength and courage to be ourselves. To voyage to the hidden inner realm, to soar far, far, beyond, towards what makes us truly happy. And to be prepared to fail spectacularly.

Have the courage to say: "This is me."

Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Your happy memories Online Radio | BlogTalkRadio

Samantha reads from her book, Maestro.

Please join me as I continue reading from Maestro, Chapter 3 onwards.

Things I saw in the woods today, part 46

When the elderberries ripen we know that summer is well and truly over. The elderflowers are one of the first flowers to appear in the early spring just as we emerge from dreary, dark, cold winter and as the flowers turn to fruit in late summer, we begin reaching for woollen socks. Folklore has it that one should never fall asleep under an elder tree as the vapours from the strong-smelling flowers are soporific and can cause one to see fairies. Elderberries make an excellent wine and liqueur.

The woods are still very green; we forget how one season changes to the next and the sparkling lime green summer leaves will be replaced by sombre browns. All the sounds of summer such as the birdsong at dusk, the humming bees, and the whirring wings of the horseflies, will soon be things of the past. So too will be the endless wasp-dodging and fly swatting and yelps of 'ouch!' which resonate throughout the woods as the flesh is feasted upon. Autumn will bring endless rain and then winter a quiet lull when life as we know it becomes a thing of slow motion and sleep.

And finally, a hapless pigeon met its end and the satiated fox tried his hand at modern art with the ripped feathers and four maple leaves.

Photos copyright SvD.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Five things that matter to me:

What really matters in life? This is my list of the five top 'things', not objects, not material possessions:

1.  My body is a temple: I do believe that in order to appreciate life and live it to the fullest, we need to take good care of our bodies. Good health is not about following fad diets but being sensible and taking responsibility. Mental health, as the ancients understood long before us, is connected to what we eat. I eat like a peasant- simple, unrefined, unprocessed food and where possible, seasonal produce. I walk a lot with my hound to keep the pounds off and eschew gyms. I don't want to be so lean that I freeze in the winter and frankly, life is too short to be obsessed about anything, including our weight.
2.  Be able to tell a good joke: laughing is a precious remedy to banish the blues. I laugh a lot, mostly at myself. The day I'm too miserable to tell or laugh at a joke is the day I know that something is seriously wrong. A sense of humour is a sign of well-being, plus it's free.
3. Be a good person: religion is not terribly popular these days and I won't talk about my beliefs but surely, we can all aspire to be good, kind and empathetic towards each other? I got rid of the TV many years ago because a) the standard of programs was getting more and more inane and b) reality TV makes me cringe and kind of breaks my heart - it celebrates cruel, nasty behaviour and anyone who considers that entertainment is frankly, slightly deranged. It also affects one's thinking on a subliminal level and I prefer to be in control of my brain.
4. Value life: why hurt anyone or anything knowingly? I fish spiders out the bath every morning and they willingly hitch a ride onto the saucer I lower towards them (they've figured out the alternative). I used to throw them out into the garden until one day, a spider that had been left behind and was still in the bathroom, literally pursued me angrily- you see, I'd thrown out his mate. Now I merely move them elsewhere in the bathroom and they decide the rest.
5. Less is more: possessions, money, things, the latest fashion, trends, keeping up appearances, are all meaningless. Life is an illusion. Contentment, the biggest prize of all, is inside our heads.
 Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

You can catch me on the Huffington Post

Delighted to say that I'm on the Huff Post now and will be every week - and all because of you, dear readers. Many thanks for dropping by this blog and getting it noticed!

 Photo copyright S van Dalen.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Best to draw the curtains

This photo was taken two nights ago quite late as it was getting time to go to bed. Imagine the sensation of this staring back. For a moment it appeared to be an alien in a spacesuit. Then some sort of angel descending from heaven. Then a very large insect.

For your interpretation, here is ....mothman.

Photos copyright SvD.

Talk to me

There has been a spectacular crop of fruit this year due to our highly unusual warm, dry summer. The blackberries are very early as a result so instead of October they are ready now, large, ripe and juicy and everywhere. If you know where to look near the woods, blackberry brambles are heaving with fruit and it is very easy to help oneself as the bushes grow quite low to the ground.

Wild fruit foraging is a great way to build up one's immunity and to make friends. Fruit ripened in the sun is sweet and full of vitamins, plus when eaten as soon as it is picked, is full of vitality. I scoff several berries daily on my walks with the hound.

The English can be very reserved but in fact are quite shy. Nothing brings people out of their shells more than inviting them to talk about themselves. Foragers are usually in love with nature and are solitary types who enjoy their own company but ask them if they're picking those berries to make jam and out will come their great grandma's recipe. If you've got half an hour and are happy to listen, you will have instantly made a friend.

Everyone wants to talk and stave off loneliness. It is poignant to see elderly men and women taking a daily stroll in the woods, who seem distant and trapped by their memories but given the chance want to shake off those faraway thoughts and embrace the present moment.  And there are those who prefer to avoid reality. One such gentleman who I had never met before, struck up a conversation recently as we crossed paths with our hounds. He immediately launched into the crux of the matter by saying he was about to have radiotherapy for his cancer and he had begun to hate his wife and old age and everything in between, even his dog. But there are blackberries aplenty, the sun is shining and ...

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Your happy memories 09/01 | Blog talk radio

This week I read from my book, Maestro. You can listen to the archived show by clicking here:
Your happy memories 09/01 

Why not join me every week as I continue to read from the book- a riveting story of love and redemption. You can always catch up on the bits you missed by listening to the archived shows!

by Samantha van Dalen
A London high flier rents a country cottage and is drawn to her landlord, a mysterious artist suspected of killing the cottage's previous tenant.

Sara burnt out by her career and relationship-weary, holidays alone near a remote English village where her presence sets off a chain reaction that compels her to investigate a twenty year old enigma - a case closed for lack of a corpse or witness. Sara follows a trail of circumstantial evidence leading to her landlord, Gillane, an artist who surrounds himself with secrecy. Reckless or refined? Gentle or jackal? Who is this man? Why is she drawn to him? Maestro is a story of souls: attracted by need, repelled by fear, choosing to live in isolation yet searching for connection. Maestro plays an intoxicating melody- when the music stops, who will be left without a chair?

Easy to please

The birds have been very active this year and thankfully, although the official line is that wild birds are in decline, the numbers appear to be prolific where I live. Birds are like people - easy to please once their requirements are uncomplicated. This bird bath that you see in the photo below is in fact an old hanging basket and an old plant saucer. Total cost: £0. Blue tits, sparrows, blackbirds, pigeons, all drop by for a wash. I change the water every day. Birds wash to remove parasites and grime from their feathers but also for the fun of it. First the birds sit on the edge of the saucer, then they sip a bit of water (to make sure it is indeed water), then they gingerly step in. Once inside the saucer there is much flapping about, and one gets the impression that it is sheer Heaven for our feathered friends. Birds are very sociable with their own kind or those of similar size. Sparrows and blue tits play happily together in the water and do not object to sharing their bath with as many as will fit in it!

All animals have a sense of fun and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that vivisection must be an excruciating and terrifying ordeal for animals. For those of us connected to the natural world, it is heartbreaking to think of animals suffering for us. I watched my father die a long and painful death from Parkinsons Disease and although drugs mask the symptoms of the illness, nothing can prevent the inevitable. My father died anyway despite the hundreds of drugs he took and for which thousands of animals must have been dealt an awful end to their own short lives.

It takes little to make the birds happy- a drink of water, a bath, some food. Perhaps we humans can learn to reduce our expectations and the demands we make on others, including the animals we expect to die in order that we may 'benefit'.

Photo copyright SvD.