Monday, 30 December 2013

All around the world

An itsy-bitsy house somewhere in suburbia. The door is opened and a smiling, friendly woman looks at me. The husband is waiting in the living room with a large greyhound. The man is overweight but relaxed, happy. The son pokes his head round the door- grossly, morbidly overweight, he doesn't make eye contact and quickly seeks refuge upstairs, away, apart.

All over the world there is some malaise affecting young men today. We could blame feminism and the rise of the second sex who refuse to be bowed and want equal everything.

Or we could blame the parents- I've seen families where the children get asked what they would like for supper. I've secretly torn my hair out but have bitten my lip rather than ruin a friendship.  To me it's a bit like handing a lead to my dog and telling him to go 'walkies' on his own.

Or we could blame the government for failing to teach kids in school how to become valuable paid up citizens.

Or we could blame the supermarkets for selling cheap food.

Or we could blame....

The list is endless.

I often marvel at the all the signs everywhere - don't do this and don't do that. My favourite is the misaligned NO SMOKING DOGS outside a park. But what if we stopped telling people what not to do? It's pretty obvious that a chainsaw should only be used on non-human matter yet the manufacturer finds it necessary to state the bleeding obvious on the packaging. I purchased Christmas cards this year and the warning not to let them within an inch of infants and toddlers was quite remarkable. Is the child going to eat them? Set fire to them? Toss them out with his or her dirty nappies? Where are the parents in all this?

If for that matter greeting cards are deadly weapons, shouldn't all kitchen knives be banned? Or corkscrews? Or scissors? You get the picture. I'm amazed we can still buy matches without providing a DNA sample first. My Jewish friends lament the ban on salpetre used in making the traditional salt beef, a classic Ashkenazi dish.

Our culture is changing before our eyes where we can do nothing, say nothing and think even less. Is it any wonder that young men all over the world are staring at extra large TVs and are oblivious to their souls screeching in distress yet unheard by anyone?

There really is no excuse to be overweight to the point of damaging one's health. We're all wobbly in our middle age but obese with an over affection for food, we are not.We live in a country where we can walk unimpeded pretty much everywhere. Britain is a long walk to anywhere - Roman lines,  secret pathways, pilgrims' ways, treks, hikes, gentle strolls, abound all over this green and pleasant land. A newsagent or corner shop are for the most a short hop away, we run for the tube or bus in London often amazed that we didn't have a massive heart attack at the end of it! So how does anyone manage to stretch their skin to zenith proportions? By sitting down all day long scratching their heads. By not seeing the wood from the trees, the swallow from the goose, the chipmunk from the squirrel. By deciding that life is a massive drag where shuffling away is better than looking in the mirror. By NOT liking what's in the mirror.

None of us can save another human being. Each of us has a responsibility to save ourselves. No one is to blame when the easiest option becomes the best option. Life is hard. Life is cruel. Life sucks for the best part and leaves us marooned most of the time with a tide that forgets to fetch us back. Our choice. That's the beauty and enigma of life in two small words. We decide.

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Things I saw in the woods today, part 63

A petrified beech leaf:

Symmetry in the woods:

An alien formation:

Another petrified leaf:

Photos copyright SvD.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The best Christmas gift

Wherever you are in the world this Christmas - and readers of this blog seem to be in every corner of the earth (for which I thank you) - please permit me to wish you a peaceful, happy and loving time with your family and friends. If you are alone, please do not despair.

Christmas is not about presents, promises and wishes which must come true. Over two thousand years ago, a child was born who quite literally would go on to change the world and the course of history. That child was the Christ. He was a man and a God. He sacrificed his life for us and even knew he would be betrayed by one whom he trusted.

The story of Jesus Christ is the story of us. We have all encountered deception, despair and betrayal in our lives. Yet please remember this Christmas that however little we have, even if it barely anything, we are more fortunate than many. And no matter who has done what to you, please do not ever lose faith in yourself - practice being strong and worthy. Those are the best gifts any of us could want this Christmas.

With love to you all,


Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Hitchcock was here

This morning was particularly eerie in the woods before the storm landed. The lane I took to walk home with the hound, the rising sun engulfing the sky... reminded me of Manderley...

Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

So this is Christmas....

Not everyone will be spending a 'happy' Christmas this year. I know four people whose lives are so unhappy that there will be only tears and no laughter. One had a nervous breakdown this year and was sectioned for three weeks. Another is in an abusive marriage and feels too trapped and ground down that she cannot think straight enough to leave. A third is imprisoned by her son who has stolen all of her money. A fourth has terminal cancer.

Life is not all riotous laughter. Most people struggle in their own lives tremendously and there is so much pressure to conform, fit in, be seen to do the right thing, have the latest fashion accessory, and just generally, be all things to all people. Not everyone is brave. Not everyone is perfect.

Leaving an abusive marriage takes great courage. Being in control of oneself when your life is literally falling apart is as lofty a goal as an asthmatic climbing Mount Everest. Being sad, depressed or despondent is about not having control of your life. In a world where we have grown used to doing anything and having everything, losing control it is a worse proposition than death itself.

I saw my friend yesterday whose husband has turned against her since she confessed her affair to him. She felt it was the right thing to do. She hadn't however expected him to set out to destroy her emotionally and to decimate her self-esteem leaving her a jabbering wreck. She hadn't expected him to turn the children against her. She also didn't expect me to ask her to confront her reality.

Avoiding problems is a great human defence mechanism. We tip toe around conflict because we are afraid that if we acknowledge what is wrong in our lives it will destroy us. But we're already living less than half a life so the question of it getting any worse should not even arise.

Many years ago I was walking around the remains of a Roman villa and came upon the following engraving in a wall - Memento Vivere. It struck a chord within me  and was so eloquent of my own needs at the time that it quite simply took my breath away. What does it mean? The literal translation is "Remember to live".

There is a second part of that engraving that is perhaps better known: Memento mori.

Remember to live. Remember you will die.

Freud wrote extensively that we are all fearful of dying and everything we do is essentially relative to that fear. But if we were to switch the fear of death with a gratitude for life, and teach ourselves that we must embrace life, we would banish our fear of death altogether.

Put another way, to be living half a life is to be dead already.

So this is Christmas....not an overly joyful time for those who are suffering inwardly, battling their demons or feeling hard done by, or dying of cancer. All share one thing in common: a chance. A chance even for a nanosecond to be happy. A chance to say, "well, it ain't perfect but I'm still here and by God, I'm going to fly, even for a brief moment in time!"

Dear reader, time is just as illusion. The things that change, the things that matter, the rising and setting sun, are all inside your heart.

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

My recipe for Christmas Cheer

At this time of year many harassed individuals across the land are wishing Christmas would pass them by. They are mostly dreading the tragicomedy of seeing long-lost relatives, old friends and acquaintances and family. Why are they not sleeping well, feeling stressed and tired constantly and wishing they were somewhere else?

Keeping up with the Jones' is hard work. Living a lie is even harder. Being someone you're not is soul-destroying. At Christmas time when the likelihood of meeting and greeting old faces and family is highest, the dread sets in that the facade we present to the world is in fact, a big, fat lie.

Old feuds and arguments never die- they just get better (just joking!). Memories are never so long that we forget who did something to us in word or spirit or act, even if it was a million years ago. And family reunions are the worst- the siblings who wind each other up, the petty jealousies, the nagging parents.

So here is my advice for the Christmas Nightmare that you are about to encounter:

1. Learn the art of meaningless chit chat. Ask after people, smile radiantly at every word, lap up the useless information you are hearing and say very little and when you do, invite the person you are conversing with to tell you about themselves. Human beings are massive egos on two legs and LOVE to talk about themselves.

2. Avoid overeating and drink sparingly. A full-to-bursting-stomach will slow down your digestion and make you feel irritable and tired. If you're forced to tolerate people you dislike, don't make it worse by feeling stroppy because your digestive system is working overtime. Over-imbibing will make you say things you regret and diplomacy as in 1. above will fly out the window. Remember, you are only forced to endure this nightmare for a finite time and then you can go home and be yourself. The hours will fly past if you can stay away from too much booze and too much food, smile constantly with a Nancy Reagan, wide-eyed demeanour and say very little.

3. Don't fool yourself that you want to forgive, forget and embrace your old enemies. Sod that! Bygones are not bygones unless you're extremely religious. Have realistic expectations rather than fantastic ones where everyone falls into each other's arms and weeps at their new found closeness.

4. If you're in someone else's home for the Holidays behave with grace at all times. Take the hostess a small bag of goodies: wines, chocolates, perfumed soaps. Hand the bag to her at the door with the biggest smile you can muster. Set the tone for being a perfect guest who dissolves into the shadows and makes no demands. If the only bath on offer is a cold one because the hot water is switched off early, pretend you're camping and do a sparrow wash. Never allude to the lack of hot water or any inconvenience that greatly pissed you off- you will only make an enemy who will remember your bad manners forever- and if the relationship was already bad, well, you get the picture....

5. Take long walks, if necessary on your own. Fresh air greatly lightens a mood and banishes the Black Dog, albeit temporarily. Seek refuge in the great outdoors away from the mortals who are dragging you down. When you return from your walk, the time will move even more swiftly as you will have less of it to spend with the 'enemy'.

6. Get the Scrabble or Monopoly Board out and lose yourself in trivial pursuits. Game-playing makes people competitive but if you've chosen to play for the sake of passing the time, you will find it light-hearted and rather amusing.

7. Retire early. I have been trapped in the kitchen many times having to listen to sob stories and deepest secrets until the crack of dawn. If you'd rather not be up all night nodding your head in sympathy, head to bed early clutching a book and a hot water bottle (the best companions unless you're involved in a torrid love affair).

8. And when it's time to say goodbye and the nightmare is finally over, mix toothy-smiley delight with almost-genuine sadness at having to say goodbye and be sure to exalt at how wonderful it all was!

Good luck!

Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Look of Love

I recently discussed the topic of love and the many different types thereof on my weekly radio show. I was quite alarmed to discover that there are more than fifteen recognised forms of love. I see only one.

I'm that cliche- the middle aged divorcee and nothing could make me run further and screaming, than the thought of life-draining relationship. I think men are nice enough but I've 'been around the block' once or twice and understand that nothing is ever what it seems.

Freud asked the question, "what do women want?" and seemingly, he sought to convince himself and others of the elusive response. The answer is really quite simple, yet we shroud our vision and cognitive ability to suit what, well, suits us.

Lovers and inappropriate relationships, encounters, abound and are for the taking. A gay friend recently confided to me of the hundreds of meaningless encounters he had endured over his lifetime. And he uttered the words that will remain forever etched in my mind: "I want to be loved. I don't know what that feels like." How sad to have spent more than forty years in meaningless sex when "love" was what he really craved. We all search for love. A smile at the end of a long day and a cuddle are worth more than diamonds, pearls and rubies combined (unless you're a Capricorn, in which case, you'll take the hard cash any day).

In the second half of my life, I am just myself. This makes me less of a fantastic potential mate. I'm irrascible because I've seen it all before. If a man is seeking a doe-eyed, lapdog, he will easily find one elsewhere.

A few years ago, I was hiring staff when I interviewed a young lady whom I though was suitable for the role. I offered her the job and a salary - higher than the average for the position. "No way," she explained, " I could have a sprog for a premier league footballer and get more than that every month in child support". I deferred to the football irreality. I couldn't afford £30k per month. It's not her attitude that is the problem but her absence of  grey matter. Not just intelligence but complete absence of self. She was in fact, a speaking shadow, an amoeba, which quite literally will absorb whatever DNA one chooses. The thinking mind would find the-ensnare-a-bloke-with-a-child scenario the least favorable way to live a life.

And so, the best relationships today are the ones of least resistance. The less than hard work, the easy option, the woman who is gentle, undemanding and malleable.

As one gets older, we don't do malleable. We do affection on a grand scale. We do laughter and we generally have bucket loads of life experience peppered with a substantial inventory of very funny jokes. That's all we have. It's not the money in the bank that attracts us, it's that chemistry. The unexplainable. The smile, the number of laughter lines, the soulful eyes, the guy who has sorted out his life and his brain. And the one who's just grateful at the end of the day, for this crazy, little, magic thing called life.

And there ain't the fifteen ways to say "I care". There's just the one.

Photo and painting copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The end is also a beginning

The woods are damp, the atmosphere feels like a wet rag is perpetually being wrung out - tiny droplets of moisture pervade every square inch of every leaf, twig and branch. The droplets linger, drip, form minute pools, seep into the earth. The damp serves to break down all organic matter in the woods creating a medium in which new life will begin. Winter will be followed by Spring and the start of new chances, new opportunities, new challenges. The foundation, preparation, anticipation are happening now. A reminder that nothing occurs by chance, at random, or just because. Every story has a start, middle and an end.

This leaf is disappearing literally, before our eyes. Bit by bit it is rejoining the earth. Same time, next year.

Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Things I saw in the woods today, part 60

The woods are magical when the sun goes down:

A pigeon loses his feather:

The moon, shrouded in fog, beckons (this is not a full moon but the mist and fog make it appear to be one). The silence in the woods, the secretive moon, the peacefulness in a restless soul. Perfect.

Photos copyright SvD.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Your happy memories/ Blog talk radio

This week I spoke about greatness and whether we are born that way. To listen to the archived show, please click here:

Your Happy Memories

Photo copyright SvD.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Spare a thought for the coca grower scratching a living...

Many years ago someone described to me his disgust at drug takers in Europe. He railed against the fact that those in the West who indulge in recreational drug use (something like being a bit pregnant, methinks) really have not thought too hard about the peasant growing the stuff and who does not benefit from the thankless task of toiling the earth to produce the coca that becomes cocaine. I thought then as I do now that the logic of this person was indeed accurate.

I've written before about how drugs feed the ego. Nothing could demonstrate this more than the image of a peasant, perhaps third or fourth or tenth generation of lowly worker, and how his life will never really change. The drug taker however is a type of chameleon not only living a lie as in the celebrity cook who has admitted to pushing the stuff up her nose but due to the amount of money they have, can blithely feed their habit to their heart's content.

Do any of these drug users march in the streets to proclaim how unjust and unfair the whole trade is because the little bloke at the bottom of the food chain is still crapping in an open latrine? Or that his house is a mud hut with a hole for a door and no running water or electricity? I don't think so.

When we look on Twitter at all those who are saying that this particular cook is all the more 'hot' because she takes drugs it is heart breaking. Sad in the extreme that what really matters is not that much. Nothing at all. Just the artifice and layers than when peeled away reveal even more of nothing.

Christmas is coming and the usual gorging of cash machines, debt and overeating is about to commence. No doubt many a furtive snort of the white stuff will be taking place too. Or harassed, unhappy people across the land will be reaching for the joints and thinking just how cool and acceptable recreational drug use is. And whenever they will feel like shit, which from the prevalence of drugs in our society, is all the time, they will reach for some more.

I never took drugs in my whole life. Ever. Never wanted to. Never interested. Never bothered. I've thrown dinner companions, mid-main course, out of my house when the cocaine came out. I just don't want to be around or know anyone who is so f...d up mentally that they can't survive life without screwing their brains even more.

I was greatly influenced by the books I've read throughout my life: Mishima, The Art of the Samurai. We are British after all and yet, the stiff upper lip has all but disappeared. The Samurai had to be in control of himself at all times. Any sign of weakness could compromise the life of the master he was defending. Samurai were not even tempted by the thought of falling in love - a woman's charms could enveigle the Samurai to do many things, perhaps one of them even to betray the master.

I revere the Samurai and in my own life have been as strong as I can. I am courageous by both character and choice. Life is an exceptionally difficult endeavour for anyone who thinks. None of it is easy. I'm aware of my own frailty and can get overwhelmed just like anyone. But I positively refuse to share this precious gift of life with anything or anyone which or who will make it even harder. I put drugs in that category.

It is ironic that the ancestors of those who fought for the women's right to vote, for freedom from slavery, for a better and more just society, for equality and brotherhood, and for equal rights for women, are themselves enslaved, voluntarily.

Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

How to love yourself (and grow half a brain)

The recent furore regarding Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson is a perfect example of what is wrong with all of us. The many fans of Ms. Lawson have been rushing to her defence on Twitter and portraying her as the victim in her very messy marital breakdown. In fact, nothing could be further than the truth.

Ms. Lawson is a jaw-dropping, magnificent specimen hence the reason for her spectacular popularity. Humans are hard-wired to appreciate beauty. A face that is pleasing to the eye elicits a positive response from the beholder. But Nigella is not blameless in her marital woes. For those of us who have been married for a long time and then divorced, it can be quite difficult to describe the moment when the camel's back broke. The disintegration of a marriage is a long process and it takes two to destroy what 'no one should tear asunder'.

The cult of worship of 'celebrities' goes too far. God must be well and truly dead for us to focus all our adoration on mere mortals.

I recently took issue with a-shall-remain-nameless 21-year-old who had been invited on a panel to expostulate her views on feminism. I asked on Twitter for someone to please enlighten me as to how a 21-year-old with no experience in life apart from participating in a televised baking competition which she lost, could have views if any, on the heavyweight issue of feminism. The blows that rained down on my head were fast and furious. Again the adoration of a human being elevated to a mythical status came into play. The tweets raged: how dare I and what qualified me to make that remark? I couldn't be bothered to respond back on Twitter (social media is too time consuming for us busy types) but here are a few reasons why: twenty-five years busting my guts in a man's world, being the boss of dozens of male employees in two global companies who took great issue with having to answer to a woman and being forced to earn their grudging respect, working so hard to keep a roof over my head that I had to choose a career over a family, having a boss who made it plain that if I didn't sleep with him I've be demoted (I quit that job pronto and found another - in those days we didn't run off screaming about sexual harassment) etc. I kind of feel qualified to have an opinion about feminism.

The 21-year-old sought to defend herself by stating that no one had said she was an authority on the issue and so it went on, a series of lame and capricious remarks in her defence which for a philosophy graduate showed a complete absence of reasoned thinking.

Our society idolises the mediocre - the wag who snares a footballer and grows pneumatic breasts becomes something of an 'expert' whose views should matter. Journalists have made whole careers of their sad, pathetic, insecure lives- the 'me, me, me' style of writing in the first person only, where every last intimate, gory detail is paraded, has made these walking zombies wealthy.

But let's come back to the beautiful Nigella Lawson. She is highly watchable as she stirs the pot and bats her eyelids simultaneously. But she's not a chef. She's a cook but does anyone call her that? I remember when Ms. Lawson began her TV career (some years before I threw the TV out permanently). I was horrified at her gastroporn and believe me, I am no blushing violet. I'd lived in France for many years (with all that entails) and to go from an appreciation of the way food is grown, and a near reverence in the preparation and consuming of food to a salacious-in-your-face-dripping-with-sexual-innuendo-and-strictly-for-entertainment-on-an-extremely-vacuous-level approach, had me quite literally in hives.

I often allude in my writing about being true to oneself. Look around you. Not only is God dead but so too is the inner life - the introspective, reflective, thought-inclined self.

We have become too lazy to think. We absorb, not by a process of symbiosis which infers a co-benefit but as empty cells that are brainwashed into believing just about anything. The end result of a society where no one thinks for themselves anymore is Animal Farm. Remember that line about some of us being more equal than others? A handful soon recognises that the vast majority are somnolent and exploit that to their own benefit. It doesn't help that 'celebrities' like Russell Brand or Jeremy Paxman say they don't vote - it only reinforces what the powers-that-be want to hear: that the real issues in our society don't matter all that much.

I had a very good friend (then in his 40s) who joined a cult, sold his belongings, stocked up on canned food, went to live underground in the hills in Washington State while he waited for the end of the world. He truly believed what he had become. It took a de-programmer (a former cult member who had left the cult and reverted their own brainwashing) several months to change my friend back to his old self and to help him to relearn to think for himself. We laugh about it now some twenty years later. I can't really see the difference with the cult of celebrity today. Can you?

Photo and painting copyright SvD.

Sunday, 1 December 2013