Sunday, 31 August 2014

Things I saw in the woods today, part 92

Conkers at the ready:

Little boys used to sling these at each other, many moons ago before the PC brigade arrived. Legend has it that if you soak your conkers in vinegar, they get really, really hard and inflict the most damage- oh, dear, I'm probably going to go to jail for saying that....

A Bacchanalian feast of berries- here are blackberries and hawthorn berries. The former are small and sweet- ideal raw with cream or in jams and tarts. Hawthorns on the other hand are tooth dissolving raw but make a pleasant jelly, jam or liqueur. My morning feast of blackberries during my walk with the hound, gives me an incredible Vitamin C high- great if you feel a cold coming on...
The elderberries are ripe! In our folklore that means it is officially the end of summer.
Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Extremism and the murder of James Foley

Near my house is a field where I know there to be not one but two nests of adders. In the summertime, the ground seems to move but upon closer inspection, it is the snakes trembling with delight as they lay in the sun. The hound and I know to avoid the adders and so we gingerly cross the field and out of their path.

The same applies to extremists/fanatics, misguided individuals intent on creating havoc: we can choose to walk in the opposite direction.

Last week we had the most awful, shocking news of American journalist, James Foley, being murdered by a fanatic. There is a separate debate to be had on the value of social media but suffice it to say that those who watched the video of a man's life being ended and succumbed to a perverse voyeurism need to reflect upon their behaviour long and hard.

There are so many threads here to discuss: the dignity of James Foley's parents despite the agony of seeing their child murdered in a most heinous way. The argument that all religion is the cause of suffering and war. The British scientist, also in the news, who argues that all deformed or imperfect children should be murdered in the womb. The fanatics, born and bred in the UK who declare that they hate the UK and have gone off to fight for a 'cause'. What's the difference between any of these people? Who is the odd one out? The one preaching love not hate.

I recently spent two months doing voluntary work which introduced me to various echelons of British society but it was the outsiders who intrigued me the most. I was appalled, to put it lightly, that there are many who do not see themselves as British. They cling to the ways of the old country which they have never even set foot in, maintaining customs, such as intermarriage, which are not theirs but more accurately, those of their long dead ancestors. The distinctive garb, the determination to speak a pidgin version of their mother tongue, and marrying only within their splintered communities clearly demonstrate a dread of integrating into British society.

Oh, I will get called all sorts of terrible things for saying this but here it is: this laissez-faire approach of our immigration policy should never be allowed. We live in a country filled with churches and despite all the PC nonsense in the world, there should be no place for those who do not wish to belong to this great country of ours. I would willingly give my life for this green and pleasant land. I can think of nowhere else in the world where I can walk in the woods and feel safe, or to be able to think as clearly as I do than Great Britain. The foggy, wet climate suits my personality for introspection and solitude.

I owe this country everything. Nowhere is perfect just as no lover is the prince charming we wish he would be. But there can be no halfway compromise for those wishing to call this their home. Either they develop a passion for beans on toast or the government should rethink not just its immigration policy but the ripple effect of engaging in faraway conflicts that send refugees flocking to our shores.

It would also appear that not wishing to offend has become so ingrained in British thinking that even the secret services have spectacularly misjudged the extent of the nascent and thriving extremism on their doorstep. That alleged killer of James Foley is so obviously from a specific environment as I have alluded to above, a potential breeding ground for dissent. And yet one gets the impression that the intelligence services and the government have been slow off the mark to understand this. If I am wrong I will eat my hair dryer.

One can get caught up in a swell of racism when the truth is, Britain ought to be proud of its heritage. Forget apologising and appeasing- where has that got us? Whose crazy idea was it to permit scores of non-English speaking people to be granted residency and horror upon horror, citizenship? Is it not already apparent that if immigrants don't speak the lingua franca they will always see themselves as wishing they were somewhere else?

It may come as a complete shock to HMRC but there are millions of people in this country who do not even pay tax. There is a parallel economy- just like in the City of London, I might add- but one where all transactions are handled in cash. Just go for a walk through any deprived part of the UK and open your eyes.

How can the government fix it? Have the courage to say that women should wear bikinis on the beach, like the French have, because that is what it means to be British. Insist that children regardless of their parents' denomination or culture, learn not only to recite Shakespeare backwards but that the British way of life is to be admired and respected. And make national service mandatory. All these idiots who claim to hate the West and have gone off to fight for some cause while wearing Timberland boots- what irony! They should count themselves so lucky they were given the choice to be a disgrace to the human race.

There's another argument- just like the women who cry sexual discrimination because their boss tried to sleep with them- yawn- or the person who cries racial discrimination because their boss complained about their dreadlocks ending up in the soup, those ignorant  'extremists' make everybody else look bad. Not all Muslims are fanatics- Islam is essentially a religion about peace and brotherhood. If someone misinterprets the tenets of their faith through sheer ignorance, everyone else gets tarred with the same brush. A certain British scientist mocks organised religion yet the Pope comforted the parents of James Foley and they were immensely grateful for his words. Why ridicule faith when it provides compassion and solace?

Life remains the great enigma. Our paths were written in the stars long ago. And in one life there are many journeys to make. Choose yours wisely.

Photo and painting, The Musing Man, oil on paper, copyright SvD.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Things I saw in the woods today, part 91

Inside a bale of hay:

 A dried conifer leaf:
 Ripening hawthorn berries:
 The woods, carpetted with the first dried autumn leaves:
 A horse chestnut leaf beginning to die- the Autumn is coming:
 A feather covered in morning dew:
Photos copyright SvD.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Busy bee

For those of you wondering why I have been absent for a few days- the days are not long enough! I typically retire at 1am every morning clutching my hot water bottle. Every ounce of energy has been spent drumming up support for the festival and spreading the word plus all the many other thousands of things that need doing to make the festival happen. Simply put, as one gets older time rushes past us at a terrifying speed and we are left with the sensation that we are not working as fast as we should. I'm not complaining at all. The artists are a joy to work with and I am happiest making things happen. When I look back at my crazy life, in spite of all the bad things that have happened, the best moments were the ones where I simply dived in with a smile on my face. In love, in work, in trying my hand at all that stuff that you would normally avoid if you're sane.

I've not been able to find time to write my weekly articles for the Huff POST- everything should return to normal soon(ish).

Here is a photo to warm the hearts - some child actually did something to make me smile for a change. (It's not that I don't like kids, it's just that they are not that interesting unless they can engage in a proper conversation and possess basic manners). I came upon this in the woods today:

With all the terrible news in the world and I weep for the family of James Coley (his brave parents are so dignified in their terrible loss), can we please just laugh, smile and love more?

An owl is hooting not far from my study window. He sounds rather mournful and it has just poured with rain.

Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 18 August 2014

A worthy charity to benefit from Art Soufflé

Samantha van Dalen, organiser of Art Soufflé The Meridian FM Art Festival, is pleased to announce that part proceeds of ticket sales to the private view and art sales during the festival will be donated to The Blond McIndoe Research Foundation.  “I knew straight away that I had to support this wonderful foundation which is conducting ground breaking medical research to transform the lives of patients suffering wounds from traumatic injury, cancer or birth defects. The Blond McIndoe Research Foundation, which traces its history back to burned airmen of WWII, receives no statutory funding and relies on donations. The charity is based in East Grinstead which also played a part in my decision."
Blond McIndoe CEO, Jacquie Pinney, expressed her delight at the generosity of Ms. van Dalen and hopes that members of the local community will purchase the limited number of tickets available to the private view of the festival which is on the 23rd September. The private view is by invitation only however a strictly limited number of tickets are available to purchase at a cost of £300 each (each ticket admits two). For further information please contact Samantha van Dalen on 01 883 341 646. The Blond McIndoe Research Foundation will also receive part proceeds of sales of art during the festival so please do come along and show your support. Art at the festival will be available to buy from £20. (cards and prints) up to £60,000.

The private view: An evening with Dennis Locorriere, art and wine. Dennis Locorriere of Dr. Hook fame, will be performing at the private view. Dennis has sold 60 million albums in 40 countries as the original lead singer of Dr. Hook and in his own successful solo career. As both a songwriter and performer, Dennis can count many number one hits to his name. Timeless, a Dr. Hook compilation album, spent several weeks in the Top Ten British Charts earlier this year. A limited number of tickets to the private view are still available. Please contact the festival office on 01 883 341 646 or email: 

Kingscote Vineyards, Mill Place Farm, Vowels Lane, East Grinstead,  West Sussex, RH19 4LG The festival dates and times:  Tuesday 23rd September 2014 Gallery Drinks Reception Press Night & Private View/Dennis  Locorriere of Dr. Hook Special Performance  (Strictly by invitation/advance ticket purchase only)
Wednesday 24th September 2014 Open to the public 11am-6pm  Thursday  25th September 2014 Open to the public 11am-6pm  Friday 26th September  2014 Open to the public 11am-8pm  Saturday 27th September 2014 Open to  the public 11am-6pm  Sunday 28th September 2014 Open to the public  11am-5pm  Monday 29th September 2014 Open to the public 11am-6pm   Tuesday 30th September 2014 Open to the public 11am-6pm  Wednesday 01st October 2014 Open to the public 11am-6pm  Thursday 02nd October 2014  Open to the public 11am-6pm Admission is free.


Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Huffington Post- One Year already!

This month marks my one year anniversary as a contributor with The Huffington Post. The HP has a list of all my articles here: Too many to count

I'd like to thank Carla Busazi, the former Editor-in-Chief, who liked my work and agreed to post it on the world's biggest news enterprise. The UK version has 8 million readers every month. I love writing and I hope you've enjoyed reading my musings on this crazy life.

I'll keep going for as long a The HP will have me.

Photo by my late beloved papa.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Robin Williams

How very sad to learn of the passing of Mr. Williams who apparently has committed suicide at the age of 63. Since news of his death broke, Twitter has posted thousands and thousands of messages from his many fans expressing their sadness. Mr. Williams possessed a seemingly gregarious personality and delighted in playing the clown. The person laughing is usually crying on the inside. Laughter is a type of medicine to suture a bleeding spirit. The human condition is one of incredible highs and lows. No one is born so even keeled in their mentality that they never suffer from the business of living. Religion was invented as a means of seeking higher guidance because some craved solace plus it added meaning to already complicated lives. For others there is alcohol or drugs or abuse though addiction of anything from eating disorders to sex addiction. Much has been written on depression as a disease. I still disagree with the moniker - disease is something physical as in a dying body through chronic illness. Mental illness appears to be prevalent amongst middle-aged white males and is one of the biggest causes of suicide in the US.

Our society expects us to behave a certain way and think in a manner that conforms. Just today I was trembling in my boots as I spoke to the Inland Revenue about filing my company return.  Put one foot wrong there and I could spend the rest of my life regretting it. I should add that HMRC are always very amenable to deal with and my trepidation is usually ill-placed. The point I am making though is that human beings live in an almost perpetual state of stress. Money worries, love worries, job worries, the list goes on.

A few weeks ago I interviewed an artist on my radio show and she made the following remark: the only way she can be free is to paint. Nobody can tell her what to do when she is holding that brush to canvas. In a sense she is right but almost certainly wrong too. All thought is based on experience or idea that has gone before. Put it this way- in screenwriting there are seven distinct stories to tell.
(If you didn't know what they are, here are all seven:  
Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches 
The Quest
Voyage and Return

It is impossible to veer away from these definitive paradigms because they reflect the spectrum of human experience. The only difference in these types of stories is the way the screenwriter will interpret the rules by adding his unique take on them through his writing skill. The same applies to the artist I mentioned above. She may think she is free when she paints but she is actually following a set of rules which constitute painting in oils and which she can't ignore. Her 'language' i.e. her interpretation, may differ but that is all.

How does this lead to the issue of suicide? And why are middle-aged men in particular succumbing to the last resort? If we accept the argument that we're not really free and that we are forced to pursue materialistic happiness because that's what modern day living is all about, the argument could end right there. However let's look at it from another perspective. If I put the question to you to tell me which public figure would you say is a role model, you would probably struggle like all hell to answer. What is a role model anyway? Is it a good, virtuous person? Is it a politician who doesn't tell fibs? Is it an individual who has sacrificed their lives for the greater good? The truth is most of us would be hard pressed to name a role model apart from the obvious ones like Gandhi or Mandela-  the likes of whom would probably never appear again. In other words, our perception is skewed towards what we want to believe not what is.

Mr. Williams entertained us all for decades and fans made the mistake of thinking he was the characters he was portraying. Anything but. Mr. Williams was just as tortured as the average Joe Bloggs who struggles to pay the bills every month. Like death, sadness is a great leveller. We are all prone to feeling burdened by the business of living. Middle-aged men can feel like complete failures when they look at their lives and feel emasculated rather than the capable, strong providers they are meant to be.  The mid-age crisis is more about confronting death and lost dreams than wanting to be young again. Women have feminism as their pet cause, men have a stereotype to live up to. 

A friend of mine recently confessed that he considers himself a failure. I reminded him that I have failed more times than I have succeeded in my life. The demands we make on ourselves are out of proportion to the lives we should be living: quieter, calmer, and less frenetic. But I'm not exactly practising what I preach with fervent zeal: I beat myself up when I haven't worked hard enough every day and when I haven't ticked off the long list of things that needed doing. Perhaps it's the feeling that I'm running out of time and I need to get it all done NOW.

We are all familiar with that expression of  'prioritising' what needs our attention. Like my lists and my hankering for order. Confusion and disorder cause imbalance and disharmony- people like me cannot think straight in a messy house. But searching for order to construct our lives is, in a sense, a great insecurity. One friend complains about my brightly coloured dinner plates when he comes over- to him food can only be consumed on plain white porcelain. His desire to be surrounded by only black and white (even his clothes) actually masks a deep-rooted fear of being forced to prise apart his rigid thinking: by everything being uniform there are no surprises.

Taking risks in life requires a great deal of bravery and courage. When we limit our thinking out of fear we are preventing all the good things from finding us too. In my opinion, one of the greatest disservices ever done to mankind is to suppress the black dog by a dependency on anti-depressants, foisting addiction for wont of a better word, onto the vulnerable. Another acquaintance who suffered a nervous breakdown considers herself 85% cured of her depression but still not sure of ever being her 'old self' (that's the remaining 15% speaking). She has been taking anti-depressants for 30 years and in stronger and stronger dosages. More than half of her life out of her head. And although she's not supposed to drink alcohol, she finds that she can't stop drinking when she does. She's stuck with a two headed monster for the rest of her life.

The solutions to our problems have habitually come as pills, hard liquor or something else that we can usually purchase with cold, hard cash. The answer remains abstract and external to ourselves. Convincing ourselves that we are responsible for our own happiness can sound too far fetched when we've already handed that task to something and someone else. Life isn't that thing going on around us. It's happening in our heads.

RIP Mr. Williams.

Photo copyright SvD.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Art Soufflé announces festival partner

And finally! I am pleased to announce the festival partner officially! Not just any company but one with a very respected worldwide reputation and high profile clients! A company which operates in 20 different countries and sees the value of associating their brand with a prestigious art event. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome AIR PARTNER plc, the official partner of Art Soufflé The Meridian FM Art Festival.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Things I saw in the woods today, part 90

A ripening damson:

A beech nut (uneaten by the squirrels for a change. I was standing under a beech tree and was pelted by the squirrels as they ate the nuts and threw the spent shells to the ground).
The woods:
A pretty wildflower (one of the few remaining as most are going to seed).

And back home:

A white spider on a rose:

Photos copyright SvD.

My latest article on The Huffington Post

05th August 2014

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Art Soufflé The Meridian FM Art Festival

I've got all the artists on board and I'm just so grateful to have the energy to get this festival off the ground. Amazing how people want loads of money or a great mate, a fancy holiday or a nice house. I'm just happy with the strength to carry on doing something that I love! I hope you will support Art Soufflé and come and see the work of world renowned artists in a pretty unique setting- a vineyard! Here's a shot of the state of the art barn where the exhibition will be held. The barn measures a spectacular 150 x 50 feet and will be filled with some outstanding art for a whole ten days!

Art Soufflé looks set to be an annual event so please add it to you social calender!

Many thanks to the artists who are considered to be the finest in their profession:

The artists:

 Gill Bustamante
 Dennis Locorriere
 Alexandra Beale
Charles Willmott

For more on the festival and the artists, please visit:

For the latest festival updates, please visit: