Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Grumpy Old Men, Feeding Wild Birds & HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

On Sat 27th December I was sitting on the train into London Victoria from out in the shires where I live. That direct train is usually quite empty on a Saturday at 11.00am but of course this was the holidays so families heading for a day out or those journeying back up north after visiting their southerly relations, had packed the carriages to the gills. I sat next to a young, very blond and blue eyed man- everyone is getting younger than me as I get older- who kindly removed his backpack from the seat in order for me to sit down. In front of us were two elderly gentlemen in their 70s, one was English with a smart jacket, brown hair, distinguished. The other was Scottish with thinning hair and thick glasses (from what I could make out seeing them from behind). They were talking animatedly to each other- clearly very old friends who had reunited over Christmas. Their baritone voices could be heard distinctly above the din of chattering and crying babies. Their conversation was continuous and intense; one could not help overhearing. From where I joined them on the train, here is how the conversation went:

Subject A-The children- had lovely homes, excellent jobs and were making loads of money. All the children were supposed real estate czars who had made a killing in investing in the right property etc. (I smiled to myself: The criterion to measure all of human existence is always money.)
Subject B-Politics-
The Englishman railed that our current government is no different to the days of the Raj or colonisation in Africa: power is still in the hands of a chosen few who continue to oppress the majority. Economic oppression is exactly the same as colonisation whereby the unrestrained greed of the City of London has literally damaged swathes of lives by impoverishing people even further (resulting in banks not lending and interest rates going up etc.).
Subject C-Crime/Eugenics-
The Englishman stated that more crime is going unpunished and the only solution is to rely on science- "Hopefully", he said, "scientists will be able to identify the gene that gives people the propensity to do bad things," (at this stage, there was an almost joyous trill in his voice), "doctors will act to abort those fetuses and eliminate the risk of a bad person being born."
"Yes, yes," concurred the Scotsman,"that sounds like a logical next step. And a good thing."

The train called at Clapham Junction and both gentlemen got off, still in full flow. I breathed a long sigh of relief and the blond, blue-eyed man seated next to me and I looked at each other. "Did you hear that?" I asked. He nodded, saying: "I was about to interrupt so I could throttle the both of them."

Tweet, Tweet!
I have been feeding wild birds forever- I love to see their cheeky little faces poking at the kitchen window, some dare to even knock on the window pane when their feeding baskets are empty. Blue tits are demanding feeders, robins are fearless and suspicious, magpies travel solo to feed and swat away the smaller birds, house sparrows are gregarious and like to share a bath with both the tits and the sparrows, blackbirds seem to prefer their own company etc. I do wonder though, if feeding wild birds is a good thing: every day the usual suspects reappear and feast on suet balls that I put out and which I seem to replenish with military precision weekly. Surely in the summertime all of the berries were more appetising? What about a few nuts or seeds in the Autumn? Windfall fruit just lying there for the taking? Fancy a few flies? Grubs and small insects no good? How about a slug or two? Or a juicy snail? All the birds seem to shake their heads and tweet loudly at me when I ask these questions. "Negative! We want suet balls only!"

The issue of feeding wild birds presents a philosophical dilemma- would they survive, as they and their ancestors have clearly done for thousands of years, without me?

New Years Resolutions
"Bah humbug!", I hear you screech, at the thought of making the dreaded New Year's Resolutions. The diet, the smoking, the conviction that something has to change in order to bring in the new year, leaves many breaking out in a cold sweat. As a former smoker, here's my advice (for what it's worth): you'll stop smoking when you need to (that could mean when you're carried out head first or when you have just had enough). If you want to lose weight- walk more (it's free) and cook every day. If you want to be happy, steel yourself with courage because changing what's wrong in your life is the hardest thing you will ever do. A good place to start is to inspect under those armchairs and sofas- you know the ones that you always vacuum around but never move? I'll bet you anything that if you tip them over and peer underneath, you'll be horrified to discover the hundreds of chew marks where moths have been breeding merrily away unbeknownst to you. That's the only truth you'll need to find this coming year: change the stuff no one else can see.

Happy New Year! I wish you all health, happiness (your truth) and continued sanity.

PS Do remember that love makes the world go 'round so do find someone to kiss too!!

The Kiss, oil on canvas, copyright SvD.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas Day menu- in France

Once a year I call or write to the mother of my best friend when I was at university. This communication takes place at Christmas every year and this is our 28th year of staying in touch. As always, Jacqueline, who is French and lives in Grenoble, talked me through the menu for today. This is what she made for her guests. Only in France:
Kir royal with amuse-geules
Smoked salmon with salad leaves and toasts with caviar butter
Roasted sea bass with a garlic cream sauce
Gratin dauphinois
Bûche de noel with raspberries
White wines

This menu is very close to Heaven for me.

 Troytron, Copyright Jon Prothero, Oil on canvas. Not for sale.

Monday, 22 December 2014

My latest article on The Huffington Post

13 December 2014

I do believe this is my fiftieth article to be published.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Love, The True Message of Christmas

Last week we had the Sydney Siege and the terribly sad murder of young children in Peshawar. The heart-breaking photos of lives cut short in a pool of blood remind us that our vacuous celebrity culture is shameful and shallow in the extreme. The question of what really matters in life seems to elude most people these days. I want. I need. I must have. It is mine. We seem intent on possessing and taking ownership of everything. In fact, nothing is ours.  

A friend once invited me to help myself to the many books she had become the de facto owner of when she purchased the flat of a very old woman in London's trendy Holland Park. The lady had died alone, a spinster with no descendants. Everything in the flat had been included in the sale. Old photo albums, dozens of them, hundreds of books on art and culture, a rare King James Bible, dried flowers from the lady’s trips to Bethlehem, paintings and Persian rugs. All of it, once treasured possessions, was reduced in sentimental value to zero because the owner had died. She couldn't take the money with her and those items amassed over a lifetime meant nothing to anyone but her. To this day however I use that King James Bible and at my father’s funeral, I read psalm 23 from it in front of a congregation I could barely see through my tears.

Nothing is ours. We are just passing through this life and where to or from we shall never fully understand. When bad things happen such as Sydney or Peshawar, we are reminded of how brief our time here on earth really is. And why are we here if it is to only suffer?? I once wrote a story about a young woman who unravels the life of a very intriguing and enigmatic woman through objects she once owned and which ended up in charity shops. In order to complete the puzzle of that woman's past, the younger woman goes from charity shop to charity shop to search for as many clues as she can. And by the time she has completed the puzzle there is a sense of an anti- climax that after all, that lady was just like her: she had loved and lost in the same way and apart from her beautiful possessions had lived a relatively nondescript life.

Someone once famously said that seeking to disprove the existence of God is as pointless as attempting to prove he exists. One concept cannot be fathomable without the other. We too are the benefactors of past owners charity shop possessions as there will be a future ones who replace us. The diamond brooch will effectively outlive us all and is of a superior longevity than our skin and bones, which will turn to dust.

Ancient Tibetan texts say that it is better to live a short and unhappy life than a long and happy one. I have often pondered on the significance of these words especially since we are all living longer lives in the West. Are we therefore not allowing fate to run its proper course? I want, I need, I must have. It is mine. A number of famous former billionaires died this year and all penniless. All gone. And in the end all that was left was their reflection in a mirror and one they had grown to dislike.

Since I entered the second half of my life I secretly long for the day that I will own very few things and preferably live in a hut- my hundreds of useless possessions that clutter my home are reminiscent of a past that both abandoned me and I abandoned. What therefore is the purpose of looking at these objects everyday when my reality has no connection whatsoever to them. As one gets older, the realization becomes obvious that the possessions we covet offer a hollow solace when the true purpose of life is anything but ownership.

I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to volunteer my services to any charity that will have me on Christmas Day. Everyone has said the same thing- they need weeks to get me through all the essential security checks etc.  I truly wanted to help in some small way, in any way but no one will have me.

Our world has become so bureaucratic that a random act of kindness is discouraged in a world where random cruelty is rampant. If we see a child crying in the street we are loathe to offer a hug lest we get harshly judged. A well-known journalist derided the misfortune of others who end up on benefits and yet to assume that everyone is a scrounger shows a fundamental lack of humanity. We are moving further away from the intrinsic values that define us as human. I recently had an altercation with a neighbour whose gardener lights bonfires practically every day. I wrote a polite letter and asked please to find a compromise to the incessant pollution making it impossible for me to step into the garden. I received no reply. And finally despite repeated requests, a wall of stony silence and a pistols-at-dawn glare if we cross paths. When we appoint ourselves as the centre of the universe, we forget that we make each other human. Tragically we are losing the ability communicate with each other because we feel that we do not need to. Treating others shabbily is OK because it suits us. But all is not lost: it is Christmas, after all, which is first and foremost about family and giving thanks.  Beyond the tinsel and the excess of food and drink, there is a simple message in the Christmas story. Practice random acts of kindness. Make someone smile. Say something nice instead of something negative. Ask friends and family if they need anything.

Love, love and love.

Merry Christmas and A Peaceful, Happy New Year!

Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Brighton sunset

My great mate, Gary, with whom I was having a long natter on the 'phone tonight, took these photos of a Brighton sunset as we chatted away (and he was perching precariously outside his living room window). That sunset is literally over the sea- Brighton gets minutes more sun than the rest of us by virtue of being so southerly. Lucky them! It was pitch black in my neck of the woods as Gary took these shots- in the order below as he took them:

Photos copyright Gary Springett

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Back to the future

Having given up presenting on radio earlier this year due to a severe lack of time, I have been tempted back: I started a new show last Sunday on Susy Radio. Please do have a listen this coming Sunday between 12-2pm GMT when I'll be interviewing a Cannes Film Festival winner....

It's good to be back.

Photo copyright Chris Jenkins

That's me and my dinner companions last Saturday night, stealing crafty fags outside in minus 2 degrees! Brrrrr...hence the rugs and scarves.  And I don't even smoke! It was a hell of a dinner party....Two ducks were involved- roast duck, that is.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Something to warm my bones

Our British weather is pretty unique and at the moment we are enduring misty rain coupled with freezing temperatures. The sun will also be pretty scarce until April or May. The combination of damp plus cold means that one's bones generally feel frozen. Today I desperately needed something to warm me up on both the cellular and orthopedic level (OK, I admit there was an element of suffering from a mild case of hungoveritis as well). I found the cure lurking in the fridge as always: a soup made from last night's roast duck carcass and a good handful of pearl barley. I truly feel restored....

Photo copyright SvD.

Are you moved yet?

Great art moves the viewer. That's it. No fancy words, no descriptions where the artist needs to explain what they are trying to say. Great art leaps out of the canvas and bites the viewer hard in the right spot- why? Because it speaks to the soul. No words, no fancy descriptions, just a visceral 'ooompf!'.

Here's one of those moments:

"Passion", Acrylic on canvas, copyright Jon Prothero

Jon Prothero has got this so right.

To browse Jon's work which is exclusive to Art Souffle and is not available anywhere else and to order in time for Christmas, please click here:

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Welsh artist, Jon Prothero, joins Art Soufflé

I am delighted to announce that Jon Prothero has entered into an exclusive collaboration with Art Soufflé. Jon's emotive and unusual work is avidly collected worldwide. Please visit the Art Soufflé website for prices and contact details: Jon Prothero at Art Souffle

Copyright Jon Prothero.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

My latest article on The Huffington Post

06th December 2014

Right angles in nature? Photo copyright SvD.

Pierre Chalory exhibition

A great day but a tiring one! Many thanks to Forest Row as always- a vibrant and beautiful part of the British art scene!

Pierre today at his exhibition. Photo copyright SvD.

And yours truly:

 Photo copyright SvD.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Seeking Latin-speaking lover

Two years ago I began learning Latin when I spied a grammar book on sale for 50p at my local train station (they do a recycling thing where second-hand books are sold for a small fee and the money goes to charity). I decided that the opportunity was too good to pass up. Always having wished I could understand the language, I set about teaching myself. Two years later I still can't speak Latin but I understand a fair amount. My method of self-teaching involves translating Latin texts into English and then from memory back again. Of course, failing memories and the distraction of living make this task quite difficult. One friend famously joked that in order to learn a language, one needs a lover who speaks the language fluently. Sadly, as native Latin speakers died around sixteen hundred years ago such a lover would be mummified version. And the local Catholic priest should not really be up for such extra curricular activities.

My experience learning this old language has been revelatory. As a fluent English and French speaker there is always a dichotomy taking place in my head when I speak either. English is a language that is both beautiful yet elusive in conveying a meaning. We have perfected the art of saying things without inflicting too much damage in English. French forces the speaker always to say what they mean (hence je t'aime is quite simply “I love you” and there is no verb for “like”). So the French either like you or hate you. English-speakers on the other hand have varying degrees of affection, regard, friendship, and only when very drunk, love. Even more telling, in English we shy away from verbs to describe any of the above. I regard you as someone I trust. I value your friendship. I find you delightful, etc. But deconstruct these sentences very carefully and you will see the meaning is as nebulous, if not capricious, as a fairy's wand. People like me want to know WHY you regard me or value my friendship, not just say it! So how did Latin affect the evolution of thought in English or French?

Latin was a startling language for its time and we see how humanity was beginning to form a moral code some two thousand years ago. All of the big issues- religion, belief in fate, the idea of a malevolent or benevolent team of gods either tormenting us or rewarding us, the concept of loyalty, justice, real politick, the concubine, the wife who must be above reproach, the brevity of our time here on planet earth- the Romans were talking about all of these and placing them into the framework of their daily lives. I am often astounded when I read very old books to see how human beings have not changed at all - will it be another ten thousand years before we have figured it all out? Or more worryingly, given the way the world is going, will we cease to ask ourselves any deep questions at all and perhaps just grunt instead of speak? Or maybe science will turn us into non-sentient beings that communicate via telepathy only and about what, who knows! Remove the need to say “there's no milk in the fridge” or “I love you” or to even question one's existence and the need to speak all but disappears.... Don't laugh or roll your eyes. When I read Latin it is almost as if the Romans are seated at the dinner table conversing with me- despite the two millennia between us. Humanity cannot possibly be the same generations from now particularly as pen and ink have been replaced by a microchip. Perhaps I should put the question to you: do you see any of these questions still popping up in say another 1,000 years?

Here are some of my favorites taken from two years of failing miserably to learn Latin:

Gaudia non remanent, sed fugitiva volant. Joys do not stay but take wing and fly away.- Martial

Neve putes alium sapiente bonoque beatum. Nor can you suppose that anyone is happy but the man who is wise and good. – Horace

Temporis ars medicina fere est. The art of medicine is generally a question of time. – Ovid

Nec cui de te plusquam tibi credas. Do not believe anyone about yourself more than yourself. - Roman proverb.

Vivere est cogitare. To live is to think. -Cicero.

Non opibus mentes hominum curaeque levantur. The minds of men and their cares are not lightened by riches. -Tiberius

Sperate, et vosmet rebus servate secundis. Hope, and reserve yourself for better times. –Virgil

Ingenium res adversae nudare solent, celare secundae. Adverse fortune is wont to reveal genius, prosperity to hide it. -Horace

Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A perfect day

To me this was a perfect day. Please note that I do not use the words "shop" or 'buy" or "purchase". This was a day that made me overwhelmingly happy.

Long morning walk with the hound in the mist and rain.
Meeting with art friend at the Arts Club on Dover Street in London. Chat about the art market and our plans.
Visit a rare books shop in Mayfair. Flip through a first edition of Henri Cartier Bresson's photos entitled Europeans- just exquisite.
Visit a Mayfair gallery where a solo exhibition is on show: I discover the work of Jeffrey Pratt. Colourful and bright work.
Walk from Mayfair to The Mall and visit an exhibition of the New English Art Club.
Head over to The National Gallery where I catch the Rembrandt Later Works Exhibition and see my favourite Bathsheba at Her Bath with her round belly and voluptuous curves.
Wander over to see Titian in another wing of The National Gallery when I suddenly realise that Rembrandt was another van Gogh- he saw the world as it was but wanted to portray it completely differently. Rembrandt's brushstrokes are almost abstract unlike Titian who was a classical painter. I am amazed that I hadn't seen the technique of Rembrandt and understood what a genius he was for developing a new language.
Feet aching- time to go home.
Hound happy to see me and we go for a walk in the pitch dark into the woods.

Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 1 December 2014

The worst years

I used to be a vegetarian.... for eight long years. I can honestly say that those years were the worst of my life, like a liaison without passion, a sexless marriage, and a love affair without the va-va voom. Why did I become a vegetarian? I have no idea!!!! Youth, stupidity, wanting to save the world. I cannot honestly remember- I was in my mid twenties and very intense. I was the queen of soya mince transformed into lasagna, burgers, sausages, all manner of foodstuffs that resembled meat. That halfway house of vegetarianism that pretends to be meatless used to be my obsession. Anyway, I loosened up eventually (and became even more confused) and abandoned eating non-sentient beings exclusively. However once in a while I feel this ridiculous urge to revisit my past and here we go: tonight's supper was aubergine fritters and quinoa with parsley. I know, somewhat tragic but quite delicious.

Photo copyright SvD.