Sunday, 27 December 2015

Less tackiness please, we're British.

This Christmas I hardly made a fuss- I ate frugally and spent a lot of time lying in bed- mostly because I had a terrible cold/flu and didn't have much energy. On Christmas Day I dragged myself to mass and was amazed to see how some parishioners had chosen to dress: leggings and a tight jumper stopping helpfully at the waist so that the gaze rested on a country-sized derriere. Mini skirts, fishnet tights and diving decolletages replete with overflowing embonpoint- if you fancied a bit of South Pole exploration, some of those necklines were certainly headed in the right direction. I always feel sorry for the priest when he gives communion to ...a pair of breasts. It used to be that attending mass on big occasions like Christmas, Easter, Advent etc which are all profound events in the christian calender, one would be sure to look demure and dignified. The thought of flashing skin and flesh was completely frowned upon. Nowadays anything goes in the way of dressing and behaving- a couple  flirted madly last Sunday in church; they arrived separately and left that way too but the temptation of  making doe eyes at each other while clutching a rosary clearly proved too much.

Tackiness is so widespread and prevalent in all walks of life from the lower working class all the way up to the highest echelons in society. I blame Charles and Diana who famously went public with their very personal problems. Since then the Great British Resolve to 'never complain and never explain' and to maintain a very stiff upper lip at all times seem to have all but disappeared from our daily lives. It is now completely acceptable to whinge ad nauseum, be rude and obnoxious and to show a complete lack of disrespect and consideration- cue to dressing like one is going to a nightclub when attending mass or worse yet, looking like one has literally rolled out of bed.

The mantra of so-called busy people who in fact are too rude and selfish to find time for others has become the norm. We all have that so-called friend who hasn't bothered to be in touch for months but rings up blithely on Christmas Eve, oblivious to the fact that their behaviour is wrong. I have now gotten to the point in my life where there are no words- once I fall silent the relationship is stone, cold dead. No amount of coaxing will bring it back to life. All we have is the present moment and if we allow others to treat us as if they can make up for their roughshod disregard in some distant future and one that most certainly will only suit them, then we should not complain about our hurt emotions.

Tackiness is not just the way you dress, it's also the way you think. Over Christmas I decided to watch TV- something I never, ever do but the house where I was staying had a gigantic TV in the living room and I thought I would vegetate in front of it. Now you have to understand that I never sit idly still as I am always doing something: writing, reading, walking, cooking, working, housework (which I enjoy). The instances in my life where I do nothing at all are few and far between and usually occur like this holiday season when I was too ill to do much else. I don't own a TV having thrown it out many years ago. This Christmas I remembered why I had: television is a mind fuck. The quality of the programmes is such low level nonsense designed for cretins. Listening to mindless, dumbed-down drivel aimed at those who clearly are grammatically and phonetically challenged filled me with such revulsion that afterwards my head actually ached. I can think of no worse torture than to be forced to watch television day in, day out. To see these so-called celebrities who do not have any real talent now passing themselves off as role models who teenage girls all want to emulate, fills me with a terrible dread. Would a show on philosophy or the meaning of life have an audience at all? Does anyone ask themselves BIG questions anymore?

We should all be concerned when we live in an age of mind-blowing stupidity and ignorance. Despite our wealth and the convenience which fools us into believing anything is possible, the soul life is what makes us want to become better people- kinder, more thoughtful, more concerned for our fellow human beings and most importantly, more interested in the world.

Britain used to be great- in a sense it was austerity, deprivation and simplicity that spawned great minds and made us masters of ingenuity and innovation. Could it be that we have too much now to see those glory days again?

Photo copyright SvD.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

So, this is Christmas

2015 has been a strange and in many ways, terrifying year. The Medusa of terrorism became a dreaded and unpredictable enemy. The Euro almost succumbed to racketeering and defaulting on Mickey Mouse loans (condoned at the highest level) and as it teetered on the edge, hundreds of thousands were forced into a poverty they had never imagined. Barbaric killing and destruction wrecked ancient civilsations probably for good.The world appeared at times to be slowly falling apart and for many, daily life became a nightmare of chaos and worry. In several countries today people are being displaced or impoverished by someone else's decision or recklessness.

This Christmas my desire to celebrate is muted. I have very little need for material possessions and hardly wish to buy anything; part of getting older is not feeling compelled to keep accumulating and to ask "Do I need it?". I am also haunted by the image of the starving, displaced refugee or the victims of pointless wars, whose homes, livelihoods and possessions have been reduced to rubble. There are economic casualties as well- the Greeks for example- and worst of all there are also too many in this life who have nothing. Not one possession even that belongs to them.. In the West our lives are filled with things: to do, possessions, mementos, trinkets, bric-à-brac, the latest fashion etc. but for some, a plastic bag to wrap only a faded memory is a great luxury.

Now that Christmas is upon us with all it's excessive, Bacchanalian over-indulgence, it is necessary to remember what this time will mean for those who have nothing. Victims of war or economic deprivation will have very little to celebrate. When they wake up on Christmas Day, they will still be covered in the grime of poverty and exclusion.. As we settle down to our Christmas feast, those who are less fortunate will be staring probably at an empty plate. Or a family of six may have to share a single egg. The homeless or displaced, those with literally nowhere to call home, will find their annihilation all the more heart-breaking. In the UK, homelessness has risen by  an average of 6% per year since the financial crisis of 2008. Contrary to popular belief, it isn't just alcoholics or drug users who end up becoming homeless but people who lose their jobs and can no longer pay their rent or mortgage. In other words, people like you and me.

I knew a former MD of his own company who was forced to close his business but then found it hard to ever get a job paying the equivalent of what he used to earn. At times he stopped looking for work altogether and was often broke. Lucky for him, his father would hand out the cash whenever he needed it. To this day, the gentleman in question now in his forties, relies on financial help from his parents who instead of judging him, support him because they love him. Not everyone is so blessed. We all know someone, for example, who has no family. No mother or father or brother or sister. The elderly especially, fall into this category of lonely souls.

Until one has experienced deprivation and hardship, it is too difficult to understand what others have gone through in their lives.. We would perhaps have a different attitude to our own baseless worries if we were fleeing persecution or if we had no money, friends or the support of loved ones.

In my humble opinion, Christmas has turned into a spectacle where we worship the wrong things and create a false impression of who we are and what really matters. The best Christmas is surely the one where our hearts are at peace.

As a family-less person, I have grown used to Christmas on my own. This year I shall do what I normally do on December 25th- go to church, walk my hound across a chilly landscape and give thanks for having everything I need.

Homo, qui in homine calamitoso est misericors, meminit sui. A man who is merciful to a fellow man in calamity, remembers what is due himself.- Roman proverb.

Merry Christmas.

Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Take off that veil and integrate

The horror of yet another gun attack by the so-called disenfranchised aka terrorists as a couple in America go on their deadly rampage. The media provides important information on their pasts- one born in the States, one born in Pakistan. Despite his Western upbringing, the husband imports and marries an ultra-conservative Muslim. I can't get my head around these people who are born in the West but for some unfathomable reason hanker for their roots to such an extent that they reject the values, traditions and customs of the First World. If I am completely honest and this is very un-PC, I find the whole thing quite vile. I am not being a snob or a racist in making such a statement but I do not understand how immigrants can show the finger to their hosts by enjoying all the benefits of living in the West (such as the simple luxury of having potable water running in the taps, good medical care, public transport etc) and yet refusing to assimilate.

There is a very disparaging description used by blacks to criticise their ilk who adopt Western thinking: coconut- black on the outside, white on the inside. Such a criticism is complete and utter garbage- what way should British-born blacks behave? Should they join a gang and perpetuate the stereotype? Those who have West Indian parents probably find it the easiest to integrate given the colonial history of the British-speaking Caribbean but to always point the finger and declare that one is defined by one's skin colour is just plain ignorant.

Obama and Oprah Winfrey are both black and they have excelled in a country that is supposedly anti-black. Oprah's childhood was dirt poor and she grew up in the deep south of America- she could not have been more disadvantaged if she had tried! I'm no fan of Oprah Winfrey (or Obama for that matter) but you have to admire her for what she has achieved. She certainly doesn't run around in a boubou (traditional African Kaftan) spouting back-to-her-roots rhetoric. Instead she recently posted photos of her Thanksgiving celebrations (a feast first introduced in the 17th century by white pilgrims - immigrants - in America) because she defines herself as American albeit African American.

There is no doubt that immigration has benefitted the West- today many of our ancestors came from somewhere else- Barbra Streisand, Albert Einstein, Lucien Freud, Henry Kissinger, Steven Speilberg are the descendants of Jews fleeing persecution. Steve Jobs was the son of an immigrant. Immigration by definition is about wanting a better life. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously chose the US over his native Austria.  I've been to Austria on walking holidays and my parents enjoyed their honeymoon in Innsbruck. Austria is a heavenly place where cultural identity is very strong- women and men still wear traditional costumes and anyone who has eaten the popular liver dumplings is unlikely to forget them easily.

When I'm in Austria or any other country for that matter, I can't wait to try the food and the booze - in Austria, the herb-infused schnappes is invigorating and therapeutic. In America I am particularly fond of Miami and the Cuban restaurants. In France I order a good Bordeaux with a bloody entrecôte. In the UK I enjoy a bacon sandwich on white bread with brown sauce. When in Rome one must behave like a Roman. I had hoped to go to Syria where the cuisine is/was renowned and ironically a combination of Mediterranean, Turkish and Persian flavours (in other words, influenced by those who settled there over hundreds of years).

What I object to is the insularity of immigrants and sadly, the government has little idea of how some ethnic groups in the UK simply refuse to integrate. There are two arguments here: liberals will say that we should facilitate those fleeing persecution etc. but the discussion seems to end once these refugees are given leave to remain. The other argument is that immigrants should simply dive in to their host country. My suggestion is that anyone who wishes to live in the UK, for example, must speak fluent English and they should be tested before being granted residency. It is also completely unacceptable to dress in traditional attire- the old country is now exactly that- a place that belongs to the past. There are countries in the world where Muslims and Christians live in harmony- Trinidad, for example- where Western attire is the norm in everyday life and when attending the mosque and church in equal measure. To my knowledge, neither group has attacked the other and begun a war.

The issue of identity has something to do with religion, yes, but also much more- having a job, being useful in society and forging an identity which everyone regardless can be proud of. Furthermore Britain is a Christian country- thousands of years of history and our peculiar offshoot of Catholicism, the Church of England, have led us here. This is a country of spires where we used to celebrate religious holidays instead of 'bank' holidays. Our culture has created some of the most unforgettable literature, art, music some of which has shaped the way we live now. Did you know that our royal family popularised decorating fir trees to celebrate Christmas? And it was an Englishman, Henry Cole, who sent the first Christmas Card in 1843? At the same time Charles Dickens', already a celebrated and hugely popular author, published A Christmas Carol, which one could say, paved the way for an entirely new market celebrating Christmas in all its sentimentality.

I am not entirely sure that politicians understand how to cope or deal with the terrifying prospect that awaits us with the rise of extremism. I doubt politicians have a clue what extremism actually is- the belief that immigrants are disenfranchised is too convenient. The monumental failure in my opinion is what politicians didn't do. We are at a crossroads where the rot has set in- cue to the terrible attacks taking place around the world. Yes, we have rights and I wouldn't wish for totalitarian rule where our every move is scrutinized- I was lucky to visit East Germany before the wall came down and saw what happens when people are forced to live in fear. But we simply cannot go on the way things are now hoping it will improve. Hoping that terrorists will take a happy pill and stop wanting to kill us. The Far Right is gaining ground in France. We are literally running out of time.

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

What your ability to love says about you

The latest attacks in Paris are a perfect example of  those filled with hatred instead of love. In a world where every news item is literally about death and destruction, it is hard to imagine John Lennon's world 'living as one'. The opposite of hatred is love, not self love but an altogether altruistic type of love. Love of others and their well being, doing things out of love and not expecting reward, being a person whose actions are always an expression of love. Romantic love is what we see in the movies but we forget that  love is a verb - to love- not a noun- self-love.

When people do bad things they are metaphorically screaming at the top of their lungs that they hate life and everyone in it. It is easy to become bitter, twisted and spiteful when things don't go our way or when others hurt and offend us but the truth is human beings are born with an innate ability to love. We smile unlike other species and we laugh. We feel things emotionally which we express verbally and physically but the process of deciphering thoughts and emotion is again unique to humans. Our brains are wired to experience sensory pleasure- food, sex, even titillating the brain through humour. Our make up enables us to love and hate in equal measure but choosing love over hatred takes wisdom and understanding. It is also surprisingly simple. Have you smiled recently at a complete stranger? Have you offered to help someone find their lost dog? Have you asked the disabled gentleman in a wheelchair wanting to cross the road if you can help him? Have you stopped to ask that young lady weeping on a park bench if she's OK? In other words, have you extended yourself to others out of love for your fellow human beings?

Although loving is simple, having the courage to do so is harder. We are all dancing as fast as we can while juggling the requirements of being employee, boss, mother, father, lover, mentor, tutor, friend, the list goes on. Many times, we hurry on past others claiming we are too busy to stop- the word 'busy' a convenient excuse for not caring enough to enquire after another or even spend five minutes exchanging pleasantries however pointless they might seem. Just chatting about the weather may be the only conversation that little old lady has had all day. Twenty-first century living has turned us into selfish egomaniacs where we place ourselves at the center of the universe. We are the axis on which the world turns and we treat everyone as a convenience who we discard at will like the packaging of our ready-made pizza. The rank disregard that we show others is why hatred has taken prime position on a world scale. We have grown so used to dispatching each other as we prioritise what we consider important that along the way, the cancer of hatred has metastasised. There will come a time when we may not even remember what love is. Those people already exist and they're making a very sick point by hurting others: that they don't care enough to stop, that they have forgotten how to love.

When we stop being able to love we abandon what it is to be human.We are already becoming dehumanised as we are already essentially desensitised to perversity and violence: television and feature films are becoming more explicit in an excess of everything in order to satiate audiences worldwide. What was once taboo is now the norm. Makers of commercial films know their audiences and what they want to see. Is it any wonder that some of the highest grossing movie franchises in recent years that none of them is about love? Look at the stratospheric popularity of violent video games, for example, beloved by lonely, young men the world over.  Children freely watch pornography which has replaced cartoons before the school run. There is a certain inevitability from using TV to control a restless child and for that child to equate an absence of independent thought with real life. Not only is our lust for instant gratification a form of hunger, the more we give in to it, the more we crave it.

If we want a better world, we need to re-learn how to carry out random acts of love. Smile. Say nice things only. Say hello and thank you as if it were the mantra to change the world. Offer to help even if the stress and inconvenience will mess up our plans. Extend ourselves beyond our personal bubble. Let others in. Listen to their stories. To love is to admire and marvel at every human experience, to see past ourselves for once. In the process of acting out of love, we can strike gold- that perfect balance borne out of love is peace. The whole world needs love now and more than ever. So what are we waiting for?

The sweetest irony in offering love is that we find ourselves in the process. A calmness and refusal to be enslaved by strong emotions, gimmickry, harmful ideology or false prophets overwhelms a peaceful mind- the utopia that we seek our entire lives is actually who we were always meant to be.

 Woldingham, Surrey. A most perfect place. Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Why social media is helping terrorists

Think back to the Great War in 1914-1918. News of victories, or the advance of invading armies was relayed by word of mouth or newspapers. A son, father, uncle, lover could have been killed and their loved ones would not know for several weeks, perhaps even months. The war was conducted far enough for the wives, sisters, children and elderly parents to carry on at least a semblance to their old lives. Today, war is a very different animal. Insidious and concealed behind a veil of religion where the interpretation of faith is not the wisest or most erudite. And the impulsiveness of today's fast food generation who want everything immediately is demonstrated by the way terrorists and war mongers use social media. They brag about their brutal and hideous 'achievements' and find a receptive audience with the least effort imaginable.

Thirty years ago when my generation was still typing letters on carbon copies and telex was considered rapid communication, it was wholly unimaginable to conceive of the carnage that the internet and social media would facilitate. While the arrival of the internet opened up vistas and growth possibilities to companies and enabled communication to become more or less instantaneous, no one could have known then how a technological innovation could become a deadly Medusa. There is a debate to be had on whether Twitter, You Tube, Facebook, should be shut down in order to stop the madder species literally dead in their tracks. Without an audience how could they boast about blowing up priceless relics or beheading their zillionth victim or bringing down a passenger jet full of families and children?

Sadly, social media and the internet also serves the purpose of the powers that be, to disseminate information in order to wag the dog. Not to mention the lefties who will march through the streets complaining about their rights to have their ego massaged - who would they be after all, without a selfie? What is the worth of a man or woman these days who doesn't desperately require attention without which they would simply not exist. My point exactly.

Photo copyright SvD.

How what could have been ruins the present

There are moments in our lives when we reflect whimsically upon the past- some are more prone than others to reminisce ad nauseum about a time when everything was better and to dwell on gilded, embellished memories. The truth is the past is a wildly foreign place- one where our recollection of the things we did and the rules we lived by are seen badly through the dense fog of time.

Recent events in Paris led me to amble down nostalgia lane and wonder about ex-boyfriends, whether they had been affected and if they were OK. I also found myself thinking what my life would had been like if I had actually married them. Strangely and perhaps I am hopelessly fickle but I concluded that I probably wouldn’t even still find them attractive anymore. It did however lead me to ask:

As we look behind us did our lives turn out the way we thought they would? And if we were able to revisit our past would we return as we are now or at the age we were then? I'd definitely want to go back in my current mental state; in other words I'd look like the twenty-something year old I was then but with the sabre-like clarity of mind I have now. Had I been this wise at twenty-five, my life would have been very different. I would have been a lot more ruthless and self-serving in the decisions I made, particularly professionally and hell, even romantically. I would have understood straight away that when men say ‘I love you’, they are not always telling the truth which would have in turn spared me a lot of childish anxiety. I would have put myself first and toppled all the other pieces on life's chessboard around me to the ground. I would also have certainly been more ambitious and single-minded about my future.

Ironically, what could have been is not about missing the chance to become more loving or kinder but about the self and its ego; when we look back, the centre of our vision is what we could have done to make our lives easier and eradicate the obstacles and challenges (and pain) we had to endure.  Yet and in spite of all the 'bad' things we have had to experience, it is a combination of what could have been, maybe even what we had secretly hoped for and what was, which have brought us to our current reality. Therefore it is better to forget that old question of whether we would change anything we did in the past of if we regret what we did.

Part of the process of getting old is becoming wiser and I would argue that any part of our lives where we wallow in grief about the past is not only obviously futile but also shows a distinct lack of understanding. Furthermore what could have been is essentially what we wished we had done but our desires then and in the very real present, the now, are completely different. A friend once confessed how much he regretted not becoming a lawyer. He used the excuse that his wife hated him attending night class when she wanted them to spend time together instead. And then children came along. When I asked him how his life would have been different had he become a lawyer, he gave the obvious response: that he would have been wealthier. And to his dying day he would speak about the money he would have made had he followed his dream.  He never really resolved within his mind the decision he had made and so it tormented him throughout  his entire life. Another example, would be the men we rejected simply because we weren’t sufficiently in love. Or in my case, maddeningly, crazily, passionately, mind-blowingly in love, which was the only scale of love I knew. There are moments now when I wish I hadn’t been so capricious because as women up and down the land will tell you, it's hard to find an intelligent, sane, available man these days.  (Women my age have a better chance of being abducted by aliens.)

The expectations of youth and the second half of a life are completely at polar opposites; love is no longer the burning firecracker it once was but rather a more gentle philosophical union of mind, body and spirit. The blush and earnestness of one’s ‘salad days’ are replaced by fewer but more implacable demands borne of a jaded awareness that affection often comes disguised as emotional slavery. And yes, as one gets older, a desire for peace and tranquillity is more alluring than the cacophony of sensory madness.

In the end, when we look at the years which have gone by, and it seems in the blink of an eye, only a wise man would readily admit that we brought about our own punishments in this life. It wasn't always the hand of fate that guided us as we sometimes shot for the stars and missed. Our own choices dictated the way our lives turned out whether for better or worse. Yet, I say this: there is no shame in dreaming, wanting and wishing or grasping the short straw. A wise man ought to suffer the punishment for the wrong choices with grace. Indeed he would be grateful that what could have been never happened. 


Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Sympathy for the Devil

Two friends died recently- one by drowning, the other by a massive stroke- and if there is any blessing in either of their demises, it certainly must be that both were swift. I watched both my parents linger in ill health for years, at the mercy of doctors who plied them with legal drugs by the truckload. In my view, patients become enslaved by their physicians who cannot promise a return to full health but instead torment their charges by offering a salvo for each individual symptom in the hope that some small improvement, usually by trial and error, is enough to dupe the invalid into thinking they are actually getting better.

There is no doubt that doctors perform amazing feats on a daily basis and to save the life of another is surely the most commendable act of all but the opposite is also true. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) an average of fifty people die in the US every day from overdosing on prescription painkillers. And also according to the WHO more people abuse prescription drugs worldwide than either cocaine or heroin combined. We all know someone who as soon as they catch a bad cold or flu complains about the doctor NOT giving them antibiotics. We suddenly become health experts when we visit the doctor fully versed in a) what's wrong with us and b) exactly the medication we need. Worse yet, it appears to be a badge of honour to actually have some physical ailment. An underactive thyroid, ovarian cysts, allergies, Crohn's Disease, etc. I'm not belittling anyone who is suffering but the prevalence of sickness and being ill has, in my view, replaced self-awareness. I know of one lady who speaks literally of nothing else apart from her and her family's visits to the doctor. Not just her immediate family mind you, but cousins, aunts, uncles too. I also know of another lady who self-medicates and is the defacto physician to her friends and family always handing out prescription medication. Hypochondria and self-medication can be a deadly combination (as attested by the WHO statistic above).

Voltaire summed up our obsession with doctors and sickness thus:
A physician is one who pours drugs of which he knows little into a body of which he knows less.

I would not only concur with the subliminal message of knowing ourselves less but add to that our fear of dying. I've been thinking a lot about smoking recently, for example. When I turned forty I felt more and more repulsed by my nicotine habit. Why? Because my father was gravely ill and I felt that anything that would hasten me to my grave was a bad thing. My father then died and I kicked the habit overnight. I literally did not even suffer withdrawal, such was my disgust for smoking.

Then I turned fifty and my mother died and around the same time friends and acquaintances also began to keel over. Suddenly not smoking began to seem kind of irrelevant and pointless. And having to choose between years of suffering and losing all of one's dignity by a slow, painful death (as was the case of my parents), dropping dead suddenly of a nicotine-induced stroke or heart attack began to look like a better option altogether.

Of course people will be jumping up and down the country screeching that smoking kills and only a severe dimwit would inhale but I can also attest to this- cigarettes were friends to me, a support when my life was pretty sad and miserable. And as an artist, cigarettes have helped me write and paint. The absolute in the non-smoking argument is that cigarettes kill. Well, walking my hound along a busy road today, my lungs weren't exactly feeling fine and dandy as I consumed vast amounts of diesel and petrol fumes. In fact I felt positively ill. I felt as sick as if the car exhaust pipes were actually stuck in my throat. Yet we can't live without our cars and therefore try not to think about what those fumes are really doing to us. Mobile phone technology, electrical pylons, microwaves, the list goes on. There are so many proven and unproven risks to our health that if we were to dwell on them we could go stark, raving mad. In order to avoid the hidden threats of our modern-day lifestyle we would have to retreat to a cave and deprogram our brains completely (and have the courage to admit that our lust for convenience is wholly to blame).

But what about self-awareness? Can a smoker knowing the risks be self aware? There's a very interesting philosophical debate to be had in the response to that question. I would argue that knowing oneself is of greater value than having the power (or ability to choose). Our actions invariably mirror a fear linked to dying. We don't smoke because we don't want to get cancer and die. A wise man does not suffer fear of anything. If one makes choices based on one's life journey towards the sole purpose of becoming a better human being, then within that context, let us ask the question again. Can a smoker be truly self aware? Smoking has been demonised to such a point that smokers are persona non grata everywhere. Someone once said that they decided to believe in neither God nor the Devil because they knew that they'd probably get on better with the Devil and like him more. That person was truly self-aware. And I bet he smoked too (he did).

Photo copyright SvD. The Magnificent British Countryside.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Christen Monge

I have only just learned of the passing of Christen Monge with whom I had the privilege of working on Art Souffle The Art Festival. Christen was a true professional and we took a huge gamble staging an international art festival in a vineyard. I was shocked and saddened to hear of Christen's passing and wish to offer my sincere condolences to his wife Alison and four children. Christen was also an award-winning winemaker and he possessed vision and the courage to match it- rare attributes indeed.

Christen Monge and Dennis Locorriere of Dr. Hook fame who performed at Art Souffle.
Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 9 October 2015

The Great BRITISH Bake Off

A number of articles have appeared since Nadiya Hussain won the popular TV show. I'd just like to add my two cents worth. I watched the final on BBCiPLayer (as I don't own a TV) and got caught up like most by shedding a few tears at the end. However permit me to say the following:

I was amazed watching the show that contestants were using recipe cards. Surely that shouldn't be allowed if one is testing their ability to bake? But moving on to the winner. I think that the media underestimates the average Brit who is kind, good humoured and very welcoming to everyone. All that Brits ask in return is that when in Rome, please do as we do. I found the public reaction to the lovely Nadiya to be genuine and heart warming but not necessarily surprising. I do have one criticism- I disagree with considering oneself British and wearing a headscarf. That scarf essentially defines Nadiya more than anything else. Britain is completely multicultural and seeing ladies with veils, hijabs etc. is quite normal these days but I can't help thinking that the symbolism of covering one's head renders the woman subservient because she feels she has to. Having to do anything is the contrary of independent free thinking. But the argument goes further- how does one define Britishness these days? Well, Nadiya answered that with her wonderful mix of blending her roots- although she was born in the UK so what roots are those?- and traditional British ways- self-deprecating wit being one of them. I agree up to a point that she is a marvellous example but I retain a cautious view when I see anyone who has one foot in a cultural past and one in the present. A friend once remarked that having a mistress always proved too difficult as he could not sleep in two beds at the same time. The same analogy applies to being an immigrant- the best way in my view to become fully assimilated into any country is to remove the identifying factors that can only be interpreted that they wish they were somewhere else.

 Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Give me your money, The sum of me.

A surprise last week to discover that we have been lied to all along about the emission safety of diesel in Volkswagen. The CEO resigns, there is talk of collusion with government and a cabal of screeching and hair pulling ensues- are all diesel cars what they seem? Should all cars now be retested in light of this deception? The thought of juicy compensation has consumers dribbling with delight.

Before I tackle Volkswagen, permit me to digress wildly to another topic. I have been reading Andre Gide's diary for several months. Such a vast book (and in Gide's own words, the writing he was proudest of) that I savour minute portions every day and cannot bear to race through it. Gide wrote in his diary that he had La Porte Etroite in his head for fifteen years before he actually began writing it. Similarly, one of my favourite books, La Belle du Seigneur, took the author, Albert Cohen, thirty years to write. You are now wondering what writing has in common with producing an automobile. Making cars is about making money. Writing books is about creative expression and not necessarily for commercial gain. And for both Gide and Cohen, writing was a profound labour of love.

One could argue that everything that is wrong in our world has less to do with love and more about money. We are world class racketeers, exploiters, pimps and prostitutes in equal measure when it comes to money. Nothing and no one, perhaps except the last remaining tribes in the depths of the undiscovered wilderness, is immune to the effects of or the need for money.

Call it my age but I hardly hyper ventilate anymore when news such as the Diesel scam gets exposed. Drivers will rightly feel hard done by but the  perverse expectation that we as consumers have between what we want, how much we are prepared to pay for it and what our purchases say about us, means that yes, we are happy to overlook being scammed about diesel emissions. I drive a diesel car and am amazed at how economical it is to run, the savings are substantial and literally music to my ears. Do I lie awake at night worrying about polluting the planet? No. That's the truth- the unadulterated, plain, perhaps shameful truth. We all have parameters of what defines us- call it values, standards, even aspirations. For example|: I object to animals being exploited and intensive, industrialised animal husbandry. I object to pesticides, insecticides and processed food. I object to vivisection and protest by taking no medication whatsoever even if I need it. I dislike fussy eaters with a passion and usually want to throttle them. I believe in God and my Catholic faith makes me a better person. I find people who buy dozens of cookbooks but eat microwaved ready meals daily to be the most confusing, if not deranged species. I do not follow trends or fashion. My favourite meal is roast pork. I could go on and on but I hope you get the point: we're all different and to encapsulate what goes on in the human mind is well, IMPOSSIBLE. What means something to one person is a laughable joke to someone else. Therefore since I was sold a diesel on the basis of fuel consumption don't expect me to self-flagellate because the manufacturer told a massive porker. They were driven by the bottom line and greed. There have been so many of these scandals in my lifetime that it would be a perfect surprise to discover that ethics and profit can co-exist in the world of big business.

The real issue with all these rip -offs and lies is the fact that the entire world is rigged for us to buy into widespread deceit and to say thank you at the same time. Every time you buy a pharmaceutical drug or even that ready-made lasagna, not all is ever what it seems. Do you honestly believe that the maker of that luxury lasagna didn't cut corners in some way in order to increase their profit margin? Do you really believe that the proclivity of doctors to prescribe antidepressants has to do with anything but profit? I spent years of my life standing in trains and paying a fortune for the privilege of doing so. How is it possible that in a country where millions of people use trains daily that the service can be so expensive? Clue: the fares began to rise when the network fell into private hands. The curse of the dividends is to ensure that shareholders reap the benefit of  the trust they place in those who must make them richer.

The sum of me
Readers may remember that I wrote about longing to live in a small space and not have so many possessions. Earlier this year I fulfilled that simple ambition- I ruthlessly got rid of everything that I hadn't used in twelve months and decided to put the remainder of my possessions in my car.  I then drove off on an adventure. Whatever couldn't fit  in the car was offloaded. And so the pottery collection, the cd collection, the electric stuff, the clothes, the china, crystal, hand made furniture, Persian carpets, potted plants, all went. Adios! I kept many books but not all, some basic clothes like jeans and jumpers, some of my paintings, a few photos and of course, my dog. I feel lighter and more disconnected from my past. In a sense I wish  I could live out of one suitcase only. It's called paring things down and deciding what we actually need. I used to love the way people stood in amazement looking at my things. Now I have nothing, I'm wondering what they will find amazing.

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The Tide of Humanity Drifts Away

The saddest image last week of a young child drowned along with his mother and brother in a failed attempt to reach Europe. Meanwhile here in the UK much has been made by the homophobic brigade about how our country is full, there is no more room and crucially, how our way of life must be preserved.  There is of course another viewpoint- that immigrants make a valuable contribution to society through hard graft and resourcefulness. Whole swathes of hitherto barren land became fertile through the care and attention of Jewish settlers in that disputed state known as Israel. Since the days of the Saxons and Angles, the British gene pool has metamorphosed dozens of times through force or choice by both invaders and immigrants. Furthermore we now know enough about genetics to understand that we are all essentially related to a small core of common ancestors who came from Africa.  However we manage to differentiate ourselves by our beliefs and customs we are all effectively the same.

When the euro was foisted upon Western Europe I remember the conversations and vociferous arguments around some well-to-do dinner tables. As the gin and tonic and Dubonnet and gin in crystal glasses clinked late into the night, the argument that kept being repeated was the need to protect the British way of life. The memory I have of those evenings is the various titbits being served- olives, peanuts, crudités, wine by the gallon and I recall remarking that none of it was British. What therefore was the supposed way of life we were seeking to preserve? The silence was deafening. Granted there has been a huge awakening in recent years that has seen the demand for home grown and organic produce soar but to this day, Britain cannot feed itself. Take a drive down any British motorway and count the number of foreign registered trucks – they are all delivering food to the supermarkets. Stand outside a florist's long enough and a Dutch truck will arrive to make a delivery of blooms grown in the Low Countries. And what about our insatiable appetite for cheaper goods of an acceptable standard? The label almost always reads Made in China. When we buy those we further condemn our own manufacturers to become more 'competitive' or die.

Britain used to have over one hundred manufacturers of pianos. Today there is just one. The same is true for clocks, watches, cars, jut about every single thing you can think of is made using some if not all components manufactured abroad. What therefore is the way of life we are seeking to preserve? Cream teas? Strawberries and cream? Cricket? Cornish pasties? I recently was away in France and how I missed England! I missed the feel of the place, the Edwardian and Victorian architecture, the damp, the morning dew, in fact, all those things that will outlive us all. I would argue that what defines us as being British is the past and the present. The crazy chaotic maddening things that are wrong with this country- too many cars, too many potholes, late trains, surly staff just about everywhere, well, I missed them too. The best thing about the UK is the bête noire in other parts of the world but which has now come to define us:  at any time of the day or night we can buy anything we want and from every part of the world. What began as a gentle introduction to curry (Coronation Chicken, anyone?) turned into a full-scale love affair where blond, blue eyed kiddies know their Tikka from their Vindaloo. How long did it take for curry to become part of the British way of life? Sixty years or so. How many generations is that? I worked for many years with Jews and came to love Matzo Meal, which I still seek out wherever I go. I also grew to greatly admire the Jewish work ethic which is indefatigable. The Jews came to Britain as refugees once and the Indian and Pakistan contingent came here for a better life too. Let's not forget that immigration from the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent was encouraged in the 50s and 60s. And today the road sweeper is invariably foreign-born as that job isn't exactly hotly coveted by British workers!

Is our country too full? I would contest that rhetoric. Our climate makes it difficult to grow crops but there are whole swathes of land that lie empty and which appear abandoned altogether. I'm not advocating mass construction on green field sites but there is a need for a coherent and unbiased study to be undertaken to establish how full we supposedly are. Is that argument due to a shortage of essential workers and services such as doctors, nurses, dentists, schools, housing? What about the argument that all immigrants end up sponging off the state- as in expecting benefits and an easy life? That is perhaps woefully untrue (unless you keep producing children)- the state will help you but not forever so where does that fallacy come from? There are some hard-core spongers who from one generation to the next prefer welfare to working but they are most definitely a very small percentage- the true culprits in that case are the ones handing out the benefits!

There is a lesson in the displaced, the eternal diaspora of human existence not just literally but metaphorically. Very little has been made of how this diaspora began. In my view, the press has not explored enough about the blame that lies in the West for meddling in cultures that do not share the same values and traditions as so-called democratic countries. Tacitus summed it up best: Aurum et opes, praecipuae bellorum causae. Gold and power, the chief causes of wars.  The victims of those wars need a place to call their own, a home. Just like you and me. 

 Photo copyright SvD. Burdock and nettle grow always side by side- the nettle stings and the burdock soothes the raging pain.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Have you seen your shadow, lately?

This butterfly cast a shadow as he sat upon a wild flower. Some butterflies wait patiently for me to finish my photos, others flit off before the camera even comes out. The incessant rain has trashed the meadows this year but this butterfly was lucky enough to find a welcoming and sunlit perch (our British weather is not famous for its sun!). Around the butterfly are the remnants of wild marjoram flowers which have almost gone to seed.

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Things I saw along the lake today, Part 11

Readers will be familiar with the wonderment I experience observing nature. The farmers have been blessed this year with a fantastic growing season where it has rained just enough for crops to mature and the dazzling sun has ripened everything to perfection. We all eat bread or a variation thereof and wheat is universal whatever your prejudices, beliefs, customs etc. I've been fortunate to watch the wheat being planted right up to the harvest season which is now. At times I wondered why the farmers were taking so long to harvest their crops but they have at last come along and the fields are littered with bales of golden ears of wheat. This scene reminds me of van Gogh- he was captivated by an almost identical image more than one hundred years ago.

Photos copyright S. van Dalen

Monday, 3 August 2015

Buyer Beware! How not to get scammed when buying property in France

See that wreck nestled in the most beautiful countryside a million miles away from anywhere? What, I hear you say, and it's only 50,000 euros? Before you drift off into your imaginary paradise of how wonderful it would be to get away from it all while you live out your private utopia, growing your own vegetables, with lambs gambolling at your feet once you have restored that pile of stones to their former glory, STOP! You're about to fall into the trap of buying the WRONG property and worse yet, a French estate agent will probably not advise you to come to your senses.

French estate agents don't follow the same procedure as their British counterparts, the principal difference being that purchasers and not sellers pay them. Commission fees usually range from five percent to twelve percent or more per transaction. So if you buy a property for 50,000 euros, you will pay the commission of ten percent on top of that plus the notary fees (notaries manage the transfer of ownership and are essentially tax collectors for the state). It should be pretty obvious that since the buyer pays the agency fees and which are so steep, that agents can be unscrupulous… but more on that later.

Now let's return to that beautiful wreck. Here are some vital criteria to consider before you part with your cash:

Firstly, agents acting on behalf of vendors are required by law to provide you with an-up-to-date diagnostic report (although many will only provide the full report at the signing of contracts). The report is paid for by the seller and is a vital tool in assessing the value of a property. For example, if there is asbestos in the walls or in the roof and if there is lead or parasites in the property, the value should reflect this. Not so! Some French agents have been known to utilise a haphazard and unsubstantiated approach when valuing property. Buyers are advised to ask as many questions as possible before making an offer to purchase.

For example, demand to see the latest diagnostic report and go through it page by page with the agent. The report is divided into the following sections: the presence of asbestos, lead, parasites, whether the property is at risk of natural disasters (earthquake, flooding) and finally the Performance Energy Report.  Where agents act on behalf of the seller, they are also obliged to inform prospective buyers on the state of and type of sanitation - either septic tank or mains drainage and the obligations new owners face in complying with the law regarding antiquated systems.


The use of asbestos in the construction of property has been illegal in France since 1997. Prior to that date, it was the norm to incorporate asbestos into the walls and ceilings for insulation and in the roofing.  If there is asbestos in the roofing tiles, for example, the general view is that the tiles, being on the exterior of the property, do not pose a hazard to health. However if a storm were to damage the roof, the owner would have the responsibility of removing all of the tiles and replacing the roof, which due to the specialist nature of handling asbestos can be a very costly affair.


Buyers must be informed of the presence of lead, which can be found in the paintwork inside old buildings, pipes, windows and shutters. Lead poisoning can lead to death.


Buyers must be made aware of the presence of termites or other parasites such as woodworm, which if left untreated can cause serious damage. I recently came across a property where the last diagnostic report had been conducted in 2011 and in which there was only a passing mention of woodworm in the cellar floor. An updated report was not made available and when a prospective buyer with my guiding, insisted on seeing the latest report (2015), the cellar floor had been completely destroyed by the woodworm which had gone on to infest the woodwork in the first floor as well.
The cost of treating the woodworm was estimated at 3,750 euros which the vendor,  very reluctantly, was forced to knock off the asking price.  This is a good example of a property having been offered for sale at an inflated price without assessing the true condition based on the presence of parasites.


As of 2012, all property disposing of private sanitation must comply with the new ruling to ensure that the system is updated to become more eco friendly and to stem any possible spread of disease. New owners of property have twelve months to comply with the requirement to upgrade a traditional septic tank and which can cost up to 8,000 euros.

Location, location, location:

France is huge country that benefits from a perfectly maintained road network. A good agent will point out that while living in the sticks has its advantages (ideal for those seeking a solitary, peaceful existence), there are major drawbacks as well. Over time living in isolation can be a real drag- having to rely on a car to buy groceries because there is no public transport, being far away from schools, dentists, vets, doctors or a medical centre in case of an emergency but most importantly of all, and I've seen this countless times, when you want to sell your property, no one will want to buy it. In the end, the only way to offload it will be to slash the price or literally give it away. When looking to buy property in France, arm yourself with a map. Keep looking at the map and ask the agent how far the property is from a main road and the nearest town with major supermarkets, shops, train station etc.. Villages might be quaint and sweet but remember you will need basic groceries and some villages don't even have a single shop. I've come across picturesque villages where the only trading outlet is a bar selling alcohol and cigarettes (which happens to close early). If you're the type who needs to have a bit of a social life too, like learning to draw or joining the local swimming or keep fit club, ask the agent how far away those are. If you're a Catholic and mass on Sunday is important to you, there are churches in every town and village in France but no priests; you may have to drive thirty minutes or more to the nearest mass. A bad location will affect the future value of your property and could seriously leave you out of pocket if you decide to sell. Finally, if you must buy that wreck the rule of thumb is to restore a house to a liveable standard costs around 1,500 euros per square meter. Go do the math!

This is the busiest buying season in France when many British families choose to combine their holidays with scouting for that second home. Remember, don't be afraid to ask questions and good luck!
Samantha van Dalen is a British independent property consultant with experience of selling residential property in the UK and France. She is fluent in both French and English and advises purchasers on how to get the best deal when buying in France. She can be contacted on 00 44 (0)7910 199 072

 Photo copyright SvD.
The above article was also published in this useful website for British Expats:

My latest article on The Huffngton Post

31 July 2015

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

On the week that was

Please do lead me astray

The House of Lords is reeling after a certain peer was found to be ageing rather disgracefully. I have to say that the photo of the said gentleman reclining after an episode of excess, no doubt, replete with orange bra, leather jacket and cigarette had me in hysterics. Of course none of this behaviour should be considered shocking in a world that is becoming more and more depraved and perverse. One need only read the headlines or see what passes for justice in some parts of the world. The British establishment may be bonkers producing a debauched lord but is it truly so hair-raising to discover what people get up to in their private lives?  Naturally the self-righteous brigade is quick to condemn and pity the poor wife who hardly deserves to be humiliated etc. but there are usually two culprits responsible for a marriage imploding (or becoming stronger, for that matter). The whole episode is unfortunate for all concerned but what truly beggars belief is why expose oneself to potential ridicule and the destruction of a long career by taking such a big risk? I'm not condemning or condoning the peer's behaviour. The human condition is a perilous balancing act between juggling and deceiving, usually oneself. If one wishes to be somewhere else, be it in a different job or by leaving a partner, surely it is better to be true to oneself rather than to live a complete lie?

Cecil meets a terrible end

Worldwide contempt has been aimed at the American dentist who paid handsomely to kill a much-loved African lion named Cecil. Twitter was all awash with helpful suggestions for doing away with the dentist and making him pay for his crime. I interjected my two cents' worth by tweeting that maybe selling licences to kill magnificent wildlife is the real issue here. The dentist is surely living his own personal hell now but some of that worldwide vitriol should perhaps be targeted at the powers-that-be who profit grotesquely from game hunting and the killing of the likes of Cecil. From a philosophical perspective, anyone who takes pleasure in death is just not all there- nothing is more pitiful, tragic and the antithesis of what it is to be human than to purposefully take the life of another for self-gratification.

The Duck Armada

A migrant goose has come to our local lake and is creating havoc for the resident wild ducks. Much squawking and hissing is to be heard on occasion – mostly from the goose who seems to want to take over the entire lake – all 40 kms in diameter of it – and he's only one goose, as if he needs all that space. The local ducks, which were at it like rabbits in the spring and now number several dozen, have reached exasperation point. Not only has the goose made enemies by drowning baby ducks in a bid to enforce his superiority (and squawking loudly in defiance) but he has generally aggravated the entire lakeside community of otters, copyus, seagulls, herons and no doubt even the fish whose hitherto tranquil lake now ripples with discontent. The ducks however have refused to take abuse of any kind lying down. Most extraordinarily of all, the ducks have adopted a Ghandi-like stance that horror of horrors is actually working. Rather than fight aggression with aggression, the ducks have been seen encircling the goose silently and paddling calmly in unison towards the Caesar-like fowl. The poor goose feeling overwhelmed by the determined and suddenly threatening ducks, has taken to paddling away from them as fast as possible to the other side of the lake. After several days of the silent paddling treatment, the goose has given up his squawking and ambition of world dominance. The poor goose has now been totally brainwashed into believing he is actually a duck. Or has he?

My very personal battle with sadness

I used to treat others with contempt if they showed the slightest sign of mental weakness. You see, I've never had the luxury of feeling sorry for myself but in recent years the dilemma of being sad on occasion and looking towards the future, has gotten harder for me. I don't believe I am alone in feeling this way and have met many people who echo the following: it's no fun being alone and childless in your fifties. Some may argue that not all children make their parents happy and I certainly know that from bitter experience. And not all lovers/companions offer love without a price to pay in exchange. People contact me to say they read what I write and maybe I've managed to impart some of the lessons I learned the hard way. So here's my advice to women. Don't be like me. Forget feminism and wanting to achieve. Marry young, have lots of children and grab the sheer bliss of a man paying the bills. I can assure you that when you enter the last half of your life, you'll see it as a type of paradise. Put another way, despite having countless opportunities and doing all the things we want, as we get older, we realise that all that really makes sense in life is not things, possessions or even accolades. The circle of life draws inevitably to a close and it is family, a shared history and the ties that were predestined which reinforce us.

 Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Reassurance, maybe?

If you needed the answer maybe this is it (from a street sign I saw today).

Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Symbol and ritual

Sometimes we encounter powerful images that need no explanation. This photo was taken on a drive through the French countryside. A life-sized interpretation of the Christ who died for us.

Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Things I saw by the lake today, Part 9

Strange how we stumble upon a reflection of our inner being and without consciously seeking it out. I'll sometimes open a book and right on the very page is a passage echoing my feelings. This too is a perfect facsimile of the soul.

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Things I saw along the lake today, Part 6

Don't we all wish life were this simple?

Ripening wheat- the staff of life.
Photos copyright

Monday, 22 June 2015

Things I saw along the lake today, Part 5

St. John's Wort growing wild.

When elderflowers turn to fruit it is both the beginning and the start of the end of summer.

Photos copyright SvD.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Things I saw along the lake today, Part 4

The secret code inside a foxglove (which is deadly poisonous, by the way).

The language of trees: the bark on the edible chestnut tree has a unique pattern.

Photos copyright SvD.

Monday, 15 June 2015

On nature and death

Everything I understand about life has been taught to me or rather I have learnt through observation of the natural world. The cycles of nature demonstrate both the beginning and end and that death must follow life. In the natural world, animals do not possess the conscience that human beings do and can horrify with their behaviour towards death. A wild goose recently landed on the lake near where I live and could be seen chasing baby ducks (as their mother watched helplessly) with the sole purpose of drowning them. To the rational mind the goose was guarding its territory but the lake is vast after all and the ducks were there first etc. The goose eventually flew away and the duck along with her remaining offspring carried on paddling peacefully. Some days the lake is so perfect – light blue placid water with barely a ripple- it is hard to imagine anything bad could happen there. That is until something comes along which we cannot explain and which we simply must label either good or bad.

Science relies on evidence to prove (or disprove) the existence of fact. Human beings however are much more than mere sentient machines.  I once had a revelatory encounter with a lady of sixty-something on one of my daily walks. The lady in question had just returned from visiting her ninety-year old mother who had been condemned to languish in an old people’s home as she awaited death. (There can be no worse fate than being an old invalid at the mercy of others and frankly, science should not be delaying the inevitable.) The lady, let’s call her Jane, felt compelled to share with a complete stranger that she was so traumatised watching her mother staring at the ceiling unable to care for herself and for all intents and purposes biding her time until the arrival of the Grim Reaper. Not only did Jane dread losing her mother but the expectation that the Reaper would arrive but never knowing when, had reduced her to a jabbering wreck. She had stopped eating, could not sleep and had begun questioning her own life from an entirely negative perspective. She regretted not marrying, she bitterly cursed herself for not having children, and she saw nothing good in her life or about herself. I listened intently as the hound wandered ahead and whilst I clutched a plastic bag full of a week’s wine and water bottles to be dropped into the communal recycle bins along the way. The hound and I have a set routine rooted in simplicity, perhaps veering on rigidity, albeit inflexibility at times but our walks are for me a sacrosanct moment for reflection and meditation. During each walk I can feel the stillness within my being and without this daily routine I would be a needy shell seeking approbation at every turn. Ironically the pursuit of a calm centred spirit requires a degree of unsociability and often the last thing I care to do is to listen to someone else’s problems.

The real reason for Jane’s bitterness of course, was her feeling of helplessness. The fear of her mother’s demise had dredged up everything she disliked about her own life. Plus when our parents die we realise how little time we have left, which can be a truly terrifying prospect. Even more daunting is the unknown that is essentially death, the definitive end not just of a person’s life but also of our relationship with them. Both of my parents have died and I find it hard to have feelings of affection when I think of them because they are no longer here and also because in life, we loved each other badly. Death casts us adrift literally. The ties that bind people together disappear and the sensation of being alone is the hardest to bear. Death causes us to weep for ourselves rather than only for the departed.

I return to nature, to science and to Jane. What we cannot explain must elude us. That quite simply is the mystery of life. In nature there is absolute truth- we live and therefore we will die. The seed grows into a plant which flowers and in turn produces seeds. The cycle of nature is both finite and infinite and just is. In truth, all that causes us grief or even happiness is a product of our perception. What we choose to feel or think is not necessarily connected to what is. Put crudely, life is only what we think it is. Life and death are the great pretenders, the illusionists who compel us to make sense of the hand we have been dealt with and even that is the luck of the draw (or karma for some).  Every day we are challenged and struggle to make sense of our world but that doesn’t mean we have to give in to fear, worse yet, to a fear of ourselves.

Why not challenge ourselves to just be, for a change? A good way to start is to pare the extraneous stuff down to a simple, uncluttered state and to offload anything that ultimately does not contribute to happiness. The change can be remarkable. We come into this life with nothing and that is how we leave. Rather than being controlled by things, possessions and appearances that have no bearing ultimately why not conquer our thoughts instead? After all, the best way to cheat death is to live.

 Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Things I saw along the lake today, Part 1

Abstract art on a butterfly.

A heron strikes a pose.

Are you looking at me?
Photos copyright SvD.