Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Spring- the first flowers

These are the second flowers (to be truthful, not the first which are Wild Yellow Primroses) of the impending Spring: Wild Damsons. If you like jam, hover near a Damson tree in mid Autumn. The jam is particularly delicious for its tangy, sweet, plummy flavour. Pitting damsons to make jam is a task for the saintly and very patient- those of us who have zero patience make the jam anyway at the risk of our teeth!

Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Unspeakable hatred and the lost concept of freedom

I live in a very green, leafy part of Surrey in England. We're a genteel type- dog walkers anonymous are essentially professionals, retirees, and/or those who like a stroll in a rambling common and woods that thankfully have never had a close encounter with a chainsaw. This park and woods once had an illustrious history- has did most of the UK during the war where we all pulled together in order to defeat the enemy- but over time, the place has fallen into a more natural and un-manicured state. People like me come here to think- I walk for miles each day in deep meditation and without which I would probably end up in an asylum chattering to an imaginary fairy sitting on my shoulder. I actually dislike running into other dog walkers when I am lost in my thoughts as I absentmindedly keep an eye on the hound as he trotters along sniffing (and sniffing) in canine ecstasy. And of course being of a gregarious disposition, the hound has a coterie of friends who he simply must lick, sniff and play shag (preferably boy dogs) every morning. My vocabulary is usually limited to "I'm so sorry!!" as I pull off the hound yet again. We all nod at each other or laugh off the gay dog thing. But then we keep walking because that's what we do and the common and woods are our cathedral, sacrosanct and a repository for our most private thoughts. So private that my undertaker friend has cut loose many a local who has chosen suicide suspended from the ancient oaks and beeches. Imagine therefore our surprise to see caravans and cars one Saturday morning in the middle of the common. And so began a most interesting week....

The truth is when we're not familiar with something or someone we react with a grave apprehension which turns to dislike almost immediately. I remember one disastrous birthday spent in Paris where I ate a meal so awful that all I could do was complain vociferously to the restaurateur. Imagine my complete shock when he stated that because I was not accustomed to eating the dish in question I probably would complain anyway. Well, he got an earful from me that day but I never forgot his remark...

And so it came to pass that when a travelling community descended into my beloved park I became guilty of the worst homophobia one can imagine. I was livid that my tranquillity was wrecked by their presence. Even more interesting was the response of my fellow dog walkers.

In fact, all of the dog walkers exhibited a type of universal hatred. A dislike so intense that no redeeming feature of the community in question would ever make up for how much the travellers were reviled and hated. The police was inundated with calls for their removal. The local council could not keep up with the number of angry callers spitting vile at 'those people'.

What is it about the travelling community that everyone so disapproved of? I mentioned one day to my fellow dog walkers that the travellers' lifestyle raised an interesting question about the concept of freedom. That whole debate landed on completely deaf ears. Everyone was too busy 'hating' to enter into a philosophical debate about freedom. But yes- as that community relieved themselves in the woods and left scrunched up used toilet paper the same having been produced by globalisation giants whose goal is to control the supply of foodstuffs (and toilet paper) to the masses, the logical conclusion to that debate was right there: there is NO freedom in this world, just a bunch of misguided individuals guilty of littering: crisp packets discarded along with the ready made lasagna packaging. And so answer me this:  how are those people different to you and I?

Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Will you post me rose petals?

A recent house move has necessitated a ruthless clean out of those old boxes lurking under stairs and in the loft and which contain memories of a past long gone. My dream of living in a very small space is about to become a reality but more on that later.

I opened the letters: "I wish the word 'sadness' didn't exist," wrote one former lover (he was French and we were in love), "Why don't you respond to my letters?" wrote another (he was German). "I'd love it if you came to the ball with me on June 21st," (he was English) and so it went on. How I am holding on to these old mementoes of a time long disappeared is really one of those quirky things I can't explain. You see, I've moved a total of 23 times in my life- sometimes around the world. My late mother would usually facilitate these moves by arranging packing and shipment of my things (and I am deeply indebted to her for humouring me for so many years). And so another few boxes would arrive. Even I would be amazed at the letters I received in my life- and moreso the ones I wrote. I remember sending a lover envelopes filled with rose petals I had grown myself- the most perfumed and a deep, dark red- need I say more? Pathetic or a hopeless romantic?

Anyway the point of reading old letters is exactly that- they belong to a past that has little if any bearing on the present. "I shall miss you so," one opined. Well, where exactly is he now? There were old lovers who have remained friends and it was their wishing to maintain contact in spite of everything that was their own doing and not mine. Now when I read their letters, I see that they were genuinely in love. But I wasn't. That halfway house of half-baked friendship after the end of a love affair is quite an heroic thing to do.

One old lover wrote : "I have never been lucky. Honesty gets you nowhere. Fate has not been kind to me." Was he a manic depressive? No. Just someone who longed to be living a different life to the one he chose. Did he ever find happiness? No.

Another lover advised me to treat men badly - or rather, don't show them I care. That way, they'll love you more. True- looking back I can see that was absolutely the best strategy but I was never very good at playing games. In fact, my no-nonsense directness leaves zero room for subtlety. Men enjoy the chase so why hand them everything on a plate and when you do, they don't hang around. But this article is not intended to be a guide to love rather an exploration of times past and the relevance of the present moment.

It occurred to me reading those love letters that the present moment is a type of recurring episode in one's life. We never un-live the past but we are effectively living it every day whereby in its recycled form it becomes the present.

I re-read letters from my father and my sister, written thirty years ago and there were signs then of a storm brewing within our family. There should have been no surprise when the 's....t' eventually hit the fan. I also saw in those old letters how much I had squandered my good fortune- there were men who were deeply in love with me and for whatever reason, I tossed them away like an unwanted rag doll. But surely that is the riddle of life? What we think we want is what we don't know that we need. Yet.

The truth is looking back at one's life one sees how crystal clear all those signs were. Yes, he loved me and I should have never let him go. Yes, our lives are a type of groundhog day every day. Not that we re-live the same situation every day but everything we fear will happen does unless we resolve the issues our intuition is screaming at us to address.

Do I regret any of it? It's a strange, strange sensation to open a box one hasn't touched in thirty years. Everything somehow falls into place but the awakening that occurs looking at the mirror of the past is this: we do not value the moment in time that is our life. In the grand scheme of things, we are mere specks. But in our lives we have had the chances and opportunities that mostly we squandered. Not just in love and not from a solely material perspective- but what we should have done, could have done and for whatever reason, didn't. We let time pass. We never made amends. We didn't say sorry. We just let the river of time flow around us as if we were demi-Gods, and who like Moses, could change the tide at will. Not so. Time and chance wait for no man.

And so I'm moving yet again. Will I take my boxes with me? No. I am getting old, certainly, but I do not relish spending more hours re-reading any of these letters in the time I have left on planet earth. What's done is done and relegated to what has been lost forever. In thirty years once was quite simply enough. Some memories are worth keeping but the rest remain too abstract lacking both a pulse and beating heart.

The sweetest perfumed rose that I grew. Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Photographer Pete Kelly joins Art Soufflé

Encaustic photographer, Pete Kelly, whose amazing artistry is collected by Hollywood producers and forms part of several eminent permanent collections, joins Art Soufflé :

Leading horse, copyright Pete Kelly

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Who am I?

A number of factors have persuaded me that perhaps it is time to live out the rest of my life exactly as I would want it. The last twenty years have been to say the least, quite traumatic: upheavals, long journeys, divorce and terrible betrayal within my own family. My heart has literally broken apart and been patched back together multiple times and usually with only temporary relief. There were moments when I felt as if my heart could not take more sadness. And so a wonderful opportunity has arisen and I took to my favourite form of meditation today to figure my life out: I drove for miles.

A long drive to nowhere in particular is a perfect opportunity to reflect. We are blessed in this country to see all of history around us. A typical meander in the British countryside with its ancient oaks- never lopped or mutilated, a sight of wonder- and grey skies frustratingly filled with clouds of varying shades of grey. At this  time of year the sun is still in hibernation and may, on the odd occasion, pop its head out of the clouds just long enough to warm a newt. That is if the newt is lying on a piece of glass in readiness and not under  the shade of a tree. The rest of us take longer to warm up but the sun is not quite ready to grant our wish to abandon all darkness for good.

The early spring is always a time of hope and anticipation. We know the spring has arrived when at last (!) the sun feels warm, its rays penetrating our clothes and skin and our bones are not frozen solid as they have been for most of the autumn and winter. With the sun comes a freshness that fills the atmosphere- a breeziness that makes light of sorrows. I am feeling that way now and as I drove deep into the muted countryside where the leaves remain coiled and hidden, and the hedgerows are in green-less abeyance, I wondered what I would do and who I was. My personality has changed over the years but recently I've seen the bad temper, impatience and bitterness return. Suddenly my eyes filled with tears at the thought that I am a waif and stray and I wished there were someone I could direct an almighty accusatory monologue at and blame. My unwillingness to ever have children caught up with me when I turned fifty and I felt that I had made a terrible mistake. The prospect of old age alone, dribbling in a residential care home where no 'kin' would ever visit me, filled me with horror. Worse yet, life is centered around family but that realisation only comes later in life when all the pointless love affairs have ended. Children, grandchildren, a perpetuation of ideology and tradition, passed from generation to generation. A history. A store of memories. People like me are the ever-changing chameleon- we belong nowhere and to no one. Our history is complex, too hard to explain and in my case, with siblings at war and parents who have died, not worth ever discussing. No one likes to involve themselves in the problems of others, after all.

And so I drove and drove and drove. Occasionally the odd duck would fly past, pigeons by the dozen and on the earthly level, riders on their horses would clip clop past. The fields were peppered with dairy herds, easy to spot by their distinctive white and black coats. Sheep were grazing and soon lambs would be prancing amongst the buttercups, guarded closely by their mothers. Some fields had been overwintered with crops, others would be sown by late April when the soil stops freezing and seeds can be sown. I knew exactly how everything would look in another month, and then the month after that and so on. You see, I've looked at this countryside for years. I know it intimately. But does it know me?

I used to go to a particular farm practically every week to buy their delicious eggs and the cheeses they produced. I became quite friendly with the owners of the farm- we would chat about this and that and once when I had a surfeit of Bramley apples, they bought them off me. I stopped going to that particular farm as I became quite busy in my work and could no longer squeeze in the two hour round trip. After a break of two years I returned to the farm and the owner didn't recognise me anymore. I had literally been out of sight for too long. Our changing landscape from spring to summer reminds us that all things pass and are ephemeral but it hurts to be so easily forgotten.

Whole lives can be of no consequence like the stones that lie at the bottom of a babbling brook. Life continues in spite of the way we want it to be. But then it dawned on me as I drove along that there was so much I hadn't yet understood about this green and pleasant land. That there were thousands of stories I hadn't unearthed, that hidden under the uniformity of streets full of branded coffee shops and charity shops and supermarkets all selling the same thing, that there was a soul to the place that I would never really meet and that we were destined to be strangers. It was my age that made me understand that I would not be remembered by the spirit of the place because none of human life belongs to infinity.

I once found a fossilized sea shell high up in the mountains and then I found four more. I often marvelled at walking beneath the treetops which used to be covered in an ocean. Those shells were found thousands of years later- what would be left of me?

A life is of no consequence except to someone or something. And happiness or the absence of it is what defines us. The future was waiting for me and for once, the clarity I craved bolted out at me. Without a second thought, I chased the ghoul of the past away. I would carry on, just carry on and grab life hungrily with both hands. It was what I had always done best in my life.

Photo copyright SvD.