Thursday, 22 October 2015

My latest article on The Huffington Post

22 October 2015

Copyright Escha van den Bogerd
 -Represented by Art Souffle

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.