Saturday, 30 December 2017

Some pictures tell the whole story of life

This is one of my favourite photos and it was taken as an afterthought as I prepared to leave a French village after a wonderful lunch. I'm not going to explain the how and the when or what the photo is meant to represent. You decide what you see.

 Wissant, France. Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

My kingdom for some proper bread!

Proper bread is hard to come by in our green and pleasant land. When I say proper bread I mean real bread. The best bread I ever tasted was in West Berlin in 1984 before the Wall came down. My very wonderful German boyfriend, Burkhard, lived on the sixth floor in an ancient building with no elevator. How we managed to climb up those stairs after trawling the bars of West Berlin until dawn drinking too much schnapps, remains one of the great adventures of my youth. Our debauched lifestyle was fuelled by enormous breakfasts German style: soft boiled eggs, ham, industrial strength freshly brewed coffee and rye bread with onions, served in thick slices and copiously buttered. The toaster is a very British obsession but both the Germans and Dutch, I have observed, prefer untoasted rye bread. I searched high and low around the world for rye bread with onions and never found it. A few years ago I ran into a Berliner and asked him about the famous bread of my dreams. He replied that it was still available but churned out by the supermarkets in a hybrid, watered down version that resembled nothing like its ancestor I had fallen in love with. I make a version of it now and then but my recipe is not authentic as I'm a lazy kneader; kneading dough is best done by men with huge, strong, hands which I don't have.

In my pursuit of easy, nutritious proper bread, I usually settle on a compromise which involves making rolls not loaves and instead of rye using a mix of one half white flour and one half spelt. These flavorsome Spinach rolls are a favourite of mine- I invented the recipe when faced with a bag of spinach and time on my hands- very unusual and only on a Sunday afternoon. I eat the rolls warm with butter, with bacon, or a sharp cheddar. Spinach and eggs are a marriage made in Heaven so try the rolls sliced in half with a poached egg and Hollandaise sauce.

one bag of spinach leaves
two cloves of garlic
splash of olive oil
knob of butter
pinch salt
grating of black pepper
grating of nutmeg

Rinse the spinach leaves in a colander.  Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and add the butter and the chopped garlic. Brown the garlic lightly then add the spinach, nutmeg, pepper and salt. Cook over high heat uncovered, stirring occasionally until the spinach has wilted and all liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.
3 cups of flour- 1 1/2 spelt and 1 1/2 strong white flour
one sachet yeast
one teaspoon salt
one teaspoon sugar
splash of olive oil

Mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Squeeze the spinach to remove excess liquid then chop it coarsely and add to the bowl of dry ingredients. Add 1 1/2 cups of warm water and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixtures comes together. If it is too dry, add a splash more water. Remove from the bowl and turn onto a work surface. Sprinkle a bit of flour onto your hands and knead the mixture until it it is springy and forms into a ball without any wet dough sticking to your hands. This should take around 7 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl and drizzle some olive oil over the top- this will prevent a crust forming. Cover the dough with a damp tea towel and place in a warmed oven (pre-heat the oven at 100 degrees then switch it off before placing the dough inside). Leave the dough to rise for 45 minutes until doubled in size and light and springy to touch. Knock the dough down and cut into half, then quarters and then eighths. Form into balls and place the balls in a lightly greased shallow oven dish. You should get 8-9 nine rolls altogether. Pack the rolls tightly against each other as this will help them to rise. Cover the rolls and leave them to rise for fifteen to twenty minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius. Place the rolls in the pre-heated oven and bake for twenty minutes then cover the rolls with a piece of foil to prevent burning and return to the oven for a further thirty minutes. The finished rolls should be crispy on the outside and soft and light inside. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire tray. Serve warm with butter. The rolls will keep for up to three days in an airtight container.

Recipe and photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 25 December 2017


I began my daily walk through the fields this blustery and grey Christmas morning when the village church bells suddenly rang out loudly, enticing anyone willing to join in the celebration of the birth of Christ. The bell ringer sounded as if he was jumping up and down pulling on the cords and the image of him being catapulted into the top of the bell tower made me laugh out loud. The fields were empty as usual and there I was beneath an expanse of never ending sky. The sensation of being rather minute and irrelevant in the world is best felt under a country sky in an endless, treeless landscape. Nature has always been my inspiration and this morning the grey sky, the passing flock of starlings, the chiming bells felt like a new beginning. Soon the sky will clear, the birds will roost, and the stark landscape will burst into riotous life when spring returns. We unconsciously start anew every single day. When bad things happen to us, we resolve to never let them happen again. And the best proof of the resilience of the human heart is to continue to love in spite of everything. I have metamorphosed several times in my life even as an artist- this is the first painting I ever sold. I found this photo of the painting and wondered how I managed to do something I had never imagined I was capable of. Perhaps that's the secret- start afresh, keep going, keep trying, keep reaching for the impossible which will happen if you want it to.

Merry Christmas. May your hearts be at peace and your eyes full of wonder at this blessed gift of life.

Musing Man, Oil on paperboard, copyright S. van Dalen

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Surviving Christmas On Your Own

This Christmas marriages will break up, old lovers will commit to one another, new lovers will find each other, families will argue, children will hate their presents, vegetarian guests will stick to spuds and sprouts, and granny will overdose on sherry. These people will all have something in common: each other. There is another side to Christmas that is overlooked: those who are alone. The elderly who have passed their use-by date, the divorced singletons who are persona non grata by virtue of being solo, the homeless, and those too impoverished to celebrate Christmas at all. Each of these people will feel desolate and unhappy on Christmas Day - please think of them.

For those who are alone on Christmas Day here's my advice:

Volunteer: Get in touch with a local charity and offer your services over Christmas. This is easier said than done from personal experience as you will have to pass a CRB check and this can take up to two weeks to process. But there's still time if you make contact asap.

Go for a walk: London is eerily silent and deserted on Christmas Day as everyone is indoors or away so why not grab a map and head off at your own pace? You may discover a few new things and perhaps even something about yourself. Walking has always provided me with a period of meditation which in turn lifts my spirits. My preference is the countryside with my beloved hound but if muddy wellies and wet dogs are not your thing, any leisurely stroll in the fresh air is better than none.

Go to church: attending church is free and even if you're not a believer, you might find the experience of reverence inspiring and comforting. Both Church of England vicars and Catholic priests will allow non-believers to take communion and receive a blessing on Christmas Day. My advice is to go to the morning service in order to avoid screaming toddlers. Your day will also be more structured if you get up early and go to church rather than lying around in your pyjamas feeling sorry for yourself. You'll see other people too- some worse off than you and you might start feeling more positive about life. No matter how bad things may seem, remember, there is always darkness before dawn.

Unclutter: Use the opportunity to sift through clutter or to create order in your living environment. It is amazing how much we accumulate in life and how little we actually need. If you haven't used an item in the last twelve months why not box it up to donate to charity, flog it on ebay/amazon or bin it? I have done this three times in the last five years and the effect has been a strangely cathartic. Don't wallow in nostalgia on Christmas Day- be ruthless! Old lovers are not exactly spending Christmas with you so make a bonfire and burn all their silly love letters! Holding onto 'stuff' is refusing to let go of the past and is also stopping the future from finding you.

Someone recently described me as the 'cleanest person they ever met'. I just can't think, relax or feel happy in a messy, chaotic, filthy home. Christmas Day is a good opportunity to take stock, clean up your living environment and also your head. A clean and tidy home will allow you to structure your thoughts and your life and prepare to welcome the New Year.

Read a very old book: make a plan to spend Christmas Day reading something interesting, erudite and thought-provoking. Find an antique book store and start browsing now (your intuition will lead you to the book you need). My favourite antique book store is at the very end of the Kings Road in London. I bought a book on Roman thinkers (£4.99) there that literally transformed my life. I found it uplifting to discover that all the same problems we encounter today were being mulled over by Seneca, Horace, Ovid and the likes more than two thousand years ago and even before Christ! Old books teach us that life is temporary as are our 'problems'.

And finally: we live in an age that is facile, precarious and uncertain. What we see on television is not reflected in our own lives- we can't all be rich, attractive, successful and living a perfect existence. I despair at the frivolity and stupidity that constitutes the mainstream and which we are meant to aspire to. Please consider this: don't buy into an unreality or a fantasy that will never happen because if you really think about it, you probably have that single thing you truly need: the chance to create your own happiness.

May I wish you a Peaceful Christmas.

Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Be inspired

As I walked along the field while the sunset broke, it dawned on me that all the great artists were made great by the inspiration they received. This sunrise evokes Monet and van Gogh for me. I can just imagine them sipping a dark, bitter coffee and gazing towards the rising sun and almost immediately reaching for their brushes. Those dramatic grey strokes in the sky are clouds. The square shadow is the village church. Slumber, awakening, promise of a new day and especially, wonder at the privilege to behold the stirring of the birds, the retreat of the badgers and foxes. Beginnings. And endings.

Be inspired today to observe, to be grateful, to reach for the paintbrush which will define your life.

This morning at 6.45am. Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 15 December 2017

God is dead

I was quite surprised to learn that the Archbishop of Canterbury will marry Prince Harry and his divorcée fiancé in a house of God. As a divorced Catholic, my priest could do no such thing as there would be too much hell, fire, brimstone and damnation to deal with. Until recently as a divorced woman I was not allowed to take communion and certainly at mass on Sundays, I clearly stick out like a sore thumb when I attend on my own with no cherubic horde of offspring or husband on my arm. Yet the outward appearance is superfluous to me. You see, my relationship with God is extremely personal. There is an understanding evolving between my inner being and God every single day and I live according to the basic tenets of my faith: 'Love one another as I have loved you.'

I admire my faith tremendously and what it stands for. Roman Catholicism does not move with the times and remains intransigent on many issues- abortion is one of them. I rediscovered my faith in later years by then too old to be ridden with guilt over sex outside of marriage. Having been married and divorced, I take a different view to the vows of marriage than would say, an adolescent with stars in her eyes. Finding God is a personal journey within the embrace of a faith. I follow Catholicism out of an instinctive pull towards the church doors. I cannot ignore the need I feel to commune with something greater than myself and frankly, had it not been for the solace of the church I might not be typing this at all. Sunday mass is an important part of my life simply because it is a calming experience- I like listening to the gospel and occasionally I feel inspired. Who does not weep at the parable of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son? These stories express a goodness that must guide us at all times and to me, the opposite of goodness is an option I choose to reject in how I live my life. And therein lies the rub at why I object to Ms Markle and Prince Harry exerting their influence to bypass all that their aspiration towards God should represent.

I have never been a fan of the present Archbishop of Canterbury who seems to stand for whatever the flavour of the month is. But to give consent for a divorced woman to marry in a church of God shows the finger to many followers who take their faith seriously. No one is saying that a faith should not support those who deviate from the teachings of the Bible and to be fair, I am not a practising Catholic as it would be too hard and constraining for a strong-willed character like me. I do however like the idea of respecting the tenets of a particular faith without wanting to kill anyone- the case with misguided individuals calling themselves Muslims.

Why therefore do these two want to have the fairy tale wedding in a church? Any woman who has clearly been living with a man should ditch the white wedding dress. I married in a silk taupe suit as I felt the white dress would be a tad too hypocritical while repeating sacred vows in a house of God. I also made sure the wedding didn't cost a fortune as I was reminded by my father who whispered in my ear as he walked me down the aisle that I could always get divorced if it didn't work out. His words were indeed prescient.

The hard truth is marriage isn't a fairy tale but hard work which requires a mountain of tolerance and compromise and ultimately neither person ends up living the life they want. The previous Archbishop refused to marry Charles and Camilla in church and by doing so sent out the following message: the church does not condone divorce and adultery and never will. Unfortunately we live in an age where the misguided rabid Left want everything their way. Like strawberries in Winter, if they want it, they must have it. Out of this new extremism of entitlement will be borne an atmosphere of fear not dissimilar to Orwell's 1984. We are already seeing the witch hunt of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey et al where finger pointing and screaming accusations destroys lives. Flirting, assault by innuendo, rape and sexual discrimination are not the same thing. Soon men will be completely emasculated to the point of preferring masturbation over sex with a woman as the consequences will be too terrifying. Cue to the sex robots which some men don't even think of as robots! The disconnect from real relationships with sentient human beings is already in progress. No doubt the Archbishop will encourage the feelings of the robots as he has done recently to assuage the transgender community.

I truly have no interest in the monarchy beyond the Queen for whom I have the greatest respect. I don't begrudge the cost of the Queen who should even be sanctified for carrying out her duties with humility and determination to serve her country. William and Harry are indeed the children of Diana who wanted to be more touchy feely and rock and roll which led to the unravelling of her own life and will be the undoing of the monarchy. There can be no doubt that the values of William and Harry are at odds with the fustiness of an ancient institution. The Left are unwittingly smashing down the relics of tradition to make way for a new world order where they must ultimately have it their way while everyone else will have to take the highway, including God.

My daily walk. Photo copyright SvD.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Our dark winters feed the soul

My daily walk in a vast open field with nothing but the sky for company. This is what I see morning and night while our winter has forced the sun into hiding. The short, dark days where our eyes are dazzled by the faintest ray of sunlight, are the perfect time to commune with our inner being- that true self which is concealed beneath the façade we present to the world. I LOVE my solitary walks where I can distinguish the crows, finches and wrens from the sparrows in the dark as they rustle branches on their return to roost. I feel safe despite being alone or perhaps my age means that I am prepared for anything. A lack of fear is not courage but a knowledge that the universe is more in control than I will ever be.

Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Freezing Brrrr..itain

Age has caught up with me- rheumatism in winter which gets worse when temperatures dip below zero. Last weekend I felt so cold out walking in open frost-covered fields as unrelenting biting wind stung my face that I actually contemplated abandoning exercise altogether. My favourite thing in the whole wide world is walking which I could do forever and the prospect of not being able to cover ten or fifteen miles a day for fun over the weekend especially, has sent me into a morose, 'poor me' state. I can't say that I am looking forward to my rheumatism getting worse as I age. I don't mind the grey hair, the sagging bits but I do mind not being able to walk. The other option is to emigrate to a hot country where my rheumatism all but disappears. The third option is to become a food terrorist like those rabid left-wing vegans who want to save the planet as they shuffle around farting in a breathless state of malnutrition. I have no desire to save the planet at my age because I'll be long gone when it begins to implode.

Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Just the way you are

Yesterday I popped into London, the center of the universe, inhabited by the Gods of all things historic, materialistic, fast and furious. I had plans to meet old friends- two who I hadn't seen or spoken to in 16 years and another who I had last clasped eyes on 21 years ago (and who I have known since we were both four years old). Wow! None of us had seen the time fly or our feelings change for one another. We reconnected as if the elapsed time had been so fleeting we hadn't realised we were older and very much greyer, the children were all grown up and the usual dramas of life had never even happened. None of was particularly interested in material accomplishments to brag about but all of us fused with the heart of the person sitting opposite after a long, tender embrace. I had the best time of my life to love, feel loved and thought of so fondly by old friends who had not disappeared forever into a pea soup fog of time. There can be nothing more wonderful in life. In fact there isn't.

My friend from primary school remarked that when she looked back at her life she could see how fortunate she had been. We all were. We just didn't know it at the time.

Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Sexual harassment and the sheer hypocrisy of it all

I've written before about being sexually harassed. I can recall several separate incidents where men behaved inappropriately towards me. Rampant inappropriate behaviour was all the rage in my salad days where the flush of youth, a heady combination of throbbing hormones and plump lips sends men sniffing around hoping to strike lucky. I was able to extricate myself from unwanted embraces and tongues down my throat and on each occasion the men reluctantly albeit gracefully backed off. One of my bosses made it plain that if I didn't sleep with him I would not get promoted. I resigned and went off to explore life and eventually found a new job. When I look back on all these experiences all I can think of is poor them. Men who consider women fair game and use sex as a way to barter a promotion or a starring role in a film are pretty low in the food chain but forgive me, the women who accept that they need to remove their knickers in order to get ahead are no better.

The media has suddenly gone stark raving mad since Harvey Weinstein was accused of being a monster. The media thrives on a feeding frenzy and poor old Harvey however grotesque he may be, must surely be suicidal having seen his stellar career in tatters. Don't be fooled, Hollywood has always been a cesspit of vipers and debauchery. And if you think that the stars of days gone by did not indulge in the occasional leg over in order to advance their careers, you'd be wrong. I know quite a few people in the movie business and the combination of huge money, fame, notoriety and an easy life are worth paying a high price for and the way to survive is to convince oneself that it is only sex. Not love, not making love, just sex. And let's face it, sex is pretty forgettable unless there's a mental connection. The expression 'sleeping one's way to the top' didn't originate last month when Harvey Weinstein was exposed as a rogue. Sex as a means to an end has been going on since time immemorial. The history of civilisation if filled to overflowing with adultery, for example- Cleopatra was Caesar's mistress in a strategic move to obtain power, she then aligned herself to Mark Anthony but was LOVE involved? Prince Charles married his mistress who interestingly has never had a day job. Power, money and motivation are irresistible aphrodisiacs. A very crude joke goes like this: for every 0 in a man's bank account, add an extra inch to his d...k. Harvey Weinstein made a lot of great films and advanced a lot of careers. Oh, the irony as they turn against him!

So SPARE ME the complete and utter hypocrisy of everyone running for the hills screaming molestation, inappropriate behaviour and sexual bloody harassment. Rape is wrong but a man placing his hand on your ass is hardly going to be a seminal moment in your life. Really? Is an unwanted kiss going to send one into a spiral of despair and ruin one's life? Is a man saying that he'd like to shag you so truly terrible that it is worse than a kid having their legs blown off by a landmine or the fact that one quarter of all children in the UK live in poverty? Did that actress who claims harassment when it was consensual sex, which just happened to catapult her into the Hollywood stratosphere, is she just remorseful, bitter or jumping on the bandwagon in order to be seen?

I blame the left, a rabid bunch of holier-than-thou hypocrites, plotting over their soy lattes who needs to be destroyed so they can advance their agendas. Where are we heading in this? Now we learn Westminster is full of gropers all speaking in double-entendres. Welcome to politics where every politician lies once they open their mouth. They can't help themselves. Didn't Boris have a carry on but his wife stayed with him? Now I'm told Theresa May must do more to top all this lusting- is she to go around slapping errant parliamentarians with a ruler and shouting 'Naughty!!!!'?

The latest claim (and they're never going to stop) this morning involves Kevin Spacey accused of molesting someone.  Mr Spacey promptly (and strategically) claimed not to recall the incident. He took the opportunity to announce the bleeding obvious about his sexuality which has been known in inner circles forever. Hence my point exactly: everyone has always known that the casting couch is a probable gynaecological examination and those who were hungry enough accepted the rules of the game and were prepared to sell their souls. The current feeding frenzy is pretty despicable considering what a mess the world finds itself in. Personally I'm more concerned about ISIS or that nutter in North Korea than being groped by a bloke. But then again there is far more in life that interests me and every incident of sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour I have ever encountered in my life didn't define me and was utterly forgettable (because I have better things to think about).

The current climate of far right political correctness is a dangerous trend towards complete intolerance; what therefore is the difference, you tell me, between tolerance and intolerance? Just someone telling you what to think. It's worth remembering that much about life is an illusion. Like the photo below.

Photo copyright S. van Dalen

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Banish The Blues By Living In The Present

I used to be unhappy until I understood how to live in the present moment. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about being spontaneous to the point of not thinking about the effects of my actions, I'm describing a more philosophical approach to living in the now.

What is the now? Perhaps I should begin by explaining that our perception of reality is in fact the culmination of the past and an anticipation of the future. For example, we have opinions or behave in a certain manner based on our upbringing or past experiences. We regard the future as a phase in our lives when we hope to able to enjoy retirement because we would have saved enough to do so, etc... In the middle between past and future lies the present which is very much affected by both. If we consider that everything we do or say will have some bearing on our future, we would view the present as the only time in our lives which matters. So for example, if we were faced with an opportunity to be happy, we should take it because a) that opportunity may not come again and b) it will shape our future.

I recently went on a journey which was intended to reminisce and rediscover the past. I could not have been more surprised to discover how much the past is a foreign country. Everywhere I searched for the cosy warmth of nostalgia, I discovered that nothing had remained the same. The only constant was how I felt about a past lover. It was a profound time for me.  Not to reminisce but to discover the present moment, a feeling of overwhelming happiness that can't be bought or sought.

I've written in the past about one's disposition and the fact that despite travelling the world or metamorphosing several times over in our lives into different professions etc..., what never changes is who we are. I learned on my journey that I was the same person I had always been and after years of bad luck and sadness, I had lost none of the gentle softness which I had been forced to suffocate with an overdose of courage. I was moved to learn that in spite of everything which had occurred I was still the same.

What a relief to finally be able to empty my heart, overflowing for years with tears of sadness! What joy to be able to flee from the ghouls of dysfunction! Discovering the present moment as all there is, has been the beacon of light which brought me back from being lost in a desolate sea. I know that I am not alone and many will identify with the sense of living half a life, not necessarily full of regret but devoid of fulfilment and real happiness. Yes, there is fulfilment in accomplishing the mundane but we all think at some stage in our lives and as we look back, how things could have been so different. I would bet that those who never question anything in their lives are ruthless egoists who have no desire to understand the human psyche.

The human condition, in my view, is a riddle of what could have been, what should have been and what is. How once we thought we would learn to soar but instead ended up flapping about in a deep blue sea and resigned ourselves to mediocrity and disappointment. Perhaps for this reason the aestheticians revered beauty which I would argue, is the symbolic antithesis of failure. In our appreciation of beauty we escape pain, which in turn banishes sadness or fear, albeit temporarily. So too is unhappiness a type of failure because we think we will never find our way to be happy. Ironically, in our search for happiness we forget how to be happy and worse yet, how to be happy RIGHT NOW.

One could of course argue that as age accelerates, it is better to grab hold of the present because that could be all there is. Yes and no. Today is today and tomorrow will still be tomorrow. Understanding human complexity and accepting that in all our actions the self is in charge hence Steve Jobs' famous line about not living someone else's life. The self however does not have to be about ego. To love selflessly for example, is the purest, most rewarding and most virtuous type of love.

Living in the present demands more reflection and self-control (oh, the irony) than one would assume. It's not about grabbing what you can or wildly plunging into the unknown. The present is the balancing act while standing on the precipice. As the strong wind approaches to blow us off, we are able to fend it off by seeing the truth of who we are. And in that moment, we experience a blissful euphoria, otherwise known as happiness.

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Endless possibilities

I feel sorry for those who live in cities, cooped up in apartments without a view or a vista that propels the soul into a realm far beyond the ordinary. This evening sky symbolises all that it happening in my life: change, transience, new beginnings, hope. I would often open a book randomly and more often than not, would fall upon a page where exactly what was happening in my life was mirrored on the page. Nature is the book of life and here it is in all its glory. Guess what's happening to me.

Evening walk with the hounds. Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Bordeaux, je t'aime

The one constant in my life is my love of France. I am lucky to live very near to France and can hop over quite easily. And so once again I ventured off solo with one suitcase and one piece of hand luggage in case my suitcase got lost. I normally drive but this time decided to fly.

I had spent many happy years as a student at university in Bordeaux. This time I was going to tour vineyards and take a couple of wine courses. And I should add, meet old friends who I was at university with thirty + years ago.

Suffice it to say that my trip was the best holiday of my life and one which I could probably write a book about. We're older but we're the same and how we feel will never change- that was the lesson we learned seeing each other after thirty years.

I walked the entire length and breadth of the center of Bordeaux- 65 kilometres in five days. Have comfortable shoes and the world is truly one's oyster. As a single woman, walking holidays in safe places are the most important part of my holiday and I can say that I never felt threatened in Bordeaux. I walked everywhere by myself and gladly have lived to tell the tale. Bordeaux is breathtakingly beautiful, easy to navigate on foot and very close to the best vineyards in the world.

On one of my wine courses in St Emilion I met a French Canadian who told me he was retracing the steps of his youth before he died. That is the conundrum of what it is to be human, my dear friend.

 Learning to distinguish between Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

Some of the 750,000 bottles in the underground cellars of CHATEAU DE LA RIVIERE.

Moi with a few bottles for lunch. CHATEAU DE PORTETS.


Some of the 22 kms of underground cellars at CHATEAU DE LA RIVIERE.

All photos copyright SvD.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Why The Past Is A Foreign Country

I recently returned to Bordeaux where I had spent many happy years, the best of my life, as a student. I graduated in 1987 and this year is 30 years exactly since I left university. I combined my desire to retrace my steps with winetasting tours to St Emilion and Medoc vineyards and revisiting old friends.
Photo copyright SvD.

I used to love spending the day in St. Emilion wandering around the cobbled streets of this ancient village some parts of which date to 767 AD. Thirty years ago I could walk through the whole village and maybe see a dozen people. Today the village receives 1.5 million tourists annually.
St. Emilion. Photo copyright SvD.

Bordeaux is now the second most visited town in France after Paris.
Ripening  grapes, St. Emilion. Photo copyright SvD.

I recognised nothing during my trip of how things used to be. In fact, I felt acutely aware of how I had aged and my memories were balancing off a precipice soon to be shunted into oblivion. The world has changed and seems intent on being bigger, more dynamic, more relevant and in my view, more false. There was a time where the quiet stillness of my soul could be found munching 'macarons' and sitting with my feet in the pools of spring water of the ancient communal stone laundry in St. Emilion which this time 'round, I couldn't find.

How the world has changed! I learned on this vist to retrace my steps that we can't recreate the journey we had to embark on in order to learn and to be what we needed to become.

One of these bottles is the year I was born. Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Mushroom season

If I was a vegetarian, I would be spending hours every day foraging for mushrooms. The best mushrooms appear in late September as the weather just begins to turn cold. This year we have lost a month as everything is in advance: sloes are already ripe as are blackberries and apples- that usually happens in October. I came upon these field mushrooms this weekend in the woods- very edible and delicious friend in butter with garlic, salt and parsley. When I find mushrooms, it means the land is still naturally fertile and the delicate balance of nature has not yet been tipped over the edge. Note the circular formation of how mushrooms grow.

Photos copyright SvD.

Making do

I am the queen of making do, of carrying on, of the stiff upper lip, of being Ms Sensible in a crisis (only because I have no choice) as always. In the woods I found this bird feeder that looks a lot like me and it made me smile.

Photo copyright SvD.

How did the slow caterpillar cross the road unscathed?

On my walk yesterday along a winding country road where cars whistled past at furious speed and the odd cyclist in bright speedos would appear suddenly beside me and shout 'Hullo!'. I love this bit of road, it stretches for around ten miles and although the drivers take advantage of the lack of traffic and pretend they're Lewis Hamilton, I nonetheless manage to gather my thoughts and enjoy the scenery of endless fields, huge skies and even something much smaller.

Mr Caterpillar caught my eye as he crossed the road very, very slowly. He didn't seemed concerned that at any minute he could be fossilised into the asphalt but continued as if he had all the time in the world. My heart started beating rapidly with the anxiety of having to watch an imminent murder most foul. I didn't dare pick up the caterpillar knowing from experience that his spikes would hurt like hell. A car approached at break neck speed but luckily on the other side of the road. Mr Caterpillar had been lucky but I knew his luck wouldn't last. A cyclist appeared out of nowhere as usual and zoomed past missing Mr C by millimeters. Deciding I had to do something, I stood in the middle of the road, not exactly planning to commit suicide but to force cars and cyclists to slow down just so Mr C would make it safely to the other side. I counted to 78 and.....finally! Mr C arrived at the end of his voyage all the while having been completely oblivious to my self-induced angst for his well being. Isn't life funny like that? Mr C wasn't lucky. He was just crossing the road.

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

On my walk today

I walked six miles today just strolling around and here's what I saw:

In a church. Cryptic praise?

Along the canals.

And my favourite time of the day.

Photos copyright SvD.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Shots of Summer Part 2

 Looking southwards against a sober sky...
 Cobnuts - a tasty snack raw or roasted (if you have any left after gorging yourself).
 Milk Thistle- used as a natural remedy in these parts for hundreds of years to treat liver congestion.
Ripe elderberries- when they ripen it signifies the end of summer. We're in August but nature says summer is over already!
Ripening damsons - the best jam ever is made from these wild tart plums. Not very digestible raw but like the quince they take on a whole new dimension once cooked.

All photos taken on my walk today.

Photos copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

How to Stop A River of Tears

In my 20s I was hopeful, in my 30s accommodating, in my 40s philosophical, in my 50s too wise for my own good but never too old to change. There is an old joke about what has three legs at dusk. Answer: an old man requiring a stick to walk with. In the process of aging it is not just the physical body that needs a crutch. We are now getting used to waking up to bad news- terrorist attacks, mosque attacks, deadly fires. Rather than becoming inured to bad things the opposite is happening: bad news makes us less reliant on the metaphorical crutch, somehow more resilient and yes, more emotional- suddenly we realise that we had better make the most of life on our terms as there is a very real possibility it could be curtains sooner rather than later.

When my father died I realised I was living half a life and needed to change it. The sight of my father lying in a coffin was a seminal moment. Whatever crutch I was relying on was suddenly whipped away and I felt myself instantly determined to change the way things were. The same must surely apply to the terrible news that greets us almost daily. The first question we must ask ourselves is what can we do? The answer is painfully simple. I'll explain why.

As I walked the hounds this morning, I reflected as I always do particularly on my mother with whom I had a most awful relationship. It suddenly dawned on me that my late mother's unkindness and the fact that she never said anything good about anyone was because she couldn't stop herself. In other words, when we do bad things and say bad things, we have to keep doing them. Bad engenders bad. Just like the evil we are faced with in the world today. As simplistic as it may sound, the solution starts with us.

Just for one moment, perhaps less than thirty seconds of your time is all it will take to change the world. Here's what you can do in thirty seconds: reflect on the last unkind/bad thing you said or did. Next, resolve to change your behaviour and do and say only good things from now on. I am certainly guilty of the opposite on occasion- just this morning I was cursing the truck driver who swerved ahead of me in the fast lane in order to overtake another truck. I think I used every expletive in the dictionary. But my behaviour was more about my state of mind and the anxiety which sometimes overwhelms me. In that respect I am like everyone else but my expletive-laden rant didn't actually change the situation.

How we cope in adversity takes courage. Courage to recognise our weaknesses and to realise we need to change the way things are, including the way we react. We can alter our behaviour but we can't stop bad things from happening. Doing good and saying good is the boomerang which will come back to greatly enrich your life.

Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Down at the farm...

Sheep have been shorn of their Winter coats and are spending their days and nights outdoors munching on grass and a special feed the farmer delivers early in the morning. These are ewes which will give birth again in the Spring. Sheep are not that interesting and not half as curious as cows. Sheep are very skittish (like pigeons) and never want to say hello. Cows on the other hand would like to spend all day chatting to you:

The calves are one year old and will soon be 'osso bucco'. Here they are meeting my darling doggie. Some calves will join the dairy herd as well.

I call them babies and give them pats as I walk past but they are much bigger than me! Thankfully their teeth are quite flat and not very sharp!

Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The Direction of My Heart

I have written before about the different types of love, romantic, maternal, etc. There is another kind of love- silent and fateful, an obligation to yield because it makes us who we are. A person can be the direction of our heart. A navigator on our journey through life. I have been fortunate in my tumultuous existence to meet random strangers who were effectively in charge of the direction of my broken, damaged heart.

Throughout my life I have met people literally on the street with whom I have gone on to forge close friendships and connections which had a strength of purpose in that precise moment in my life. When I was a student, I foolishly headed for Bordeaux on a whim without any back up plan or knowledge of what I was going to do. I met someone at the airport who offered me a place to stay. That person taught me about what I didn't want- to take drugs and distance myself from the real world. I then moved into an unfurnished apartment and received a knock on the door that same day from a kindly lady who offered me her spare furniture. That lady would become my defacto grandmother- someone who utterly adored me and I her. My friendship with this angelic woman occurred just as my family was falling apart- my brother had caused my parents terrible heartbreak and the repercussions within our family felt like being on a rollercoaster where you wanted to scream but knew all too well that no one would hear. I had to learn how to deal with the unhappiness in my family and in the process, heal my shattered soul. If I hadn't had the affection of a little old lady who knocked on my door out of kindness, I don't think I would have managed to stay sane.

A couple of years ago the same thing happened in reverse- I was the stranger who helped someone in distress. A lady visiting her ill mother in a nursing home stopped me one day on the street and needed to talk. Again the connection was instant and over the course of several weeks it became apparent that I had something which could help her overcome her anxiety. Attention, interest, a demeanor that made her feel that I was wiser than perhaps I actually am.

Lovers engage the romantic desire we crave- the hope of being loved and cherished.  But as people, we are infinitely more powerful than we believe. Not because we are better but because we offer a type of sustenance to weary souls. We are all frazzled from the daily grind of living and sometimes it can feel that there is no light at the end of the tunnel and that the future is bleak. To quote my best friend, at our age all we can do is reminisce because there really is nothing to look forward to. She's right and wrong. If we manage to get to our age and still be capable of showing empathy and kindness to others we have won the stakes in the lottery of life. Once we understand how much we can mean to others by showing them attention and thoughtfulness towards their predicament, then we are fulfilling our prophecy as human beings. If collectively whole continents could harness such a force it would be for the good of all where no one would feel lonely, isolated and tormented by the things they cannot change. Each of us is a ray of light in a world becoming shrouded in darkness.

Someone once said to me that I make others happy. It took me a while to understand that there is a symbiosis between people which makes us relevant to each other. No matter how down or out we may feel or fearful of the future, it is worth remembering that someone else is having a worse time. We can't change the world but we can make small steps which in turn will have far-reaching consequences. So open yourself to the possibility that someone will be sent to help when your world is falling apart. And be that person for somebody else. The person who could change the direction of a heart.

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

My suppers this week!

These are the dishes that I cooked and relished in the last week. They say that if you love to eat you love to cook!

Roast Chicken. Home from work at 6.05pm. Chicken in the oven at 6.20pm, on the table at 8.15pm (having rested for twenty minutes).

Served with:

Petits Pois à la Parisienne. Cooked this while chicken was roasting.

Pan- Fried Tuna Steak with Fennel Seeds, served with Sauerkraut.

Fried Rice served with leftover Roast Lamb.

Omelette aux Fines Herbes with Home-Made Chips.

Broccoli Tempura- I could literally eat this all day every day. Easiest thing to make if the oil is just the right temperature. I ate a whole head of broccoli like this one evening.

Anyone can cook- please try! You'll be saving your sanity, health and the planet at the same time.

All photos copyright SvD.