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Friday, 23 September 2016

My latest article on the Huffington Post

23 September 2016

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Our unhealthy obession with celebrity

There is an expression in French which goes like this: 'I am what I am.' And while I'm at it, another comes to mind: 'It is what it is.' Perhaps we should ponder on these words in light of the #brangelina breakup which has so many supposedly shocked and even devastated.

Firstly, none of us know the two main characters personally therefore to be overwhelmed with shock and sadness is a bit of an exaggeration. Secondly, seeing a 'perfect' union dismantle seems to have surprised everyone. What is a 'perfect' union? People marry and get divorced all the time. There is no idyllic meeting of mind and body which lasts forever. Marriage is generally a compromise of wills with the sole objective of staying together especially if there are children involved. If there are no children involved, a couple may choose to stay together because they value the companionship and know each other sufficiently well to realise there is no greener verge to head to, at least not in the present moment. As one gets older and sees the clock ticking faster than normal, staying together makes more sense than being alone in geriatric bliss. Age brings a rationalism that the thrust of young, panting love simply cannot understand.

Our vacuous supermarket mentality and approach to all things means that we place celebrities up there with demi-gods and anoint them with higher powers of self awareness and intelligence than they may actually be capable of. Beautiful (tick). Rich (tick). Successful (tick). Attractive offspring (tick). OMG they tick all the right boxes, they ARE perfect and therefore indestructible.

A little lesson in philosophy: there is NO perfection on earth that involves the human condition. A bird may have perfect colour symmetry on its wings, a flower may appear extraordinarily beautiful because it astounds the senses but human beings are flawed. A good looking person is capable of being a complete nutter or sociopath. A successful person can appear to have it all but consider that domestic violence is the highest reported crime in prosperous Surrey* which has the greatest proportion of millionaires in the UK (*Domestic Abuse Strategy for Surrey 2013-2018).

Celebrities are in fact no different to you or I. They simply appear to be. Money elevates as everything the heart desires is quickly within reach. We can change the way we look, dress or even behave when money is no object but we cannot change who we are. Human beings have a disadvantage over every other species in the natural world- they have a proclivity to be miserable and free will gives them the choice to make mistakes. A mouse might make the mistake of reaching for the cheese in the trap but it is not conscious of making a bad decision. We, on the other hand, err with our eyes wide open, already knowing the consequences of our actions.

If all of life were a gilded ride with no obstacles to jump over or sadness to endure, humanity would never have evolved. There would be no artists, writers, painters, thinkers, statesman who literally changed the course of history or anyone for that matter who challenged themselves to be better at anything in particular. We would all still be stuck in a cave munching on a dinosaur leg.

Yes, even celebrities are forced to learn how to endure when staring at the harsh reality of living (that is if they are fully compos mentis and not addled in a haze of drugs and booze). Endurance without going stark raving mad is the human condition. It is simply put, what we're here for. I am what I am. It is what it is.

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Along came the spider...

I was reminded of the expression 'we are no better or worse than anyone else' as I watched a spider kill a wasp today. First the spider ensnared the much maligned wasp so cruelly despised in the British summer months. Once trapped in the deceptively powerful filaments that constitute a spider's web, the wasp flapped about helplessly. Along came the spider, casually striding over. The spider sized up his lunch and decided to wait a little longer. The wasp was becoming more tired and his imprisonment meant that any resistance would be futile. The spider saddled over to the wasp and began to strike him with his legs. The wasp's sting emerged but it could be that I saw correctly? The spider continued to hit the wasp and the wasp impaled himself with his own sting. Perhaps that is the romantic in me who thought that the wasp committed a type of harakiri but I shall never know. After the wasp's body had turned limp, the spider dragged him off and stored him in a separate web. All of this took place in my kitchen as I was cooking a beef stew.

Do remember therefore that there will always be those more powerful and cunning than us. Choose your enemies wisely.

Photo copyright SvD.

PS The spider has every right to inhabit my kitchen and so I have left him be along with the various corpses in his pantry.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Poor little hedgehog

For nearly twenty years I have looked forward to finding a hedgehog. In my garden I built shelters with twigs and leaves to encourage these prickly mammals with the cutest of noses. All in vain as I never saw a single one. Except for today when walking through the park I came across a dead hedgehog, about twelve inches long and probably around three pounds in weight. How he died is a mystery but he had a number of severe wounds on his underside. It seemed that he had been savaged by a dog. Please, if you know your dog has a bit of an attitude problem, kindly keep it on a lead with a muzzle on. I doubt a fox killed the hedgehog as there is a hierarchy of killing in the wild and the hedgehog was intact.

Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Moderation, that dirty little word

In my salad days, I was as unrounded as the next person. In life there are many journeys to make and for each of us the journey is unique. One experience I recall vividly is being invited for lunch at the home of a rather grand French lady in Bordeaux. I arrived starving as usual- being a student and prone to living off ready-made moussaka from the local supermarket and little else. The lady in question was my lecturer at university and we had struck up an unlikely friendship where we would spend hours discussing the various books we both devoured. Once in a while she would invite me for supper or lunch. On this particular occasion, the table in the very cramped dining room which was overflowing with bookcases, had been laid out with crystal, fine porcelain and silverware. I waited to be invited to sit and then began salivating at the prospect of a divine meal. The wine was poured and the water glasses filled as I unravelled a crisp linen napkin onto my lap. The first course was a pâté, a doorstop size which had been placed on a silver platter and passed around at the table. I was offered the first helping and promptly cut a huge chunk off. A squeal of anguish erupted from the mouth of my hostess: 'Mais, non! Ca se mange pas comme ça. Voyons, un tout petit peu. Cela se déguste!' No! You don't eat it that way. A little bit only. It must be savoured!' My hostess proceeded to cut a sliver off the pâté, she then placed this barest of shavings onto her plate and worse yet, removed only a minute soupçon from it which she then perched on an almost invisible piece of bread. At last she slipped both bread and pâté into her mouth. My humiliation complete, I followed suit.

A meal in France in certain circles, is an almost religious affair where devotion is applied in the preparation of the food and great heights of adoration must be reached as the food and wine are eaten slowly. It is impolite to sniff at the food or overly complement the cook. It is downright rude, bordering on savagery, to drink the wine as if it were water during a heatwave. Compare that to headline news this week that more than 50% of young women binge drink every weekend.

What is binge drinking? Quite the opposite of savouring anything slowly. The explanations the young women who were interviewed gave ranged from having nothing else to do, to peer pressure. Not only do we have the image of young women in a state of undress, lying blotto in the street after helpfully throwing up on a police officer, we now have to try very hard to understand why anyone would get themselves into this state in the first place.

I have been very drunk three or four times in my life. The pounding headache and retching over a toilet bowl made this experience somewhat horrible and every time, I vowed never to drink that much again. Yet despite the awfulness of a hangover, the women interviewed were looking forward to doing it all over again the following weekend. The complete lack of self knowledge or respect is the most shocking of all. We live in an era where information is freely available. Everyone knows that excess drinking will damage your liver and as it turns out, a woman's fertility. Young women in the prime of their lives appear to despise their existence to the point of harbouring a death wish. How can this be? Is it not obvious that women are more vulnerable to rape or worse when alcohol has taken leave of their senses. To not care in essence what happens when they allow themselves to be comatose lying in a gutter, is unfathomable to my generation. When asked why I never did drugs, I laugh and say I was simply too vain. Drooling in public is just not my thing.

I am amused to see how many women in the public eye harp on about being feminists but I would argue that the rise of young alcoholics, as these binge-drinking women are, is due to self-loathing and a lack of femininity. Feminism, that word bandied about as if saying it is enough to be seen as a forward-thinking woman who deserves equality, is dead. Anyone born today has everything already handed to them. When a woman drinks to get drunk deliberately and pass out, she is not a feminist, she's an idiot. There's nothing attractive about being an out-of-control drunk, it's what losers do. And being feminine, embracing what is best about being a woman is not the antithesis of feminism either. It is possible to be charming, sophisticated, ladylike, beguiling and a feminist and know how to hold one's drink. While these women are getting drunk are they capable of witty or erudite conversation?

I despair for the rank stupidity that constitutes vast swathes of the human race. A lack of self knowledge is what differentiates humans from amoebas lurking in the borders of evolution. No one ever accomplished anything when they were blind drunk. Binge drinking members of the fairer sex, literally throwing their lives away, should remember that.

Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 22 August 2016

My love of nature knows no bounds

For those familiar with my writing on The Huffington Post and elsewhere, you will know how much the natural world has rescued me from moments of sadness, exhilarated me without trying and is the best indicator of what life is really about. I've compiled a series of photos I have taken over years of walking in the British countryside. I hope you will enjoy them and better yet, get your boots on...

http://www.artsouffle.co.uk/photography.html

Photo copyright SvD.