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Sunday, 19 March 2017

My family

My darling doggie has been my family for almost fifteen years. He is getting so old now and like his mum towards the end of her life and who died in 2011, he needs to sit down every so often on our walks. Despite a tumour on his hind leg, he still wants to be wherever I am and can just about manage a short walk. If you haven't had a dog you couldn't possibly understand how wonderful they are. I have had dogs for most of my adult life. People come and go, those who you thought were friends will probably let you down but our canine friends would literally move Heaven and Earth just for the chance to be with you. There is a theory that in the course of  evolution, dogs civilised humans. My doggie and I have done some incredible things- he once sat quietly in the back seat of my car all the way to Brittany, France- a nine hour drive- without so much as a whimper. At the end of that journey, he accompanied me to a restaurant where he sat at my feet and ate one half of a large steak. Dogs are just perfect- they are kind, joyful, full of love - if you leave the room for five minutes they behave as if you have been gone on Homer's Iliad and just returned. I shall be bereft when my darling pooch needs to go to the great big kennel in the sky. Quite simply, I do not know how I shall cope. It will be the saddest day of my life.

Photo copyright SvD.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Mid-week fish supper

I love meat and eat a lot of it but at least two to three times a week I try and have fish. This quick and easy supper is fool-proof. The secret is fresh fish and knowing when the oil is hot enough to fry the fish without burning but resulting in a delicious crunchiness. I place my hand above the heating oil and if it feels really hot but is not smoking, I know it's ready. Cooking is made easy by experience so the way to get better is to practice every day. I coat the fish is flour which is mixed with hot paprika and a good grinding of black pepper. If you want a bit more heat, try slipping a few crushed chilies in the oil but remove them as soon as they begin to burn. My local supermarket had just received these Cornish sardines so I grabbed four which weighed 260g in total.

The idea to roast Brussels sprouts is not mine- I heard about this method from a friend. I've added cubes of poitrine fumée as I've just returned from France and it is the one thing I can't live without.  I slice the sprouts in half or quarters depending on their size, toss in olive oil, salt, pepper and a sprinkling of dried thyme, add the poitrine fumée and roast in a hot oven (200 degrees C) for thirty minutes covered and then fifteen more uncovered. Strong tasting white fish marry well with pork/bacon so go ahead and experiment!

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Paris

I've just returned from a few days in Paris which in spite of recent terrorist atrocities, remains shockingly beautiful. They say that you cannot expect to go to Paris and not be influenced by the culture and the language- whenever I arrive in France - the only place I ever go to on holiday- I always feel as if I am returning home. Look closely behind me- that's the Arc de Triomphe which the German Army walked through on June 14, 1940 when they invaded France.

The atmosphere in Paris was tense but there were many police everywhere. I felt safe and would urge tourists to visit this wonderful city.

PS I drove from England to Paris and it was an absolute doddle- three hours from the Eurotunnel in Calais to Paris and after a relaxed lunch on the Somme river in Normandy halfway through, the remainder of the journey to Paris seemed to be over in a flash.



Thursday, 2 March 2017

The best way to relax


We all live pretty frenetic lives- even on a subconscious level we are anticipating the next thing to do on our daily lists, hence the reason many claim to be too stressed to even relax. I know a couple, for example, who take regular holidays abroad (which cost a small fortune) just to be able to escape the mad, demanding pace in their professional and personal lives. For them, Heaven is a remote beach away from everyone and everything. When they're back in the fray of family and work commitments, they need sleeping pills every night. The mad cycle where the mind and body never get a real rest can be ultimately detrimental to our health. Sure, lying on a beach sipping your umpteenth piña colada may sound fabulous but it clearly doesn't solve the problem of how to cope with life without losing your mind and damaging your health in the process.

Why not try these tests to see how stressed and preoccupied you really are? The first test is to look at the picture below. As you may know by now, I'm a nature fiend- if I feel a cold coming on or I'm depressed, I put on my walking boots whatever the weather. I feel better for walking in the fresh air and preferably in isolation- a very dense wood with the sound of birdsong and where I can smell the seasons works best for me. Finding moments of peace and quiet enable me to keep my head together and banish the blues. Let's face it, life is not easy- or put another way, life is hard if you think too much (hence the reason that mind-altering drugs, too much alcohol and cigarettes are so popular).

Take a good look at the photo. See how long you can look at it and if those dew drops hold any fascination for you. If you can lose yourself staring at this evocative photo, your mind is probably not overloaded with anxiety and stress. If you can barely hold your gaze for five seconds...whoaaaa! Slow down!




In my book, How to be Happy, The Little Book of Peace for the Soul, I write about the sound of silence- the ability to think of nothing. For me it's meditation on the go and something that I can squeeze in no matter where I am. Try looking at these videos. One is of birdsong at dusk as I walked my hound one evening. Just close your eyes and listen to the birds. You should feel calmer and more centred by focusing on the birds' evening melodies. In the process your head will be emptied automatically of all the other stuff that is weighing you down. Try it.

Birdsong at dusk

This second video was made in my garden one summer as I was captivated by a leaf hanging off a filament of a spider's web. The leaf dangling in the wind and actually dancing was somehow mesmerising. The same principle applies- when you focus on the leaf, the computer in your head is forced to shut down. The end result is you feel lighter, less wound up and not as stressed.

Dancing leaf

Best of luck! And peace!


Photo and videos copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Huge skies north of London

It wasn't until I discovered the countryside north of London that I experienced these huge, endless skies which make you feel that you can touch Heaven. I had seen skies like this in rural America and marvelled at them then. Every time I drive out of London and reach Buckinghamshire, the magnificent skyline begins. BBC3 in the background with preferably Dvorak or Schubert and I am lifted outside of the monotony of daily living. This vista and a melody to move my innermost core remind me of the fragility and beauty of life. Simply wonderful. Funny, isn't it, how sometimes everything we need is right there waiting. Last night on my way home from work:
 
 
Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

What that selfie says about you...

I'm in the second half of my life which means that I'm in my 50s. This is a strange time to be alive- no longer young and nubile and not officially a geriatric either. As the body ages, the thought of mortality is ever present on our minds. There is a sense that time is running out and all those things that we would like to still do, well, we may never be able to.

The luscious ripeness which women, in particular, display in their child-making years, disappears completely after the menopause. By your 50s you have grown into your face and body and if you don't like what you see, that says more about what's in your head than on your face.

I wondered what had become of my classmates from my primary school and secondary school years and how they looked today so I spent several hours one weekend trawling Facebook. To be fair, everyone looks pretty good and without wanting to sound like a snob, I think a lot of that has to do with upbringing- our families tended to be middle class professionals and our mothers or housekeepers cooked the evening meal every day. Families ate together and as I recall from spending numerous sleepovers at the homes of my schoolmates, all of our families lived pretty much the same way and certainly a shop bought ready-made meal was never served at the dinner table. It would appear that our diets have kept us looking passable in our latter years.

Judging from the happy family snaps, and umpteen selfies, I can only assume that the subliminal message behind sharing these photos on a regular basis, is 'Aren't I lucky'? and 'Aren't I beautiful?' Naturally, every posted photo receives the desired approbation that yes, 'Aren't you lucky!' and 'Aren't you beautiful!'.  After several hours spent seeing a pattern of 'Look at me!' and the resulting seal of approval over and over again, I suddenly began to feel, a) queasy and b) uncomfortable with my own life.

'Cogito ergo sum.', barked my hound as he took yet another selfie, slowing down our walk considerably. Photo copyright SvD.

What about Miss Frump who has a genuinely engaging and interesting personality? Why isn't she on Facebook? Remember the girl at school that no one found attractive- she was too fat, smelled and had greasy hair? Chances are she looks like an older version of herself now but you can be sure she's not on Facebook. Why would she post a selfie in her size 20 dress? How would we make her feel to know she never married or had children, never had more than the occasional badly paying job and is essentially so nondescript she could be invisible. Miss Frump might never have the courage to admit her averageness because guess what, not a whole lot of pats on the back will come her way. Like the virgin who watches porn, Miss Frump probably surfs Facebook longingly wishing she could be a part of the action, desperate to join any reality apart from her own.

From a philosophical perspective, Facebook takes the non-participant on a toxic journey which can only result in self-loathing. The message is that we are the sum of someone else's view of ourselves. If we're attractive, if we can display the smiling-family-with-adoring-spouse photo, we've won the lottery in life and somehow we are better. The snapshot of smugness seems to be our only accomplishment. Out of the  dozens of profiles I viewed on Facebook, no one made mention of what was going on in their heads and what they had learned from life. After all, we're in our 50s with more than half a century of experiences to brag about, yet is the end game of life a photograph of our perfect irreality? And the idea that we are 'better' than others which is why we are willing to shout about it in a public domain, creates a dangerous precedent: remember 'some animals are more equal than others'? An undercurrent of narcissism pervaded more or less every Facebook profile I visited. Co-operation, community, solidarity, empathy, an interest in other people, the human condition, the soul life, all of these are alien territory to the narcissist. And if you hadn't realised, it's all about me.

Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Give me the sodden British countryside any day.

How I wish I grew up on a farm such as this. I would have spent all my time playing with lambs and fishing for guppies in the babbling brook. Some kids play pokemon, others live in their imaginations, chasing butterflies. This remains my idyll where my muddied wellies are my faithful companions (and my two hounds). There is more poetry in the dawn and setting of the sun and in the dance of starlings or wild ducks streaking against a crimson sky than there could ever be in humanity.


Photo copyright S. van Dalen.