Friday, 23 February 2018

What really matters...

What are the chances of walking into a wheat field, feeling like hell because you've spent the past week lying in bed wracked with fever and never felt so despairing, that you'd spot a heart-shaped stone poking out of the frozen earth?

Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018


This sheep greets me every morning, or rather, she races off in that skittish, Benny Hill way as she sees the hound approaching, out of breath, careering towards her on rheumatic, geriatric legs. I love the black patch surrounding the ewe's eye. This is a ewe by the way, that means she's a girl. Rams have broad faces which resemble satyrs.  A ram's face is quite literally one of the most captivating and spellbinding images- it evokes mythology and mysticism in its sheer beauty. A ram's life is especially envious because he must shag the ewes to produce lambs. Whereas the ewes will eventually be sold for mutton, as long as the rams can keep getting a leg over, they stay out of the abattoir. As you can see in the photo, there is no sun where I live.
Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

All Men Are Mortal

News of Neil Diamond retiring from music due to ill health, the death of one of my heroes, Paul Bocuse and also that of Jazz legend, Hugh Masekela, this morning, make for sad reading and the realisation that life is short. All three of these men have one thing in common- they made their mark by living a life less than ordinary and they will be remembered for generations to come.

Not everyone will become rich and famous but we do need to have the courage to follow our own path and define ourselves in a harsh and demanding world. Each of us has some sort of destiny and we must have the courage to find it and create our own language. Great sculptors like Henry Moore and painters such as Picasso are easily identifiable because of a language that is unique to them and the legacy they have left behind renders them immortal.

Our destiny may not be that we succeed beyond our wildest dreams and have everything we could possibly want materially. A successful life is not necessarily defined by material wealth which forms part of appearance and the superficial. Scratch beneath the surface: goodness, kindness and love are the only arbiters of whether one has triumphed in life. Too little emphasis is placed on how our soul and spirit evolve and which is the only purpose of why we are here on earth.

I have a friend who abhors astrology because she says that it should not replace God. I would argue that no one can predict the future and God has eluded men for thousands of years. But if we remove religion from life's equation, we essentially have to like what we see in the mirror every day and that reflection has to be entirely on our own terms. Life is an obstacle course where as soon as we clear one barrier, relax a little and get used to feeling good, another problem presents itself. Worse yet, we cannot see that there will ever be a time when everything will be less difficult. As I get older, I am more and more aware of how short life is and the idea of getting old and decrepit fills me with a sickening dread. My friends of the same age are all feeling traumatised by a future that hasn't yet happened. This fear of what we think will happen is therefore our own worst enemy.

There is a saying in Latin which sums up all of human existence and endeavour: Memento Vivere. Remember to live. The second part of the saying is this: Memento Mori. Remember that you have to die. Human mortality remains the great tragedy of human existence. A young woman I know recently lost her dad and some three months later cannot reconcile that he has gone. Her father had been ailing for years and in the months prior to his death, had diminished rapidly. One could argue that his death therefore was expected. Why can't she just move on and accept that death, although upsetting, is inevitable? When we grieve, we are essentially sad for ourselves. The feeling of loss, of what could have been and mostly, regret about how we could have better spent those precious moments we squandered with those we loved and who loved us unconditionally.

All love is not the same, the depths and hope of which can elude us and then it becomes too late. Lost chances, lost opportunities, lost time. The permanence of death snatches love away and leaves only sorrow in its place. If we were to remember that we have to die then we would be able to reconcile that our sadness is misplaced because we cannot prevent the inevitable. The nature of life is that it will end in death. Death and taxes are the only two absolutes in this life.

Every day we experience death in a metaphorical sense. The loss of friendships, failed love affairs, missed opportunities, are a type of death because they represent an ending. We are more versed in dealing with loss than we care to admit. Oh, the irony of being more prosperous than our grandparents' generation, when in fact, 21st century life is more difficult, traumatic and impossible because of the demands we make on ourselves. It is therefore worth remembering to live as the sand trickles through the hourglass. Great artists, like Paul Bocuse, Neil Diamond, Hugh Masekela, didn't sit around waiting for life. They made it happen.

Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A Place To Think

This room is where I do all my thinking, parked up on an old rattan sofa. The feathers are from Percy the peacock, that everyone wanted to shoot because they found his crowing early in the morning quite annoying. Percy was given a reprieve at the last minute, the complaint was mysteriously withdrawn, who knows, perhaps a horse's head in a bed was involved. We'll never know. Percy moulted in October last year and one of his avid supporters, Sue, who just happens to be a hunt saboteur but more on that later, gathered up some feathers for me. I think of Percy every day - may he live a long and happy life.

Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Someone to watch over me

I see this tree which is in a farmer's field near my home every day. There are hundreds of sheep on the farm and had this tree not been protected by the metal fence it would have been munched to the ground long ago. As I walked past the field this morning, the fog was thick, the air damp and the sun, as usual, was nowhere to be seen. The tree shielded behind its metal fence fascinated me. What happens if there is no one to watch over us. No one who takes any interest in whether we manage to survive life with our sanity intact? I get a lot of junk mail and recently a message pinged into my Inbox about homelessness. The stark image of a young child forced to sleep on the streets in this supposed age of prosperity, saddened me. I know quite a lot about tragedy and the ricochet effect of bad experiences. My optimism, by some miracle and in spite of everything, has kept me going. There are those in this life who simply cannot get back up again after they have known only the worst. Is it the government's responsibility or are we our brother's keeper? Where does our obligation to others stand? I go to mass in a Catholic church every Sunday and in all the years I have been attending church, I can say, hand on heart, that Nietzsche  was right when he said the only good Christian was Jesus Christ. Apart from shaking hands and mouthing 'peace be with you', watching everyone genuflect, take communion and absolve themselves of their behaviour, their Christianity doesn't follow them out the door.

We as human beings, have a lot to answer for. We watch others suffer and we do nothing. We claim to be too busy, too wrapped up in our own affairs to be bothered. Just think about the scandal of not caring for our elderly parents and chucking them in residential care homes where they can simply look forward to dying. A friend wrote to me over Christmas that she had not had a holiday in eight years because she was stuck at home looking after her mother but she accepted this was her lot. How many of us could go without a holiday in eight years? It used to be different. Having good health and food on the table used to be enough. Now our expectations consume us and we feel inferior if we can't have it all. Strangely, the notion of happiness doesn't form part of the equation when we are running around exceeding ourselves. Because we convince ourselves that as long as we have it all, we are happy.

The tree surrounded by the metal fence reminds us of the precariousness of life. Why not resolve to be that fence for somebody else?
Photo copyright SvD.

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.