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Saturday, 30 November 2013

Becoming ourselves

Now that I've lived long enough (50), I can do all that stuff my father used to do- look down at others disparagingly BECAUSE I am am older and supposedly wiser. However what I have learned up to my advanced age is I understand nothing. If that makes sense. What it means, I think, is that life is a fluid, moving thing. A bit like a river that we could look at all day and it would never look the same at 12 o'clock as it would 6 o'clock. Some reeds might look different, a few extra stones may have found their way into the river bed, the sun might not be shining that day. Well, yes, the river will still be running, searching for the sea but it  might not always look the same. We humans are not that dissimilar. We strive, we fail, we break, we lose, we hurt, we get back up. But the essence of who we are remains the same. I often recount the story of my beloved papa who upon seeing me as a middle -aged and greying woman remarked that I hadn't changed. I was exactly as I had been as a little girl. My personality, my core was the same.

I've recently had run-ins with politicans and think their task is possibly the worst on the planet. I've known a few of these well-known politicians long before they became 'famous' and established with the guaranteed pension. I've seen how they've changed. Politics is a profession where one is like that plasticine we played with as four years olds- malleable and yielding where self serving own goals matter. When I look back at my life, I probably played out my life the same way. I did things that enriched me, made me happy and served my ego. It took me a long time to realise that life is pretty futile and whatever we think we need to be doing is only a temporary act- the world goes on, the river runs, the sea beckons and life, is so much bigger than we are that if we look to count the drops of water from the river as they become one with the sea, we could be, well, waiting forever.

Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Things I saw in the woods today, part 58

This is a very gory photograph but for those of us who are used to nature and wild animals in their own habitat, it is quite normal. I have converted the photo to black and white because I am sure the more faint-hearted would not enjoy the gore and blood in the original.

Today I was out walking with a friend and her dogs, one of which is a rescue dog from Romania with a taste for dead animals. He walked out of the woods with this in his mouth. I doubt he inflicted the damage we see as he had not been gone that long and from my own experience, the last part of the animal the predator will eat is the head and several days after the torso and legs have been fully consumed. This head had been laying around for three or four days, maybe five. In our cold weather the decomposition is slow. Sorry to sound like Hercule Poirot but I've learned a lot just walking in the woods forever now.

This was a roe deer.

Photo copyright SvD.

My latest article on the Huffington Post

To read the article, please click here:

Fly with your own wings, Peaks and troughs and How to choose in a perfect moment

Photo copyright SvD.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Fly with your own wings

What a week we've had in London! Three prominent individuals are revealed as habitual drug users. One is jailed for  committing the most atrocious crimes on very young children while being 'off his head on crystal meth'.

Too much money and too much choice. Drugs feed off a rampant ego and an absence of self. The finger is too readily pointed at the drugs or the alcohol or the porn as being the destroyer  but the truth is, we destroy our own lives.

I have seen what drugs do to people- my own brother and two very close friends. Drugs make people psychotic and consumed by darkness where they are a hell of their own making and where empathy is replaced by a self-serving and greedy ego.

The government addresses the purchase and consumption of illegal substances by seeking to protect the human species from itself (go to church is you want that!). No one however considers the fact that the responsibility lies with the individual, free will after all wasn't invented by politicians, it is the way humans are designed.

On the news this morning, the government is undertaking an independent review of introducing plain, brand-less packaging for cigarettes. Cigarettes are already shielded from view behind sliding doors in the major supermarkets. I would argue that if someone wants to smoke they will do so regardless.  The key to increasing growth in the sale of cigarettes is  a) winning new smokers, the younger the better and b) availability. When a smoker can't get their preferred brand, they switch. They don't however stop smoking. (I used to work for a major tobacco company as a Marketing Director Designate and I smoked for twenty four years.) The mechanism to switch off the desire to smoke is not a button inside our heads but rather a 'will' to do so.

Cigarettes, legal and illegal drugs are all the same: no government can stop us wanting them. Where the government fails is by not investing our taxes into a school curriculum where youngsters are taught how to think and value life. In France, philosophy is mandatory in high school and French kids know their cogito ergo sum from their néant (that doesn't stop them getting drugged up or succumbing to peer pressure but it does give them the tools to make better decisions in their lives).

Taking drugs is like the avalanche that must pursue its course- the damage to one's soul, forget the body, is irreparable. But if you have no concept of who you are, should it matter?

Volez de vos propres ailes. Fly with your own wings. (French proverb.)

Photo copyright SvD.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Things I saw in the woods today, part 57

This 'angel' was standing in the woods waiting for me. I couldn't figure out how a twig could stand upright with a leaf at perfect angles for 'arms'. Whatever this was (and I know what it was) it measured over a foot tall. Of course, the hound trampled upon it but not before I had taken several photos.


Noisy parakeets! These non native birds make a lot of noise and travel in groups of up to 50. I counted eight on one tree.


The view from my house had me mesmerised this morning: I could literally see the sun rising every few seconds. Of course it made me late and although this was not in the woods but thought you would like it anyway.

Photos copyright SvD.

On books...

As I get older, I tend to read very old books. Centuries old. Modern writing has become something of a mystery to me and I eschew best sellers for exactly that reason. A good book is a priceless gem and one where long after we have finished reading it and the pages are consigned to our memories, we remember the words, the phrases and usually one moment in the entire book that remains a favourite thought. For example, in Memoires d'Outre Tombe by Chateaubriand, it is the moment he realises he has fallen in love. In Wuthering Heights, it is the symbol of the window as a yearning to belong. In Madame Bovary, it is the image of Charles, a broken man at the very end of the book. Books are like people- they can be summarised or pigeon-holed but how they move us is unique.

I recently received some very old books as a gift from a dear friend. One of these books, Saint Simon's Memoirs will take me many months to finish. The book is written in old French where the 'a' appears as an 'o'. Saint Simon was a nobleman who spent most of his life in the 18th century in the court of Versailles. The shenanigans Saint Simon witnessed amongst his peers are exactly the same as today. Human nature has not evolved at all; we behave, think and manifest our emotions in exactly the same way. We jostle for position, hold grudges, ruin the lives of others, steal from our families, disinherit our siblings, torment our elderly parents, use each other, barter attention and affection, abandon our spouses for younger models, marry for money, mock our politicians, fall out of favour, become exiled, lose everything to fate or chance, die of disease, privation, despair or excess, just as our ancestors did. Human beings are to this day, creatures of the earth and succumb to earthly passions (the etymological meaning of the word 'passion' incidentally is 'to suffer').

A good book therefore should recount a story that we are already familiar with- one that draws on life and of which we are more than likely to have had the experience already so we can empathise with the characters. For example, all of us have had our heart broken and know what that feels like. Romantic fiction is so popular because the basic storyline is universal: the need to love and to be loved. And the path to true love is never straightforward hence the journey becomes the story. Would Wuthering Heights have been been so memorable had Heathcliff not heard Catherine reject him in that famous line to Nelly, and had he not returned after years of silence, and to find Catherine married and had he not tormented her in both life and in death and not died himself? We all wish for a happy ending but know it is never within reach yet our jaws drop wide open at the intensity and brutality of the love between Catherine and Heathcliff and wish we could experience that type of 'passion'.

Reading is both a process of awakening and insight. An understanding of life and human nature and poignantly, a mechanism to cope.

In screenwriting we are taught to craft a story with a character arc where the hero comes out in the end a changed person. Hollywood also insists on resolution in the third and final act without which audiences would remain baffled and unsatisfied- as if real life ever has resolution all the time. People can live their whole lives in a mumble-jumble without ever achieving a full circle in their heads. And many more get hard done by and and never get the payback they think they are entitled to.

But let us leave the fantasy world of Hollywood and return to the business of living. There has been a surge of misery memoirs where the most depraved, deprived and tragic lives are given exposure. Many of these books become bestsellers and there clearly is a market for a type of voyeurism where seemingly we need to know that we are not as unfortunate as so-and-so. Do we benefit from knowing that someone's mother was unbelievably cruel and horrid due to her deeply narcissistic personality which made her a poor excuse for a parent? Does it help to know that others are more flawed than we are? I would venture to say that only 'sad f...s read sad books'.

There are books that have quite literally shaped my thinking. King Lear, Siddhartha, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Art of the Samourai, Sartre's plays, L'Etranger, and all of which I read in my teenage and young adult years. That imprint is fixed forever and despite the millions of other words I have read since then, I am all of those books.


Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Things I saw in the woods today, part 56

The secret language of trees. A dying tree.


Mysterious mushrooms cont'd. Autumn is rendering everything to mush and mulch. The process of decay is everywhere. Due to their highly porous nature, mushrooms literally turn to dust as they rot.

Photos copyright SvD.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Your happy memories 11/24 | Blog talk radio

I discussed the topic of bereavement this week.

To listen to the archived show, please click here:

Your happy memories 11/24 

 Photo copyright SvD.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Things I saw in the woods today, part 55

A rotting tree trunk disintegrates into dust.


The mysterious lovers P & P leave their moniker wherever they can.


A cheery yellow leaf will not be that way for long if the Autumn rains and cold have their way.


Another leaf succumbs to the process of rejoining the earth.


The ivy strangles as it goes along but also reminds us that even the most convoluted paths lead somewhere.


Photos copyright SvD.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Hard to choose in a perfect situation

We have a thousand variations of mist, fog and rain in this country and then suddenly, we get perfect conditions which last for a few brief moments.  We also get opportunities in between the brief moments and we have to seize them wholeheartedly before, well, you know the rain comes back (or the mist or the fog). A bit like life, actually.

Here's one such perfect moment in the woods today with my hound.

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Your happy memories 11/17 | Blog talk radio

This week's show was a little bit different. You can listen to the archived version here:

Your happy memories 11/17 

Photo and painting copyright SvD.

The Broadcast Club

As promised, I've re-opened the GoFundMe page in the name of the charity. Please have a look and donate if you think this a worthy endeavour. Many thanks in advance!

The Broadcast Club


Thursday, 14 November 2013

What it is to be human

When my father died I had an acute sense of loss. The time passed and in the last year, my father has 'visited' me three of four times. He was still present in the atmosphere, still very concerned for me.

I needed to make a trip to say goodbye to my dying mother and when I was there in a place that was no longer familiar to me, my father was still aware that I needed help. He remained present and guided me to a valuable encounter that was specific to the trauma of my family that had fallen apart due to squabbling over a will.

When I returned home from seeing my mother, I had a dream and in it my father no longer recognised me. It was only a few days later that I realised it had been exactly seven years since his death. By appearing as a stranger to me in a dream, my father was telling me that that he was never to return to me ever again. From now on I would never feel a presence near me. My father had gone for good and to a place from which there would be no earthly connection.

When we speak of "Heaven" in Christianity, we imagine a place of peace and joy where sadness is banished. In my life I have known tremendous suffering and I now realise that the human condition is one where we must suffer in order to understand. I am a better writer for knowing what sadness is, what humans are capable of doing to each other. Had I not delved into the pit of despair, I would not have been able to marvel at what good there is in this world.

The irony in life is that the Heaven we seek to find begins before we reach this earth. My father was a good and loving man. He was honest and loyal to his job and his family. He was kind. Where he has gone is a type of infinite peace. Not all of us are destined to end up there.

Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A single raindrop

Impossible to photograph a single raindrop as it dangled from the end of a stalk in the woods today. I wanted to hold the stalk still as the wind rustled past and as I did, the drop fell off and nothing was left. No photo. No raindrop.

This evening as I waited for my casserole to cook and to dispel the rumbling in my tummy, I took to the computer to surf along to pass the time. I googled old friends and acquaintances and found them all on Facebook. I had kept away from Facebook forever until I joined a radio station and it became the easiest way of communicating with my fellow presenters. And so I relented. Reluctantly.

This evening I 'caught up' with all those faces that I used to see so frequently. People who had seemingly been part of my life by virtue of familiarity. At every diplomatic cocktail party the guest list was the same. And the conversation too.

The timeline of the past years was easy to calculate- when the first baby was born, the marriage (usually after the baby then and these days), the spreading girth, the shorter hair. And yet these lives all look so perfect in the Facebook 'story' but as I recall, they were anything but. There was a whiff of scandal at the choice of boyfriend, now settled into middle age and respectability. There was a bigger whiff at the birth of the child out of 'wedlock'. Now the child is quite lovely and grown into a woman. The affairs, the pot-smoking kids, the horrid in-laws, the whirly twirly of life, the career aimlessness, the waiting for the in-laws to die to inherit loads of money, the waiting for the grandmother to die and hiding from her the choice of spouse as it would have meant instant removal from the will, all  those things that we used to speak about for hours on end over endless rum and sodas, well, it seems everyone has settled into a mundane state where the former rebels are now teaching yoga and have achieved some sort of enlightenment, peace, call it what you want.

I felt a pang of sadness at my orphaned state, my family-less state and could have drowned in tears had I wanted to. But I remembered that nothing is ever what it seems and we see what we want to see in this life. We feel what we want. We think what we want. We are what we choose. And so I hurried back to my casserole, poured a glass of wine and gave thanks for not wanting what I don't have. Fraud that I am.

Photo and painting copyright SvD.

Monday, 11 November 2013

There is beauty all around us...

The woods are full of photographic opportunities but what I like best is the unexpected. I never move or place anything I find so as to make a more impressive photo. Everything I photograph is in situ as I find it.

And there is beauty everywhere in the natural world. All one has to do is open one's eyes. Very wide. Can you guess what this is?

Photo copyright SvD.

Your happy memories 11/10 | Blog talk radio

I conclude my reading of Maestro.....

Your happy memories 11/10 

Things I saw in the woods today, part 53

The bluest sky and a Japanese maple in full Autumn glory:


Falling leaves appear as UFOs in the otherwise empty sky:


A very strange and opportunistic mushroom pokes its head out of a tree:



A Jew's Ear mushroom with dewdrops inside it:

Photos copyright SvD.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

How to get away from it all

One of the signs of a calm and centered individual is the ability to sit perfectly still for long periods of time. Another sign is the ability to stand with both arms outstretched for several minutes and NOT feel the pain or simply ignore it altogether. Both of these 'tasks' require a balanced disposition. Sadly, all around me are fidgety people who I come across in all walks of life. It seems they are everywhere.

I remember a book that was given to me many years ago by a French friend who had a real affinity for India (ironically he gave me the book as a gift and two decades later came to visit, borrowed the book and I never saw it again. Like so many friendships, ours has disappeared into the mists of time). In the book there were stories of yogis sitting on the steps along the Ganges and as the water rose, they were oblivious to it.  I'm not recommending drowning yourself but why not try sitting so still that you can hear your heart beating?

Alternatively in order to escape those who can't, see the photo below.


Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

A lovely day amongst the friars

Yes, I am a Catholic and I enjoy the camaraderie of going on retreat and spending time in meditative silence. Here are a few photos of the retreat today at the very old: The Friars

All photos copyright SvD.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Help me to help other people

Update 12 November 2013 : I have now closed the GoFundMe page and will be reopening one in the the name of the charity. The registration process with HMRC is in train in order for donors to receive Gift Aid.

One of my books, How to be Happy, The Little Book of Peace (for your soul), was published last year and I received so many emails from people of all ages from 18-80 years old, about how it helped them in their lives, that it got me thinking that I could make use of my speaking skills and deliver motivational talks to kids in school and help them get prepared for the business of living. Teenagers leave school ill-equipped to deal with the real world and we have huge social problems here in the UK. Worst of all these kids don't have a strong sense of self and find it difficult to ignore peer pressure or find their balance.

How to be Happy is based on my 50 years on this planet and the lessons I learned the hard way. I truly believe that if today's teenagers listened to my story they would not make the same mistakes. Better yet, they would discover what truly matters in this life- that life is a gift and they should be grateful for it by grabbing it with both hands, not wasting it.

I truly do believe, from my own experience of hiring young graduates, that they feel let down by the system that did not provide them with sufficient tools in order to cope with the cut and thrust of real life. We know that many youngsters do not have a stable family unit to fall back on and indeed missed the guidance and protection that a strong family unit brings. My own background is in philosophy and like mathematics, it teaches one to think and make sense of the world. I am certain that I can help more teenagers and young adults to have the confidence and willingness to find their way in the world and at the same time, be active and productive participants in society.

I've also survived every "up" and "down" you can think of and I'm still here. My resilience and determination are what keep me going. Those are valuable lessons to impart.

In an ideal world we should help others as much as we can. We are after all, our brother's keeper.

About me: If you google my name you will get a good idea of my background and experience. I began my career at Toyota in marketing then moved to British American Tobacco where I was a Director Designate. Currently I am involved in the relocation industry in London, two of my books have been published http://www.amazon.com/Samantha-van-Dalen/e/B0090O03H2 and I am a weekly contributor to the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/samantha-van-dalen/
My personal blog (which you are reading now), www.londonsouffle.blogspot.co.uk which I started just over a year ago, is where I showcase my nature photos and musings on life.

If anyone would like to join with me in this endeavour, why not contact me? If you think it is time to help the younger generation on their path, please do get in touch. E: samantha@primorelocations.com And of course, many thanks in advance if you've read something here that resonates with you.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Peaks and troughs

The maze of life when viewed from a distance is a splendidly crafted thing.

When we are embroiled in the hardship and uncertainty of life however it can feel quite the opposite. None of us is lucky enough to live a life without trials and tribulations. Many of us have to fight to make sense of our world.

Peaks and troughs. Hills and valleys. Good times, bad times. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Yet in spite of it all, we do have it all. We can be blessed and not know it.

Photos copyright SvD.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The man who doesn't want to go home

There is a bench near the woods that is hidden from view as one walks along the road. A man drives to the woods each day after work, parks and locks the car, walks 300 yards and then goes to sit on the bench. He smokes cigarette after cigarette. Eventually he gets up, walks over to the car and drives off. His routine is the same every day although I only ever cross paths as I walk past the bench with my hound. I know he is there before I see him: the acrid waft of cigarette smoke greets me first. The man's back faces me and he does not know I am there. I recognise the man by his egg-shaped bald head and expensive suit. The same thought crosses my mind each time I see him: his nice shoes must get ruined in that mud. I don't think he knows what mud does to expensive leather. Or cares. Today is Sunday and there he is. This time dressed in a jumper and jeans. Outside of his workday routine. I recognise the shiny egg-head. He is smoking. I almost want to ask him why he doesn't want to be at home. I just know the answer so I don't ask.

The sparrow has lost all his relatives and is alone. I noticed that the family of three is now reduced to one. I worry for the sparrow. Is he one of the two babies who were born outside my kitchen window last spring? What will become of him all alone in the winter? How will he cope with no one to talk to, with no kin who speak his sparrow language. Do sparrows join other sparrow groups or he is condemned to be by himself forever? I noticed that the blue tit is also on his own. He used to have a best mate (or a sister or brother) and they travelled every day to the Budleia together to wash in the bath or peck at the suet balls. There is only one blue tit left. The sparrow and the blue tit don't seem to talk much these days. They used to play in the bird bath together when they were more than just the two of them.

There's an elderly lady I see every day with her irascible hound, Louis. The lady hobbles along with her cane and her willful companion often threatens to pull her over. The lady's husband died exactly a year ago. He used to sit on that bench too. One day he felt unwell and forty-eight hours later he was gone. We talk about her loss and how she hates being alone. "The days are so long", she laments.

The birds are alone. The man chooses to be alone, smoking cigarette after cigarette as he sits on a bench. The lady is alone.

The view from the bench is a bunch of trees, the hills beyond and a huge sky. One could get lost in that sky.


Photo copyright SvD.

Your happy memories 11/03 | Blog talk radio

 I continue reading from my book, Maestro. I am coming to the end....

You can catch up with the intrigue as the story unfolds:

Your happy memories 11/03 

Friday, 1 November 2013

A feast of mushrooms

The smell of mushrooms in the woods these days is inebriating- musky, earthy and heady when the rain touches them and the warmth of daylight seeks to dry them out. I imagine that with each breath I take I am inhaling zillions of mushroom spores (watch this space :))- it certainly feels that way. Would be interesting to see how those who are fashionably allergic to everything would cope with a walk in the woods during mushroom season. Now is the time to be picking mushrooms and hanging them to dry in laundry cupboards in preparation for Winter (please remember that many mushrooms are deadly poisonous so unless you really know your cepe from your pleurot, don't do it). Here's a sample of mushrooms I saw today:








Photos copyright SvD.