06/09/2013 07:07 BST | Updated 05/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Tasty Blackbirds, Deadly Fruit and What Really Matters...

Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie

It is unusual to see a blackbird at a bird feeder. Blackbirds prefer a diet of worms dug up in the ground or snails that they bash relentlessly to loosen up before extracting the dazed molluscs from their shells. I have observed a blackbird come to sleep every day in this buddleia outside my kitchen window. I also receive a visit from a blackbird- impossible to know if it is the same one- who stands and looks at me as if to say, "excuse me but the bird feeding arrangements are somewhat unsatisfactory. You see, I hate perching on that damn thing you call a bird feeder." The blackbird has a thick beak that is not best suited to extracting the suet balls from a feeder clearly designed for smaller birds.

I have eaten many blackbirds during happy years spent in France where my best friend, Madame Bué, would frequently stuff them with sultanas, drizzle with cognac and roast in the the oven. I was a bad guest mostly and would arrive late for lunch every Sunday when the blackbirds had waited a bit too long in the oven and were, ahem, let us say, singed. I was told off frequently for my tardiness. It is customary to eat the bones and all in one sitting. For the faint-hearted, I offer no apologies. Food is not entertainment but rather sustenance.



Come closer

The deadly poisonous yew berry hypnotises, mesmerises with its lip-red beauty, calling us in like a siren. The berry itself is sweet and succulent but the dark pip within is fatal to both man and beast. Animals and birds covet the juicy fruit and delicately remove the harmless red flesh from the dark, toxic pip.

Red is a colour that is loved and hated in equal measure. The colour of passion, red blood pumps through a body arched with desire. Red conveys warmth and life but also warns of danger. When we are angry we are said to 'see red'. When we are in love, we long for red roses.

And as with the yew berry, red also signifies death.

Attraction, passion, desire, love, anger, death. The end.


Photo copyright S. van Dalen.

Things that matter

What really matters in life? These are my top five:

1. My body is a temple: I do believe that in order to appreciate life and live it to the fullest, we need to take good care of our bodies. Good health is not about following fad diets but being sensible and taking responsibility. Mental health, as the ancients understood long before us, is connected to what we eat. I eat like a peasant- simple, unrefined, unprocessed food and where possible, seasonal produce. I walk a lot with my hound to keep the pounds off and eschew gyms. I don't want to be so lean that I freeze in the winter and frankly, life is too short to be obsessed about anything, including our weight.

2. Be able to tell a good joke: laughing is a precious remedy to banish the blues. I laugh a lot, mostly at myself. The day I'm too miserable to tell or laugh at a joke is the day I know that something is seriously wrong. A sense of humour is a sign of well-being, plus it's free.

3. Be a good person: religion is not terribly popular these days and I won't talk about my beliefs but surely, we can all aspire to be good, kind and empathetic towards each other? I got rid of the TV many years ago because a) the standard of programs was getting more and more inane and b) reality TV makes me cringe and kind of breaks my heart - it celebrates cruel behaviour and anyone who considers that entertainment is frankly, slightly deranged.

4. Value life: why hurt anyone or anything knowingly? I fish spiders out of the bath every morning and they willingly hitch a ride onto the saucer I lower towards them (they've figured out the alternative). I used to throw them out into the garden until one day, a spider that had been left behind and was still in the bathroom literally pursued me angrily- you see, I'd thrown out his mate.

5. Less is more: possessions, money, things, the latest fashion, trends, keeping up appearances, are all meaningless. Life is an illusion, I understood that when I saw my father laying in a coffin. Contentment, the biggest prize of all, is inside our heads.


Photo copyright S. van Dalen. Oil on canvas painting, 'Two teeth only', copyright SvD.

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