Brenda Squires - Author Therapist and Artist

My December 2021 Newsletter

Hello and welcome to my December newsletter. It was great to hear from so many of you: friends from the present and past, from Wales, London and as far afield as Australia, the United States and South Africa. Thank you for getting in touch. I’m always interested to know what you’re getting up to and what you’ve been reading.
My big news from November was the trip to Spain. After the rigmarole of vaccine certification and passenger location forms, it was a relief to touch down on Spanish soil. It was great to see our son, Myles, again and to explore some of Southern Spain.
Seville, for those of you who haven’t visited, is a treat. Even now, in Covid times, there were queues to visit the cathedral. But you don’t need to: in every square and down every alleyway you’ll come across treasures and delights like this ceramic panel by the entrance to a bodega.

This old boy is taking part in a demonstration, which was also a bit of a party. Trade unionists, mothers pushing buggies, young folk sporting tats and even the odd Swedish football fan (Spain was playing Sweden) were swept up in the maelstrom. They were celebrating democracy in Spain. The Civil War, this old boy declared, was not a war but an attack on the State. Some among them were demanding the exhumation of victims of the Franco regime. Only since 2007 have people in Spain been allowed to talk about that era in public. Note the policeman lurking watchfully in the background – hopefully not much in common with the fierce Guardia Civil of the Franco era. See link https://www.icmp.int/news/spains-missing/
Cadiz surprised. I’d been there once before and gained an impression of grilled frontages and narrow streets. This time we had the chance to enjoy amazing flamenco in an uncrowded bar and to cycle round the vast sandy beaches. We got a lesson or two in history, too. We learned how Francis Drake and his English pirates scuttled thirty-three boats and burnt down a third of Cadiz when the king wouldn’t deliver a ransom. Nice, eh? I only cringe at the thought that he might be a distant relative, as family rumour has it. My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Alice Lydia Drake.
Still on world happenings this is a letter I wrote to my MP after the recent channel disaster. I don’t want to turn this newsletter into a political platform but some things just strike you to the core.
Like most people I was horrified by the recent catastrophe at sea where 27 lives were lost when an overcrowded dinghy was hit by a container ship. I am writing to you with a sense of helplessness and frankly with little hope that my voice will be heard. However, you are my MP and so I write. 

Again along with most people I deplore the ruthless human traffickers who are exploiting the vulnerability of refugees desperate to reach the UK. Everything should be done to bring the wrongdoers to justice so these disasters do not recur. I am sure that with cooperation with France this will, in time, be addressed and remedied.

But why are refugees driven to such extremities? Why have we made it virtually impossible for them to seek asylum here? When and how as a nation did we become so hostile and xenophobic to such people? Without getting too personal about this, our Home Secretary’s parents fled the tyranny of Idi Amin’s Uganda and found shelter here: the chance to rebuild their lives. To gain any sort of acceptance here now as a refugee you need money and contacts. When did refugees ever have that luxury? Since when did their humanity, their gifts, their resourcefulness count for so little? In the past we have welcomed Jews fleeing pogroms, Irish fleeing starvation, Bangladeshis fleeing civil strife and refugees from the Second World War and many others.

We have welcomed refugees – albeit not without conditions and restrictions – and in time these same people have contributed to the diverse and liberal country that we have, until recent times, been. They have worked hard, by and large, contributed to the economy and their children have become integrated and in turn added to the richness of the nation. What greets refugees now, even if they do manage to wriggle through the assault course that lies before them? They meet a hostile, suspicious and often xenophobic environment. Fear reigns. The government is more concerned about its own survival and politicians motivated more, it seems, by political ambition than by humanity. 

Am I being unfair? I hope I’m wrong in this. 

So my plea to you is to voice the view, if you happen to agree with it, of course, that such people are to be regarded as a resource rather than as a threat or a burden. Those desperate to reach these shores come from war-torn areas or places devastated by ecological blight. No one lightly leaves their home and uproots their family. 

And it’s not as though we don’t need more people to run and work our country. We do. We have shortages – 1.5 million, I believe – across the board. We need more people as carers, builders, nurses and in the hospitality industry. You will know all of this better than most. When we were part of the EU the EU workers contributed far more to the economy than they ever took out of it. 

What is happening now is not rational. It is fear based. It is catering to mass thinking that implies that we are about to be overwhelmed by hordes, who will destroy our culture, make our streets unsafe and threaten our livelihoods. 

I think it is time that collectively we grew up a bit! We are stronger than that. We are hopefully kinder than that. We were once a Christian nation. A major tenet of all world religions is compassion. What has happened to ours?
This song sums it up for me….

Moving on…What I’ve been reading.
The old man and the sea by Ernest Hemingway
As you may have gathered from my last newsletter, I’ve been going through a bit of a Hemingway phase. I reread the Old Man and the Sea. This novella, his last work, clinched the Nobel Prize for Literature for him in 1954. It’s a wonderful story. Crammed with technicalities on capturing big fish, it is also about coming to terms with thwarted ambition and the pursuit of the impossible. The old fisherman wrestles with a gigantic marlin and overcomes it, but then, as he heads for home with it, the catch of his life is devoured by sharks. I continue to be amazed by his mastery.
Summer water by Sarah Moss
This book covers one wet summer in Scotland beside a Loch – presumably Lomond – in Covid times. Families are locked together on the shore in cabins. We enter the minds of several people, both old and young, as they contemplate dripping leaves, the grim prospect of more rain and eye up their fellow ‘captives’. Moss is able to get inside the skin of these people with ease and empathy and is never without a touch of humour. Her prose is poetic and varies according to whose world we are inhabiting. I wasn’t too sure about the dramatic ending, though I did feel something different had to happen.
Healing through time by Brian Weiss
My interest in the psyche has never gone away. Having worked for years in transpersonal psychology, I’m always keen to gain insights about how we tick and how we can best reach our potential. I came across this book when browsing the Internet. It is pretty old and I couldn’t get a Kindle copy. But I was intrigued. Trained at Yale, highly regarded as a practitioner and chairman of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, Weiss tells how his life was turned upside down by a patient. Under hypnosis she started telling him things about his life she couldn’t possibly have known. (This was in the days before Google.) That started him on a voyage of spiritual exploration. Today he is a leading proponent of past life regression therapy. This book relates some of that journey. Fascinating stuff.
And what some of you have been reading
Anne Garside read: If God will spare my life by Mike Lewis
Anne says: Mike Lewis has worked as a reporter for national newspapers, so he knows what makes a gripping story. I greatly enjoyed hearing the author read passages at Fishguard’s new Ar Ymyl y TirFestival, and can reliably report that Mike can snort like a horse and howl like a coyote! The book’s real-life hero, William Batine James, was a farm boy from Pembrokeshire. Driven to seek a new life in America, he joined the U.S. Seventh Cavalry in order to survive. But survival becomes moot as he rides with General Custer to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. I sat up reading until well after midnight, transfixed both by Will’s first person narrative of his dark remembered past in West Wales and of his ride across the Badlands of Dakota towards Custer’s legendary Last Stand.
Frankie Weinberg read: The house of Glass by Hadley Freeman
Frankie says: I recently moved house and instead of a usual housewarming gift a friend gave me a copy of this book saying that she thought I’d enjoy it. She was right – I more than enjoyed it and intend to read it again as I’m a devotee of family memoirs, especially when they involve exile and survival, failure and perseverance, love and hope with some history thrown in. It tells the story of a 20th century Jewish family (Glass) from the start of the century to the end. It’s not just a historical account of their diaspora and flight from Poland and anti-Semitism, first to Paris and later the USA, but an exploration of the complexities and mysteries of the human heart. The family includes the ‘alpha’ uncle who rose from poverty in the Shtetl to great wealth and the exquisitely beautiful but sad aunt who surrendered love and personal happiness for the sake of her family’s survival. I found it a deeply moving, thought-provoking and absorbing story. At the end I didn’t want to leave the world of this extraordinarily interesting family, so vividly evoked by Freeman, and that says it all.
Susanna Rook read: Black teacher by Beryl GilroySusanna says: This is a remarkable account about the life of a young Caribbean woman who left British Guiana in 1952 as part of the Windrush generation to make a new life in the UK. I was astonished by the racism she encountered when she started to work as a primary teacher in North London. She was very well educated and intelligent with some forward-looking ideas about children and yet colleagues, students and their parents were so unused to meeting a black person they felt entitled to treat her with contempt. In spite of this, Beryl persevered and became the first black head teacher at Beckford School in 1970. This book resonates with my experience of primary teaching later in the 1970’s and is an inspiring lesson in determination and resilience. I recommend it as a reminder of racism in the past as we talk of Black Lives Matter now.
Maxine Susman read Mink river by Brian DoyleMaxine says: Mink River by Irish-American writer Brian Doyle, takes place in an out-of-the-way village on the Oregon coast of the Northwest USA, where three generations of characters from mixed ethnic and racial backgrounds strive to keep their town and one another afloat. It’s rare to find a novel this satisfying; Doyle spins poetry and surprises into his mix of Celtic legends, Native-American traditions, and small-town American story-telling.
Work/life balanceI found the following tips in an article by Victoria Roos Olsenas part of the The Enterprisers Project. Most are common sense, but it struck me how we need to remember some of these things to stay fresh in mind and body when we are working from home. I thought you might find it useful to be reminded!
Are you a leader? A working parent? A busy contributor?Pause for a moment and take a deep breath. As you know, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. Many of us will continue to work at home, simultaneously juggling multiple roles, for some time to come. If you’re asking yourself: ‘What can I do to keep it together? How do I stay sane and keep a healthy work-life balance?’ you are not alone. Here are seven ways to redefine work-life balance during the pandemic:
1. We need a work-life balance to feel good, but also to do good. And when I say, ‘do good,’ I am referring to brainpower, decision-making, creativity, empathy, problem-solving, etc. – all those qualities we need to be a good leader, parent, or contributor. So work-life balance is not ‘nice to have’ – it’s critical.
2. Define your home office. Remove the ‘temporary’ sign and make your workspace work for you. This is where you do your work using your brainpower, decision-making, creativity, empathy, problem-solving, etc. and that means your space should be as free from distractions as possible. Ask yourself: does this space give me energy? 
3. Establish a clear start and end point to your workday. Studies suggest that eliminating the daily commute was a win for most of us. But the flip side is that we are spending that time on additional work. All our devices are right there in front of us, tempting us to do just one more email, one more report, one more quick check-in. Here is another advantage of creating a separate workspace: You can leave it. Maybe you can even close the door. Set your office hours and stick to them. 
4. Keep moving! It’s said that sitting for four hours without proper movement can shorten our lives. Hold a ‘walk and talk’ meeting with a team member. Keep your yoga pants on so you can quickly move to the mat when the workday is finished. A standing desk can also help you stay more active even while you’re working. An advantage of remote work: Nobody will notice if you sit down and close your eyes for a moment.
5. Find moments of stillness. Another advantage of remote work: Nobody will notice if you sit down and close your eyes for a moment. Find a quiet corner and take a moment to just sit and think. Stillness creates space that helps us make better decisions.
6. Connect with others. Spend time with others outside your immediate circle. Reach out to a colleague or someone you haven’t spoken to recently and catch up over a 20-minute virtual coffee break.
7. Finally, remind yourself that this pandemic will not last forever. And while not everything will go back to the way it was before, many things will. Consider the perks of the life you are leading now. Define what’s positive for you and the people around you.
Seasonal offerings
Snow scene by Brenda Squires. Oil on board
I have always loved this description of winter things by Shakespeare.
This festive season of light
This year Diwali started on 4 November. Diwali celebrates Rama’s eventual defeat of the evil spirit Ravana, and his triumphant return to his home. The business community considers it an auspicious time to start new ventures, as the festival coincides with the Hindu New Year. Diwali is a festival of lights and one of the major festivals celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists, notably Newar Buddhists. The festival usually lasts five days and is celebrated during the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika. Observances: Diya and lighting, home decoration, shopping, fireworks, puja (prayers), gifts, feast, and sweets.
This year Hannukah began November 28th and runs till Monday 6th December. Hannukah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish festival commemorating the recovery of Jerusalem and the subsequent rededication of the Second Temple at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the second century.What happens during Hanukkah? Lighting candles each night. Singing special songs, such as Ma’oz Tzur. Reciting the Hallel prayer. Eating foods fried in oil, such as latkes and sufganiyot, and dairy foods. Playing the dreidel game, and giving Hanukkah gelt.
And so it remains for me to wish all the very best, Happy Christmas, Hannukah, Diwali or Winter Solstice – whatever is your custom. For me this time of year has always been about coming together with family, meeting up with old friends, renewing bonds and light coming into the world at the darkest time of the year. Some of our celebrations will be compromised by current conditions but I hope it will nevertheless be a peaceful, relaxing time for you.
My website is in process and ready soon: brendasquires.com Do visit! Please forward this newsletter to any friends who may be interested. They can join by sending me an email: brenda@brendasquires.com. Do let me know what books you’ve been reading or exhibitions you may have visited. Send in a review.