Brenda Squires - Author Therapist and Artist

October 2022

Harvest time

Greetings everybody. Many thanks as always for your news and views and feedback and also to those of you who joined us for the Wales launch of Wayward Daughter.What a great evening! We had a wonderful time with songs from the book beautifully sung by Steve Welch, who was ably accompanied by Alistair Auld. I sold out my stock, which pleased me no end. I am looking forward to the London launch in November. If you missed out you can get Wayward Daughter through Amazon. And do please leave a review. Click HERE

Celebrating launch of Wayward Daughter
Pete Western sketch 1st day of lockdown
This newsletter is a tad more political than I intended. I won’t apologise for that. Like many of us I’ve been shaken up by recent events. And at times wondered what ever happened to good old British Common Sense!
State of play

The doors at No 10 Downing Street have been revolving at breakneck speed! Now we have a new Prime Minister: Rishi Sunak. Beaten to the top job weeks ago, when the Tory Party membership voted in Liz Truss, he has bounced back and vowed to clear up her mess. As a Hindu and member of an ethnic minority it is no small achievement for him to have overcome ingrained prejudice to become leader of the Conservatives, the party that spawned ‘rivers-of-blood’ Enoch Powell back in the late Sixties. Sunak faces a mammoth uphill task and for the wellbeing of the country one can only wish him well.

He quotes the combination of Covid and the War in Ukraine as having caused havoc with the economy and energy prices. He’s been very gentle about Truss crashing the pound and sending mortgages soaring. But the elephant in the room remains Brexit. Nobody, it seems, wants to mention it. Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, says that in 2016 the UK GDP represented 90% of that of Germany; today that figure is down to 70%. How can you promote growth when you have sent packing skilled workers from the EU and erected bureaucratic barriers to our nearest and largest trading bloc where there was once a free flow of goods and services? A recent Financial Times report highlighted one fifth of small-to-medium size firms who have had to cease trading with Europe or move their centre of operations to the Continent.

Sunak was a keen Brexiteer before it became fashionable. There was much optimism about new global deals between a freed-up Britain and the rest of the world. I just wonder where these promised wonderful lucrative trade deals are going to come  from? Truss said a US/UK trade deal was unlikely. At the moment it is well nigh impossible to get a visa to visit India. They are doing a tit-for-tat off the back of our hostile attitude towards Indian immigrants to the UK. Hopefully Sunak can ease relations with the Indian subcontinent. The appointment of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary does not cheer my heart. Her ideal dream, she says, is of seeing a flight take off for Rwanda packed with illegal immigrants. Some dream! No matter that Rwanda has a dodgy human rights’ record; no matter that this is a hugely expensive venture. Without underestimating the challenge posed by the large number of illegal immigrants coming to the UK, there must be another, more effective and humane way – surely? For starters the five year backlog for hearing claims could be expedited.

I wish Rishi Sunak well for all our sakes. He stepped up to the mark during lockdown; let’s hope he can restore some stability to the economy and enhance our damaged international image. But I do wish he’d change his Home Secretary.

We are fast approaching Cop 27. Last year Johnson gave an impassioned speech in Glasgow about how vital it was to look to the future of our planet. All mouth and no action? His successor, Liz Truss, not only raised many a hackle by forcing through permission for fracking – luckily this has been quashed since – she also proposed killing off the renewables industry by proposing to cap renewable energy at 5p/Kwh, as well as imposing a 100% tax rate on any profit from green energy. Hopefully this will also be overturned. Meanwhile she was uttering her mantra: Growth Growth Growth. I do wish politicians would learn how to think things through. Or maybe even, just think.
Our beautiful planet is under threat. At the current trajectory we are headed towards a global increase in temperature of 2.5 degrees C by 2030. 2015 saw the Paris agreement where we collectively committed to keep the increase to below 1.5 C. Sadly, oh so sadly, this is looking unlikely. So what legacy are we handing over to our children and grandchildren? What will we say to them when it is too late? Throwing a can of tomato soup over a Van Gogh (behind glass) may be a sign of extreme frustration, as is blocking the M25. These annoying acts of defiance show how disenchanted many people, especially the young, have become, as they doubt the ability of the current democratic process to address these issues. They feel, not without justification, that we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster. Let’s wake up before it’s too late!!!!!

Well being

So, moving away from politics to sunnier areas, I’ve received more contributions as people tell us what puts a spring in their step. Firstly we hear from Brian Courtney about his love of golf.

Golf, a good walk ruined?

I’ve always enjoyed playing sports and have had a go at lots but not been particularly good at any. My passion has always been football, both playing and watching, but as I approached my fifties and assumed my footballing days were numbered, I turned to golf. I had never considered playing golf previously, mainly because, although far from being an athlete, I had always wanted to play a more active sport. However, my body was beginning to tell me that football would probably give me up fairly soon. (As it turned out, I continued playing 5 a side football into my seventies). Fortunately, there is a golf course virtually at the back of our house so I joined the local golf club about 25 years ago and have probably played about a thousand times. Have I improved? Definitely not. Have I enjoyed it? Most definitely. Why? There are several reasons:

Firstly, it is good exercise. I play several times a week and walk two to three miles each time I play (the course is only roughly two miles long but I often take the scenic route). My course is very undulating and demanding on the leg muscles. Swinging the clubs and hitting the ball is very good for the body and is also good for eye hand coordination. Then there’s the fresh air- golf courses are often in peaceful settings in the countryside, and even if they are in built up areas they tend to be a haven from the urban noise and pollution. I’m especially lucky in that my local course is surrounded by beautiful countryside and is very attractive in itself. I’m amazed at the wildlife I’ve seen over the years. Around the perimeter there are fields with sheep, highland cattle, retired racehorses and even llamas. On the course itself there are the usual golfing pests such as rabbits, squirrels and moles and occasionally hares, deer and foxes. The birdlife is amazing too and I’ve seen owls, woodpeckers, herons, snipe and gulls as well as the usual local bird varieties.

Secondly, golf is very good for the mind. It requires a great deal of concentration if played seriously. It also helps with numeracy, especially for those whose golfing skills aren’t great.

Thirdly, it’s very sociable. There are very few sports where you can discuss virtually anything as you play. Friendships can be developed (and occasionally tested to the full), and new friendships created. It’s also ok to play golf on your own, and sometimes that’s what you need to clear your head.
For anyone who wants exercise, likes playing sport and is getting on in age I can recommend golf. I can think of few sports that can be played by people well into their eighties and, for those who are competitively minded, they are able, through the handicapping system to compete on a level playing field (that’s the theory). If your sporting abilities are average you have a far greater chance of having your moment of glory, such as a hole in one, than in any other sport.So, is golf a good walk ruined? I would say that it often is but it does motivate you to walk more often than you would otherwise, and there are moments, albeit seldom, when you feel that you have achieved something out of the ordinary.

The joy of singing 
Some play golf, but Sharon Courtney has joined a choir. She says…..

Everybody has a voice and everybody can sing so says Oliver Rundell, Opera North Chorus Master. Well, I never thought I could sing, although I love music and was constantly singing in my head, (or when no one was around). I came to singing through yoga (another well documented source of well-being). I really enjoyed the times when we did some chanting at the end of our practice, it made me feel good so that when a friend suggested joining her choir I gave it a go.
As part of the Natural Voice Choirs we sing a cappella with no instruments and have to rely on listening and learning from our excellent very talented musical director. I was nervous at first, not believing I would be able to hold a tune but it didn’t matter if I struck a wrong note. The choir is very informal and we sing for pleasure, not necessarily to perform, although there are some concerts as well. We are encouraged to sing wherever we feel comfortable, so one time I could be with the altos and another with the sopranos, and even during the song I can switch.

I didn’t think deeply about the benefits of singing but I could feel them instantly. There has been much researched and written about what singing does for you. A brief overview will tell you that the endorphins, dopamine and serotonin (happy chemicals) are released when you sing which make you feel positive, uplifted and motivated. Your lung function is improved, you breathe properly and with awareness, which in turn leads to rest and relaxation. You are very much in the moment- no time to think about the things that worry you when you sing!

We are also told that singing helps with concentration and improves your memory and is used in dementia care. It amazes me how we learn even the most difficult of songs and in a variety of languages, even ones we don’t know how to speak ourselves.
But there are other benefits from singing in a choir. How pleasant it is to sing alongside others, to forge bonds with them, to feel that sense of sharing the experience, of learning together, to grow in confidence and self esteem, to let go and express how you feel, to watch others enjoying themselves as much as you are. The social side of singing in a choir cannot be underestimated. Everyone is included and all are striving for a common goal, to produce the best sound they can together.

It is a welcoming place for those who are alone, or who have lost loved ones, many friendships are made before, during and after the choir session. The health and social benefits and the sense of well being to be gained from singing in a choir must be applauded and for me at least it has been a really positive experience and though I will never reach the heights of perfection it doesn’t matter at all. It is one of the happiest times of my week.

While some sing and some play golf, Pete Western is never without his sketchbook.
I have kept a regular small sketchbook on the go for some years since I retired from my busy job as a storyboard artist on animated TV series for children. But since long-ago art school days, I have often packed one in my pocket or bag before going out.Sometimes I’ll pack larger books to do more finished works in watercolour and pen and ink. For these planned trips, I have more equipment to carry including a small stool to sit on. But it all amounts to the same thing – recording the world and the life around me.

A sketchbook and a couple of pens and pencils are all one needs when travelling, particularly on long train journeys or waiting at airports. It amazes me how the monotony lifts when one is training one’s eye on seemingly ordinary things. I like to do very quick sketches of people on the tube, on buses or in bars. One has to be discreet but in my experience, nobody tends to notice the lone artist scribbling away. The way people sit, stand, gesture etc. are endlessly fascinating, the more one practices the art of observation. Sometimes I’ll make notes or add a spot of colour when I get home.

When the Covid lockdown started in March 2020, it was of great help to my psychological well-being to take my permitted daily exercise, usually a bike ride through Richmond Park or Wimbledon Common, both of which are quite near where I live. During those extraordinary times when London virtually closed down, it was of great solace to note down in visual terms, the effect the impositions placed on people. The books of that time became a diary of each day’s events, not necessarily newsworthy but sometimes the interpreted scene became more vivid than taking a quick photograph. I take great pleasure in relooking at these little tableaux through a few dashed ink lines and I hope it filters into the more ambitious projects I occasionally take on.
Peter’s Underground sketches

Reading matters
After learning of Hilary Mantel’s death I downloaded Bring up the Bodies on my Kindle as I’d missed it first time round when it won the second Booker Prize award for Dame Mantel. Much has been written of her writing skills: JK Rowling calls her a genius and others have been quick to sing her praises. A few years back I heard a historian at the Hay Festival say that though she did not always stick to facts or written sources -– she had, for example, reframed Thomas More as less of a martyr and more of a villain based on very flimsy historical evidence – she nevertheless had an uncanny ability to summon up the spirit – perhaps I should say spirits – and atmosphere of the past like no other. I agree. She has a visceral feel for the chambers of power, the rough roads and wayside inns, and yet with consummate ease she traces and tracks the ins and outs of diplomacy, imperialism, struggles within and outside Europe. Anne Boleyn’s fate is sealed when she cannot produce a male heir to the throne of England. In those days, of course, the blame always lay with the woman. Anne comes across as quite a piece of work, but you can’t help sympathising with her predicament. 

I’ve also been reading Jodi Picoult’s: Wish you were here. Years ago I went to a talk Jodi Picoult gave in Haringey Library. She’d just written My sister’s keeper following her sister’s death from breast cancer. I found it a bold and highly empathic work. So I was quite intrigued to pick up this book by chance at a motorway service station. Jodi has since relocated and put down roots in the States. Wish you were here was written during and about lockdown. Jodi, who suffers from asthma, had just been to a wedding where virtually all of the guests contracted Covid and some were hospitalised. From that day on she barely left the house. This novel, written and processed at lightning speed, is a feat of great imagination and research. Picoult has a light touch, an eye and ear for concrete detail, and an unerring sense of suspense and narrative. There are unexpected twists in the plot, which of course I won’t go into. A good read and a well crafted book.

Autumn crop 
So that’s all for now. Keep warm and safe. And if you want to tuck up with a good read you can always try: Wayward Daughter. Available on Amazon.

Autumn flowers Brenda Squires

Autumn flowers Brenda Squires