Brenda Squires - Author Therapist and Artist

Third newsletter January 2022

Happy New Year everybody. Welcome to 2022 and my third newsletter. Again, it was lovely to hear from so many of you. Thanks for keeping me abreast of your latest news and views, and also telling me what you’ve been reading. Though it’s January, I won’t be declaring New Year Resolutions because I don’t have any, apart maybe, from a desire to seize the moment and value what’s in front of me. I wish you all a fruitful and enjoyable year ahead. This issue will be celebrating nature in poems and images, and addressing some wider concerns about the environment.
Low tide in West Wales
As we move past the shortest day we look forward to spring. Yet we are still in the clasp of winter, when the days seem improbably short and the skies are often grey and overcast. In Wales we have not had snow yet – or at least none that I noticed. Wind, yes; to topple trees and churn up the waves, send spindrift into the air, but the fields are not covered and the trees etch strange, bare shapes against the sky. It has been a time for beach walks and huddling by the fire, for gathering fragments from the fading 2021 and glimpsing the advent of 2022.
Low tide
The farthest beach at the lowest tide
cliffs high as sky lean over

look up to towers of granite grey
strata of centuries carved into giant cubes,
stacked and packed
blocks of ancient power.

Look up
to where buzzards drift
in silent circles
floating away the day

and topple under the weight
of … upside down

Turn to the tide
flattest sea-soft sands
waves of bubbling surf
glittering on the sunshine ebb.

©JackieBiggs2021‘Low Tide’ is published in ‘Before we Breathe’, the third collection of poetry from Jackie Biggs (The Littoral Press, 2021. Available direct from the author, email: )
At a time when we are less able to travel and see each other than normal it is good to catch a glimpse of each other’s worlds. The following is a description by Vivien Boyes of a patch of urban land allowed to run its own course.Now we have reached the time when our site closes for three months and I am back exploring Ealing’s edge-lands. During lockdown we discovered this area of meadowland, wonderful for it’s open skies and wide variety of wildlife When we first visited, it was due to be buried under landfill and converted into a training ground for Queens Park Rangers but local opposition led to QPR abandoning the plan although it’s still not totally safe from development, despite being metropolitan open land. The sound of skylarks soaring lifted our mood during lockdown and now we visit regularly to watch little owls and barn owls, red kites and kestrels. The abandoned buildings of what was once a council-run sports centre at the edge of the meadow, are fast returning to nature with brambles criss-crossing the remaining tarmac. Owls perch amongst bright street art. The contrasts fascinate me and are fertile material both for writing and photography – one of many projects which will keep me engaged during these darker months. After that, there’s always my plan to explore the source of the River Brent….

I was amazed to hear of skylarks in Ealing! And from Holland we hear from Wendy Smit Taylor.
Pen-Ammers 2021 A Year in the Polder.

In the first chilly months of this year, we would awake to a white blanket of snow with a low laying mist spread magically over the polders. Our land glistened and sparkled in the winter sunshine. The hares skidded on the ice while ducks and swans parked themselves into pockets of frozen reeds. Sheep, statuesque having turned their faces like magnets towards the glow on the horizon, could see the windmills in every direction that they looked. There is nothing quite like walking in a winter wonderland and there is so much to enjoy, so we wrapped up warm and took brisk walks to Kinderdijk, Nieuwpoort, Noordeloos, Goudriaan and Woudrichem. There are many old beautiful villages here. We took a very romantic walk around Slot Loevestein on Valentine’s Day. It was an unexpected pure white deep snow wonderland with fleeing hares playing tag between the trees. The frozen waters of the Slot were as crystal lace sprouting tiny fountains caught in their flight. It was a dream. And of course, such thick ice invites every Dutchman to take out their skates and skim over the rivers and waterways. Our family included. Skating on the canals around our house, and on the windmill lined rivers, the Ammerse Boezem, as well as popping into our neighbour’s yard and skating on their iced-over paddock, just had to be celebrated. 
Picture above by Henk Smit
Taking a wider look at the environment things are not so rosy. For many 2021 was a terrifying year. Forest fires raged in the US and Greece; floods claimed 200 lives in Germany and Belgium, 300 in China and over 200 in Nepal and India. There were typhoons, landslides, hurricanes and cyclones. In August an earthquake in Haiti killed over 2000 and in December a volcanic eruption in Indonesia killed 45. Most of these natural disasters can be clearly attributed to global warming.

But at last the politicians seem to be getting the message. In May Spain passed a law to end all fossil fuel production by 2042. At Cop26 a handful of nations followed with France, Greenland, Ireland, Quebec, California, Wales and New Zealand all promising an end to oil and gas production altogether. The ‘Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) led by Denmark and Costa Rica, commits nations to a ‘managed phase-out’ of fossil fuel production with an immediate end to any new concessions, licensing or leasing rounds. And the final Cop26 agreement, known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, contained the first mention of fossil fuels in any UN climate agreement, which organisers hailed as a breakthrough.

Phew! About time. At an individual level many people are stepping up their green agenda: recycling more, acquiring electric or hybrid vehicles and restyling clothes instead of buying new. But, well, there are areas where as a nation we are sadly lagging, (no intended pun!) such as in the construction industry. And the price of energy is about to go through the roof. According to a recent article in the i newspaper, the average energy bill in the UK is set to increase by at least £600 by the spring. There are fears that soaring wholesale gas prices may mean bills may further rise during 2022, perhaps doubling to over £2,200 on average by the end of the year.
Glen Peters, CEO of Western Solar, has tackled some of these issues head on and I invited him to comment.

Free Energy
Should domestic energy be free? This seems hard to imagine in the current environment, given that energy costs have tripled and will continue to rise inexorably higher. The average household will pay £1000 more for their energy. And more households will have to choose between heating and eating. The sun is the biggest nuclear power plant in the universe. Fossil fuels made us forget about nature’s most energy abundant asset. In one hour the sun provides the total annual energy needs of this planet for a year. Two French scientists discovered the solar cell in the 19th Century yet it took 150 years for NASA engineers to dust off the findings and develop solar technology. Many of our ancestors knew about the advantage of south facing homes and the principle of passive gain long before it was called that. Slowly we are developing ways of capturing that energy and storing it, but not nearly as fast as we need to. If just a fraction of the profits from fossil fuels were spent on capturing and storing solar energy we’d be well on the road to zero carbon. We’re already close to the ideal of free energy for homes but it has to be built into the infrastructure of a home. A well insulated home with solar roofs and storage batteries goes a long way to achieving that goal. Solar energy has to be the key in providing infinite amounts of free energy and wouldn’t it be great if our homes were both a dwelling and a power station? Lots of little power stations could take the pressure away from the large generators. There are other exciting technologies on the way to make these designs more sustainable and viable. And we could be looking at community power stations based on solar power with their own storage batteries.
Reading matters
I mentioned I was researching the Spanish Civil war for my next book. This led me to read The return by Victoria Hislop. Sonia Cameron knows nothing of Granada’s shocking past; she is here to dance. But in a quiet café, a chance conversation and an intriguing collection of old photographs draw her into the extraordinary tale of Spain’s devastating civil war and its impact on the Ramirez family. An intriguing tale follows, linking Sonia with the Ramirez family history. What I love about Hislop’s work is her warmth and engagement with the subject. She is a great storyteller. She may not play with language or experiment with the form but she knows how to spin a yarn and make you care about her characters. And I’ve never read such vivid descriptions of flamenco.
The promise by Damon Galgut
This book deservedly won the 2021 Booker prize. It follows the decline of a white family in South Africa as the country moves out of Apartheid. This outer political transition is chronicled in episodes of the Swart family’s life. The story turns on the promise Rachel, the mother, extracted from her husband, Manie, to grant the deeds of her house to their black maid, Salome. The book is divided into sections denoting decades and focusing on the death of one of the main characters. What I loved about The promise was the way it is told in such a multi-viewpoint, fluid way. We are in and out of the characters’ lives and heads as though we are floating just above their emotional and physical landscape. In the hands of a lesser artist this approach could have been disastrous. As it is, one has an ethereal, almost godlike experience of the family and the surrounding culture.
In my November newsletter I mentioned reading groups and asked whether they were a good or bad thing. Below Sally Littlefair, who coordinates the London book group I belong to, gives her view.
Enduring Books
Not much short of 30 years ago a couple of mums at a school gate in north London had the, at that time, novel (see what I did there) idea of starting a reading group. I was delighted to be asked to join and have never regretted both the variety of books I have read as a result of joining and having the continued friendship of the members of the group. In 1997 we read Ian McEwan’s book Enduring Love and the title perfectly suggested a name for our already well-established group and produced a name which has proved to be very appropriate – Enduring Books. How did we get to have so much endurance? We enjoyed it is how. We have chosen the books by voting from a list provided by the group and on many occasions I, for one, have thought I didn’t really want to read the choice but because it was on the list I read it then listened to the feedback and have been hugely grateful to have read the book and listened to what my articulate and knowledgeable group had to say about it. So in a nutshell (Ian McEwan again) I’d say the requirements for a successful book group are (a) read the book and (b) turn up at the meetings. You will be delighted with most of the results.
Wellbeing in winter
I am not going to bang on again about the benefits of exercise for mental and physical health during lockdown. You will have read so many articles and postings around that. However, something did catch my attention this morning. Like many of you I succumbed to getting one of those bossy, Fitbit watches that tell you how many steps you’ve done, how many active minutes etc. etc. For a few years I religiously did my 10 k steps a day until I read that actually there was no scientific basis to the claim that this was good for you – it was just some Japanese PR company trying to peddle pedometers! Then this morning I read a New Yorker’s story of how much better she felt after taking up the 10 k steps practice during lockdown. Not only did she lose weight but she felt herself back in the land of the living as she went out, made renewed contact with nearby parks and lanes and caught up with friends, phoning them as she went.
Reading that over three million people in the UK acquired dogs over the various lockdowns gave me pause for thought. Dogs mean commitment. They tie you down and require that you plan your outings and holidays. Ten years ago dogs were allowed only into pubs, now they are everywhere. Are we all coming to terms with the fact that we will be staying much closer to home for the foreseeable future? So getting out and about might not be such a bad idea – if it’s not the daily 10k habit that gets you going, it could be your newly acquired canine friend!And on that note, enough of this newsletter! I’ll leave you with a view of a sunset beach by Glen Peters and a poem by David Urwin. Till next month.
Mid-winter poem
There is a moment in each day
mid-winter, as the dark creeps down
around half-past four and you come inside
from woods, garden or workshop,
leaving behind
the robin’s sharp tic-tic-tic
in the hazel bushes and the blackbirds’ loud
alarming chatter tree to tree;
you close the curtains on the outside world
of darkness, light a fire in the woodstove,
enjoy its orange glow of burning logs,
no television, radio or computer to distress
the hallowed silence of early evening.
At six o’clock you turn on the news,
allow the outside world back inwith its harsh, alarming darkness
–the world’s virus, disease, child abuse,
famine, war, poverty, injustice –
and later you will go to bed
warm, safe, guilty and grateful
in some quiet sufficiency
for what the day has offered you,
for what the next may bring.

© Dave Urwin