NWR Magazine Autumn 2023

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AUTU M 2023 N

Inspirational people living life on their own terms

AI poetry ● Reinventing retirement ● Walking the UK ● Big Read 2024 12OFFICIAL MAGAZINE OF THE NATIONAL WOMEN’S REGISTER

AUTUMN NWR Get in touch

EDITOR AMANDA VLIETSTRA DESIGNER SU HALLOWS-ASHFORD COVER ILLUSTRATION: Damien Siodlak at Unsplash GENERAL ENQUIRIES: office@nwr.org.uk WEBSITE: https://nwr.org.uk TWITTER: @nwruk FACEBOOK: facebook.com/nwr TELEPHONE: 01603 406767 ADDRESS: NWR, Unit 31, Park Farm Industrial Estate, Ermine St, Buntingford SG9 9AZ

Not a member? NWR could be for you!

A huge thank you for all of your submissions!

Have you just moved to a new area? Have your children recently left home? You’ve experienced a major life change or would just like some more friends? Come and meet other women to share thoughts, life and experiences. Enjoy stimulating conversations – and, often, some great cake! We offer a range of activities, from book clubs to walking groups. To join us, visit https://nwr.org. uk/join-nwr

Please keep them coming – group news, travel news, personal journeys, short stories, poems. If we can’t fit them in the magazine, look out on the website. For the next edition, our Spring issue, please send your contributions to office@nwr.org.uk by 31st January 2024 (copyright of material is transferred to NWR on submission unless otherwise requested and please note that photographs submitted will need permissions of all those shown in order to be featured in the magazine).

REGISTERED CHARITY: 295198 If you would like to opt out of receiving a paper copy of the magazine, please email the office. A digital version is available to read via our website.

Audio version

NWR Magazine is available in an audio format. Please contact the office for more info or visit https://nwr.org.uk/ network/magazine to listen.


NWR Magazine is printed on Cocoon Silk recycled paper by Greenhouse Graphics, Hampshire.


What’s on? p20

NWR PRIZE DRAW 7TH DECEMBER Win some fabulous goodies in our annual prize draw EVENTS TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2024 • The NWR Walk will return in the Spring • Our next Online Conference will take place in early Spring. • The National Conference will be back in 2024 and will take place in Sheffield over the weekend of 13th September • November will see the return of the Telephone Treasure Trail (TTT) • Have you considered planning your own Area Event? Contact the office for more information on how we can support you. DEAF AWARENESS & BSL COURSE Among many other online talks/events taking place in 2024, we will be offering members the chance to take part in a Deaf Awareness & British Sign Language (BSL) Basics course. The course will take place on Zoom and will run over 9 consecutive weeks, beginning on Monday 15th January at 6pm. To find out more and to book your space, please head over to the Events page of the NWR website. But hurry! Spaces are limited!

IN MEMORIAM Linda Brown, Edenbridge Nina Duncan, Hythe/Waterside ‘B’ Gillanders, Keyworth Irene Pryce, Nantwich/Audlem




Well, hello! I’m Amanda Vlietstra and I’ve taken over editing NWR Magazine from the wonderful Judith Charlton. Together with my designer Su Hallows-Ashford, we’ve given it a bit of a new look – but not too much, as let’s face it, it has always been a pretty great magazine!


o, a bit about me. I’ve been a journalist for longer than I care to remember, and I’ve written for just about everyone from newspapers and weekly women’s magazines like Chat and Best to upmarket glossies and Horse & Hound. I currently also edit a monthly business magazine, so with that and now NWR Magazine, I’m usually pretty busy! Like most journalists, I am a wannabe author, and am working on my first novel – a Gothic ghost story – while also finishing off an MA in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University. I live with my two children, two dogs and a deranged cat in deepest Buckinghamshire. The theme of this season’s NWR Magazine is ‘alternatives’, and to mark that, we’ve got some great stories from people who are living life on their own terms – alternatively, you could say! A fantastic story from an NWR ‘outsider’ this issue is Jenny Smedley’s

tale of how she discovered she shared a past life with none other than Country star Garth Brooks. Of course, past lives, along with all elements of the supernatural, aren’t everyone’s cup of tea – and there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of scepticism – but they do make for interesting reading! Check it out on p8. Siobhan Daniels and Elle Kaye were two of the speakers at this Autumn’s Online Conference – talking about ‘rebel retirement’ and a career in taxidermy, respectively. Both feature in this month’s magazine; Elle is absolutely not what you’d expect a taxidermist to look like, but as she points out, taxidermy has moved on a lot since its last peak in the 19th century! Read about this on p12. As for Siobhan, I adored her go-getting attitude to life and completely support her work as an anti-ageist campaigner. As

a woman in my late 40s, I am lucky still to be getting plenty of work – typically in the UK, women hit their peak earnings at just 40 years old. This despite the fact that the pension age is now 66. We need more people like Siobhan to challenge this, and speak to employers about recognising the wisdom and experience that age truly brings! Find out more about Siobhan – and what prompted her to take to the road in her camper van – on p7. Of course, the truly fabulous thing about NWR Magazine – the thing that makes it totally unique - is the contributions from the members. I’ve got to say it, you are a pretty incredible bunch – smart, sassy and often absolutely hilarious. We’ve got some brilliant contributions from you, from articles about lost surfboards to fantastic poems to perfect pavlova! Please do keep them coming. I hope you enjoy the magazine.


4 News The latest from the NWR team 19 Members’ corner All your articles, pictures, poems – and more


Are you listening? Former trustee Josephine Thomson explains all about recording the audio magazine 16 “We had the space so why not?” Current trustee Jan Fuller describes why she and her husband decided to sponsor a Ukrainian family to come to the UK 18 Saved from the flames! Anne Garrick talks about her adventures with her beloved bellyboard 7



On the road Siobhan Daniels, author of Retirement Rebel, talks about living life on her own terms 10 Blast from the past The death of her mother led Jenny Smedley down a path of spiritual exploration 12 The good stuff Elle Kaye discusses her unusual career in a Q&A with Amanda Vlietstra


8 A look at this year’s country theme - Benelux 14 What’s on the reading list for next year’s Big Read? 20 NWR members’ walks



We are delighted to announce this year’s fantastic selection of prizes!

ENTER THE DRAW NOW! www.nwr.org.uk/events/ nwr-prize-draw-2023/

Tickets cost £5 and will be on sale until Tuesday 5th December 2023 at 11.45pm. The draw will take place live on Zoom on Thursday 7th December 2023. Good luck!


June was Pride month – the month dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community HORBURY & DISTRICT GROUP

Ruth Rothwell says: We adapted our summer contribution lunch by asking members to invite an imaginary guest from the LGBTQ+ communities and tell us briefly about that person and their reasons for bringing them to meet us all as their lunch companion. From the arts came Noel Coward, David Hockney, Val McDermid and Dusty Springfield; from the 19th century, the Ladies of Llangollen; from the media came Sue Perkins and Clare Balding and from sport, Billie Jean King. One special guest was a relative of a member, which made their personal story all the more relevant and touching. Most guests had faced considerable challenges because of their sexual orientation, yet all were talented and had overcome prejudice to lead fulfilling, interesting and successful lives.

Robot vacuum cleaner Fortnum & Mason Christmas Hamper Faber-Castell art set Facebook Portal Plus Signed book by Professor David Nutt Cannabis (Seeing Through The Smoke) Swarovski necklace Bottle of gin Prizes are subject to availability and we reserve the right to substitute any prize with another of equivalent value without prior notice. No cash (or other alternatives) will be offered. Prizes are not transferable.



Susan Baird says: We held a diversity picnic for eight members, in which we decided to look into the history behind Pride. One of our members sourced some leaflets and gave us a short talk. Another member created a quiz with a small prize for the winner. Several of us had also watched a documentary called ‘coming out, a fabulous history of Gay Scotland’, which made us realise how the movement in Scotland was behind but transformed very quickly.


Welcome to the Lively Lounge!

2023 saw the launch of an exciting new NWR online event, ‘The Lively Lounge’. This new event is a fantastic social opportunity for members wishing to connect with other women across the UK and can be enjoyed by all without having to leave the house.

What is the Lively Lounge?

It is a friendly and welcoming online Zoom event where members can enjoy light hearted chit-chat and connect with other members across the UK. There are no set discussion topics at the Lively Lounge, just free-flowing friendly chat about anything and everything! A member of NWR staff hosts the event and remains on hand during the session.

How long is the session?

Made up of two 20-minute chat sessions, many participants choose to take part in both sessions. However, participants are free to leave at any point.

What happens when I log on?

A member of NWR staff hosts the event and remains on hand during the session. At the beginning of the event, the host

POETRY CORNER Congresbury NWR writes...

Another fun Safari Supper, On a summer Saturday night, Saw us trekking around the village, Hoping it will all work out just right. We’ve been given our instructions, What time to turn up, where, For starter, main course, pudding, Wondering ‘who else will be there?’ Hosts wait to see which guests, Will turn up at the door, It makes it all the more exciting, Only knowing if it’s six or four. Gluten free or ‘please, no dairy,’ No wheat, no fish or meat, It’s all been ascertained before, So hosts know what guests can’t eat. Those organising this event, Have done the best they could, To ensure that everyone will, End up where they should. This year it all went smoothly, But in several years gone by, A few things have indeed gone wrong,

welcomes participants before randomly assigning them into breakout rooms of between 4-7 people for 20 minutes. During this time, participants get to know each other by engaging in a good old fashioned chin-wag! After the first 20 minutes, the host brings everyone back together for a brief chat before reassigning participants into new breakout rooms for a further 20 minutes. What a great way to connect with other members far and wide!

Does the Lively Lounge replace in-person meetings?

No! The Lively Lounge does not replace in-person meetings for members. It is quite simply an additional opportunity for an informal, friendly online interaction for those who would like to join in.

How do I take part?

First, you will need to book your free ticket. Head over to the events page on the NWR website to find out more and to book your place. Regular reminders can be found in the Week Ahead email communications. We look forward to seeing you at the Lively Lounge soon!

- I cannot tell a lie! It’s only happened once or twice, When names got rather muddled, No-one could ever work out why, And the hosts were quite befuddled. When expecting to seat six one year, The host did eagerly await, But opening the door she smiles, While thinking ‘OMG, we’re eight!’ Though inside her there was panic, She pretended all was fine, Surreptitiously changing the table, Offering yet another glass of wine. And in another dining room, “Where are the other pairs? I’ve done the food; bought the wine, I’ve even borrowed chairs.” The evening ends, and crises over, We all meet up to share, The laughs, liqueurs and After Eights And no-one will ever dare… …to criticise or make complaints, They will not want to hear, The obvious reply straight back, “Would you like to organise next year?”

NWR’s themes for 2024

As you know, every year we pick an annual theme and a country theme, which groups are encouraged to research and structure meetings around. For 2024, the theme is Courage, Dear Heart, and the country is the Caribbean. Look out for more details which will be available on the website soon. This year, we are encouraging members to do some of their own research with opportunities through the year to present their work to other members. Please do continue to send us all your stories, pictures and anecdotes related to these themes. If (for example) you’ve taken a trip to Trinidad and Tobago, conquered your biggest fear, or met someone whose courage has truly inspired you, then please do get in touch via the usual email - office@nwr.org.uk

Update on free meetings

At the Trustee meeting in March, it was agreed that any potential new members may only attend up to two group meetings before being required to join NWR; previously they were allowed to attend up to three meetings. It is hoped that this change will make the process for new members joining groups more manageable whilst bringing NWR into line with other organisations. New members are classed as those who have not held an NWR membership before or who have had a lengthy break in membership. New members should be encouraged to join online here using this link: nwr.org.uk/join-nwr/apply/ If you have any questions about this change, please contact Cath Heslop at cath.heslop@nwr.org.uk



Meet our new Trustee Deirdre McCarthy Deirdre is taking over the reins from Jennifer Johnson who has stepped down from the NWR board. She describes what led her to take the role… I’ve had a varied work life which has seen me do many things from secretary at the BBC to running my own catering business to managing a large breakfast and after school club in a primary school. I’m always keen to learn new things so, whilst my children were at secondary school, I studied and gained a law degree with the Open University. I’ve also had some volunteering roles including working with Riding for the Disabled which was very interesting. In June 2022, having lived in our old home for almost 25 years, my husband and

I upped sticks from Kent and moved to Hampshire. Our grown-up children and our grandchildren now live close by, which is a bonus, but we all have our own lives. Six months later, my husband retired fully and embraced his newfound freedom. After all the excitement of moving, I suddenly realised I didn’t know anybody. I was wondering how to make friends and meet new people when a local magazine dropped

through my door. In it was an advert for the NWR. I had never heard of the organisation, so I contacted my local organiser and met her for a coffee. In February 2023, I attended my first meeting. Everyone was so welcoming. We all have different interests and different life stories, so it makes a fascinating group. Since joining, I’ve attended lots of meetings with a huge variety of topics, been on outings to new places, met for coffee and lunches and joined the book club. NWR has been a lifeline and without it I’m not sure what I would have done. When I saw the opportunity to become a Trustee, I was very keen to become more involved with the organisation. I’m the youngest in my group and looking at various NWR Facebook pages, I realised we are a little light on younger members! One of my main aims is to encourage younger members to join and to find ways that this can be achieved. NWR is such a great concept but we need to keep it going; for me it has been a fantastic way to meet new people, make friends and discover new places of interest. I’m looking forward to joining the Trustee team and helping move the NWR onwards and upwards over the next four years.

A farewell to Jennifer

Chair of Trustees, Gill Wignall, pays tribute to our retiring Trustee, the indefatigable Jennifer Johnson Jennifer has been an NWR Trustee for seven years, and sadly for us, she has decided that the time has come for her to retire from the Board. We will miss her in so many ways. She first joined NWR in 1975 whilst a young mother living in Carlisle, away from family and friends. Luckily, there was an established NWR group which was very welcoming, and Jennifer was happy to find this engaged and sociable group of ladies. In 1978, the family moved again and then, a few months later, they were off to Hong Kong. Amazingly, there was a thriving NWR group there at that time, and Jennifer was a member for 11 years before they moved back to the UK. Here, Jennifer joined first the Doncaster, and then the Sudbrooke group, of which she is still a member and now, LO. More recently, Jennifer and her husband worked in China, in Chongqing - which was sadly without an NWR group! After being a member of so many diverse groups, Jennifer certainly has brought a lot of experience of NWR membership to the table.

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Jennifer is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD - the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. Thanks to her expertise, we have a comprehensive list of relevant and usable policies relating to HR; her input when personnel problems occurred, as they inevitably do, was invaluable. Most of her working life was in education, including teaching at the University of Lincoln and then at a Chinese University in Chongqing from 2013 to 2015. From her wide-ranging career, Jennifer gained many transferable skills, from which we’ve benefitted, including administration and problemsolving. However, I think that what she most enjoyed was being the Trustee entrusted with the administration of the annual Mary Stott award. Jennifer improved the administration of this award and, with her committee, was conscientious in reading and appraising the achievements of all the nominees, before choosing a worthy winner to receive the silver Quaich at the AGM. We will miss having Jennifer on the Board of Trustees. We will, of course, miss her knowledge, but also her common sense

A huge thank you to Jennifer for all her hard work and contributions during her time as Trustee.


Former NWR trustee Josephine Thomson is the woman responsible for recording the audio version of the magazine. She describes how this came about…


he comment I usually get when I tell people that I record our magazine is this: ‘Oh is there an audio version of the magazine? I didn’t realise.” Several years ago, when I was a trustee on the board, we received a request for an audio version of the NWR magazine. It was suggested that this could be done through the Open University, and since Leighton Buzzard NWR was the closest group at the time, volunteers from that group were sought to read and record the articles. I decided I would like to have a go, and together with a colleague, we trooped off to the Audio Recording Centre at the Open University to find out what was involved. The staff had copied and marked up the pages so that we knew how to read each article in a way that would make sense to those with very little or no sight. We soon got to grips with the various controls, including the important “back” button so that you could correct any mistakes in pronunciation and so on. The recording was completed in one afternoon session, discs were produced and duly sent to the NWR office.

Further enquiries

Who was going to do it the next time? Whilst I was having a break from doing the first recording, I spotted a flyer on the office notice board mentioning the need for volunteer readers for the Open University to record course texts for partially sighted students, or those who found it more acceptable to hear information rather than read it. I had enjoyed the recording work I had done for NWR so thought I would enquire further. I was put through my paces and taken on as a volunteer, and after that, made regular visits to the ARC to do my recordings, generally for two to three hours in an afternoon. This gave me the opportunity in addition to record the magazine twice a year during my regular sessions. I did have help from one or two other NWR members initially, but for various reasons they had to give up and I continued alone. My main fear in being the only voice is that listeners might find it rather monotonous, but I do my best to vary the reading style

according to each article. I really enjoy being a volunteer reader, in particular, the very wide variety of texts that I am presented with. It could be a classic novel, course material for the various disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, ancient Greek texts and many more or, simply course instructions on how to present one’s work.

Volunteer duties

There are around 40 volunteer readers altogether, some specialising in maths or science, and I believe that our work is much appreciated by the students who need to access material in alternative formats. From

time to time, the staff organise a get-together for the volunteers, usually at Christmas, and it is really interesting to compare notes with other readers. We have also had talks from former students who are eloquent in their praise of the OU courses and the difference it has made to their lives. I had no idea when I first put myself forward to help record the NWR magazine where it would lead, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and hope to continue for many more issues. Please spread the word and make sure people who might need it can access the audio version, which is posted on the website soon after publication. Visit https://nwr.org.uk/network/ magazine/ for more information.



This year, members of NWR were invited to explore the economic region of Benelux – comprising the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg


very year, the NWR national office team pick a country or region of the world to ‘explore’. This year it was the turn of Benelux, an economic union in Western Europe that consists of three neighbouring countries, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The Treaty of the Benelux Economic Union was signed on 3rd February 1958, making Benelux the first completely free international labour market – well ahead of the EU. Postal and transport rates were standardised, welfare policies were coordinated, and in 1970, border controls were abolished. But, of course, as well as being an economic union, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are proud countries in their own right, with their own unique history and traditions. Nobody knows that better than NWR members after this year – but even so, here are a few facts you may or may not know about them…

Photographer: Thomas Bormans


•There is no Belgian language. There are three official languages, and none of them are called Belgian. •French fries actually come from Belgium. •Manneken Pis – the 70cm statue of a weeing boy that is the national symbol of Belgium – has a sister, Jeanneke Pis, that was erected in the 1980s. There’s also a weeing dog statue – Het Zinneke.


3 FUN FACTS: THE NETHERLANDS •The Netherlands ranks as the sixth happiest country in the world, according to the 2020 Happiness Index, scoring high levels of social and institutional trust, as well as social connection. •Despite the deliciousness (and naughtiness) of the stroopwafle, the Dutch diet is the healthiest in the world, according to the Oxfam Food Index. •The above make sense, given that the Netherlands is the second-largest exporter of vegetables in the world!


•Restaurant Chiggeri in Luxembourg City holds the record for having the longest wine list in the world – a record it’s held since 2009. •Luxembourg’s motto is mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn which translates to ‘we want to remain where we are’, and refers to a national desire to remain independent. In centuries gone by, many surrounding countries have threatened to invade their smaller neighbour. •There are 17 kilometres of tunnels beneath Luxembourg city. Dug out in the 17th century and onwards, they were created for defensive purposes.


In April Beith Group flew (virtually!) to the Netherlands for the afternoon. As ever, it was amazing to discover the links we all had to this beautiful country – from school visits in childhood, to more recent coach trips and on-going family connections. We discovered that, among us, we had been to five of the twelve Provinces that make up The Netherlands; and places visited included Amsterdam (of course!), Scheveningen, Delft and Rotterdam; with



We in the Deepings group focused our meeting on Netherlands and Luxembourg. We enjoyed delicious homemade bites of Luxembourgish Gromperekichelcher (potato fritters) and Tarte Flambee, accompanied by delightful white wine from the Mosel Valley, followed by homebaked Dutch apple tart and Boterkoek (butter cake). The topics we had researched included food (always a Deeping group’s favourite!), monarchy, art, Radio Luxembourg and tulips. We rounded the evening off splendidly with a quiz, ‘Drost’ chocolates and ‘Stroopwafles’, whilst sipping on Advocaat.

Utrecht and Arnhem to the east, and Maastricht in the far south. The tourist areas of Alkmaar (with its Cheese Market) and the picturesque town of Volendam were popular, and the keen birdwatcher amongst us had been as far north as Texel! Following our discussions, we tucked into some ‘Dutch’ fare (coincidentally Lidl had a Dutch week that very week!) including Gouda cheese sticks, salami bites and, the very popular, chocolate windmills – lekker!


Siobhan Daniels, author of Retirement Rebel, explains why turning 60 was the catalyst for living life on her own terms



s I was approaching 60, I felt broken and overwhelmed by life. My brother and sister had both died of lung cancer when they were 53. I’d had to have a hysterectomy because of pre-cancerous cells. I struggled with the menopause, feeling anxious and angry with the world. I felt bullied and marginalised at work. After years of being a single mother, my daughter had left home. I wanted to find a better way of living and ageing, to find my happy place and age as positively as I could. I did not want to accept the cards that I felt that society was dealing us as we got older. Instead, I wanted to navigate my own path, whatever that meant. So it was that in 2019, I found myself turning the key in the ignition of my motorhome, Dora the Explora, and heading off into the unknown. Retired at 60, I’d got rid of my home and possessions, bought myself a motorhome, and declared to anyone who would listen that “my plan was to have no plan and to go with the flow.” As scary as that was, I knew I had no alternative option if I was ever to find myself and stop pretending at life. I was repurposing what I truly wanted - something lots of women do when they are approaching retirement.

Eventually, I became a dab hand at connecting it to the electricity supplies, filling the water tank and emptying the loo. I also needed to address whatever it was that had driven me to take such drastic action and adopt my nomadic lifestyle. I found the answer to that; a good old scream and shout beside a Scottish Loch in the middle of the night helped me come to terms with my emotions. I vowed to let go of the negativity and to use the bad situations to spur me on and to let me really embrace the positives in my life. Even when I struggled during lockdown, being alone in a field in Norfolk, I dug deep and used the time to find the inner strength I knew I had, but that I’d lost through life’s ups and downs. Over the last four years, I’ve travelled extensively in my motorhome around Great Britain

and Ireland. Speaking out as a pro-age campaigner, I challenge ageism and ageist stereotypes, particularly in the workplace. Older women are often denied career opportunities and feel invisible; all too often, they feel forced out of the working environment before they want to retire. I want to help bring about change, so that both young and old can learn from each other and enjoy their working lives.


I wrote my first book Retirement Rebel at the age of 63. It resonates with lots of women, who message me to say that they now feel inspired to believe that they too can have adventures in old age. I love how I feel as I am ageing. At 64, I am still experiencing new beginnings. I am the mistress of my own destiny, and I can breathe freely. I have found my inner voice and my inner warrior. There is so much for me to look forward to in my ageing process, and I am extremely glad that I managed to find my inner courage to embark on my new beginning. I hope that my story inspires other women, who are lost in midlife, to find themselves and to have their new beginning whatever that may be. Follow Siobhan’s adventures on her blog, www.shuvonshuvoff.co.uk


Photographer: Thibault Milan for Unsplash

It was hard at first getting to grips with the logistics of driving the motorhome. I had never driven one before, or even holidayed in one. The idea of living full-time in a motorhome just popped into my head when I was looking for what to do, and it felt right.


um dying was the catalyst that sent me off down a spiritual path. I was in my early 40s, and we were very close, so when she died suddenly from heart failure after a short illness, I was deeply shocked. I still remember getting into the car with my husband Tony to go to the hospital after we’d had the message that she’d passed. It was the middle of the night, and as we drove, I kept saying ‘my mum wouldn’t leave without telling me, she just wouldn’t.’ As I said that, a shooting star flew across the road in front of us. It lit up the road ahead as clear as day – neither of us could believe what we were seeing. I’d never given the spirit world much of a thought before that, but now, odd things started to happen. I’d hear the same song playing on the radio, things were moving around in my house - just little things, electrical items turned themselves on. I started to wonder if my mum really was trying to give me a message. I didn’t know what to do about that, though, and I lapsed into depression. I felt so guilty – I had a wonderful husband and son, but I was heartbroken without Mum. As the years passed, my depression worsened. I felt like I didn’t deserve happiness at all, didn’t understand the point of life. The only thing that made me feel fulfilled was eating, so I put on a lot of weight. One day, I was sitting at home in my dressing gown, eating, when something said ‘put the telly on, right now.’ It wasn’t a voice I could hear – but it was there, nonetheless. I switched on the TV to find a man’s face on the screen. I was transported, instantly, as something inside me reacted to his image – it


wasn’t a sexual attraction, it was something a lot deeper than that.


The man was a Country singer called Garth Brooks. I’d never heard of him, but as I watched him singing in concert, I was blown away by the energy of his performance and presence. It transformed me. When my husband and son came home, they were delighted by the lit-up, joyful version of Jenny they found, singing along to the television. That happiness stayed with me. A few months later, I booked a lady to come and do some crystal healing on my horse. As she held a pendulum over his back, and it began to swing in circles, I watched in amazement as he flinched and whickered. He was clearly responding to the treatment. I said to her, ‘You’ve got me curious about this kind of thing. Is it possible to have some kind of energy connection with someone in another country?’ She nodded. ‘Yes.’ ‘But what if I’ve never met him?’ I asked. ‘Not in this life, maybe,’ she replied. It was a lightbulb moment for me. Maybe this was my connection with Garth Brooks? So I booked an appointment with a past life regressionist. My first appointment was more than either of us had bargained for. As she counted me down into a hypnotic state, I burst into tears and, sobbing uncontrollably, gasped that they’d taken my husband and were going to kill him. I didn’t mean Tony – who was waiting for me downstairs – but the husband I’d had in the 1600s, whose name

was Ryan. I was a woman called Madeleine, and my stepmother had arranged to have Ryan shanghaied – kidnapped and forced into armed service – because she didn’t approve of the match. I never saw him again.


Tony told me later that he heard me crying and got up to see what was going on – but a voice spoke out of nowhere and told him to sit down. ‘What was weird,’ Tony said, ‘Was that I didn’t recognise the language but still knew was it was saying.’ Meanwhile, the therapist couldn’t get me out of there fast enough. I bumped into her a couple of years later and asked if she remembered me. ‘Remember you?’ she said. ‘You changed my life!’ She told me that a presence had come into the room and taken me away from her. Panicking, she’d woken me up. At the time she’d never heard of spirit guides, but after that day she stopped working while she found out about them, and then resumed, always calling in the person’s guide before proceeding. Later, through meditation, I connected with that presence, my spirit guide, a Native American called Yellow Bird. It was his voice that Tony had heard telling him to sit down. That past life therapy session was life-changing. I put two and two together, realised that Ryan and Garth Brooks were one and the same person. This inspired my first book, Ripples, which was all about my spiritual awakening. I was very keen to meet Garth – to see if there was a connection between us in real life and maybe even get some input for the book – so Tony and I booked flights to Nashville in the USA. Of course, Garth Brooks didn’t know us from Adam. We’d tried to speak to his management but been politely rebuffed, and knew it was unlikely they’d pass on any messages. Tony and I were outside his house – the location is not widely known, I’d just been drawn to it as if guided and then instructed to ‘wait’ by my guide - when

ALTERNATIVE LIVES we realised that he was having a big party, with people coming and going. We asked a couple going in if they’d mind asking him if he’d come out and talk to us. To our enormous surprise, he did, as soon as the party finished! It was the strangest conversation – and I promised not to repeat most of it – but I did ask him if he’d heard of my book Ripples. I gave him a copy, and he promised to read it and call to let me know what he thought of it. Then he stared at me for a good 30 seconds before looking away. As our eyes met, I felt that soul connection as Ryan and Madeleine stared at each other down the centuries. We took a lovely photo together, then he waved goodbye and disappeared, off to the airport.


Of course, I never did get a call from him; we moved houses and phones several times, although I did get a few messages passed onto me by fans that had talked to him – and he did write two songs about past lives. I felt like he was sending me a message. We all have our paths in life to follow. I’ve followed mine – and it’s certainly taken me round some twisty turns, but I’ve lost three stone, written 27 books and many country songs, one of which won a silver disc, been an advice columnist in a magazine and even had my own TV show. Most importantly, I feel fulfilled. Now more than ever, it seems to me that people are yearning to connect with the spiritual side of life, to feel a sense of oneness with nature and to connect with their fellow human beings. I’d urge them to follow that path, to take a chance and do the crazy things that, deep down, they really want to do. You never know where it might lead you. The latest book on my story, which includes the meeting with Garth, is called Souls Don’t Lie. People can easily contact me through my email author@globalnet.co.uk or my Facebook page where I still work with guides and angels and many other beings. facebook.com/ JennySmedley AngelWhisperer

WHAT IS PAST-LIFE REGRESSION THERAPY? As the name suggests, past-life regression therapy involves the subject being put into a trance-like state using hypnosis, then drawing on subconscious memories from past lives to resolve trauma in the present. Although, needless to say, its authenticity is controversial, celebrities who have tried it include the opera singer Katherine Jenkins, who ‘discovered’ a life as a farmer’s wife 200 years ago for the 2007 TV show ‘Have I Been Here Before?’


If you think of taxidermy as the province of Victorian gentlemen with bushy moustaches, then think again


lle Kaye is one of a new generation of young taxidermists who are dragging this traditional skill into the 21st century – and turning it into an art form. She was one of the speakers at the Autumn NWR online Conference - editor Amanda Vlietstra caught up with her for a Q&A session about her work.


I think there is a misconception of what a taxidermist might look like, and I think that stereotype has come out of movies and films which hasn’t helped our reputation – it’s usually an older, creepy man living in a cabin in the woods!


I’m a bird taxidermist. I only work with birds that die of natural causes – this is something that’s really important to me. Most come from zoos or private breeders, some are given to me by the public – they might be found on a dog walk and donated to me. I can use roadkill if it’s suitable too.


You do need a strong stomach – but I think a lot of people think it’s more gory than it actually is. As you become more experienced, you realise you’re able to do it more cleanly. As beginners, you just need a small area to work on that’s sanitary. It sounds really macabre but it can be done really cleanly.


No, I kind of fell into this. I wanted to be a vet growing up, but when I was at school, I was told you were either creative or academic. I enjoyed science but I was more interested in the arts, and wasn’t shown that there was an intersection between the two, so I committed to an artistic path. I studied


ALTERNATIVE LIVES sculpture at university – but it was there that I was given free rein, my work had to be sculpturally challenging, but I still had this love of biology and anatomy and I thought ‘what marries the two’? So I tried taxidermy. I did it for 3 years, teaching myself in the studio, and when I graduated I thought, ‘I’ve come pretty far in this, I wonder if I can make a go of it as a business.’ I found it really insightful and meaningful, and the business really took off.

could rot. The second part is creating an anatomically accurate model, so basically recreating the carcass and preserving the skin. The final part is washing, drying, grooming and assembling, so putting your preserved skin over your anatomically accurate model, reconnecting all the armature, and essentially marrying all the components together to recreate the specimen successfully.


Every taxidermist has a different weakness and one of the things I find hardest is actually cleaning the skin, particularly with birds as the skin is so fragile. It can take three days to clean a peacock skin. I find that so tedious, and that’s a challenge mentally. You’re in this zone and you’ve got to get it done and can’t stop until you do.

My audience is made up of the film and prop industry, the interior design industry where we dress a window in department stories, for example, or do things like exhibit peacocks in stately homes. The final part is any regular person who sees the value of taxidermy as a piece of artwork, so for example, the person who wants a flamingo for their mantlepiece.


A hamster!


I was at university in Loughborough and got a load of books from the library on tanning a skin, fleshing a hide, all those classic things you need to do in taxidermy. Then I needed specimens, so I went to the local pet shop and said ‘if you have anything that passes away, will you keep it for me?’ Over time, I built up an inventory, which I kept in my university freezer – much to the alarm of my flatmates! I worked through the books, followed the process. My first examples weren’t great but although I often look back and think I didn’t do justice to those animals, I remind myself that those specimens were really important as those mistakes informed my process and helped me get better. It’s the sort of thing you’ll never truly master as the technology is improving all the time but you can never truly recreate nature. You’re up against perfection and that’s very difficult.


Probably one of the bigger birds. Swans are difficult, basically because they’re fragile but they’re so fatty, so oily, so greasy, they need a lot of preservation to ensure they remain stable and durable. Then you have the armature [this is the wire or wood frame that provides internal structural support and defines the position of the specimen]. I am strong but I am still petite and physically manipulating the rods is very demanding. With small birds, garden birds, the armature is quite easy to manipulate but with big birds it’s much more challenging.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR STUFFING A SPECIMEN? There are three parts to the process. The first part is skinning and defleshing - removing anything that is organic and


I ASSUME THAT THERE ARE PARTS OF THE BIRDS YOU CAN’T KEEP – EYES, FOR EXAMPLE? We use species-specific glass eyes. They’re handpainted – I get them from a company that specialises in that, they also create glass eyes for toys.

Yes – but in a freezer I keep at my studio, not at my house.

coming into the industry which is so great to see. I do a lot of teaching, and I offer a mentorship platform where I try to bring people into the industry and show them that you don’t have to be a certain person or look a certain way to get into the industry. I have a Patreon and I teach remotely – it’s a great resource and I’m really proud of it.




Taxidermy was really popular in Victorian times but it went out of fashion. Now it’s seeing a resurgence, with young people taking an interest – in the time I’ve been practicing, I have seen the industry slowly become more diverse, particularly with regard to economic background, ethnicity and sex, which challenges the historic barriers to entry. And also, in terms of being a woman; there are a lot of young women


The word ‘taxidermy’ is derived from the Greek words ‘taxis’ and ‘derma’, meaning ‘arrangement’ and ‘skin’ respectively. While humans have been preserving other living creatures for thousands of years – Egyptian mummies being an example of this – modern taxidermy began to take off in Europe in the 16th century, peaking in 1851 at London’s Great Exhibition, which featured over 100,000 objects of interest including a lot of stuffed animals.

For me, it’s taxidermy as taxology – by which I mean that the way we’re heading for climate change, and the degradation of species, many of the specimens we’re working on today will likely go extinct. Taxidermy is one of the only lasting physical ways of preserving those connections to our natural world, the way we’re headed. My inner circle is very supportive – the problem is when I meet new people, they’re often initially hostile. I get trolled a lot online – and I kind of understand it. We as a nation love animals, and the trolling is a kneejerk, visceral reaction – they’re confused, they’re fearful, they think taxidermists are responsible for harming the animal. Which of course we’re not.

WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, BURYING OR CREMATING AN ANIMAL AFTER DEATH IS NO MORE DIGNIFIED THAN PRESERVING IT USING TAXIDERMY. We’re not comfortable with death, as a society. It’s not the fact it’s an animal that’s the problem, it’s the fact it’s a dead animal. I am comfortable working with something that’s deceased, and I see value and beauty in that. To find out more about Elle’s work, visit ellekayetaxidermy.co.uk


Lessons in Chemistry

Get stuck into next year’s fabulous selection of titles, selected by the NWR staff team


If I Survive You

Jonathan Escoffery In the 1970s, Topper and Sanya flee to Miami as political violence consumes their native Kingston. Excluded from society as Black immigrants, the family pushes on through Hurricane Andrew and later the 2008 recession, living in a house so cursed that the pet fish launches itself out of its own tank rather than stay. But even as things fall apart, the family remains motivated, often to its own detriment, by what their younger son, Trelawny, calls “the exquisite, racking compulsion to survive.” Escoffery’s debut unravels what it means to be in between homes and cultures in a world at the mercy of capitalism and whiteness.

The Secret Life of Sunflowers

Marta Molnar When Hollywood auctioneer Emsley Wilson finds her famous grandmother’s diary, the pages are full of surprises. The first surprise is: the diary isn’t her grandmother’s. It belongs to Johanna Bonger, Vincent van Gogh’s sister-inlaw. Johanna inherited Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. She was a 28-year-old widow with a baby in the 1800s, without any means of supporting herself, living in Paris where she barely spoke the language. Yet she managed to introduce Vincent’s legacy to the world. The inspiration couldn’t come at a better time for Emsley. With her business failing, an unexpected love turning up in her life, and family secrets unravelling, can she find answers in the past?


Bonnie Garmus Chemist Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudgeholder who falls in love with - of all things - her mind. But, like science, life is unpredictable. A few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show ‘Supper at Six.’ Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Mad Honey

Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan Olivia McAfee never imagined she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in, and taking over her father’s beekeeping business. Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start. When Olivia’s son Asher falls for the new girl in school, Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But as the case against him unfolds, she realises he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her…

Under a Wartime Sky

Liz Trenow I’m getting desperate not hearing from you. Your letters are a lifeline and there is something I need to tell you. Please write, please, please. 1937, England. Kathleen Motts grew up just across the water from the secretive RAF base, Bawdsey Manor. When warplanes surge towards her home, Kath is desperate to do her bit, enlisting as one of the first female radar operators. Vikram Mackensie is quiet, exceptional at maths and music, and always the outsider. When he’s recruited for a top-secret war project at Bawdsey Manor, Vic vows to help the country he loves. As the war intensifies, so do Kath and Vic’s feelings for each other. But Vic is posted to America, and Kath is left heartbroken and alone. As the sky falls around Kath, will she ever have more than one last letter?

BIG READ The Starfish Sisters

Barbara O’Neal Growing up in a quiet and wildly beautiful coastal town in Oregon, Phoebe and Suze shared everything. Now, decades later, Suze, a famous actress, is back in town. Phoebe, a successful illustrator and fabric designer, has discovered keeping a secret means she can’t let anyone get close, aside from her beloved granddaughter, Jasmine. As Jasmine’s move to London looms, Phoebe doesn’t know how to face the return of her old friend and all the drama she brings. But Phoebe let Suze down once before and she’s not sure she can do it again. Can the two women who’ve never confronted their past do it now when the choice is between healing and survival?


Brené Brown True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are. In Braving the Wilderness, social scientist Brené Brown redefines what it means to truly belong in an age of increased polarization. SHE WRITES: “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism.”


Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children

The Story of Art Without Men

Various authors A leading new exploration of the Windrush generation featuring David Lammy, Lenny Henry, Corinne Bailey Rae, Sharmaine Lovegrove, Hannah Lowe, Jamz Supernova, Natasha Gordon and Rikki Beadle-Blair. This remarkable book explores the reality of their experiences, and those of their children and grandchildren, through 22 unique real-life stories spanning more than 70 years.

Katy Hessel How many women artists do you know? Who makes art history? Did women even work as artists before the twentieth century? And what is the Baroque anyway? Discover the glittering Sofonisba Anguissola of the Renaissance, the radical work of Harriet Powers in the nineteenth-century USA, and the artist who really invented the Readymade. Have your sense of art history overturned, and your eyes opened to many art forms often overlooked or dismissed. From the Cornish coast to Manhattan, Nigeria to Japan, this is the history of art as it’s never been told before.

Oh Miriam!: Stories from an Extraordinary Life

Miriam Margolyes Miriam says: “‘Oh Miriam!’ has been such a constant refrain in my life, said in all kinds of tones - laughs, surprised gasps and orgasmic sighs - that it had to be the title of this book. And with a cast list that stretches from Churchill to DiCaprio, Dahl to Dietrich, Princess Margaret to Maggie Smith, I’ve so much more to tell you and so much more to say. “Buckle up and join me on another unforgettable adventure, but this time through my heart and head.”

The Wild Other

Clover Stroud Clover Stroud’s idyllic childhood in rural England was shattered when a horrific riding accident left her mother permanently brain-damaged. Just 16, she embarked on a journey to find the sense of home that had been so savagely broken. Travelling from gypsy camps in Ireland, to the rodeos of west Texas and then to Russia’s war-torn Caucasus, Clover eventually found her way back to England’s lyrical Vale of the White Horse.

Braving the Wilderness


And Still I Rise

Maya Angelou Maya Angelou’s poetry - lyrical and dramatic, exuberant and playful - speaks of love, longing, partings; of Saturday night partying, and the smells and sounds of Southern cities; of freedom and shattered dreams. ‘The caged bird sings/ with a fearful trill/ of things unknown/ but longed for still/ and his tune is heard/ on the distant hill/ for the caged bird/ sings of freedom.’

All descriptions are adapted from Goodreads and all books are widely available in multiple formats.



NWR ACTION them to buy – and it was heartbreaking for them to have to state that it was worthless when filling in the Universal Credit forms. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of the situation – there may not be an apartment to go back to. Roman told me that the last few weeks they spent in Kyiv, they were mainly sleeping in the basement of the apartment, with the other building residents, as this was their safe place when the air raid sirens went off.



We were really happy to be matched with a small family, husband and wife Roman and Tatiana and their five-year-old daughter Charlotta, who’s apparently named after our Princess Charlotte! Our initial conversation went well and we knew we’d made the right decision in deciding to become hosts. Of course, we did have some initial reservations about sharing our space with strangers – that’s only natural - but it’s worked out really well. I gave a shoutout on the NWR Facebook page to see if any of our members had experienced hosting and within 24 hours, I’d spoken to a couple of members who were extremely reassuring and encouraging. We converted our top floor into two bedrooms and a lounge, and Roman, Tatiana and Charlotta have sole use of the family bathroom and we share the kitchen and dining area. What we’ve found is we each totally respect each other’s space. It

helps that they came over with their own car, and as a family unit they’re very independent – they go out and do their own exploring. So far they’ve visited London, Stonehenge, Sandringham and the Lincolnshire east coast. Roman and Tatiana shop and cater for themselves, and eat incredibly healthily. In Ukraine much of their shopping came from small local fresh markets, but here in rural Lincolnshire, markets are few and far between. I don’t know if this is typical of Ukrainians, but they don’t eat many sweet things like biscuits or cakes. They have a big breakfast, such as buckwheat pancakes with tomatoes and beetroot and lots of fruit, then a small lunch and an early evening meal. When I took Charlotta swimming with my grandchildren, my grandchildren requested chips and Charlotta said ‘no thanks, please could I have an apple’!


Our main support for them has been helping with official form filling, applying for bank accounts, telephone contracts and NHS access. Navigating the Universal Credit system and the school application process for Charlotta’s place in a local school was interesting and convoluted. As hosts we receive £350 a month from the Government to provide accommodation and to help with the added costs of utility bills, and the Ukrainian families are entitled to Universal Credit as soon as they arrive in the UK. Initially, Roman was able to continue working remotely for his Ukrainian company but after a few weeks had to leave as his employer called everyone back into the office – which obviously wasn’t possible for him being in a different country! He’s applied for around 80 jobs and is very well qualified, but it’s a continuing struggle to find relevant work. Although he has legal qualifications in Ukraine, he’d need to do a two-year conversion course to practice law in the UK. He speaks very good English and he is currently taking advanced conversational classes as well as learning French. It’s been a very challenging and emotional time for them. Roman and Tatiana speak to their parents – who are still in Ukraine – most nights, and I know the grandparents miss Charlotta terribly. They own a sixth floor apartment in Kiev which their parents helped

Offering up your home As of May 2023, around 174,000 Ukrainian refugees had moved to the UK as part of the Ukrainian Sponsorship Scheme and Ukrainian Family Scheme. If you’re interested in offering your home to a Ukrainian fleeing the conflict, you can become a sponsor under the Homes for Ukraine scheme – as Jan did. Anyone can register an interest in doing this, so long as they’re a British citizen (or have been living in the UK for at least six months), have no criminal record, and are able to offer a room for at least six months. In return – as well as a welcome guest in your home – you’ll receive £350 a month for the first 12 months your guest is in the UK and £500 a month for the second 12 months your guest is in the UK, to help cover any expenses. To register your interest in becoming a sponsor, visit: apply-to-offer-homesfor-ukraine.service.gov.uk


Ukraine’s symbol is a sunflower. It has been grown in the region for centuries and is used for seeds or crushed to make oil.


Flag photo by Max Kukurudziak


hen I heard about the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme, my ears pricked up. I’d been following the conflict in Kyiv, and with five children of my own, all of whom live in London and have young families, I knew how desperately worried I’d be if this was happening to them. I’d hope someone would reach out and help them, so this is what we decided to do. It took a few months for my husband Ivan and I to make the decision to take in a Ukrainian family, as we wanted to be sure we had the full support of our family. They were completely behind us, so we began the application process in September 2022. Refugees and potential hosts both apply to the national Homes for Ukraine Scheme and they manage the process of finding a suitable match. When a possible match is made both parties are encouraged to make contact with each other for an initial conversation. It’s important to make sure that both sides are happy with the match before it progresses. We still live in the family home in rural Lincolnshire and we wondered if the rural location might prove to be a drawback. Many Ukrainian refugees want to live in cities for work reasons and because they have left cities in Ukraine.

The way Charlotta has fitted into the local school is incredible – just 12 weeks into her stay in the UK and she’s already fluent in English. She’s like a sponge, soaking everything up. When her mum or dad aren’t sure of a word in English, they ask her! She’s also very proud that she has learned to ride a bike in the last few weeks. Tatiana is having English lessons, which is also helping her mix. There aren’t any other Ukrainian refugees in our small town – the nearest are eight miles away – so English lessons are a good way of getting out and meeting other people her own age. I don’t know if they will return to Kyiv when the conflict ends – I suppose it depends how long the war goes on for, and how settled they are in the UK when it does end. I’ve read about other Homes for Ukraine situations that haven’t been so successful, so I feel we’ve been very lucky. Our experience of hosting a Ukrainian family has been very positive and enjoyable and I would encourage anyone who is even half thinking of doing it to contact the scheme for more information with no obligation.


Anne Garrick from Leicester South NWR was devastated when her vintage surfboard went missing – but the local surfing community swung into action


urfing is my passion. Not, you understand, in the contemporary way, with a buoyant, man-made surfboard that you paddle out to sea. No, I do it vintage style, using a flat wooden board with a curved front end that has only the buoyancy of a wooden plank and is entirely dependent on wave dynamics and the surfer’s skill to stay afloat. It is relatively safe, however, since all you need for a good run-in is 2’6” depth of sea and a two-foot wave with a bit of power behind it, which will deposit you in two inches of water on a good, flat beach. Then you pick the board up, walk back into the waves, and do it again! Nowadays, I need a wetsuit, but when I learnt to surf in Cornwall more than 60 years ago, no-one had wetsuits; the excitement of it all kept you warm. Well, what with Covid, and my husband awaiting a knee replacement, I hadn’t been on my surfboard since 2018. But at last, knee had been done, husband was walking, and in June, we went to Manorbier, in Pembrokeshire. Castlemeads, where we stayed, was perfectly located near the beach. Straightaway, I rushed off to check it out. Perfect! The sun was shining, the tide


out, exposing a flat beach; children were playing in the clear stream, which spread out, sparkling, across the sand, and families were pottering in the rock pools. Next day, as soon as the tide was onto the flat, down we went complete with beach gear, and my trusty surfboard and I had a great time in the waves.

Mizzly weather

The next couple of days were a bit mizzly, but close by, we found a short, flat, headland walk with spectacular cliffs, and explored the 12th century church, then ventured further afield to Stackpole lily ponds and Picton Castle. The day before we left, though, the sun was shining once more, and off we headed for the beach. My precious (and irreplaceable) surfboard was missing! It was not in the car, nor was it on the beach, where we must, incredibly, have left it. I hastened to the café attached to the surf school and explained about my loss. Well, these days, they’re not graced with the name “surfboard”, they don’t even call them bodyboards; they go by the undignified term of “bellyboard”! However, the staff at the café were most sympathetic when I said I’d had it since I was 10, and absolutely determined

to help me find it. The hotel owner joined in, and onto social media it went.

Unconfirmed sighting

By 10.00 pm, a sighting had been reported; someone had seen a bellyboard lying in the grass at the far end of the beach. At 7.30 am the next morning, I was down there, in the rain, looking for it, but after half an hour of searching, there was no sign. We were leaving that day, so sadly, I had to assume it was lost. What a homecoming it was to find a message on our answerphone to say my board had been found. One of the hotel’s young waiters was meeting his friends for a barbeque on the shore. When he got there, they had gathered up wood for the fire – and there on the top of the pile was my surfboard! “You can’t burn that,” he told his friends, “It’s a bellyboard!” He took it home, whereupon his mother put it on social media to try and discover to whom it belonged, and the hotel owner claimed it on my behalf. So it was saved from the flames! We have booked a further few days at Castlemeads later this year to collect it. I’m hoping for a good west wind to generate some surf, and sunshine!


This image was done using my non-dominant hand, not looking at the paper, in 90 seconds

NWR’s Jane Broadhurst tried portraiture


rom Picasso to Da Vinci, every great artist knows the importance of portraiture – and NWR members who want to learn this art form had the advantage of a course that was free for members by the fabulous Caitlin Heslop. A London-based artist who works in pastels, paint and pen-and-ink, Caitlin’s work can be viewed on her Instagram page @barelydrawing or her website caitlinsarah.com. Nearly 10 years ago, she set up Barely Drawing, a drawing collective aimed at inspiring and equipping individuals to cultivate creativity in their lives. Barely Drawing sessions look at providing participants with exercises that they can repeat in their own time to create simple, yet effective, finished pieces of artwork. She also runs art courses - and one of our NWR members, Jane Broadhurst, participated in the portrait drawing course that was held over four weeks over Zoom. This course was free to NWR members who could register to participate through the events page on the website nwr.org.uk/events/ where we publicise talks and events. A Yorkshire-based artist and craftsperson who takes inspiration from the

I had longer to do this drawing, using my dominant hand. Starting to use shading natural world, Jane told NWR Magazine: “Caitlin Heslop is a well respected, award-winning artist and so I was really excited to have an opportunity through NWR to learn from her. The four-week virtual course allowed me to experiment with new ideas and share a passion for art with other NWR members. “Caitlin is an excellent teacher and I learned so much. My favourite exercise was a 90 second task to draw a self-portrait with my non-dominant hand and without lifting my pencil from the paper.” “I found myself completely immersed in the experience and almost lost in time. I learned so much more than I was expecting. It has inspired me to do more portrait drawing and reminded me how therapeutic art can be.” “I am so grateful to have had this opportunity and it might have passed me by had it not been for my friend and fellow NWR member Diana Sutton. I really appreciate her thinking of me.” Caitlin hosted a session for us on Drawing from collage – an alternative approach’ during our Online Conference in September and has just completed a four week ‘Drawing from nature’ course which proved very popular.

Let’s get quizzical!

In June 2023, members of Hitchin NWR took part in an excellent Central Region quiz hosted by St Albans 1, said Susan Clark, Hitchin NWR. At the end of the evening, we were very pleased to see that our name, Hitchin, came out of the “hat” as hosts for the 2023 quiz. The planning started almost straightaway and we were helped by St Albans group sending us their timeline for the previous year’s quiz. From the beginning we decided to have eight rounds with eight questions in each round, and one marathon. This helped us to finish by 10pm - some groups had travelled a long way. All of Hitchin group helped in some

This drawing took the longest. Pleased to just be in the moment, concentrating

This image I drew with my non-dominant hand, in 90 seconds, glancing at the paper

way. We all had a hand in choosing the questions, which were tried out on family and friends. The answers were checked and checked again. Thank you to everyone who came along and from the feedback we have received, it was an enjoyable evening. It was lovely to meet other Groups and to have Vicky, Sharon and Cath from National Office join us. Looking forward to seeing you all again in Luton, June 2024. National Office said: Thank you to the Hitchin group for putting on a splendid evening of quiz questions, cakes and good company! Congratulations to the St Albans group whose team ‘Boudica’s Brains’ won.


CROOKES SHEFFIELD NWR The walk: Sheffield Botanical Gardens They said: On a lovely sunny day, our walk took us to Sheffield Botanical Gardens, which recently celebrated the achievements of Robert Marnock (1800 – 1889). Born in Kintore, Scotland, he began his career as a gardener at Bretton Hall, now the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and won a competition to design Sheffield Botanical Gardens. As the first curator, he was appointed to lay out the gardens in 1833. He was later appointed curator of the Royal Botanic Society’s garden in Regent’s Park and the Marnock Garden in Sheffield Botanical Gardens was established in 1988 as a tribute to his achievements.

SHREWSBURY NWR The walk: Shrewsbury Art Trail They said:

Members of Shrewsbury NWR enjoyed viewing some of the Art Trail across the historic town centre. The theme of this summer`s Art Trail was `Movement`. The works were on display until 31st August 2023, featuring many world-renowned artists and sculptors, sponsored by the town’s Arts and Museum service.

The pictures show that some members of the group were showing their “moves” by emulating the pose of the Surrealist Piano sculpture by Salvador Dali in the grounds of Shrewsbury Castle and of Poise and Tension III by Jacob Chandler in the Dingle gardens in the Quarry. The route also took in some of the art works on display in historic buildings in the town centre and places of significance in the early years of Charles Darwin who grew up in Shrewsbury.

SHOREHAM-BY-SEA NWR The walk: Bramber Castle West Sussex They said: Lots of laughs, avoided the threatened thunderstorm!


ECCLESTONE AND WINDLE NWR The walk: Pennington Flash, Leigh They said:

The walk around the lake at Pennington Flash and up to the Leeds Liverpool Canal which runs alongside it is a haven for waterbirds. We had lunch at Dam House Astley nearby.

PARK GATE NWR The walk: Chilling Coastal Area near Warsash They said: A walk in beautiful woodlands, passing farmland along the Hampshire coast – as well as people walking, cycling, dog walking. Lovely views over to the Isle of Wight.

MEMBERS’ CORNER EASTBOURNE NWR The walk: Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne They said: Our walk leader Maggi, introduced us to a recently opened Fishing Station and Deli, which we are eager to visit on a sunny day.

SOLIHULL NWR The walk: Packwood House near Lapworth in Warwickshire They said:

A few of Solihull group enjoyed a lovely walk today, just fitting it in before the heavens opened! In one direction we have built up areas leading to the City of Birmingham but in the other direction we have glorious Warwickshire countryside. We are blessed with two great

National Trust houses within 15 minutes of Solihull and today’s walk started and finished at Packwood House. The walkers crossed the green fields of what is officially the Forest of Arden and walked to St Giles Church, originally built in the 13th Century and where Graham Baron Ash, the last owner of Packwood, is buried. Inside there are various very old artefacts of interest including a beautiful stained glass window and a partial wall painting which is dated to the 14th Century and was discovered when some restoration work took place in 1927! Another claim to fame is that the parents of Dr Johnson, of dictionary fame, were married in the church! The walk was approximately 3.6 miles and took us a couple of hours, with a stop at the church.

ST NEOTS NWR The walk: The Manor House at Hemingford Grey They said:

GLASGOW NWR The walk: Glasgow Necropolis They said:

We braved the rain for a walk round the gardens of The Manor at Hemingford Grey, home of the Green Knowe stories by Lucy Boston. The house is actually one of the two oldest continually inhabited houses in Britain. The informal gardens are well worth visiting. We followed the visit by a riverside walk to the village of Hemingford Abbots, for lunch at a cosy pub - with lots of chatter - before returning to Hemingford Grey via the same route still in the rain!

Glasgow Necropolis overlooks Glasgow Cathedral and we followed the Women’s heritage walk past the Stillbirth memorial and across the Bridge of Sighs to access the graveyard. We visited the small Jewish graveyard, the memorial to Corlinda Lee, “Queen of the Gypsies”, Misses Buchanan of Bellfield, Isabelle Elder and many more. We also visited Rotten Row gardens, the site of the former maternity hospital. Finished the walk with lunch beside Glasgow infirmary.

MOLD NWR The walk: An 8K walk to Loggerheads Country Park They said: A number of Mold group enjoyed a well-deserved lunch after completing an 8K walk around Maeshafn and Colomendy.



about NWR Despite the dire warnings about Artificial Intelligence, Shakespeare’s legacy remains unthreatened.....


ary Peterson of Chandlers Ford/ Eastleigh ‘B’ NWR decided to do an experiment with Chat GPT. She said: “I entered the following into Chat GPT and it generated this poem for me! My input: NWR (National Women’s Register) is groups of women who meet to research and discuss interesting topics. The group in Chandlers Ford has been meeting fortnightly for about 40 years. They are a supportive group of friends and have outings and birthday lunches. Write a poem in celebration of the group.”

Chat GPT’s poem:

In Chandlers Ford, for forty years and more, A group of women, loyal to the core, Have gathered fortnightly, rain or shine, To share their thoughts, and to intertwine. The National Women’s Register, they call it, A place of learning, but never a profit. For friendship and support are what they seek, To share their joys and help the meek. They research topics both old and new, Their interests varied, their passion true. From art and literature, to science and math, No topic too daunting, no question too rash. They listen, they learn, they share and they grow, Their minds expanding with each topic’s flow. But more than that, they form lasting bonds, A sisterhood of love, that forever responds. Their outings and lunches, a time to unwind, To celebrate birthdays, and friendships bind. To laugh and reminisce, and create new memories, To strengthen their bonds, and honour their histories. So here’s to the National Women’s Register, A group of women, so strong and clever. For forty years they’ve stood the test, And their friendship and support will never rest.


Messing about in boats


an Kelly of Leighton Buzzard NWR submitted the following report on a fabulous group canal trip… Leighton Buzzard is very lucky: not only do we have the Grand Union Canal flowing through our town, but we also have a skilled canal boat skipper and a professional lock-keeper – Skipper Gwyn and Skipper Karen - amongst our members. In 2022, Skipper Gwyn organised two canal trips for members, both of which were very successful. This year, she has organised two trips. In early June, ten of us left Cow Roast, near Tring, for a lovely day which took us down the Wendover Arm of the canal. This branch is a narrow cul-de-sac and there is room for only one boat at a time. The weather was good and we had a pleasant lunch at a canal-side pub. The company from which Gwyn hired the boats were so pleased with how clean and tidy we left the boat that they offered us discount on a second trip this year. So many of us wanted to go that we booked the company’s two boats – Victoria and Albert and set off for Berkhamsted with Skipper Gwyn in one boat and Skipper Karen, not just a lock-keeper, but also an experienced skipper, at the two helms. They were assisted by other volunteer members

of the ‘crew’, who jumped out when needed to open and close the lock gates and to moor the boats. We must have gone through at least five locks, each way and, afterwards, the crew admitted it was hard work, using muscles they didn’t know they had! The sun shone as we looked forward to our picnic lunch in the grounds of the ruins of Berkhamsted Castle. The original plan was scuppered as the water levels on the canal became too shallow for the boats to continue. There was a tricky moment as one of the boats proved difficult to turn in a narrowish part of the canal, but all was well, so we took the opportunity to have our picnic in the sun there. Because we were unable to go as far south as planned, we went further north on our return towards Tring railway station. There, the boats travelled through one of the prettiest parts of the Grand Union, a secluded cutting lined by trees, as they made their way towards Tring Station, before returning to the marina. It was an NWR day to be proud of – those who couldn’t crew made drinks and washed up. Everybody mucked in and liveliness was the order of the day. The verdict afterwards was unanimous: “Lots of fun and lots of chat. Another grand day out.”


We thought everyone would like to see a photograph of this wonderful Union Jack Pavlova, made by NWR member Phyllida Walton for the Coronation Lunch she hosted for our Exeter & District NWR Group, shortly before the Coronation weekend. Needless to say, a very few minutes after I took this photo, the tray was empty! The pavlova was indeed as delicious as it looks. Most of our group members came to the bringand-share-lunch which was much enjoyed by all. So much so that we forgot to assemble for a group photo! But we think you will like this memento of a very happy occasion. Margaret Guyver, Exeter and District NWR Group


From a member who spent September on Fair Isle during lockdown. A magical month with wind and birds.Tilted Days, a September Gathering of Fair Isle Poems. Poems by Shirley Nicholson illustrations by Alexa Fitzgibbon Can be ordered through bookshops or available on Amazon for £11.42.

Lynda takes a leap

Our admiration goes to NWR member Lynda Gibbons who, for her 70th birthday, challenged herself to abseil. Writing on the NWR Facebook group ‘How was your day Highs & Lows’ she said “our grandchildren were cheering Granny on from below, so I couldn’t chicken out!”


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