top of page
  • valeriehuggins0

For the times they are a-changing.....

There is a real sense of change in the air as we head towards summer here in the UK. The weather is changeable, unpredictable. Like my mood. Climate records are tumbling across the world, while here in the UK the general election is stirring up debates about what changes we need to secure our future well-being. Uncertainty and anxiety abounds.

I am sensing this turbulence and lack of control over what might transpire is affecting my creativity. For weeks, I have felt stuck, unsure of what to do, what to focus my attention on. I have even walked by the sea without being moved to take even a single image. Instead of being inspired by watching talks by other creatives, I have slumped into 'it is all too hard'.

So what to do? I seek out the advice of one of mu gurus, David du Chemin. He advocates keeping on shooting until your mojo returns, going back to where you last felt some inspiration. I decided to visit one of my favourite beaches, Slapton, even though the weather was not promising and I had a looooong list of other things to get done. Slapton is in the South Hams area of Devon and has a three-mile long, golden, shingle beach, with the village of Torcross at one end and Strete Gate beach at the other.

Across the road from the beach lies the beautiful Slapton Ley Nature Reserve. It is the biggest fresh water lake in the South West, surrounded by reeds and trees and home to a huge diversity of wildlife.

But before deciding on whether to walk along the beach or around the Ley, I sought out another reason for Slapton's renown.  In Torcross there is a Sherman tank, which was raised from the seabed in 1984 and serves as a memorial for a wartime disaster. It commemorates the lives lost during Operation Tiger, which was a rehearsal for the D-Day invasion of Normandy in the second world war.

And given that my father was involved in the crossing of the Rhine 80 years ago, and had passed away a few days short of D-Day fifteen years ago, he was on my mind as I stood in the shadow of the tank. I reflected on his commendation:

Gunner Hooper was in the back seat of a glider taking part in the airborne operation for the crossing of the Rhine on 24th March 1945. The glider was repeatedly hit by Anti-Aircraft fire, set alight before crash landing on the East bank of the River Issel, when it came under machine gun and heavy small arms fire.

Gunner Hooper however, taking no heed of the enemy or his own safety, rushed to the front and helped release a badly wounded officer lying pinned in the wreck. Together with another survivor he then waded the river under fire carrying the officer to the safety of our own lines, only to return immediately to what was now a blazing wreck to rescue the wounded glider pilot. In spite of a further outburst of fire directed at him Gunner Hooper succeeded in getting the pilot to safety. By his gallantry and complete disregard of obvious danger this man saved two lives from certain death by burning.

This was just 3 days after Dad's 20th birthday. And he lived to tell the tale (although he did so very rarely) but nearly a thousand US soldiers and sailors were not so fortunate during Operation Tiger.

Slapton was chosen as a location for rehearsals for the D-Day landings because of its resemblance to the beaches of Normandy. The villagers were all evacuated and the beach was dressed up as a war zone. There were six large-scale exercises that took place on Slapton Sands, many of which were attended by high-ranking officers from the Allied forces, including Winston Churchill, who was Prime Minister at the time. The best known of these was Operation Tiger, which took place on 28th April 1944. The exercise was supposed to mimic real life events as much as possible, so included the use of live ammunition, but also radios. This alerted nearby enemy boats, who then slipped past naval defences and launched an attack on the convoy of tank landing craft. Over 900 American servicemen lost their lives during these rehearsals. I read through their names on the information plaque and thought of the lives they might have had.

There were several personal messages on the tank from the weekend's commemoration service, brought home to me more by hearing the voices of several visiting Americans reading them out. They had travelled to Slapton to pay their respects, 80 years on. And they were shocked to read that more of their compatriots died here than on Omaha beach on June 6th 1944.

And eighty years on? What freedoms were gained? In the years after the war, these were significant. The defeat of Nazism, the establishment of human rights, decolonisation, more economic freedom and global peace through the set up of the United Nations. So, thanks to my father and his generation, my family and I have lived a life of relative peace and freedom in the UK.

However, there is a sense now that those freedoms are under increasing pressure. The impact of climate change and environmental degradation threatens the livelihoods and freedoms of people worldwide, particularly in vulnerable communities. Displacement, loss of resources, and increased conflict over scarce resources are significant issues that will change the history of many communities in the years ahead. And although these are much more severe in Asia and Africa for example, the effects are beginning to be felt locally too.

As I walk along the beach here at Slapton I can see evidence that it is once again on the front-line of a battle, this time because of the effect of rising sea-levels. As long ago as 2010, there were warnings that within 50 years the sea would wash away the narrow shingle ridge that protects the Ley . Since then, the precarious road along the bank has been repaired repeatedly after a series of winter storms, and even moved 20m inland after Storm Emma in 2018. There is now no more room and it is unlikely to be repaired again so nature will be allowed to take its course. Additional sea defences have been added to protect Torcross but plans are being made to adapt to the reality of losing the road, and subsequently the Ley nature reserve.

The village of Torcross faces being cut off.

And if I look at the map of Devon , many areas, including my home town of Newton Abbot, are at risk of flooding from rising sea-levels by 2050.

I pause for a coffee (in a recyclable cup!) and reflect on my morning. What is it to be free in this day and age and place? I have the freedom to make choices about my lifestyle, to express my ideas and opinions, to vote and campaign for issues that I care about, to create, share and enjoy creative activities.......... and yet I should also have the freedom to live in a healthy and sustainable environment, with access to clean air, water and natural resources. Protecting communities from pollution, climate change, and environmental degradation is essential for ensuring our freedom to live healthily and securely. Bearing in mind the concept of Thrutopia, as advocated by Rupert Read, I am constantly looking for the hopeful stories in the news, the ones that address the climate and nature emergency. We are in need of a change in direction and actions that will help us adapt to our changing world.

Munching a warm veggie pasty in the (chilly!) June sea-breeze, I decide against a swim in the sea. I venture instead into the sea of flowers growing at the top of the shingle beach, amazed by the variety:

and I lose myself in the joys of nature, finding so many treasures nestling in the foliage:

And it is calming my restless thoughts. I play with some ICM to reflect these conflicting emotions, from turbulence to peace:

Back home and immersed in the post-processing, I acknowledged that I had enjoyed this photo trip, but I am not sure if I have moved on with my photography block. I read some more of David du Chemin on mojos: "You yourself have outpaced the artist you once were, and you never noticed your interest, passion, or curiosity waning......If you lost sight of your muse after photographing one thing, in one way, for too long, its a good chance you didn't lose your muse at all. She got up and left, bored, and will be found when you change things up." Ouch!! I clearly have some work to do!

But as David Du Chemin also notes: "Being creative doesn’t happen when conditions are perfect, but in response to conditions that are far from perfect. Being creative is a leaning in to that." Time to accept that lean.

I will finish with some words from Bob Dylan. A dear friend first advocated Dylan's songs to me when I was in my mid teens, and at the time they didn't resonate. Now they do, some 50 years on!

Come gather 'round, people, wherever you roam

And admit that the waters around you have grown,

And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth saving

And you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone

For the times, they are a-changin'.

31 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page