Gilbert is Gone

Recorded and Knit together by WSM. First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

And where is Boris? The Prime Minister thought it a good idea to fly to Scotland last week. But did he drop in on Scotland’s Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon? No, he did not. Either she didn’t know he was coming, or more likely he just wanted be seen popping in and out, like popping into a fish-and-chip shop.

Fishing. That’s the thing. On the News at Ten, Boris Johnson was seen holding up a very substantial Atlantic Crab. One that could definitely go on some kind of a diet if it didn’t want to avoid the pot. But all evidence showed that the pot was to be the crab’s destiny. It was hard to tell which variety of crab this was as it was on its back, where Mr. Johnson may find himself if:

He doesn’t pay attention to the women leaders who can deliver daily briefings on their country’s Covid-19 situation, alone at the podium, wearing stiletto-healed shoes.

He doesn’t get himself on the imposed dietary restrictions he is putting in place for England. Photographs of him jogging in London are not a pretty sight. Johnson has now declared a campaign on adult and childhood obesity. And it is true that in England 70% of the deaths from Covid-19 have been for patients who were seriously overweight.

The weather has turned blustery, as English weather does, and is the reason that the English migrate so steadfastly to Spain, Portugal and Southern Europe for their summer dose of sunshine. Now suddenly the UK government has mandated a two-week quarantine on people returning from Spain. Even a government minister has been caught out, and will have to self-isolate when he returns to the UK. Dominic Raab made the announcement from home, with the backdrop of delightful delphiniums growing in his garden – reminding us all that really the government has ‘shut up shop’ and gone on holiday. Is anyone paying attention?

For some of us are watching North America go into free-fall.

This weekend saw the beginning of Senator John Lewis’ journey home, including his funeral procession over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The quiet dignity of the procession befitted a man of quiet dignity and good trouble. I have pulled out blue and purple ribbons and tied them onto our front door. Blue for Mr. Lewis, and Purple for the pancreatic cancer that felled him. Over the course of his life John Lewis returned to Selma again and again. He often said, “This is where I come for renewal.”

Our front door

A book, ‘The Best of Ruskin Bond,’ was given to me by Shubki, the wife of a government minister who welcomed us to Pune in 2004. This collection includes many of Bond’s short essays. In ‘At Home in India’ he asks, ‘What is it that holds me back in India, that I don’t leave?’ And he replies, “It is more than the land that holds me. For India is more than a land. India is an atmosphere. Over thousands of years, the races and religions of the world have mingled here and produced that unique, indefinable phenomenon, the Indian: so terrifying in a crowd, so beautiful in himself. … Race did not make me Indian. Religion did not make me Indian. But history did. And in the long run, it’s history that counts.” I like to believe that John Lewis would have nodded in agreement as the history of his country and his work unfold before us.

The West Indian Cricket Team is playing the English Team in the third Test. And ‘Rain Stop Play’ is holding the last day’s play hostage. This is of no interest or importance to anyone outside of cricket fans. But in a box of old family memories there is a sepia photograph of the first West Indian team to be invited to play in England at the Dulwich Cricket ground where my father was captain. The photograph is dated 1928 and shows the team striding sternly out to take the field at ten minutes to noon. I looked at the man standing at the entrance to the club house, Trilby-hatted with a hand in his old raincoat pocket, and I wonder if it is my father. Like a message in a bottle I have sent a copy of the old photograph to the team’s captain, ‘To wait for their arrival’ at Lord’s Cricket Grounds. If it reaches that shore – or their captain – I can give them the original. For this memory belongs to them, not to me.

West Indian Cricket Team at Dulwich Cricket Grounds in 1928
Gilbert is set in Place 2015 Photo by WSM

Between the showers on Sunday we walked in the park. Clustered on the playing fields and under the trees by the lake were groups of families and friends, wanting to picnic together but not venture inside another’s home. The roses in Queen Mary’s Rose Garden are blooming in waves and every bench is occupied by family or friends taking time to be together. Leaving the rose garden to return to the park I look for Gilbert, a fine, standing topiary of tight yew and ivy shaped into a hard-working gardener, complete with a tin watering can. But Gilbert is gone. Once, when questioning a live gardener working close by he had assured me, “‘is name is Gilbert”. Gilbert had been a signature at this corner of the rose garden for at least five years.

Now he has been replaced by a very elegant succulent elephant, with tin ears. I admire the succulents and the handiwork of this new sculpture. And think maybe it is a homage to the zoo which has struggled with the pandemic shut-down, or maybe it is more, a homage to those whose work has made these gardens and the park as beautiful as they are.

The Elephant comes to the Park Photo by WSM

This has been A Letter from A. Broad. Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

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