It is crisp cold on Saturday morning for our hill climb to the Farmers Market. Mushrooms are laid out in small cardboard boxes at one stall while the last of the tomatoes at another. Large Mozzarella balls are two for a tenner. The Italians know that the season of Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil salads is ending. Rutabagas and Swedes are piled in crates looming over bags of potatoes. Winter is coming.
On Sunday we walked through the Italian gardens which every autumn, holds the outdoor Frieze Sculpture exhibit. This year there are more people than ever crowding the sculptures, reflecting a collective hunger for art. In this time of Covid restrictions people remain wary of indoor galleries and museums. Every year, I find one piece that speaks to me. This year, it is Kalliopi Lemos’s ‘The Plait’ A very tall braid of wire signifying a chopped-off braid of hair.
And I am remembering my friend Heather and a sunny morning after a sleep-over. Her family had left Kenya abruptly and my mother had found them a place to live by Hawley Lake. There was no electricity and water was carried from the lake. My mother got Heather enrolled in St. Nicholas School and must have ferried us both back and forth to school. There were sleep-overs by kerosene lanterns and adventures by the little stream that ran past their cottage from the lake. But at our home we woke up one morning wanting to play barber. My thick hair was down to my waist but the plaits were kept knotted at night. Mornings were spent in tears with the rushed, brushing, pulling and replaiting that happened.
“I’ll be the barber” said Heather and I happily knelt in front of her.
Somehow she found scissors, maybe old paper scissors from my father’s study, as, when my plaits finally fell away, there was a clear unevenness in the line. Knowing that whatever trouble we got into I would not be spending morning in tears left me elated. All this passed through my mind as I stood looking at the giant wire braid in the park. Lemos explains “an act of disobedience and emancipation of thinking … a liberation’.
Looking at all the different people walking through the park broad-walk I am thinking of war and all the countries they came from. Now journalists have been expelled from Belarus and it is hard to image what is going on behind those iron doors.
Earlier this year, when the demonstrations began in Hong Kong at the Chinese government’s take-over laws, Dominic Raab, then Foreign Secretary for the UK government, announced: “We will take in three million residents from Hong Kong who want to come.” There must have been hurried discussions behind closed doors for there is no ‘Welcome to Britain’ flag waving at the airports.
But Nathan Law, a 27 year old activist, made it. When agreeing to give an interview to Samuel Fishwick from the Evening Standard, he chose a bench in Regent’s Park which looked to be along the broad-walk where we were walking. Law was imprisoned, assaulted, forced to leave his home and family and lives low in London. Though he fears for his life, he knows someone has to speak out.
“The Hong Kong we knew has gone”.
“Will your family know how you are?”
“If you write about me they will find it.” But unspoken is the knowledge that so will others. Can Britain give this young man the safe haven he needs?
Autumn is a time of overflowing bounty. A neighbor on our street brings the harvest of her Oxford garden to London. Boxes of Bramley cooking apples, Cox’s Pippins for eating, and those pesky green tomatoes that refuse to ripen are on her doorstep for anyone to take. I gather them as from orchard grass and now can bake to pass along to other neighbors.
We continue to do what we can for each other as this next round of COVID-19 circles us. Daily 12,500 new cases are reported and tonight brought another set of government rules to learn and abide by.
I imagine our Queen as she follows the news and watches her people doing what they can for their country. Maybe she keeps a note-pad on which to jot down names and pass them on to her Prime Minister of the day for The Birthday Honours list usually in June, when the Queen celebrates her official birthday. This year it was delayed so that COVID-19 front-line workers and volunteers could be honored. She may leave much of the choices to her Prime Minister but with this one she could have more to say.
Orders of the British Empire seem old-fashioned considering that there is no empire but these special recognitions by the Queen mean a lot to everyone. Sir David Attenborough gets a boost upstairs with a hurried make-over of the badge for the Knight Grand Cross. The young footballer Marcus Rashford becomes an MBE. With quiet dignity and persistence, he got the government to do a U-turn, successfully campaigning to extend free school meals over the summer.
“It is never the child’s fault that they are hungry.” This is a young man to watch.
I have a smiling satisfaction at actor David Suchet, most known as Poirot in the re-running Agatha Christie series, becoming a Sir. Dabirul Islam Choudhury, who turns 101 in January, takes home an OBE for walking almost 1,000 laps of his garden, raising money for charity, while fasting for Ramadan. Between him and the better-known Captain Tom, centenarians are showing they remain full of the Right Stuff.
This has been A Letter From A. Board.
written and read for you by Muriel Murch