Fasten your seatbelts please

Recorded and Knit together by WSM
A paper on the plane

“There is a light drizzle on the ground” says a voice from the cockpit of the British airways flight from London to Dublin. We presume it is our captain speaking, but you never know. This it the first time we have breached an airport in eighteen months and we are cautious, as if entering a familiar jungle from long ago but that is now heavily overgrown, and we don’t know what it hides. The young people who work at the airports seem comfortable with their rolls and the stewardess clips up and down the plane isle with a quick British efficiency. As the plane begins its decent through the thick clouds that cover Ireland today – the green fields and blue ocean shine in balance with the farms and small towns that lead us into Dublin.

I don’t remember any of this from October 1964 – 57 years ago. I was just one of a plane full of nurses and physical therapists almost all from England, Ireland, Denmark and The Netherlands. In England we had obtained easy visas from the majestic old American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, so unlike in architecture and ambiance to the Embassy fortress that now sits defended South of the river. The two embassies even speak of the two states of America, then and now. But on that October day we were just young women searching for a new life. There were a few who were traveling together but mostly this plane load of almost all young women, just made friends across the isle of the plane. Some were going to the east coast, some further afield to the mid-west, even the real west as in Los Angeles. We didn’t know it then but we were just another wave of imported cheap labour.  It was a dark evening. The plane had taken us from London to Shannon where papers were checked once more before walking across the tarmac back to the prop plane taking off to Halifax, Canada. There we would refuel again before a final destination in New York. The plane landed five hours late but that wasn’t unusual back then.

Today the flight arrives on time and the cheery customs man bids us welcome to Dublin. The light drizzle had turned to a solid shower before fading again into what the Irish call ‘a soft day’ for the rest of the afternoon.

For the moment we have left behind the idiocy of the British parliament. 

Boris Johnson and Lord Frost are now tossing the Northern Ireland Brexit agreement into the sea as if an agreement is not really that – an agreement. And on his left, Boris and his other buds are changing their minds at least every week as to what Covid restrictions will stay in place – not too many – if he can help it – as the country relies more heavily on vaccinations. In and out back and forth go the papers, emails and memos and you know that no one is reading or being guided by science any more. The economy is leading the agenda – again. Boris’ breaking of a promise not to raise the national insurance tax has caused mumblings that turned to rumblings from members of his conservative party along with a backlash from the grass roots – whoever they maybe. The Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there should be no new tax rises before the next election. But nobody listens to Javid. He has been bounced around too much by the blue boys establishment for them to pay him any mind. And this is just one week.

Emma Raducanu wins the US Tennis Open

But England finally does have something to smile about when on Saturday young Emma Radacanu won the U.S. Open Tennis Championship in Flushing, New York. Emma was born in Canada. Her father is Romanian and her mother Chinese and they immigrated to England when Emma was two. Her young opponent, Leylah Fernandez, is Canadian and these two young ladies not only played some fine tennis they brought a refreshing professionalism back to their sport.

Girls walk upstairs as they enter a school before class in Kabul, Afghanistan, (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

How different it is for them than the young women of Afghanistan now the Taliban are guiding the country. Is it a step forward for the Taliban, or three steps back for the women of Afghanistan? Is it a place that for the moment two ideologies can meet? How little can the Taliban give, how much will the women accept?  

And while we are figuring out how to bring the British economy back to life, let the children return to school while protecting our elderly and vulnerable, and cheering young champions, hoping they continue to play with honour in their sport we have turned away from the problems that bubbled up in Hong Kong and Belarus and are no longer listening to the stories they have to tell us. Dissidents are jailed and we don’t know yet when we will hear their voices again.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Female Complaints

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

September mornings, and the sun is finally shining in London. The first flurry of falling leaves are swept up and the pavements look just a little bit fresher, gardens are tidied for winter and their last autumnal blooms wave at us before the summer light fades. Children are back to school and there is a bustle of work, increased traffic on public transport and Boris had some questions to answer in Parliament on Monday afternoon. Which he did, with his hair combed softly – he knew it would be a difficult day – and a promise to fulfill one election pledge by breaking another. Taxes in one form or another must to go up, to pay for the increased health care needs of the country. It is not all the fault of the elderly for living longer – though that could be where to focus some attention. But after the afternoon session in parliament, it is onto the ‘Let’s all have a drink together and get along’ cocktail party hosted by Johnson, and paid for by us, as he tries to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg gave a weak smile before turning his back on the reporters and, with double-vented jacket not showing him to advantage, entering number 10 Downing Street. The Right Honorable Michael Gove may still be in Aberdeen. Luckily Domonic Raab is nowhere to be seen having slipped off to Pakistan trying to find safe passage for those afghans left behind after the British evacuation of Afghanistan. There is no certainty that Raab can return with the needed free pass tickets on his shopping list.

The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg on the bench

We hear less from Afghanistan, but the news stories that do come through are of cruelty and despair, such as the pregnant police woman, Banu Negar, killed in front of her family. There will be no ‘good news’ coming from Kabul until the Taliban control the media outlets and feed news to the Western world. How it is that Secunder Kermani and Lyse Doucet can continue to report for the BBC from Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan is hard to fathom. With a new government not yet formed, and young men on the streets all eager to do something, the Taliban’s promise of ‘No grudges, no revenge’ is proving messy to follow. We hear little of how other countries faired getting their personal out during the Taliban take over and may hear even less about how they might return.

But the Taliban and the new Afghanistan leadership need money. Europe recognizes this and Germany appears to be leading by a nose, sniffing out what opportunities there are still in this land-locked country. Where can a foothold be found that will ensure a western presence to plug the hole of a ship-side leak open to the seas of Russian and Chinese advances?

The Taliban say that women and girls will have full rights ‘under Islamic law’ but Islamic law, like any other law, is subject to interpretation and already new rules about dress and education leave many women and their families fearful. Such strict laws preclude many women from the problems that beset women from other countries and, as has been recently seen – states such as Texas.

The new laws in Texas, banning abortion for whatever reason beyond 6 weeks of gestation, brings fear to this generation of fecund women and some hash memories back to those way past their prime. Seeing the protests in Texas of young women dressed in the red cloak of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was as chilling as anything we have seen in America since the beginning of this year. Margaret Atwood says of her 1985 novel “I didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress… So all of these things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil.” It is as if the men of Texas and beyond have said to themselves, ‘Yeah. This is how it should be.’ 

Women in Texas

And that can be the burping misfiring of art, rather like ‘Apocalypse Now’ conceived as the ultimate antiwar film only ofttimes used as a training tool to those young men and women heading out to the deserts and beyond.   

“I tried gin, hot baths, the lot” said my mother recounting her reaction when learning she was pregnant – with me. Not necessarily how one wants to feel welcomed into the world, but no less true because of it. Documented in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus 1850 BC, ways to prevent an unwanted pregnancy have been sought out and used to various degrees of dissatisfaction, despair, disease and death. Fighting for legal methods of birth control have consumed women, and some men, during the past two centuries, and remains contentious to this day. Those of us who ‘came of age’, in the mid-1960’s still remember the fear of unwanted pregnancies.

A little box of little pills. From the Welcome Trust Museum.

For nurses there were various paths open within hospital systems: volunteering to take patients to the X-ray department, before the mandatory introduction of lead aprons was one; a somewhat-drunken date with a maintenance supervisor who was as handy as any Vera Drake in his day another. And then there were Widow Welch’s Pills. Containing high doses of iron, pennyroyal and juniper and advertised as being very effective in curing ‘Female Obstruction’ they were freely obtainable from Boots the Chemists.

And if prayer, that first and last resort, was also tried and failed, there may be a rushed marriage and definitely expulsion from nursing school. For pregnancy and even marriage made one unsuitable for the profession. Meanwhile those impregnating young doctors graduated into their lives carrying only their memories that faded over time.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Caesar Augustus’ August

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

“Robert Kennedy’s been shot.” In an abrupt wake-up phone call. I don’t know what I replied rolling off the bed from a pre-work nap but I do remember a fogbound realization that this could be the end, and not the start, of a new beginning. In 1968 we knew little of the political games that unfold behind the news that was filtered in and out of the television and radios available to us. If we were lucky some rumor or gossip was gleaned from patients, one of whom was mine at the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. In gratitude for her care, the floor nurses were given free tickets to an auction that was happening at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angles. We could bid on, if not afford, donated items by the rich and famous, along with the not-so, all to raise money for the Democratic party. This is how things were done then. A nurse pal and I went to the sale, and I did successfully get a chest of drawers for the baby and a gorgeous full-length evening coat-dress that was totally over-the-top madness and yet, exquisite.

But now Robert Kennedy was dead, assassinated in that same Ambassador Hotel, and the dreams of the Democratic party at that time died with him. Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic presidential candidate but lost to the Republican, Richard Nixon. 

Sirhan Sirhan was tried and convicted of his assassination and has remained in San Quentin prison for the past 50-plus years. Now, aged 77, he is facing his 16th attempt for parole.

In 1998 Maxwell Taylor Kennedy published a slim volume ‘Make Gentle the Life of This World’ in which he had gathered quotes and sayings that his father Robert, and uncles Jack and Edward, would write in a note-book left on a lectern for each other in the White House. It is a sweet and tender book and speaks of a more innocent age. I was still gathering author interviews at KPFA and for some KPFA-specific reason, there was no studio available for us and so we set up a makeshift recording session in the music room. It was clear to see that Max Kennedy was a nervous, high-strung young man still looking for his way through the life he had been given. And so, as I often have done, I prefaced our conversation with the words, “If you feel I am going somewhere too personal or for any reason you would rather not answer, let me know and we will pause.” It was an interesting gentle conversation about the literature, education and political direction of his father and uncles. As our time together came to an end I asked one more question.

“We are close to San Quentin where Sirhan Sirhan is held. The prisoners often can listen to this radio station. If you had something to say to him what would it be?” And it was here that Max asked me to pause the recording. He sat for a long minute, troubled maybe by the concept of the question and, in the end, not really able to come up with an answer. To this day I am not sure how fair a question it was. 

Jack Newfield, a young reporter on that fateful 1968 campaign, wrote ‘RFK: a Memoir’ in 1969. He ended this book saying, 

“We are the first generation that learned from experience, in our innocent twenties, that things were not really getting better, that we shall not overcome. We felt, by the time we reached thirty, that we had already glimpsed the most compassionate leaders our nation could produce, and they had all been assassinated. And from this time forward, things would get worse: our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope. The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were all alone.”

And here, now, in England, the stone sits so solidly at the bottom of the hill. There is no Atlas among our politicians to roll the stone of the world’s troubles back up to a more compassionate civilization. 

A letter to the Guardian reminded columnist Paul Faupel of a colleague who had a post-it message – for himself and others – 

“te absente stercus flabellum tanguit” and he assured us that it was Latin for “while you were out, the shit *****  hit the fan”. 

Domonic Raab stumbles at the Ministerial enquiry and question time on Afganistan. Photo from The Scotsman

Faupel writes this could be an appropriate note for Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson after the Taliban took Kabul while the British boys were on their holidays. The Observer reported on Sunday that up to 5,000 emails to the Foreign Office detailing urgent cases of Afghans seeking to escape Kabul remained unread, including those sent by MPs and charities. Now Raab admits it may be hard for people who wish to leave to find a way out. The British and American evacuation from Kabul has ended.

The Bank Holiday weekend is over. Children will return to school, workers to work and maybe even politicians to Westminster, though the Right Honorable Michael Gove (of southern Surrey) has been seen dancing the night away, in a tieless suit, in Scotland’s Aberdeen. Gove like Hancock is now conspicuously absent from the front benches of Parliament. Only Dominic Raab, still oiling his Cretan suntan, stands and sits not two meters away from Boris. 

The Right Honorable Michael Gove and Friend in Aberdeen

Curzio Malaparte wrote in The Skin in 1949, “It is certainly harder to lose a war than to win one. Everyone wants to win a war, but not everyone is capable of losing one.” As empires crumble America and England have both had some practice. It is time to put that practice to good use.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

The Mound

Recorded and Knit together by WS

Walking across Hyde Park from Knightsbridge, clocking in those steps to bring me close to my allotted healthy number, I reached Marble Arch and for a moment couldn’t find it.

Marble Arch Obscura

Hyde Park is comfortably London, full of geese and people but that is not enough for the hop-on and hop-off tourist busses that wait – not too hopefully – by the roadside at Marble Arch. The Arch, long ago dumped here, has now been squashed by The Mound that has been built beside it and sits like a giant turd making the poor Arch look quite tiny and shabby. Marble Arch was built to be a state entrance to Buckingham Palace but didn’t fit and so was moved to its place at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street, close to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. The the best thing about ‘Marble Arch Mound’ is that it is a temporary ‘pop-up’ though no-one is saying when it will pop-down. Like any pop-up the goal is to encourage the now non-existent tourists to pay up, climb up, look down and empty their pockets in the shops below. The cost to build the mound ballooned from 2.5 million pounds to over six million. “I resign!” said a Westminster City Council deputy minister, but that isn’t going to help The Mound go away.

The Mound

Does its conception, its construction, speak in a oblique way of England today? Covering something that is not fit for purpose, The Marble Arch itself, that eventually found a happy placement, is now surrounded by detritus and foolishness – rather similar to what we see at the other end of town in Westminster.

Now that everyone has returned from their holidays to watch over the evacuation of foreign nations and afghans from Kabul the Prime Minister has slid off to the G7 Summit leaving the British Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow to ‘carry on’.

Very Busy Dominic Raab

The lucky few, those who can afford it, tripped off to Spain where the sun was scorching and the mosquitoes bit, much like England’s Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab, who was found sunning himself in fashionable Crete and not picking up the brought-to-your-lounger telephone to answer a call from his Afgan counterpart. The quickly put-together photo shoot of Raab behind his big desk, English and Chinese flags flying, one hand gripping the big chair, the other holding his telephone, looking earnestly at the computer screen are fooling no-one. 

Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was ordered to stay in Kabul while the rest of the UK embassy staff and their families left on Friday night. We see and hear only the English and American struggles but there are other countries whose presence in Afganistan is no longer welcome and they too are trying to get their people out.

Kilgore in the Morning

“I want my men out of there. Now.” Says Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. Raab is no Kilgore. 

The implosion of western forces in Afghanistan, the walk-through of the Taliban takeover of their country’s government, remains a debortle of immense proportions. So many stories of terror render most of us sick with helpless heartache at this moment of suffering caused by each and every one of us. No wonder there was a full house when Boris recalled the government last week. More ruffled than usual – not quite taking in that everyone was really calling for his blood – his bluster could not cover his bemusement. And when the past Prime Minister, Teresa May, stood up to speak she was heard, even as some of us blinked at her dress of bright Conservative Blue caped in Mourning black. But there were others, retired but young military men now serving their country in another way, ashamed of their government. For a moment I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe one of them could step forward and possibly lead this country into some new beginnings.

Where are the hyenas hiding in those benches? But here comes Tony Blair, wearing the wise elder-statesman look with slightly too-long silver hair as he shakes his head smiling ruefully, ‘Why can’t you pull yourselves out of the hole I dug for you?’

Holes for whole countries are one thing, traps for individuals are another. The Weekend Financial Times newspaper has a weekly column, “Lunch with the FT.” which during COVID has all been virtual. But this weeks interview took place in Warsaw, Poland where journalist Magdalena Miecznicka met with the defected sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya and her husband. Because poison is a weapon of choice for Russian and therefore Belarusian authorities only Magdalena was eating. The story that 24 year-old Krystsina tells is harrowing, from her first realization that someone is trying to remove her from Tokyo and return her to a mental hospital in Minsk. Her grandmother tells her not to return to Belarus and her husband escaped to the Ukraine before Poland. She was escorted from the Olympic Village by a psychiatrist and a Belarusian committee official to Tokyo’s Haneda airport where she was saved by an app on her phone. Typing in ‘I need help they are trying to take me out of the country by force.’ and translating it from Russian to Japanese, she reached an airport policeman who took her to safety. Magdalena’s article is quietly compelling, mixing Borsch soup with Poland and Belarus and all that it means to suddenly leave your country, your home with as many of your family as are able. Krystsina’s parents escaped but what will happen to her grandmother? We go from one story to many as in these Afghan days, another wave of desperate immigration carries fearful repercussions for the families left behind. 

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

A Dereliction of Duty

Recorded and knit together by WSM

“On an extraordinary scale”, said Major Gen Charlie Herbert, who served three tours in Afghanistan between 2007-2018. “It is almost impossible to believe that the Prime Minister departed on holiday on Saturday; he should hang his head in shame.” 

Again – I might add, as we continue shaking our heads at the inconceivable conceit of this government while trying to wrap our minds around the suffering, fear and deaths that are taking place in Afganistan this week.

It came quickly, to those who have been diverted from the Middle East by relief at getting through the Tokyo Olympics with some honour, and then the helpless sadness at the latest earthquake destruction in Haiti with the number of dead reaching 1500 and Storm Grace closing in on the country. I think back on the young firemen from California who flew in to help in the last earthquake and pray another wave are willing to take on that relay baton. 

Throughout the summer the BBC gives trial runs to hopeful new young newscasters. So on Sunday night a lovely young woman smiles her way through the news from Afganistan before going live to Kabul. But Secunder Kermani, the BBC’s Afganistan correspondent was not there. In his place is a clearly nervous, Malik Mudassir who has a hard time staying focused on the camera. Afganistan is the third most dangerous country for news reporters. The BBC reporter Ahmad Shah, was killed in the province of Khosa, earlier this year on a day which left nearly 40 people dead.

Ahmad Shah reporting

This evacuation remains a withdrawal of shambolic proportions that is ever changing as I write. There is no captain of the ship. No brave president Ashraf Ghani staying until the last. Ghani is gone. The Kabul airport seems to have been allocated an international zone and over 60 countries are operating from makeshift desks and computers at that site. The UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, is there helping to process visa applications for over 4,000 British nationals and eligible Afghans. Dominic Raab’s office said the evacuation efforts will continue for “as long as we are able to do so and as long as it is safe to do so”. Cordoned off by the US troops this area of the airport is – for the moment – a safe haven for some. There are literally thousands of citizens from countries around the world, each that held a little presence, for their own ‘special interests’ in Afganistan, now clamoring to reach the airport and a plane. Like players on a monopoly board, they are now all ready to sell their stock for a flight out of the country. Except for the Russian and Chinese embassies. They are staying in town for informal chats with the Taliban leaders as they form a new government. Russian’s Presidential envoy to Afganistan, Zamir Kabulov, said that Moscow would decide on recognizing the new Taliban government based “on the conduct of the new authorities.” Vladimir must be chuckling at the debortle that his ‘Lets make a deal’ orange puppet offered last May. Like a patient fisherman he can just keep warm, sitting on the banks of this river of history, watching his line bob and duck under the rippled water that is Afganistan today. History, repeating again, from the Coup of 1953 in Iran through to this moment. With Joe Biden’s stance, can or will America and western countries keep their sticky fingers out of other peoples pies? It is doubtful.

But it is possible that when Boris Johnson said, “There is no military solution to the ‘problems’ in Afganistan’ he may have been saying – finally – a long-overdue truth, in all senses of the word. In August, when the country ‘shuts up shop’ and goes on holiday, there is usually a flurry of silly activity to find the Prime Minister on his or her holiday and, in the best English journalistic way, make a mockery of their chosen hideaway. But this year all was strangely quiet. And now we know why. Both the Prime Minister and the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, popped off for their summer holidays at the same time on Saturday. Johnson to Somerset, and Raab was in Cyprus until Sunday, hours before the fall of Kabul. Neither had showed up for work for over a week. Boris Johnson’s departure on Saturday, despite public warnings the Taliban would be in Kabul within hours, has been soundly criticized as a “dereliction of duty” by former senior military and security figures and may well cost him those deep conservative votes and pockets he counts on.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who served in the Scots Guards, appeared to choke up as he spoke of his regret that “some people won’t get back”.

The Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen called into the BBC, live on air “There will be no revenge  on the people of Afghanistan. We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power. We assure the people of Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe – there will be no revenge on anyone. We are the servants of the people and of this country.”

Spokesman Suhail Shakeen. Photo from the Daily Express

On the Sunday night news screen, a middle-aged Afganistan woman, a teacher – of girls – spoke with bewilderment at her new reality, “I thought I was doing good, teaching.” On a phone from an empty room she looks about thoughtfully, now unsure what will become of her. And neither are we as posters and billboards depicting women in places of influence are blacked out throughout the cities of Afganistan.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Rebooked for Tomorrow

You are rebooked for Tomorrow.

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Whoops, the paper work, so checked and double checked still missed page one, which holds a QR code – something that those of us of a certain age are still unclear of its importance. But it only takes one whoops-e-daisy to learn pretty quickly. And so here we are back at number 19 Rue de l’Église, Gravelines, on the north coast of France for one more night.

Once more unto the breach dear friends …

We are staying in an old converted fisherman’s cottage, one of many such cottages along this street. The old fishermen are retired but some sons continue to take their boats, nets and hopes into the channel. The Granny wives stay sitting on a chair out in the street, catching the morning sun before tending their wind-protected gardens at the back. At onetime Gravelines was a thriving fishing town and much of the ‘old’ business is still in fish. Through the day the coastline is dotted with small fishing craft, a car ferry or two chugging back and forth between Dover and Dunkirk, and then a container ship looming, as they do, showing us the strength of our destruction. Now the town is mainly known for having the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. The size of the plant is sobering. Covid has made a good excuse for it not to have visitors – for the time being.

Gravelines beach with nuclear plant on the left and “our church” on the right. (photo by Beatrice Murch)
Saying hello to each other and the sea (photo by Beatrice Murch)

On our first day of meeting up, we are so excited to see each other again after 18 months apart from the little family in the Netherlands. We walked to the beach, and on the beach. The tide is strong, the beach low, the river pours in and is pushed back twice a day as with anywhere on this Earth that the Moon has residence. But the water is shallow. We have to walk a long, long way out to reach a depth that is swimmable. Clams live under the sand, jellyfish float back and forth in the small wavelets and, according to the restaurant menus, fish and the European spiny spider crab, are plentiful. But while at the beach, leading, and being led, into the waves by an ecstatic grandson, I look back along the long stretch of sand to see the dream-ghosts of solders waiting to leave. Queuing, all quietly, some in terror, and some with bravery. Gravelines was also a stronghold for the evacuation of Dunkirk in the Second World War.

We had been fortunate, our paperwork was all in order to make it into France and enjoyed the relaxation that only comes when someone else is in charge and a grandson is there to demand attention and shower us with love. And we thought all was in order to return today. But no – our age-related knowledge of the aforementioned QR code left us sitting at the station taking a deep breath with a good strong coffee for the return trip from Lille to Gravelines. Tired, dispirited, and in need of a deep glass of red wine to accompany Santi’s barbecued supper, the truth is we are only ‘inconvenienced’ in time and money as we sit outside on the patio for one more night with the little family.

Inconvenienced. It’s nothing. These last two weeks much of the world has been watching the Tokyo Olympics, athletes from 205 countries across the world giving their bes,t whatever their countries politics are. They have traveled with coaches, equipment, horses and often without loved ones. And some have come in fear. Fear of their health, their performance, and their governments, asking of each of them a different kind of courage: Simone Biles knowing her mind is not in tune with her body and retires, Harry Charles knew he was not in rhythm with Romeo 88 for the final showjumping event and retired. Personal losses both, as well as for their countries, but maybe nothing as sobering in consideration as the decision made by the Belarusian sprinter Kristsina Tsimanouskaya who appealed for, and received, political asylum from Poland. All three of these athletes are among many I haven’t registered who, often alone, have had to make such difficult and high-profile decisions. They all put our minor QR code ignorance and inconvenience properly in its place.

Driving along the A25 back to Gravelines from Lille. (photo by Beatrice Murch)

Driving back from Lille we enter Gravelines along roads that are becoming familiar. On the edge of town I look out at one nearly ripe wheat-field from where five young men have emerged. The farmer will be cross when he sees where they have walked in hiding. They are a rag-tag bunch, a couple have staffs, a couple more bags over their shoulders. They are very black, very young and very brave, as they slip away into the woods. They still have a ways to go before crossing the sea they are heading for and their tomorrow maybe a long time coming.

Leading the way to buy breakfast.

Tonight, as the church bells signal the end of evensong we will go to sleep for one more night in this little cottage. Tomorrow morning David will lead his granny back to the pastry shop across the town square and practice his 6 year old french, 

“Bonjour madame, comment allez-vous ? Deux pains au chocolat, croissants et deux baguettes s’il vous plait. Merci beaucoup. Au revoir.”

And then we will walk home and have breakfast together just one more time.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Radio Guys and Gals

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Radio men and women artists shine a singular light. Reaching only our auditory perception, they bring story, drama, music and memory along with companionship to their audience in the fullest of our imagination. Most sound folks working in music and film hold a special place in their hearts for the fading art of radio production. 

Last week saw the passing of two such lights. Smiling as I write this I’m thinking how different in style and persona they were and yet both totally devoted to their radio art.  

In the magical days of radio drama and documentary, Pierse Plowright was a visionary artist. Last week, at aged 83, he quietly left this earthly stage. From 1968 to 1997 Piers created award winning radio drama, features and documentary stories for the BBC. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His use of silence was as profound as any sound effect. Piers was a friend, a colleague of many audio arts teachers, and a home-town man, having been born and living his life in Hampstead, London where his father, Dr Oliver Plowright, was known as “Hampstead’s doctor”. He also taught radio artists, journalists, all those wanting to, or could only, use sound and silence to tell their stories. He was known, collected, and owned even, by the arts world of London’s NW3, a community not unlike our West Marin.

Piers Plowrigth at an Audio Seminar London 2003 Photo by WSM

  If radio, art, drama, literature or music is a part of our lives then the loss of such a radio voice leaves a big gap. Charlie Morgan was one such voice at KWMR.org. Charlie left suddenly, shockingly, to those who knew him. Charlie found his voice through KWMR and since 1995, from the very beginning of the station, for 26 years, he was there. Small in stature, big in heart and voice, often as infuriating as he was wonderful he was a mainstay cog of KWMR. His program, ‘Musical Varietee’ covered the range of his interests. Music, theatre and sport were passions he shared with us all in equal part. My memories of Charlie are profound. I learnt about baseball while listening to his enthusiastic commentary on the games from Love Field. I can see him on a ladder, hammer in hand, a mouth full of nails, and yet still able to give instructions, helping to build not one, but two, radio stations as we moved into and out of the Old Red Barn and then into the Creamery building.  

Charlie, Gus and Jerry keeping score at Love Field Photo by Shari-Faye Dell

Piers had been delighted when he learnt of KWMR and quickly gifted me a CD of an eclectic mix of short programs ‘The Shadow Knows’ for the station. Maybe “Setting Sail” is right for this moment as those of us who live close by the sea, think of friends and lovers past. With Charlie’s love of drama and understanding of literature, I cannot but think he would smile and enjoy it too, giving me a 

“Right on Sister.” as he nods, ‘this is how it can be’.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

+3 = -7

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Summertime – to spend on holiday or in self-Isolation, depending on which rules and gateways you are following. The news channels are searching for stories that can wake the public out of a lethargy from the recent heatwave and flash floods. 

 Brazil’s Rayssa Leal (silver), Japan’s Momiji Nishiya (gold) 

But in Japan the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are taking place, a year late and bound to be more than a dollar short. But Japan is a proud nation and will hold its head up high no matter what the financial outcome is from these precious days. The empty stands are a grim reminder of what is and is not at stake in the world today and for the 11,000 athletes gathered with their coaches and staff from over 206 countries. Those of us who can, are watching – just a little bit. With the COVID restrictions in place and without the huge crowds roaring, there is a visible difference in the atmosphere. There seems a real focus on the athletes, their sport. Glimpses of the cross-country comradeship between the competitors. Alex Yee, the Asian English Triathlon runner, who came in second is genuinely smiling as he congratulates Kristian Blummenfelt the winner from Norway. The sweet young skateboarders are proud of their countries, yet more deeply excited to be here with each other. An extreme version of summer camp, that, being teenagers, they will take in their stride to adulthood.

This could be the time for a little news item while everyone is too distracted to notice. The television shows a nurse ironing her home-laundered scrubs. I recognize myself in her, a good woman, a good nurse, trying hard to make ends meet as she works at her chosen profession. The government is to give the National Health medical staff a 3% pay rise. Given, so says the statement “In recognition of the important courageous work done by the medical staff through these last terrible months of the Coronavirus pandemic.” No junior doctors or dentists still in training, most of the medical staff, will receive that rise and the nurses are exhausted. The question remains are the nurses too worn out to consider a some kind of action? 

And so do I

A 3 % raise sounds good – but it equates to a 7.6% decrease in today’s economy for nurses who, more than most public sector workers, have been consistently underpaid. As if tending the body of the sick and oft-time dying is still looked upon as an unclean act. And yet – tending to the body of another is the greatest and first, according to Margaret Mead, sign of a civilized society. All nurses understand it is a privilege, and in a cruel way those who eke out the pounds, shillings and pence also understand that we care for our privilege. But this pay rise remains an insult that is getting harder to ignore. 3% they say, because of all the hard work and dedication you have shown through the pandemic. Hang on, that is what nurses do – all the time. And the police and teachers are to have their pay frozen for at least this year. I can remember being given ten shillings more a week, knowing it would be eaten up in a heartbeat. 

Now that Freedom day has come and we are all following government guidelines that say it is safe to go out – carefully – we cautiously took the train to Oxford. This was for a long overdue visit to friends with whom we had promised to bring a fish pie. And so we packed up a picnic, fish pie, champagne to celebrate a beloved mutual friend’s passing, home-grown and home-made blackcurrant jam, and home-brewed elderflower cordial. 

The Saturday train to Oxford was packed. Every seat was taken and strangers sat beside each other, some carefully, while for others, within the comradeship of youth, conversations began with today’s pickup questions for a new piece of computer software. The train hauled out of Paddington and into the countryside. Buddleia-covered concrete giving way to ragwort and fireweed alongside of un-ripened wheat fields. Our friends live on the outskirts of Oxford and we walked our way from the train station to the bus stop through the town. The river holds, the narrow streets remain the same, the pavements are hard for wheelchairs and the city looks as weary and beaten as any city that is trafficked by students, and where COVID has lain bare the worn cobblestones normally covered by tourists. There are empty store-fronts and as it must be after any war, it is hard to see if they will return fresh and hopeful for the students of the future. It is only when you look up at the massive yellow stone, with its the carved beauty leaning down on you in the narrow streets that you say, “Ah yes, Oxford.”

Photo by WSM

Oxford has been battled over, lost and won again over many centuries. The University was founded 800 years ago and since that time has remained one of the seats of higher education in England. It is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, though, lest we forget, as the English are wont to do, there have been and remain other ancient dynasties throughout the world. In England and at Oxford, church and state were intertwined throughout the centuries, with scholars and politicians emerging from the monasteries and bishops burnt as traitors and martyrs. It was heady stuff. Church and education marched hand in hand and, to enter Oxford, never mind graduate, remains a path to many doors of power. Which brings us to today’s politicians, those who walked the hallowed halls, crossed the sun-shone quads and have too easily assumed the mantle of entitlement that does not become them. But it is these men and women, who hold the purse strings of tax-payers pounds and whose education and political persuasion have led them to justify the equation that plus 3 actually equals minus 7.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Do as I say – not

Recorded and knit together by WSM

My Mother had a saying when I was a teenager.

“It’s not do as I do, it is do as I say.” She used the phrase frequently whih only helped to reinforce the knowledge I was learning at boarding school, that not all adults were to be trusted. It was a common enough phrase for those times.

This weekend our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, must have pondered this thought, actually for a full two hours and twenty minutes before – reluctantly – agreeing that he and his chancellor Rishi Sunak would self-isolate after coming into contact with their new Health Minister Sajid Javid now infected with Corona virus. Using the track and trace app that has been causing havoc up and down the country Javid then pinged his contacts, Johnson and Sunak, who must have been irked, ‘darn Javid, not playing by our rules but the rules we set out for the rest of the population.’ But the stakes of ducking this moment were too high and so, Johnson put out a tweeted video, tie knotted, hair as usual, after Sunak – always keeping his political plate clean – had previously tweeted: “I’ll be self-isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.” And what pilot is that anyone who was listening to Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning politics show – asked? The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick one of those smooth on the surface, soft as custard on the inside, conservative MPs, tried to explain: ‘it was an idea, looking into who, for the moment, would not need to self isolate’. Within an hour of the program ending several transport unions all issued  statements that the claims made by and for government on Sunday morning that such a scheme existed were “totally untrue”. The shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, said: “The reality is, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been caught red-handed trying to get round the rules they expect everyone else to follow. They must now apologise for their contempt for the British public and for needlessly dragging hard-working transport workers into their farcical cover-up.” Well good luck with that idea.

It is back to barracks for them all. Boris has retired to the Prime Minister’s country estate, Chequers, where he can roam in reasonable isolation over the 1500 acres of grounds

Chequers from the air. Getty Images

Monday was ‘Freedom day’ and COVID restrictions were eased with bars, night clubs and restaurants opening with no need for face coverings and social distancing and yet – most of us, even those who don’t go to bars, night clubs and discos will continue to wear face coverings, as the cases of COVID infections in England rise exponentially. No other country has taken such a risk and much of the world is watching. The National Health Service has issued its own guidance, face coverings and social distancing will still be required in all medical facilities.

Right on cue, Dominic Cummings (remember him?) has given a lengthy interview with the BBC’s political Correspondent Laura Kuenssberg, which is being broadcast, piecemeal, each evening. Like him or loathe him, Cummings is a strange duck whose beak is sharp and his quack persistent as he speaks his truth, which, the following morning, a Downing Street spokesperson naturally denied. 

With all this home-grown scandal and confusion, we but glance at the world around us. Afghanistan, Myanmar, Belarus, Africa, India and Cuba all left to fend for themselves as summer lassitude overtakes world governments with their own crisis of weather, pandemics and fear.

The flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, the storms and fires in the Western States of the U.S. all tell us that the Earth is tipping on its axis. The moon’s monthly cycle happens every 18.6 years, when it wobbles into a slightly different orbit. The moon appears upset and due to have a heightened wobble with anxiety at the extent of our excesses and global warming. Sometimes the high tides are lower than normal and sometimes they are higher, something that those of us who live by the sea have seen over the years but maybe didn’t put down to the Moon, and her monthlies. The destruction and the mud seen in Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands is sobering. Houses and towns that have stood for centuries are gone. Close to 200 people are known to have died in Germany alone but there are still many, hundreds even who are missing.

Flooding in Luxembourg July 2021 by Tristan Schmurr

Quietly the British troops, along with the Americans, are leaving Afghanistan and the Afghan army to defend Kabul which may fall to the Taliban within months. The collapse, implosion, of the Afghan strategic forces has been faster than anyone anticipated and must leave the retreating troops with a sense of failure and even guilt at any number of poor decisions, even that of being in Afghanistan in the first place.

Now Britian has had its ‘grand opening’ and the Prime Minister and Chancellor have to stay at home, so hurriedly laws need to be changed – once more. But all is quiet in the village and everyone queuing for the post office counter is wearing a mask.

A woman is taking out her weekly bag of garbage. The bin men will come tomorrow. She is always dour, struggling with this small chore that one day will become too much for her. It is hot outside, hopefully her flat has a fan or a window open to the shade of the day. When she thinks nobody is watching she drops her garbage in someone else’s bin and is about to return home. But she is stopped by the scent from the lavender bed. She reaches out her hand, running it through the flower stalks before plucking a couple to hold, and bring to her nose. Inhaling the perfume her face breaks into a cautious smile before she hurries back home to her own loneliness.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Over to you then…

Recorded and knit together by WSM

England has been so wrapped up in the summer sports season it hardly registers what is happening in the outer world. 

Prime Minister Johnson losing control.

And lest he forget, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is, later this week, to announce the relaxation of COVID restrictions, but – only sort of. For, a little like Pontius Pilate, he is stuck in a situation he never dreamed of, a reality he has no control over. Some of his government ministers are focused on the country’s economy, others are listening to the physicians and scientists – their concerns for the whole country’s health. With the number of cases estimated to be doubling every nine days, infections are set to surpass the winter peak and may reach over 100,000 per week before the end of this month. Hospitals are again canceling most operations, including cancer surgery. The backlog of health care needed for, and by, the National Health Service is, like yesterday’s flash flood, clogging the drains of health care. We no longer hear of any reference of the R number, it is drowned too. The unspoken drift of government policy is back to some version of herd immunity, in which many will get sick and the vulnerable will die.

So after some deliberation, not too much mind you, it is well known that decisions are difficult for this dithering Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is set to do what many hospital consultants do on a Friday, sending patients home from the hospital, in this case the public, and deprived of any government policy they need to fend for themselves. A quick phone call from the doctor, or a government briefing shunts the responsibility away, “I’ll leave it with you then.” Social distancing measures are to end, and fully vaccinated people will be allowed to travel to and from amber listed countries, without isolation on return. But Johnson also advises, ‘Be careful, do not throw away your masks – just yet.’ The onus of responsibility is now ‘over to you,’ that is us. But as we have sadly seen demonstrated this weekend, the onus of responsibility for self and community care is a mantle tossed aside by many of England’s populace. 

It is still sport – first. The tennis which hardly counted, as England long ago lost any contenders, was won by the supreme athlete and gentleman he is, Serbian Novak Djokovic. But on Sunday night the European football finals between England and Italy took place at London’s Wembley stadium. And Italy won. England are not good losers and though mistakes may have, must have, been made, being a sore loser is not something to be proud of. As Matt Pearson wrote from Wembley, “England’s fans clapped their players as they headed for the exits. That sense of a new bond being formed remained, despite a deserved win for Italy. But unfortunately it is not yet powerful enough to wash away the scourge of the violent English football fan. Seeing your team losing a final is tough. No team deserves ‘fans’ like this. Especially not this England team.” The violent football fan is a breed of Englishness that leaves so many of us ashamed.

Marcus Rashford was one of 3 English players to miss their penalty shootout.

It seems to be a week of Island news from England, Japan, Haiti, and Cuba. The financial focus has narrowed for Japan, due to host the 2021 Olympic Games within weeks, and many athletes dubious about travel, even for glory, and wondering what is the point of traveling to a tiny Island rife with COVID infections and serious curfews already in place. Only in Japan would spectators be instructed to ‘Clap quietly and not to shout’. Such a voice would have been drowned in Wembley on Sunday night. Japan is doing what it can to recuperate its tremendous financial outlay but the outcome may be grim both financially and for the infection rate. 

Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse

Last week, in his home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated and his wife seriously injured. The country’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, first broke the news on a local radio station, later saying, that the country was in a state of emergency – well it would be wouldn’t it – and then – maybe – under control. Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian doctor with ties to Florida was arrested in Haiti, and accused of being one of the leaders behind the assassination. Some reports say he recently entered Haiti on a private plane ‘with the intention of taking the Haitian presidency’. According to the National Police he was the first person the attackers called after President Moïse was killed. Sanon is the third person with US ties to be arrested in connection with last week’s assassination. James Solages, and Joseph G. Vincent, both from South Florida, have been in custody since they turned themselves in. The middle-of-the-night murder plunged the troubled Caribbean nation into chaos, with at least three men now claiming to be its leader. President Joe Biden sent a delegation of US officials to Haiti on Sunday to help with security and aid in the investigation. 

And now beloved Cuba maybe cracking. With mobile phones and the internet the island’s people are well-connected and news spreads quickly. Demonstrations from San Antonio de los Baños in the west and Palma Soriano in the east brought thousands of protesters into the capital city of Havana. Despite the development of their own vaccine program the triple hand of the COVID pandemic, its domino effect on the country’s health care, and the continuing American trade embargoes have brought food shortages with high prices and now the broad open hand of communist rule is bending at the wrist with the weight of its people’s suffering.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com