Storms Here and There

Recorded by WSM KNit together by MAM

Storms Here and There.

The big storms in California and the Pacific North West have moved on and the cold snaps – also considered a weather abnormality – that settled in England and Europe are melting as they subside.

Along the roads around the lagoon and in our hamlets that we travel, the eucalyptus trees fell with a post-coital groan before crashing into the receptive embrace of the ground below. It is no ‘little death’ but a dance of death as the trees pull the soil and hillsides down, exposing their mud-bound roots. Cypress and Fir gave way also, only the native Redwood groves stood tall and strong. The sign for us all that something is – and will – change. 

This weekend, as we drove from North to South on route 101, along the California Coast and then inland, the rivers were only just subsiding, exposing more shifted mud and broken tree limbs trapping the shredded blue tarpaulins of destroyed tent hamlets. My headlights caught a mud-covered man struggling to lift a rusted-out old Radio Flyer red wagon across the freeway barrier. The next day, we passed fields of black plastic-covered strawberries and seedlings, glistening in the breeze and morning sunlight. Then it was on to the freeways of Southern California, to be caught in miles of car traffic, moving too fast and too far to heal the earth. We are the cause of this catastrophe.

Tucked away – as we were – in a musician’s cave carved out of the hillsides of Malibu, I reached for a huge tome of Beatles memorabilia and look back at the time when Paul, George, Ringo, and John were young and – at times – not afraid of taking the mick of the police amidst the crush of teenage fans where everyone was smiling and enjoying the madness of it all. Those were the days when young policemen could be found waiting at rural train stations to greet the last train home, checking to see if any inebriated gentlemen – not sure of where their car was in the parking lot – were sober enough to drive home. More than once, one of those policemen would be at the station exit and, pushing his bicycle alongside of us, walk me home. Maybe he was older than me but not much. He never asked for anything in return for his gentlemanly service. The bus drivers in the town where we trained were a little different – but a smile, a wave, maybe even a light peck on the cheek would be enough to have them drive on with a happy chuckle. 

Now, amidst the cold in England, another chill has descended. One that this UK government is unwilling and unable to address. For generations – with few interruptions – our Prime Ministers have come from the elitist of schools in England: Eton, Harrow, and Winchester. ‘On Forsyte Change’ written in 1930, coming up for 100 years ago, Galsworthy noted these three schools in his vignette ‘A Sad Affair’ which took place in 1866. England’s recent two Prime ministers, David Cameron and Boris Johnson were from Eton. Rishi Sunak is from Winchester.

Jonathan Freedland writing for the Guardian strongly urges that the whole Metropolitan police force be disbanded and reassembled.  There is some cross-party support for this as the current Conservative government is clearly chasing its tail. From the Steven Lawrence murder and debortle of a corrupt investigation in 1993, only tokens within the police force, in attitude or behavior, have changed in thirty years. This year’s uproar is of Officer David Carrick who pursued at least 12 women with rape and sexual assault. He was reported at least eight times, by whoever was brave enough, and has so far kept his uniform, his badge, and his gun, and the Met Office did the only thing they could, in 2009 they promoted him to a special armed unit. Films have been made by the dozen of American cops, notable is Crash written and directed by Paul Haggis in 2004. Efforts have been made to depict plentiful corruption in the English Police force but they still do not dent the iron-clad door of the Met Office.

As the flurry of this last scandal broke, a government minister – whose name is not worth looking up – suggested that if anyone feels intimidated by a police officer they should ‘Wave down a bus’. It is clear that this government, like those before it, are as afraid of the police as are the general public. It is not surprising that this week a crate of 1071 rotten bad apples was left outside of New Scotland Yard in London, enough to ruin every batch of hard cider coming out of Somerset.

1071 plastic rotten apples for New Scotland Yard.

The New Met Chief, Mark Rowley, has more than one crate of officers to throw out on some compost heap where maybe they can rot into new earth. Rowley looks almost old enough to have walked a young nurse home from the train station. Maybe he can be the honest cop the whole country needs. But he is one man and the Met Police Force is made up of thousands, some police perpetrators, some intimidated officers, often women and officers of colour, rookies of every kind. 

The targeting of women, men and women of colour, is getting worse and it is hard for women, mothers, teachers, nurses, even policewomen, and women in government. It is a sad moment but no surprise to read of Jacinda Ardern announcing her resignation as Prime Minister of New Zealand. She did what she could, when she could, and now will be home for her daughter.           

Jacinda Ardern announcing her resignation in
Napier, New Zealand yesterday. Photograph: Kerry Marshall/Getty Images

January is also the month of marmalade making for English housewives at home and sometimes abroad. Winnie Carter knew it, and Ben Aiken wrote about it.  But here is a switch. Here on the coast in California, I’ve made my marmalade from our own oranges and lemons. This is something different and delicious. 

This has been A Letter from A. Broad

written and read for you by Muriel Murch

Year’s End

Recorded by WSM Knit together by MAM
From Thanksgiving to Twelfth Night the farm is lit with forty plus year old lights. Wecloming you home and into the New Year. Photo by WSM.

Year’s end.
November rolled like storm-tossed tumbleweed into December and the nights slid earlier into darkness each evening. Now December is ending and even through the storms covering America the light is beginning to return.
It was already night-time when we landed back from Poland and the Heathrow train stopped at Paddington. The station was closing down for those midnight to five a.m hours. Only the Sainsbury Local stayed lit for the late-night travelers and I dipped in to pick up the milk and bread to be turned to tea and toast in the morning. Outside the vast hollow waiting area which feeds onto the platforms there was no cute, lost Paddington Bear with a suitcase, instead there were a dozen or more old men settling in on the benches – separately – but close enough that each could watch out for another as they came in off of their street-corners to a place of warmth. A plastic shopping bag or a shopping cart contained their travel baggage. I wonder what it is that remains precious to these homeless gentlemen. They each had a blanket that they wrapped around their legs and even their shoulders, if it was big enough. There must be regulars who show up at Paddington, Victoria and Waterloo train stations each night – until they don’t. Do the staff who clean and monitor the stations sweep round the huddled bodies and shopping carts. Is ‘keeping yourself tidy’ a prerequisite to keeping your patch and even bench? What time do you have to ‘move along’ and face the world in the morning? There is a rhythm to this unseen pedalling-in-place, train stations hold these men who watch leavings and loneliness travel alongside of expectation and desire.

Paddington at Paddington

In November Mehram Nasseri died. Nasseri had lived on a bench at the Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years and was the inspiration of Steven Spielberg’s film ‘The Terminal.’ Stranded and stateless he perhaps brought a focus to the question of what or where is home. He found a community, and a sense of belonging.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri, or ‘Sir Alfred’, on his home bench at Charles de Gaulle airport. Photograph: Eric Fougere/Corbis/Getty Images

Under Rishi Sunak, the Conservative Government continues with its agenda – to avoid paying Universal European taxes – thank goodness for Brexit – but with no taxes paid by those who could – there is less in the coffers for The National Health Service, the state schools and other community-run organizations. It is now becoming obvious, though it was before if we looked, that the goal is to cripple and disband the NHS, take it away from those who need it most – and the best way to do that is to lock the pay scale of the workers. When I graduated in 1963, satirist Michael Frayn wrote in the Guardian Newspaper: he was looking at reports on wages on what they called ‘the devotional fields’, then primarily nurses. Saying the general principle was to hold the wages as low as possible to keep out ‘undesirable elements wanting to make a fast buck.’ Well they certainly did that, kept the wages as low as possible. Nursing is a devotional field and the wages remain among the lowest of professional workers to this day. On graduation we were encouraged to join the Royal College of Nursing and almost everybody did. But in my youthful idealism I couldn’t ever envision following an order – to go on strike. Now, for the first time nurses are being called on to do that. But they won’t. Instead the ambulance drivers and paramedics will be at the forefront of this battle with the government, and once again the government will win, grudgingly giving out pennies rather than pounds. Nurses will continue to use food banks and be at the mercy of the transport unions who can strike and get the money they are asking for. The Army will get to practice some drills while substituting for the paramedics. And people will die because of it.
From one family to another, we came back home – unsure where that is. We are old nomads – and with a little more infirmity we would be outcasts from the herd but for the moment we are lucky and received by our families wherever we land.
And we landed at the bar in town. With the nudge of a full bladder at 6.30 in the morning we bundled up, and scraping the frosty car windows, to drive downtown and to Smiley’s to watch the World Cup soccer final. The bar was open at 7 in the morning serving its customers what they wanted – a big screen and sports special. And free maté – with honey. It was as fun watching us as it was watching the football, two teams at the very top of their game, with grace, skill and respect as more than once a player in azure blue and white helped another in navy to his feet after a fast clash.
From Sunday to Sunday, turning from the big screen at Smiley’s to the computer screen in the Hayloft and finding the King at Windsor Castle. From here it felt like opening an old blue aerogram letter, with news of home and I watched as keenly as any other ex-pat around the world. There was a light snow on the grounds of Windsor Castle and young girls in the soprano Choristers at the Christmas Carol service in St. Georges Chapel.

The King spoke with no photographs around him to point emotion one way or another. His notes were handy to glance at, maybe showing that the teleprompter was not for him. He spoke in empathy for those families who have lost loved ones this year, of the importance of her faith for his mother – our late Queen, and for him too, and of all faiths. He gave thanks to the hundreds of people who help those in need through the hardships of these times, and very carefully showed those of his family who, by their presence, gratitude and acknowledgment of the work of others, help to sustain us all.


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




November Light

Written and produced by Muriel Murch. Recorded by Walter Murch

November has closed in and daylight already slips away before tea time leading into the long evenings. For amusement, we watched our new prime minister and cabinet ministers dance a Scottish highland eight-some reel as partners were swung about, changed, and reunited as fast as the fiddler could play. But a Prince who has become the King rehearsed more than dancing in his beloved Scotland. When the past Prime Minister, Liz Truss ‘recommended’ that the King not go to the COP 27 Climate summit in Egypt he bowed to her will and – as the dance partners changed once more, the New Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, appeared too busy to go. So King Charles drew up an invitation to a reception, more commonly known as a ‘drinks party’ for world leaders to drop in at Buckingham Palace on their way to Egypt where our new prime minister would address them, before packing his bags, and joining the caravan to Egypt. It was a masterstroke of Diplomacy. It might have helped if Rishi did not look like a happy puppy seeing his master come home, but he showed that – at least on the face of it – his government has one eye on climate change. Rishi did not stay long and the conference ended late, finally promising some financial help to those countries worst hit by climate change. This is not enough and there was no real resolution on curbing Co2 emissions. We remain in danger.

King Charles greats Prime Minister Sunak

Struggling to remain relevant, Sir Keir Starmer announced that if he became Prime Minister he would abolish the House of Lords to ‘restore trust in politics’. With so many Tory ministers in the House of Commons having a spot of bother with the press, this may not be that effective. And he may be too late as Peers from the House of Lords have joined members of the House of Commons all hedging their bets. In 2016 only 47 MPs held an Irish passport. By the end of 2022, there are 321 of them. Our ruling class seems to be keen to remain in Europe. 

We watched the American Mid-term elections with trepidation and the physical attack on Paul Pelosi at home in San Francisco holds only two degrees of separation for us. But Mark Kelly won in Arizona and what we feared would become a miscarriage turned into – as one young friend called it – a little mid-monthly-term spotting. But as we see money amassed to be traded for power and the children who hold it become so willful and petulant, it is a warning that this American child called Democracy is as fragile as in any other country.

Mid-November saw us in Poland where Walter gave the first outing of his presentation on the Golden Ratio in the Cinematic Frame to an international conference of Cinematographers. And they took it well. Toruñ is an old city, a two-and-a-half-hour drive North-west from Warsaw and only a hundred miles from the borders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. I was sobered at them all breathing the same cold air as Poland. The Polish men, young and middle-aged, are stoic and handsome – not yet fat with excess – they look as if they could be artists or soldiers – preparing for another war.  

The first afternoon I left the hotel for a mid-afternoon stroll and at 2 p.m. the grey day was already receding. Walking along the towpath by the River Vistula, little white pieces of flotsam kept pace with me, bobbing in and out of the whirlpool eddies. The river is fat, wide, and brown as if grumbling from the mud below. The bridges that span across it are sturdy and utilitarian. There has been no money to spend on beauty. Under the bridge, back up into a small park, rests an old war-lookout bunker with its slotted windows. There is graffiti on the bricks and a homeless man had parked his belongings beside it in the long grass.

Copernicus’ house in Poland

The final morning was free and we set out walking to Copernicus’ house – as one does – which is now a museum to the study of the stars, mathematics, and medieval life complete with a hand spindle for spinning wool. Along the small cobbled street, we were approached by a young mother and her not-yet-teenage daughter. With her broken English, she showed us the map on her cellphone written in Ukrainian. She was anxious, and lost, not wanting to be late for a job interview. She is a refugee here as the old enemies of Poland and Ukraine unite, sharing the same fears and foes – of Russia. After touring Copernicus’s medieval mathematics we came back onto the cobblestone street and drifted over to the beautiful, small chocolate shop. An old van was parked outside with its doors propped open. Tree branches, wire, and tools were strewn on the pavement as two well-wrapped-up gentlemen began to dress the shop window for Christmas and winter. The shop owner was holding their ladder steady, and, no doubt sharing her directions. On such a dark afternoon this promise of light, which will stay until spring, is comforting.

The train traveled fast through the French Countryside and for Thanksgiving, we go home to where the heart is joining our daughter’s young family in Utrecht. Though we were concerned as that day Argentina had lost to Saudi Arabia 2 to 1 in the World Soccer Tournament being played in Qatar. But a world goal was scored by the team from Iran, everybody’s favorite football to kick around. Iran lost to England 6 to 2 that night but won in respect as they stood silently in solidarity with their country’s women while their national anthem was played. Knowing what could await them and what already might be happening with their families, no one can doubt the raw courage of these young players asking for a freer more democratic country. It is early days yet in the month-long tournament and who knows how far that ball will be kicked down the field. 

Our last afternoon in Utrecht we all walked to the Magic Circus pitched up in the park beside the school. In the late afternoon, we queued outside the small striped tent and single mobile kiosk selling popcorn. The rough benches inside were arranged in a semicircle and it looked like there had been a new expenditure on fifty black plastic chairs. For two hours seven performers from Europe and Argentina, doubled up as spinners of candy floss and flippers of dutch pancakes in the intermission, brought magic to the families in this international city and we carried our smiles with us as we walked home in the dark. Our last evening – hamburgers for supper and then Argentina played Mexico in a game as football should be played. Argentina won 2 – 0.  

Our son-in-law Santi on stage with and then carried off by the Argentine circus performer
Cotton candy tastes just the same ‘says Granny’ and doesn’t stand a chance with this kid.

This has been A Letter From A. Broad. Written and Read for you by Muriel Murch. 

The Marmalade Diaries The True Story of an Odd Couple by Ben Aitken

We met at the Community Library where we both volunteer as best as we can. He, Ben Aitken, is holding a book In the Blink of an Eye and I am weeding the roses. “Is this your husband?” he asks. “Yes.” I reply. And then he says something else and we chat. It is great to have young people volunteering at the community library. A few days later there is a joint book reading at the library and I go along. Ben discusses and reads from The Marmalade Diaries and Freya Sampson does the same with her book The Last Library. Both authors are well-spoken and while their books touch on many themes, community – in one form or another – is a constant. Later in the summer, the community (there is that word again) library hosts a barbeque party for the volunteers. A little wine is drunk, some sausage rolls and sweets are eaten and I ask Ben if he would talk to me about his book, The Marmalade Diaries for KWMR.org our community radio station in Point Reyes California, and he agreed.

After her husband of 60 years had died, 85-year-old Winnie Carter needed a lodger to live with her at home. Ben became that lodger. And then came Covid and the lockdown. The conversation explores how those Covid Lockdown months impacted all of us, especially the old, those alone, and families. And what Ben learned along the way. How did Covid change us and how did our lives change doing those long months?

Ben Aitken in conversation with Muriel Murch

Dear oh Dear

Recorded by WSM edited by MAM
King Charles III greets Prime Minister Sunak

“Dear, oh dear” muttered the new King, Charles III, as he greeted Liz Truss at Buckingham Palace only two weeks ago. The double doors were swung open by a liveried equerry announcing “Prime Minister – Your Majesty”. Ms. Truss bobbed forward to shake hands with the King, and said, ”Your Majesty, great to see you again,” the King smiled as he replied “Back again?” – “Well come along then,” he may have continued – but we missed that bit as, like a patient headmaster, he led the not quite settled in new Prime Minister into another room. Last week – as I began to unpack in Rome – she was back. “Oh dear oh dear.” The King may have said – again.

So Liz Truss was out, holding the seat warm for whoever wanted her place. There were only three takers for the open seating plan at Number Ten Downing Street, and they were not sitting in the stalls. Boris Johnson immediately flew back from his holiday in the Caribbean – reportedly booed as he got on the plane. Rishi Sunak got busy on his phone, emails, or in the tea rooms. Only Penny Mordaunt was seen in the halls of Westminster, looking strong, sensible, and even a little tough. She made me wonder what a woman like her could do if the men in Parliament really backed her. But these men are not the backing kind. 

The country was in an uproar as the disaster of Truss’s short-stay-to-let was seen but not averted. Clusters of shoppers were shown tut-tutting at the country markets – always the prettiest picture – as parliamentary plotting – all perfectly legal – continued. A candidate had to have at least 100 Conservative votes to make the ballot for the role of Prime Minister and by the deadline of 2 p.m. on Monday Rishi had 182. Penny conceded at 1.58 p.m. Boris, like a cornered bear, threw in his towel, and lumbered away on Sunday night, declaring ‘this is not the right time’. Let us hope history is remembered and it never becomes his right time again. Sunak was educated at Winchester College, not Eton, and like Avis, it can be hoped that he will ‘try harder’. 

The autumn temperature drops day by day and the leaves fall from the London trees only just faster than the Conservative cabinet ministers gathering their pens and papers as they scuttle out of their seats.

In our corner of London the cool morning air smells of sweet ripe apples, from a box of them set out by a neighbor when she returns from her country retreat. I make apple sauce that is as perfect as Bramley apples give before we go to Europe: first to Utrecht with family and an end-of-summer outdoor birthday party, then onto Paris to be with friends. Paris sparkles with the first crispness of autumn sunlight and delight, the streets and buildings shine as they brush off the stale air of summer and the lingerings of Covid. People are cautious and sensible as they move through the streets, mindful of the effects of the Ukrainian war on fuel supplies and costs. The city seems hopeful, bordering on contentment. A restaurant owner brings out a jar of truffles he has just acquired and we laugh in happy expectation of his fine omelets. We are here in the autumn of our lives, cherishing it, for we know our winter is near.

Fresh Truffles in Paris

And then it is onto Rome for their Film Festival, showing William Kentridge’s ‘Self Portrait as a Coffee Pot’. We are driven from the airport through the back streets into bulging traffic leading to the Tiber River and the city beyond looking weary, beaten down by the effects of the Covid pandemic. A bad garbage strike after the summer’s heat has left the big street bins battered and tainted with pigeon residue. Finally, we reach The Eden Hotel and from our terraced window we look down on a Rome that doesn’t seem so bruised. Lying in the marble bath at dusk I watch the bats wake up and zoom out from under the tile roof just above me to the park below.

Old and new friends in Roma; Noah, Linda, Aggie, Franca, Walter, Conrad, Laura

It takes a day – and we only had two – to breathe in the air of this city which I had come to terms with 24 years ago when I joined Walter on location. On our last evening, walking with friends after dinner we passed by an alleyway I remembered. Then, in a store window, three or four prepubescent girls sat cross-legged under a single light bulb. Old Persian rugs hung behind the girls, and their heads were bent low over their hands which were busy, stitching, weaving threads through old worn carpets. 

The day we leave, our driver is a woman and I am grateful to see this small step forward for equality in Rome. The road she took out of the city twists and turns and we crossed the river three times. The small riverside shrubs of 24 years ago have grown to trees but still the Tiber moves fast. They say a body tossed into the river is never found.  As we left the ancients – looking worn in the grey light – we drove up through the graffiti-clad outskirts of the city. The colors were dusty as they lay scrawled over the lower apartments of these almost middle-class neighborhoods, pulling them down as if in anger that the slums cannot rise but only spread. 

The flight to London was full and it was not until we landed and were ready to go through UK passport control that I stopped to use the facilities. There was a poster on the stall door; a young man’s face peering out from a confusion – of a woman’s hand, a car window, and lights, with the words ’Can you see me?’ ‘Slavery Still Exists’. On the way home, amidst catching the stealth movements of our politicians, I thought of those young girls sitting in the shop window and wondered what became of them in the ancient world that is Rome. 

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

The Queen

Recorded by WSM Written, read and knit together by MAM
Waiting for the next Prime Minister photo by Jane Barlow

It has barely been three weeks since September 6th, when a rumpled Prime Minister Johnson arrived at the Balmoral Castle gates to hand in his card at 11 a.m. In quick succession, he was followed by the tight-skirted Truss. It was a long morning for our Queen, and for those watching with concern – seeing the Queen holding onto a stick with one hand while smiling and extending the other used and bruised hand, to Liz Truss. The Queen’s head looking large on her diminished frame, her nose pinched – straining for air – while no amount of lipstick covered the cyanosis of her lips. Tuesday was a brave day. Barely 48 hours later the Queen died as she had lived, in service to her nation. The heavens opened, pouring down their tears and we are still grieving.

Accompanied by The Princess Royal and her husband Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Queen’s coffin slowly made its way south to London to lie in state at Westminster Hall where over two hundred and fifty thousand people from all walks of life filed past to pay their respects and say ‘Thank you Ma’am for your service’. Did she cover all the bases? One could, if one chose, fault her for some family issues, but not on duty to her country as she saw it; honoring and hosting state and national moments or those small engagements around the country. The late Queen Mary was paraphrased as saying ‘We are the Royal Family and we love Infrastructure.’ We all feel a little stronger and stand a little straighter, when someone else shows interest and gratitude for what we do.

Her Majesty The Queen opens Parliament 2017 wearing – a hat –

The Saturday after the Queen’s death I wove my way behind Piccadilly through the lines of police vans parked all around St. James’ Square, then down the stairs behind that Palace to enter The Mall that felt like the nave of a giant cathedral. There was a quietness in this crowd, many carrying flowers and leading children, that was to last for days all across the country. People walked along the pavements to Buckingham Palace, sometimes with a pause as King Charles III and the Queen Consort were driven in and out of those palaces, Buckingham and St. James’. They were back and forth all afternoon and one hoped that they got at least 15 minutes for a sit-down cup of tea. The Autumn skies tossed grey and white clouds over the park trees, but the rain stayed hidden behind them.

What does it mean for a young girl to take a vow to follow a life that was chosen for her rather than she chose? It happens in all walks of life, people are lucky if they get to live their dreams. It takes an effort and strong will to turn your given path into your chosen one. The Queen embraced her role until she could relish it and turn it to her desiring. 

There are fewer of us alive now who remember Queen Elizabeth’s coronation than who will remember her death and funeral. John Galsworthy wrote in the Forsythe Saga at the death of Queen Victoria. “We shan’t see the like of her again”. But now we have this Elizabeth was our Queen for 70 years. Even in death, the Queen managed something that the government could not – as the Transport Unions and the Royal Mail held off their strikes until next month. 

At the announcement of the Queen’s death, all the television stations began airing their programs that they had been building for this moment. Planning for the Queen’s funeral had begun when she turned 79. All the news Broadcasters wore black. Huw Edwards, the senior news anchor man at the BBC – and he a Welshman – allowed himself to show some emotion. Those who wished to see the films, the footage, forever repeated could do so. It was like a huge family album of our family, our Queen, for as she vowed to give her life, be it long or short, to our service, she did – and we claimed her and the family as our own, rejoicing in the good times and fussing at the bad. The television stations played ten full days of coverage, back and forth with all the joys and the horrors replayed over and over again, probing into a life lived in the spotlight of her public, her people. The new King’s state and public greetings and meetings were followed in flashy detail. The pageantry and processions built like gentle love-making to the climax as the coffin was carried from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. Giving his address from the pulpit of the Abbey – Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury – looked down across the nave at the congregation seated below. He spoke of our collective grief, the Queen’s abiding Christian faith, and service to duty, and then let out his zinger: “People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer.” 

The service over, it was on to Wellington Arch where the coffin was transferred to the royal Hearse then driven slowly on through Hyde Park to join the A 30 road to Windsor. Just as she had begun her journey from Balmoral through the countryside of Scotland now she returned to the farms and lanes of Berkshire.

The Queen’s Corgi Dogs return from Balmoral Castle

The flags at all the royal residences flew at half-mast until the day after the State Funeral when the official period of public mourning ended. The Royal family and some of us will continue as long as we need.

In our little London garden is a David Austin Queen Elizabeth rose – still blooming in autumn. My mother bought it after my father died when she had to start a new life in her new home. Now it is with us. The same rose was among the flowers on the Queen’s coffin – in remembrance of things past but not forgotten.

Queen Elizabeth Rose by David Austin.

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

Tripping About the Countryside

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

They took to the stage on all three major television channels; the BBC, ITV, and Sky. Rishi Sunak trots eagerly up to the podium in his Gucci loafers, though sometimes jacket-less, unsuccessfully portraying a working man. Liz Truss walks carefully in her heels with a smug smile and discreet earrings – one day saying one thing and the next day saying another. She is changing statements, but maybe not her mind which appears to be missing in action at the moment. These are the Conservative leadership rivals to be the next Prime Minister clashing on how they will address: high inflation, the rising cost of living, gas prices, Ukraine’s war with Russia, while sidestepping how both of them are looking to kill the National Health Service. But then the broadcasts stop, the candidates and their lies are just too transparent and boring. Now each gets a news moment as Liz changes her earrings to gold stirrups visiting a farm, and Rishi puts his jacket back on to speak at the Royal St. George’s Golf Club.

Those rural earrings

Like the story of the frog in the hot-tub, the National Health Service is coming to a slow boil. The news has me hold my head with the charts of the numbers of medical staff, doctors, and nurses that have left the Health Service. There are two main reasons for this. Since Brexit, European nurses and doctors are better off regarding pay, hours, and family situations returning home. English-trained nurses and doctors are fleeing abroad to countries that pay more. England is reaching out to poorer countries and importing staff from those that pay even less than England. This migration has gone on since we English, Irish and European nurses flew to America, Canada, and Australia for better living and pay. But nobody talks about Brexit being the cause for this new low, the ridiculous staff-patient ratios, and the non-pay of nurses and doctors. The government counts on the moral inability of nurses and doctors to abandon their patients, and laugh all the way to the locked coffers.

The sky is cloudy and dull, pouting at being left behind in grey England while these two politicians vie for the Conservative leadership. The chambers of the House of Commons sit empty as ministers flee the city, following the example of their old boss Boris Johnson, who took his family off to Greece for the holiday month of August. 

There is no rain. The streets are sticky with the detritus of human and animal food ingested and eliminated. Leaves are falling from trees a month ahead of Autumn. They are dry, crisp, and crackle when kicked about on the pavements. There are no conkers on the chestnut trees in the park and those not-so-old trees are dying.

The second heat wave was well underway, and the scheduled train strikes still a day off when I traveled from Waterloo to Hampshire. The South West trains are all new and all air-conditioned which bought a welcome relief from the rising heat. I am meeting three old friends for lunch at the North Hants Golf Club. The youngest of us is only 75 years old. The tables and umbrellas are set out on the veranda overlooking the first and last holes of the course. Though it is hot we can safely gather in the shade. We sort of look great – in our elderly way. We were children together, almost sisters, and though our paths diverged our roots were seeded in the same soil. My friends stayed close to their rootstock and settled deep in rural Hampshire and Wiltshire, each raising champion horses, sheep, and cattle.

Four for Lunch, Sue, Susan, Ann, and Susette

The North Hants Club is well over 100 years old but was still young when we were. Within that world, there is the sweetnesses to be found in any close-knit organization that becomes a family. Jackie has been a part of the kitchen staff for 43 years and we have known each other with mutual respect and admiration through all that time. The kitchen, where deep frying remains a specialty, is stellar and provided us four Caesar salads that were not on the menu along with teasers from their small tapas plates. It was grand to be together and share our autumnal news. We spoke of our lives, of families, and thought of old friends, remembering that though now we are four, we used to be six. The relentlessness of life continuing after another’s death has a bite to it that is hard to define.

Susan getting Settled

Returning to London the train stops at Weybridge and ‘all change’ is called out – to anyone who can understand the voice through the microphone. There are no leaves on the line, these tracks have not buckled from the heat but there is a fault with the train and so we are directed to a local one waiting on a side platform. ‘Change at Staines for the fast train to Waterloo.’ But I don’t. I stay seeing the names Virginia Water, Staines, Barnes, East and West, Putney, and Chiswick before Clapham and Vauxhall. I realize this so slow train travels alongside the western A30 road laid down over the old Roman Road and follows the historic London to Land’s End coaching route – a popular place for highwaymen. William Davies, known as the Golden Farmer and robber of coaches traveled across Bagshot Heath and was hanged in 1689 at a gallows at the local gibbet hill between Bagshot and Camberley. The Jolly Farmer pub built close by was in remembrance of him.

Sculpture to honour the Windrush Generation of Immigration at Waterloo

The train pulled into Waterloo and the platform exit is beside the newly erected statue tribute to The Windrush Generation immigrants who came from Jamaica and the Caribbean to help England after the Second World War. It is a fine statue, showing hopeful and proud parents and their young daughter. She would grow up to become one among us in nursing school, another sister from another time. Tourists from Africa and America proudly stand beside the statue for their photograph moment.

I was not alone in going out today with a cardigan and umbrella though neither was needed. We, and the earth, are crying for rain – or would be if we could cry. All we can do now is sweat, copiously, as we wait for the bus. An Asian gentleman of about my age is also waiting for the number 274. When it arrives he graciously extends an ‘after you’ gesture to let me board before him. We sit on opposite sides of the bus in the reserved for old people seats. The bus driver is not yet exhausted and the bus almost empty. It is August. Hot, dry, there is no school, and whoever can be – is on holiday. I find myself imagining the cold rainy days of autumn, wishing for them, and having a hard time believing the evidence before me that we are seriously damaging our planet. ‘First, do no Harm’ is the Hippocratic oath and here we are committing murder. The bus goes quickly along its route carrying its few passengers. My gentleman friend gets off at Prince Albert Road. He smiles at me and I at him. It is a moment of grateful recognition but I’m not sure what of.

Now there are hosepipe bans imposed by most of the Water districts, whose own leaks are responsible for almost 30 % of water loss around the country. Then quickly news comes of the other leaks, of sewage from more faulty treatment plants into the local rivers and streams, or to the sea for those low-lying coastal areas. It is too much for the cartoonists who show pictures of Boris Johnson, remember him? the still – but on holiday – Prime Minister, entering the sea somewhere in Greece. Sewage flowing outwards but not yet gone.

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

It’s Here Now

A Map of Wildfires across Europe July 2022
It’s Here Now. Written and Read for you by Muriel Murch, Recorded and Knit together by Walter

July 2022

It was here, the heat wave, the amber warning turning to red and the temperatures rose to over 101º. Downstairs in our little cottage the bedroom, study and bathrooms are cool – and we are grateful. Upstairs, in the open-spaced living area the curtains are drawn as in my childhood when the temperature first climbed into the 70s and then, in 1976 to the low-80s. My mother’s curtains were heavy, chintz, and lined, a hold-over from black-out curtains used during the last war, with a thickness for keeping heat in during the winter. As we slide into climate change, heavy curtains  are now used for cooling.

The heat has also brought raised temperatures and tempers of another kind into the UK Parliament. This month the collective Tory MPs  cried out, “Enough,” and called for a vote of No Confidence in Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. With 52 members of the government resigning and MPs of all parties snapping at his heels and shouting “Resign now”  Boris gave a ‘well maybe’ speech – complaining of the herd mentality of those who ousted him as head of the Tory Party and thus soon to be no longer Prime Minister. Sir Kier Starmer called across the chamber, “This maybe the one time when the sinking ship abandoned the rat. Ha, Ha, Ha”. “Ho Ho Ho” replied Boris as he stepped sideways, not actually resigning, never saying those words, and instead of attending the emergency COBRA meeting about the heatwave taking himself off to the Farnborough Air Show to whizz about in a state-of-the-art fighter jet giving a thumb and bum up to us all from his clear skies. 

Through the heatwave, the government told the country to wherever possible  ‘Shut up shop’ and stay at home. Then they took their own advice to heart. Labour’s Lisa Nandy accused Boris Johnson and his ministers of having “clocked off” during the UK’s first red extreme heat warning saying:

“We think the government ought to do a number of things: first is to show up to work”.

But after just days of gossip, resignations by this and that minister with gunpowder plotting, the herd turned, tumbling back and forth along the beach sand as pebbles in a tide change.  It was sobering watching the Commons crowded with members of Parliament from all parties there to listen to Johnson’s last speech. The herd, for one more moment his herd, gathered around, cheering and giving him that standing ovation he does not deserve. Only Teresa May, the past Prime Minister that Boris threw under the bus, sat while the others stood. She paid attention, listening to his farewell, shaking her head at the lies that were spoken and the truths that remain hidden. “Hasta La Vista – See you Later – Baby” were his parting words. Like Donald Trump he doesn’t believe his reign is over, and, like Donald Trump we can be sure he is plotting his return. 

In the British Isles, which may no longer be plural before I die, the Platinum Jubilee celebrated for our Queen’s 70 years of service are over. The Queen has retired to Windsor Castle, keeping a low profile as befits a 96-year-old Monarch still in service. Younger Princes, Dukes and Earls gather round and fill in – as families do. 

Charles and Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, began their three-day visit to the west country, in the seaside town of Mousehole. Here HRH. still in a light grey, silk two-piece suit, took a moment to mop his brow before speaking, ‘As I have been saying for quite some time now,’ about Climate Change.  While the temperature has finally dropped into the low 80s in England, the fires continue to blaze across Europe. The firefighters in France and Spain are battling fires equal to those that spread through California in 2018. They are all brave, strong and fueled by the adrenaline that such danger brings. This week the BBC aired a damming documentary about the US and Climate change over the last thirty years. Al Gore and climate scientist spoke, all basically saying ‘we missed our window.’ Even the nay-sayers agreed, blaming mis-information for their more than misplaced decisions.

Meanwhile the Hedgehog Society is reminding people not to forget another neighbour who might be suffering in the heat. A tweet warns that our spiky friends are dying of dehydration, and has suggested people place shallow bowls of water for wildlife in their gardens – with a reminder to pop in a few pebbles to make sure insects that fall in can escape. You have to love this aspect of Our England.

Summer time and the livin’ is easy, but it is not. It would have been beyond churlish to strike while the population was enjoying a four-day weekend courtesy of Her Majesty. Now strike actions on British Rail and the London Underground are coinciding with the school summer holidays. The many cancelations of the cheap and Easy Jets and British Air flights in and out of Europe are combined with a severe shortage of baggage handling staff, (low-paid Europeans went home after Brexit) and now airport runways are melting with the heat while cars and lorries queue for literally miles at the Dover tunnel, waiting for twelve hours and more to make it through the customs checks.

Coming onto the Dover Road by Garath Fuller

French diplomats, officials and border staff warned last year that delays were inevitable with the post-Brexit border arrangement. New rules require that all passports be checked and stamped. The Port of Dover executives can barely contain their anger that the government turned down a £33m bid to help with upgrades to manage the additional pressures of Brexit. It was given just £33,000, 0.1% of the initial request. The French transport minister, Clément Beaune, is talking with the UKs transport secretary Grant Shapps, which may or may not be helpful, but reminded us that: “France is not responsible for Brexit.

In their appeal to the conservative party members the two remaining candidates for Prime Minister are blaming a shortage of French border staff for these delays. Former chancellor Rishi Sunak said the French “need to stop blaming Brexit and start getting the staff required to match demand”. Foreign secretary Liz Truss said she was in touch with her French counterparts, blaming a “lack of resources at the border”. It is sobering, again, to see so early in this contest these potential Prime Ministers be so ready to lie and blame the French authorities for this chaos. Sunak and Truss are both moving on though, targeting ‘how they would handle illegal immigration’ neither one with compassion, and those darn taxes, to cut now or later ….

It is hard to pull our heads out of the sand to look at Sri Lanka and watch the hearings from the affairs of January 6 in Washington DC and how close America came to that kind of a Coup. 

There is – was – a small win for the United Nations, brokered mostly through Turkey as Russia agreed not to target ships carrying 20 million tons of grain from The Ukraine sailing across the Black Sea to Turkey. This is a huge concession yet already the Ukrainian port of Odesa has been bombed. Russia has said it will not target the grain ships but neither will it disarm the mines that already bob and toss in the dark Black Sea.  

This has been A Letter From A. Broad.

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