Colours of Conscience

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The hedgerows bow down with cowslip’s white lace to welcome us walking along the canal towpath. There is the faint smell of spring in the air which will coax summer into being as the bees find the blossoms of cowslip, hawthorne and elderflower. I am searching for the elderflower but because of the continuing cold weather she is shy to blossom. Not so the dog roses, peeking cheekily along the back pathways surrounding Primrose Hill. I must wait a week, two at the most, for my harvest to make elderflower cordial. In the city and the countryside the seasons are following one after the other, the way the Earth intended.

White spring on the hill

The countryside is one thing but the country is another. On Thursday, looking for renewal or some new life to emerge, the United Kingdom went to the polls for a by-election. This is when the local councils and townships vote for their councilors and mayors, the boots on the ground, who have to balance the ever-decreasing government budget hand-outs with the needs of their constituencies that those in Westminster’s Parliament are too busy to discuss.

The results trickled in over the weekend. Ballot counting was slow –apparently due to Covid – while both paid staff and volunteers worked hard, counting by hand as they always have. There was ‘some problems’ with the London mail-in votes as 30,000 were rejected as not being filled out correctly. I hope mine was not one of them. ‘Things will change,’ said the defeated Conservative Mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey. Maybe.

But Sadiq Khan is back for another four years of hard grind and I am glad to see him. Though past Labour leaders such as Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband have seen and used Khan’s worth, the Conservative team will have little time for a working class Sunni Muslim son of a bus driver from Tooting. Growing up, Khan always worked while at school and university. Taking jobs from builders yards to the Peter Jones Department store in Sloane Square, Khan learnt early how England’s different worlds would treat him. The Westminster Conservatives will not give him an easy ride while he walks and works to his own conscience. On reelection he said, 

“I will always be a mayor for all Londoners, working to improve the lives of every single person in this city…The scars of Brexit have yet to heal. A crude culture war is pushing us further apart.”  

Sadiq Kahn
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan photo by P.A. Wire

Khan’s words are true not just for London but for the United Kingdom which look more frayed than ever before. Wales returned a strong Red rosette Labour party across the board. Scotland with Nicola Sturgeon came back with a daffodil yellow Scottish Independence party win, while England turned blue with the cold of a crushing Conservative paint job.

What happened to Labour that the nice Sir Kier Starmer lost so much ground? Maybe it was similar to Hillary Clinton’s error of not going to the people who were hurting and most afraid. For change is coming – for the English laborer who cares not to toil the fields or work the railroads. Now the work is for new technologies and inventive ways of producing and harnessing clean energy. With their belief that green policies embrace social justice, environmentalism and nonviolence and are inherently related to one another, the Green party is now nipping at the heels of the Big Two.

When Labour’s Andy Burnham was reelected as the mayor of Greater Manchester with a landslide victory, he shone a shining light on the North of England’s place in the country. Promising to adopt a “place-first not a party-first” policy he is, in his own way, echoing Sadiq Khan’s call for London with a reminder that England remains, or has become, more divided than ever before. It is not just North and South, rural and urban, English or British but a sewer-stuck mixture of all of these things in a country closing in on itself. Now more than ever the waters of the channel to Europe and beyond are looking like choppy seas.  

The Queen’s Speech is today. This ceremonial occasion is where the Queen reads out the government’s new policies. As we watch her age with years and life’s burdens, the robes and weight of the office seem to smother her. She sits on her throne, reading words written by her government and on this occasion, like other times before, one holds the secret hope that she will stand and say. “This is not good enough. It is ridiculous, cruel, or incomplete.”  We, the public, naturally have been leaked what is to be said. There is little of merit in the speech. The promise to help the United Kingdom recover from the effects of the Covid Pandemic carry, as Labour politicians point out, no meat or potatoes in those words.  But one item seemly taken from one orange man and used by a yellow one, relates to voting reforms. Britons will have to show Photo IDs to vote in future General elections, and it is combined with a strange item that limits the number of postal votes that can be handed in on behalf of others. Ministers say this will reduce the risk of electoral fraud. While the Electoral Commission is quietly shaking its collective head, for in 2019 there was just one conviction and one police caution for impersonating another voter.

Looking beyond our shores, the fires of distress spark flames of unrest and fear across the world. This week sees Israel and Palestine hurl bombs and bullets at each other fighting for their homelands as they see it. The loss of children’s lives crossed all religions while those who can see, cry out “Enough already”.  

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

May Day

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Lilly of the Valley

“What was the first foreign country you visited?” asks my computer as I enter yet another protected website. “France” I type in and think back on that first visit, when spring and love were beginning, and April in Paris was not just a song. Wearing an oatmeal-colored Jaeger suit of a little box jacket and the skirt that just touched my knees, I nervously boarded an AirFrance plane at London Heathrow Airport. Looking back I realize that the elegant gentleman sitting beside me was remaining extremely courteous as he escorted me through the departure gate – though he quickly faded away when he saw a very lean young man in pinstriped jeans and a cocky hat hiding by a pillar, watching and waiting for me. It was spring of 1964 and I had just turned 21 years old, about to enjoy two weeks of spring-time in Paris and the acceptance of what has turned out to be a very long love affair. 

Though the love affair endures, the spring-time weather has spun out of control and this May Day weekend the wind whipped cherry blossoms off the trees with a cruel beating. It is difficult to see how any bee can make it to the blossoms and scatter their fruit-inducing pollen. A friend tells me that in France on May Day people give bouquets of Lilly of the Valley to their friends and family. They are tokens of appreciation and to bring happiness and good luck. The Lilly of the Valley bulbs I planted last autumn are sadly slow and shy. The leaves are only now just unfolding above the ground.

The May Day bank holiday pays tribute to workers and unions across the world and May 1st is known as International Workers’ Day. Not that at the moment the banks in Britain need a holiday. Most High Street branches have taken the COVID crisis as a time to comb through low lying employees, cutting their on-site staff and reducing their always short counter hours to four a day. There is no union help for the bank staff on this Bank Holiday.

MayDay has another meaning. The “Mayday Mayday Mayday” call of distress from a plane or a ship originated over a hundred years ago in the 1920s. Frederick Stanley Mockford was a radio officer at London’s Croydon Airport. He was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and be easily understood by all pilots and ground staff during an emergency. In those days much of the traffic at the Croydon airport was to and from Le Bourget Airport in Paris. Mockford came up with “Mayday” derived from the French word “m’aider” that means “help me” a shortened form of “venez m’aider”, “come and help me”.

Now there are different reasons to call out MayDay, as talks are discretely held and whispered through the corridors of power in the capitals of Britian, Iran, and the United States.

Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe is not the only dual national citizen held in prison in Iran, but here in Britain her case is the most visible. Finishing one five-year term in prison she is now staying at her parents’ home in Tehran waiting for release or a return to prison. Having completed her sentence for alleged spying she has been rearrested on fresh false charges. If she loses her appeal against this new conviction, she will face another year in jail and a further 12 months in which she is not allowed to leave the country.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has finally spoken out saying  “It is difficult to argue against the suggestion that Nazanin is being held ‘state hostage’ and her treatment amounts to torture.” For the first time Raab said her fate was now tied not just to a £400 million debt that the UK government owes to Iran but also the outcome of talks in Vienna on the future of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. “We’ve said that the debt is something we want to have resolved,” Nazanin remains the pawn in this chess game of flesh and coin. America is, naturally, also mixed up in this discussion. There is the little matter of four Americans, and the release of $7 billon of Iranian assets held in foreign bank accounts since 1979, and which sanctions the US is prepared to lift in return for Iran coming back into full compliance with the nuclear deal. International talks in Vienna will end at the beginning of June, not very far away, and by then the Iranian presidential election campaign will have begun.

Pay the Debt. Is it really too much to ask? Britain, like other imperialistic powers tries to wiggle out of debts owned, using whatever is at their disposal, wether it be a mere £ 400 million to Iran or £58,000 for refurbishing a ministerial apartment.

Then there is the guilt, or not, of leaving a lover from whom you have used all they have to give as we watch the continents of India, Africa and South America burn up with the hot rasp of breath from the parched dry lungs of their people who go without oxygen. 

What tidbits can be tossed our way to distract us from these global tragedies? From May 17th the UK government has given us unlimited mourners at funerals, moving the stored bodies along from over-filled mortuaries. For weddings there remains a limit of 30 people until June, while crowds and their cash, later to count the cost, are already returning to select outdoor football matches, indoor snooker tournaments, and concerts around the country.

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

Fires that Smolder and Burn

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

In India the cremation vats are burning continuously as undertakers and priests work as hard as the doctors, nurses and all the health carers. Oxygen tanks are being rolled off of lorries and loaded onto carts as relatives try to help their families at home. There is no room in the hospitals of Delhi or Mumbai and other major cities.The black market is doing a fierce trade in oxygen while fake medicines are being manufactured and sold as quickly as any that are real.

Finding Oxygen

US President Joe Biden is shipping off 60 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to India. Not that America would have been using them any time soon as the AstraZeneca vaccine has not been approved in the US. It’s a start and other countries around the world that have a clear but discrete ‘me first’ policy are bending a little and offering help with formulas and ingredients for factories in India to manufacture their own vaccines. 

India is a sprawling continent with its own ways of being that is often hard for westerners to understand. All continents are tricky, and swayed by the personalities of the men and women in power and who cling to that power. They are so big and hold so many diverse opinions that it is often impossible within a democracy to turn the tide to bring safety to those shores. In autocratic states such as China and Russia there are other difficulties. Islands are easier to contain, especially if you have a sensible woman at the head of government such as Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand. 

The fate and state of India under its pandemic situation has pushed other countries’ political dilemmas off of the news media and onto the back-burner of our minds. We are only dimly aware that Alexei Navalny has stopped his hunger strike, and that opponents to the overruling political parties in Hong Kong are being quietly jailed.

Boris with a Bottle

As India burns its dead, our Prime Minister is refurbishing the flat above number 11 Downing Street with new wall paper, while he is seen out feeding lambs in the Yorkshire Dales or playing ping-pong table tennis in a factory. Neither is a pretty sight. And parliamentary ministers are leaping up and down asking very pointed questions: not about helping India, or even updates on the UK Covid policies, but who is paying for the wallpaper? Sometimes ‘Little England’ beggars  belief. As we look on the blackmarket sales of oxygen and medication in India, are they really any different from the UK government’s Covid contracts awarded in 2020 through VIP lanes jotted down somewhere for who gets what contracts? How is this different from Street Black Markets? Maybe only in style.

People are dying in the thousands in India and this country is riding a roller coaster following the antics of David Cameron and Boris Johnson tripping over their own shoelaces running through the halls of power and out the other side. So we are left at the moment wondering and gossiping about who paid for the wallpaper at number 11, as if Boris Johnson and this family are going to stay there for a while. The power behind the Prime Minister’s throne is shifting in the back bedroom and it is unclear who is going to hold the reins on this donkey and guide him through the narrowing streets of London’s power. Will it be Carrie Symonds his fiancé, partner, girlfriend or Dominic Cummings the advisor with short sight but looking over the long view, or one of those Tory politicians seen to be “not seen” at this moment in time.

Headlining the Daily Mail paper this weekend, one senior minister was quoted, and then it was naturally denied by another, that last October at a Downing Street meeting Boris Johnson said “No more ***** lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands.”

But now, while Boris Johnson denies and flounders in the shallow waters of who paid for how much wall-paper, other tossed-off foolish remarks made when he was foreign secretary remain a serious blot on Britian’s foreign policies. In 2016 Iranian officials cited Johnson’s words that ‘Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe was teaching people journalism in Iran’, as evidence that she had engaged in “propaganda against the regime”.  Returning from visiting her mother in Tehran, she was arrested and jailed for ‘spreading such propaganda’ a charge that is hotly denied by her, her family and the British government. Having completed her five years in jail, the Iranian courts have now sentenced her to another year with a further year’s travel ban. Nazanin is but a pawn, placed on a hot square of the chess board, caught between Iran’s strong Queen and Britian’s slow moving King. She is encircled and held captive for a long overdue debt of four hundred million pounds owed to Iran that may never get paid. Nazanin is one woman, one wife, one mother set to serve one more year – if she can.

Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe

Three years ago a young Iranian friend, Fateme, give me a pair of red Iranian earrings. They are bright and pretty and similar to a pair that Nazanin is seen wearing in early pictures before she was taken prisoner. Foolishly, or not, I wear them trying with the strength of one woman’s love to bring another courage for the year ahead.

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

Sunshine Weekend

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The sun shone and the weather was perfect on Saturday for Prince Philip’s funeral at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Orchestrated by The Prince but now adapted in strict accordance with the Government’s rules for these Covid times, 30 members of the Prince’s family, all appropriately distanced, were in attendance. The ceremonial military guards, the Windsor house staff from the HMS Windsor bubble, his Fell carriage ponies, and close family remained masked and socially-distanced throughout the afternoon service. How glad we, who watched, were for their masks. As the Queen sat alone, mostly with her head bowed, her grief was only visible in her reddened eyes.

The Duke had added personal touches to his funeral: the Sailor’s piping call for permission to come aboard and entrance for his coffin into the chapel. At the service closing the highlander’s solitary bagpipe lament played in the empty nave while his coffin was lowered to the crypt below. The blessing followed, and the Dean of Windsor and the Archbishop of Canterbury led Her Majesty and the family out through the Galilee Porch. The Queen drove back to the castle with her lady-in-waiting while Prince Charles chose to walk and the family followed, the men warm in their overcoats and the women brave in their black stiletto-heeled shoes. Sometimes it is when walking in the sunshine that words can be spoken, gently, cautiously and hopefully healing. Did any of the family manage to have tea together? What sort of bubbles were established and kept? Where was the time when a family can gather, talk, sharing their sorrow under the banter of day-to-day catch-up chatter. Through the late afternoon and into the evening, I kept thinking about the Queen – wondering who was with her or did she sit – alone – in the silence of that time and all the times to come.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Fell ponies and carriage at Windsor for his funeral

The sun continued to shine on Sunday as the country began slowly to go about its weekend business. Londoners in Regent’s Park gathered in discrete family bubbles, picnicking on blankets as their children played and scootered and the volley ball games spread out beyond the football pitches. The cherry blossoms on the young trees are giving way to lime-green leaves and the wisteria buds are swelling. We wandered into the hidden St. John’s Lodge Gardens. It is a hushed meditation garden where couples and families sit quietly bringing in and packing out their picnics.

Time to get Ice cream

We sit too, watching the robins flit in and out of their nests in the tight hedgerows. Returning along The Broadwalk we crossed the canal and road before dipping into the grounds of St. Mark’s Church. There is a coffee hut, some benches and a sunlit spring garden that cascades down to the canal. It is one of those gardens that is gently tended, but it is clear the garden has the upper hand and the gardener just follows the landscape that unfolds. Now the plots where the Scottish Christmas Trees were sold is lightly fenced and reseeded – by the tree company in their best effort of cleaning up after oneself. Canal boats with happily spaced passengers are chugging and punting up and down the canal. Two young boys have been manning their canoe and brought her to shore. Their mothers and a sister climb the steps through the garden to collect small tubs of much needed ice cream for those intrepid sailors. Such small adventures are huge, taking up the whole of a sunny afternoon. We sit watching together on a bench in the sunshine overlooking the sloping spring garden and the canal. The daffodils have given way to red tulips and blue forget-me-nots. We are comfortable, sipping a fine latte coffee and sharing a crumbling iced carrot-cake, tucked into our place in the city. For the moment the sunshine bathes and soothes us all on this Sunday afternoon in a garden.

It’s an interesting question

During a weekend of national mourning some politicians hoped to be able to slip under the radar of national scrutiny but not all were lucky. The headline of the weekend edition of the Financial Times reads, ‘How Sleazy are British Politics?’ The page turned to past Prime Minister David Cameron striding from here to there – wherever there may be. Boris Johnson has sanctioned an inquiry over the allegations of misconduct but an old episode of ‘Yes Minister’, is not so far gone in memory:-

“’There is going to be an Inquiry Sir”.

“Oh good.”

“Good Sir?” 

“Yes, that means nothing will happen.”

Boris and Doris on the underground

But turning the metaphorical page, opposition leaders are urging the House Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to allow a vote on an inquiry into Boris Johnson’s ‘Consistent Failure to be honest” in statements to Ministers.

Given the size of the Conservative majority it is unlikely this motion will come to a debate, but just the idea of it is – well, ballsy Johnson’s blatant misleading and disregard for the parliamentary process is hitting a low water-line, not unlike the autocratic behavior of other world leaders that England shakes its finger at.

One of whom is Vladimir Putin. His political opponent, Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31st and Navalny has been moved to a prison hospital. There is not much time left for his healing or death to occur. Putin must personally long for Navalny to be gone – completely – and yet he must know that if Navalny were to die now it would be as a martyr. Russian news coverage of Navalny’s condition is silent while the world’s telescope scans this horizon. 

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

Fair Winds and Following Seas

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

On Friday Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh aged 99, quietly slipped away from his berth on this Earth leaving Her Majesty our Queen alone after 73 years of marriage. The Queen was by his side. But as Princess Anne said, “You know this is coming but you are never fully prepared for it.” Death can do that, arriving punctually at a given time, as we know it must, while remaining an unbelievable mystery. Yet, with an unbounded love, the loved one remains in our hearts and minds while the physical presence is lost to us. We grieve for our Queen, for the loss of her husband. Some of us know this loss and some of us have it yet ahead of us. There is a week of National mourning for the Duke in which to reflect on the effect of his life and work within the Royal Family, as a Prince, Duke, husband, father, grand and great grandfather. That was his job and no other man could have done it as well. He was the best he could be which is what we all strive for. The COVID restrictions that the Palace is adhering to, would actually suit the Duke, wherever his spirit is. He did not want his funeral to be a state occasion, but a ceremonial royal funeral in line with the Queen Mother’s in 2002. His earthly body will be privately interred in the Royal Vault of St George’s Chapel until such time as The Queen joins him. Then they will be laid to rest together, in the medieval manor to which they were born.

HRH Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh

Pages have been written about all aspects of The Duke’s royal and private life. Some papers have devoted columns to his life history, his charities, his sports and his gaffes or plain-speaking. Some of which were funny, some were exasperating, a few plain thoughtless, not something he was necessarily proud of. But this quote in 1966 says more than the words when he was speaking with a Hospital matron in the Caribbean, ‘You have mosquitoes, I have the press.’ 

Meanwhile, not pausing for the Duke’s passing, political shenanigans continue. Past Prime Minister David Cameron, has been caught out with a little private personal lobbying of the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and other members of Parliament, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, (oh Matty why were you so matey?). Cameron wished to help out with a wee business that was in a spot of bother, owned by his pal, Mr. Greensill. Named the Supply Chain Finance Company – you just know that it must shuffle pounds, shillings and pence around like the ‘Keep your eye on the Ace’ card games set out on street corners to catch out tourists. 

When stumping in 2010 to be Prime Minister, Cameron ‘Call me Dave’ gave a speech about lobbying, “We all know how it works.” He said, “The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics,’ he said. “It’s an issue that… has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.”

Well, yes it does Dave.

Yesterday a somewhat contrite Cameron admitted, “There have been various charges leveled against me these past weeks, mainly that I made representations to the government on behalf of a company I worked for. I did.” Cameron began working for Greensill two years and one month after leaving office – a month past the legal time period permitted.

Boris Johnson and Dave Cameron

The government is to a launch an independent investigation. Prime Minister Johnson could have rubbed his hands with glee catching out his old school-mate as he calls for the review to ensure government is completely transparent about such activities, and that the public can see for themselves if “good value was secured for taxpayers money”. Hang on “Good value for money,” isn’t the issue really was this legal or ethical? ‘Call me Dave’ has responded with:

“Well maybe I should have gone through channels and done this another way. Lessons have been learnt.” But have they, and shouldn’t by now he not need those lessons? It could seem that the lessons that such schools as his and Johnson’s teach is not so much about team spirit as how not to get caught out. This is a class that both of them may have to repeat in the years to come.

Mr. Minn, Myanmar’s UK ambassador locked out of London embassy in a ‘kind of coup’.

Last Wednesday we were able to briefly look over the parapet of The British Isles just down the street to the Myanmar Embassy in London. The Military coup that continues in that country has taken a shot over the prow of its ship. Myanmar’s now ex-ambassador, Mr. Minn, was locked out of his embassy in Mayfair and spent Wednesday night in his car. Staff had been asked to leave the building by Myanmar’s military attaché, and he was dismissed as the country’s representative.

At first the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the “bullying actions,” but quietly the UK has now accepted the change. Will the government offer Mr. Minn diplomatic immunity? For if he returns to Myanmar the Junta will surely arrest him. As Burma became Myanmar, its history is fraught with British interference and political maneuvering. It is no wonder that the country is in an uproar and no wonder that we, in some distant memory, care what happens there.

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

Kill the Bill

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Passover, Easter, the Spring Break, however we call it, the sun came out to bring a little warmth and welcome spring on Sunday. But reminding us to why the English talk constantly about the weather – on Monday snow fell in London. Further north there were gales and serious snow storms and sheep that needed watching as they tried to lamb under the hedgerows.

Over the weekend, Church services took place following the Covid guidelines laid out by the government. Queues outside of one church were reported and, in line with the increasing iron hand of the home office, the Metropolitan police force went out to do their duty. Like a bombing target, the Catholic Church, Christ the King, in South Wimbledon was cited.

As well as following the Covid restriction guidelines, the service was being streamed live on social media, so showed officers striding in, warning priests and parishioners that the gathering was ‘unlawful’. Threatened with fines, the service was abruptly ended. Other places of worship were holding restricted services, and there were probably queues outside of Synagogues and Christian Churches but maybe it was safe to target a nice Polish immigrant Catholic Church. That would do nicely. But it didn’t do nicely and once again the Met has back-footed their agenda. Or have they?

Defending the right to protest – Kill the Bill march, London 3rd April 2021 by Steve Eason

Bringing Covid restrictions into law was the opening the Home Secretary Priti Patel had been looking for, and she is forcing it into action with the Metropolitan police under the Commissioner, Cressida Dick. It looks increasingly clear that Patel wants stronger control of how people behave and, like an insecure school teacher, her default position is to add more regulations with harsher penalties for those who break her rules.

But why has this all gone so wrong – to the right? The British are addicted to their TV sitcoms of Cops and killers. We love to see the police track and solve the most gruesome of murders; either tromping across the rain-battered Yorkshire moors or in the picturesque villages of Oxfordshire, where the weather is almost always sunny. They remind us of gentler days, as when at our small town train station, a policeman would meet the last train from London. I remember returning, close to midnight mind you, and the young policeman, wheeling his bicycle, as he walked me along Elvetham Road to my mother’s house. Surely we would be supporting those fine upstanding men and women. But today they have been found to be not so fine and, like the politicians in power, the humanity they brazenly show dances on either side of criminality.

Trust in the police force has eroded steadily and visibly since the trials of The Guildford Four in 1974, building to a concentrated core over Steven Lawrence’s murder in 1993. Today when people march and protest for Black Lives Matter, or with a policeman held in custody over the murder of Sarah Everard, it seems to frighten Ms Patel into producing a bill called the ‘PoliceCrimeSentencing and Courts Bill 2021‘. It is a mere extension of the Coronavirus Act passed in 2020.

In a Democracy, protesting is considered a human right, and the Home Office says its proposals will respect this. Writing for gal-dem, Moya Lothian McLean says the proposed rules have given the state “enormous authoritarian power using extremely vague language that can be twisted for any purpose”.

The Labour MP Nadia Whittome said: “This bill will see the biggest assault on protest rights in recent history”. Kill the Bill Protests are continuing around the country. It could seem that the freedom to protest governments and military takeovers of state powers, and the freedom to report globally on these issues are getting as tricky and dangerous in England as we’ve seen in Belarus, Moscow, China and Myanmar.

Last week the the BBC’s correspondent John Sudworth abruptly left Beijing, taking his family to Taiwan. The Chinese Government do not care for – and have denounced – his reporting for the BBC on the treatment of the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang region.

In Hong Kong, China held a four week trial and found guilty seven of Hong Kong’s most senior and prominent pro-democracy figures of organizing and participating in an un-authorized rally.

And for leading an opposition party to the government, Alexei Navalny is jailed in Russia following an attempted poisoning on his life. Navalny is now in hospital with respiratory symptoms which must be as alarming as in jail when guards had tortured him with sleep deprivation while encouraging the other prisoners to do the same.

Rebecca Radcliffe reports in the Guardian on Myanmar where the military-controlled media state newspaper, Global New Light, has published wanted lists with the names and photographs of dozens of prominent figures, from actors to musicians. The junta said it would bring charges and criminalizes comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news”. Those accused under the law can face up to three years in prison.

President Joe Biden at work. Reuters

But for the first time in a long time we look back at the United States and see a glimmer of hope, holding our breath as we watch President Joe Biden get right to work with a little train engineer’s hat atop of his head. Maybe he can grease the wheels of government and get that engine going again to carry the American people forward into safety and work. Biden had been around the Washington block a long time and knows how that engine yard works. His oil can is at the ready and he is busy greasing those wheels.

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

Stuck

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One fine spring day, after Pooh had done his stoutness exercises, he went for a walk in the Thousand Acre Wood. He wondered what his friends were doing and decided to visit Rabbit who often knew the news. Rabbit was rather busy and not expecting visitors, but being a well brought-up Rabbit and not wanting to offend his friend he offered Pooh a snack. And, as can happen with Pooh, and others like him, Pooh ate so much honey – all there was in Rabbit’s jar – that when it was time to leave he got stuck – halfway in and halfway out of Rabbit’s front door. There he had to stay for a week while Rabbit dried his tea-towels over Pooh’s legs and Christopher Robbin read to Pooh outside Rabbit’s front door. Nobody said anything about eating too much, more than one really needed, or minding ones’ manners, thinking of others, or how much honey did Rabbit have in his pot. Eventually, after a week, all of Rabbit’s friends and relations came and with great effort managed to pull Pooh out of Rabbit’s front door where he shook himself off and continued on his walk.  We are never really sure what Pooh learnt as so many of his scrapes are about seeking out pots of honey as well as helping his friends in distress. 

This week, watching the big ship Ever Given lurch and ram sideways into the walls of the Suez canal we can see a little bit of Pooh in all of us. Shipping company cargo ships are like Rabbit’s pots, and at this writing there are 367 more of them lined up waiting to pass through the canal. And the honey – is all the goods not made in our home countries that we crave.

A work crew using excavating equipment tries to dig out the Ever Given wedged across the Suez Canal Photograph: AP

The canal’s history goes back to the time of early Pharaohs with successive kings trying this way and that to open up this trickling passage way between the Red and the Mediterranean Seas. Like the Panama Canal these little streams hold an almost magical power in terms of the world’s global trading systems today. The Suez canal is not very big, a mere 120 miles long, 673 feet wide and allows for a ship draft of 66 feet. And, as David Pilling notes in the Financial Times, the late president of Egypt, Abdel Nasser, would surely allow himself a wry smile, having nationalized the Suez Canal, which prompted the UK, France and Israel to invade Egypt in 1956.

More years ago than I can remember I raised my eyebrows hearing of redwood timber cut in California being shipped to China for milling and then returned to the Pacific Northwest for sale. But now we learn that fish caught in the Scottish waters are frozen, shipped to China for filleting and then returned to the UK supermarket shops as ‘fresh frozen fish’ where they definitely look a little travel-weary.

At the Supermarket in Camden Town

Scottish fish remain in the news as Alex Salmond strikes back at Nicola Sturgeon on Friday with his launch of The Alba Party, which sounds far too white for comfort. Kristy Strickland reports for the Guardian that Alex Salmond (pictured sitting on a wall smiling into the sunshine like an unaware Humpty Dumpty)pitched himself as a man just trying to be helpful while the fact that nobody asked for his help seems to be of little relevance.

Alex on a wall. Getty Images

Strickland goes on, astutely, that the odds are against him but that doesn’t matter. He isn’t driven by a burning desire to win an independence super-majority any more than Boris Johnson was sincere about wanting to free the UK from the ‘shackles’ of the European Union. The stated aim of both men are merely vehicles for their egos and need for relevance. Neither man is known for his care of a woman’s personal space and I get the feeling that if Alex Salmond can squeeze Nicola Sturgeon’s political space in the upcoming Scottish May elections he will take great pleasure in doing so.

Tale of two fishes

What is it with these men? Older, bully boys, with no hint remaining of what made them – a long time ago – considered smart or attractive? Their arenas are in politics, business and the military and they see no other way to be relevant than to be powerful. 

This weekend in Myanmar marked Armed Forces Day, a day to commemorate the beginning of the Army’s resistance to Japanese occupations in World War II. But as the military Chief Min Aung Hlaing watched the military display before holding a lavish dinner party for significant guests from China and Russia, the military increased their attacks on the people of Myanmar killing over 100 in the cities’ streets. Finally other world leaders are calling for a stop to the killing and discussing sanctions. Not that anyone is as yet taking any notice. Sadly Saturday was also the full moon day of Tabaung, the end of Myanmar’s lunar calendar, a day of Buddhist celebration.

As I write the sun is finally shining. Daylight savings has come into effect and as of today six people from two households are allowed to meet together outdoors. European countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands are all in various forms shaking their heads at the United Kingdom’s political maneuvering of the AstraZeneca vaccines. And it is hard not to blame them as this Prime Minister shifts his feet and blame here and there. But Boris always wants to be at the party and has joined the 20 other world leaders whose aim is to cooperate in meeting and dealing with future pandemics. Can England accept a role as just another tugboat? It would be good if that could come to pass.

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

Coming Home to Roost

A shout out for KWMR.org. This post is going out a day early so that those of you who listen or read have the opportunity to support KWMR.org. Letter from A. Broad is aired every Wednesday at 9.20 a.m Pacific Time. Usually I post the show on this blog, Face Book and Twitter after it has aired on KWMR. But today/this week you have the fantastic opportunity of supporting Community Radio by just clicking the button below. Whatever you decide, thank you for listening and reading and staying tuned. MAM.

Recorded and Knit together by WSM
The bantam rooster Little Richard and his two wives in 2009
Little Richard and his two wives in 2009

Every rooster who’s lived on the farm had a distinct personality. But none was as independent as Little Richard. He was a small Bantam Rooster gifted, as we do with roosters, by friends – so in a moment of weakness, one Sunday afternoon we drove back down Spring Mountain Road with Richard and two wives. Richard quickly decided that he was not going to live in a chicken coop when the wide world was waiting. Instead, he roosted with his ladies on the high stall walls in the horse barn where, like his namesake, he crowed and sang through the pre-dawn hours of the morning. It was too much, and so I took him up into the hills to fend for himself. After all, he had shown an independent enough spirit to outwit predators at least for a while. During a torrential rain storm two days later, as I was finishing chores in the barn, Little Richard came strutting in – dripping wet, a little battle-weary maybe – but still strutting. He walked with a look of righteous indignation as he came home to roost.

Indignation is what I feel now. For weeks we have been looking outward at the police and military’s clampdowns on protests in eastern Europe, Belarus, Moscow, the Far East in Hong Kong, and Myanmar but now protests are happening in Clapham and Bristol!

A vandalised police van on fire outside Bridewell police station in Bristol. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA
A vandalised police van on fire outside Bridewell police station in Bristol. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

I look back in anger or is it despair at how the two bombshells of Brexit and COVID-19 that have hit the UK have been handled by three Conservative Prime Ministers. None of whom liked or respected each other as they handed on the baton of government.

Before we began to really come to grips with what Brexit would mean for England, along came COVID-19 like a low-lying fog that seeped into the walls of our homes, work, and all aspects of our daily lives.

Now fingers are pointed at other countries as new variants naturally arise to name and shame the country of their seeming origin. And – dare we say it – if Brexit had not happened many discussions of travel bans and governments hoarding stashes of vaccines might not be taking place. The British cry, ‘When will we get out of lock-down? When will we be back to Normal? When can we go on holiday?’ as those thinking it is their right to escape the dreariness of an English summer by climbing aboard an EasyJet, emerging into the Spanish sunshine, and oozing out onto the warm beaches. 

But hold on. The great big British rollout of vaccinations is making a real difference on the numbers of COVID-19 infections and serious illnesses. There is breathing space in the Intensive Care Units of the NHS hospitals. While there is tentative talk about the nine most vulnerable groups getting their second vaccinations, there has been a pause on vaccinating those under 50 years old, leaving young men and women, with energy to spare, and often distanced from the immediate pressures of Covid, frustrated with now mounting anger in need of an outlet.

They know that Boris will not listen to them. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who has so far successfully clawed her way upstairs, misstep after misstep, apology after apology – only when necessary – has sought to bring greater control for the police force anyway she can. After the events of last weekend when the Metropolitan police crowded in on those women gathering at the Clapham Common band-stand in a vigil for Sarah Everard, she saw another opportunity. Some of the police that night carried a mixture of sympathies; for the protesting women, shame and guilt that the reported perpetrator of the murder was a Metropolitan police officer, and confusion at the messages from Government to the Met. Frequently Priti Patel causes more problems than she solves. Now she is grabbing this time to try and push through a bill that would give the police in England and Wales extended powers to impose heavy fines or prison sentences on non-violent protesters who are considered ‘too noisy’ or are ‘creating a nuisance’. Naturally, this is an alarm bell for those who are vigilant to government behaviors but whose only access is to the police forces acting as a river running against the tide. 

Upstream and downstream swim the fishes, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and her mentor and predecessor, Alex Salmond, as they battle out who said what, who promised what, or didn’t, regarding Salmond’s trial for sexual harassment of nine women. In the redacted report James Hamilton, the independent legal advisor exposed a clear situation when the law gets in the way of the truth. In his cover letter to his report he writes, ‘that the removal of sections of his report by the government would lead to an incomplete and even at times misleading version of what has happened.” Reading between the lines may be the only way to glimpse the truth of this affair. The Scots are good fishermen and good fishermen have a lot of patience. This fish has not yet been reeled in and landed. 

James Hamilton, the independent legal advisor
James Hamilton

In 1697 William Congreve wrote ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” in his play “Mourning Bride” but the Scottish minister Alex Salmond seems hell-bent on the destruction of his protege Nicola Sturgeon, whom he may feel is under an obligation to him – a situation a smart woman will try at all costs to avoid. For all his shouting and crowing, Alex Salmond may not find his way home to roost.

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

Audrey II

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

In 1983 we took the children to see The Little Shop of Horrors when it was playing at a West End Theater in London. The book and lyrics are written by Howard Ashman and the music composed by Alan Menkin. The play starts off almost benignly but then, the little shop, the plant, the good and evil characters emerge along with the storyline until we were all properly horrified as Audrey II’s meandering tentacles devour all before her, before coming down on the audience in the finale. Not sure what sort of mother I was taking the family to such a show but they loved it, and apart from a daughter’s inordinate fear of spiders, seem non-the-worse for wear.

But I’m thinking of the story of The Little Shop, something seemingly benign growing with a hunger for the flesh of others, as I look at China and its meandering tentacles. The protestors against China’s takeover of Hong Kong’s parliamentary structure have been crushed and key activists are now jailed. Another tentacle has reached into Myanmar helping the military to quell activists and protesters against their takeover of the democratically elected president and government. So far the Myanmar protests are continuing even as rubber bullets are giving way to metal. At this writing at least 126 civilians have been killed by the military and two policemen have died. Some soldiers are scrambling to India after refusing to follow orders to open fire on their own people. 

Aung San Suu Kyi is still in house arrest

Hidden, as much as is possible, the Russian activists carry on – Navalny may be jailed but the work continues. Like burrowing a tunnel out of a jail, they keep chipping away at the rock face of the autocratic power held by Vladimir Putin who is beginning to feel the itch under his iron jacket.

The rollout of the vaccination program in England has been methodical and steady. As of today, over 23 million people have had their first dose of vaccination while over a million and a half have had their second injection. The AstraZeneca Vaccine has got some bad press (re: blood clots) but in this time of ‘who says what’ it is hard to know the truth. Statistics, as anyone who has taken basic Statistics 101 knows, can say one thing and then another depending on the chosen variables. The UK virus infection rates are going down, though they may rise as more restrictions are lifted. Today only 52 deaths were recorded from the virus. Soon it could be that the death rate from the virus is no greater than that of the winter flu.

How will we come out of our lockdown? Maybe it is our age – of course it is our age – but my friends and I are cautious, there is a hesitancy to come out of the cave and onto the street, into the garden. It is almost a collective lethargy among older friends. There have been articles about how hard lockdown has been on younger families but I also feel a sweeter caring and closeness among those of us who are older.

Between International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday, English women from all walks of life waited and watched when Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, went missing while walking home to her flat in Clapham, south London. For days it was just her disappearance that aroused the country to a collective alert attention, overtaking any regal outpourings of emotion that had preceded it. For a fear gripped every woman of all ages. Now Wayne Couzens has been remanded into custody and here is the rub: Couzens is an officer in the Metropolitan Police Force. How could this have happened? An off-duty police officer, slowing down, maybe told her not to be walking home that late at night, flashed his badge, not his crotch, and in a moment of unthinking tiredness she got into his car. A week later her body was found in a builder’s disposable bag in the Kent woodlands. Sarah was a young white woman. A woman of color would have been too savvy to get into that car. Never trust a white man, especially a white policeman. There is not a woman alive in London, or maybe even the country, who doesn’t understand the fear that still keeps us vigilant as we age. Women flocked to Clapham Common where Sarah walked. Vigils were called for and then asked to be held privately at home, candles to be lit, as we had once clapped for the NHS. But the Duchess of Cambridge went out – as alone as she could be – mingling among the women to lay flowers with the others. “For Sarah” it read. She said, “I remember what it was like to walk home alone in London,” before she quietly slipped away.

As dusk fell on Saturday, women continued to gather at Clapham Common, laying flowers, and holding their phones high lit as candles. There was a police presence and all was calm – until it wasn’t. Who gave the order, who panicked at the sheer volume of women, at the few protesters who came specifically to disrupt the situation? Someone did and the police moved in, encircling, crowding the women until some of them panicked too. It doesn’t take much – fear, that is – on either side, to make a peaceful situation difficult, a difficult one dangerous, and the repercussions of such a situation to be an excuse for more laws to curtail such protests.

Police officers begin to crowd in on the women at Clapham Common.

Discussions continue, in public and in parliament and the fear, on both sides of the law and the people remains. As we approach the spring equinox and the sky is becoming light again I wonder if the touch of spring is enough to bring us hope and courage to create a new way of being.

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

1 Percent

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

“In 1961, twenty-four young women came together in a classroom at The Royal Surrey Country Hospital in Guildford, Surrey. We were entering our three-month period of preliminary nurse training. With its completion, we could begin our official journey to become State Registered Nurses. But first, we had to pass through Sister Cartwright’s schoolroom, her capable hands, and caring heart. Only twenty students emerged from her classroom and by the end of our three years, we were a graduating class of sixteen.” So I wrote for ‘Learning to Heal’ published by Kent State University Press in 2018.

Of those sixteen nurses who graduated in 1964, eight left England searching for working opportunities in other countries.  We loved nursing and yet knew that it would be near impossible to afford a life much beyond the student style we already lived. My three cottage mates and I left for Australia, Africa, America, and Canada. 

In this last year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen nurses in England, and all over the world, work harder and longer than ever before. They, along with medical consultants to cleaners, have been tireless in their dedicated care of their patients. They have given their best to bus drivers and to Boris, and so it seems something of a wet fish in the face to hear this year’s budget distributions to the National Health System – while understanding that education, business, and all endeavors need financial aid at this time. Many public sector workers had a pay freeze, and the NHS staff account for half of that budget.  People cost money. Last year this very government promised an over 2% pay increase. Nada. And yet, tucked away in the LBC, a little radio program, comes the news of the HMRC, short for the tax collector, garnering a total 13% pay rise. They may deserve it, but it brings back the wet fish feeling. 

Before Brexit and COVID, nurses were moving across Europe and other countries, as we had done before them. In accepting the Tillie Olsen Award for ‘Learning to Heal’ I spoke of that too: “Oft times we choose nursing as a pathway from one social environment to another, usually empowerment and/or of a social context.”  After Brexit many European nurses returned to their home countries, leaving England once again – the poorer. 

In this Government Budget, Rishi Sunak is not looking so Dishy with a 1% pay raise for the NHS nurses, with other public-sector workers’ pay is frozen. “A row has erupted,” says one headline, “Unions warn,” says another. And I think how when I graduated in 1964 I made the conscious decision not to join the Royal College of Nursing because in their mandate was a clause whereby nurses could strike. I couldn’t believe that action would ever be needed or used. But today it is not a stretch to see how it can be discussed. We understand that equipment and machinery are expensive. But we remember the incredible spending blotches of this government: the huge Nightingale hospitals, erected with fanfare and speed, stand empty – and are soon to be dismantled. Nobody had thought of the staff needed to run them. Meanwhile, old brick-and-mortar hospitals remain hugely overcrowded, and last spring some even came close to running out of oxygen. Then there are the containers of PPE ordered from Turkey last May at a cost of millions of pounds. The shipments were delayed and then found to be below standard and useless on arrival. All this while firms in England were converting factories into making the equipment needed. I could go on, but you get the picture.

You would have thought Boris Johnson, with his own hospitalization and desperate need for nursing care, would have learned something. But as profuse as his thanks were at the moment, he thought no more of the nurses than of a maid who has ironed his shirt, nicely. 

Boris has other things to think about. This week schools reopen across England. There will be protocols of swab testing and masks in place, but not yet the sensible vaccination of all teaching staff. While fact-checking this I found an on-line petition to bring this item forward for Parliament. And signed it.

Boris Johnson in School

As we look up from Little England, which looks smaller by the day, there is a place to be grateful for a moment, for our smallness brings the ability of the mass vaccination program being rolled out across the country. The fact that we have a higher ratio of deaths per capita than almost every other country in the world is put to one side for the moment and hopefully will be dealt with later.

But we do lookout, even knowing that what we are seeing is often curated for our viewing: not much from Belarus or Moscow but still horror from Myanmar where, according to Reuters, close-by residents were warned not to enter the cemetery on Friday. The police and military were digging up the body of 19-year-old Kyal Sin in an effort to prove that the bullet that killed her could not have been theirs. They couldn’t prove it and so the protests continue to grow. A small change has happened that the military is mostly now using rubber bullets rather than live ammunition – mostly.

Meanwhile, The Pontiff, Pope Francis, traveled on a commercial plane on a pilgrimage to Iraq. He met with Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and other religious leaders and visited churches and communities bombed by ISIS in northern Iraq. 

Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani with His Holiness, Pope Francis

Many years ago, when Pope Francis was still the archbishop of Buenos Aires, California’s Bishop Bill Swing, (Also known to KWMR golfing listeners as a fine golfer and supporter of KWMR) was visiting that city. They talked of Bishop Swing’s dream of a United Religions Initiative and together gave the first interdenominational service at the Cathedral. Now, as Pope Francis, he carried that message of inclusiveness deep into the Muslim world at Ur, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. 

Timing and Dosage and the Saga of the Sussexes. I think back to our beloved Sister Cartwright and wonder that there was not a similar helping hand to light a lamp and show the way forward on the new path and calling for the young family. I hope that wherever their journey takes them they find such a person, who, like a nurse, will hold their hand in the darkest of times.

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