Gilbert is Gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our front door

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

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

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

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

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

The Elephant comes to the Park Photo by WSM

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

Bubbles

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

Now the open season on game for blame had begun and stalkers are on the beat. Who said what to whom and when? There is much scuttling around the zooming halls of Westminster as the cozy personal chats in the tea room become more difficult to access. Will it be the scientists, Public Health England, the National Health Service, or a couple of ministers who will get the blame now and – or the ax later? There will be ‘An Official Inquiry.’ though the PM Boris Johnson doesn’t feel this is quite the time for that. 

The Coronavirus is still very much with us in England, even as it recedes in other parts of the United Kingdom and Europe. Spikes and new outbreaks of infections have caused mini-lockdowns, The City of Leicester from an outbreak in a sweat-shop, and a farm in Herefordshire from the immigrant workers flown into the country for harvest. 

Other governments in similar predicaments and with similar geographies and social economic situations have managed better than Mr. Johnson. At 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning the European Council came to the end of a masked. ninety-hour session that agreed to 750 billion Euros in grants and loans to the 27 members of the Union. What a pity not to be a part of that Union. Instead the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has given 900,00 Public Sector workers, teachers, doctors, and dentists a 3.1% pay rise, back-dated to April, recognizing their vital contribution during the coronavirus pandemic but this is not for nurses or any other auxiliary staff.

Timing and Dosage. A medical term that also works well in all walks of life and work. Because this week the major – minor row in Government is not so much about the global pandemic we are living through, but some serious flag waving to obscure the view of a deeper investigation into the Russian Report that comes out today.

Johnson and his boys wanted their man, Mr. Grayling, to be the committee chair. But trying to make the appointment was against the rules. It gets confusing in here but with a little campaigning from back-benchers across the aisles, and a lot of tut-tutting, Mr. Lewis (already a committee member and someone who actually knows something about espionage) was appointed the chair. It was more than squabbling about who would chair a committee but hopefully who would really examine or obscure Russia’s use of cyber-espionage, money and social media campaigns to influence other countries political outcomes.

This week could be interesting, but it is getting tiring. As well as a global pandemic there is the Russian Report, and now the row with China over 1. Hong Kong  2. Ethnic Cleansing with forced Sterilization and ‘re eduction camps’. 3. the threat to national security from China’s Huawei firm. 

And all of this before turning to America and see undocumented Federal agents in Portland, the passing of the great warriors John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian and an imbecilic dialogue about washing machines. Somehow this week’s news brought me to tears.  And I am not alone. 

We retreat into the bubbles that we create, and with the summer stretching before us, can be excused for struggling with the scrapping dog-fights of the world’s governments. (Our tiredness being counted on to defuse us). We long for our families and friends. As we come to the end of month four of lockdown and sheltering in place, no one over 65 is going anywhere soon or fast. But we miss each other, the frantic tidying before grandparents arrive, the rumble-tumble of grand-children, and then the meals, games and naps all shared together and the exhaustion after it is over. 

We see it in all ages as we slide along in our own bubbles. For many, loneliness creeps into the mornings and lingers through the days, leaving some people shuffling about and questioning their place in the universe. But as the lock-down has eased and social distancing measures made a little clearer, some communities have found ways to connect. Not everyone is ready to rush out to the pub or the restaurant or even the shops, but people do want a natter, a chatter, a grumble or a moment with another. With summer weather and some organizing, the Oldfield council housing estate up the road has put out clusters of a few tables and chairs, an umbrella here, another table with drinks and chips there, and they have their own pub garden. 

As we walk through the days and weeks of this year not knowing where it, or we, will stop it can feel as if we are walking towards an unknown abyss. But on Monday’s sunny afternoon, when the park was less full, we walked down to the lake and lingered to watch the ducks and geese resting in the sun, taking things a little easy as their fledglings got on with the business of feeding themselves. We wandered on, down by the canal and found the blackberry brambles that have begun to ripen. Weaving in and out of the elderflower and nettles, the brambles produce tiny berries that have a flavor all of their own. These are not the lush bushes of the rivers or low-lying fields, but scrappy brambles that continue to grow despite the grounds-men’s best efforts to whack them back out of the canal-path. We slow down and begin plucking a little black berry here and another there. I pull out a plastic box that I had brought, ‘just in case’ and for the next twenty minutes we are at peace.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad.

Canalside Berries Photo by WSM

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

Zooming Along

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

Tom Peck writes in the Independent, “The message is go back to work. The guidance is stay at home. So that is clear then.” On Sunday morning’s Andrew Marr Show, Michael Gove, the Minister of the Cabinet, was speaking, and I couldn’t stop imagining him dusting and polishing the table while making sure the water glasses were clean and sparkling on their coasters, as he clearly said, “I don’t think wearing face masks should be compulsory, but it is the polite and sensible thing to do”. For the first time in weeks I was nodding along with him, at the word – polite.

Monday morning Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister you remember, urged the public to wear face-masks in shops. “I think in shops it is very important to wear a face covering. Whether we make it mandatory or not, we’ll be saying a bit more in the next few days.” By Monday evening it is compulsory. One for Cummings behind Boris, nil for Gove.

Sunday was also a Big Birthday as the other member of this household of two turned 77. Upside down 77 could look like two deck chairs sitting out in the sunshine but we know not to sit still for too long. The day brought a first in four months: lunch at a restaurant with two other couples. The restaurant garden with outdoor seating was full at this Sunday lunch-time. But it is strange to know that though we may walk beside each other we cannot hug. This small curb checks us back to when we were children with parents who didn’t do hugging. Lunch is lovely and after our goodbyes leads to a long afternoon nap.

But on a birthday, a big birthday as the years, not us, get older, it is fun to find a reason to gather and celebrate. Brane Zivkovic from New York University first comes up with the idea for his students. Then he reaches out to Randy Thom from Skywalker and Taghi Amirani with the Coup53 team. And suddenly there is a surprise Zoom party and I have stage directions to follow! They zoom like fishing, dropping a line into the river of our lives, hooking those bites and making connections with long ago colleagues and friends. There are folks in party hats and with balloons, the number 77 in case we forget what birthday this is. There are chuckles bringing forth deep and long-ago memories to share. Our children and grandchildren are enjoying the moments, too. It is filled with rememberings, gosh did that really happen? Yes it did. And laughter, more laughter. We are all hungry to connect while holding in our hearts a longing for the physicality of each other that is still a long way off. With a tilt of a camera here a half-closed eye for focus and imagination, we could even all be at the farm, with people flowing from one room or screen to another. After the final click goodbye we sit back, grateful for this time we live in, while remembering those who are torn apart from families and friends throughout the world.

And for Monday, what about a nice little picnic on the river? It seemed like a good idea and we sensibly took off to Kingston in an Uber. It was strange to be out in the ‘real world.’ And truthfully we were a little intimidated by it. There are facilities to find, instructions to heed before we finally are in a tiny little GoBoat and heading out onto the Thames river. The boat is small and slow. The river is big, but we are alone and can take off our masks and spread out a picnic on the table. Steering to river rules, we begin to see what semi-suburban England is looking like and going through. There are swans, geese, ducks and a few grebes on the water circling us, more curious than hungry for the chips we toss to them. The blackberry vines dip into the water and their lush berries are already ripening. Looking back towards Westminster I thought of Henry and Thomas in Tudor times and wondered how long it took to row up river from Westminster to Hampton Court when you were summoned to the King in residence.

Hampton Palace comes into view Photo by WSM

Today there is no hurry. People are wiling away their time, lingering on the river banks. There are groups of children gathered together, unmasked, as they play in and around the water. Boys teasing girls, boys showing off for girls, boys daring each other to climb and jump higher than before from this or that branch into the river. A few out-of-work young men are fishing – that occupation of doing something and nothing.

The smug and comfortable detached houses, with gardens and moorings are sad, rejected for this year at least, left like old lovers to fend for themselves. There are no renters to prepare for, no holiday makers to the river. The lawns are uncut, Buddleja grabs hold in borders waiting for the butterflies to find their blossoms. Even the few potted begonias fail to convince anyone that this year is not over before it began.

Boats in waiting


The house boats are tied up in rows, barely bobbing with the river’s ebb and flow. The spring chores of painting and polishing have hardly begun as we enter mid-summer. Maybe I am wrong, maybe it is just Monday on the river, but it feels like the river, the community, and thus the country is in retreat.

As are we, now we are safely back home. A deeper acceptance of this moment in history has set in and we are mindful of what is before us.

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

The Apple Does Not Fall Far from the Tree

Recorded and Knit together by WSM. Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org
Regent’s Park – Waiting: Photo WSM

So Stanley Johnson, the Prime Minister’s father, went to Greece, by way of Bulgaria, you understand, so that he didn’t break any laws. Greece has banned flights from the United Kingdom, whose numbers of infections and deaths from the Coronavirus are the worst of the European Countries. Greece’s travel restrictions, among its other measures, has kept Greece very safe, with only 192 deaths as of this writing. But between Papa Johnson and Dominic Cummings, the leader of this conservative government has made a mockery of any laws or regulations they laid out for the rest of the country.

The actions by those close to the government are disheartening, but I too know families that have gone to the country, singletons returning to parents, and children dropped off with the grandparents for weeks of this 100 + day lockdown.

But this weekend the unlocking of England began. Many pub owners were delighted while others felt that a slower opening might have been better. Hotels, restaurants and barber shops also opened and one can only hope that the Prime Minister manages to get a haircut soon. The whizzing of e-mails back and forth uncovered plans for a Rave on Primrose Hill. Quickly, a cat-and-mouse, cops and robbers, plan was in place. Here in NW1, on the Hill, it could have been more of a game, under the cover of ‘the law.’ But instead of the police, the weather played rough, reducing the real possibility of someone getting hurt – on either side of the law.

But that didn’t save Bianca Williams, while driving their Mercedes car home in Maida Vale. The 200-meter sprinter along with her partner, the Portuguese athlete, Ricardo Dos Santos, was stopped and handcuffed. She has a voice, and spoke out, “that just being black is a crime”.

The law, a twisting turning apparatus, is rarely used for the people it is meant to protect. We watch in deep sadness at Hong Kong where speech is silenced, books are burned and the young protesters are caught in the net of the new authority from Beijing. England is making an effort to honour the people of Hong Kong but a rumbling rupture is coming from the Chinese Embassy in London, “That to interfere with China’s international policies will bring consequences”. Until now protestors outside of the embassy have been concerned with Organ Harvesting, Muslim camps, Uighur and Tibetan exiles. Today Hong Kong students and their supporters gather to denounce the Chinese Communist Party.

Meanwhile the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are at Windsor. The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall are at one home or another. The Cambridges are comfortable in Norfolk, though with three children under the age of seven, comfortable is a relative term. Now they are returning to work, all abiding to the guidelines and laws laid out by this government.

A saying that often brings laughter in our family is ‘The Apple does not fall far from the Tree’.

A website on English Language says that this saying is first attributed in America to Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1839. But looking further back in history, always a fun thing to do, I find older versions,
“The apple does not fall far from the stem,” in German.
From Wales in 1803 “Ni fell zygwyz aval o avall” ”The apple will not fall far from the tree”.
The English attribute the saying to the Germans, the Germans to the Turks, and the Turks to the Russians. The Russians attribute it to themselves.
But in 1585 is a quotation from Megiserus that is still used in Turkish, “Elma Gendy aghadschindan irk duscgnéz”, “The apple does not fall far from its own tree.” Stanley Johnson’s paternal grand-father, Ali Kemal, was Turkish, and came to an untimely end between one regime and another.

It is interesting to see where and how family apples are falling. Our Royal Family abides by the rules laid out by the government even as The Duchess of Cornwall, talks of longing to hug her grandchildren.

When we took our Sunday walk in the park there were more family groups huddled together, all at a distance, one from the other, three generations sharing their picnic on a blanket and now the park toilets are open – a big relief. There were children’s footballs, bikes and scooters and the cry “Granny, Granny, Look Granny.” My heart ached more than a little when we walked by.

As weeks become months in this new reality, trust in the governing bodies of all of the countries affected by the coronavirus is more important than ever. But when one is faced with first the Cummings lad and then the Johnson father behaving as if the law is one for you and nil for me, trust in this Conservative Government under Boris Johnson has gone missing.

Stanley produced three other siblings to Boris, all dropped from the Johnson tree. Plop. But which branch of the tree do they come from? Some may have rolled a little further afield than Boris who looks to have stayed as close to the old trunk as he could, and didn’t roll anywhere.

The virus is still with us, but the infection and death rates are finally falling in the United Kingdom. This morning, as neighbors returned from their weekly shopping, unloaded their bags and scurried away into their apartment the Uber driver reached into the boot of his car for his bottle of disinfectant. Wearily, but thoroughly, he sprayed and wiped every area that he knows they have touched. For him and most others, vigilance is still a necessary part of his life and this world.

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

Families gather on Primrose Hill. Photo WSM

Strawberries in June

Fresh Strawberries from the market
Recorded and Knit together by WSM. Aired on KWMR.org July 1

Strawberries are Ripe.

If I was to have another jab under the jacket of the government I see them in my mind’s eye zooming around their screens in search of the national unlocking with ‘a little bit here and a little bit there’ while trying to hold unrest and disruption in check. What they can’t control is the weather and the changing the English temperament.

They started with the garden centers, insane on the one hand and brilliant on the other. For anyone with a garden and wanting to DO something, getting dug in would ease off pressure like a slow puncture in a bicycle tire. What next? Shopping. Who knew how many people shop for shopping’s sake ?

Now something for the Yobs and the Snobs, to be unkind – which I will try not to be. Street markets. Stalls opened up, shops became markets and the Camden Market, just newly renovated last year, is open for business along with the Farmer’s Markets.

Primrose Hill Market opened up three weeks ago. Nope – not going on the first week. The second week we joined the long queue that shuffled along both sides of Primrose Hill, everyone making an effort at social distancing. The market was sparse, war weary, and I wanted to buy something from everyone just to help them feel it was worth the effort.

Mid-morning on week three we return. The day is blustery as if spring is pouting into summer. There is no queue. We are welcomed by the volunteers and the sweet young thing who is trying to sell her own mixture of hand sanitizer at the gate. But at £ 5.00 a bottle it’s pricey. “How do you like the smell?” “It’s very nice.” But I don’t add at this point that I don’t care how my hands smell from sanitizer. The market looks a little better as if a week’s rest has helped. But there are still big holes where stalls used to be. Where is farmer Geoff and his vegetables and eggs from Canterbury, the fishmonger from Poole, the local London honey and the wonderful Italian Pasta ladies? Even jolly Tony has sent a younger man from his dairy. For some market stalls this has been a swift axe blow, others are in hibernation, licking wounds inflicted by the virus induced lockdown. Vegetables are rotting in fields, but livestock still needs care, growth and slaughter. The two butchers are here and I shop from one.

And so is Carlo from the organic fruit farm in Kent where the soft berries are bursting on their vines and the ripe cherries dripping from the trees. Carlo has brought them all. He is a fast-talking, fast-working Eastern European who has an ease of knowing and selling that makes me wonder where he came from. Was he raised on a farm? Did his grandmother and mother want the same fruit that I do? For he has my strawberries. The berries that do not make the grade for elegant strawberries tarts or the Wimbledon tennis parties that are not happening this year, the little ones, odd shaped and more deeply flavorful from having been left in the field a little longer, in the hopes that they would turn into something prettier. Carlo knows that I want mine for jam and he has set aside – for ladies of a certain age – a few punnets of these berries. He tips three into a bag for me and I add some cherries for a morning coffee treat.

Strawberries and Sugar getting to know each other

Standing at the sink and hulling the berries is soothing. The berries are small and flavorful and as I started them right away there are only three to be taste tested. Into the pan they go, layered with preserving sugar that is available for those of us who still do such things and a younger generation replaying their childhood memories and making new ones for their own families.

As children, out from boarding school for Sunday lunch, we would be sent ‘into the garden to see if you can find some berries,’ Did we ever. We had a huge bed of strawberries in the kitchen garden. Covered in high netting so that the gardener could walk through, the plants laid on fresh straw that reflected the sunlight and kept the berries clean. But first there were birds who had been caught in the netting to capture, and set free, before eating all the berries we picked before lunch which, of course, included strawberries and home made ice cream.

A Rolling Boil brings two drips

But now there are just the two of us in a little cottage in London to enjoy the fresh berries and make a little jam. After coffee the strawberries are hulled and layered together with the preserving sugar all smelling so sweet, a check that we have not lost our sense of smell. They will slowly absorb the sugar for 24 hours before I turn the heat on to bring it all to a rolling boil.

In the farm kitchen there is a jar full of spoons and one is ‘the jam spoon’ that over the years has been honed into shape, one side growing straighter from stirring and lifting to see the two drops come together as one and tell me that the jam or jelly is done. I have only one long-handled wooden spoon in the cottage and over time this too is beginning to change as the drops form with promise of the gifts that are to come.

Strawberry Jam for the summer


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

Hibernation Gin

Recorded and knit together by WSM. Aired on KWMR.org June 24 2020

The Summer Solstice has brought bright sunshine. But there are no trips to Stonehenge to divine what the sun’s rising foretold today’s Druids. The longest day turns us to face the oncoming months of summer and review the fruition of the last few months of solitude. We are lucky and blessed, each with work that can be done sitting in a dressing gown on the sofa or – as some of us prefer – dressed for reclining out on the terrace.

We are also surrounded by a wonderful mix of neighbors gently watching out for us all. Tentative new friendships have begun between those of us who have been aware of each other for a mere twenty years. I now know that Leslie likes to read historical fiction, ‘I’ve got bookcases full of ‘em. You are welcome to borrow anything, come over any time.” She now knows that many of the flowers she enjoys when looking out of her window come from my mother’s garden.

Pressure on the government by ministers, businesses and the economy is growing. Non-essential shops have begun to open, though I’m not too sure what separates essential and non-essential, and for whom. One of my essential shops remain unable to get to their Piccadilly warehouse for what I require.

“The Prime Minister will share his outlines for reopening the economy on Tuesday.” The Government hands out information like school homework assignments and I’m not getting too excited about what Tuesday might bring. There will still be queues outside of the shops, there will still be people mindful of how they walk, and others uncaring as they pass you. And this new reality does not bear looking into too far ahead. Whatever Tuesday’s briefing may bring, I know that ‘we will never get back to normal, how things were.’ Intellectually I understand that, I really do. But emotionally I am a little worn down.

A friend and I had a socially-distanced wine bar meeting in the Library Garden. But as she steadies me down off of the ladder, where I have climbed for a little pruning, I longed to take her hand. Another friend is coming for tea in the Square’s garden on Wednesday. Will we be able to hug each other then?

Touch is the glue that holds us together. The skin is our biggest organ, it covers, protects and feeds us all at one time. Again we are lucky, there are two of us living side by side and touch is as much a part of our lives as is ‘time for a cup of tea then?’

The moments of solitude and intense personal work can also be a time to pause and look inward. It is James Baldwin’s clarity of thought and literary articulation in his essay ‘Faulkner and Desegregation’ that helps me delve into the minutiae of my mind and think of the prejudices that I carry.

“Just because they speak the same language, remember, they are still foreigners.” Said my mother in 1964 as I sat on her bed late one evening before leaving for America. I was appalled, as I often was, at ‘the things my mother says.’ I left for America determined to pay no attention to her words. It took a month, six weeks at most, for our cluster of three Irish and one English nurses to start squawking at how the Americans we met, patients, doctors and fellow nurses, behaved. Where was their stiff upper-lip? Did everything need to be written out before we got a patient out of bed? What, in other words, was the matter with these people? Our little gang of gals grumbled our way through winter into spring. New York and all across America was in racial turmoil during those months and on throughout the summer.

My mother arrived in July for my marriage (to an American!) in August. She came bearing gifts, lists and more scoldings on what I still had to get done in the remaining two weeks and also with an openness that put me to shame. For her ‘They are different’ translated into a sincere effort to understand the differences she encountered in the Americans she met. Naturally, she found more similarities than differences, and absorbed them all.

After the Friday morning wedding and lunch time snack we left, heading out for a six week motorcycle Odyssey to California. My mother stayed with her new relatives for the weekend. I can only image that after we had left, and the guests slowly finished up the sandwiches, champagne and tea, and also departed, my new in-laws, the grandmother and uncle who had flown down from Toronto and my mother had all sat down together with some relief. Conversation would have relaxed as they sipped something soothing and maybe smoked a little before dinner.

On Sunday our mothers went to hear Martin Luther King speak at Riverside Church. For my mother whose knowledge of Africans was from Africa this must have been an extraordinary event giving her another glimmer of understanding. And a glimmer is maybe all that most of us can hope for however hard we try.

Hibernation on the Terrace Photo by WSM


Fifty-five years later I look back, and see how far we have not come, how much work there is still to do and how the tap and tide of human kindness does not always seem to be turning clockwise. On our little terrace I try not to be discouraged as I add Hibernation Gin to the Elderflower cordial and listen to the blackbirds calling to their fledglings. But I can smile and give thanks for all the young people we have raised who are finding those glimmers of understanding and a light to shine for us all.

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

Not Fit for Purpose

Recorded and knit together by WSM
Aired on KWMR.org June 17 2020

After three months in lockdown it was time to venture beyond NW1 deeper into the city at West 2. My audiologist was working through his waiting list of patients and my name came up. With two small children at home, he was, frankly, happy to be working.

“The 274 bus will take you to Marble Arch and then it is a five minute walk.” But running late I hailed a taxi. The cabbie kept his windows open and I my mask and gloves on. Late but not too late, I followed Mark into his back room wondering how is this going to work. But the appointments are spaced 15 minute apart to clean the rooms. He took a brief history and looked at my old aides, trying to hide his amazement.
“These are 9 years old.”

Into the box I go and testing begins. The spacing between beeps is far too long. This is not good. Nor is his final verdict, “You might want to tell your children. And these,” he concludes looking again at my old friends, “are no longer Fit for Purpose.”

He sets me up anew and I will read the directions several times to get the best out of my National Health aides. My fingers are crossed and my glasses adjusted hoping that these new friends will ‘See me out.’

Not Fit for Purpose. One thing to say that about an old, but still working, appliance, but a little different for a person.

Though stooped low with osteoporosis, Howard still walks as if about to run. Under his scruffy black cap his sparse, long hair flows behind him. Howard was a fine tennis coach in the small sports center at the north end of Regent’s Park. There were four tennis courts, a golf practice range and cricket nets. But a fresh administration, a clean sweep with a new broom, and the golf and tennis areas were cleared away to increase wilderness for the hedgehogs. A catering hub was built overlooking the newly laid out cricket and football pitches now there was money saved and money earned.

The little tennis club at the other end of the park grew, attracting sweet young things and handsome jocks. And the staff had to fit that look. Howard and his Russian friend did not make the cut and his friend was so devastated he committed suicide. Howard manfully struggles on. Now as his knees and heart age he often stops to rest on his hurried walks back from the village. In this coronavirus loneliness he feels keenly ‘Unfit for Purpose’.

George Floyd’s murder has brought much of the world to attention and the last two weekends in England have been marked with protest marches for ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the BAME communities. And once again the protests have been mucked about by nationalists looking for a good ‘bust up.’ There is no football, no beer and few jobs. Ironically, Nazi Nationalists are seen defending Churchill’s statue while a very buff Patrick Hutchinson tosses an older white skin-head over his shoulder, because, as he said, ’He was separated and needed to get back to his people.’

Patrick Hutchinson rescues a white nationalist Photo credit the Wimbledon Times

When Edward Colston’s statue was pulled from his pinnacle in Bristol, graffitied, today’s version of tarred and feathered – then rolled and tossed into the harbour from whence landed his slave trading fortune, people began to look around. Who else glorified a past built on the enslavement of others for the enrichment of trade? Even Oxford University faced its mixed messages of Cecil Rhodes and Nelson Mandela. “We are going to have to work together now you and I” Mandela said to the statue when he set up the Mandela Rhodes Trust in 2003 to help heal racial divisions.

In London, Winston Churchill’s doomed statue stands on Parliament Square. One weekend graffitied and the next – to protect and possibly buy time – he was boxed up. One couldn’t help smiling – just a little – at the irony of this move. Boris Johnson huffing and puffing that his hero Winston Churchill had to be put in a box and that Sadiq Khan, the son of a London bus driver and now major of London after Boris, was the one to do it. Surely even Boris might have a glimmer of understanding that these statues, even that of his beloved Winston, might now be considered Not Fit for Purpose. This week’s attention is on Clive of India – another dastardly (the word fits) fellow, who is tucked away in Whitehall.

But how do we remember history? How do we teach it, respecting what was good while acknowledging the mostly unrecognized, unspoken atrocities that each and every country inflicts on those who stand in their way or from whom they can benefit?

Typically Johnson has proclaimed ‘A committee will be formed to review race relations’. Some in government will laugh and chuckle, while those in minority communities across the country will weep with resignation at this announcement. Reviews after racial incidents have been happening since race relations began to overtake class inequalities in import. It has been hard to track the snail’s pace of change in this country. But maybe this can be the time, as families from the countries we have plundered march and kneel together, to keep pressure on this government to look again, not only at the statues but in the class-rooms and work to do more for an England that is ‘Fit For Purpose’ in today’s world.

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

Respect my Existance or Expect my Resistance

Recorded and knit together by WSM. First aired on KWMR.org

Who knew that two lemon pits and a piece of soap could cause such anguish but it doesn’t take much when you are older, like the dishwasher and I. Teetering close to the edge of center, we were saved by beloved Ali and Sinder. No need to call the Sunday plumber who would have drained our wallet along with the dishwasher outlet pipe.

A late afternoon errand walk is prescribed to clear the cobwebs of dusty tears. A few people are making their way home preparing for week-twelve of their new reality. Even this late, Parkway Greens is restocking produce, and soon my string shopping bag is full. Turning into Camden behind a group of young police officers walking ahead of us, I am anxious, but they stop in front of ‘Five Guys 5 star hamburgers’ and easily join the young people returning from the afternoon’s march all waiting together for their takeout. There is very little traffic. Camden has never looked so quiet since when – probably since the last war years. Most shops would be boarded up, while a few remained open. Then there would have been posters about safely and thrift. Today’s posters are of George Floyd and Sean Rigg. On the last cross street before the Canal a new mural is looking down on us of a young black woman with her hair swept up and the words.


Respect my Existence or Expect my Resistance.

Camden Town Graffiti

Seems pretty simple really, a modern hip version of the Golden Rule.

Walking slowly home I am thinking back and remembering a road trip I took in 1996 searching for one story and finding another. A friend of a friend, David Grant, was caravanning around the world with his family: his wife Kate, three children, a dog and their horse Traceur. Overwintered in town, Traceur stayed at the farm and the family camped in the caravan up on the Mesa. Most mornings I would find their elder daughter, Ali, curled up in the hay barn asleep or reading. She reminded me of myself, sheltering in such a barn at such an age. Their trip gathered a certain amount of news interest and was good filler for when we were short a war or two. Doing some independent radio I was happy to follow along and record another moment of their journey.

So a few weeks after the Grants headed off I followed, up through Northern California, across Nevada and into bleak and desolate Idaho. Bleak became bare, bare became barren, and then the road the Grant’s had taken turned into ‘Unpaved for 12 miles over the pass.’ I turned the old Honda right onto ‘unpaved,’ driving slowly as the road twisted up a moderate incline for the first 5 miles. Soon the road became rockier, the climb steeper the sides closing into a high canyon and I began to feel nervous. How on earth had Traceur made it up this trail? This was truly tough territory and I began to wonder if I had lost my way.

But suddenly around another corner, just as I was really beginning to doubt myself, the rough road opened up and so did the rock face on my left. Beyond was a large meadow. And in the meadow there were people, and army trucks and what appeared to be a buzzing military camp. I stopped the car in the middle of the road and began, as one does in the middle of nowhere, to think, when suddenly a very fit khaki-clad middle-aged man came running towards me with a rifle over his shoulder. He lent forward and rapped sharply on the car window. I pressed the button and the window lowered. Breathing deeply I summoned my Mother.

“Good Afternoon. I wonder if you can help me.” Pure Home Counties with a smile. He stopped, pulled back a foot and touched his hat.
“Good afternoon, Mam.”
“I’m looking for a family in a horse drawn caravan. Have you seen them? Is this really the road to …”

All the time I was looking beyond him into the meadow trying to take it all in. This was a home-grown militia operation camp, practicing formation drills and target shooting and I had driven straight into it. There was even a visible archery range. If things went wrong I would not be the first or the last to go missing on this mountain pass. Luckily to him, I sounded more like an aspiration than a threat. He stood straighter still and courteously told me that yes I was indeed only six miles from the next town and that he had heard about this traveling family. If that town was where they were heading then they too would be on the road ahead. I thanked him and he touched his hat again. I didn’t ask him what they were doing. A question can become just an invitation to lie and I certainly didn’t want to hear his truth.

The Grant family did finally make it a back to Scotland. I got my story which aired on CBC in Canada. And those men in the Hills of Idaho? Some have grown old, some have died, but their sons still live. Life and a living is hard in Idaho and like many people who are isolated and feel left behind they are frightened. They were – and maybe still are – preparing with the only tools they have and know – calling out for their version of the American dream,


Respect my Existence or Expect my Resistance.

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


Covid, Cummings and Crying with Clive

Recorded and knit together by WSM. Aired on KWMR.org

Tear it all up and start again, as every night gives a new twist and the morning brings another reality. Thus this letter too may arrive as if receiving the papers on board ship and reading three-month-old news.

A notebook behind my desk opens to a page, ‘Nobody Talks to the Cleaners.’ A friend returning from her hospital stay remarked how she always made a point of saying ‘Hello, how are you?’ to the lady who came to clean the ward. When cleaning and other auxiliary hospital needs were contracted out – separated from the National Health Service – little fissures had a place to enter a smooth team of personnel. This essay was still waiting to be written, when Clive Myrie beat me to it and I am grateful.

Clive Myrie Somewhere.

Born to Jamaican parents Clive is a Lancashire lad. He graduated from The University of Sussex with a Law Degree at the age of twenty. But he chose to enter a BBC graduate program, thus beginning his journalist career. Traveling to over 80 countries, covering far too many war zones, he is now a regular news reporter for the BBC.

I always like to see Clive. Each news reporter has a different persona and how we respond to them may affect how we take in the news they are sharing. Even in his prime John Simmons was always too ‘old school’ for me. Jamaican born Sir Trevor McDonald barely hid his bite and made many folks sit up a bit straighter. Beloved, comfortable Welsh Huw Edwards has an aura of stability that sometimes also carries just the tiniest edge. And the women, well bless Emily Maitlis and her clarity last week. Though she was curbed she was not arrested. But I see compassion in Clive Myrie’s eyes. Scrolling through photographs I am held by one where he is standing with a guard at Guantanamo Bay prison with his fingers on his mouth. What was he thinking? What could he say?

Last week Myrie produced a special assignment closer to home. With permissions from patients, their families, and the staff, Myrie and his team spent a week in the Royal London Hospital of Whitechapel, recording the care, successes and sorrows of the hospital’s Covid virus wards. He sought out and talked with those beyond the front-line student nurses, religious leaders of all faiths, owners of funeral homes and morgues filled to overflowing with the dead of Asian and African communities hit the hardest by the virus, and the cleaners. “We clean to reduce the infection. If I don’t come the infection is going to spread more.”

In his report Myrie said ‘So many of the nurses and doctors and consultants as well as cleaners, the helping hands guiding us through this storm, are Black, Asian and Minority ethnic. Somewhere deep down, my heart skipped a little entering the Royal London’s Corona Wards. Because studies suggest that those from these communities are being affected by the virus disproportionately and almost twice as likely to die from the infection than those who are white.’

Meanwhile up the road in number 10 Downing Street ‘The Dominic Cummings incident’ is being fast swept under the not-so-magic carpet as the bitter pill of betrayal still lies un-swallowed in the mouths of many in this country. The goal of keeping the death rate at under 20,000 is long lost and the number of UK deaths will reach over 40,000 by the end of this week.

In America too those effected by the Corona Virus are disproportionally African-American and working class. Like England, security guards and workers on public transport are at the highest risk for severe infection and death.

The news from the United States brings tears of frustration, anger and deep sadness. For now – again – the senseless death – at police hands of George Floyd. I’m remembering Rodney King, I’m remembering and not calling to mind those who have been killed in the same way before and since that time. Watching the US police forces I think back to when the old ‘cop cars’ were replaced by military SUV’s returning from Iraq. Weapons came with them, bigger and more powerful guns, man-toys. Esquire writer Charles Pierce reminds us “that since 9-11, the federal government has equipped local police with $4.3 billion in military gear and prepared them for an all-out war on terrorists.” And some useful combat techniques. Jim Cessford, who has spent 47 years in law enforcement, says ‘knee to neck’ is not a tactic. “Neck restraints are totally unacceptable and they’re not an approved policy by police.” But on Twitter, the Palestinian Solidarity working group wrote: “US cops train in Israel with Israeli troops on duty in Palestine. The police violence happening in Minneapolis is straight out of the IDF playbook.”

There is anger, tears and despair aplenty among the images across the all the news media formats. There are scenes of peaceful protesters, rioters, more looters, now that the American unemployment rate is 14.7%, alongside groups cleaning up and feeding their communities. New York police wearing ‘I can breathe’ face masks, countered by other New York Police and politicians and even National Guards kneeling with, and reaching out to, protesters. Thus is the divide of the United States of America made visible to the world.

George the Poet, on Newsnight explaining a little about Racisism in the UK

Last weekend in capital cities throughout Europe groups gathered in peaceful protest of this ‘fresh’ killing. In London, marchers gathered in Trafalgar Square and the US fortress Embassy in Wandsworth. Though Social Distancing was out the window, most of the young marchers wore masks. There were only 23 arrests and the London coppers, without a mask between them, clutching only their water bottles in the heat, walked calmly side by side, with the marchers. George the Poet came to Newsnight and spoke in a gentlemanly manner trying to explain to Emily Maitlis the chilling similarities of black men and women killed by Police tactics in the UK and the U.S.

When Martin Luther King was assassinated, The King Assassination Riots, known as The Holy Week Uprising took place in 125 cities across America. America is again bubbling like a cauldron brewed and spread from the swamps of its underbelly. If the ‘Me too Movement’ which Maitlis referred to, was able to bring down Harvey Wienstien is it too much to ask that ‘Black Lives Matter’ maybe the Trump card America needs today.

So I return, retreat maybe, to James Baldwin, watching again his 1965 debate with William Buckley at Cambridge University.
“Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?”
One could now add, “Among others.”
At night I reach for Baldwin’s ‘Collected Essays’, seeking clarity but not comfort.
In the background Nina Simone is banging on the piano and singing
Mississippi Goddamn – over and over again.

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

Sheltering Somewhere

Recorded and Knitt together by WSM
First broadcast on KWMR.org 9.20 a.m PCT

Even as a child, the hamlet where I grew up was being hunted by urban amoeba pseudopods. The town of Fleet oozed with a hybrid sprawl, turning farms into developments, and army barracks into business centers. Not even a town worthy of its own picture house, the Odeon Cinema was closed in 1957. This corner of Hampshire is made up of just a few towns, as most of the B roads meander from villages through hamlets and back again. My mother lived in Fleet for all of her adult life. From childhood to widowhood in ‘The Old Divots’ and then as she started her life again in ‘The New Divots’. ‘The Divots’, named from her golfing and gardening life, was an important pause on life’s journey for her friends, our growing family, relatives, and yet more friends touching down from America and beyond. Bobby always had a warm welcome for everyone. There would be much serious liquid refreshment followed by a fabulous seasonal British meal, and then, after coffee and before teatime, an offer of a drive to some of the historic sites that litter this corner of England.

The village of Odiham was always a stop on Bobby’s tour. As The Young Farmers of Hampshire we would often end an evening at The George Inn in Odiham. Though I doubt any of us knew of the pertinent heritage to farmers that The George carried. In 1783, a group of, and I quote, ‘Gentlemen of Rank, Fortune and Ingenuity’ plus some ‘intelligent farmers’ met in The George Inn and formed the Odiham Agricultural Society. They went on to create a school of veterinary science which led to the foundation of the Royal Veterinary Society and profession in Britain.

Odiham also has a castle. Built by King John in 1214 the castle was then, like Fleet is today, in a prime location, between the seats of Winchester and London. The history of the castle saw the French dauphin laying siege to King John, the sitting of Parliament, and even the capture and imprisonment of the Scottish King David. Eventually the castle crumbled and was downgraded to a hunting lodge stop-over before finally left as a ruin in 1605.

The Gothic and Tudor Church of All Saints, lies behind the High Street. The church grounds leads out to The Bury courtyard. And in the Bury courtyard, now protected by a lych-gate like structure, stands the old Stocks and Whipping post. In another corner of The Bury sits The Pest House, both built around 1620. The stocks and whipping post are a reminder of times when villages, not always with a magistrate, took the punishment of community members into their own hands. A sepia postcard shows the stocks holding a tramp and the whipping post a young boy in custody, with 6 bobby-uniformed policemen in attendance some time after 1850.

Bobbies attended to the stocks and whipping post

The Pest House is one tiny room with a fire place and was restored by the Odiham Society in 1981. Usually these were placed outside of the village but this one is close to the church. Pest Houses were used to isolate people from within the community or travelers passing through who were thought to be contagious. The Plague, smallpox, and the sweating sickness brought in and spread by just one contact, could decimate families, farms and communities.

All of this comes to mind given the political shenanigans being exposed this week. It appears that Dominic Cummings, The Prime Minister’s chief advisor, did not follow the instructions that he himself had issued to Health Secretary Matthew Hancock and the government to “Stay in place, Self Isolate, Protect the NHS, Save Lives and so forth.” Nope. He packed up his car and drove his sick wife and four-year-old child north 260 miles to his family home in Durham where it appears that once in place his sister did the necessary outside shopping and errands for them. All so far infuriating but not raising the temperature of the general public until he was sighted 30 miles away from his house at Barnard Castle and later in the week on a walk to view the bluebell woods outside of the city.

I have not been the only person to write that they are ‘Incandescent with Rage’ at this sense of betrayal by a government advisor. Cummings is not appreciated for his possible far reaching governmental reform ideas but perceived as a machiavellian puppet master whose character is recognized in too many political histories.

This turmoil, which will continue to evolve through the next week, brings back to mind how small is England, and how much smaller it has become with today’s communication structures. The spirit of the people lives on from Hogarth sketching the depravity of his day in Odiham to Sunday when the ‘Led by Donkeys’ campaign truck parked outside of Cummings’ residence in Islington, the screen showing on repeat the TV footage of Boris reminding, urging, then thanking, the people of this great country who stayed at home. Disrespect can easily lead to mutiny.

But when we can look beyond this government for a moment, the unnecessary pain they have inflicted and towards a bigger picture we can take some comfort and resolve from a billboard high up in Piccadilly Circus where our captured Queen is pictured. Steadfast as always she is telling us that one day we will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again; we will meet again.

A Message from Her Majesty


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