Mutant in Tier Four

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

On our Sunday walk through the park, people were in groups of families and friends, mostly unmasked as if to say, like Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” And then in the depth of mid-winter, Monday’s Solstice came, with the dawning of understanding that England is now closed well into the New Year. The clouds are rain-filled and hang low in the sky, dripping like a slipping tap. And there is no way we can see the great conjunction of the planets, Jupiter with his train of moons and Saturn with her large rings.

Trucks in Waiting in Kent

Between Brexit and the new mutant strain of COVID-19, the rest of Europe is firmly closing its doors on trade and travel with England. Albeit ‘closing the barn door after the horse has bolted’. The mutant strain of COVID-19 is now found in six countries while 40 countries more have banned travel to and from England. The blinding vision that Boris Johnson, and all who sail with him, carry – that England would become a hub of commerce – have not just faded but imploded. Great Britain, in the eyes of the world, is now Little England. Who is being served here? Certainly not the European, Scottish and English fishermen, nor the lorry firms’ haulers or container-freight drivers from Europe or the UK. A six-hour queue on the motorways in Kent is now the norm, and the book of Brexit is not yet closed. News broadcasts announce that ‘there will be gaps on the supermarket shelves within days. A shortage of lettuce,’ they say. But who on Earth is choosing a salad over hot winter vegetable soup in these dark, wet, days. But we will join the rest of the country stocking up as best we can for our non-existent Christmas and into the Bleak Midwinter New Year. We go to our familiars: the supermarkets that are close to our feet and bank accounts, and we have now become the old people, moving slowly, peering at this and picking up that. Six crumpets at 30 pence a packet are still the best and cheapest comfort food on the shelf. And the wine, well we could always do with a bottle or two more.

Much of England’s dismay is the understanding that – once again – the UK government has not been telling, ‘The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’ The mutant strain of the COVID-19 virus was first discovered in Kent in September. Sir Patrick Vallance, the government Chief Scientific Adviser, spoke of it in October, and still, in November the government announced a five-day break of isolation over Christmas. Last week there was a “Oh, sorry about that, our whoopsie,” before a rushed reversal, clamping down to a one day Christmas holiday with no more than six people and no granny or grandpa visits.

In Tom Chivers’ December 21 article in UnHerd, ‘How dangerous is the Covid mutation?’ he writes of his family’s efforts to do the right thing before – thank you – explaining about mutations in a very readable way.

While Health Secretary Matt Hancock repeats: 

“It’s all very difficult.” But is it? Hie Min, the dance choreographer from Taiwan writes that life there is now almost normal. What did they, and other nations like China, Japan, New Zealand, and Vietnam, do? Apart from mask–wearing, social-distancing, super-hygiene, and testing, they closed their borders and contained themselves. And they thought of the collective good over their personal wants and needs.

Murch Mince Pies

Despite the lock-down I cannot help getting twitchy in the kitchen (as an American friend says about his Swiss wife) at this time of year. And so I buy dried fruit, mince-meat, more flour, eggs and butter, and bake for hours. But I’m not the cook I was and one burnt Dundee cake found its way to the compost pile where it will become soil for next spring. There is a little COVID-free cluster in this cul-de-sac bringing neighbors together as we all look out for each other. My husband watches with some concern as another plate of Mince Pies or Biscotti goes out the door into grateful hands and brings a smile to another drawn face. But there are always the crumble bits – which long ago Uncle Harold taught us have no calories.

There are more knocks on the door, as gifts and secrets (can you wrap this for us?) arrive from family and friends. This morning there is the mail from America, our letters from abroad. I open it eagerly, for among the  constant bills, is always a note from our son. This one says that the old Christmas Lights from eons ago are hung on the windows and a wreath of welcome hangs on the door. The gratitude that we feel when Dan the postman knocks on the door and, with a smile, hands us our letters, makes me wonder if this is how it felt to receive mail packages from the ships in past centuries, when families were taking great leaps into far-away countries, and letters from home were a reminder of what they had left behind: their families, the good, and the terrible times. Those leaps are still being taken by families from over the world. News may not come in letters, but phone calls – even emails – will still contain the same messages: of hope, of longing, some truths, some not-quite truths, some requests, some reassurances and news, good or not. 

As of this weekend it was not known if the Queen had written or recorded her Christmas message to the nation and commonwealth. It is hard to imagine what she must be thinking about this government. A good hearty wield of the ceremonial sword would not go amiss in these times. Her unprecedented message in the middle of the first lock-down helped us all see this through but now there is a deeper malaise, a sadder push and pull to us all in the country. We will listen to her carefully-chosen words on Friday, and hope that she can give us all the strength and courage to Carry On.

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

Losing

Recorded and Knit together by WSM


Late afternoon becomes early evening with the December drizzle falling softly as I turn from Marylebone High Street onto George Street on Saturday afternoon. Sitting and rocking on the ground outside of the metal railings surrounding St. James’ Roman Catholic Church, sits a woman. I have seen her here before. Reaching into my pocket I check, that yes I do have some coins ready and waiting. As I bend to give into her old paper coffee-cup she beams up at me with such an engaging, albeit tooth-shy, smile that we talk.

“Do you have somewhere to sleep?”
“Ooh yes they are very good to me, I am so grateful. But I do have to buy my own food.” We talk some more about accommodation at this time and then I ask her,
“Where are you from?” and have to ask her to repeat herself.
“Russia. I am from Russia, then I spent several years in Switzerland but they let me come back here and I am (she repeats) so grateful.”

She is smiling all the time, and rocking from side to side and I wonder at her story. So many Eastern European women came to Great Britain, and America, looking for a refuge, a better life an escape from what? I wondered. They were all working women in one way or another. Some got lucky, were successful if you like, such as Melania Trump who started life as Melanija Knavs of Yugoslavia, then Slovenia, and finally, at the moment, the United States of America. While some, like this smiling lady sitting on the pavement outside of a Catholic church in the soft rain and evening light, were not. But she looks like she will make it through the winter, though you never know.

It was only sixteen months ago that David Cornwall, John le Carré, was sitting beside me at the theater for a friends and family screening of Coup 53. It was wonderful that he came to see the film, understood so clearly the behavior and involvement of MI6 and the CIA in the take-down of Mohammad Mosaddegh. His understanding and wholehearted approval of the film led to him giving the team his total support and some wry comments of what to watch out for: “You have no idea how deep they will go.” In the subsequent months his remarks proving remarkably true. But as well as government coups, we talked of grand-children and the new best next love affairs in our lives. The news of his death on Sunday came like the news of a friends death and in the outpouring of tributes to him, so many said the same. His joy in writing was evident on every page. His literary skills were honed like a fine musician playing his instrument: piano, saxophone, violin or words on paper.

Photograph: Rob Judges/Rex/Shutterstock

On Sunday, over a dinner of scallops and turbot, discussions between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen took place in Brussels. They were described as ‘lively and frank’ in one paper and Johnson as unbelievably arrogant in another report found on Twitter, that did not make it to the papers. But Ursula held her ground against Boris and after his incredible outburst of rudeness the turbot was dispatched quietly and quickly. It doesn’t sound as if desert was on the menu. There were ten minutes of discussion after supper, some separate statements were sent out, “Very large gaps” are said to remain between the two sides, according to a No 10 source. Von der Leyen said the two sides’ positions “remain far apart” and that their teams will reconvene to try to resolve issues: and then it was away and back to their rooms. Was it Saturday that Boris suggested bringing in the Royal navy to patrol the UK Waters, and Ursula had spoken with a subdued but visible smile of the UK’s wish for “Sovereignty, if you like’ and by Sunday, when the discussions were supposed to stop, both sides had agreed to carry on.

Johnson was not happy when blocked from talking with Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron, as he tried to weasel his way around from meeting with Ursula. Ursula, as head of the European commission, has done a fine job of herding cats, as in twenty-seven nations, to one agreement. After the Sunday phone call exchange, “I’ll call you,” the EU and UK have promised to go the extra mile. Johnson seems at a loss with this strong and immaculately turned-out attractive woman. It is hard to separate the personal man from the political and when he did put forward sending the navy out to protect British waters, the public embarrassment crosses generations and classes. In past interviews Le Carré has spoken of his time as a teacher at Eton School.

“What you have to understand about the Etonian is that he is not taught to govern, he is is taught to win.” And as Malaparte has said, “Everyone would like to win but not everyone is capable of losing.”

Meanwhile the COVID-19 vaccines are beginning to be given in England. The few pictures of seniors in wheelchairs may be cheerful but are not yet reassuring. London and large parts of the North of England are heading back into the Tier 3 restrictions this week and it looks like there are rough waters ahead. Health Secretary Matt Hancock asks for caution when doing what we have all been promised we can do, travel to visit family. Winnie the Pooh’s bouncing Tiger has turned to a sad Eeyore and understandably so.

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

Arrival

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

As I write, the first of the vaccines for the COVID-19 virus are being administered in 70 hospitals throughout the United Kingdom. Margaret Keenan, who will be 91 next week, received the first of the 800,000 doses that have arrived. 40 million doses of the Pfizer/bioNtech vaccine are on order to be delivered to the United Kingdom in the coming weeks.

The vaccines were made by the husband and wife team of Professors Sahin and Özlem Türeci at their German firm BioNTech. Professor Türeci’s father had come to Germany as a refugee from Turkey and found work as a mechanic at the Ford factory. When Sahin was four years old the family followed and the immigrant refugee family settled in Germany.

Last week England came out of lockdown from the Coronavirus while this week much of California enters it. So the virus wings about through the world. The World Health Organization is scrambling to keep the regional information current. Each country and region looks for different ways to combat the virus and it is clear that countries led by women leaders have fared best thus far in their handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. One could argue that those are ‘small countries with manageable numbers’ or one could say ‘those are women who know how to think of more than one thing at a time.’ Other women, in government, or opposition, are also organizing their worlds, fighting back against right-wing oppressive governments. And mostly they do it in tandem or groups: Marta Lempart, a co-founder of Polish Women Strike has been battling the latest anti-abortion laws in her country laid out by the government and the Catholic Church.

Martha Lempart picture from the Financial Times

The team of three Belarusian ladies work together even as they are physically far apart. Patrisse Cullors a co-founder of Black Lives Matter says the obvious, “No movement has one leader. It never did and it never will.” Maybe this is something women understand clearer than men.

Patrisse Cullors

Due as much to science, and the infection numbers coming down as to the Christmas retail needs, London is buzzing again. Shoppers are out in such force in the West End and Knightsbridge that over the weekend four arrests were made outside of the Harrod’s department store, while the crowds of mostly young people, struggled to shop ’til they drop. And some sadly will. Even in our little corner of town, people are shopping, clustering at coffee shops and spending money. I am too, being careful and almost guilt-free in my efforts to support the local economy. But the empty shop windows in the high streets strip the phrase ‘shutting up shop’ of its humor as workers lose their jobs. What is the key to shops staying alive? Beyond getting savvy with the new online way of buying and selling it has to be related to those who own the real estate underneath the buildings. If the rents and taxes can be managed then the shop has a chance to make it through.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak know all this of course and must look to whose bread is to be buttered.

So again I ask, why are the UK and European fishing rights so important when all the seafaring European countries have been dipping their oars and nets into everyone’s waters for centuries, and who, for goodness sake owns all the boats and fleets? It really is a medieval moment, without the costumes. There is a news outlet ‘Unearthed’ that digs into this to the point of making you despair at anyone with a net and a trawler not being a pirate.

As Boris rushed from congratulating 81 year old Lyn Wheeler for getting her vaccine jab at Guy’s Hospital onto his next stop, Brussels, one had to wonder about the UK’s group of small and wealthy elite. Maybe understanding their concerns is the beginning of the answer to defending ‘Our sovereign rights’ as opposed to ‘workers rights’. It is hard to find anyone writing or talking about Off-Shore banking. Those little Islands close by, of Man, Jersey and Guernsey and further afield like Bermuda, that hold the banks that are happy to take your funds and ignore reports for UK taxes. Even as I pay my UK taxes to Her Majesty’s Government I then pay the tax ladies’ bill into their bank in Guernsey! The small and wealthy elite are rushing to come out of the European Union before those EU rules and regulations come snooping into the Islands.

An Obituary in the weekly local Camden Newspaper said of a lady who had died at 103, ‘She used to be a fine cook in her prime.’ It made me pause and wonder what and when is ‘prime’? Cooking is a part of who I am, it is a joy and often an adventure. Someone else wrote, ‘My Kitchen and I work in harmony’ and I know that, as one ingredient or dish of left-overs leads into an old favorite or a new creation to place on the table. Grandma Murch would cook her oatmeal cookies whenever someone came to visit at her home in 1 Vermont Avenue in Toronto. Those cookies, from the old Quaker oatmeal recipe, are the ones I made for our children and now at least one daughter makes them for hers.

Four generations of Quaker Oatmeal Cookies

The Christmas lights are on and the birds have gone to roost. Maybe it is time to pull out that oatmeal cookie recipe once more and put the kettle on as the light fades before tea-time and all is dark outside.

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


Striker

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Scotland is quick off the mark as it takes Footballer Marcus Rashford’s goal of free school meals one step further, proposing giving all primary aged children breakfast and lunch throughout the entire school year. Yesterday the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced a one-time thank you gift of £500 for every full-time Health and Care Worker in Scotland. Take that England! Today there is a big vote in Parliament about the tier restrictions, ‘where’ will be classified as ‘what’. Through this country-wide lockdown the number of COVID positive tests continues to rise and fall in waves across the country. But as we come out of the national lockdown and into tier two, the number of cases and deaths in London is down. There is even a suggestion that we might have crested the peak of a second wave.

The Weekend Financial Times newspaper editor, Alic Russell, lays two pink-paged obituary columns side by side.

Leading is the article on Jan Morris, ‘The Greatest Travel writer of her generation’ writes Russell. And more so. From James to Jan she wrote of her travels with eloquence, insight and a dry wit. During the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Clinton years she published a collection of essays, ‘Conundrum’. One a reflection on the physical beauty of an army officer, as they rode side by side in an army tank, transporting the tank, and the officer, back to that of a Greek chariot.

In ‘Thinking Again’ Morris quotes Arthur Clough writing in 1861, “Thou shalt not kill: but need’s not strive officiously to keep alive.” She is musing on an old clock that hangs in her kitchen in Wales, supplanted in use, but not in beauty, and I smile, for behind me is a similar clock, probably an old golf prize of my father’s. It has always been tricky, needing frequent winding, but after a day or two it slowly winds down to a stop. When it first came into my care I took it to a clock-maker who worked with it for a week, before handing it back, with a bill, and a wry smile. “Not much I can do here unless you want to…” His voice trailed off and I understood that this was a moment that “one need’s not strive officiously to keep alive.”

Beside the reflective Jan Morris is the smiling brash Diego Maradona who many consider the greatest footballer of his generation. His epic scoring second goal in the World Cup quarter-finals against England in 1986 was a moment of triumph, a ‘take that’ kick up the English backside that left two of the English players hard-put not to applaud.

I never really got football, it is my failing and I apologize. When we were first in Buenos Aires I was often alone long into the evenings in the apartment on Calle Estados Unidos. At least once a week, echoing out of the hallways and up the shafts between the apartments, would come what I took to be the sounds of after a drink and pre-dinner sexual activity. It took a while before learning that, no, it was TV football-watching and probably La Boca Juniors were playing.

It was with grim pressed lips that the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, reportedly by an Israeli ambush team, was broken last week.

A rare picture of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh

Countries watched and remained silent – for the most part – for there is movement on the chess board. While President – Elect Joe Biden says he intends to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, Jared Kushner has taken up the baton from Michael Pompeo and is very busy flying here and there through the Middle East.

The ambush of Fakhrizadeh was planned like an age-old assignation. An assault twelve member team with another fifty personnel in back-up. The area’s electricity was cut half-an-hour before the assassination took place at a road round-about in Absard. The helicopter could not land close-by and so time was lost for those killed and injured as they were all flown back to Tehran.

Somehow it is these details, which lead me back in memory to the gangster killings in New York, and the history of the assassination of the Iranian General Afshartous in 1953. I should be paying more attention to the travel Itinerary of young Jared Kushner. This week he is meeting Saudi Crown Prince MBS in Neom before ‘having a word or two’ with the Emir of Qatar. These could be some interesting tea parties as he tries to gather the Middle Eastern countries into alignment with Israel. I’m not sure he really knows what he is doing – or does he? He is young and must have his own aspirations.

Winter is here. The Thanksgiving Holiday has rolled from the last weekend in November into the first week of December. The family traditions that we built over the years adapt with age. We would prune the wisteria over the barn this weekend and then hang the funky lights over the front windows on the farm. Often we were told that as friends drove around the lagoon, seeing those small unfussy lights, made them know they were coming home. Now here in London we will choose a wreath for the front door and pull out the old Fortnum’s hamper of lights to decorate the little cottage.

Welcome to Number 39 Photo by WSM

Last week saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak lighting an oil lamp on the doorstep of Number 11 Downing Street, for the Hindu festival of Diwali, now the big Christmas tree is up outside of number 10.

Whatever our cultures and religions, coming together in gratitude will bring joy and for that we can all be grateful.

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

An Intersting weekend

Recorded and Knit together by WSM.
(Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz gave the welcoming address as all the members of the G 20 summit were made visible on the big Zoom Screen. The summit was hosted by Saudi Arabia but without the lush, welcome goody bags that must have been missed. Here were twenty nations coming together, to talk, or in this instance, to listen, trying to come up with a positive action in this COVID year that has affected every nation. President Putin looked suitably serious, President Merkel was as clear and concise as ever. Prime Minister Johnson huffed and puffed his way forward, while ‘you know who’ got up after the first photo shoot and went golfing. The consensus that emerged was that COVID-19 vaccines should be made available world-wide, and equally accessible to poorer countries.

There were no cozy tete-a-tete in the tea rooms or bars of the hotels where so much, for better or worse, can be discussed, suggested or mooted. So it was no surprise that the U.S. Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, slipped off touring the Arab states and ‘had a word’ with the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, M.B.S. undoubtedly picking scabs in Irainian politics with Pompeo saying “It’ll be our policy until our time is complete.” One wonders what the ‘it’ is, beyond giving President-elect Joe Biden a headache on entering the White House in January.

In England, beyond Brexit, beyond COVID, beyond a Prime Minister in isolation again, the UK government has another little problem. Sir Alex Allan, as adviser on ministerial standards, clearly decided that the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had breached the ministerial code through yelling profanities and bullying. For whatever reasons Johnson sat on the report for months, though now it is clear that Patel’s role as dark haired handmaiden to the blond bumble may be in jeopardy. While Sir Alex Allan resigned, a few ministers came forward uttering variations of:

“I’ve never seen her behave badly,” The business has left another bad taste in the mouth of the public that is barely being rinsed away by the news of COVID Vaccines soon becoming available, or the promise of the national lock-down being lifted and Christmas having some element of normality.

European and international news is buried deep in back page paragraphs. In Belarus the 16 weeks of protest continue though the weekends arrests were down to 200. Three young Hong Kong activists including Joshua Wong, have been charged with activism and each face three years imprisonment. Exhaustion and the COVID Virus have caused many demonstrations to fade, though the women of Poland are still visible, struggling for the last vestiges of control of their bodies.

Seeing all this harsh political power-playing behavior, being isolated in COVID quarantine, and feeling powerless has been countered by the human kindness we met this week.

By Friday night, after a little biopsy on Thursday, my body had taken offense and raised my blood pressure to the extent it needed to let off steam, or blood, and, as there already was a wound available, it did. After doing all the right things it became clear this wasn’t going to stop without help. We had been instructed, “Dial 111 if you bleed for longer that fifteen minutes.” And I felt nothing but relief when two slender men in green uniforms strode into our cottage and joined me, sitting, and dripping, in the bathroom. Mike and John had been a paramedic team for over 20 years. Though both were now retired they had responded to this spring’s outreach call and came back into part time service for COVID.

After a bathroom sit and a chat it was clear that it was time to return to University College Hospital where a hand-off, such as I recognized, took place. Two young nurses tucked me up, watched my not good blood pressure and gently cleaned what they could of the continual stream of blood that was flowing into unmentionable creases. We were well connected before a very jolly God’s-gift-to-whoever doctor bounced in.

“We’re giving you some medicine for your blood pressure and now if you just hold this here with a little more pressure. And why did you have a biopsy?”

“Well it wasn’t for fun.” brought laughter to the little cubicle in which he had the grace to join in. I was wheeled off to a holding pen ward to wait, while continuing to drip, for the facial surgeon.

“And you are?”

“The Doctor.” A beloved young Asian Muslim knelt by my bed to talk at my level. I held out my hand and he took it, receiving me into his care. His soft brown eyes held my old bloodshot ones as he gently explained what he was going to do. He had done the first healing with acceptance and tenderness and now with his skill and experience he cleaned up the mess. I was beyond grateful.

While he went off to write up his notes, completing this minor event for him, I wondered if he realized that his healing had begun when he knelt by my side to look me in the eye. At one time he too must have had to overcome the fear of ‘the first time’ that was still carried by the young doctor who had performed the first, maybe her first, biopsy. We have all been there, learning the procedures, by the time honoured, “see one, do one”, been an assistant who lets their hand be squeezed so tightly as to bruise, before becoming the experienced practitioner who has the assurance to heal.

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

Flotsam and Jetsam

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Earlier in this COVID year KWMR’s station manager, Amanda Eichstaedt, wrote in the weekly newsletter about walking with a purpose. Her young pup, Waylon, joins her as she sets out, gloved, and carrying a plastic bag and grabbers readily picking up litter left behind by those who have not yet taken on board the ‘pack it in, pack it out,’ mantra. Reading her words brought a smiling remembrance of long ago houseboat days. My friend Jill and I each had a toddler boy and our houseboats were small. In order to get the boys – and ourselves – outside safely we would often walk the shoreline of the Richardson Bay pushing a wheelbarrow along the unpaved path beside the water. We even brought gloves, knowing that while mucking about in the mud we could get pretty grubby as we hauled out flotsam and jetsam from the bay. Lumber from old building projects and branches from fallen trees were our main harvest, to be brought back to the boats, and cut up as firewood for our small wood-burning stoves. We also hauled out tires, coiled wire, anything that sullied the waters and could harm the wildlife. We carted those back to the garbage bin in the parking lot and hoped they would not find their way back to the water. The boys of course loved it. Jill’s husband Ron wrote two large labels, Roach and Grogan, and pinned them to our backs, and to this day I can’t remember which of us is which, while we both still, in our ways, carry on cleaning up.

Walking alongside this stretch of Regent’s canal last week we caught up with a slow moving barge. Four men, volunteers from the auspices of Camden Counsel were chugging slowly along and coming to frequent stops under the bridges that cross over the canal. Beside each was a pile of old iron.

Four men, mucking about in boats

It has been many years since we heard the weekly cry of a man pushing his barrow while ringing his bell and calling out, “Any old Iron, Any old Iron.’ Now for those who do not make it to the recycling centers there is always the canal at nighttime. Before this gathering barge there is another barge that combs the water. It carries a huge magnet that fishes for chunks of iron. Bedsprings and bicycles are among the big items, along with builders detritus and other indescribable metal. The magnet hauls these up from the shallow canal bottom piling it all to one side ready for collection by this second barge and its team. This culls the heavy metal, but plastics, glass and tins are left for another, bigger trawling barge that comes out scooping up the remains of our casual consumption.

This week the UK government has brought out its own barges and a cleansing sweep through the muddied waters of Westminster has taken place. More jetsam than flotsam, (jetsam defined as the portion of a ship’s cargo thrown overboard to lighten her during a storm) the removal of Dominic Cummings from Number 10 Downing Street has many of the back benchers, sailing in the good ship Tory, breathing a sign of relief. But will the removal of Cummings be enough to save the party and the country from the wreckage he has left behind?

Dom, his box and his backpack. Newspaper photo

The Brexit negotiations are floundering and to distract the populace there is a lot of fast talk by government about the cautiously optimistic scientific announcements of COVID Vaccines being available soon. There is an aura of hot wind blowing through the halls of Westminster. And to top it off, or bottom it out, Boris Johnson has been told to self-isolate due to being in contact with a member of parliament who tested positive for COVID. From where he has issued the inflammatory statement calling, “The Scottish devolution a disaster.” Thank you Boris.

Apart from the Telegraph, most of the English newspapers have left Belarus to flounder alone, stuck in its own political mud. While twenty-three journalists have been detained, Lukashenko is not budging. On Sunday alone, one thousand protesters were apprehended across Belarus after Roman Bondarenko who was taken and beaten by the police on Thursday and later died.

However the statement from Secretary fo State, Mike Pompeo, that “These political prisoners have been subject to harsh and life-threatening detention conditions, including credible reports of torture… The United States stands with those who remain detained and unaccounted for, those who have been killed, and those who continue to peacefully assert their right to choose their leaders in free and fair elections,” leaves me more than a little confused, considering all that is happening, and not happening, in the United States. Jetsam remains from the November presidential election and is still floating in the tidal waters of Washington. Large and small politicians and policies are banging into and against each other, unsure of which way the tide is turning. Some are scrambling to shore, some are retreating to the open seas, all are hoping to be rescued by history.

Next week brings the American Thanksgiving holiday and this year so many families will be apart and unsure what to be thankful for. We watch it all while the skies darken by late afternoon and the night air turns cold. Autumn is here and the fuchsias will not throw any more buds. Instead they will recede to the back of the stage and let the hardy cyclamen step up with their bright green striped leaves and even bolder purple, red and white flowers. These bright colors of winter are something for which we can all be grateful.

Cyclamen for you


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

Old Memories and New Beginnings

Recorded and Knit together by WSM.


The days and dates you remember come from childhood, and the important moments in our personal lives and country’s wellbeing. Where were you the day King George VI died, and Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the days the Kennedy brothers or Martin Luther King were assassinated, the day Elvis died, John Lennon was shot? We remember them all.

And where we were the night of the 2016 election results? I was driving back from San Francisco to the farm. Texts with Walter as I crossed the bridge.
“The numbers do not look good.”
“I’ll pick up supper.”
And pushing a shopping cart through Molly Stone’s as in years gone bye with four hungry children clamoring, all wanting supper. Shopping mindlessly, plucking from the shelves, sushi, crackers and what else? Then, as light receded to dusk and dusk became dark, driving home. The scene was somber. Four men standing in the kitchen and a laptop on the counter. I laid the supper out on the table but nobody moved in on it until the whisky and glasses arrived.

Watching a long evening

We watched the laptop screen almost in silence as the numbers came in. The sushi was gone, the chips too, and the whisky bottle was nearly empty when the farm frog appeared, from some crack, to perch on the kitchen counter. There have always been frogs on the farm and every winter one or two of them come inside, as if they are checking on us, seeing if we are all all right. This night we were grateful.

Farm Frog

But now, this year, when Pennsylvania was called we had a different kind of meltdown. Messy and dangerous as the President can make the next two and half months, there is a path forward and we are exhausted and giddy from the worry and relief, as when a beloved child has just escaped, damaged but not dead, from a serious accident. There is hope and there maybe a world for our grandchildren to repair and thrive in. A text comes through from our neighbors here, ‘’We are celebrating in the parking lot”. And – keeping a social distance – we go to join them. The mixture of at least four nationalities was the beauty of the night as we stayed apart, rejoicing in relief. The papers’ weekend headlines, where, in one phrase or another, World leaders messages; ‘Welcome back America.” But it was only when the Scottish Ayrshire Daily News announced the headline:

“South Ayrshire Golf club owner loses 2020 presidential election.”

Scottish Ayrshire Daily News

That we breathed a little more deeply.

And suddenly the weather turned into glorious autumn days. Days that call you to be outside, remembering long ago gallops through woodlands, but now grateful for a bike ride in the park or a stroll by the river. The sunshine called everyone and we avoided the village where small clusters of people are lingering outside their favorite coffee shops. They hover on the pavements where the heaters are still on under little covers, and where the tables have been taken away but will return one day.

This weekend the United Kingdom honored Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday closest to Armistice Day, November the 11th. Though COVID is having its way with us all, the Queen had her own agenda to attend to before lock-down on Thursday. Taking matters into her own hands, she left Windsor Castle for the city. The Court Circular for November the 4th reads: “The Queen this morning commemorated the Centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey, London, and was received at the Great West Door by the Dean of Westminster (the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle).” Her equerry Lieutenant Colonel Nana Kofi Twumasi-Ankrah, of the Household Cavalry was by her side. The Queen honours and loves her country’s soldiers and must carry her own youthful memories of the day and night the people of London rejoiced.

HM The Queen watches from The Balcony at Whitehall. Thank you Getty Images

But on Sunday all was in order for the very scaled-down Service of Remembrance and laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph. With COVID in the air the 100,000 spectators who usually attend the event were kept away. The Military precision of decades flowed on with everything mapped out for the march-past service and laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph. The event began with The Royal family, somewhat depleted of male members, and was followed by representatives of the armed and civilian services, representatives of the Commonwealth, and a long string of past Prime Ministers and present-day politicians, before the representatives from all services and wars marched past. David Dimbleby, at age 82, gave the commentary with a voice that has finally overtaken his father Richard’s in our memory. The solemnity of the occasion was only disturbed, for me, at the appearance of so many past Prime Ministers with their wreaths. How many of them who had sent men and women to war on their watch were able to pray for the souls of the departed?

Monday – and the papers are buzzing and twitching as world leaders continue to welcome Joe Biden on board with as much joy as relief. But Boris Johnson must choose his words carefully. “We have more in common than that divides us”. Joe Biden is loyal to his country, to past President Obama, and carries a deep sense of moral honesty. Before the US election, like many British politicians of this time, he called on the Prime Minister to honour the Good Friday Agreement. Joe Biden is not known particularly for ‘Biden’ his tongue. And this may be a moment when we can be grateful for his outspoken Irish Heritage, for, suddenly, there are talks happening again between the European Union and the UK Government. Fish and Ireland are back on the Agenda.

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

Shutting up Shop

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Factory workers and university students have now joined the rota of protests in Belarus now working in daily shifts, slowing the country’s economy down hour by hour, adding their voices to the opposition of President Lukashenko.

In Poland too, the women have had enough. The latest change in the abortion laws – stating that even when the fetus is diagnosed with a serious and irreversible defect – abortion is now illegal, is seen as the last tightening knot against democracy, and there is a growing anger at the Church’s complicity in this ruling. The strikes are led by women in the work force, housewives will no longer keep house, and more women than are counted have ‘Shut up Shop’ – completely. 

While Belarus and Poland protest, France mourns and prays as the attacks by ISIS extremists continue. With night-time curfews in France, Spain and Italy no-one knows when to have dinner.

Most of Europe now recognizes that each country’s initial ‘me-first’ reaction to COVID-19 didn’t help countries individually or Europe collectively. Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and Spain are now opening their borders for any needed treatments of COVID-19 patients. While England goes into Lockdown for four weeks. There is an old adage in medicine, “Timing and Dosage” which applies to everything we try to do. Everyone is struggling and, unlike Asia, no European country has succeed thus far in controlling the virus.

Here on Thursday all non-essential businesses will close for another month. Shutting up Shop has never felt so poignant. We tend to look inward and not venture too far afield. While the first wave of COVID caused a lot of closures and adjustments there were also new beginnings. Now there are six pubs within less than five minutes of our front door: The Pembroke, The Queen’s, The Lansdowne, The Princess, The Engineer, and finally The Albert which has reopened after four years. The opening of The Albert took place on Friday. A handful of locals gathered outside and Andrew Marr, of political inclination, declared The Albert open and joked that this was the most important thing he had done all year.  Cheering and clapping on the corner of the street, but it too will close again on Thursday. 

The Albert is ‘Declared Open’ by Andrew Marr. Walter Murch, Phil Cowan, Line Copper are among others present. Photo credit unknown. Thank you.

While walking through the modern complex of shops and high-rise apartments at the Tower complex I thought of our friends Hwai-Min LIN and Hsun CHIANG who had been gifted an apartment there for this summer. They arrived in February, and left in March. “The English are crazy, no masks no distance.” They very sensibly fled to the safety of home in Taiwan.

We had been nervous of going to a theater in these COVID Times. And maybe that is what these times will be known as – These COVID Times. But I snagged the last two seats available for a Saturday afternoon matinee at The Bridge Theatre. We were to see a one hour monologue of David Hare’s “Beat the Devil” performed by Ralph Fiennes.

Tower Bridge. Photo by WSM

How wonderful it was. And how brave. The Bridge Theater shines as a beacon by the Thames River and is looked down on by Tower Bridge. Across the river stands The Tower of London. Old and New London within a cricket ball toss of each other. The entrance doors of the theater are open, we have a window of time within which to arrive. Masked attendants guide us through the temperature check, check our tickets and show us where to go. The loos are easily accessible. The theater seating looks as if it has been prepared for an orchestra, so many seats are missing and spaced apart.

Getting Settled at the Theatre. Photo by WSM

More staff come by for bar orders, another holds a glowing “Please wear a mask” sign and – if someone leaves their mask down for a chat beyond a sip – gently goes to remind them of their collective responsibility. The mask notice supplanting the ‘please turn off your cell phones’ message. At first I wonder, what on earth is it like to perform to such a sparse house? Does it feel provincial, like stepping out on the boards for the first time, trying to make your way in a flea-bag pit. But this is not that and soon after our ginger-beer drinks arrive the audience buzz begins. It is the same hum of excitement the same music of expectation, as if the audience is indeed in the orchestra pit and tuning up as musicians do. The hum grows, but then – the lights dim – and a hush comes over us all. 

Ralph strides onto the stage and loudly places his props on the table, claiming the table and the props as a supporting cast. He is the magician who will hold us in David Hare’s mind with his fears of the disease, his anger at the government’s handling of it all, and his heart’s rage at the treatment of the NHS nurses. He longs for a gentle ‘Platonic disease’ while later realizes that “The Virus is always with me now.” The septuagenarian is there, twisted in Ralph’s body now sinewy as a maturing cockerel.

Under the London Bridge Photo by WSM

When the play was over, the applause was wondrous and we left the theater uplifted as art moves us, brings us closer to each other. As the audience goes their separate ways, we share that communion and feeling of belonging within this city.

Under the night lights we walk along the river finding our way back to the little enclave of Primrose Hill. It is time to try out the newly opened Albert pub for a half pint of cider and an elegant Ploughman’s supper bowl. It has been too long since I’ve crunched a pickled onion. 

This has been A letter From A. Broad.

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

A Few Good Men

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

As the wind whips up the autumn leaves along the bottom of the hill children are tossing them over each other as if they are snowballs. Their father stands patiently by the stroller, smiling as he allows his family to cover him with the yellow leaves. The clocks went back, the temperature is dropping, and blue skies struggle to be seen between the grey rain clouds. I reach the bus stop just as the number 274 comes along. I have an appointment with Nick. Following Covid guidelines, the salon remains quiet and his clients come in one by one. Soon a petite, sparrow-sexy lady of beyond my years enters. Socially separated, she settles in beside me for her biweekly shampoo and blow dry. I watch these two old friends sharing the news of the past weeks as best they can through their blue masks. Nick works steadily, caring for her and she relaxes under his touch.

Returning home the weather is squally. Walk, bus and walk again, along an alleyway between Mornington Cresent and Delancy Street, where an old man walks slowly towards me. Politely he stops to give me some distance on the pavement but in truth he has to pause. He is short of breath and is not sure in which pocket he will find his house keys. Then a lithe tabby cat crosses ‘his’ road – slowly – with ownership. At the pavement he leaps lightly to the railing that protects the house, and the stairwell to the basement flat, from the street. A window faces him. He calls – twice – loudly. The lace curtain flutters, the window-sash is raised and he bounds inside and out of the rain. The window closes behind him.

I hurry home to make supper. ‘My Kitchen and I are in good harmony’ wrote a chef, and I understand. One meal leads to another in a simpler way than the frantic cooking of early lock-down. Now there is just a weekly foray into the unknown. Chicken Pot Pie is the challenge for tonight.

Chicken Pot Pie for supper.

Nightly we watch the steep lift in the graph curve of the COVID-19 infection numbers in Little England. Throughout the country hospital staff are still feeling bruised as no-one seems to have caught their breath from the first wave of this disease. This summer the Duchess of Cambridge called for photographs taken during lockdown. Now 100 chosen photos are on display at the ‘Hold Still’ exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. ’Melanie March 2020’ was photographed by her colleague, Johannah Churchill, and now mural artist, Pete Barber, has painted her for the High Street in Manchester. The picture depicts what no one wants to return to.

Image from any of the many sources

Each corner of the country is metered out a different set of government rulings. People are confused, angry and frightened and not always sure of what or at whom. The rulings leave poor people struggling more than before while big businesses find lucrative loopholes.

Half-term has begun which means that school children are home for two weeks. Marcus Rashford, the 22 year-old English Football player, (who may yet have me watching football) petitioned the UK government to continue providing school meals to children whose families are in need over the holidays. The government rejected the petition. But all over the country, local restaurants, big and small businesses are supporting Rashford in providing lunch-meals through this half-term holiday. Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Rashford explained: “Growing up we didn’t have a lot, but we’ve always had the safety net of the community. That community was my family.” For those of us who live in communities we get it. News flashes show Marcus doing the heavy lifting with crates of food and Boris, softer-spoken today, holding a loaf of sliced bread. For now, and long haul, I have my money on Marcus. At least we know he is playing for Manchester and England.

Marcus Rashford helping out.

Meanwhile those restauranteurs looking for help have found a ‘Working Lunch’ loop-hole in the regulations for the Tier Two restriction areas, which includes London. One paper wrote ‘You can meet colleagues and people from other firms but you cannot take your mother to lunch. This is a conscious choice by the government to save jobs and livelihoods.’ The following tweets are full of British humor.

Somewhere, buried in this school meals and business lunch storm the Brexit discussions are still taking place. We don’t hear much about them. Fishing rights, like the Irish borders, remains a close-fisted problem of long standing. The French fishermen have fished in the waters of La Manche for centuries and the French government says nothing should change. The UK government is adamant that things will change. This game of chicken could end in a messy chicken salad sandwich.

And then comes Sunday. I confess to be ‘busy in the kitchen’ for some of Andrew Marr’s Political program. The strident tones of host and guest are upsetting and not good for digesting breakfast. But then I hear a calm voice. Andrew too is calmer. It is Dr. Fauci answering questions on the Corona Virus, and, politely sidestepping political jabs, he guides Andrew out of the gutter where he tends to slip speaking with the English politicians at his disposal. There is even a ‘I don’t know the answer to that.’ Politeness, calmness in the face of such needless suffering and death and a gentleman holding his own. Tears come to my eyes at the sight and sound of him. Surely a few good men is not too much to ask for.

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

Still Watching

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

For a brief moment it looked as if life was going to creep back into an old new normality. Across Europe football clubs began allowing a few fans in the stadiums but now the cinema chains of Cineworld and Picture House have closed for the foreseeable … Odeons are only open on the weekends and, for the moment, a few select art-houses are screening films. We were even going to an invited screening of “Nomadland” in Soho but now – not. There is a play to see and support, a monologue on David Hare’s bout with Covid, performed by Ralph Fines, ’Beat the Devil’ but will it go on? As London returns to the second tier of lockdown, while Manchester is pushed into the third.

The balance of health, education, economy and viability is a gordian knot for every European Government. On Monday the Welsh Prime Minister announced a two-week total lockdown for their corner of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland too is imposing tighter restrictions and the North of England is set to face tier-three lockdowns.

“Good for them.” We say and we will join others to see how that plays out. Maybe there are some benefits in being small and scrappy.

Meanwhile, the five Archbishops of the Anglican church have joined together in condemnation of the UK government’s proposal to break international law with their plots and plans over Brexit. It is an extraordinary intervention. The letter is signed by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury; Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York; Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal church; John Davies, Archbishop of Wales; and John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh, and it asks: “If carefully negotiated terms are not honoured and laws can be ‘legally’ broken, on what foundations does our democracy stand?” The Internal Market Bill would ride roughshod over the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU last year – and potentially put peace in Northern Ireland at at risk. It’s a gamble, by a gambling man, who doesn’t seem to know the odds and is unclear for which team he is batting.

Meanwhile, in my mother’s paper, the Saturday Telegraph, I was too tired this weekend, I couldn’t manage anything more serious, there is an interview by Nataliya Vasilyeva with the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya. After four months Sviatlana has just spoken to her husband Sergey. How did this come about? Constant and perpetual protests by the people of Belarus which continues to affect all of Belarusian society. Women march with flowers on Saturdays, cities and towns protest on Sundays and pensioners come out on Mondays. Last week Lukashenko visited the KGB prison where Sergey and the other political prisoners are held, and this crumb, held in a still iron-clad fist, was offered, the phone call between husband and wife. Let us pray for the protests, and dialogue to continue so that eventually the grandmothers can put their feet up on Mondays.

On Friday afternoon, in a Parisian suburb, the 47 year-old teacher, Samuel Paty, was stabbed and beheaded by 18 year-old Aboulakh Anzorov. Paty was trying to examine the concept of free speech by showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammand in his class. This was a grisly incident by any barometer and in Paris, on Sunday, crowds of thousands, including the Prime Minister Jean Castex, gathered to pay tribute to the slain teacher at the Place de la République. A retired teacher, Michaël Prazan, told the BBC that this dissent really began to fester in the early 2000s when the government banned religious symbols in schools. ‘We will not be defeated,’ tweeted President Macron, but for the moment Monsieur Paty’s family must not quite feel that. Even a posthumous medal will not keep his bed and family warm at night.

The Pan-American Highway stretches for approximately 19,000 miles across the American continents from Argentina to Alaska. Many years ago two young Argentine men were motorcycling that Highway and stopped in Point Reyes. We met outside the Bovine Bakery. And talked, and that led to their coming on air in the Old Red Barn studio ‘right after your sticky bun lunch’ and sharing some of their adventures on air. They came home to the farm for laundry, feeding and a couple of nights of comfort before they headed out to route one and continue back to their way north.

Just this week has come the news of a new discovery of a sculpted 120 foot-long cat out on the Nazca Desert in Peru which lies alongside the Pan-American Highway. The Nazca Lines, first discovered in 1927, are believed to have been created between 500BC and 500AD. Many depict humans, animals and plants. The cat is a new addition, uncovered by cleaning and conservation work. It’s nice to read something good.

A new old Cat – watching the world


Meanwhile back in London there are smaller geological sites to be explored. In the middle of Fitzroy Road, just where it peels off Regent’s Park Road is a raised brick planter that spent the last three summers growing ivy and grass. At one time, someone cared for this little patch but, things happen and the little plot has been neglected. But this weekend it was time for group number 1116 to check it out. In 2004 Richard Reynolds began the now world-wide Guerrilla Gardeners movement in London.

All you need


The concept of Guerrilla Gardening is simple. Never ask permission from any council or organization that might want a committee meeting. You just need a patch of neglected ground, a small trowel, fork, and some seed and bulbs. It takes less than an hour. Passers-by look, smile and some even chat, but nobody stops me. Come spring there will be new life, color and smiles for those who walk past and into a new year.

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