Rebooked for Tomorrow

You are rebooked for Tomorrow.

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

Once more unto the breach dear friends …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading the way to buy breakfast.

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

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

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

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream

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Radio Guys and Gals

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

Piers Plowrigth at an Audio Seminar London 2003 Photo by WSM

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

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

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

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

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream

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+3 = -7

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

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

And so do I

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

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

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

Photo by WSM

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

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream

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Do as I say – not

Recorded and knit together by WSM

My Mother had a saying when I was a teenager.

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

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

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

Chequers from the air. Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Flooding in Luxembourg July 2021 by Tristan Schmurr

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

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

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

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream

Web support by

Over to you then…

Recorded and knit together by WSM

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

Prime Minister Johnson losing control.

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

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

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

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

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

Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse

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

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

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream

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Sports Day

While America celebrates its independence on July 4th, here, this year, the not so Great Britain held a day of Thanksgiving to the National Health Service that turns 73 years old this week. And so for the first five years of my life all forms of medical care were paid for out of pockets that were mostly empty after the war. Being a country doctor could have made the difference between the doctor’s family eating well or not. Creating the National Health Service was one of the best things this country every did and for a long time it worked very well. But as science began to overtake the art of medicine, the economic equation became crunched and now the NHS looks like a proverbial cow-pony that has been ‘rode hard and put away wet.’ After these long months of COVID crisis, that are not over yet, many of the medical staff are exhausted and early retirement numbers are high. Johnson’s government will be hard pressed to patch the holes in this beaten war ship. The Queen awarded the King George’s Cross to the entire organization, done so with a handwritten letter, on Windsor Castle note paper, a gesture that is genuinely heartfelt. However a July 4th ‘buns and bangers barbecue’ with Boris in the garden of number 10 for some regional health administrators is an ill-fitting band-aide and will not make up for the 1% pay rise on offer for the staff who remain constantly underpaid and overworked.

The Base Line (Photo by WSM)

The school year here ends in July with sports and speech days and the summer sports season is on us. For a few brief weeks England will not care so much about what happens in the rest of the world but will look instead to the global sport stars. England may no longer have a contender at the Wimbledon World Tennis Championships it hosts, but the international players are thrilling to watch. So when the email came through ‘would we like to go to Wimbledon for a day?’ the answer was quick, ‘Yes Please’. 

As Sam, our driver, talked us through central London on a Monday morning it seems as if the city is slowly, cautiously returning. The Mayor has been busy making bike lanes much to the frustration of our driver. Sam tells me that there is now a shortage of truck drivers, those men who would slide through the tunnels from Europe to the UK and back again have gone home, and produce from the farms of Europe and England are in trouble.

But not the English Strawberries. For it is strawberry season and before the afternoon matches our hosts have a luncheon prepared. There remains a strict COVID protocol in place to follow that we have managed, and are given our COVID certificate wrist bands. This is an interesting table group for us, we are the only members of the arts’ arm of the very large Rolex family. There is a Harry Charles a young showjumper who, with his pal is enjoying a day away from the barn, but on whose shoulders rests England’s Equestrian showjumping dreams. The other men are older, all still at the top of their games. We are in heady company which finishes with the traditional strawberries and cream and good coffee. As we leave the salon we are handed new hats, seat cushions and water and as always, a lovely young masked Rolex guide shows us the way.

Center Court 1/4 finals on Manic Monday (Photo by WSM)

Seated, under cover but in the fresh air, I find that while I am surrounded by Gucci and Botox and more than a handful of Rolex wrists, there is kindness and laugher all waiting for the first match of Manic Monday. As we settle, the ball boys and girls run in and kneel in their navy shorts, line men and women march in, hanging their jackets up and bending over their knees closer to the line, now the umpire sits alone high up on their perch watching, listening and calling as the game begins. The number one player, Novak Djokvic against the Chilean Cristian Garin. The ladies played next with young Coco Gauff from the US putting in a good game with German Angelique Kerber. Then it is time for the Swiss Roger Federer came out with Italian Lorenzo Sonego. The ages of the players, the young pushing on the old add a grip to the excitement. The games unfold quickly and we watched seeing the mistakes that we all have made fast out-numbered by the brilliance we never achieved. Skill, experience, age, temperament and the weather all play their part and I wondered if this would the moment that the old would fall to the young. Thankfully they have held, for at least another year. For tennis is very gladiatorial.

In the summer of 1964 somewhere in Spain we went to a bullfight. It was not a big town, nor a famous fight, the tickets were cheap and we went knowing we might never see this again. It was as fascinating and heartbreaking as I had feared. Six bulls came to fight in the evening’s match. There is protocol, there is blood and death and also in a hard to understand way, honour. The afternoon gave way to the evening, the sunlight gave way to cloud-covered skies and then the rain poured down. The spectators groaned and roared at the skies and then, as quickly as they had come, left the stands but the bulls, the matadors and picadors all remained, and so did we. It seemed the least we could do, to stay, watch and honour the bravery however needlessly it had been shared and spilled.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream

Web support by

Poor Man

“I’ve been speaking with your Health Secretary. He says things are getting better. Poor man.” So said the Queen, dressed demurely in a mauve frock, when, last Tuesday, after fifteen months, she met in person her current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. With the cameras rolling and clicking Johnson looked the unruly but chuffed school boy he is, standing with hands clasped behind him, before the Queen’s constant good manners.

“Yes, Yes.” The Prime Minister assures the Queen and that is all we see of that moment. 

Queen Elizabeth II greets Prime Minister Boris Johnson at an audience at Buckingham Palace, London, the Queen’s first in-person weekly audience with the Prime Minister since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Picture date: Wednesday June 23, 2021.

Until later in the week The Sun Newspaper hits the stands. There is Matty Hancock, Health Minister, clutching aide Gina Coladangelo in a clinch-hold on the front page, with the headline. “Face, Hands, Cock no distance” In the little-known dangers of University life, Matt and Gina first met at the Oxford University radio station. By Saturday evening, Hancock had resigned and Sajid Javid, previously chucked out as the Chancellor has been brought in as Minister of Health. A Cabinet reshuffle is not an empty phrase. Javid is a solid Tory man, called by some the First Son of Margaret Thatcher, and he will have to come up to speed quickly in this Health crisis brought about by this government.

Hello Javid

On his first day in office he said ‘Yes’ to every question put to him. Sometimes adding the unnerving, ‘Absolutely’. Back to hypocritical, humbled-for-the-moment Hancock, who made a public apology for ‘breaking the rules on social distancing’ and says he will continue to serve his country from the back benches. After lying to our Queen, ‘Things are getting better’ and taking his eyes from ‘working around the clock’. Opinions from the dustman to the politician run between – ‘long may he rot there’, to ‘how dare he show his face in Westminster’. His constituency of West Suffolk is none too pleased with their minister’s behavior and if not exactly cries, there are certainly mutterings of “Off with his head.” Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts was ahead of her time. Even with their budgetary caution, the BBC has added their voice to the clamor from Labour and opposition government parties with outcries of ‘shame’, Johnson should have fired Hancock. Johnson knows as well as any man, that when the little brain takes over there is not a lot of logic going on.

Anglican church memorial to British officers in the Afghan war. 1866

But wait – stuffed behind a bus stop in Kent – someone – who was that – happens to find a bundle of soggy classified documents from the Minister of Defence. Information on the HMS Defender trying out a quick sail through the Black Sea checking on Russia’s response to edging a wee bit close to the Ukraine and Crimea was laid out in those soggy pages. Russia made their position clear with a quick response. This is a shell game over the waters and one can only hope that the fish have something to say about it. As NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan to its fate, Britain is thinking it might move in – again. While visiting India in 2004 we stopped at an old Anglican church. Along the nave, beside each pew, was a scabbard in which the British officers should place their swords. A memorial Cross stood outside to commemorate British officers who had died in the Afghan War – of 1865.

Following last week’s closure of the Apple Daily Newspaper in Hong Kong a seventh senior editor, Fung Wai-kong, was arrested as he prepared to leave Hong Kong for the United Kingdom. Now another newspaper, Stand News, has removed all their past published Opinion pieces. The Chinese Government’s net is tightening its draw string.  

Meanwhile Alexander Lukashenko responded to the Western worlds imposed sanctions by sending plane-loads of Iraqi refugees to be unloaded in Lithuania while moving Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega from jail into house arrest. But this is no picnic or sign of safety for Roman, Sofia or any of the young people in Belarus, calling for a more democratic government. The IT industry that was booming in Minsk is disintegrating in the sewer of government impositions. Those young IT engineers that can, are leaving for the neighboring Ukraine.  

Angela Merkel is lobbying the European Union to adopt Germany’s ruling that everyone coming from Britain to Germany go into quarantine. She is to visit with Boris Johnson in England this week and then onto the US before she leaves office in the autumn. She may be being very sensible and cautious, but so far the rest of Europe is not going along with her idea. 

In this little island we are dealing with the crater-hole of one Minister falling on his sword and another picking it up out of the gutter. On Monday Chris Whittey, England’s chief medical officer, went to St. Jame’s Park for a little sit and think and was set upon by two men, angry, frustrated and feeling helpless in this continued uncertainty. Police were called to investigate, but will get no further than form filling.

Guillen Nieto with the Abdala Vaccine

But on another Island, Cuba, there is news that lifts the spirits with the development of their own Covid vaccine. Named Abdala – as a latin country would –  from a poem by José Martí. It has so far proved 92% effective and thus is on par with BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna. There is no attacking scientists or health workers in Cuba where political Isolation from the US embargo, their reluctance to take vaccines from China or Russia has kept the country poor and yet rich in its independence and humanity with a health system to be proud of.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream

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Summer, it’s my favorite day of the year.

An English joke and this year, so far, very apt. Sunday was Father’s Day and we set out to see how London is fairing as the COVID release train leaving the station of lockdown pauses – again – on the tracks. It was an early – for us start – as we entered Regent’s Park. Morning dog walkers and young runners were enjoying the empty freedom. The Chestnut and Oak trees are in full leaf now and along the Boardwalk the light breeze sends the soft raindrops from the sky and the trees down onto us. An umbrella would seem almost rude in this lightest of facial moisturizers. We are walking briskly as we have a breakfast reservation at Fischer’s Austrian Restaurant on the Marylebone High Street. Fischer’s is somewhat old-fashioned in look and menu. Glass panels gleam in the polished wood walls and there is a familial comfort inside. The advertised ‘a place to linger’ is now off the menu and with a smile, we are told we only have until noon, but it is enough time to open Father’s Day cards, and enjoy a large pot of good coffee. Comforting, I come back to that word as I think of the meals and gatherings we have enjoyed there, and are grateful that Fischer’s has survived the last year and a half.

It has stopped raining when we leave and we walk down the High Street seeing what havoc COVID lockdown has wrought on the seemingly solid businesses in this now upscale street. 45 years ago, when we first knew the neighborhood, it was funky, run down and happily shabby until the real estate mobsters cast their eye on its ‘potential’. Now some big English names have fallen: Emma Bridgewater’s Ceramics, Cath Kidston, L.K. Bennett clothing, Ryman’s Stationary. With closed shops and fewer people on the streets I look up at the old architecture with the history and faded dreams of long ago and now, once more, London will have to reinvent itself. We walked to the reopened British Museum. There is still the dreaded ‘booking ahead’ but we have managed the hoops and pass through the gates. Ticket check, check, bag check, check, and then up the old stone steps now pasted with ‘don’t sit down’ stickers. The steps shine from the rain but they are forlorn without the twinkle of anticipation that those waiting for a friend or a lover bring to a museum.

We are booked for two exhibits, the ‘Thomas Becket, Murder and the Making of a Saint’. Followed by ‘Nero The Man behind the Myth’. An hour each should do it, a cup of tea at the cafe and then a bus home. We move along trying, and failing, to keep socially distanced from strangers. I am intrigued by how many beautiful small caskets for Thomas’ relics there are, and how far away they travelled, to Italy and Sweden. Thomas’ rise, demise and murder are more than a tale of history. Memories and myths of Thomas Becket and his King Henry II reemerged in the reign of Henry VIII with his Thomases, More and Cromwell. The story is echoed today with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings. It is doubtful if Cummings, or even Hancock, will lose their heads but they will surely tumble about the floors of Westminster Hall. While Walter photographed a faded painting of Henry VIII ‘man-spreading’ and zeroed in on the obscene codpiece, I wondered whose tiny fingers embroidered such a piece of clothing and what laughter enjoined those days.

There is a push to vaccinate the young population who are spreading the Delta variant faster than any other section into a third wave of COVID Infections. The Euro soccer championships is taking over a lot of telly time and so the small news item of the Former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, leaving the Conservatives and joined the Labour party is a blip of a political news item. Bercow served as the House Speaker for ten years. He is a chipper and cheeky little fellow who, when robed as Speaker, would swing his gavel and shout ‘Order, Order,’ when the Commons became too common. His reasons for a change of coat are that Boris Johnson’s conservative party is “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic.” Bercow’s history is mixed but it is not hard to tell what prize he is eyeing.

The elections in Iran bring Judge and Supreme leader, Ebrahim Raisi, the Presidency. Known as ‘The Butcher of Iran’ his ultra-conservative rulings have seen the death of too many political prisoners. His election caused the newly elected Israeli Prime minister, Naftali Bennett, to open his first Cabinet meeting saying ‘The World must wake up’. Bennett’s warning came just as diplomats from Britain and other world powers had begun – and then abandoned – talks in Vienna on the easing of crippling sanctions on Iran. 

In Hong Kong as the Apple daily newspaper’s owner, Jimmy Lai, remains in jail, more editors and staff have been arrested. The papers’ assets and bank accounts are frozen. The paper will fold within days.  

Freezing assets, if it works in Hong Kong maybe it will in Belarus. Following last month’s forced landing of a Ryanair flight to arrest Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, the UK, US, EU and Canada pledged to make Alexander Lukashenko’s regime “run dry” and announced travel bans and asset freezes on senior Belarusian officials and entities that bankroll the regime.

None of this news had emerged as we walked home, now clutching an abridged version Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The narrow pavement had us brushing the still wet roses and honeysuckle and, for a brief evening moment, the attar of roses told us that this was summer.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream –

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A Right Royal Weekend

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The G-7 Summit’s opening reception held a full house swinging into Cornwall. Hand-bagged and rose buttonholed, three generations of Windsor rose to the occasion as a complete hand. It was a good call by the Johnson tribe, understanding the power of the soft pedal to the metal. For European leaders, as well as those from Japan, Canada and the US, know full well the heart of Windsor was always for a united Europe. The Queen appeared to enjoy the evening and may hold a genuine fondness for some politicians, as she briefly strolled with the young Canadian and French charmers. 

After a full on dinner at the Eden Project, Prince Charles, in an immaculately tailored grey pinstripe suit with a sweet Cecil Brunner Rose button-hole, addressed the guests saying that the battle against the pandemic provided a “crystal-clear example of the scale, and sheer speed, at which the global community can tackle crises when we combine political will with business ingenuity and public mobilization”. 

For all of Boris’s splashing about at the seaside, he and careful Carrie gave the heads of the G-7 nations and their supporting cast a good weekend of work with which to go forward. This year’s assembled class of politicians all know who facilitated the rupture of Europe and the United Kingdom and the ongoing debortle. Political diplomacy walked hand in hand with shot-gun word pellets over Ireland and the bobbing borders. Climate Change, COVID vaccinations and the global economic recovery were the top topics. Global threats from Russia, China, and the Irish border were kicked about and stuffed under the table – for now. As the leaders dispersed on Sunday, how to put any of the pledges and promises into action becomes their homework.

For all Cornwall is beautiful, its charm is rustic, and so the small streets were cramped tight with huge cars and convoys. Planes and helicopters were in full flight at Falmouth. This was not a moment for coming solo and so, as the Queen was supported by her son and heirs, the political “spice”, many of whom usually stay out of the limelight, were much in evidence. And the plus of being together, often outdoors, COVID-tested, protected as possible, did make a difference to the weekend’s meetings and musings. Getting the measure of another is easier face to face and in person. Seafood, good wine, sunshine and welcoming beaches was a far different experience than when Ursula Von der Leyen and Boris Johnson last dined together in Brussels.

The Bidens left on Sunday in time for tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle. The Queen has served tea for 13 of the 14 US presidents throughout her reign, and President Joe Biden must surely be a relief after the last one. They spoke of The White House, how big and full of people it is, about Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping. Now Biden has gone to Brussels to do what he can in repairing America’s relationship with NATO that was so shredded in the last four years. 

On Wednesday President Joe Biden is introduced with his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin. They will meet at an 18th Century Swiss Villa outside of Geneva. A picture shows blue skies over the lake behind the villa but it doesn’t take much to see grey and thunder clouds on the horizon. The meeting is expected to be “candid and straightforward”.

On Sunday evening in Tel Aviv a new coalition government of Right-wing Nationalists, the Yesh Adit Party, and others won by a single vote. Benjamin Netanyahu is out and Israel now has a new Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett. He, as they do, has promised to “unite the nation” which is a pretty daunting and hopeless idea but it goes hand in hand with the other old chestnut that his government would “work for the sake of all the people”. The priorities would be reforms in education, health and cutting red tape. The promises are all so sadly familiar, the only difference is that, unlike in Belarus, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been forced out of office after 12 years. But as yet it is hard to see what the difference is once they have all dusted off their desks and changed seats.  For now Benjamin Netanyahu remains the head of – the other – Right-wing Likud party.

This week Belarusian opposition blogger Roman Protasevich was brought out at a news conference in Minsk as state officials continued to deny they forced his plane to land on May 23rd. His words said one thing, that he was fine and not been beaten, but his sad clean shaven face, fresh shirt and demeanor told another. Both Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega remain in separate prisons. 

Back to Westminster on Monday, Boris Johnson announced that most of the restrictions for travel and business in the UK will remain in place until July 19th. The increase of infections from the Delta Variant are rising exponentially and no-one is talking any more about the R rate. It is too high. Keeping travel to and from India open for three weeks longer that Pakistan and Bangladesh was the latest of Boris Johnson’s many mistakes throughout the pandemic. Not only can Britons not travel to amber-list countries without a ‘real reason’, European countries don’t want travelers from England. Within this little cul-de-sac we feel it personally. Mothers are waiting alone in, Germany, Bulgaria and Belgium for sons and daughters to come visit and check and care for them. While along the canals of Utrecht we have a grandson who needs to show us how well he is learning to swim.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad.

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First aired on Swimming Upstream –

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The G-7 Summit comes to Cornwall

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

England is humming with its own agenda. This week, leaders from the G-7 summit nations fly into England for their few days by the seaside. Political and COVID news from around the world is buried.

But digging in the compost pile of news items, there is Thursday when the Belarusian journalist, Raman Pratasevich, whose plane was diverted so he could be detained in Belarus, appeared on the Belarusian state-run TV channel, confessing to all the things a journalist should confess to. “I am cooperating absolutely fully and openly … and live an ordinary, calm life, have a family, children, stop running away from something.” Which doesn’t quite make sense if it is being translated correctly. Pratasevich’s father said, “I know my son and believe he would never say such things. They broke him and forced him to say what was needed.”

On Friday in Hong Kong police arrested the lawyer and activist Chow Hang Tung, for promoting a remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. On the night of June 3, high up in the windows of office buildings candles flickered while young people walked quietly with their lit cell-phones held high. Discussion of Beijing’s brutal military crackdown of June 3, 1989 is forbidden in China, whose amoeba-like tentacles are now firmly nested into Hong Kong.

While Rishi Sunak takes his photo op moments, meeting and greeting the G-7 leaders arriving into London our eyes are to be diverted from the little line drawn through a law. Hurriedly, quietly, did we miss that, ‘it was a temporary measure’ to reduce England’s contribution of foreign aid from .7% to .5% while the effects of the COVID pandemic were raging thought this country. The commitment to the United Nations target was laid down in law but that doesn’t seem to bother Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. The law was passed by one Prime Minister, David Cameron, and is now flouted by another, Boris Johnson. Old school chums they may have been but rivals in history they have now become. But this flouting is creating a deeper crack in the not so solid wall as members of the Conservative party who have come together trying to rein in the lads. Past Prime Ministers, Sir John Major and Theresa May are among those who find it morally incomprehensible that a country as rich as Britain can only balance its books by inflicting further suffering on the world’s poor. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the House of Commons, mulled and culled the letter of ancient laws, while guiding ministers to a path forward into debate. With the G-7 summit leaders moving from London to convene in Cornwall this weekend, it’s an embarrassment either way: for the government to look small by cutting the aid, or to look weak giving into their ministers. 

As the representatives of the G-7 countries travel to Cornwall, and be staying at the Cabris Bay Hotel, with its stunning beach and clear waters, is to be the venue for discussions on debt, climate change and post-COVID recovery. Boris Johnson called it the “perfect location for such a crucial summit”. The UK, US, Germany, France, Canada, Italy and Japan make up the G-7.  And this year leaders from Australia, India, South Korea and the European Union are also coming along for a jolly beach weekend. A cruise ship bobs about outside the Falmouth Harbor, housing 1500 support staff. Cornwall was chosen for its green credentials, no doubt as a preamble to the Global Warming conference to be held in Glasgow.

Almost like a picnic on the beach. Although the weather, never mind the politics, can be tricky in Cornwall. 

Where does the word picnic come from? The English definition of a picnic is a meal taken outdoors as part of an excursion – and is as much a part of English life as the BBQ is American. But the word is from the French pique-nique, used to describe a group of people dining in a restaurant who brought their own wine. It comes from the verb piquer, which means ‘pick’, ‘peck’, or ‘nab’, and the rhyming addition nique, which means ‘thing of little importance’. Rather grimly, picnicking emerged and became common after the French Revolution in 1789, when, for the first time, ordinary people could visit and stroll through the country’s royal parks. We took such a picnic this weekend in a hidden garden within London’s Regent’s Park and came to no harm. Picnics, like BBQ’s, are for making memories.

Back in London, the June 21st date is coming closer, when government will decide to lift or continue the remaining COVID restrictions. Health Minister Matt Hancock is seen shifting from foot to foot after last week’s blistering attack on his competence by Dominic Cummings. Rather like naming hurricanes, COVID variants are now being given names from the Greek alphabet so as not to inflame the finger-pointing and abuse that nation-naming can bring. The Indian Variant is now called the Delta variant. Members of Parliament from both parties are rumbling and watching Matt Hancock and the scientific advisors closely. Quotes are floated about, “If they say it’s going to be 28 June, we can take that. Protecting July and August is the main thing.” Another minister accepted it might take time to limit the spread of the Delta variant: “If we need to take until 28 June or 1 July, I’m not going to die in a ditch on that.”

This has been a Letter from A. Broad.

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First aired on Swimming Upstream –

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