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 KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

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 – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

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 – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

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 – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Spring Break

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

This weekend brought the Spring break, and England got a break from the battering of rough weather and political scrapping. The sun is shining, the Elderflowers are blooming and a harvest is on its way to becoming Elderflower cordial. Men are wearing shorts in the city.

It was a welcome pause after Dominic Cummings’s seven hour ‘tell all’ to the government inquiry committee last week. Small new potatoes burnt dry on the stove-top or huge baked potatoes bursting in the oven? The mess in the kitchen of English Government is yet to be explored.

Even if, as many suspect, Dom is telling the truth – it is only – this time. For as he almost admits, he has been the spokesperson for so many untruths to do what his boss wanted to ‘Get Brexit Done’. No wonder the boss said, “Well come along with me dear Dom, help me get this sorted.” Dominic Cummings has the kind of mind that sees underlying problems, the solutions to problems, and is easily frustrated when those problems cannot be solved within the system set up and in place. The English government finds ministers on a certain track, like trains bound for Waterloo, running on rails they cannot deviate from. Would Dominic Cummings’ plans to rip into and rebuild the civil service have been possible if the COVID pandemic had not happened? It is difficult to say but the situation today shows how deeply entrenched this system of government is and the incredible mis-steps that occur within it. 

Dominic Cummings speaks

A wolf in sheep’s clothing? But Cummings never pretended to be a sheep and the circulating herd around the Prime Minister were always nervous of him. Who was guarding the flock? Certainly not the Prime Minister. It may have been his then fiancée, and now wife, that nipped at the heels of Cummings and eventually sent him away. Until this week. Cummings sat before the committee for seven hours and spoke his truth, but his previous untruths, his relentless understanding of the incompetence he saw around him has won him few supporters. The previous ministers he served and then dismissed as fools are happy to crow: ‘That’s Dom’, as he savages Prime Minister Johnson and Health Secretary Hancock in this outing. “The government is run by fools and I had no business being there,” he concluded. Dominic Cummings lays the blame for thousands of unnecessary UK deaths on the sagging shoulders of the Prime Minister and his Government. Somehow I can’t help wanting to put periwigs and beaded top coats on them all.

Noam Chomsky, one of the most important American intellectuals of today, drew up his list of 10 media manipulation strategies universally used by politicians to maintain power. His number one is the strategy of distraction.

Mr and Mrs Johnson at home

How to distract from this disastrous political week? Pushing a trusted and trussed Matt Hancock onto the train tracks of the oncoming inquiry train is one way. Getting married in secret as a ‘surprise’ is another. And so, discretely, Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds entered Westminster Cathedral on Saturday afternoon and emerged as Mr and Mrs Johnson. It was clever and fun with a save the date notice for a wedding celebration next summer already sent out. The wedding was followed by a bit of a knees-up in the garden of number 10 Downing Street and a weekend break before back to work on Tuesday. 

America and England are now looking for the inception of this coronavirus pandemic. British intelligence operatives believe that it is ‘feasible’ that the coronavirus began with a leak from a research Laboratory in Wuhan. US President Joe Biden told intelligence agencies to look into the lab leak theory. The Sunday Times reports that ‘we are one wet market or bio lab away from the next spillover’ Naturally, officials in Beijing angrily deny such allegations. A western intelligence source familiar with the British involvement said: ‘There might be pockets of evidence that take us one way, and evidence that takes us another. I don’t think we will ever know.’

While Russia’s President Putin has cancelled all flights to and from Europe to and over Russian air space, as predicted, presidents Alex Lukashenko of Belarus and Vlad Putin had their photo moment together. Set between them is a small table suggested a meeting of minds, with pads of paper for notes and flowers for collegiality. 

Presidents Alex Lukashenko of Belarus and Vlad Putin

As the country eases up, the National Better Health Sports centers and swimming baths are safely open again. As I slide into the pool I can listen to all the voices of ordinary Londoners taking to the water again. I am beginning to recognize some of the regulars, English men and women, old, middle-aged and even young come and feel the freedom that water brings. 

Better Health

Abdul, a gentleman of a certain age, comes to the pool as if to a bathing house, not to swim but to talk, to be among people. He swims just a little, mostly watching and waiting for someone to talk with by the poolside edge. 

Gladys is from the Caribbean. Her body is full and I believe surrounds a huge heart and a mind of steel. Like many of us, she has a routine – swimming for a number of lengths before hitching herself to the side-railing and completing her water exercises. I imagine this keeping her strong and out of the health care system. Does she leave the chores of the day behind her as she swims and even remembers the warmer waters of the Caribbean of her childhood? For Gladys is about my age and seeing her I remember the young women recently arrived from Kingston, Jamaica who became my sisters in nursing. I had no knowledge of their childhood, the lives and families they had left behind and they knew nothing of mine. How much has changed, or not, over the fifty-five years that bring Gladys and I to the pool on a Thursday morning.

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

Step Right This Way

Step right this way – 

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

And we are back in Belarus. On Sunday when the journalist Roman Protasevich boarded a plane in Greece, he was already nervous, texting back to colleagues that he believed someone was following him. The plane was under an hour away from Vilnius in Lithuania when the announcement came, “This is your captain speaking. We have received information of a possible bomb on board and are to be diverted to Minsk”. As a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet, ordered by President Lukashenko, came alongside to escort the Ryanair plane to Minsk, Roman and his girlfriend must have really felt fear. Passengers were taken off the plane, claiming their luggage laid out across the tarmac as the charade continued. But it was Roman Protasevich who was the luggage to be collected by the two Belarusian secret service men also on board the plane. Protasevich was detained, with his girlfriend, accused of organizing last year’s protests against Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. Ryanair said that the situation had been “out of its hands”. The plane was over Belarusian airspace when it was diverted to Minsk though it was closer to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. 

Here Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, can tut-tut away, grateful that, for this moment at least, we are not a part of the European Union. The US has also joined the tut-tut brigade and most of the responsibility will fall to the slight but firm shoulders of Ursula von der Leyen and the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki who accused Lukashenko of a “reprehensible act of state terrorism”. As of today European flights are no longer flying over Belarusian airspace and Belarusian planes can no longer fly through Europe. That will be a lot of detours. The incident is alternately described as a hijack and/or a criminal offense, (I’m not sure of the difference) but Alexander Lukashenko doesn’t care. He has got his man and thumbed his nose at Europe and the western world at the same time. This must call for a phone call chuckle and a drink with his chum Vladimir Putin. 

There is an English saying, ‘Ash before the oak, in for a soak, oak before the ash, in for a splash’. And so it is proving this May where the Ash tree leaves are already a mature green while the oaks remain delicate and pale. But umbrella raised above the wind and rain we strode out on Sunday, taking the 168 bus down to the the south bank of the river where the wind blew even as the rain stopped. Stepping down to the river from the Waterloo bridge we walked – among people – many still masked – along the banks of Old Father Thames. The river-water was mud-brown with tide hurried wavelets shaking like a dog coming in from a run. The cafes were open, the open-air bookstall up and running outside of the British Film Institute and clean public toilets close by. ‘Spending a Penny’ now costs a pound – no change given. At the bright orange carousel a young man fishes deep into his pockets giving me change for my two pound coin. Someone is making a pretty penny with these necessary facilities.

We walked past the London Eye, looking so huge from the ground, and then under the Westminster Bridge through to the “Wall of Hearts.” Painted on the wall that surrounds St. Thomas’s Hospital it faces the river and the Houses of Parliament. Organized by Matt Fowler, whose father died from the virus, each heart is for another death. To date over 128,000 lives have been lost in the United Kingdom. The 150,000 hearts already painted will be used up soon enough as family members continue to come and write, commemorating the names of their beloveds in all the languages that make up this country.

The Covid Memorial Wall

The wall covers the length of the two old prestigious hospitals Guy’s and St. Thomas’s, now merged as one. Looking high above the wall, there are still old stone arches crumbled and moss-laden leading from the hospital’s beginnings in history through to the buildings of today. May holds Nurses’ Day and I am thinking of Dame Cicely Saunders, who trained here, first as a nurse then as medical social worker and finally as a physician. It was here she pioneered her palliative care treatments before founding St. Christophers Hospice in 1967, expanding to community home care in 1969.

Nurse Saunders and Dame Cicely Saunders

The wall ends bringing us to the Lambeth Bridge and the Lambeth Garden Museum which must wait for another day.

“The BBC is in a dangerous place at the moment, and people like me have a special duty to be careful about what they say,” said Andrew Marr last week. And I can’t even remember what scandal that was about, for now an old chestnut has come back to haunt them. 

After 25 years an inquiry has finally been completed into the Martin Bashir 1995 panorama interview with Princess Diana. And this week Prince William spoke publicly. His comments almost bypassing Bashir, going straight to the jugular of the BBC. He called for them to never air the program again and blasted the BBC top brass for presiding over a “cover-up”, rather than lay the blame squarely with rogue reporter Martin Bashir who used fake bank statements to falsely claim Diana’s inner circle were selling information on her to the press. Heads have already begun to roll with resignations here and there. No doubt this will lead to another inquiry, but it will have to wait in line as there are many files already stacked in the constipated bowels of Westminster.

Palace of Westminster UK Parliment from across the river

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

Rain Stops Play

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The third week in May – and it is still raining steadily. Umbrella in hand, it was time to take the 274 bus into town. The bus was already half full, so I sat upstairs to look down over the London streets and see a group of young Asian men, carrying their hefty bags full of cricket gear on their way to the park. One is already dressed in his Cricket whites. Do they dream of one day playing in the holy of holies, Lord’s Cricket Grounds close by in St. John’s Wood? Founded in 1788 by Thomas Lord, the grounds were moved at least three times before settling into this corner of Marylebone. Noted historical progressions through the years included that in 1864 the purchase of a lawn mower removed the need to keep sheep. Those young men I saw from my bus would have been in the grounds where my father was a member for all of his adult life.   

I arrived at the edge of the city to where, even with the soft rain falling, the pubs’ and restaurants’ outdoor tables are full. Most shops have been opened again on the Marylebone High Street, but with some noticeable gaps where high-end English brands used to sit proudly on their corner lots. They were always just out of my price range and I am not as sympathetic as I could be. 

On Monday, more lockdown restrictions were eased but we are going slowly, being sensible, as the health Minister Matt Hancock urges us all to be. But maybe there will be some lightening of the infection load that will bring this, and other countries, safely out of hibernation.

Every country is looking at what their government could have done better, safer, faster to save more lives. Doors, gateways, air pathways and sea-channels have been opened and closed with speeds that relate to the economy as much as infection rates. All governments have behaved badly to various degrees. There have been profiteers and deals of equipment, and devious deals of no equipment. Last week the head of a pharmaceutical firm in India fled to London after failing to provide more affordable vaccines to his own country. The blame? Already shifted to Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister for not booking ahead and placing his order. The high numbers of infection rates and still low numbers of vaccines are struggling to meet on a world-wide level. 

Over this year and half, the COVID-19 virus has been named and shamed as the Chinese, the Kent and now the Indian variant and – as it was named – so it fled to greener pastures. It must have been obvious to any epidemiologist that the Virus would change and mutate as the opportunity arose. That’s what viruses do. They are as opportunistic as all living beings. The Times newspaper estimated that at least 20,000 passengers from India were allowed to enter the UK because there was a trade deal in the works and a little hop to India would have got Boris out of his wallpaper dilemma . The Daily Mirror called Boris Johnson’s delay on closing travel from India another unforgivable ‘Own Goal’. 

Covid Memorial wall in London

Another news item broke this week, one that many of us have been looking for. Andrew Marr, the BBC political broadcaster, whom we regularly watch with a Sunday Sofa breakfast, said he may leave the corporation so he can share his true views on politics. Speaking in Glasgow with the Scottish journalist Ruth Wishart, he said, ‘At some point, I want to get out and use my own voice again. How and when, I have no idea …. There are many privileges of working at the BBC, including the size of the audience and all of that, but the biggest single frustration by far is losing your own voice, not being able to speak in your own voice.’ Constraints such as this are a knife edge that all paid journalists must traverse, admitting the constraints is another.

Andrew Marr – smiling

For eight days and counting we have watched Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket barrages that have killed over 200 hundred people, the vast majority of them Palestinian women and children. Hospital buildings, schools and media centers have been bombed to rubble with Palestinians running, searching for their dead children. The heavy metal disparities are impossible to ignore. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave no justification for targeting the 12-story press building in Gaza, though later claimed that Hamas had an intelligence unit inside. No news organization using the building had seen evidence of Hamas presence. He went on, “Israel’s military operation against Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza will continue with full force. We are acting now, for as long as necessary, to restore calm… It will take time,” Mr Netanyahu warned. Time, to right which wrong?

Vanessa Redgrave in Julia

1978 was the awards season for the film Julia, directed by Fred Zinneman and staring Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda and Jason Robards. Julia was up for eight nominations including for best editor and so we were there that night. Sitting aways away, (Walter’s chances of winning were not considered high) Vanessa looked very young, and alone as she scampered up onto the stage to be greeted by an even bouncier John Travolta. Graciously she accepted her Oscar and then spoke: quietly, politely but with great purpose, her memorable speech denounced what she saw as the Zionist disturbers of that time. That speech cost her a full blown career in Hollywood, thus allowing all of the richness of her work in the cinematic and theatre arts to flow through different channels. Listening again to that speech from 1978 while looking to the now scant news screens, tragically darkened by this new wave of Israeli and Palestinian bombing of the land that is Gaza and Holy – I wonder when will the world be able to bow our heads in prayer – together again.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 
First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org.
Web support by murchstudio.com

Colours of Conscience

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

White spring on the hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

May Day

Recorded and Knit together by WSM
Lilly of the Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Fires that Smolder and Burn

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

Finding Oxygen

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

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

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

Boris with a Bottle

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

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

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

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

Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe

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

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com