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

Sunshine Weekend

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

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

Time to get Ice cream

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

It’s an interesting question

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

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

“Oh good.”

“Good Sir?” 

“Yes, that means nothing will happen.”

Boris and Doris on the underground

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

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

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

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Fair Winds and Following Seas

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

HRH Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh

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

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

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

Well, yes it does Dave.

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

Boris Johnson and Dave Cameron

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

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

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

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

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

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Kill the Bill

Recorded and knit together by WSM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Joe Biden at work. Reuters

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

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

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Stuck

Recorded and knit together by WSM

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

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

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

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

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

At the Supermarket in Camden Town

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

Alex on a wall. Getty Images

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

Tale of two fishes

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

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

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

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com