Old Memories and New Beginnings

Recorded and Knit together by WSM.


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

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

Watching a long evening

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

Farm Frog

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

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

Scottish Ayrshire Daily News

That we breathed a little more deeply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shutting up Shop

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tower Bridge. Photo by WSM

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

Getting Settled at the Theatre. Photo by WSM

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

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

Under the London Bridge Photo by WSM

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

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

This has been A letter From A. Broad.

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

A Few Good Men

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

Chicken Pot Pie for supper.

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

Image from any of the many sources

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

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

Marcus Rashford helping out.

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

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

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

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

Still Watching

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new old Cat – watching the world


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

All you need


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

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

Better to Give

Recorded and Knit together by WSM


It is crisp cold on Saturday morning for our hill climb to the Farmers Market. Mushrooms are laid out in small cardboard boxes at one stall while the last of the tomatoes at another. Large Mozzarella balls are two for a tenner. The Italians know that the season of Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil salads is ending. Rutabagas and Swedes are piled in crates looming over bags of potatoes. Winter is coming.

On Sunday we walked through the Italian gardens which every autumn, holds the outdoor Frieze Sculpture exhibit. This year there are more people than ever crowding the sculptures, reflecting a collective hunger for art. In this time of Covid restrictions people remain wary of indoor galleries and museums. Every year, I find one piece that speaks to me. This year, it is Kalliopi Lemos’s ‘The Plait’ A very tall braid of wire signifying a chopped-off braid of hair.

The Plait by Kalliopi Lemos Photo by WSM

And I am remembering my friend Heather and a sunny morning after a sleep-over. Her family had left Kenya abruptly and my mother had found them a place to live by Hawley Lake. There was no electricity and water was carried from the lake. My mother got Heather enrolled in St. Nicholas School and must have ferried us both back and forth to school. There were sleep-overs by kerosene lanterns and adventures by the little stream that ran past their cottage from the lake. But at our home we woke up one morning wanting to play barber. My thick hair was down to my waist but the plaits were kept knotted at night. Mornings were spent in tears with the rushed, brushing, pulling and replaiting that happened.

“I’ll be the barber” said Heather and I happily knelt in front of her.

Somehow she found scissors, maybe old paper scissors from my father’s study, as, when my plaits finally fell away, there was a clear unevenness in the line. Knowing that whatever trouble we got into I would not be spending morning in tears left me elated. All this passed through my mind as I stood looking at the giant wire braid in the park. Lemos explains “an act of disobedience and emancipation of thinking … a liberation’.

Kalliopi Lemos Artist photo by WSM

Looking at all the different people walking through the park broad-walk I am thinking of war and all the countries they came from. Now journalists have been expelled from Belarus and it is hard to image what is going on behind those iron doors.

Earlier this year, when the demonstrations began in Hong Kong at the Chinese government’s take-over laws, Dominic Raab, then Foreign Secretary for the UK government, announced: “We will take in three million residents from Hong Kong who want to come.” There must have been hurried discussions behind closed doors for there is no ‘Welcome to Britain’ flag waving at the airports.

But Nathan Law, a 27 year old activist, made it. When agreeing to give an interview to Samuel Fishwick from the Evening Standard, he chose a bench in Regent’s Park which looked to be along the broad-walk where we were walking. Law was imprisoned, assaulted, forced to leave his home and family and lives low in London. Though he fears for his life, he knows someone has to speak out.

“The Hong Kong we knew has gone”.
“Will your family know how you are?”
“If you write about me they will find it.” But unspoken is the knowledge that so will others. Can Britain give this young man the safe haven he needs?

Autumn is a time of overflowing bounty. A neighbor on our street brings the harvest of her Oxford garden to London. Boxes of Bramley cooking apples, Cox’s Pippins for eating, and those pesky green tomatoes that refuse to ripen are on her doorstep for anyone to take. I gather them as from orchard grass and now can bake to pass along to other neighbors.

Doorstep bounty

We continue to do what we can for each other as this next round of COVID-19 circles us. Daily 12,500 new cases are reported and tonight brought another set of government rules to learn and abide by.

I imagine our Queen as she follows the news and watches her people doing what they can for their country. Maybe she keeps a note-pad on which to jot down names and pass them on to her Prime Minister of the day for The Birthday Honours list usually in June, when the Queen celebrates her official birthday. This year it was delayed so that COVID-19 front-line workers and volunteers could be honored. She may leave much of the choices to her Prime Minister but with this one she could have more to say.

Orders of the British Empire seem old-fashioned considering that there is no empire but these special recognitions by the Queen mean a lot to everyone. Sir David Attenborough gets a boost upstairs with a hurried make-over of the badge for the Knight Grand Cross. The young footballer Marcus Rashford becomes an MBE. With quiet dignity and persistence, he got the government to do a U-turn, successfully campaigning to extend free school meals over the summer.

“It is never the child’s fault that they are hungry.” This is a young man to watch.

I have a smiling satisfaction at actor David Suchet, most known as Poirot in the re-running Agatha Christie series, becoming a Sir. Dabirul Islam Choudhury, who turns 101 in January, takes home an OBE for walking almost 1,000 laps of his garden, raising money for charity, while fasting for Ramadan. Between him and the better-known Captain Tom, centenarians are showing they remain full of the Right Stuff.

This has been A Letter From A. Board.
written and read for you by Muriel Murch

It’s Raining Again

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Being in England it seems only polite to speak of the weather. Now autumn has arrived with its mixture of rain and sunshine. The leaves on the Plane trees in the park are bright yellow and glistening with the steady rain that has fallen. These leaves will not fade to brown but drop with the next wind, leaving a carpet of yellow on the grass which itself is shining a brilliant, verdant green.

On Sunday we crossed town in an Uber. The rain fell steadily. The city is quiet and some roads were blocked off as the London Marathon was run by the chosen elite runners in the city. Around the country and the world, runners clocked in and up their twenty-six plus miles while raising money for their chosen charities. Looking out of the car window, we saw a city on hold. As if in a doctor’s office, nervously waiting for a diagnosis. Will the city live or die? What is its life expectancy and how will it need to adjust to the next new reality?

London street in the rain. Photo by Anjana Menon

Mindful of the rule of six we are celebrating old friendships as the youngest of us passes her ’77 Sunset Strip’ birthday. We laugh about it, with a toast of wine this Sunday lunch time. We are grateful that we are still a foursome and we don’t – at the table – discuss most of the ways that our bodies are beginning to show their limitations. The restaurant, Lorne in SW1, is small, modern and delightfully European. The food is elegant, the wait-staff all family and there is no bread on the menu or table. But there is wine and we drink with a fair amount of abandon and not a lot of caution. Sunday luncheon is a lingering meal and we are not alone in the lingering.

Three of the four birthday bites. Photo by WSM

Eventually the meal winds down into spearmint tea served in the tiniest of tea pots, and more of the owner’s family arrive for their meal. They bring the youngest member of the family, a little toddler girl. Already she is gently pulling things out of her mother’s bag and looking at ladies items. There is a zip closure, which will only take a few days more to master. Missing our own grandchildren, we beam at this little one and she looks up at us as we leave. Some of her family are still masked, we are putting our masks back on, and suddenly I’m trying to understand what this third of her life in masks could look like to a toddler. It is only our eyes that can shine love and laughter to her. But she gets it and smiles back, still clutching her mother’s unopened case.

This has been a welcome break from the confinement we continue to observe, and the news which spins through our minds as it unfurls.

The stand-off in Belarus continues. On Saturday, Belarus withdrew the accreditation of all foreign correspondents. The internet went down on Sunday. Aljazeera news is the only outlet still able to report. On Sunday, water cannons were used against the protestors marching towards the detention centers where at least 77 political prisoners are being held.

But on Friday, the United States and the European Union hit Belarus with sanctions for rigging the vote and orchestrating the crackdown on protesters, targeting key officials – but not Lukashenko himself. Russia has backed its long-standing ally Lukashenko, offering financial backing and promising military support if events turn against him. Unless you are paying minute attention it is hard to tell what is happening where.

On Sunday we saw again how the U.K. government’s knee rests on the BBC’s neck as Prime minister Boris Johnson deigned to be interviewed by Andrew Marr on Marr’s Sunday morning political program.

Public Health England has admitted a cock-up. In one week 15,841 positive Covid cases were not included in reports at the time, and not passed on to the contact tracing system. On Monday Health Minister Matt Hancock took the fall in Parliament blaming a computer malfunction, sort of like – the dog ate my homework.

Johnson warns that the UK faced “a very tough winter” with the virus. Truthfully, though, most governments are struggling, each searching for the right approach for their country. But watching this program every Sunday morning is wearing and I need a seriously good cup of tea to get through it. At first it seemed there was a restraint on Marr with his questions about the missing 16,000 cases, and then, as sometimes happens, the Scot in him rose to the fore. It takes a half squint of my eyes to see him strip off his Sunday suit, toss his shawl over his shoulder, twirl in his green plaid kilt and brandish his sword – at Boris.

When a patient leaves a hospital on their own volition it becomes ‘an incident’. There are nursing notes to be written, forms to be filled out and passed up the chain of responsibility until it reaches the top. But who is that person in the Walter Reed Memorial hospital? It may well be the commander in chief, who took the insane joy ride to wave to his people.

I could not take in the news when I first hear it.
“He’s mad.” I say.
“And scared.” Came the reply. And this may well be the truth. A memory of Saddam Hussain, stripped of his uniforms and ready for execution now twins with that of a masked man in a black armored car, waving before he takes his final ride home.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad.

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

Week Seven in Belarus

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Autumn has blown in and plonked her grab bag of swirling leaves down on every street and alley-way in London. Thoughts of letting tomatoes linger on the vine to ripen are swept away. We would be wise to pick what remains and be grateful for onions, windfall apples and green tomato chutney.

The cooler air is over Europe too and though the weather has turned in the seven weeks since the Belarusian elections that declared Lukashenko president the protests have continued. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who, in place of her detained husband, was on the ballot against Lukashenko, and Veronika Tsepkalo are in exile while Maria Kolesnikova remains in custody. Tikhanovskaya speaks in a video made for the New York Times about the situation in Belarus as the protest movement is left almost rudderless.

Anyone who steps into that leadership role is putting their life in danger and they know it. The news shows a young organizer using his phone to coordinate protesters while his wife phones every fifteen minutes to check that he is safe. Many of the Belarusian men protesting are often sturdy, thick-set, of truck driving ilk, alongside the student, intellectual types. The O.M.O.H. Police special forces remain fully masked under their helmets and are also stocky but one suspects younger and not so street savvy. Often they need four officers to capture one man. It is easier picking up the women, two officers can grab them off the streets, toss them into vans and drive to police stations. The photographs and reports of beatings and other tortures from released prisoners seeking medical aide are chilling. Tikhanovskaya knows she is no politician, “I am just a teacher. I will preside for six months to oversee fair and democratic elections. I am a wife and a mother and just want my husband back.” It is clear that though some protesters may be released, others may not, and some may never return.

Nina Baginskia and her flag. Photographer unknown

It is now illegal to carry the old State Belarusian flag but the streets are filled with the strong red and white fluttering flags waving among the signs carried by the protestors. Nina, a 73 year old great grandmother, is especially fond of hers. Though momentarily detained she is back on the street with the protesters and Nina may be the one force that brings the O.M.O.H. to a halt. Childhood religious respect for an elder does give the masked police pause, while Nina does half-apologize for kicking a police officer when he takes her flag away from her, “That was not very good behavior, I know, but when someone takes something of yours you don’t just say ‘Thank you.’” But not everyone approves, “You follow an old babushka,” Shouted a old-Lukashenko supporter.

Yes, they do. One of the privileges of reaching a certain age is the grounding of your collective wisdom and the ability to commit to what you know is right. Among the younger generations, Nina’s grey hair is a beacon, shining like that of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, as she marches. At last the United Nations have stated it is time these allegations are investigated. This week the French president, Emmanual Marcon, said that Lukashenko must step aside. Several other European countries, including Britain, have stated they don’t recognize Mr. Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus. Even the U.S. agrees, though, as the U.S. is prone to do, they may change their statement later in the year. Poised as the U.S. is for the November’s presidential elections these events in tiny Belarus are being watched in detail by those who hold the White House at this time.

Changing statements is what some governments do best. Balancing the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic and salvaging the economy is proving a difficult business. The rigidity of the Lukashenko’s and Putin’s of the world can be contrasted with the melting iron of Johnson and other European leaders, who are struggling with this gordian knot. World wide COVID-19 cases are reported at over thirty-three million and today’s death toll has crested one million people.

France, German, Spain, Portugal and Italy are among the countries we heard about, each country trying to balance their economy with their country’s safety. Germany has already said they are putting the economy first and so other countries will be watching. Even with the governments’ ever changing statements it seems that being sensible as we go about our restricted lives with our smaller groupings of family and friends is the right thing to do. Medical personnel and hospitals are rearranging their priorities once more. Pubs and restaurants opened and last orders are called by 9 p.m. for 10 p.m. closure. I find this charming but I expect it has to do with my age. I remember those nice little drink, a nice little snack and then a nice little – not too tired, not too drunk – ‘Shall I walk you home moments’.

Primary schools have reopened and students are returning. The hardest hit are the new and returning students to University. Though all of the universities have worked really hard, there are bound to be cases of infections and illness. The numbers are just too high, the spaces just too small and the students, just as exuberant as they should be at this time in their lives.

So tonight’s headline from the Evening Standard newspaper “London Lockdown Moves a step closer” has us pause again. Though we will go out for supper tonight, it maybe the last time we can do so for a while. We will mask up to walk along the two streets and dine in the company of a few strangers trying to feel a little more connected to each other and the world.

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

Second Wave

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The British government again seems to be struggling with making up their mind about their ‘rule of six’. Hot spots of increased infection rates are happening, and England, like many other European countries, is rolling lock-down rules out of the front door of #10 Downing Street as if trying to knock off coconuts at a country stall fair. It is very possible that the coconuts are an easier target. The infection rate is going up, faster than the number of testings, though the rate of hospitalization and COVID-19 deaths is slower. The Health Minister, Matt Hancock, tried to talk a good talk on Andrew Marr’s Sunday political program, but it was heavy going. He predicts that a second wave of infections is coming. In trying to be stern, he repeated again and again “We must obey the rules”. But the rules keep changing and Hancock was ill equipped, and nervous. Monday morning we found out why.

Number 10 Downing Street had to ‘strongly deny’ that, as reported in La Republica News, Boris Johnson flew to Perugia to meet with Evgeny Lebedev at his villa in Umbria. Airport sources said that Johnson arrived on Friday, September 11th at 2. pm. and left on Monday morning 7.45 a.m. Every once in a while you have to love those airport staff and guards at these tiny airports. Johnson and Lebedev are tight, in that way that friends bond over what one could call ‘similar behavior patterns and tastes’. And apparently, according to the same source, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, also flew into Perugia on September 8th leaving the day that Johnson arrived. Perugia has become a bustling hot spot surrounded by those busy villas tucked away in the Umbria hills. In London, the government brushed aside the Italian paper report as being – Italian – and now – sadly – the Italian government has concurred.

But the British people are fast losing faith and trust in this government as a second wave of increased infections and measures to contain the virus look inevitable. And so on Tuesday, Boris is to speak. First scheduled for 10 a.m. this morning he has now slipped to 12.20 p.m. in the house of Commons and will address the nation at 8 p.m. So far we know, that from Thursday, pubs and restaurants will close at 10 p.m.

As we adjust to another new normal, those of us lucky enough not to be directly effected by the virus look to see what got us through so far. There were friends and neighbors, grocery deliveries, the telephone, email and Zoom that kept us connected and took care of our more basic needs. These are community’s first responders.

But the cities were closed. There were no galleries to visit, no concerts or theaters to attend, no films to see. For some, music came through the wireless, while the television played endless reruns. There are books to read. A friend called Art the second wave of responder. And so, as we can, we search for Art.

In 2017 Beatrice had an exhibit at the Botanical Gardens featuring her photographs of the Trees of Buenos Aires. It was a fabulous exhibit and we were grateful to be there and see it. I chose about six of the pictures and had jigsaw puzzles made up from them thinking they would be great Christmas presents, but my friends said ‘Thank you very much Aggie’ and put the boxes away. I kept one here and after almost two years it was still in its box. Two weeks into England’s lock down we poured the one thousand pieces onto the kitchen – dinning table and the puzzle took over. Eventually we had to add the extra table-leaf. As nobody was coming to dinner the puzzle became our companion for the next several months. We would linger after a meal, like addicts, for just one more piece to put in place. It was completed in July.

Place for the puzzle on the table WSM

This weekend it returned from the frame shop and now hangs on the wall bringing us comfort in a familial way and maybe even a little courage as we go forward. Bea’s photograph became something bigger we can share.

Comfort in the evening Photo WSM

Carol Witman, from West Marin, has found her strength and comfort in art. Each morning (I think I have this right) before she starts her daily work of political activism she gathers flora from wherever she is: at home, on a walk or with a friend. Bob made her a work bench. She has gathered her tools. I image it as an alter, somewhere in a shed or close to the kitchen door, where she places her day’s harvest. The flowers, fruits and leaves seem an offering to the woodland gods and I believe guide her as she lays them out in a mandala circle. Carol says, “I started doing them as a response to my depression and anxiety over Trump/GOP and the pandemic, to focus myself each morning, and remind myself that there is still beauty in the world. When I posted them on social media, I found that others were given joy by them too”.

Susan’s Quinces Mangela and
Photo by Carol Witman
Sage and Nigella. Mandala and Photo by Carol Whitman

Even as Carol, Bob, and their cats evacuated to Oakland during the California fires, she kept her daily practice with making mandalas, calming and bringing joy to herself and us all. After this is all over and we come through to our newer still normal, I can’t wait to view a show celebrating her work in a book, to leaf (!) through with a smile, remembering when and how we survived this somber moment in our time.

This has Been A Letter From A. Broad
Written and Read for you by Muriel Murch.

Rule of Six

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Six months into this strange lockdown year many of us are still struggling to find our old normal life patterns or create and accept new ones. Families, communities, and countries are so ripped apart by war, disease and fires, that this may never happen again in their life times. The natural world is in deep fury and sorrow and has serious indigestion from humanity’s greedy excesses. For support or solace some people return to their religions, some look to science, hardly anyone looks to their politicians. In this house there are books and charts from the I–Ching, Runes and Astrology.

Anne Ortelee sends out biweekly astrology posts. I read them yet I can’t begin to fathom all the planetary positions in the heavens that she explains. Planets are joining up, and flying back to whence they came. When she reflects back into history, I always learn something new. It’s been more than 500 years since the last time that Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto all met together in Capricorn; in the autumn of 1517, just a couple of weeks after Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door and set off the Protestant Reformation.

But at this point in time it looks like trouble for America and much of the world all tumbling on into political and natural chaos.

The people of Belarus are not giving up. Another big protest rally in Minsk showed Lukashenko’s riot police, now almost completely encased in armor that makes them look like rolling armadillos, attacking protesters and bundling those they think are the remaining opposition leaders into vans and taking them away. The country’s interior minister says 774 people had been detained on Sunday.

On Monday, Lukashenko flew to Sochi to meet with Putin at Putin’s Black Sea resort home. This is Lukashenko’s first trip outside the country since the protests began after the August elections. Russian news agencies report that Russia will send paratroopers to Belarus for 10 days of military exercises entitled “Slavic brotherhood”. It is yet to be seen what else Putin will do to help the old warrior who has now interrupted Putin’s holiday break – or will Lukashenko fall ill, and not make it back home to Belarus. Such things do happen.

Alexei Navalny is up and conscious and anxious to return to Russia. Two German laboratories have independently confirmed that he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. Suspicions remain strong that the poison was probably in a cup of tea he drank at Omsk airport before boarding a flight to Moscow last week. His team lost no time in blaming Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin spokesperson, remains completely dismissive of such suggestions.

Alexei Navalny with his wife and daughters in Berlin. Photo from Sky News

Following the English government rules for the COVID-19 situation is like playing a game of hop-scotch on a chalked-out pavement that has been twisted and blurred by the rain. Back and forth until this week Boris, Matt – and maybe deeply hidden behind a scientific puppet, Dominic – have come up with the Rule of Six, nicked one can be sure from a catchy-sounding chapter heading in a book on film lying about in Dom’s editing suite. What is right for film and the arts is completely useless for this epidemic situation. Professors Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson write in the Spectator, “Our leaders amount to little more than a Dad’s Army of highly paid individuals with little or no experience of the job at hand.” Their long article reads like a doomsday book of despair and the writers barely touch on the failures of Matt Hancock’s Track and Trace schemes.

Moving from one debortle to another, Boris last week announced that he was going to flout, that is break, an agreement with the European Union on the Trade Deal that he made, and celebrated as a victory, just nine months ago. Suddenly this has given past Prime Ministers something to get excited about, join in unity around, and enjoy a new photo opportunity. John Major and Tony Blair are seen smiling and looking sweetly neat walking together across the Peace Bridge. Both probably chuckling at this dig to Johnson. David Cameron has cautiously joined the chorus but did not see fit to walk the plank with Major and Blair. He is a young man and may still have hopes of a political life before him. But he did say that “Passing an act of Parliament and then going on to break an international treaty obligation is the very, very last thing you should contemplate. It should be an absolute final resort. So, I do have misgivings about what’s being proposed.”

“See Thomas, See how you have angered me so!” Henry VIII roars, on a supposedly surprise visit, to Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s’ “A Man for All Seasons.” It seems that it is this wrath that politicians fear, but what I can’t yet figure out: who is playing Henry?

So much politics to think and write about. All pushing back the desperately important thoughts and ideas needed in this time of Global Warming and the eruption of this pandemic experience. Last year we looked in amazed horror when the Australian bush went up in flames. This year California is following the fire season’s pattern of Australia, with ‘some fires in 2019’ becoming the whole of the western states of America in 2020. In both continents the fire season is barely beginning.

Meanwhile Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Lesvos continue to burn and drown with no helping hands in sight.

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






Murder is a Messy Thing

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Murder can be a messy business. Countries, cultures and times evolve and often a culture is the defining influence as to how political problems disappear.

This is uppermost in my mind in those pre-dawn moments; beyond the fast-climbing number of cases of COVID-19 in England, beyond the raging fires in California, and the understandable distrust for the British Prime Minister by the European Brexit team. The UK government is now reneging on the agreement with the European Union on the border for Northern Ireland. While the Brexit clock is ticking, the leaders of Russia, the US, and China are watching the chip, chipping away of Europe with glee.

But it is Belarus that is again, sounding the alarm bells in my head and my heart. Over one hundred thousand protestors marched in Minsk this weekend, and other cities were filled with protestors. The police targeted young men returning to the universities, as well as reporters, and one journalist remains in jail. Lukashenko has not been seen, only his riot police force out with their agenda. Luke Harding wrote of it in the Guardian Newspaper: “On Monday, unidentified masked men snatched the leading Belarusian opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova from the street in the centre of the capital, Minsk, and drove her away in a minivan.” Three young idealistic women formed a new opposition party called ‘Together’.

Veronika Tsepkalo (left), Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (centre), and Maria Kolesnikova display their signature gestures at a press-conference in Minsk in July. Photograph: Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA

The opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a teacher, unexpectedly allowed to run for president and had claimed victory against Alexander Lukashenko, fled after Lukashenko rejected the vote of the people. Maria Kolesnikova is reported as detained at the Lithuanian border, apparently after an escape bid, though Veronika Tsepkalo may still be in Belarus.

Russia seems to favour poison even as they make such a mess of it. Alexander Litvinenkno in 2004, Sergei and Yulias Skripal in 2018, and now Alexei Navalny in August. Navalny suddenly became ill on an internal flight from Siberia. The plane diverted to Omsk where he was treated for three days before being eventually airlifted to the Charité hospital in Berlin where doctors confirmed what the rest of the world knows, that Navalny was poisoned with nerve agent Novichok. The world will look in vain for an explanation from the Russian Government that does not care a button what the rest of the world thinks.

The Saudis preferred a strangulation, a little drug use, before the chain saw for the removal of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, while the United Kingdom takes the depression-walk-in-the-woods approach to the removal of dissidents to power – David Kelly’s death in 2003 is still remembered. North America uses guns and choke-holds and when countries collaborate the removals can become truly messy. During our years in Argentina I learnt of the 1970s student disappearances by the plane-load over the River Plata. I still cannot eat fish in Buenos Aires.

In these times of solitude I find myself with a strange kind of homesickness. While the farm and the California fires that surround it and all of our corner of West Marin are constantly on my mind, I also think of Buenos Aires and of that time in our lives when San Telmo held a home for us. Smells come over me in waves, they linger and bring memories quickly into my mind.

Walking along the cleaning aisle at the supermarket, with the mixtures of house-cleaning products, takes me to Fridays at the casa. Maritza, who is Bolivian, would take an hour-long bus from her home to San Telmo and spend all day cleaning that big apartment. Bea or I would make lunch and we would sit all together to eat a simple meal. It is the custom there. The espresso coffee pot bubbles up on the stove and, if I have missed it, a metallic smell spills over, with the coffee, onto the stove top. It is the same coffee pot as I had in the Abuela-Dome that spits onto the electric hot plate.

Breakfast with Granny in the Abuela Dome

On sunny Sundays I would bring the morning coffee out to the little table and chairs sitting by the window on the terrace. The terrace, between the main apartment and the bedsit Abuela dome, is long and as soon as David could, he would escape from the main apartment and run across to us. Through the glass doors we could see him standing on tip-toe, reaching up for the doorknob, and click, pull it down to come in. And there we would be. Were we ready to play, to read or maybe was it time for a second breakfast? Inside or out? He had a special mug for tea, as did Grandpa, while Granny has her own Royal Albert tea cup and saucer. And then there would be toast, just a little because actually David has already had breakfast with Mummy and Daddy.

This week is Bea and Santi’s 5th wedding anniversary. And in two weeks it is David’s 5th birthday. Bea posted a picture on Facebook of the wedding ceremony. The little courthouse is packed with Santi’s family, their friends, including Bea’s first husband Kragen, who stood up to wish them all happiness. Bea sits so ‘barefoot and pregnant’. They look young and nervous and yet with that determination that love can bring. The presiding officer was a kind motherly woman magistrate and her presence draws me back to memories of Argentina and all that is good in the world wherever we are.

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