Female Complaints

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

September mornings, and the sun is finally shining in London. The first flurry of falling leaves are swept up and the pavements look just a little bit fresher, gardens are tidied for winter and their last autumnal blooms wave at us before the summer light fades. Children are back to school and there is a bustle of work, increased traffic on public transport and Boris had some questions to answer in Parliament on Monday afternoon. Which he did, with his hair combed softly – he knew it would be a difficult day – and a promise to fulfill one election pledge by breaking another. Taxes in one form or another must to go up, to pay for the increased health care needs of the country. It is not all the fault of the elderly for living longer – though that could be where to focus some attention. But after the afternoon session in parliament, it is onto the ‘Let’s all have a drink together and get along’ cocktail party hosted by Johnson, and paid for by us, as he tries to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg gave a weak smile before turning his back on the reporters and, with double-vented jacket not showing him to advantage, entering number 10 Downing Street. The Right Honorable Michael Gove may still be in Aberdeen. Luckily Domonic Raab is nowhere to be seen having slipped off to Pakistan trying to find safe passage for those afghans left behind after the British evacuation of Afghanistan. There is no certainty that Raab can return with the needed free pass tickets on his shopping list.

The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg on the bench

We hear less from Afghanistan, but the news stories that do come through are of cruelty and despair, such as the pregnant police woman, Banu Negar, killed in front of her family. There will be no ‘good news’ coming from Kabul until the Taliban control the media outlets and feed news to the Western world. How it is that Secunder Kermani and Lyse Doucet can continue to report for the BBC from Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan is hard to fathom. With a new government not yet formed, and young men on the streets all eager to do something, the Taliban’s promise of ‘No grudges, no revenge’ is proving messy to follow. We hear little of how other countries faired getting their personal out during the Taliban take over and may hear even less about how they might return.

But the Taliban and the new Afghanistan leadership need money. Europe recognizes this and Germany appears to be leading by a nose, sniffing out what opportunities there are still in this land-locked country. Where can a foothold be found that will ensure a western presence to plug the hole of a ship-side leak open to the seas of Russian and Chinese advances?

The Taliban say that women and girls will have full rights ‘under Islamic law’ but Islamic law, like any other law, is subject to interpretation and already new rules about dress and education leave many women and their families fearful. Such strict laws preclude many women from the problems that beset women from other countries and, as has been recently seen – states such as Texas.

The new laws in Texas, banning abortion for whatever reason beyond 6 weeks of gestation, brings fear to this generation of fecund women and some hash memories back to those way past their prime. Seeing the protests in Texas of young women dressed in the red cloak of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was as chilling as anything we have seen in America since the beginning of this year. Margaret Atwood says of her 1985 novel “I didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress… So all of these things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil.” It is as if the men of Texas and beyond have said to themselves, ‘Yeah. This is how it should be.’ 

Women in Texas

And that can be the burping misfiring of art, rather like ‘Apocalypse Now’ conceived as the ultimate antiwar film only ofttimes used as a training tool to those young men and women heading out to the deserts and beyond.   

“I tried gin, hot baths, the lot” said my mother recounting her reaction when learning she was pregnant – with me. Not necessarily how one wants to feel welcomed into the world, but no less true because of it. Documented in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus 1850 BC, ways to prevent an unwanted pregnancy have been sought out and used to various degrees of dissatisfaction, despair, disease and death. Fighting for legal methods of birth control have consumed women, and some men, during the past two centuries, and remains contentious to this day. Those of us who ‘came of age’, in the mid-1960’s still remember the fear of unwanted pregnancies.

A little box of little pills. From the Welcome Trust Museum.

For nurses there were various paths open within hospital systems: volunteering to take patients to the X-ray department, before the mandatory introduction of lead aprons was one; a somewhat-drunken date with a maintenance supervisor who was as handy as any Vera Drake in his day another. And then there were Widow Welch’s Pills. Containing high doses of iron, pennyroyal and juniper and advertised as being very effective in curing ‘Female Obstruction’ they were freely obtainable from Boots the Chemists.

And if prayer, that first and last resort, was also tried and failed, there may be a rushed marriage and definitely expulsion from nursing school. For pregnancy and even marriage made one unsuitable for the profession. Meanwhile those impregnating young doctors graduated into their lives carrying only their memories that faded over time.

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

Caesar Augustus’ August

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

“Robert Kennedy’s been shot.” In an abrupt wake-up phone call. I don’t know what I replied rolling off the bed from a pre-work nap but I do remember a fogbound realization that this could be the end, and not the start, of a new beginning. In 1968 we knew little of the political games that unfold behind the news that was filtered in and out of the television and radios available to us. If we were lucky some rumor or gossip was gleaned from patients, one of whom was mine at the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. In gratitude for her care, the floor nurses were given free tickets to an auction that was happening at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angles. We could bid on, if not afford, donated items by the rich and famous, along with the not-so, all to raise money for the Democratic party. This is how things were done then. A nurse pal and I went to the sale, and I did successfully get a chest of drawers for the baby and a gorgeous full-length evening coat-dress that was totally over-the-top madness and yet, exquisite.

But now Robert Kennedy was dead, assassinated in that same Ambassador Hotel, and the dreams of the Democratic party at that time died with him. Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic presidential candidate but lost to the Republican, Richard Nixon. 

Sirhan Sirhan was tried and convicted of his assassination and has remained in San Quentin prison for the past 50-plus years. Now, aged 77, he is facing his 16th attempt for parole.

In 1998 Maxwell Taylor Kennedy published a slim volume ‘Make Gentle the Life of This World’ in which he had gathered quotes and sayings that his father Robert, and uncles Jack and Edward, would write in a note-book left on a lectern for each other in the White House. It is a sweet and tender book and speaks of a more innocent age. I was still gathering author interviews at KPFA and for some KPFA-specific reason, there was no studio available for us and so we set up a makeshift recording session in the music room. It was clear to see that Max Kennedy was a nervous, high-strung young man still looking for his way through the life he had been given. And so, as I often have done, I prefaced our conversation with the words, “If you feel I am going somewhere too personal or for any reason you would rather not answer, let me know and we will pause.” It was an interesting gentle conversation about the literature, education and political direction of his father and uncles. As our time together came to an end I asked one more question.

“We are close to San Quentin where Sirhan Sirhan is held. The prisoners often can listen to this radio station. If you had something to say to him what would it be?” And it was here that Max asked me to pause the recording. He sat for a long minute, troubled maybe by the concept of the question and, in the end, not really able to come up with an answer. To this day I am not sure how fair a question it was. 

Jack Newfield, a young reporter on that fateful 1968 campaign, wrote ‘RFK: a Memoir’ in 1969. He ended this book saying, 

“We are the first generation that learned from experience, in our innocent twenties, that things were not really getting better, that we shall not overcome. We felt, by the time we reached thirty, that we had already glimpsed the most compassionate leaders our nation could produce, and they had all been assassinated. And from this time forward, things would get worse: our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope. The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were all alone.”

And here, now, in England, the stone sits so solidly at the bottom of the hill. There is no Atlas among our politicians to roll the stone of the world’s troubles back up to a more compassionate civilization. 

A letter to the Guardian reminded columnist Paul Faupel of a colleague who had a post-it message – for himself and others – 

“te absente stercus flabellum tanguit” and he assured us that it was Latin for “while you were out, the shit *****  hit the fan”. 

Domonic Raab stumbles at the Ministerial enquiry and question time on Afganistan. Photo from The Scotsman

Faupel writes this could be an appropriate note for Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson after the Taliban took Kabul while the British boys were on their holidays. The Observer reported on Sunday that up to 5,000 emails to the Foreign Office detailing urgent cases of Afghans seeking to escape Kabul remained unread, including those sent by MPs and charities. Now Raab admits it may be hard for people who wish to leave to find a way out. The British and American evacuation from Kabul has ended.

The Bank Holiday weekend is over. Children will return to school, workers to work and maybe even politicians to Westminster, though the Right Honorable Michael Gove (of southern Surrey) has been seen dancing the night away, in a tieless suit, in Scotland’s Aberdeen. Gove like Hancock is now conspicuously absent from the front benches of Parliament. Only Dominic Raab, still oiling his Cretan suntan, stands and sits not two meters away from Boris. 

The Right Honorable Michael Gove and Friend in Aberdeen

Curzio Malaparte wrote in The Skin in 1949, “It is certainly harder to lose a war than to win one. Everyone wants to win a war, but not everyone is capable of losing one.” As empires crumble America and England have both had some practice. It is time to put that practice to good use.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

The Mound

Recorded and Knit together by WS

Walking across Hyde Park from Knightsbridge, clocking in those steps to bring me close to my allotted healthy number, I reached Marble Arch and for a moment couldn’t find it.

Marble Arch Obscura

Hyde Park is comfortably London, full of geese and people but that is not enough for the hop-on and hop-off tourist busses that wait – not too hopefully – by the roadside at Marble Arch. The Arch, long ago dumped here, has now been squashed by The Mound that has been built beside it and sits like a giant turd making the poor Arch look quite tiny and shabby. Marble Arch was built to be a state entrance to Buckingham Palace but didn’t fit and so was moved to its place at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street, close to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. The the best thing about ‘Marble Arch Mound’ is that it is a temporary ‘pop-up’ though no-one is saying when it will pop-down. Like any pop-up the goal is to encourage the now non-existent tourists to pay up, climb up, look down and empty their pockets in the shops below. The cost to build the mound ballooned from 2.5 million pounds to over six million. “I resign!” said a Westminster City Council deputy minister, but that isn’t going to help The Mound go away.

The Mound

Does its conception, its construction, speak in a oblique way of England today? Covering something that is not fit for purpose, The Marble Arch itself, that eventually found a happy placement, is now surrounded by detritus and foolishness – rather similar to what we see at the other end of town in Westminster.

Now that everyone has returned from their holidays to watch over the evacuation of foreign nations and afghans from Kabul the Prime Minister has slid off to the G7 Summit leaving the British Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow to ‘carry on’.

Very Busy Dominic Raab

The lucky few, those who can afford it, tripped off to Spain where the sun was scorching and the mosquitoes bit, much like England’s Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab, who was found sunning himself in fashionable Crete and not picking up the brought-to-your-lounger telephone to answer a call from his Afgan counterpart. The quickly put-together photo shoot of Raab behind his big desk, English and Chinese flags flying, one hand gripping the big chair, the other holding his telephone, looking earnestly at the computer screen are fooling no-one. 

Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was ordered to stay in Kabul while the rest of the UK embassy staff and their families left on Friday night. We see and hear only the English and American struggles but there are other countries whose presence in Afganistan is no longer welcome and they too are trying to get their people out.

Kilgore in the Morning

“I want my men out of there. Now.” Says Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. Raab is no Kilgore. 

The implosion of western forces in Afghanistan, the walk-through of the Taliban takeover of their country’s government, remains a debortle of immense proportions. So many stories of terror render most of us sick with helpless heartache at this moment of suffering caused by each and every one of us. No wonder there was a full house when Boris recalled the government last week. More ruffled than usual – not quite taking in that everyone was really calling for his blood – his bluster could not cover his bemusement. And when the past Prime Minister, Teresa May, stood up to speak she was heard, even as some of us blinked at her dress of bright Conservative Blue caped in Mourning black. But there were others, retired but young military men now serving their country in another way, ashamed of their government. For a moment I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe one of them could step forward and possibly lead this country into some new beginnings.

Where are the hyenas hiding in those benches? But here comes Tony Blair, wearing the wise elder-statesman look with slightly too-long silver hair as he shakes his head smiling ruefully, ‘Why can’t you pull yourselves out of the hole I dug for you?’

Holes for whole countries are one thing, traps for individuals are another. The Weekend Financial Times newspaper has a weekly column, “Lunch with the FT.” which during COVID has all been virtual. But this weeks interview took place in Warsaw, Poland where journalist Magdalena Miecznicka met with the defected sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya and her husband. Because poison is a weapon of choice for Russian and therefore Belarusian authorities only Magdalena was eating. The story that 24 year-old Krystsina tells is harrowing, from her first realization that someone is trying to remove her from Tokyo and return her to a mental hospital in Minsk. Her grandmother tells her not to return to Belarus and her husband escaped to the Ukraine before Poland. She was escorted from the Olympic Village by a psychiatrist and a Belarusian committee official to Tokyo’s Haneda airport where she was saved by an app on her phone. Typing in ‘I need help they are trying to take me out of the country by force.’ and translating it from Russian to Japanese, she reached an airport policeman who took her to safety. Magdalena’s article is quietly compelling, mixing Borsch soup with Poland and Belarus and all that it means to suddenly leave your country, your home with as many of your family as are able. Krystsina’s parents escaped but what will happen to her grandmother? We go from one story to many as in these Afghan days, another wave of desperate immigration carries fearful repercussions for the families left behind. 

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