Testing Times

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Not again. Boris, what were you thinking?! Taking off with new young mother, Carrie Symonds, baby Wilfred, and Dilyn the dog to a remote cottage out in the West Highlands, overlooking the Isle of Skye. You think that a tent in the field next door will be fine for the secret service police but the owner of the field, a farmer, didn’t find the tent – nor the fire the poor chaps must have lit to keep warm – fine. Where are your manners that you didn’t ask for permission to pitch a tent in someone else’s field? The photograph in the Weekend Telegraph paper showed a stone wall between the bleak looking cottage, the field and the sea but no sign of any facilities. A road lies between the cottage and the field. If a car drove down, wanting to have a snap and a chat with the Prime Minister in his wooly hat and PJ’s how long would it have taken for the boys in khaki to; unzip the tent, run the field, hop the wire fence, the stone wall, cross the road and ‘be at your service’? It was a good idea to cut the holiday short and return to the relative safely of London.

Coverage continues on the ongoing protests and retaliations in Belarus. The situation is reaching some kind of a pressure peak as the president, Alexander Lukashenko, wearing the black body-armored uniform of the riot police and holding his assault rifle, is heavily guarded as he inspects the police ranks. Lukashenko looks like an old war general holding onto his last vestiges of power. It is clear that Putin does not, for the moment, want to enter this battle. The protesters remain in strong numbers on the streets. They are attacked, hauled into jail cells, beaten, released and returned to the streets more determined than ever as they get information out to the rest of the world. Will it end like Czechoslovakia? Scenes from ‘The Unbearable Lightless of Being’ play though my mind along with the film’s haunting music. Thinking of the end scenes of ‘Unbearable’ that were shot in the California sunlight of Stinson Beach and Blackberry Farm in Bolinas brings back memories of a happier time. Global distress always, but our corner of the world was a safe sanctuary. Now we watch as the fires sweep through Northern California and pray for you all.

Much of the world looks bleak, with the Coronavirus pandemic being mishandled in the U.S. and other countries. In England, schools are to carefully reopen next week putting children and teachers in jeopardy for the economy.

A large envelope came through the letter box for a survey on the Coronavirus conducted by The Office of National Statistics at Oxford University. The first interview and testing took place in the bathroom and on our doorstep. After forms were signed and the testing completed there was a survey to fill out. Inda sat in her car, I sat on our doorstep. “How many people have you been in physical contact with in the last seven days?” Touching is what she meant and I realized that if we lived alone the answer would be ‘none’.

The quietness of the London Streets is sobering. The parks and canal walks are beautiful but the loss of physical contact is hard. There is a hunger now for human engagement and with that has come a change in attitude.

The Albert pub closed up 3 years ago as the building was bought for renovation. Three flats were built and sold above the pub. Then things stalled. The pub shrank, physically, as the leaded windows dusted over. Even after signs saying, ‘Everything valuable has been removed.’ The door would be broken open just to check. The community petitioned ‘Keep The Albert Open’ but to no avail, and the grumbling rumbled on, ‘There goes another one.’ Earlier this year squatters moved in, furniture was dumped on Princess Street and there were a few days of frantic activity as the squatters made themselves comfortable. But quickly they were moved out and plywood panels went up to cover the old windows. Maybe the squatters were the push that the owners needed for now there are two builders’ vans and a skip in the garden. The front door is open and young men in dust-covered teeshirts and overalls are busily coming in and out. What suddenly is making The Albert a possible proposition is the little garden out back. In these Covid times outdoor seating is at a premium.

“Should be open in September.” Says one of the young builders.

The First beginnings at The Albert Pub Photo by WSM

Sam’s Cafe first opened on the high street of the village. But last year a minor repair turned into a huge building disaster that had Sam shutting up shop – literally – and licking his wounds, brooding on a dream so cruelly crushed. Owning and running a restaurant is not for the faint-hearted. Beloved JC’s L’Absinthe on the corner of Chalcot and Fitzroy was a truly go-to spot for us. But then JC fell in love and married. And he too looked to lighten his load. The doors of L’Absinthe closed and the corner was quiet.

And then during the winter came the rumor that Sam’s Cafe was to take over the old L’Absinthe restaurant. We watched and waited. First up went the brown paper in the windows to keep private whatever activity was going on. Months went by before the doors opened as old equipment went out and new came in. Final touches to Sam’s Cafe’ are done and the doors will open on Thursday.

The Last Touches to Sam’s Cafe

Now, on this little corner street, all the shops are busy again. There is hope for a future and we are grateful.

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

An Eton Mess

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Despite being arrested and badly beaten, protesters are not giving up and protests in Belarus continue. Over 200,000 people took to the streets in Minsk over the weekend while TV Journalists are refusing to work in the state-sanctioned stations. Europe and much of the world are watching, appalled at the police and army violence used to control the protesters. Beleaguered President Alexander Lukashenko is feeling the heat and has turned to Vladimir Putin asking for help, which may – or may not – be forthcoming. Is this a world-warning to the U.S. if, in November, the U.S. presidential elections appear to be overtly tampered with?

A real Eton Mess by Helen Hall

An Eton Mess, as described in Wikipedia – the now go-to in depth Encyclopedia Britannica – is a traditional English dessert of strawberries, meringue, and whipped cream. As the name suggests the Eton Mess originated at Eton College and began life when served at the annual cricket match between the Eton and Harrow Schools at Lords Cricket Grounds in London.

In the summer time of the early 1960’s, as young student nurses, with our end of the month brown envelopes, we would walk up the hill to The Corona Cafe on the Guildford High Street. Crowded tightly into our little booth we would each order, not an Eton Mess, which was not yet on every restaurant’s menu, but a Knickerbocker Glory, which was.

A Real Knickerbocker Glory from Gastronomic Bong

Before the European Market, and a global economy, soft fruit was truly seasonal and ripe only in June and July. The berries then faded, giving way to August’s blushing peaches and plums.

But here we are in August, with strawberries and raspberries still in the markets and so, if we choose, we can make up our own versions of an Eton Mess; mashing merengue, ice-cream and fruit all together, or we can be more creative, putting together an elegant Knickerbocker Glory.

Now in this mid-summer moment, Boris Johnson’s Government has produced its own Eton Mess within the education system, taking all the good things of a last school year and, with a hairy fist and no thought for the consequences, crushed them into the industrial blender of the Ofqual algorithm. Whether it is G.C.S.E.’s or A levels, leaving school exam results are hugely important to the students, teachers and their schools. I can remember fearfully waiting during exam result’s week for the brown envelope containing my O Level results to come though the letter box. This year, because of the Corona Virus, there have been no A level exams. They are vital indicators for a student’s way forward to a university – or not – and if so which university can they attend. The government’s first choice was to wiggle through two paths. In Private (called Public) schools, the teachers were allowed to give their assessments of a student’s grades. In State schools the government implemented an algorithm from the exams watchdog, Ofqual, based on previous results from these schools. This appeared dependent on post codes for schools and students alike and did not address the hard work of the schools and teachers struggling to improve and equalize the opportunities for students throughout the country. The gap between rich and poor has been broadened and deepened more that ever.

The Scottish Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was the first to think ‘Rubbish, off with that computer’s head, we are going to listen to the teachers,’ though she put it more politely saying:
“We’ve got this wrong and apologize to both students and teachers. We are going to do whatever we can to put this right.” Northern Ireland and Wales followed suit. Quickly, old Etonian Boris Johnson, and the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, far from an Old Etonian, but maybe with such aspirations, were left watching their Eton Mess collapse into a proper Dog’s dinner. And now the students have voices; quickly they formed protests around the country and posted their stories on Social Media. Those whose post-codes down-graded their results are not going anywhere quietly. This maybe the first time that Domonic Cummings’ computer and puppet-strings for Gavin Williamson have tangled and crashed. The government has been forced to abandon their algorithm from Ofqual and now slides into a U-Turn. Like a cur that has regurgitated its Eton mess, it has turned tail, eaten its own words as a dog’s dinner and retreated.

But this week we are preparing for the Virtual launch of COUP 53 on Wednesday August 19th. That is this evening if you are listing on KWMR.org, one of the over 90 venue hosts in four countries, for COUP 53. Yes, I’m putting in a plug for the film and our own beloved radio station, where you can get tickets for Wednesday night and thereafter as long as the venues keep the link on their website. If your tickets are for the Wednesday opening you also get to see the on-line Q & A moderated by Johnathan Snow and featuring the writer/director Taghi Amirani, the writer/editor Walter Murch and actor, Ralph Fiennes. Ticket sales are split between the host venue and the film.

Everyone involved in the making of COUP 53 at times wondered what rabbit-hole we were falling into as these historic events from 67 years ago played out in more than unusual footage and film. The Press coverage has been amazing and maybe is in part due to the guts and determination it has taken to not only make the film but now to release it in these Covid-19 times. I’ve seen COUP 53 many times but truth be told, I’m looking forward to switching on and watching it again on Wednesday night.

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

Taghi Amirani and Walter Murch – Almost Done