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

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

Audrey II

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

In 1983 we took the children to see The Little Shop of Horrors when it was playing at a West End Theater in London. The book and lyrics are written by Howard Ashman and the music composed by Alan Menkin. The play starts off almost benignly but then, the little shop, the plant, the good and evil characters emerge along with the storyline until we were all properly horrified as Audrey II’s meandering tentacles devour all before her, before coming down on the audience in the finale. Not sure what sort of mother I was taking the family to such a show but they loved it, and apart from a daughter’s inordinate fear of spiders, seem non-the-worse for wear.

But I’m thinking of the story of The Little Shop, something seemingly benign growing with a hunger for the flesh of others, as I look at China and its meandering tentacles. The protestors against China’s takeover of Hong Kong’s parliamentary structure have been crushed and key activists are now jailed. Another tentacle has reached into Myanmar helping the military to quell activists and protesters against their takeover of the democratically elected president and government. So far the Myanmar protests are continuing even as rubber bullets are giving way to metal. At this writing at least 126 civilians have been killed by the military and two policemen have died. Some soldiers are scrambling to India after refusing to follow orders to open fire on their own people. 

Aung San Suu Kyi is still in house arrest

Hidden, as much as is possible, the Russian activists carry on – Navalny may be jailed but the work continues. Like burrowing a tunnel out of a jail, they keep chipping away at the rock face of the autocratic power held by Vladimir Putin who is beginning to feel the itch under his iron jacket.

The rollout of the vaccination program in England has been methodical and steady. As of today, over 23 million people have had their first dose of vaccination while over a million and a half have had their second injection. The AstraZeneca Vaccine has got some bad press (re: blood clots) but in this time of ‘who says what’ it is hard to know the truth. Statistics, as anyone who has taken basic Statistics 101 knows, can say one thing and then another depending on the chosen variables. The UK virus infection rates are going down, though they may rise as more restrictions are lifted. Today only 52 deaths were recorded from the virus. Soon it could be that the death rate from the virus is no greater than that of the winter flu.

How will we come out of our lockdown? Maybe it is our age – of course it is our age – but my friends and I are cautious, there is a hesitancy to come out of the cave and onto the street, into the garden. It is almost a collective lethargy among older friends. There have been articles about how hard lockdown has been on younger families but I also feel a sweeter caring and closeness among those of us who are older.

Between International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday, English women from all walks of life waited and watched when Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, went missing while walking home to her flat in Clapham, south London. For days it was just her disappearance that aroused the country to a collective alert attention, overtaking any regal outpourings of emotion that had preceded it. For a fear gripped every woman of all ages. Now Wayne Couzens has been remanded into custody and here is the rub: Couzens is an officer in the Metropolitan Police Force. How could this have happened? An off-duty police officer, slowing down, maybe told her not to be walking home that late at night, flashed his badge, not his crotch, and in a moment of unthinking tiredness she got into his car. A week later her body was found in a builder’s disposable bag in the Kent woodlands. Sarah was a young white woman. A woman of color would have been too savvy to get into that car. Never trust a white man, especially a white policeman. There is not a woman alive in London, or maybe even the country, who doesn’t understand the fear that still keeps us vigilant as we age. Women flocked to Clapham Common where Sarah walked. Vigils were called for and then asked to be held privately at home, candles to be lit, as we had once clapped for the NHS. But the Duchess of Cambridge went out – as alone as she could be – mingling among the women to lay flowers with the others. “For Sarah” it read. She said, “I remember what it was like to walk home alone in London,” before she quietly slipped away.

As dusk fell on Saturday, women continued to gather at Clapham Common, laying flowers, and holding their phones high lit as candles. There was a police presence and all was calm – until it wasn’t. Who gave the order, who panicked at the sheer volume of women, at the few protesters who came specifically to disrupt the situation? Someone did and the police moved in, encircling, crowding the women until some of them panicked too. It doesn’t take much – fear, that is – on either side, to make a peaceful situation difficult, a difficult one dangerous, and the repercussions of such a situation to be an excuse for more laws to curtail such protests.

Police officers begin to crowd in on the women at Clapham Common.

Discussions continue, in public and in parliament and the fear, on both sides of the law and the people remains. As we approach the spring equinox and the sky is becoming light again I wonder if the touch of spring is enough to bring us hope and courage to create a new way of being.

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

20,000,000 and counting

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

…is a lot of people given their first dose of the Covid vaccine. This week the rollout of vaccinations begins for those between 64-60 years old. Cases of COVID infections in the UK are down 40% and – for the moment – England can be hopeful. Last week The Queen joined health workers from around the UK on a Zoom conference call, talking of how well the program is going and how important it is. The Queen added that her vaccination “Didn’t hurt at all” and encouraged those who were nervous about having a vaccination “to think of others and protect them by having the vaccination.” At 94 she remains in lockdown in Windsor Castle while Prince Philip, her 99-year-old husband, is transferred from King Edward Vth hospital to St. Batholomew’s and there are other family concerns on her mind. She is not immune from the extra burdens that this time brings. In her own isolation from family and work, she shares the worries which we all carry with the sense that the world is closing in on us. For some people, this time brings issues of weight gain, but in The Queen I see weight loss and the concerns of aging for both her and Prince Philip are on my mind.

Her Majesty The Queen urges people to get the vaccination

Stacy Abrams was a bright light when she zoomed into Andrew Marr’s Sunday show. Smart, polite, and clear with her message of upholding the democratic voting process in North America. She is a strong intelligent woman and her interview was a source of hope of sanity in the United States. She has me wondering, almost wishing, that it will be the women of color who might save the U.S. and even humanity.

Stacey Abrams

So many nations are caught in struggles for national power and control while others reach for a form of democracy. The United Arab Emirates is not of the latter. Last week, footage from a sequestered phone-camera was released taken by Princess Latifa locked in the bathroom of her villa/jail as she called out for help. Princess Latifa has accused her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the ruler of Dubai and vice-president of the UAE, of holding her hostage in Dubai since she tried to flee the city in 2018. The statements from  Dubai say “she is safe in the loving care of her family.” But no pictures of her are forthcoming.

And in other countries, the clenched iron fist of authoritarian rule is being met with continued resistance, and the continued resistance is being countered by fists squeezing on the triggers of guns and power. 18 protesters were killed in Myanmar this weekend. Aung San Suu Kyi has been brought to court, via video link and though purported to be in good health, her lawyer was forbidden to see her – and again, no pictures of her are forthcoming.

The news from Hong Kong where protests continue is of 47 public officials who have not sworn the new oath of loyalty to Beijing, China, and Communism and who were put on trial. The newly introduced oath of loyalty aims to cull anyone who seeks to maintain or improve democracy in Hong Kong from holding public office. They would be banned from running in elections for the next five years.

It is a worn phrase – ‘while protests continue’ – and yet protests do continue wherever they are needed as democratic challenges and activists are suppressed, along with the journalists who report them. 

A Belarus court has jailed two TV journalists of Poland-based Belsat TV for two years on charges of fomenting protests while filming a rally against the country’s leader. James Shotter and Max Seddon wrote for the Financial Times reporting on the Belarusian activists who have slipped across borders, to Lithuania, and Poland. Nexta, founded by a prolific blogger, Stsiapan Putsila is run by a small young and savvy group of activists. Posting quick-fire information and images on Telegram, it has become the main source of news for what is happening and where to be for the Belarusian public.

Another story, a single paragraph, maybe of deeper relevance than first observed, is of Mikita Mikado, the Silicon Valley founder of a Belarusian software firm who launched a crowdfunded platform to help security officers pay the heavy fines needed to leave the force and re-train for other work. Hundreds from the Belarusian police-force have reached out to him, sick of the violence they are asked to perpetuate. Lukashenko is beginning to ramble with his statements while Putin hopes that with Navalny put away he can sit back and watch – for a moment.

How to find comfort or inspiration during these times? Reading helps, those books that one never had time for before. Finally, Middlemarch by George Eliot is by my bedside, and to my amazement, I am enjoying the words, the pace of reading, and the story – in the doses that bedtime reading provides.  But like many others, I return to poetry and found renewal with a program from the Wigmore-at-home series. I settled in to listen and watch a performance by Alice Coote, Christian Blackshaw, and Ralph Fiennes as they wove together the music, letters, and poetry of Tchaikovsky and Pushkin. They gather artists and audience together bringing us solace and strength for this 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

Unlocking the Door

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

There is a recognizable trait sometimes found in business. The person in charge creates a problem. Their problem becomes “the problem” and it can take many attempts before they find a solution. We are here now as Prime Minister Boris Johnson proudly lays out a rally road-map and we hear the engine rev, and the gears engage as we ease out of lockdown and into sunshine. Over 17 million people in England have had at least one dose of a vaccine and already this has brought the number and rate of Covid infections down. There is a schedule for the reopening and testing for pupils and staff in schools. Non-essential shops and restaurants and even pubs have their tentative time-table. We will ‘Follow the data, not the dates’ is the new catch-phrase out of Westminster. Maybe the most touching item is that residents in care homes will be allowed one designated visitor and may hold hands. Boris Johnson and the UK government want to make sure that we come out of this lock-down and stay out. The physical and mental deterioration, never mind hair-care, is visible in everyone.

Watching some of the solitary men and women that walk through our little street, I wonder how they are feeling? We wave and talk when we can, helping each other by this small interaction. I continue to bake but have to watch how much we eat. So beginning at Christmas, I make up little packages and plates to pop into the hands of ‘a lady or gentleman passing by’.

The men respond with poetry. Roughly hand-written, and carefully thought out, they pen notes that are lyrical and heart-felt and pop them in our letter-box to smile at me from the mat. Of course Eastern European Mick, of few teeth – but a growing beard – quotes Mendelssohn. We first met Mick at the Belgo Belgian Beer restaurant on Chalk Farm Road. It was sweet to recognize him as one of the monk-clad waiters, and he would grin his shy, sheepish, smile. But both Belgo and Mick have lost out to Covid. The restaurant has closed and is likely to only reopen one from its chain of six. And wherever Mick landed, that closed too. Jobs for the Micks of the city will be hard to come by.

Howard, long retired as a tennis coach in Regent’s Park, totters through, making his way to the new Morrison’s supermarket. I like to believe that as he sits at his kitchen table, a mug of tea and the crumbling shortbread biscuits at hand, he enjoys writing a verse to deliver when he next ventures out.

This week Alexei Navalny again stood in the dock in Moscow’s law chambers. His appeal was denied and he remains sentenced to two and a half years in prison. President Putin hopes that by jailing Navalny and throwing away the key, that will be the end of that. Navalny may well die in prison and, at the very least, his supporters will wait out the winter before beginning big protests again. There will be little more news from Russia unless – something happens. Putin dismisses the importance of sanctions from the West portraying poor little Russia as being put upon by Europe and North America. 

Focus does remain on Myanmar – for the moment – where protesters continue with their opposition to the military forces that seized power after the elections three weeks ago. The military threats of using deadly force against the protesters are no longer threats, and this weekend funerals were held for the first three protesters killed by the military. A friend with contacts in Myanmar says that the activists are very well organized and, for the most part, safe. The internet continues to be shut down nightly and for several hours into the morning. But the military trucks announcing the ban on gatherings of no more than five people don’t seem to be working.

The first Funeral

COVID or no COVID – Brexit is as Brexit does – and the financial capital that was London is beginning to crumble. “Where to next?’ cry out the banks, brokers, and financial institutions? I think back on the money-cities of ancient times; Rome, Venice, Amsterdam when ships, laden with goods and gold, sailed from port to port. Now trading is through the internet, as companies, like nervous frogs into a pond, jump away from the danger of taxes and excessive regulations. Amsterdam is stirring and their real-estate prices are rising as businesses lure Europeans to the canal shores. Senior executives from HSBC are having their bags packed for them as they scroll through pictures of high-rises, well above the protesters, in Hong Kong where they see profits gleaming in the city’s bright lights.

Last Tuesday the Duke of Edinburgh, who had been feeling a touch unwell, was admitted to a small, private hospital in London. On Saturday Prince Charles drove down from his Highgrove home to visit his father whom he had not seen since Christmas. He was in and out in half an hour and clearly moved as he left the hospital. The Duke is two months shy of his 100th birthday and is ill beyond that than an aspirin and a nap will take care of. What do you say to your wife, to your husband, when this moment of parting comes? Is there an iPad by his bedside with which they can stay in touch? Prince Philip will want to be left alone to heal or not as his body dictates. He will remain in hospital into this week as doctors act with an “abundance of caution” for which we are grateful.

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

St. Valentine’s Weekend.

Recorded and knit together by WSM.

It was St. Valentine’s Day on Sunday. Birthed from the Roman Festival of Lupercalia that celebrated the beginning of Spring with fertility rites and the pairing of women with men – by lottery – it was eventually Christianized in the fifth century by Pope Gelasius and finally, in the 14th century, celebrated as a day of love and romance. In country law, the middle of February – St. Valentine’s day – is the moment when birds start pairing up for the spring-time nesting season. There is now bird-song calling from the trees in the parks and around the cottage. Walking up the hill on our way to the Saturday market there are a pair of Magpies in the bare branches of an Ash tree. They are perched close to each other and he is very very keen, making caressing, pecking overtures to her head and shoulders. But she is clear: he is too early – it is Saturday, not Sunday – and she is not lifting her tail for him – just yet. 

Tail down Magpie

While the snow fades away in London it continues to fall in Russia and the temperature remains at – 15 º Celsius in Moscow. where St. Valentine’s day is celebrated in Russia too.  Inspired by the ‘chain of Solidarity’ in neighboring Belarus the Russian women found their way around the restrictions of mass protests this weekend. They gathered in home gardens lighting candles, placing them in hearts, and they stood, joined together by white ribbons in lines along the streets and around the government buildings in Moscow’s city squares. In homage to Navalnaya, Alexei’s wife, they wore red scarves and hats and carried red roses and red and black paper hearts. They were freezing cold but standing firm. The bulky policemen watching them may have been warmer on the outside but it is interesting to wonder what they thought as they looked sorrowfully at the women. All through Russia’s cities the police have been clamping down on protesters and punishing them in ways that relate to their families and livelihoods.

Women formed a line of protest in Moscow by the statue of poet Alexander Pushkin and his wife Natalia Goncharova.

In Myanmar the Army has taken to patrolling the streets in armored vehicles and as such are perceived as making war on the people. Now even some government employees are resisting, with airline pilots not showing up for work and causing a deep disruption in the running of the country.  Social Media outlets, Facebook and Twitter and such, are closed and information is spotty at best. The movements may be led by the young generation and the intellectuals, but they are joined by people from all walks of life. It is a waiting, and weighted, game in these countries whose people struggle to protest their oppressive authoritarian governments.

Armoured vehicles drive along a road in Yangon, Myanmar, 15 February 2021. Photograph: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

In England, the weekend brought a long overdue ‘Hip-Hip-Hurrah’ moment led by Boris Johnson, thanking everyone – ‘you all, who have played your part’ as the goal of getting the first vaccination out to the four top-most vulnerable categories has been reached. It is a big step and the government’s outline of getting schools, followed by nonessential shops, outdoor sports, and finally, restaurants and pubs open, possibly in three-week increments, sounds like a good plan. I almost dare to trust they will follow through even as the government continues to be pressed, by its own hard-liners, to open everything at once. One can only hope that, for once, they don’t cave in. Without a slow drip of openings, it will be hard to see where the potential trouble spots for infection spread such as university students and sports venues will emerge.  

“Aggie, you have a problem”. So pronounces Neli in a voice that is beyond asking for a refill of a cleaning product. “You have mice.” I appear shocked and dare not confess that this could be possible. Neli assures me she has seen ‘the evidence’ and I bow my head in acknowledgment – she is probably right.

“What do you do about mice?” I casually ask my friend while we walk together.

“I’ve only seen one.” She quickly replies but adds that a friend has more, (is that as in several?) and uses catch and release traps. She continues “Its a big year for mice.”

Our local hardware shop is closed for a family holiday and so onto Amazon I go. In less that 24 hours (I honestly didn’t ask for prime) there is a tat-a-tat-tat on the door and a box is on the mat. The two have-a-heart traps inside have instructions only to use peanuts and, when you put the mice outside, make sure they have a food source. The compost bin seems a good idea.

We only had a mouse for a couple of weeks, racing from a gap in the skirting under the fridge, through the supermarket aisles of the floor under the dining room table, and into hiding under the cabinet. It is small, and very definitely, a city mouse – just like the mice in children’s books. City mice are dark grey almost black and the country mice, such as my friend in the Hay Loft, are a lighter grey with pink ears. London mice have black ears. This little fellow looks even darker than the mice that we used to see scurrying along the rails at the underground tube stations. But this week when my husband came downstairs to bed he held up his hand and started twitching two fingers, as if in a game of Charades. I was to guess, ‘something has happened.’ No, it is ‘just’ that he saw two mice galloping across the floor back home from their adventures under the cabinet.  

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

Winter Storms Keep Brewing

Recorded and knit together by WSM

Winter. The turning of, the date between, winter solstice and spring equinox. February 1st is celebrated with St. Brigid who moved into Christianity from the Celtic feast of Imbolc. St. Brigid’s Day is still observed as a Gaelic seasonal festival in parts of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. To make sure we don’t get too complacent, last weekend’s snowstorm arrived in England and in London managed to bring snowmen and slides to the parks and on the hill. Through the week the snow faded, the water-logged grass turned to mud and the dogs let off their leads were in heaven. Barbour Jackets and Hunter Wellington Boots are made for days like these – even in the city. 

Alberto Pezzali for AP

The Dutch named it Storm Darcy, and then as he crossed the North Sea he was nicknamed by the British Met office as the Beast from the East 2, as he is set to repeat – or exceed – the winter storms of 2018. Storm Darcy has come across North-Eastern Europe from Russia and one is mindful of the geography of the meteorology. 

And also of politics. The harshness of the winter has played out in the harshness of the political regimes of Belarus and Russia with their clamp-downs and imprisonment of opposition political leaders. We hear very little from Belarus and only minimal news of Alexey Navalny’s court appearances and continued imprisonment. The Kremlin has now expelled three European diplomats: from Germany, Sweden, and Poland. The United Kingdom, France, and the European Union have joined together to shake their fingers at Russia. But Russia doesn’t care, even as more of the Russian people join the protesters against Putin’s authoritarianism and begin to look at Navalny as the moral compass of their country. 

Navalny is seen – however briefly – more than the protesters in Myanmar. 

Aung San Suu Kyi remains in house-arrest along with several of her ministers and when she can, urges her supporters to protest against the coup. And protest they do, coming onto the streets in the cities and towns in their thousands. Currently, the military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing is holding the power of Myanmar’s military over the government – even as the country transitioned towards democracy. But not much news comes out of Myanmar. Social media has been shut down with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all closed. Information to journalists is spooled out through phone videos, just as it was shot on film before we had phones. What is clear is that the military has sent out the police to subdue the protestors and they – the police – don’t look too happy about it. The Burmese are slighter in build than their Russian counterparts in Moscow. Where the Russian police have the look of plated armadillos, these police officers move with a skittish hesitancy as they retreat behind their rubber-bullet guns and inside water-cannon tanks. For at the end of their day, they have to go home to mothers and fathers and be berated for turning against their aunts and sisters. Memories of military suppression are still strong among their parents’ generation. While the protesters are mostly young people, both men, and women, who have begun to find their voice in the emerging democracy, medical staff are also leaving the hospitals, and professors their universities, to march – while arthritic grannies are banging pots and pans from their windows and the curbsides. 

Water Canon in Nay Pyi Taw

Meanwhile, throughout England, the snow keeps falling, though in London it is unsure how to land – as snowflakes or raindrops. The wind chill is keeping the temperatures low, the snow in flurries, and ministers hurrying from their cars to Westminster or their Zoom-rooms where attention is all turned inward to the Covid virus, its variants, and the vaccines. And there is news, and rumors and charts and people trying to keep a lid on it and a Prime Minister wearing a paper hat and lab coat, out and about at vaccine factories, while muttering and mumbling “We’re doing jolly well, the number of people getting the vaccines are the highest” – then what, I wonder? Covid infection and death rates are finally coming down but the relentless level of exhaustion among hospital personnel is not. Staff morale is at a low ebb as patients keep being admitted to Intensive Care Units and there is no time to grieve over patients who have died before there is another to take that bed.

Meanwhile, at last night’s government briefing, Professor Jonathan Van Tam’s casual mention that ‘by the way, if you are over 70 and haven’t had your jab, give us a call and we’ll sort something out,’ just isn’t cutting it. Variants of the COVID-19 virus skip from country to country, turning and changing along the way as it travels throughout the world. This morning Health Minister Matt Hancock outlined the strong travel restrictions coming into force for those traveling from the Red-List Countries. But looking at the list of countries, I’m wondering how accurate this is, in terms of virus mutations and economic impact. What vaccine for which variant is now becoming a shell game that I can’t follow and there are muddles and finger-pointing and people to blame all though Whitehall, Westminster, and even the home counties. A quote from Jane Goodall might be worth reminding our government at this time. 

“Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.”

Jane Goodall

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

Covid, Coup Coo ee

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

To date, over nine million people in the UK have had their first Covid-19 vaccination. Now there is a scurry-hurry as testing is ramped up in flaring spots of the fast-spreading South African variant of the virus. The English like a good hunt and if foxes are off-limits then viruses can be the quarry. As the elderly residents of all UK care homes are now scheduled to receive their first vaccinations, Ireland, Wales and Scotland are also vaccinating the care-home staff but for some untenable reason, England is not.

The Covid virus remains indiscriminate and random in its reach. Age and health play a part but there are no guarantees of safety from the disease. This weekend Captain Sir Tom Moore who walked 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday, raising over 32 million pounds for the Nation Health Service, was hospitalized with pneumonia and a positive Covid-19 test, and he died on Tuesday afternoon. He and his family became a symbol of hope and inspiration for the whole country. We hear a lot about how the pandemic affects doctors and nurses on the front line. Today I am thinking about an anesthesiologist’s story of his first two intubations, back to back, for young women bedded in the same unit, both mothers with young families to care for. He writes of the panic in their eyes and in his heart and the moment when he has to switch from compassion to competent – and carry on. 

On Monday came the news of the military coup in Myanmar, formerly Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi and 400 members of parliament have been detained by the army and remain confined inside their government housing in the capital. Police are inside the complex and soldiers are outside. Somehow a democratic election was held in 2015 and though the military never really gave up control, Aung San Suu Kyi – after spending nearly 15 years in detention – emerged as the country’s leader. Myanmar has never been known as a soft country and her harsh treatment of the Rohingya people has inked her time in the office with the United Nations. But under her leadership, the country has begun to open for the young people who have quickly seen its new possibilities. It is hard to think that they will allow that window to close again.

As hard line coups continue to happen, people throughout the Western world also continue with protests. Alexei Navalny is still in prison but the people of Russia are protesting in their thousands. Was it the video of Putins’ Palace, the gold-plated toilet brushes or Arkady Rotenberg stepping up to claim the palace as his own – Rotenberg, a known construction magnate, judo sparring partner, and close pal to Putin – that has kept the Russian people pouring onto the street to demonstrate? Even those who are not Navalny supporters have joined the protests and this weekend over five thousand were detained by the police. These protests may be as much about questioning the authority of Vladimir Putin as the imprisonment of Navalny. Similar questions as those posed in Belarus. 

Putin’s Black Sea Palace

Military and Police forces are the powerful tools used to protect or take over a government or country and control the media. The Iranian Coup of 1953 used the military and paid mobs to overthrow Prime Minister Mosaddegh and that model has been copied and refined ever since. We can fast-forward to the almost coup 2021 in the United States – which though it appeared unruly, was orchestrated. Photographs of rioters with handcuffs and ropes harks back to a chilling American history. 

NPR reported that nearly 1 in 5 of the American rioters charged has served in the military. This made me think of the Vietnam veterans I met in the mid-1960s while nursing in Hollywood, California when new teams of respiratory therapists marched onto the wards. They were young men, edgy, competent, and clipped and all were returning Vietnam Medic Veterans. They had been fast-tracked, retrained, to treat people after surgery or with cardiac and respiratory disease. 

In 1966 President Johnson read a report “Accidental Death and Disability”, stating accidental deaths as the leading cause of death in young people. And in 1969 came the first standardization of care and emergency training for “rescue squad personnel, policemen, firemen and ambulance attendants.” This program was a life-saver, not only for accident and cardiac victims but for returning medics from the Vietnam War. The program gave their adrenaline the same pump and release that war had given them, but just a little slower, and as they cared for civilian patients many of those medics healed too. So I think about the 1 in 5 rioters who stormed the US capital building being veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and maybe having no support when they returned to the US, the country they thought they had fought for.

Hello-eee calls out the Royal Society of Protection of Birds, waving for the ‘Big Garden Birdwatch.’ In 1889 Emily Williamson founded The Plumage League to protect birds killed for the decoration of hats. Across England, the last weekend in January is set aside for anyone who wants to count the birds in their garden for an hour. I choose my Sunday morning Andrew Marr breakfast time and, with a cup of tea in one hand, pen poised over notebook in the other, I waited. This weekend the weather was miserable, cold, and foul, and the birds mostly remained shivering in the trees. But eventually, they emerged in the pattern they have long-established. One robbin, followed by two blue tits, two coal tits, one great tit, all knocked off the feeder by a starling. A feral and wood pigeon strut across the terrace while the goldfinches, dunnock, and wren stayed hidden. Then it is a walk up to my friend Lucy’s wilderness garden where we put out more seed. We sit on suitably-spaced garden stools and take our masks off to talk. It doesn’t take long before the robin who lives in this hidden quarter of Primrose Hill comes down to feed with us.

St. George’s Terrace Robbin

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

Sunday Snow

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

It is almost time to mute Andrew Marr on Sunday mornings. The program is getting upsetting, not so much in the content but in the sharp delivery, so early and with breakfast on the sofa, and it is not good for digestion. When there was art, cinema, and theatre to discuss, Marr’s tone would soften and he would be coy like a schoolboy in a candy shop. But the politicians do not move him in the same way, while now some are figuring out how to defuse him. “Call me by my Name” is a book and a film of love, and to call Andrew by his name somehow takes a touch of the wind out of his sails. Matt Hancock has begun to do it, but it works best with the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, or Annelies Dodds, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and best of all, with Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland. They have also learned that other trick, to keep talking, and not let him interrupt. It takes practice and breath control and would be funny if some of the topics were not so serious and pertinent to our daily lives.

Matt Hancock is still working from his home office and needs to close the kitchen door. But there is a rare smile on Hancock’s face as he recited the rising numbers of those in England who’ve had their first vaccination, including 80% of those over 80 years old. But like the working terrier he is, Andrew has his nose on an important question. Originally the scientists recommended that the two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccines should be given three weeks apart for the maximum benefit. But now politicians and their statisticians, say actually no, the doses can be given up to twelve weeks apart. It seems some serious number-crunching is going on, trying to lower the number of people who would get sick enough to require hospitalization and further burden the National Health Service. But today, as the UK death toll from the Coronavirus tops 100,000, there leaks news of petty behavior from Boris Johnson to João Vale de Almeida the ambassador sent to represent the European Union in England. This rolls back to past behaviors and slights between brief-cased men and women over the last painful years of the Brexit negotiations and now rumbles on into questions of who holds how many doses of which vaccine, manufactured and stored in which country, and who is going to share, what, when.  

Boris Johnson in Trouble
The Independent

This brings back a shadow remembrance of the Ford Pinto number-crunching that went on from the 1970s to 1980s. After the gas tank misdesign was uncovered and Mother Jones published ‘The Pinto Memo’ that said the cost of recalling the cars would have been $121 million, whereas paying off the victims would only have cost Ford $50 million. ‘It’s cheaper to let them burn” in ‘the barbecue that seats four.’  For the moment the UK Government, The European Union, and medical scientists are at odds, as they wrestle with the numbers that may not be, how many lives will be lost, but whose.

The situation with the COVID-19 virus, vaccinations, questions about schools remaining closed, and with no end in this degree of lockdown in sight, have pushed even the American political changes under President Biden onto page two. News of other nation’s pandemics and war deaths are barely covered as if the continents of South America, Africa, and India are too big for us now to comprehend and explain.

Coverage of the protests in Belarus has given way to those in Russia over the arrest of Alexei Navalny. Before Navalny left Germany he made a video film, “Putin’s Palace: The $ Billion Dollar GRIFT” in which, at almost two hours long, Navalny also narrates in staccato bullet-point sentences. It is an amazing piece of work, gathering all of Navalny’s research over the last ten years as well as help from those who also see that things are not as they should be in Mother Russia. By the time Navalny returned to Moscow and was arrested, the film was already available to anyone on YouTube, and, at this point, remains untouchable by Putin. Even as the temperatures are well below freezing in Moscow, St Petersburg, and other Russian cities, the outpouring of demonstrators has filled the city streets and the protesters arrested number in the thousands.

The Russian police look like plated armadillos as they take on the protesters. The chain-mail effect as iron gives way to the sturdy plastic of their interlocking shining plates harks back to Tudor England and copied from the ancient armor held in the museums of Europe.

The harshness and speed of the clamp-down has been so severe that Western countries are ‘considering their next steps,’ as they watch Putin and the Kremlin close the fist of authoritarianism.

Back at the kitchen sink after our morning dose of politics, I look out of the window and the sky stares back at me. “Watch now,” it seems to say, and then slowly, thick drops of moisture begin to fall and, as they gathered in strength and courage they grew bigger, fatter, and fell covering the pavement, the cars, and shrubs outside with a solid blanket of snow. The old words return, none are better: solid blanket, silent night, or, in this case, day, as the snow fell for a sweet two hours, and we smiled with childlike excitement to see it so. Young Charlie fox padded softly by, paused at the window to look in on us before continuing his morning hunting rounds.  

Charlie Passing By Photo by WSM

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