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

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

Classroom Chaos to Lockdown

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Classed as a vulnerable senior, I was muddled as to where and when I could shop. But all that is clear now. A total lockdown has been announced across the United Kingdom lasting through to March. Thanks in part to pressure from the Teachers’ Unions that weighed in alongside the scientific community and made the government sit down and listen. As another, even more, virulent strain of the COVID-19 virus arrived from South Africa, the health minister Matt Hancock said ‘things are about to get harsh and complicated.’ and I’m almost feeling sorry for him. The view of the bumpy road has now become seriously clear. There are potholes of bankruptcy, illness, and death ahead.

Along with the national lockdown comes the news of the first Astra Zeneca vaccine being administered in Oxford. This, added to the Pfizer vaccine, is being delivered to care-homes, hospitals and doctor’s offices. Now it needs to get out to the public quickly. There is a tier system set in place and the beginning of a plan to administer the vaccine that could see the United Kingdom relatively safe, for the moment.

It was clear, as the Prime Minister began the New Year on Andrew Marr’s Sunday political program, each jousting with the other, that the Prime Minister had not done his homework of reading the June report that all of this – mutations of the virus strain, rising cases, and death tolls – was bound to happen this winter. Figures seem to be difficult for Boris and the absence of preparedness, one suspects, a life-long trait. That darn dog is always eating his homework. The BBC has to be a bit careful, so Andrew had to mind a P and a Q. But the director of the show has, I believe, a strong impulse to buck his traces and more than once showed a full-shot rear-view image of Boris at the round table. For a moment we were spared the frontal head of hair but now we see the look goes from top to tail and there are bare legs under rumpled sagging socks. It is a look that when Boris utters the words, “Believe me,” my response is immediately: ‘No’.

This week also brings up the case of the extradition of Julian Assange to the US. To avoid being sent to Sweden for sexual assault charges, always meaty fodder for the British tabloids, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012. Sweden eventually dropped their charges but the US still wants him for WikiLeaks’s publication of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in 2010 and 2011. Assange has been in British custody since April 2019. His lawyers argued that to send Assange to the US would rewrite the rules of what was permissible to publish in Britain.

“Overnight, it would chill free and open debate about abuses by our own government and by many foreign ones, too.” The judge ruled that the risk of ‘suicide’ should Assange be extradited to the US was high and that he should remain a guest of Her Majesty’s Government.

Which is of interest to journalists and filmmakers alike. Early on this program, you will have heard from Taghi Amirani and Walter Murch about the relaunch of the documentary Coup 53, the story of the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953. Because of Covid, the film was released in 118 cinemas and digitally in August of 2020. There was – to put it politely – a huge outcry from the makers of Granada Television’s ‘End of Empire’ series which aired in the 1980s. Huge. To their immense credit, the Coup 53 team battled on fighting every false mud-sling that was thrown over the film. And good people have stood up beside them which is always reassuring and has made a serious difference to the film’s outcome. 

Which of course then takes us to Donald Trump and Georgia. Where to start with this one? It was unbelievable, that word again, when on the Ten o’clock BBC news we listened to the tape of Trump speaking with the Georgian Secretary of State. 

Seville Oranges, waiting

So where do we go for lighter news, sunshine and comfort? Why to Spain. As every English housewife knows, the only oranges to use for making marmalade are from Seville in Spain. With their rough skins, bounty of pits and high pectin content, they are the only oranges to use. Making marmalade in January is an ancient tradition and ‘older people’ (the youngsters a mere 75) write into the newspapers to say how much they have made this year. My mother made marmalade and now I do too. It is, though I should not say it, the best marmalade I know and, naturally, requires two piece of toast at breakfast rather than just one. 

In June of this year, Isambard Wilkinson reported for The Times on a delicate task that recently fell to the head gardener at the Alcázar royal palace in the southern Spanish city of Seville: Manuel Hurtado, a senior official from the palace confirmed that this was the first year of reintroducing this ancient custom of choosing the oranges for the Queen’s marmalade. This gift, is harvested from the Poets’ Garden and the Marqués de la Vega’s garden, whose trees bear the most and best oranges.”

From The Times. The Alcázar royal Palace and the Marqués de la Vega.

But now what will happen with Brexit? Well, that small little rock of Gibraltar is coming in very handy now. An ‘agreement’ has been reached whereby Spain and England can have congress in Gibraltar, and with that, Parma Ham and Seville Oranges may reach our shores once more.

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.

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

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.

Zooming Along

Recorded and Knit together by WSM. Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Tom Peck writes in the Independent, “The message is go back to work. The guidance is stay at home. So that is clear then.” On Sunday morning’s Andrew Marr Show, Michael Gove, the Minister of the Cabinet, was speaking, and I couldn’t stop imagining him dusting and polishing the table while making sure the water glasses were clean and sparkling on their coasters, as he clearly said, “I don’t think wearing face masks should be compulsory, but it is the polite and sensible thing to do”. For the first time in weeks I was nodding along with him, at the word – polite.

Monday morning Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister you remember, urged the public to wear face-masks in shops. “I think in shops it is very important to wear a face covering. Whether we make it mandatory or not, we’ll be saying a bit more in the next few days.” By Monday evening it is compulsory. One for Cummings behind Boris, nil for Gove.

Sunday was also a Big Birthday as the other member of this household of two turned 77. Upside down 77 could look like two deck chairs sitting out in the sunshine but we know not to sit still for too long. The day brought a first in four months: lunch at a restaurant with two other couples. The restaurant garden with outdoor seating was full at this Sunday lunch-time. But it is strange to know that though we may walk beside each other we cannot hug. This small curb checks us back to when we were children with parents who didn’t do hugging. Lunch is lovely and after our goodbyes leads to a long afternoon nap.

But on a birthday, a big birthday as the years, not us, get older, it is fun to find a reason to gather and celebrate. Brane Zivkovic from New York University first comes up with the idea for his students. Then he reaches out to Randy Thom from Skywalker and Taghi Amirani with the Coup53 team. And suddenly there is a surprise Zoom party and I have stage directions to follow! They zoom like fishing, dropping a line into the river of our lives, hooking those bites and making connections with long ago colleagues and friends. There are folks in party hats and with balloons, the number 77 in case we forget what birthday this is. There are chuckles bringing forth deep and long-ago memories to share. Our children and grandchildren are enjoying the moments, too. It is filled with rememberings, gosh did that really happen? Yes it did. And laughter, more laughter. We are all hungry to connect while holding in our hearts a longing for the physicality of each other that is still a long way off. With a tilt of a camera here a half-closed eye for focus and imagination, we could even all be at the farm, with people flowing from one room or screen to another. After the final click goodbye we sit back, grateful for this time we live in, while remembering those who are torn apart from families and friends throughout the world.

And for Monday, what about a nice little picnic on the river? It seemed like a good idea and we sensibly took off to Kingston in an Uber. It was strange to be out in the ‘real world.’ And truthfully we were a little intimidated by it. There are facilities to find, instructions to heed before we finally are in a tiny little GoBoat and heading out onto the Thames river. The boat is small and slow. The river is big, but we are alone and can take off our masks and spread out a picnic on the table. Steering to river rules, we begin to see what semi-suburban England is looking like and going through. There are swans, geese, ducks and a few grebes on the water circling us, more curious than hungry for the chips we toss to them. The blackberry vines dip into the water and their lush berries are already ripening. Looking back towards Westminster I thought of Henry and Thomas in Tudor times and wondered how long it took to row up river from Westminster to Hampton Court when you were summoned to the King in residence.

Hampton Palace comes into view Photo by WSM

Today there is no hurry. People are wiling away their time, lingering on the river banks. There are groups of children gathered together, unmasked, as they play in and around the water. Boys teasing girls, boys showing off for girls, boys daring each other to climb and jump higher than before from this or that branch into the river. A few out-of-work young men are fishing – that occupation of doing something and nothing.

The smug and comfortable detached houses, with gardens and moorings are sad, rejected for this year at least, left like old lovers to fend for themselves. There are no renters to prepare for, no holiday makers to the river. The lawns are uncut, Buddleja grabs hold in borders waiting for the butterflies to find their blossoms. Even the few potted begonias fail to convince anyone that this year is not over before it began.

Boats in waiting


The house boats are tied up in rows, barely bobbing with the river’s ebb and flow. The spring chores of painting and polishing have hardly begun as we enter mid-summer. Maybe I am wrong, maybe it is just Monday on the river, but it feels like the river, the community, and thus the country is in retreat.

As are we, now we are safely back home. A deeper acceptance of this moment in history has set in and we are mindful of what is before us.

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

Keeping Calm in London Town

“You ol’ rite?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Not coughin’?”
“No Maddy, not coughing.”
And Maddy gives me a thumbs-up sign before she scurries away to catch an overland train to Battersea and visit her ailing mother.

Thank you Zine

“Do you need anything? Can I shop for you?”
“Thank you Sinder. We are ok at the moment.”
A note is slipped through the letterbox from Zine our neighbor at # 37. “… I would be most happy to help”.
“Aggie, Aggie.” Mr. Habto has returned from his early morning taxi run and is standing by his cab. 

“Anything we can do to help. Please let us know. Knock on the door or leave a note.”
Maddy is probably London born and bred, Sinder is Hindu, Zine is from Eastern Europe, and Mr. Habto a Coptic Christian from Africa. This is the mix of the little community at the bottom of our street. They all have families to care for and yet are finding moments to be watchful over us. We have become the “old folks” on the street. Thus neighbour cares for neighbour in our little corner of London. And we are grateful.

It is Sunday afternoon. The sun will not come out again today. The wind is blowing and the raindrops seem hesitant and unsure where to fall. Families are walking home from their ‘fresh air and exercise’ moment in the park. Football games are still scrubbing along in the mud. White shorts are streaked with brown, hair is windblown and there is quiet laughter coming across the pitches from the players. Out there – the city, London, – is very quiet.

Boris Johnson and his lieutenants appear very old school serious as they stride to the podiums set up in the State dining room at Number 10 Downing Street, while trying to cover up the fact that Number 19 Coronavirus may be beyond their abilities. This may be the first time in his life that Johnson gets really serious, and not everyone is convinced he knows how to do that. We can only hope that he might in fact be growing into the role of Prime Minister and treating this with all with the gravitas it deserves. One does suspect that upsetting the populace is as an important part of the equation as is protecting the insurance companies. Another supposition is that this is seen, by Johnson at least, as his Churchill moment. One can be grateful though that he has these two lieutenants: England’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty by his side. Whitty, or is it Vallance, produced graphs on a large board and pointed away so that the journalists in the room, sitting as close together as ever, could understand what was trying to be accomplished and then relay that information to us, the presumably less well-educated public. Vallance and Whitty are both, in their English way, considerably more competent than the school-yard gang that surrounds Donald across the water.

Daily updates from the government will now come from Number 10 Downing Street as the situation changes every twelve hours with more confirmed cases and deaths. Johnson and his team are putting some guidelines in place while they wait to come down with a heavy hand. It’s a gamble for sure. Health Secretary, Matthew Hancock, sputtered and muttered on the Andrew Marr Sunday morning show about ‘Doing everything we can and self-isolation’. Manufacturers have an opportunity to make millions of Pounds Stirling and ventilators. “Other countries in the world will be needing them too.” Mostly though it is businesses, sports centers, and banks (!) that are leading the way, encouraging working from home, canceling big matches (though not the Cheltenham Race meet last week), and encouraging self-isolation.

And now, on Monday morning, there are more shutters coming down. Museums have already closed, special openings have been postponed, and the British Film Institute team all work from home, strategizing what this means for the film industry in England. We withdraw too, canceling lunch dates with friends and family. Being well over a certain age, 70, we are all ‘vulnerable.’ and many of us have at least one strike hitting our general health. We are being encouraged to self-isolate. What will happen then to the organizations run primarily by older volunteers who serve their communities? As I write an email comes through from one such trusted leader: ‘The Library is closed for the foreseeable future’. What will happen to those books? Sitting on their shelves so lonely and unread. Theatres, cinemas, concert halls, hotels, and restaurants are all growing dark as their lights dim. Today all religious leaders united in asking their followers to pray at home.

Hand sanitizers are out and visible – where they are available. Otherwise, it is serious and constant hand washing – by those who do that sort of thing. Shop-keepers and checkout folks wear rubber gloves to handle the £ coming in. And £s are rolling into supermarkets as folks panic buy and buy. That may have begun to calm down now with ‘assurances’ that the stores have enough of what we need stock-piled somewhere. This morning the pharmacy was full even as folks tried to stay apart from each other. The doctor’s office is closed with a notice on the door saying that appointments will be by phone for the near future! The local Deli and other coffee shops on the street are almost empty. Can they hold on for those over-70s for whom a little sandwich at the coffee shop is their main meal?

Daffodils from Taghi A’s Morning walk

We are grateful for the Hill and Regent’s Park where we can walk in isolation. Wild primroses rise from the soil to shine close to the ground. The daffodils are reaching their peak, staying upright through the foul weather of the last weeks. But the plum and pear trees lining the street are beginning to loosen their soft blooms and whisper in the breeze for us to keep heart. Our Robin Red Breast hops down to check my worm count as I work in the little garden. She too tells me to let the warming soil soothe my soul.

Primrose in St. Mark’s Church garden Wall. Photo WSM

‘Our’ Robin checking my work