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

Stuck

Recorded and knit together by WSM

One fine spring day, after Pooh had done his stoutness exercises, he went for a walk in the Thousand Acre Wood. He wondered what his friends were doing and decided to visit Rabbit who often knew the news. Rabbit was rather busy and not expecting visitors, but being a well brought-up Rabbit and not wanting to offend his friend he offered Pooh a snack. And, as can happen with Pooh, and others like him, Pooh ate so much honey – all there was in Rabbit’s jar – that when it was time to leave he got stuck – halfway in and halfway out of Rabbit’s front door. There he had to stay for a week while Rabbit dried his tea-towels over Pooh’s legs and Christopher Robbin read to Pooh outside Rabbit’s front door. Nobody said anything about eating too much, more than one really needed, or minding ones’ manners, thinking of others, or how much honey did Rabbit have in his pot. Eventually, after a week, all of Rabbit’s friends and relations came and with great effort managed to pull Pooh out of Rabbit’s front door where he shook himself off and continued on his walk.  We are never really sure what Pooh learnt as so many of his scrapes are about seeking out pots of honey as well as helping his friends in distress. 

This week, watching the big ship Ever Given lurch and ram sideways into the walls of the Suez canal we can see a little bit of Pooh in all of us. Shipping company cargo ships are like Rabbit’s pots, and at this writing there are 367 more of them lined up waiting to pass through the canal. And the honey – is all the goods not made in our home countries that we crave.

A work crew using excavating equipment tries to dig out the Ever Given wedged across the Suez Canal Photograph: AP

The canal’s history goes back to the time of early Pharaohs with successive kings trying this way and that to open up this trickling passage way between the Red and the Mediterranean Seas. Like the Panama Canal these little streams hold an almost magical power in terms of the world’s global trading systems today. The Suez canal is not very big, a mere 120 miles long, 673 feet wide and allows for a ship draft of 66 feet. And, as David Pilling notes in the Financial Times, the late president of Egypt, Abdel Nasser, would surely allow himself a wry smile, having nationalized the Suez Canal, which prompted the UK, France and Israel to invade Egypt in 1956.

More years ago than I can remember I raised my eyebrows hearing of redwood timber cut in California being shipped to China for milling and then returned to the Pacific Northwest for sale. But now we learn that fish caught in the Scottish waters are frozen, shipped to China for filleting and then returned to the UK supermarket shops as ‘fresh frozen fish’ where they definitely look a little travel-weary.

At the Supermarket in Camden Town

Scottish fish remain in the news as Alex Salmond strikes back at Nicola Sturgeon on Friday with his launch of The Alba Party, which sounds far too white for comfort. Kristy Strickland reports for the Guardian that Alex Salmond (pictured sitting on a wall smiling into the sunshine like an unaware Humpty Dumpty)pitched himself as a man just trying to be helpful while the fact that nobody asked for his help seems to be of little relevance.

Alex on a wall. Getty Images

Strickland goes on, astutely, that the odds are against him but that doesn’t matter. He isn’t driven by a burning desire to win an independence super-majority any more than Boris Johnson was sincere about wanting to free the UK from the ‘shackles’ of the European Union. The stated aim of both men are merely vehicles for their egos and need for relevance. Neither man is known for his care of a woman’s personal space and I get the feeling that if Alex Salmond can squeeze Nicola Sturgeon’s political space in the upcoming Scottish May elections he will take great pleasure in doing so.

Tale of two fishes

What is it with these men? Older, bully boys, with no hint remaining of what made them – a long time ago – considered smart or attractive? Their arenas are in politics, business and the military and they see no other way to be relevant than to be powerful. 

This weekend in Myanmar marked Armed Forces Day, a day to commemorate the beginning of the Army’s resistance to Japanese occupations in World War II. But as the military Chief Min Aung Hlaing watched the military display before holding a lavish dinner party for significant guests from China and Russia, the military increased their attacks on the people of Myanmar killing over 100 in the cities’ streets. Finally other world leaders are calling for a stop to the killing and discussing sanctions. Not that anyone is as yet taking any notice. Sadly Saturday was also the full moon day of Tabaung, the end of Myanmar’s lunar calendar, a day of Buddhist celebration.

As I write the sun is finally shining. Daylight savings has come into effect and as of today six people from two households are allowed to meet together outdoors. European countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands are all in various forms shaking their heads at the United Kingdom’s political maneuvering of the AstraZeneca vaccines. And it is hard not to blame them as this Prime Minister shifts his feet and blame here and there. But Boris always wants to be at the party and has joined the 20 other world leaders whose aim is to cooperate in meeting and dealing with future pandemics. Can England accept a role as just another tugboat? It would be good if that could come to pass.

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

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

A Bumpy Road Ahead

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

So speaks Michael Gove, Minister of the Cabinet. Still not sure what that is  – but not so bumpy for the young masked bandit who whizzed through the cul-de-sac on his mid-morning errand with a delivery on the hill. Dressed completely in black, one could say against the cold, the lad stood on his pedals as he hopped his bike over the curbs and up this street to find his assigned buyer. Another game of cops and robbers plays out but without the cops anywhere in sight. The Primrose Hill park is to be closed from 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve through to 5 a.m. New Year’s Day. An effort to prevent a bumpy jolt into the New Year. 

But the continental truckers and haulers have not been so lucky – some managed to get home for Christmas while over 600 were stuck in their lorries on the Kent motorway heading into Dover. Naturally, the army was called in, to calm the frustration and rising rage while conducting tests on drivers for what is now dubbed ‘The English Virus.’ Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, says that “Things are Moving” – though not what you might call ‘up to speed’. Once the tests come back negative, then drivers are allowed to travel on to France. But some will still be waiting as the New Year arrives, along with all the ‘new’ paperwork that comes into effect next Thursday. 

There is much talk of the Astra Zeneca Vaccine from Oxford being ready to roll off the assembly line and into the hospitals and GP offices as early as next week, but why oh why am I not holding my breath on this? 

Like many people who are unable to visit with our families, we have been saved from total isolation by Skype and Zoom. This weekend saw us Zooming with our families from California to Utrecht, Face-timing with friends and then a Skype visit with an older cousin in South Africa. While talking with Ian I sunk into a deeper understanding of the global reach of this pandemic for our generation. 

“What do you do?”

“Well not very much Ann. We go to the market once a week and going out for our Christmas meal was an exception.” He was saying what everyone we know of our age is saying. We are all staying at home, slipping out for the necessary shopping only when we must – and we are among the lucky ones. 

The Brexit deal was finalized on Christmas Eve and the British ministers handed a 1500 page ‘memo’, to read during the holiday break before Parliament reconvenes in January. Prime Minister Johnson suggested reading it after Christmas lunch. ‘Unbelievable’ is the word I have used far too often this year. Here is another off-hand move by Boris Johnson and his cronies to put one over on the government and the people. It is blatant school-house bully-boy tactics, giving an impossible task, and – I am at a loss for words to describe it all. And maybe that is the point – that we fold, in some apathetic despair. 

And the fishermen and women? Ah well, they have been pushed downriver, and out with the tide, a knotty problem to be revisited in five more years. The draft agreement stating that: “Sovereign rights being asserted on both sides for both the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the living resources in their water,” sounds like a load of old herring to me.

But when listening to Ursula von der Leyen give her closing speech at the end of it all, I wanted to weep for the sheer civility of her words. Europe may well be able to leave Brexit behind, but England will be left cleaning out the slops for long time to come.

News from other parts of the world has taken a back seat during this Christmas holiday break. It is hard to learn what is happening in Belarus and Poland. But news did come through that Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer and citizen journalist who was arrested in May while reporting from Wuhan, has been sentenced to four years in jail for “provoking trouble”. She is among a handful of young dissidents – if you like – voices if you prefer – who are being punished for speaking out, sharing the information they have been given with the world. 10 or the 12 young refugees fleeing to Taiwan are also up for trial, with a forgone conclusion as China uses a heavy hand to keep control of information and news leaking from its shores.

The throngs of people, families, friends gathered together, mostly unmasked, all walking up the Broadwalk though the park on Sunday, shocked and stunned us as we swung onto a path less traveled to see the architecture of 200 years ago through the bare branches of the trees lining the outer circle of the park.

But along the Broadwalk is another tale. This autumn there were no shining brown conkers falling from the Horse Chestnut trees for children to pick up and stuff into their pockets. And then, one day, the first tree was felled, its thick branches lying executed on the grass beside the trunk which still stands. A few wood chips told of the machines crushing the smaller branches. First found in the trees in 2002, the little moth, Cameraria Ohridella and its even tinier caterpillars dig and eat into the leaves, slowly starving the trees and turning them brown as if autumn has come too soon. Such slow decay, one death feeding another life, cannot be tolerated in the pristine Royal Parks. In the New Year the machines and men will be back at their work, putting old friends out of their misery, and making way for the new.

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