Still Watching

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

For a brief moment it looked as if life was going to creep back into an old new normality. Across Europe football clubs began allowing a few fans in the stadiums but now the cinema chains of Cineworld and Picture House have closed for the foreseeable … Odeons are only open on the weekends and, for the moment, a few select art-houses are screening films. We were even going to an invited screening of “Nomadland” in Soho but now – not. There is a play to see and support, a monologue on David Hare’s bout with Covid, performed by Ralph Fines, ’Beat the Devil’ but will it go on? As London returns to the second tier of lockdown, while Manchester is pushed into the third.

The balance of health, education, economy and viability is a gordian knot for every European Government. On Monday the Welsh Prime Minister announced a two-week total lockdown for their corner of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland too is imposing tighter restrictions and the North of England is set to face tier-three lockdowns.

“Good for them.” We say and we will join others to see how that plays out. Maybe there are some benefits in being small and scrappy.

Meanwhile, the five Archbishops of the Anglican church have joined together in condemnation of the UK government’s proposal to break international law with their plots and plans over Brexit. It is an extraordinary intervention. The letter is signed by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury; Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York; Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal church; John Davies, Archbishop of Wales; and John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh, and it asks: “If carefully negotiated terms are not honoured and laws can be ‘legally’ broken, on what foundations does our democracy stand?” The Internal Market Bill would ride roughshod over the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU last year – and potentially put peace in Northern Ireland at at risk. It’s a gamble, by a gambling man, who doesn’t seem to know the odds and is unclear for which team he is batting.

Meanwhile, in my mother’s paper, the Saturday Telegraph, I was too tired this weekend, I couldn’t manage anything more serious, there is an interview by Nataliya Vasilyeva with the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya. After four months Sviatlana has just spoken to her husband Sergey. How did this come about? Constant and perpetual protests by the people of Belarus which continues to affect all of Belarusian society. Women march with flowers on Saturdays, cities and towns protest on Sundays and pensioners come out on Mondays. Last week Lukashenko visited the KGB prison where Sergey and the other political prisoners are held, and this crumb, held in a still iron-clad fist, was offered, the phone call between husband and wife. Let us pray for the protests, and dialogue to continue so that eventually the grandmothers can put their feet up on Mondays.

On Friday afternoon, in a Parisian suburb, the 47 year-old teacher, Samuel Paty, was stabbed and beheaded by 18 year-old Aboulakh Anzorov. Paty was trying to examine the concept of free speech by showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammand in his class. This was a grisly incident by any barometer and in Paris, on Sunday, crowds of thousands, including the Prime Minister Jean Castex, gathered to pay tribute to the slain teacher at the Place de la République. A retired teacher, Michaël Prazan, told the BBC that this dissent really began to fester in the early 2000s when the government banned religious symbols in schools. ‘We will not be defeated,’ tweeted President Macron, but for the moment Monsieur Paty’s family must not quite feel that. Even a posthumous medal will not keep his bed and family warm at night.

The Pan-American Highway stretches for approximately 19,000 miles across the American continents from Argentina to Alaska. Many years ago two young Argentine men were motorcycling that Highway and stopped in Point Reyes. We met outside the Bovine Bakery. And talked, and that led to their coming on air in the Old Red Barn studio ‘right after your sticky bun lunch’ and sharing some of their adventures on air. They came home to the farm for laundry, feeding and a couple of nights of comfort before they headed out to route one and continue back to their way north.

Just this week has come the news of a new discovery of a sculpted 120 foot-long cat out on the Nazca Desert in Peru which lies alongside the Pan-American Highway. The Nazca Lines, first discovered in 1927, are believed to have been created between 500BC and 500AD. Many depict humans, animals and plants. The cat is a new addition, uncovered by cleaning and conservation work. It’s nice to read something good.

A new old Cat – watching the world


Meanwhile back in London there are smaller geological sites to be explored. In the middle of Fitzroy Road, just where it peels off Regent’s Park Road is a raised brick planter that spent the last three summers growing ivy and grass. At one time, someone cared for this little patch but, things happen and the little plot has been neglected. But this weekend it was time for group number 1116 to check it out. In 2004 Richard Reynolds began the now world-wide Guerrilla Gardeners movement in London.

All you need


The concept of Guerrilla Gardening is simple. Never ask permission from any council or organization that might want a committee meeting. You just need a patch of neglected ground, a small trowel, fork, and some seed and bulbs. It takes less than an hour. Passers-by look, smile and some even chat, but nobody stops me. Come spring there will be new life, color and smiles for those who walk past and into a new year.

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

Better to Give

Recorded and Knit together by WSM


It is crisp cold on Saturday morning for our hill climb to the Farmers Market. Mushrooms are laid out in small cardboard boxes at one stall while the last of the tomatoes at another. Large Mozzarella balls are two for a tenner. The Italians know that the season of Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil salads is ending. Rutabagas and Swedes are piled in crates looming over bags of potatoes. Winter is coming.

On Sunday we walked through the Italian gardens which every autumn, holds the outdoor Frieze Sculpture exhibit. This year there are more people than ever crowding the sculptures, reflecting a collective hunger for art. In this time of Covid restrictions people remain wary of indoor galleries and museums. Every year, I find one piece that speaks to me. This year, it is Kalliopi Lemos’s ‘The Plait’ A very tall braid of wire signifying a chopped-off braid of hair.

The Plait by Kalliopi Lemos Photo by WSM

And I am remembering my friend Heather and a sunny morning after a sleep-over. Her family had left Kenya abruptly and my mother had found them a place to live by Hawley Lake. There was no electricity and water was carried from the lake. My mother got Heather enrolled in St. Nicholas School and must have ferried us both back and forth to school. There were sleep-overs by kerosene lanterns and adventures by the little stream that ran past their cottage from the lake. But at our home we woke up one morning wanting to play barber. My thick hair was down to my waist but the plaits were kept knotted at night. Mornings were spent in tears with the rushed, brushing, pulling and replaiting that happened.

“I’ll be the barber” said Heather and I happily knelt in front of her.

Somehow she found scissors, maybe old paper scissors from my father’s study, as, when my plaits finally fell away, there was a clear unevenness in the line. Knowing that whatever trouble we got into I would not be spending morning in tears left me elated. All this passed through my mind as I stood looking at the giant wire braid in the park. Lemos explains “an act of disobedience and emancipation of thinking … a liberation’.

Kalliopi Lemos Artist photo by WSM

Looking at all the different people walking through the park broad-walk I am thinking of war and all the countries they came from. Now journalists have been expelled from Belarus and it is hard to image what is going on behind those iron doors.

Earlier this year, when the demonstrations began in Hong Kong at the Chinese government’s take-over laws, Dominic Raab, then Foreign Secretary for the UK government, announced: “We will take in three million residents from Hong Kong who want to come.” There must have been hurried discussions behind closed doors for there is no ‘Welcome to Britain’ flag waving at the airports.

But Nathan Law, a 27 year old activist, made it. When agreeing to give an interview to Samuel Fishwick from the Evening Standard, he chose a bench in Regent’s Park which looked to be along the broad-walk where we were walking. Law was imprisoned, assaulted, forced to leave his home and family and lives low in London. Though he fears for his life, he knows someone has to speak out.

“The Hong Kong we knew has gone”.
“Will your family know how you are?”
“If you write about me they will find it.” But unspoken is the knowledge that so will others. Can Britain give this young man the safe haven he needs?

Autumn is a time of overflowing bounty. A neighbor on our street brings the harvest of her Oxford garden to London. Boxes of Bramley cooking apples, Cox’s Pippins for eating, and those pesky green tomatoes that refuse to ripen are on her doorstep for anyone to take. I gather them as from orchard grass and now can bake to pass along to other neighbors.

Doorstep bounty

We continue to do what we can for each other as this next round of COVID-19 circles us. Daily 12,500 new cases are reported and tonight brought another set of government rules to learn and abide by.

I imagine our Queen as she follows the news and watches her people doing what they can for their country. Maybe she keeps a note-pad on which to jot down names and pass them on to her Prime Minister of the day for The Birthday Honours list usually in June, when the Queen celebrates her official birthday. This year it was delayed so that COVID-19 front-line workers and volunteers could be honored. She may leave much of the choices to her Prime Minister but with this one she could have more to say.

Orders of the British Empire seem old-fashioned considering that there is no empire but these special recognitions by the Queen mean a lot to everyone. Sir David Attenborough gets a boost upstairs with a hurried make-over of the badge for the Knight Grand Cross. The young footballer Marcus Rashford becomes an MBE. With quiet dignity and persistence, he got the government to do a U-turn, successfully campaigning to extend free school meals over the summer.

“It is never the child’s fault that they are hungry.” This is a young man to watch.

I have a smiling satisfaction at actor David Suchet, most known as Poirot in the re-running Agatha Christie series, becoming a Sir. Dabirul Islam Choudhury, who turns 101 in January, takes home an OBE for walking almost 1,000 laps of his garden, raising money for charity, while fasting for Ramadan. Between him and the better-known Captain Tom, centenarians are showing they remain full of the Right Stuff.

This has been A Letter From A. Board.
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

Week Seven in Belarus

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Autumn has blown in and plonked her grab bag of swirling leaves down on every street and alley-way in London. Thoughts of letting tomatoes linger on the vine to ripen are swept away. We would be wise to pick what remains and be grateful for onions, windfall apples and green tomato chutney.

The cooler air is over Europe too and though the weather has turned in the seven weeks since the Belarusian elections that declared Lukashenko president the protests have continued. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who, in place of her detained husband, was on the ballot against Lukashenko, and Veronika Tsepkalo are in exile while Maria Kolesnikova remains in custody. Tikhanovskaya speaks in a video made for the New York Times about the situation in Belarus as the protest movement is left almost rudderless.

Anyone who steps into that leadership role is putting their life in danger and they know it. The news shows a young organizer using his phone to coordinate protesters while his wife phones every fifteen minutes to check that he is safe. Many of the Belarusian men protesting are often sturdy, thick-set, of truck driving ilk, alongside the student, intellectual types. The O.M.O.H. Police special forces remain fully masked under their helmets and are also stocky but one suspects younger and not so street savvy. Often they need four officers to capture one man. It is easier picking up the women, two officers can grab them off the streets, toss them into vans and drive to police stations. The photographs and reports of beatings and other tortures from released prisoners seeking medical aide are chilling. Tikhanovskaya knows she is no politician, “I am just a teacher. I will preside for six months to oversee fair and democratic elections. I am a wife and a mother and just want my husband back.” It is clear that though some protesters may be released, others may not, and some may never return.

Nina Baginskia and her flag. Photographer unknown

It is now illegal to carry the old State Belarusian flag but the streets are filled with the strong red and white fluttering flags waving among the signs carried by the protestors. Nina, a 73 year old great grandmother, is especially fond of hers. Though momentarily detained she is back on the street with the protesters and Nina may be the one force that brings the O.M.O.H. to a halt. Childhood religious respect for an elder does give the masked police pause, while Nina does half-apologize for kicking a police officer when he takes her flag away from her, “That was not very good behavior, I know, but when someone takes something of yours you don’t just say ‘Thank you.’” But not everyone approves, “You follow an old babushka,” Shouted a old-Lukashenko supporter.

Yes, they do. One of the privileges of reaching a certain age is the grounding of your collective wisdom and the ability to commit to what you know is right. Among the younger generations, Nina’s grey hair is a beacon, shining like that of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, as she marches. At last the United Nations have stated it is time these allegations are investigated. This week the French president, Emmanual Marcon, said that Lukashenko must step aside. Several other European countries, including Britain, have stated they don’t recognize Mr. Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus. Even the U.S. agrees, though, as the U.S. is prone to do, they may change their statement later in the year. Poised as the U.S. is for the November’s presidential elections these events in tiny Belarus are being watched in detail by those who hold the White House at this time.

Changing statements is what some governments do best. Balancing the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic and salvaging the economy is proving a difficult business. The rigidity of the Lukashenko’s and Putin’s of the world can be contrasted with the melting iron of Johnson and other European leaders, who are struggling with this gordian knot. World wide COVID-19 cases are reported at over thirty-three million and today’s death toll has crested one million people.

France, German, Spain, Portugal and Italy are among the countries we heard about, each country trying to balance their economy with their country’s safety. Germany has already said they are putting the economy first and so other countries will be watching. Even with the governments’ ever changing statements it seems that being sensible as we go about our restricted lives with our smaller groupings of family and friends is the right thing to do. Medical personnel and hospitals are rearranging their priorities once more. Pubs and restaurants opened and last orders are called by 9 p.m. for 10 p.m. closure. I find this charming but I expect it has to do with my age. I remember those nice little drink, a nice little snack and then a nice little – not too tired, not too drunk – ‘Shall I walk you home moments’.

Primary schools have reopened and students are returning. The hardest hit are the new and returning students to University. Though all of the universities have worked really hard, there are bound to be cases of infections and illness. The numbers are just too high, the spaces just too small and the students, just as exuberant as they should be at this time in their lives.

So tonight’s headline from the Evening Standard newspaper “London Lockdown Moves a step closer” has us pause again. Though we will go out for supper tonight, it maybe the last time we can do so for a while. We will mask up to walk along the two streets and dine in the company of a few strangers trying to feel a little more connected to each other and the world.

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

Rule of Six

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Six months into this strange lockdown year many of us are still struggling to find our old normal life patterns or create and accept new ones. Families, communities, and countries are so ripped apart by war, disease and fires, that this may never happen again in their life times. The natural world is in deep fury and sorrow and has serious indigestion from humanity’s greedy excesses. For support or solace some people return to their religions, some look to science, hardly anyone looks to their politicians. In this house there are books and charts from the I–Ching, Runes and Astrology.

Anne Ortelee sends out biweekly astrology posts. I read them yet I can’t begin to fathom all the planetary positions in the heavens that she explains. Planets are joining up, and flying back to whence they came. When she reflects back into history, I always learn something new. It’s been more than 500 years since the last time that Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto all met together in Capricorn; in the autumn of 1517, just a couple of weeks after Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door and set off the Protestant Reformation.

But at this point in time it looks like trouble for America and much of the world all tumbling on into political and natural chaos.

The people of Belarus are not giving up. Another big protest rally in Minsk showed Lukashenko’s riot police, now almost completely encased in armor that makes them look like rolling armadillos, attacking protesters and bundling those they think are the remaining opposition leaders into vans and taking them away. The country’s interior minister says 774 people had been detained on Sunday.

On Monday, Lukashenko flew to Sochi to meet with Putin at Putin’s Black Sea resort home. This is Lukashenko’s first trip outside the country since the protests began after the August elections. Russian news agencies report that Russia will send paratroopers to Belarus for 10 days of military exercises entitled “Slavic brotherhood”. It is yet to be seen what else Putin will do to help the old warrior who has now interrupted Putin’s holiday break – or will Lukashenko fall ill, and not make it back home to Belarus. Such things do happen.

Alexei Navalny is up and conscious and anxious to return to Russia. Two German laboratories have independently confirmed that he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. Suspicions remain strong that the poison was probably in a cup of tea he drank at Omsk airport before boarding a flight to Moscow last week. His team lost no time in blaming Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin spokesperson, remains completely dismissive of such suggestions.

Alexei Navalny with his wife and daughters in Berlin. Photo from Sky News

Following the English government rules for the COVID-19 situation is like playing a game of hop-scotch on a chalked-out pavement that has been twisted and blurred by the rain. Back and forth until this week Boris, Matt – and maybe deeply hidden behind a scientific puppet, Dominic – have come up with the Rule of Six, nicked one can be sure from a catchy-sounding chapter heading in a book on film lying about in Dom’s editing suite. What is right for film and the arts is completely useless for this epidemic situation. Professors Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson write in the Spectator, “Our leaders amount to little more than a Dad’s Army of highly paid individuals with little or no experience of the job at hand.” Their long article reads like a doomsday book of despair and the writers barely touch on the failures of Matt Hancock’s Track and Trace schemes.

Moving from one debortle to another, Boris last week announced that he was going to flout, that is break, an agreement with the European Union on the Trade Deal that he made, and celebrated as a victory, just nine months ago. Suddenly this has given past Prime Ministers something to get excited about, join in unity around, and enjoy a new photo opportunity. John Major and Tony Blair are seen smiling and looking sweetly neat walking together across the Peace Bridge. Both probably chuckling at this dig to Johnson. David Cameron has cautiously joined the chorus but did not see fit to walk the plank with Major and Blair. He is a young man and may still have hopes of a political life before him. But he did say that “Passing an act of Parliament and then going on to break an international treaty obligation is the very, very last thing you should contemplate. It should be an absolute final resort. So, I do have misgivings about what’s being proposed.”

“See Thomas, See how you have angered me so!” Henry VIII roars, on a supposedly surprise visit, to Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s’ “A Man for All Seasons.” It seems that it is this wrath that politicians fear, but what I can’t yet figure out: who is playing Henry?

So much politics to think and write about. All pushing back the desperately important thoughts and ideas needed in this time of Global Warming and the eruption of this pandemic experience. Last year we looked in amazed horror when the Australian bush went up in flames. This year California is following the fire season’s pattern of Australia, with ‘some fires in 2019’ becoming the whole of the western states of America in 2020. In both continents the fire season is barely beginning.

Meanwhile Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Lesvos continue to burn and drown with no helping hands in sight.

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






Murder is a Messy Thing

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Murder can be a messy business. Countries, cultures and times evolve and often a culture is the defining influence as to how political problems disappear.

This is uppermost in my mind in those pre-dawn moments; beyond the fast-climbing number of cases of COVID-19 in England, beyond the raging fires in California, and the understandable distrust for the British Prime Minister by the European Brexit team. The UK government is now reneging on the agreement with the European Union on the border for Northern Ireland. While the Brexit clock is ticking, the leaders of Russia, the US, and China are watching the chip, chipping away of Europe with glee.

But it is Belarus that is again, sounding the alarm bells in my head and my heart. Over one hundred thousand protestors marched in Minsk this weekend, and other cities were filled with protestors. The police targeted young men returning to the universities, as well as reporters, and one journalist remains in jail. Lukashenko has not been seen, only his riot police force out with their agenda. Luke Harding wrote of it in the Guardian Newspaper: “On Monday, unidentified masked men snatched the leading Belarusian opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova from the street in the centre of the capital, Minsk, and drove her away in a minivan.” Three young idealistic women formed a new opposition party called ‘Together’.

Veronika Tsepkalo (left), Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (centre), and Maria Kolesnikova display their signature gestures at a press-conference in Minsk in July. Photograph: Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA

The opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a teacher, unexpectedly allowed to run for president and had claimed victory against Alexander Lukashenko, fled after Lukashenko rejected the vote of the people. Maria Kolesnikova is reported as detained at the Lithuanian border, apparently after an escape bid, though Veronika Tsepkalo may still be in Belarus.

Russia seems to favour poison even as they make such a mess of it. Alexander Litvinenkno in 2004, Sergei and Yulias Skripal in 2018, and now Alexei Navalny in August. Navalny suddenly became ill on an internal flight from Siberia. The plane diverted to Omsk where he was treated for three days before being eventually airlifted to the Charité hospital in Berlin where doctors confirmed what the rest of the world knows, that Navalny was poisoned with nerve agent Novichok. The world will look in vain for an explanation from the Russian Government that does not care a button what the rest of the world thinks.

The Saudis preferred a strangulation, a little drug use, before the chain saw for the removal of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, while the United Kingdom takes the depression-walk-in-the-woods approach to the removal of dissidents to power – David Kelly’s death in 2003 is still remembered. North America uses guns and choke-holds and when countries collaborate the removals can become truly messy. During our years in Argentina I learnt of the 1970s student disappearances by the plane-load over the River Plata. I still cannot eat fish in Buenos Aires.

In these times of solitude I find myself with a strange kind of homesickness. While the farm and the California fires that surround it and all of our corner of West Marin are constantly on my mind, I also think of Buenos Aires and of that time in our lives when San Telmo held a home for us. Smells come over me in waves, they linger and bring memories quickly into my mind.

Walking along the cleaning aisle at the supermarket, with the mixtures of house-cleaning products, takes me to Fridays at the casa. Maritza, who is Bolivian, would take an hour-long bus from her home to San Telmo and spend all day cleaning that big apartment. Bea or I would make lunch and we would sit all together to eat a simple meal. It is the custom there. The espresso coffee pot bubbles up on the stove and, if I have missed it, a metallic smell spills over, with the coffee, onto the stove top. It is the same coffee pot as I had in the Abuela-Dome that spits onto the electric hot plate.

Breakfast with Granny in the Abuela Dome

On sunny Sundays I would bring the morning coffee out to the little table and chairs sitting by the window on the terrace. The terrace, between the main apartment and the bedsit Abuela dome, is long and as soon as David could, he would escape from the main apartment and run across to us. Through the glass doors we could see him standing on tip-toe, reaching up for the doorknob, and click, pull it down to come in. And there we would be. Were we ready to play, to read or maybe was it time for a second breakfast? Inside or out? He had a special mug for tea, as did Grandpa, while Granny has her own Royal Albert tea cup and saucer. And then there would be toast, just a little because actually David has already had breakfast with Mummy and Daddy.

This week is Bea and Santi’s 5th wedding anniversary. And in two weeks it is David’s 5th birthday. Bea posted a picture on Facebook of the wedding ceremony. The little courthouse is packed with Santi’s family, their friends, including Bea’s first husband Kragen, who stood up to wish them all happiness. Bea sits so ‘barefoot and pregnant’. They look young and nervous and yet with that determination that love can bring. The presiding officer was a kind motherly woman magistrate and her presence draws me back to memories of Argentina and all that is good in the world wherever we are.

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

Mad with Grief

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The sun was shining when we took our Sunday walk. The Broadwalk was full of families not able to leave the city for the long weekend and we are among the few who are still wearing masks. Walking along the grass, underneath the row of now toast-crisp leaved chestnut trees, is a grey haired man. He has a cane in one hand, a plastic bag in the other and he is shouting. At first it seems that he is shouting at the grass or the trees, but he is shouting at a little dog. The dog is very busy, trotting along the paved Broadwalk, clearly ignoring the man who is now waving his cane and the plastic bag. The dog is a little mix with a black body and stubby brown legs. She, it must be a she, wears a pink studded collar and holds her head high as she trots about, sniffing this, and exploring that. We slow down beside the man, and the little dog trots towards me. I bend down and stroke her fur which is soft under my hand. Because she has stopped by me the man comes over and continues to talk in a stream of words.

“I’m older than you, I’m 81. How old are you?” I tell him and we laugh.
“Yes you are older than us.” And then he continues, “My girlfriend died two weeks ago.” And in an instant a picture unfolds for me. She died and now he must care for the dog as maybe his girlfriend cared for him. The dog is not too happy with this arrangement. Today it looks as if the coronavirus, loneliness, death and the days ahead are all too much for him. Are they both, the man and the dog, searching for her in the park? If he holds the dog close to him can she give his days purpose and his nights comfort?

I could not help but reach out and touch his arm though we immediately knew that was forbidden and I withdrew my hand. But in his eyes I read despair and realized he was probably at this moment in time, in the park, going mad with grief.

As we all are trying not to. The pains of India, Syria and Lebanon are pushed off of the news pages. Belarus and the disunited States of America hold our attention in equal measure.

Week four in Belarus shows protesters coming out in greater numbers onto the streets of Minsk. Even the middle class have had enough of the government’s bullying. President Lukashenko strides out alone, masked, in police uniform and carrying a machine gun. His riot police are thick on the ground. But the lion is stirring from his sleep in Moscow. According to the BBC’s Steve Rosenburg, President Putin says he has formed a police reserve unit which won’t be used until the situation gets out of control. Seventeen journalists, mostly from Belarus, reporting to the outside world have had their accreditation removed.

Hero City Square Minsk

We look in horror and shame at America with the killings, protests and police activities in the news. It is as if the Coronavirus has become an annoying distraction to the business of the next elections in November. And Melania’s speech-giving military uniform followed by the Teddy-boy fuchsia and line-green gowns for the Republican Convention were chilling. It takes very little imagination to understand their meaning.

In England this week children and teachers are to return to their schools. Numbers must have been crunched somewhere and somebody knows what the effects of pouring children onto public transport and then into the schools will be, but nobody is telling the teachers, parents or students.

The weekend’s Financial Times carried an obituary – for Mercedes Barcha. Known as ‘La Gaba’ she was married to Gabriel Garcia Márquez for 56 years. On Márquez’s death in 2014 she was described as being ‘serine and tranquil, dressed in the blouse and shoes of a Tigress, holding a cigarette and a glass of white Tequila, as she took phone calls from world leaders paying their respects’. “Thank you.” She said. I missed reading ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ along with other works by Márquez. It was not until ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ came my way for KPFA, Pacifica that I picked up my first Márquez and fell deeply into his world. Maybe now, in our own time of Covid, I can return to him.

The passing of ‘La Gaba’ pulled at my heart strings, and took me back to our trip to Cuba, in 1989. That year the Russia’s president, Mikhail Gorbachev, announced there would be no more Russian funding for Cuba. The news colored many of the conversations during our weeks at the film school. Our last day ended with a lingering lunch in Havana put together by the film school director Ricardo. Seated at the table were Gabriel Márquez and La Gaba, Thomas Alea and his wife, Julio Garcia Esponso and his wife, Walter and I, and Ricardo. There was lobster, there was wine, sunshine and deep conversation. The men needed little interpretations from Ricardo and, as wives, we spoke quickly, with laughter, together. After lunch we were to board a plane. Gabriel was due at a wedding, but with the discretion of Ricardo both the plane and the wedding would wait for us. Luncheon ended in a solitary walk with Gabriel that has stayed forever in my memory. Now as I think of La Gaba, I raise my glass in salute to her in joining Gabriel wherever that might be.

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

Photograph by Alejandra Vega. Thank you.

Testing Times

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First beginnings at The Albert Pub Photo by WSM

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

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

The Last Touches to Sam’s Cafe

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

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

An Eton Mess

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

A real Eton Mess by Helen Hall

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

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

A Real Knickerbocker Glory from Gastronomic Bong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taghi Amirani and Walter Murch – Almost Done

Heatwave in August

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Most government ministers have gone on holiday, even though there are some bits of business throbbing under hastily applied band -aids, such as the brushing under a carpet of important school grades being estimated by post codes rather than teacher input. Meanwhile the Prime Minister looks like he is doing his bit to reduce obesity in Britain possibly having shed seven pounds in weight.

But during this now almost normal English heatwave, migrants are crossing the English Channel by the boat-loads from France, and Johnson is pushing this back into the French Prime Minister’s lap like a hot potato. But his language, calling the migrants criminal, is being called on by the Refugee Council’s director of advocacy, Lisa Doyle.

“Seeking asylum is not a crime, and it is legitimate that people have to cross borders to do so.” Pulling in the English Navy to stop the mere hundreds of migrants from landing seems more than a bit harsh at this point in their journey.

Arriving to England PA photo
Crossing the English Channel Photo PA

Last week Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, was blown to bits because of a boat-load of neglected fertilizer warehoused at the dockside. Estimated at 1/10th the size of the bomb on Hiroshima it became a weapon of mass destruction as hundreds were killed, thousands wounded and the city destroyed. Last night Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, announced the resignation of his government, ceding to the will of the people, and saying the incident was ‘the result of endemic corruption. It was time to turn the country from a state of brokerages and theft to a state of law and justice.’ What a great phrase, but looking at the carnage it is hard to know where they can start.

And in Belarus, where you say, (it used to be part of the Soviet Union), Sunday’s election results brought another landslide victory for Lukashenko bringing thousands of protesters onto the streets. The Guardian paper reminds us that foreign observers have not declared a Belarusian election free and fair since 1995.

The opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was apparently pressured to leave the country in exchange for the release of her chief of staff, Maria Moroz, who had been detained by police on Saturday. Her foreign minister was quoted saying “I can just say that she is safe and that she is in Lithuania.”

Last week Michelle Obama’s admission of a ‘light depression’ was on the front page of ‘The Evening Standard’. The paper is delivered to our doorstep by kind neighbors as they take their evening Covid Constitutional walk around the village in this corner of London.

When Barak Obama was first elected president of the United States of America in 2008 many of us wept for joy and relief but the mother in me also wanted to write Michelle Obama a note. Of course I never did, and when we heard that Michelle was bringing her mother, Mrs Robinson, with the family to the White House, I knew I didn’t need to. Michelle was going to be all right. And, of course, she was more than all right. For the often unspoken secret is that no one is ever ready for the role that is thrust on them, or they choose, but if their heart and mind are willing and focused then they will grow into that role, a truth for all who ‘grasp the nettle’ of their life’s work. Michelle Obama did just that. Then she wrote, “Becoming” knowing it would inspire, giving hope and courage to all those young women reaching over her shoulders to take this work forward. So many people are sick with fear and anguish, while others show their fear with hatred and rage. It is hard to think that anyone in the United States of America is not very afraid. As we enter the sixth month of sheltering in place and no real end in sight this low level of depression is palpable all around me here in London.

WSM/MAM Married August 6 1965

But we have a lot to be grateful for. Last Thursday we celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary. How on earth did that happen? With more laughter than tears, some incredible highs, our share of deep lows, and a lot of washing-up throughout all the years. And we have memories. A morning wedding, sandwiches for lunch with a cake and champagne before getting on the bike and heading a little way north to our first night at a hotel; borrowing a jacket and tie from the management, a trout for supper with at least a glass of wine, a purple haze in the morning dew outside of our window and a receptionist who, when I returned the keys, said, “Have a nice trip back.”

But we weren’t going back, we were going forward, North and then West into a life together.

However Walter had not really heard his mother’s marital advice, “Remember she is just a girl.” Maybe a rather tall tom-boy girl but still a girl. He had bought a war-surplus tent for $12.00. The tent smelt of creosote. It was 6’ long, 4’ wide and 3’ high. After our first night in the hotel, we were to camp our way north to Canada and west to Los Angeles. Maybe so, but for me the stars were better company than the tent. Somehow the tent fell from the back of the bike and he didn’t notice until we were long gone to the next stop. But it it had served a purpose, to show a girl about the Scott in Scott Murch and to show a boy what a girl will – or will not do.

MAM 2020 Still Married photo by WSM

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

This is It, Found on a U.S. website selling such things.
G I Pup Tent – For sale