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

St. Valentine’s Weekend.

Recorded and knit together by WSM.

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

Tail down Magpie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Winter Storms Keep Brewing

Recorded and knit together by WSM

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

Alberto Pezzali for AP

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

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

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

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

Water Canon in Nay Pyi Taw

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

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

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

Jane Goodall

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

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

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

An Intersting weekend

Recorded and Knit together by WSM.
(Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz gave the welcoming address as all the members of the G 20 summit were made visible on the big Zoom Screen. The summit was hosted by Saudi Arabia but without the lush, welcome goody bags that must have been missed. Here were twenty nations coming together, to talk, or in this instance, to listen, trying to come up with a positive action in this COVID year that has affected every nation. President Putin looked suitably serious, President Merkel was as clear and concise as ever. Prime Minister Johnson huffed and puffed his way forward, while ‘you know who’ got up after the first photo shoot and went golfing. The consensus that emerged was that COVID-19 vaccines should be made available world-wide, and equally accessible to poorer countries.

There were no cozy tete-a-tete in the tea rooms or bars of the hotels where so much, for better or worse, can be discussed, suggested or mooted. So it was no surprise that the U.S. Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, slipped off touring the Arab states and ‘had a word’ with the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, M.B.S. undoubtedly picking scabs in Irainian politics with Pompeo saying “It’ll be our policy until our time is complete.” One wonders what the ‘it’ is, beyond giving President-elect Joe Biden a headache on entering the White House in January.

In England, beyond Brexit, beyond COVID, beyond a Prime Minister in isolation again, the UK government has another little problem. Sir Alex Allan, as adviser on ministerial standards, clearly decided that the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had breached the ministerial code through yelling profanities and bullying. For whatever reasons Johnson sat on the report for months, though now it is clear that Patel’s role as dark haired handmaiden to the blond bumble may be in jeopardy. While Sir Alex Allan resigned, a few ministers came forward uttering variations of:

“I’ve never seen her behave badly,” The business has left another bad taste in the mouth of the public that is barely being rinsed away by the news of COVID Vaccines soon becoming available, or the promise of the national lock-down being lifted and Christmas having some element of normality.

European and international news is buried deep in back page paragraphs. In Belarus the 16 weeks of protest continue though the weekends arrests were down to 200. Three young Hong Kong activists including Joshua Wong, have been charged with activism and each face three years imprisonment. Exhaustion and the COVID Virus have caused many demonstrations to fade, though the women of Poland are still visible, struggling for the last vestiges of control of their bodies.

Seeing all this harsh political power-playing behavior, being isolated in COVID quarantine, and feeling powerless has been countered by the human kindness we met this week.

By Friday night, after a little biopsy on Thursday, my body had taken offense and raised my blood pressure to the extent it needed to let off steam, or blood, and, as there already was a wound available, it did. After doing all the right things it became clear this wasn’t going to stop without help. We had been instructed, “Dial 111 if you bleed for longer that fifteen minutes.” And I felt nothing but relief when two slender men in green uniforms strode into our cottage and joined me, sitting, and dripping, in the bathroom. Mike and John had been a paramedic team for over 20 years. Though both were now retired they had responded to this spring’s outreach call and came back into part time service for COVID.

After a bathroom sit and a chat it was clear that it was time to return to University College Hospital where a hand-off, such as I recognized, took place. Two young nurses tucked me up, watched my not good blood pressure and gently cleaned what they could of the continual stream of blood that was flowing into unmentionable creases. We were well connected before a very jolly God’s-gift-to-whoever doctor bounced in.

“We’re giving you some medicine for your blood pressure and now if you just hold this here with a little more pressure. And why did you have a biopsy?”

“Well it wasn’t for fun.” brought laughter to the little cubicle in which he had the grace to join in. I was wheeled off to a holding pen ward to wait, while continuing to drip, for the facial surgeon.

“And you are?”

“The Doctor.” A beloved young Asian Muslim knelt by my bed to talk at my level. I held out my hand and he took it, receiving me into his care. His soft brown eyes held my old bloodshot ones as he gently explained what he was going to do. He had done the first healing with acceptance and tenderness and now with his skill and experience he cleaned up the mess. I was beyond grateful.

While he went off to write up his notes, completing this minor event for him, I wondered if he realized that his healing had begun when he knelt by my side to look me in the eye. At one time he too must have had to overcome the fear of ‘the first time’ that was still carried by the young doctor who had performed the first, maybe her first, biopsy. We have all been there, learning the procedures, by the time honoured, “see one, do one”, been an assistant who lets their hand be squeezed so tightly as to bruise, before becoming the experienced practitioner who has the assurance to heal.

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

Flotsam and Jetsam

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Earlier in this COVID year KWMR’s station manager, Amanda Eichstaedt, wrote in the weekly newsletter about walking with a purpose. Her young pup, Waylon, joins her as she sets out, gloved, and carrying a plastic bag and grabbers readily picking up litter left behind by those who have not yet taken on board the ‘pack it in, pack it out,’ mantra. Reading her words brought a smiling remembrance of long ago houseboat days. My friend Jill and I each had a toddler boy and our houseboats were small. In order to get the boys – and ourselves – outside safely we would often walk the shoreline of the Richardson Bay pushing a wheelbarrow along the unpaved path beside the water. We even brought gloves, knowing that while mucking about in the mud we could get pretty grubby as we hauled out flotsam and jetsam from the bay. Lumber from old building projects and branches from fallen trees were our main harvest, to be brought back to the boats, and cut up as firewood for our small wood-burning stoves. We also hauled out tires, coiled wire, anything that sullied the waters and could harm the wildlife. We carted those back to the garbage bin in the parking lot and hoped they would not find their way back to the water. The boys of course loved it. Jill’s husband Ron wrote two large labels, Roach and Grogan, and pinned them to our backs, and to this day I can’t remember which of us is which, while we both still, in our ways, carry on cleaning up.

Walking alongside this stretch of Regent’s canal last week we caught up with a slow moving barge. Four men, volunteers from the auspices of Camden Counsel were chugging slowly along and coming to frequent stops under the bridges that cross over the canal. Beside each was a pile of old iron.

Four men, mucking about in boats

It has been many years since we heard the weekly cry of a man pushing his barrow while ringing his bell and calling out, “Any old Iron, Any old Iron.’ Now for those who do not make it to the recycling centers there is always the canal at nighttime. Before this gathering barge there is another barge that combs the water. It carries a huge magnet that fishes for chunks of iron. Bedsprings and bicycles are among the big items, along with builders detritus and other indescribable metal. The magnet hauls these up from the shallow canal bottom piling it all to one side ready for collection by this second barge and its team. This culls the heavy metal, but plastics, glass and tins are left for another, bigger trawling barge that comes out scooping up the remains of our casual consumption.

This week the UK government has brought out its own barges and a cleansing sweep through the muddied waters of Westminster has taken place. More jetsam than flotsam, (jetsam defined as the portion of a ship’s cargo thrown overboard to lighten her during a storm) the removal of Dominic Cummings from Number 10 Downing Street has many of the back benchers, sailing in the good ship Tory, breathing a sign of relief. But will the removal of Cummings be enough to save the party and the country from the wreckage he has left behind?

Dom, his box and his backpack. Newspaper photo

The Brexit negotiations are floundering and to distract the populace there is a lot of fast talk by government about the cautiously optimistic scientific announcements of COVID Vaccines being available soon. There is an aura of hot wind blowing through the halls of Westminster. And to top it off, or bottom it out, Boris Johnson has been told to self-isolate due to being in contact with a member of parliament who tested positive for COVID. From where he has issued the inflammatory statement calling, “The Scottish devolution a disaster.” Thank you Boris.

Apart from the Telegraph, most of the English newspapers have left Belarus to flounder alone, stuck in its own political mud. While twenty-three journalists have been detained, Lukashenko is not budging. On Sunday alone, one thousand protesters were apprehended across Belarus after Roman Bondarenko who was taken and beaten by the police on Thursday and later died.

However the statement from Secretary fo State, Mike Pompeo, that “These political prisoners have been subject to harsh and life-threatening detention conditions, including credible reports of torture… The United States stands with those who remain detained and unaccounted for, those who have been killed, and those who continue to peacefully assert their right to choose their leaders in free and fair elections,” leaves me more than a little confused, considering all that is happening, and not happening, in the United States. Jetsam remains from the November presidential election and is still floating in the tidal waters of Washington. Large and small politicians and policies are banging into and against each other, unsure of which way the tide is turning. Some are scrambling to shore, some are retreating to the open seas, all are hoping to be rescued by history.

Next week brings the American Thanksgiving holiday and this year so many families will be apart and unsure what to be thankful for. We watch it all while the skies darken by late afternoon and the night air turns cold. Autumn is here and the fuchsias will not throw any more buds. Instead they will recede to the back of the stage and let the hardy cyclamen step up with their bright green striped leaves and even bolder purple, red and white flowers. These bright colors of winter are something for which we can all be grateful.

Cyclamen for you


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

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