The Mound

Recorded and Knit together by WS

Walking across Hyde Park from Knightsbridge, clocking in those steps to bring me close to my allotted healthy number, I reached Marble Arch and for a moment couldn’t find it.

Marble Arch Obscura

Hyde Park is comfortably London, full of geese and people but that is not enough for the hop-on and hop-off tourist busses that wait – not too hopefully – by the roadside at Marble Arch. The Arch, long ago dumped here, has now been squashed by The Mound that has been built beside it and sits like a giant turd making the poor Arch look quite tiny and shabby. Marble Arch was built to be a state entrance to Buckingham Palace but didn’t fit and so was moved to its place at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street, close to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. The the best thing about ‘Marble Arch Mound’ is that it is a temporary ‘pop-up’ though no-one is saying when it will pop-down. Like any pop-up the goal is to encourage the now non-existent tourists to pay up, climb up, look down and empty their pockets in the shops below. The cost to build the mound ballooned from 2.5 million pounds to over six million. “I resign!” said a Westminster City Council deputy minister, but that isn’t going to help The Mound go away.

The Mound

Does its conception, its construction, speak in a oblique way of England today? Covering something that is not fit for purpose, The Marble Arch itself, that eventually found a happy placement, is now surrounded by detritus and foolishness – rather similar to what we see at the other end of town in Westminster.

Now that everyone has returned from their holidays to watch over the evacuation of foreign nations and afghans from Kabul the Prime Minister has slid off to the G7 Summit leaving the British Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow to ‘carry on’.

Very Busy Dominic Raab

The lucky few, those who can afford it, tripped off to Spain where the sun was scorching and the mosquitoes bit, much like England’s Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab, who was found sunning himself in fashionable Crete and not picking up the brought-to-your-lounger telephone to answer a call from his Afgan counterpart. The quickly put-together photo shoot of Raab behind his big desk, English and Chinese flags flying, one hand gripping the big chair, the other holding his telephone, looking earnestly at the computer screen are fooling no-one. 

Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was ordered to stay in Kabul while the rest of the UK embassy staff and their families left on Friday night. We see and hear only the English and American struggles but there are other countries whose presence in Afganistan is no longer welcome and they too are trying to get their people out.

Kilgore in the Morning

“I want my men out of there. Now.” Says Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. Raab is no Kilgore. 

The implosion of western forces in Afghanistan, the walk-through of the Taliban takeover of their country’s government, remains a debortle of immense proportions. So many stories of terror render most of us sick with helpless heartache at this moment of suffering caused by each and every one of us. No wonder there was a full house when Boris recalled the government last week. More ruffled than usual – not quite taking in that everyone was really calling for his blood – his bluster could not cover his bemusement. And when the past Prime Minister, Teresa May, stood up to speak she was heard, even as some of us blinked at her dress of bright Conservative Blue caped in Mourning black. But there were others, retired but young military men now serving their country in another way, ashamed of their government. For a moment I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe one of them could step forward and possibly lead this country into some new beginnings.

Where are the hyenas hiding in those benches? But here comes Tony Blair, wearing the wise elder-statesman look with slightly too-long silver hair as he shakes his head smiling ruefully, ‘Why can’t you pull yourselves out of the hole I dug for you?’

Holes for whole countries are one thing, traps for individuals are another. The Weekend Financial Times newspaper has a weekly column, “Lunch with the FT.” which during COVID has all been virtual. But this weeks interview took place in Warsaw, Poland where journalist Magdalena Miecznicka met with the defected sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya and her husband. Because poison is a weapon of choice for Russian and therefore Belarusian authorities only Magdalena was eating. The story that 24 year-old Krystsina tells is harrowing, from her first realization that someone is trying to remove her from Tokyo and return her to a mental hospital in Minsk. Her grandmother tells her not to return to Belarus and her husband escaped to the Ukraine before Poland. She was escorted from the Olympic Village by a psychiatrist and a Belarusian committee official to Tokyo’s Haneda airport where she was saved by an app on her phone. Typing in ‘I need help they are trying to take me out of the country by force.’ and translating it from Russian to Japanese, she reached an airport policeman who took her to safety. Magdalena’s article is quietly compelling, mixing Borsch soup with Poland and Belarus and all that it means to suddenly leave your country, your home with as many of your family as are able. Krystsina’s parents escaped but what will happen to her grandmother? We go from one story to many as in these Afghan days, another wave of desperate immigration carries fearful repercussions for the families left behind. 

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

Poor Man

“I’ve been speaking with your Health Secretary. He says things are getting better. Poor man.” So said the Queen, dressed demurely in a mauve frock, when, last Tuesday, after fifteen months, she met in person her current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. With the cameras rolling and clicking Johnson looked the unruly but chuffed school boy he is, standing with hands clasped behind him, before the Queen’s constant good manners.

“Yes, Yes.” The Prime Minister assures the Queen and that is all we see of that moment. 

Queen Elizabeth II greets Prime Minister Boris Johnson at an audience at Buckingham Palace, London, the Queen’s first in-person weekly audience with the Prime Minister since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Picture date: Wednesday June 23, 2021.

Until later in the week The Sun Newspaper hits the stands. There is Matty Hancock, Health Minister, clutching aide Gina Coladangelo in a clinch-hold on the front page, with the headline. “Face, Hands, Cock no distance” In the little-known dangers of University life, Matt and Gina first met at the Oxford University radio station. By Saturday evening, Hancock had resigned and Sajid Javid, previously chucked out as the Chancellor has been brought in as Minister of Health. A Cabinet reshuffle is not an empty phrase. Javid is a solid Tory man, called by some the First Son of Margaret Thatcher, and he will have to come up to speed quickly in this Health crisis brought about by this government.

Hello Javid

On his first day in office he said ‘Yes’ to every question put to him. Sometimes adding the unnerving, ‘Absolutely’. Back to hypocritical, humbled-for-the-moment Hancock, who made a public apology for ‘breaking the rules on social distancing’ and says he will continue to serve his country from the back benches. After lying to our Queen, ‘Things are getting better’ and taking his eyes from ‘working around the clock’. Opinions from the dustman to the politician run between – ‘long may he rot there’, to ‘how dare he show his face in Westminster’. His constituency of West Suffolk is none too pleased with their minister’s behavior and if not exactly cries, there are certainly mutterings of “Off with his head.” Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts was ahead of her time. Even with their budgetary caution, the BBC has added their voice to the clamor from Labour and opposition government parties with outcries of ‘shame’, Johnson should have fired Hancock. Johnson knows as well as any man, that when the little brain takes over there is not a lot of logic going on.

Anglican church memorial to British officers in the Afghan war. 1866

But wait – stuffed behind a bus stop in Kent – someone – who was that – happens to find a bundle of soggy classified documents from the Minister of Defence. Information on the HMS Defender trying out a quick sail through the Black Sea checking on Russia’s response to edging a wee bit close to the Ukraine and Crimea was laid out in those soggy pages. Russia made their position clear with a quick response. This is a shell game over the waters and one can only hope that the fish have something to say about it. As NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan to its fate, Britain is thinking it might move in – again. While visiting India in 2004 we stopped at an old Anglican church. Along the nave, beside each pew, was a scabbard in which the British officers should place their swords. A memorial Cross stood outside to commemorate British officers who had died in the Afghan War – of 1865.

Following last week’s closure of the Apple Daily Newspaper in Hong Kong a seventh senior editor, Fung Wai-kong, was arrested as he prepared to leave Hong Kong for the United Kingdom. Now another newspaper, Stand News, has removed all their past published Opinion pieces. The Chinese Government’s net is tightening its draw string.  

Meanwhile Alexander Lukashenko responded to the Western worlds imposed sanctions by sending plane-loads of Iraqi refugees to be unloaded in Lithuania while moving Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega from jail into house arrest. But this is no picnic or sign of safety for Roman, Sofia or any of the young people in Belarus, calling for a more democratic government. The IT industry that was booming in Minsk is disintegrating in the sewer of government impositions. Those young IT engineers that can, are leaving for the neighboring Ukraine.  

Angela Merkel is lobbying the European Union to adopt Germany’s ruling that everyone coming from Britain to Germany go into quarantine. She is to visit with Boris Johnson in England this week and then onto the US before she leaves office in the autumn. She may be being very sensible and cautious, but so far the rest of Europe is not going along with her idea. 

In this little island we are dealing with the crater-hole of one Minister falling on his sword and another picking it up out of the gutter. On Monday Chris Whittey, England’s chief medical officer, went to St. Jame’s Park for a little sit and think and was set upon by two men, angry, frustrated and feeling helpless in this continued uncertainty. Police were called to investigate, but will get no further than form filling.

Guillen Nieto with the Abdala Vaccine

But on another Island, Cuba, there is news that lifts the spirits with the development of their own Covid vaccine. Named Abdala – as a latin country would –  from a poem by José Martí. It has so far proved 92% effective and thus is on par with BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna. There is no attacking scientists or health workers in Cuba where political Isolation from the US embargo, their reluctance to take vaccines from China or Russia has kept the country poor and yet rich in its independence and humanity with a health system to be proud of.

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

Summer, it’s my favorite day of the year.

An English joke and this year, so far, very apt. Sunday was Father’s Day and we set out to see how London is fairing as the COVID release train leaving the station of lockdown pauses – again – on the tracks. It was an early – for us start – as we entered Regent’s Park. Morning dog walkers and young runners were enjoying the empty freedom. The Chestnut and Oak trees are in full leaf now and along the Boardwalk the light breeze sends the soft raindrops from the sky and the trees down onto us. An umbrella would seem almost rude in this lightest of facial moisturizers. We are walking briskly as we have a breakfast reservation at Fischer’s Austrian Restaurant on the Marylebone High Street. Fischer’s is somewhat old-fashioned in look and menu. Glass panels gleam in the polished wood walls and there is a familial comfort inside. The advertised ‘a place to linger’ is now off the menu and with a smile, we are told we only have until noon, but it is enough time to open Father’s Day cards, and enjoy a large pot of good coffee. Comforting, I come back to that word as I think of the meals and gatherings we have enjoyed there, and are grateful that Fischer’s has survived the last year and a half.

It has stopped raining when we leave and we walk down the High Street seeing what havoc COVID lockdown has wrought on the seemingly solid businesses in this now upscale street. 45 years ago, when we first knew the neighborhood, it was funky, run down and happily shabby until the real estate mobsters cast their eye on its ‘potential’. Now some big English names have fallen: Emma Bridgewater’s Ceramics, Cath Kidston, L.K. Bennett clothing, Ryman’s Stationary. With closed shops and fewer people on the streets I look up at the old architecture with the history and faded dreams of long ago and now, once more, London will have to reinvent itself. We walked to the reopened British Museum. There is still the dreaded ‘booking ahead’ but we have managed the hoops and pass through the gates. Ticket check, check, bag check, check, and then up the old stone steps now pasted with ‘don’t sit down’ stickers. The steps shine from the rain but they are forlorn without the twinkle of anticipation that those waiting for a friend or a lover bring to a museum.

We are booked for two exhibits, the ‘Thomas Becket, Murder and the Making of a Saint’. Followed by ‘Nero The Man behind the Myth’. An hour each should do it, a cup of tea at the cafe and then a bus home. We move along trying, and failing, to keep socially distanced from strangers. I am intrigued by how many beautiful small caskets for Thomas’ relics there are, and how far away they travelled, to Italy and Sweden. Thomas’ rise, demise and murder are more than a tale of history. Memories and myths of Thomas Becket and his King Henry II reemerged in the reign of Henry VIII with his Thomases, More and Cromwell. The story is echoed today with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings. It is doubtful if Cummings, or even Hancock, will lose their heads but they will surely tumble about the floors of Westminster Hall. While Walter photographed a faded painting of Henry VIII ‘man-spreading’ and zeroed in on the obscene codpiece, I wondered whose tiny fingers embroidered such a piece of clothing and what laughter enjoined those days.

There is a push to vaccinate the young population who are spreading the Delta variant faster than any other section into a third wave of COVID Infections. The Euro soccer championships is taking over a lot of telly time and so the small news item of the Former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, leaving the Conservatives and joined the Labour party is a blip of a political news item. Bercow served as the House Speaker for ten years. He is a chipper and cheeky little fellow who, when robed as Speaker, would swing his gavel and shout ‘Order, Order,’ when the Commons became too common. His reasons for a change of coat are that Boris Johnson’s conservative party is “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic.” Bercow’s history is mixed but it is not hard to tell what prize he is eyeing.

The elections in Iran bring Judge and Supreme leader, Ebrahim Raisi, the Presidency. Known as ‘The Butcher of Iran’ his ultra-conservative rulings have seen the death of too many political prisoners. His election caused the newly elected Israeli Prime minister, Naftali Bennett, to open his first Cabinet meeting saying ‘The World must wake up’. Bennett’s warning came just as diplomats from Britain and other world powers had begun – and then abandoned – talks in Vienna on the easing of crippling sanctions on Iran. 

In Hong Kong as the Apple daily newspaper’s owner, Jimmy Lai, remains in jail, more editors and staff have been arrested. The papers’ assets and bank accounts are frozen. The paper will fold within days.  

Freezing assets, if it works in Hong Kong maybe it will in Belarus. Following last month’s forced landing of a Ryanair flight to arrest Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, the UK, US, EU and Canada pledged to make Alexander Lukashenko’s regime “run dry” and announced travel bans and asset freezes on senior Belarusian officials and entities that bankroll the regime.

None of this news had emerged as we walked home, now clutching an abridged version Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The narrow pavement had us brushing the still wet roses and honeysuckle and, for a brief evening moment, the attar of roses told us that this was summer.

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

Step Right This Way

Step right this way – 

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

And we are back in Belarus. On Sunday when the journalist Roman Protasevich boarded a plane in Greece, he was already nervous, texting back to colleagues that he believed someone was following him. The plane was under an hour away from Vilnius in Lithuania when the announcement came, “This is your captain speaking. We have received information of a possible bomb on board and are to be diverted to Minsk”. As a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet, ordered by President Lukashenko, came alongside to escort the Ryanair plane to Minsk, Roman and his girlfriend must have really felt fear. Passengers were taken off the plane, claiming their luggage laid out across the tarmac as the charade continued. But it was Roman Protasevich who was the luggage to be collected by the two Belarusian secret service men also on board the plane. Protasevich was detained, with his girlfriend, accused of organizing last year’s protests against Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. Ryanair said that the situation had been “out of its hands”. The plane was over Belarusian airspace when it was diverted to Minsk though it was closer to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. 

Here Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, can tut-tut away, grateful that, for this moment at least, we are not a part of the European Union. The US has also joined the tut-tut brigade and most of the responsibility will fall to the slight but firm shoulders of Ursula von der Leyen and the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki who accused Lukashenko of a “reprehensible act of state terrorism”. As of today European flights are no longer flying over Belarusian airspace and Belarusian planes can no longer fly through Europe. That will be a lot of detours. The incident is alternately described as a hijack and/or a criminal offense, (I’m not sure of the difference) but Alexander Lukashenko doesn’t care. He has got his man and thumbed his nose at Europe and the western world at the same time. This must call for a phone call chuckle and a drink with his chum Vladimir Putin. 

There is an English saying, ‘Ash before the oak, in for a soak, oak before the ash, in for a splash’. And so it is proving this May where the Ash tree leaves are already a mature green while the oaks remain delicate and pale. But umbrella raised above the wind and rain we strode out on Sunday, taking the 168 bus down to the the south bank of the river where the wind blew even as the rain stopped. Stepping down to the river from the Waterloo bridge we walked – among people – many still masked – along the banks of Old Father Thames. The river-water was mud-brown with tide hurried wavelets shaking like a dog coming in from a run. The cafes were open, the open-air bookstall up and running outside of the British Film Institute and clean public toilets close by. ‘Spending a Penny’ now costs a pound – no change given. At the bright orange carousel a young man fishes deep into his pockets giving me change for my two pound coin. Someone is making a pretty penny with these necessary facilities.

We walked past the London Eye, looking so huge from the ground, and then under the Westminster Bridge through to the “Wall of Hearts.” Painted on the wall that surrounds St. Thomas’s Hospital it faces the river and the Houses of Parliament. Organized by Matt Fowler, whose father died from the virus, each heart is for another death. To date over 128,000 lives have been lost in the United Kingdom. The 150,000 hearts already painted will be used up soon enough as family members continue to come and write, commemorating the names of their beloveds in all the languages that make up this country.

The Covid Memorial Wall

The wall covers the length of the two old prestigious hospitals Guy’s and St. Thomas’s, now merged as one. Looking high above the wall, there are still old stone arches crumbled and moss-laden leading from the hospital’s beginnings in history through to the buildings of today. May holds Nurses’ Day and I am thinking of Dame Cicely Saunders, who trained here, first as a nurse then as medical social worker and finally as a physician. It was here she pioneered her palliative care treatments before founding St. Christophers Hospice in 1967, expanding to community home care in 1969.

Nurse Saunders and Dame Cicely Saunders

The wall ends bringing us to the Lambeth Bridge and the Lambeth Garden Museum which must wait for another day.

“The BBC is in a dangerous place at the moment, and people like me have a special duty to be careful about what they say,” said Andrew Marr last week. And I can’t even remember what scandal that was about, for now an old chestnut has come back to haunt them. 

After 25 years an inquiry has finally been completed into the Martin Bashir 1995 panorama interview with Princess Diana. And this week Prince William spoke publicly. His comments almost bypassing Bashir, going straight to the jugular of the BBC. He called for them to never air the program again and blasted the BBC top brass for presiding over a “cover-up”, rather than lay the blame squarely with rogue reporter Martin Bashir who used fake bank statements to falsely claim Diana’s inner circle were selling information on her to the press. Heads have already begun to roll with resignations here and there. No doubt this will lead to another inquiry, but it will have to wait in line as there are many files already stacked in the constipated bowels of Westminster.

Palace of Westminster UK Parliment from across the river

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

20,000,000 and counting

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

Her Majesty The Queen urges people to get the vaccination

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

Stacey Abrams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

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