Week Seven in Belarus

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

Nina Baginskia and her flag. Photographer unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Wave

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The British government again seems to be struggling with making up their mind about their ‘rule of six’. Hot spots of increased infection rates are happening, and England, like many other European countries, is rolling lock-down rules out of the front door of #10 Downing Street as if trying to knock off coconuts at a country stall fair. It is very possible that the coconuts are an easier target. The infection rate is going up, faster than the number of testings, though the rate of hospitalization and COVID-19 deaths is slower. The Health Minister, Matt Hancock, tried to talk a good talk on Andrew Marr’s Sunday political program, but it was heavy going. He predicts that a second wave of infections is coming. In trying to be stern, he repeated again and again “We must obey the rules”. But the rules keep changing and Hancock was ill equipped, and nervous. Monday morning we found out why.

Number 10 Downing Street had to ‘strongly deny’ that, as reported in La Republica News, Boris Johnson flew to Perugia to meet with Evgeny Lebedev at his villa in Umbria. Airport sources said that Johnson arrived on Friday, September 11th at 2. pm. and left on Monday morning 7.45 a.m. Every once in a while you have to love those airport staff and guards at these tiny airports. Johnson and Lebedev are tight, in that way that friends bond over what one could call ‘similar behavior patterns and tastes’. And apparently, according to the same source, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, also flew into Perugia on September 8th leaving the day that Johnson arrived. Perugia has become a bustling hot spot surrounded by those busy villas tucked away in the Umbria hills. In London, the government brushed aside the Italian paper report as being – Italian – and now – sadly – the Italian government has concurred.

But the British people are fast losing faith and trust in this government as a second wave of increased infections and measures to contain the virus look inevitable. And so on Tuesday, Boris is to speak. First scheduled for 10 a.m. this morning he has now slipped to 12.20 p.m. in the house of Commons and will address the nation at 8 p.m. So far we know, that from Thursday, pubs and restaurants will close at 10 p.m.

As we adjust to another new normal, those of us lucky enough not to be directly effected by the virus look to see what got us through so far. There were friends and neighbors, grocery deliveries, the telephone, email and Zoom that kept us connected and took care of our more basic needs. These are community’s first responders.

But the cities were closed. There were no galleries to visit, no concerts or theaters to attend, no films to see. For some, music came through the wireless, while the television played endless reruns. There are books to read. A friend called Art the second wave of responder. And so, as we can, we search for Art.

In 2017 Beatrice had an exhibit at the Botanical Gardens featuring her photographs of the Trees of Buenos Aires. It was a fabulous exhibit and we were grateful to be there and see it. I chose about six of the pictures and had jigsaw puzzles made up from them thinking they would be great Christmas presents, but my friends said ‘Thank you very much Aggie’ and put the boxes away. I kept one here and after almost two years it was still in its box. Two weeks into England’s lock down we poured the one thousand pieces onto the kitchen – dinning table and the puzzle took over. Eventually we had to add the extra table-leaf. As nobody was coming to dinner the puzzle became our companion for the next several months. We would linger after a meal, like addicts, for just one more piece to put in place. It was completed in July.

Place for the puzzle on the table WSM

This weekend it returned from the frame shop and now hangs on the wall bringing us comfort in a familial way and maybe even a little courage as we go forward. Bea’s photograph became something bigger we can share.

Comfort in the evening Photo WSM

Carol Witman, from West Marin, has found her strength and comfort in art. Each morning (I think I have this right) before she starts her daily work of political activism she gathers flora from wherever she is: at home, on a walk or with a friend. Bob made her a work bench. She has gathered her tools. I image it as an alter, somewhere in a shed or close to the kitchen door, where she places her day’s harvest. The flowers, fruits and leaves seem an offering to the woodland gods and I believe guide her as she lays them out in a mandala circle. Carol says, “I started doing them as a response to my depression and anxiety over Trump/GOP and the pandemic, to focus myself each morning, and remind myself that there is still beauty in the world. When I posted them on social media, I found that others were given joy by them too”.

Susan’s Quinces Mangela and
Photo by Carol Witman
Sage and Nigella. Mandala and Photo by Carol Whitman

Even as Carol, Bob, and their cats evacuated to Oakland during the California fires, she kept her daily practice with making mandalas, calming and bringing joy to herself and us all. After this is all over and we come through to our newer still normal, I can’t wait to view a show celebrating her work in a book, to leaf (!) through with a smile, remembering when and how we survived this somber moment in our time.

This has Been A Letter From A. Broad
Written and Read for you by Muriel Murch.

Rule of Six

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Testing Times

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First beginnings at The Albert Pub Photo by WSM

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

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

The Last Touches to Sam’s Cafe

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

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

An Eton Mess

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

A real Eton Mess by Helen Hall

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

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

A Real Knickerbocker Glory from Gastronomic Bong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taghi Amirani and Walter Murch – Almost Done

Heatwave in August

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

Arriving to England PA photo
Crossing the English Channel Photo PA

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

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

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

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

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

WSM/MAM Married August 6 1965

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

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

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

MAM 2020 Still Married photo by WSM

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

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

World Markets

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

When I walked up and over the hill to the Saturday’s farmers markets in the play-yard of St. Paul’s School on Primrose Hill Road I took a detour to a stand of shrubs that has been left to grow on the hill. The outer tresses are vines of sweet and plump blackberries, and I have a small container-full before I head down the back side of the hill into the market. Volunteers are still at the gates, watching who goes in, helping with a queue if necessary, and giving us all a squish of hand sanitizer as we enter the school yard.

What is it about markets? We gather at them as at an oasis for life. A community without such a market feels depleted in a deep way. There is rejoicing when a new market is established and a sadness when one dies.

Borough Market London Photo by WSM

It was probably in the early 1980’s when my mother first said “Come on Saturday and we can go to the market.” There was now a weekly market set up in the Ghurka Square parking lot of the Fleet town library. There were stands selling tools, some of which definitely looked as if they had fallen off the back of a lorry. There were stalls of fruit, vegetables and a small garden shop with its racks of plants, all of whom my mother would barter with, much to my embarrassment, but not to hers. The stall owners knew that they would lose nothing in giving her a bob or two off, and she would happily be back to shop with them again the following Saturday. The butcher and fishmonger, Mr. Driver and Mr. Harden, both taking over from their fathers, brought vans to the market to sell fish and any game that had come their way during the week. Being on the edge of farmland and the countryside there would be plenty of pheasant, rabbit and hare, in season or not. My mother would meet old friends, and though it was no longer the genteel coffee house moments of Mrs. Max’s Cafe it was another way to say hello and check in with each other.

These early markets had a flair of the fair about them, with the sharpness and quickness of traveling people. It was a racy flavor not usually found in the quiet suburbs but one I came to know in the old Inverness Street market in Camden. Now we have the Primrose Hill Saturday produce market and it suits us as I can chat with the organic farmers from Kent and beyond.

Buenos Aires San Telmo Sabado market

Who holds the keys to markets? For there always is a gate keeper, and not all are as amiable as the volunteers with their hand sanitizer at the St. Paul’s schoolyard entrance. What is it you have to sell and who you might serve or upset plays a part in selling pheasants or films.

The arts, and culture, are being particularly challenged within this Covid-19 crisis situation. The film business is hopping up and down, deals are being struck, contracts withdrawn, to produce, not to produce, to screen, not to screen and Coup 53 which was ready for release at the end of 2019 has been caught in the middle of this jammed water-way and was close to drowning in the river mill-stones along the road to distribution. But Todd McCarthy wondered in his article in Deadline if there was more going on with this film? He writes “At a moment in time when documentaries are in greater favor, and more widely accessible to the public than ever before, it’s both disturbing and ironic that the most enthralling and revelatory documentary I’ve seen over the past year hasn’t yet found a clear path to the public.”

There could be many reasons why mainstream streaming and cinema art-houses have not picked the film up yet for their own pockets. Is the truth of the UK and US involvement in the take-down of Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh too hot a topic at this time? It could seem that this is so.

Now the film makers have joined a new venue of online viewing. Using the streaming platform eventive.org, Coup 53 will be released in several countries and continents on August 19th and be available for viewing for several weeks thereafter. I don’t actually know how it works but I do know it involves virtual cinemas which are set up by cinemas and other parent organizations, such as KWMR.org. Another leap into the unknown for these film makers, enticing the truth-seeking and curious audience to follow. The newspaper press have already begun writing their stories and in the weeks to come there will be more. In the Sunday Observer newspaper a full page article on Coup 53 has pushed Boris Johnson off of page three onto page five, and Steve Bannon onto page seven.

U-turns and unclear explanations have led to endless chaos and a painful week for Boris Johnson. Even the Honors list has heads spinning and thinking of the saying “Keep you friends close but your enemies closer.” The list of knighthoods and peerages bulges and instead of ‘Off with their heads’, the House of Lords will now be crammed with 800 Lords and Ladies of the Realm. Maybe our Queen can delegate this investiture to Prince Charles who has a swift and steady hand with a sword. Who has been ushered upstairs? One is the cricket hero Sir Ian Botham, who was a staunch Brexiteer. Brother Jo Johnson is moved out of harm’s way into the House of Lords. Philip May, husband of ex-prime minister Theresa May for “political Service” by just getting his wife out of the door of Number 10 and into the limousine during her time in office. And let’s not forget a nice Russian. Mr. Lebedev, whose dad, since we were talking of spies, was a former KGB agent. Now Mr. Lebedev owns the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers – and has been a good friend of Mr Johnson’s. All of this announced on the second day of August when parliament is no longer sitting.

They have gone on holiday. Fewer ministers will travel overseas, but may be seen in shorts and sun-screen licking an ice lolly at a fete in their own constituencies throughout the country. Let’s hope they have plenty of sun-screen, for the temperature is about to get hotter.

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

Buenos Aires San Telmo Sabado queso market

Gilbert is Gone

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

And where is Boris? The Prime Minister thought it a good idea to fly to Scotland last week. But did he drop in on Scotland’s Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon? No, he did not. Either she didn’t know he was coming, or more likely he just wanted be seen popping in and out, like popping into a fish-and-chip shop.

Fishing. That’s the thing. On the News at Ten, Boris Johnson was seen holding up a very substantial Atlantic Crab. One that could definitely go on some kind of a diet if it didn’t want to avoid the pot. But all evidence showed that the pot was to be the crab’s destiny. It was hard to tell which variety of crab this was as it was on its back, where Mr. Johnson may find himself if:

He doesn’t pay attention to the women leaders who can deliver daily briefings on their country’s Covid-19 situation, alone at the podium, wearing stiletto-healed shoes.

He doesn’t get himself on the imposed dietary restrictions he is putting in place for England. Photographs of him jogging in London are not a pretty sight. Johnson has now declared a campaign on adult and childhood obesity. And it is true that in England 70% of the deaths from Covid-19 have been for patients who were seriously overweight.

The weather has turned blustery, as English weather does, and is the reason that the English migrate so steadfastly to Spain, Portugal and Southern Europe for their summer dose of sunshine. Now suddenly the UK government has mandated a two-week quarantine on people returning from Spain. Even a government minister has been caught out, and will have to self-isolate when he returns to the UK. Dominic Raab made the announcement from home, with the backdrop of delightful delphiniums growing in his garden – reminding us all that really the government has ‘shut up shop’ and gone on holiday. Is anyone paying attention?

For some of us are watching North America go into free-fall.

This weekend saw the beginning of Senator John Lewis’ journey home, including his funeral procession over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The quiet dignity of the procession befitted a man of quiet dignity and good trouble. I have pulled out blue and purple ribbons and tied them onto our front door. Blue for Mr. Lewis, and Purple for the pancreatic cancer that felled him. Over the course of his life John Lewis returned to Selma again and again. He often said, “This is where I come for renewal.”

Our front door

A book, ‘The Best of Ruskin Bond,’ was given to me by Shubki, the wife of a government minister who welcomed us to Pune in 2004. This collection includes many of Bond’s short essays. In ‘At Home in India’ he asks, ‘What is it that holds me back in India, that I don’t leave?’ And he replies, “It is more than the land that holds me. For India is more than a land. India is an atmosphere. Over thousands of years, the races and religions of the world have mingled here and produced that unique, indefinable phenomenon, the Indian: so terrifying in a crowd, so beautiful in himself. … Race did not make me Indian. Religion did not make me Indian. But history did. And in the long run, it’s history that counts.” I like to believe that John Lewis would have nodded in agreement as the history of his country and his work unfold before us.

The West Indian Cricket Team is playing the English Team in the third Test. And ‘Rain Stop Play’ is holding the last day’s play hostage. This is of no interest or importance to anyone outside of cricket fans. But in a box of old family memories there is a sepia photograph of the first West Indian team to be invited to play in England at the Dulwich Cricket ground where my father was captain. The photograph is dated 1928 and shows the team striding sternly out to take the field at ten minutes to noon. I looked at the man standing at the entrance to the club house, Trilby-hatted with a hand in his old raincoat pocket, and I wonder if it is my father. Like a message in a bottle I have sent a copy of the old photograph to the team’s captain, ‘To wait for their arrival’ at Lord’s Cricket Grounds. If it reaches that shore – or their captain – I can give them the original. For this memory belongs to them, not to me.

West Indian Cricket Team at Dulwich Cricket Grounds in 1928
Gilbert is set in Place 2015 Photo by WSM

Between the showers on Sunday we walked in the park. Clustered on the playing fields and under the trees by the lake were groups of families and friends, wanting to picnic together but not venture inside another’s home. The roses in Queen Mary’s Rose Garden are blooming in waves and every bench is occupied by family or friends taking time to be together. Leaving the rose garden to return to the park I look for Gilbert, a fine, standing topiary of tight yew and ivy shaped into a hard-working gardener, complete with a tin watering can. But Gilbert is gone. Once, when questioning a live gardener working close by he had assured me, “‘is name is Gilbert”. Gilbert had been a signature at this corner of the rose garden for at least five years.

Now he has been replaced by a very elegant succulent elephant, with tin ears. I admire the succulents and the handiwork of this new sculpture. And think maybe it is a homage to the zoo which has struggled with the pandemic shut-down, or maybe it is more, a homage to those whose work has made these gardens and the park as beautiful as they are.

The Elephant comes to the Park Photo by WSM

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

Bubbles

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

Now the open season on game for blame had begun and stalkers are on the beat. Who said what to whom and when? There is much scuttling around the zooming halls of Westminster as the cozy personal chats in the tea room become more difficult to access. Will it be the scientists, Public Health England, the National Health Service, or a couple of ministers who will get the blame now and – or the ax later? There will be ‘An Official Inquiry.’ though the PM Boris Johnson doesn’t feel this is quite the time for that. 

The Coronavirus is still very much with us in England, even as it recedes in other parts of the United Kingdom and Europe. Spikes and new outbreaks of infections have caused mini-lockdowns, The City of Leicester from an outbreak in a sweat-shop, and a farm in Herefordshire from the immigrant workers flown into the country for harvest. 

Other governments in similar predicaments and with similar geographies and social economic situations have managed better than Mr. Johnson. At 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning the European Council came to the end of a masked. ninety-hour session that agreed to 750 billion Euros in grants and loans to the 27 members of the Union. What a pity not to be a part of that Union. Instead the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has given 900,00 Public Sector workers, teachers, doctors, and dentists a 3.1% pay rise, back-dated to April, recognizing their vital contribution during the coronavirus pandemic but this is not for nurses or any other auxiliary staff.

Timing and Dosage. A medical term that also works well in all walks of life and work. Because this week the major – minor row in Government is not so much about the global pandemic we are living through, but some serious flag waving to obscure the view of a deeper investigation into the Russian Report that comes out today.

Johnson and his boys wanted their man, Mr. Grayling, to be the committee chair. But trying to make the appointment was against the rules. It gets confusing in here but with a little campaigning from back-benchers across the aisles, and a lot of tut-tutting, Mr. Lewis (already a committee member and someone who actually knows something about espionage) was appointed the chair. It was more than squabbling about who would chair a committee but hopefully who would really examine or obscure Russia’s use of cyber-espionage, money and social media campaigns to influence other countries political outcomes.

This week could be interesting, but it is getting tiring. As well as a global pandemic there is the Russian Report, and now the row with China over 1. Hong Kong  2. Ethnic Cleansing with forced Sterilization and ‘re eduction camps’. 3. the threat to national security from China’s Huawei firm. 

And all of this before turning to America and see undocumented Federal agents in Portland, the passing of the great warriors John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian and an imbecilic dialogue about washing machines. Somehow this week’s news brought me to tears.  And I am not alone. 

We retreat into the bubbles that we create, and with the summer stretching before us, can be excused for struggling with the scrapping dog-fights of the world’s governments. (Our tiredness being counted on to defuse us). We long for our families and friends. As we come to the end of month four of lockdown and sheltering in place, no one over 65 is going anywhere soon or fast. But we miss each other, the frantic tidying before grandparents arrive, the rumble-tumble of grand-children, and then the meals, games and naps all shared together and the exhaustion after it is over. 

We see it in all ages as we slide along in our own bubbles. For many, loneliness creeps into the mornings and lingers through the days, leaving some people shuffling about and questioning their place in the universe. But as the lock-down has eased and social distancing measures made a little clearer, some communities have found ways to connect. Not everyone is ready to rush out to the pub or the restaurant or even the shops, but people do want a natter, a chatter, a grumble or a moment with another. With summer weather and some organizing, the Oldfield council housing estate up the road has put out clusters of a few tables and chairs, an umbrella here, another table with drinks and chips there, and they have their own pub garden. 

As we walk through the days and weeks of this year not knowing where it, or we, will stop it can feel as if we are walking towards an unknown abyss. But on Monday’s sunny afternoon, when the park was less full, we walked down to the lake and lingered to watch the ducks and geese resting in the sun, taking things a little easy as their fledglings got on with the business of feeding themselves. We wandered on, down by the canal and found the blackberry brambles that have begun to ripen. Weaving in and out of the elderflower and nettles, the brambles produce tiny berries that have a flavor all of their own. These are not the lush bushes of the rivers or low-lying fields, but scrappy brambles that continue to grow despite the grounds-men’s best efforts to whack them back out of the canal-path. We slow down and begin plucking a little black berry here and another there. I pull out a plastic box that I had brought, ‘just in case’ and for the next twenty minutes we are at peace.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad.

Canalside Berries Photo by WSM

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

Zooming Along

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hampton Palace comes into view Photo by WSM

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

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

Boats in waiting


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

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

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