Fasten your seatbelts please

Recorded and Knit together by WSM
A paper on the plane

“There is a light drizzle on the ground” says a voice from the cockpit of the British airways flight from London to Dublin. We presume it is our captain speaking, but you never know. This it the first time we have breached an airport in eighteen months and we are cautious, as if entering a familiar jungle from long ago but that is now heavily overgrown, and we don’t know what it hides. The young people who work at the airports seem comfortable with their rolls and the stewardess clips up and down the plane isle with a quick British efficiency. As the plane begins its decent through the thick clouds that cover Ireland today – the green fields and blue ocean shine in balance with the farms and small towns that lead us into Dublin.

I don’t remember any of this from October 1964 – 57 years ago. I was just one of a plane full of nurses and physical therapists almost all from England, Ireland, Denmark and The Netherlands. In England we had obtained easy visas from the majestic old American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, so unlike in architecture and ambiance to the Embassy fortress that now sits defended South of the river. The two embassies even speak of the two states of America, then and now. But on that October day we were just young women searching for a new life. There were a few who were traveling together but mostly this plane load of almost all young women, just made friends across the isle of the plane. Some were going to the east coast, some further afield to the mid-west, even the real west as in Los Angeles. We didn’t know it then but we were just another wave of imported cheap labour.  It was a dark evening. The plane had taken us from London to Shannon where papers were checked once more before walking across the tarmac back to the prop plane taking off to Halifax, Canada. There we would refuel again before a final destination in New York. The plane landed five hours late but that wasn’t unusual back then.

Today the flight arrives on time and the cheery customs man bids us welcome to Dublin. The light drizzle had turned to a solid shower before fading again into what the Irish call ‘a soft day’ for the rest of the afternoon.

For the moment we have left behind the idiocy of the British parliament. 

Boris Johnson and Lord Frost are now tossing the Northern Ireland Brexit agreement into the sea as if an agreement is not really that – an agreement. And on his left, Boris and his other buds are changing their minds at least every week as to what Covid restrictions will stay in place – not too many – if he can help it – as the country relies more heavily on vaccinations. In and out back and forth go the papers, emails and memos and you know that no one is reading or being guided by science any more. The economy is leading the agenda – again. Boris’ breaking of a promise not to raise the national insurance tax has caused mumblings that turned to rumblings from members of his conservative party along with a backlash from the grass roots – whoever they maybe. The Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there should be no new tax rises before the next election. But nobody listens to Javid. He has been bounced around too much by the blue boys establishment for them to pay him any mind. And this is just one week.

Emma Raducanu wins the US Tennis Open

But England finally does have something to smile about when on Saturday young Emma Radacanu won the U.S. Open Tennis Championship in Flushing, New York. Emma was born in Canada. Her father is Romanian and her mother Chinese and they immigrated to England when Emma was two. Her young opponent, Leylah Fernandez, is Canadian and these two young ladies not only played some fine tennis they brought a refreshing professionalism back to their sport.

Girls walk upstairs as they enter a school before class in Kabul, Afghanistan, (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

How different it is for them than the young women of Afghanistan now the Taliban are guiding the country. Is it a step forward for the Taliban, or three steps back for the women of Afghanistan? Is it a place that for the moment two ideologies can meet? How little can the Taliban give, how much will the women accept?  

And while we are figuring out how to bring the British economy back to life, let the children return to school while protecting our elderly and vulnerable, and cheering young champions, hoping they continue to play with honour in their sport we have turned away from the problems that bubbled up in Hong Kong and Belarus and are no longer listening to the stories they have to tell us. Dissidents are jailed and we don’t know yet when we will hear their voices again.

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

Female Complaints

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

September mornings, and the sun is finally shining in London. The first flurry of falling leaves are swept up and the pavements look just a little bit fresher, gardens are tidied for winter and their last autumnal blooms wave at us before the summer light fades. Children are back to school and there is a bustle of work, increased traffic on public transport and Boris had some questions to answer in Parliament on Monday afternoon. Which he did, with his hair combed softly – he knew it would be a difficult day – and a promise to fulfill one election pledge by breaking another. Taxes in one form or another must to go up, to pay for the increased health care needs of the country. It is not all the fault of the elderly for living longer – though that could be where to focus some attention. But after the afternoon session in parliament, it is onto the ‘Let’s all have a drink together and get along’ cocktail party hosted by Johnson, and paid for by us, as he tries to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg gave a weak smile before turning his back on the reporters and, with double-vented jacket not showing him to advantage, entering number 10 Downing Street. The Right Honorable Michael Gove may still be in Aberdeen. Luckily Domonic Raab is nowhere to be seen having slipped off to Pakistan trying to find safe passage for those afghans left behind after the British evacuation of Afghanistan. There is no certainty that Raab can return with the needed free pass tickets on his shopping list.

The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg on the bench

We hear less from Afghanistan, but the news stories that do come through are of cruelty and despair, such as the pregnant police woman, Banu Negar, killed in front of her family. There will be no ‘good news’ coming from Kabul until the Taliban control the media outlets and feed news to the Western world. How it is that Secunder Kermani and Lyse Doucet can continue to report for the BBC from Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan is hard to fathom. With a new government not yet formed, and young men on the streets all eager to do something, the Taliban’s promise of ‘No grudges, no revenge’ is proving messy to follow. We hear little of how other countries faired getting their personal out during the Taliban take over and may hear even less about how they might return.

But the Taliban and the new Afghanistan leadership need money. Europe recognizes this and Germany appears to be leading by a nose, sniffing out what opportunities there are still in this land-locked country. Where can a foothold be found that will ensure a western presence to plug the hole of a ship-side leak open to the seas of Russian and Chinese advances?

The Taliban say that women and girls will have full rights ‘under Islamic law’ but Islamic law, like any other law, is subject to interpretation and already new rules about dress and education leave many women and their families fearful. Such strict laws preclude many women from the problems that beset women from other countries and, as has been recently seen – states such as Texas.

The new laws in Texas, banning abortion for whatever reason beyond 6 weeks of gestation, brings fear to this generation of fecund women and some hash memories back to those way past their prime. Seeing the protests in Texas of young women dressed in the red cloak of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was as chilling as anything we have seen in America since the beginning of this year. Margaret Atwood says of her 1985 novel “I didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress… So all of these things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil.” It is as if the men of Texas and beyond have said to themselves, ‘Yeah. This is how it should be.’ 

Women in Texas

And that can be the burping misfiring of art, rather like ‘Apocalypse Now’ conceived as the ultimate antiwar film only ofttimes used as a training tool to those young men and women heading out to the deserts and beyond.   

“I tried gin, hot baths, the lot” said my mother recounting her reaction when learning she was pregnant – with me. Not necessarily how one wants to feel welcomed into the world, but no less true because of it. Documented in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus 1850 BC, ways to prevent an unwanted pregnancy have been sought out and used to various degrees of dissatisfaction, despair, disease and death. Fighting for legal methods of birth control have consumed women, and some men, during the past two centuries, and remains contentious to this day. Those of us who ‘came of age’, in the mid-1960’s still remember the fear of unwanted pregnancies.

A little box of little pills. From the Welcome Trust Museum.

For nurses there were various paths open within hospital systems: volunteering to take patients to the X-ray department, before the mandatory introduction of lead aprons was one; a somewhat-drunken date with a maintenance supervisor who was as handy as any Vera Drake in his day another. And then there were Widow Welch’s Pills. Containing high doses of iron, pennyroyal and juniper and advertised as being very effective in curing ‘Female Obstruction’ they were freely obtainable from Boots the Chemists.

And if prayer, that first and last resort, was also tried and failed, there may be a rushed marriage and definitely expulsion from nursing school. For pregnancy and even marriage made one unsuitable for the profession. Meanwhile those impregnating young doctors graduated into their lives carrying only their memories that faded over 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

Caesar Augustus’ August

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

“Robert Kennedy’s been shot.” In an abrupt wake-up phone call. I don’t know what I replied rolling off the bed from a pre-work nap but I do remember a fogbound realization that this could be the end, and not the start, of a new beginning. In 1968 we knew little of the political games that unfold behind the news that was filtered in and out of the television and radios available to us. If we were lucky some rumor or gossip was gleaned from patients, one of whom was mine at the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. In gratitude for her care, the floor nurses were given free tickets to an auction that was happening at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angles. We could bid on, if not afford, donated items by the rich and famous, along with the not-so, all to raise money for the Democratic party. This is how things were done then. A nurse pal and I went to the sale, and I did successfully get a chest of drawers for the baby and a gorgeous full-length evening coat-dress that was totally over-the-top madness and yet, exquisite.

But now Robert Kennedy was dead, assassinated in that same Ambassador Hotel, and the dreams of the Democratic party at that time died with him. Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic presidential candidate but lost to the Republican, Richard Nixon. 

Sirhan Sirhan was tried and convicted of his assassination and has remained in San Quentin prison for the past 50-plus years. Now, aged 77, he is facing his 16th attempt for parole.

In 1998 Maxwell Taylor Kennedy published a slim volume ‘Make Gentle the Life of This World’ in which he had gathered quotes and sayings that his father Robert, and uncles Jack and Edward, would write in a note-book left on a lectern for each other in the White House. It is a sweet and tender book and speaks of a more innocent age. I was still gathering author interviews at KPFA and for some KPFA-specific reason, there was no studio available for us and so we set up a makeshift recording session in the music room. It was clear to see that Max Kennedy was a nervous, high-strung young man still looking for his way through the life he had been given. And so, as I often have done, I prefaced our conversation with the words, “If you feel I am going somewhere too personal or for any reason you would rather not answer, let me know and we will pause.” It was an interesting gentle conversation about the literature, education and political direction of his father and uncles. As our time together came to an end I asked one more question.

“We are close to San Quentin where Sirhan Sirhan is held. The prisoners often can listen to this radio station. If you had something to say to him what would it be?” And it was here that Max asked me to pause the recording. He sat for a long minute, troubled maybe by the concept of the question and, in the end, not really able to come up with an answer. To this day I am not sure how fair a question it was. 

Jack Newfield, a young reporter on that fateful 1968 campaign, wrote ‘RFK: a Memoir’ in 1969. He ended this book saying, 

“We are the first generation that learned from experience, in our innocent twenties, that things were not really getting better, that we shall not overcome. We felt, by the time we reached thirty, that we had already glimpsed the most compassionate leaders our nation could produce, and they had all been assassinated. And from this time forward, things would get worse: our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope. The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were all alone.”

And here, now, in England, the stone sits so solidly at the bottom of the hill. There is no Atlas among our politicians to roll the stone of the world’s troubles back up to a more compassionate civilization. 

A letter to the Guardian reminded columnist Paul Faupel of a colleague who had a post-it message – for himself and others – 

“te absente stercus flabellum tanguit” and he assured us that it was Latin for “while you were out, the shit *****  hit the fan”. 

Domonic Raab stumbles at the Ministerial enquiry and question time on Afganistan. Photo from The Scotsman

Faupel writes this could be an appropriate note for Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson after the Taliban took Kabul while the British boys were on their holidays. The Observer reported on Sunday that up to 5,000 emails to the Foreign Office detailing urgent cases of Afghans seeking to escape Kabul remained unread, including those sent by MPs and charities. Now Raab admits it may be hard for people who wish to leave to find a way out. The British and American evacuation from Kabul has ended.

The Bank Holiday weekend is over. Children will return to school, workers to work and maybe even politicians to Westminster, though the Right Honorable Michael Gove (of southern Surrey) has been seen dancing the night away, in a tieless suit, in Scotland’s Aberdeen. Gove like Hancock is now conspicuously absent from the front benches of Parliament. Only Dominic Raab, still oiling his Cretan suntan, stands and sits not two meters away from Boris. 

The Right Honorable Michael Gove and Friend in Aberdeen

Curzio Malaparte wrote in The Skin in 1949, “It is certainly harder to lose a war than to win one. Everyone wants to win a war, but not everyone is capable of losing one.” As empires crumble America and England have both had some practice. It is time to put that practice to good use.

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 Dereliction of Duty

Recorded and knit together by WSM

“On an extraordinary scale”, said Major Gen Charlie Herbert, who served three tours in Afghanistan between 2007-2018. “It is almost impossible to believe that the Prime Minister departed on holiday on Saturday; he should hang his head in shame.” 

Again – I might add, as we continue shaking our heads at the inconceivable conceit of this government while trying to wrap our minds around the suffering, fear and deaths that are taking place in Afganistan this week.

It came quickly, to those who have been diverted from the Middle East by relief at getting through the Tokyo Olympics with some honour, and then the helpless sadness at the latest earthquake destruction in Haiti with the number of dead reaching 1500 and Storm Grace closing in on the country. I think back on the young firemen from California who flew in to help in the last earthquake and pray another wave are willing to take on that relay baton. 

Throughout the summer the BBC gives trial runs to hopeful new young newscasters. So on Sunday night a lovely young woman smiles her way through the news from Afganistan before going live to Kabul. But Secunder Kermani, the BBC’s Afganistan correspondent was not there. In his place is a clearly nervous, Malik Mudassir who has a hard time staying focused on the camera. Afganistan is the third most dangerous country for news reporters. The BBC reporter Ahmad Shah, was killed in the province of Khosa, earlier this year on a day which left nearly 40 people dead.

Ahmad Shah reporting

This evacuation remains a withdrawal of shambolic proportions that is ever changing as I write. There is no captain of the ship. No brave president Ashraf Ghani staying until the last. Ghani is gone. The Kabul airport seems to have been allocated an international zone and over 60 countries are operating from makeshift desks and computers at that site. The UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, is there helping to process visa applications for over 4,000 British nationals and eligible Afghans. Dominic Raab’s office said the evacuation efforts will continue for “as long as we are able to do so and as long as it is safe to do so”. Cordoned off by the US troops this area of the airport is – for the moment – a safe haven for some. There are literally thousands of citizens from countries around the world, each that held a little presence, for their own ‘special interests’ in Afganistan, now clamoring to reach the airport and a plane. Like players on a monopoly board, they are now all ready to sell their stock for a flight out of the country. Except for the Russian and Chinese embassies. They are staying in town for informal chats with the Taliban leaders as they form a new government. Russian’s Presidential envoy to Afganistan, Zamir Kabulov, said that Moscow would decide on recognizing the new Taliban government based “on the conduct of the new authorities.” Vladimir must be chuckling at the debortle that his ‘Lets make a deal’ orange puppet offered last May. Like a patient fisherman he can just keep warm, sitting on the banks of this river of history, watching his line bob and duck under the rippled water that is Afganistan today. History, repeating again, from the Coup of 1953 in Iran through to this moment. With Joe Biden’s stance, can or will America and western countries keep their sticky fingers out of other peoples pies? It is doubtful.

But it is possible that when Boris Johnson said, “There is no military solution to the ‘problems’ in Afganistan’ he may have been saying – finally – a long-overdue truth, in all senses of the word. In August, when the country ‘shuts up shop’ and goes on holiday, there is usually a flurry of silly activity to find the Prime Minister on his or her holiday and, in the best English journalistic way, make a mockery of their chosen hideaway. But this year all was strangely quiet. And now we know why. Both the Prime Minister and the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, popped off for their summer holidays at the same time on Saturday. Johnson to Somerset, and Raab was in Cyprus until Sunday, hours before the fall of Kabul. Neither had showed up for work for over a week. Boris Johnson’s departure on Saturday, despite public warnings the Taliban would be in Kabul within hours, has been soundly criticized as a “dereliction of duty” by former senior military and security figures and may well cost him those deep conservative votes and pockets he counts on.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who served in the Scots Guards, appeared to choke up as he spoke of his regret that “some people won’t get back”.

The Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen called into the BBC, live on air “There will be no revenge  on the people of Afghanistan. We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power. We assure the people of Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe – there will be no revenge on anyone. We are the servants of the people and of this country.”

Spokesman Suhail Shakeen. Photo from the Daily Express

On the Sunday night news screen, a middle-aged Afganistan woman, a teacher – of girls – spoke with bewilderment at her new reality, “I thought I was doing good, teaching.” On a phone from an empty room she looks about thoughtfully, now unsure what will become of her. And neither are we as posters and billboards depicting women in places of influence are blacked out throughout the cities of Afganistan.

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

Do as I say – not

Recorded and knit together by WSM

My Mother had a saying when I was a teenager.

“It’s not do as I do, it is do as I say.” She used the phrase frequently whih only helped to reinforce the knowledge I was learning at boarding school, that not all adults were to be trusted. It was a common enough phrase for those times.

This weekend our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, must have pondered this thought, actually for a full two hours and twenty minutes before – reluctantly – agreeing that he and his chancellor Rishi Sunak would self-isolate after coming into contact with their new Health Minister Sajid Javid now infected with Corona virus. Using the track and trace app that has been causing havoc up and down the country Javid then pinged his contacts, Johnson and Sunak, who must have been irked, ‘darn Javid, not playing by our rules but the rules we set out for the rest of the population.’ But the stakes of ducking this moment were too high and so, Johnson put out a tweeted video, tie knotted, hair as usual, after Sunak – always keeping his political plate clean – had previously tweeted: “I’ll be self-isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.” And what pilot is that anyone who was listening to Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning politics show – asked? The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick one of those smooth on the surface, soft as custard on the inside, conservative MPs, tried to explain: ‘it was an idea, looking into who, for the moment, would not need to self isolate’. Within an hour of the program ending several transport unions all issued  statements that the claims made by and for government on Sunday morning that such a scheme existed were “totally untrue”. The shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, said: “The reality is, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been caught red-handed trying to get round the rules they expect everyone else to follow. They must now apologise for their contempt for the British public and for needlessly dragging hard-working transport workers into their farcical cover-up.” Well good luck with that idea.

It is back to barracks for them all. Boris has retired to the Prime Minister’s country estate, Chequers, where he can roam in reasonable isolation over the 1500 acres of grounds

Chequers from the air. Getty Images

Monday was ‘Freedom day’ and COVID restrictions were eased with bars, night clubs and restaurants opening with no need for face coverings and social distancing and yet – most of us, even those who don’t go to bars, night clubs and discos will continue to wear face coverings, as the cases of COVID infections in England rise exponentially. No other country has taken such a risk and much of the world is watching. The National Health Service has issued its own guidance, face coverings and social distancing will still be required in all medical facilities.

Right on cue, Dominic Cummings (remember him?) has given a lengthy interview with the BBC’s political Correspondent Laura Kuenssberg, which is being broadcast, piecemeal, each evening. Like him or loathe him, Cummings is a strange duck whose beak is sharp and his quack persistent as he speaks his truth, which, the following morning, a Downing Street spokesperson naturally denied. 

With all this home-grown scandal and confusion, we but glance at the world around us. Afghanistan, Myanmar, Belarus, Africa, India and Cuba all left to fend for themselves as summer lassitude overtakes world governments with their own crisis of weather, pandemics and fear.

The flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, the storms and fires in the Western States of the U.S. all tell us that the Earth is tipping on its axis. The moon’s monthly cycle happens every 18.6 years, when it wobbles into a slightly different orbit. The moon appears upset and due to have a heightened wobble with anxiety at the extent of our excesses and global warming. Sometimes the high tides are lower than normal and sometimes they are higher, something that those of us who live by the sea have seen over the years but maybe didn’t put down to the Moon, and her monthlies. The destruction and the mud seen in Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands is sobering. Houses and towns that have stood for centuries are gone. Close to 200 people are known to have died in Germany alone but there are still many, hundreds even who are missing.

Flooding in Luxembourg July 2021 by Tristan Schmurr

Quietly the British troops, along with the Americans, are leaving Afghanistan and the Afghan army to defend Kabul which may fall to the Taliban within months. The collapse, implosion, of the Afghan strategic forces has been faster than anyone anticipated and must leave the retreating troops with a sense of failure and even guilt at any number of poor decisions, even that of being in Afghanistan in the first place.

Now Britian has had its ‘grand opening’ and the Prime Minister and Chancellor have to stay at home, so hurriedly laws need to be changed – once more. But all is quiet in the village and everyone queuing for the post office counter is wearing a mask.

A woman is taking out her weekly bag of garbage. The bin men will come tomorrow. She is always dour, struggling with this small chore that one day will become too much for her. It is hot outside, hopefully her flat has a fan or a window open to the shade of the day. When she thinks nobody is watching she drops her garbage in someone else’s bin and is about to return home. But she is stopped by the scent from the lavender bed. She reaches out her hand, running it through the flower stalks before plucking a couple to hold, and bring to her nose. Inhaling the perfume her face breaks into a cautious smile before she hurries back home to her own loneliness.

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

Over to you then…

Recorded and knit together by WSM

England has been so wrapped up in the summer sports season it hardly registers what is happening in the outer world. 

Prime Minister Johnson losing control.

And lest he forget, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is, later this week, to announce the relaxation of COVID restrictions, but – only sort of. For, a little like Pontius Pilate, he is stuck in a situation he never dreamed of, a reality he has no control over. Some of his government ministers are focused on the country’s economy, others are listening to the physicians and scientists – their concerns for the whole country’s health. With the number of cases estimated to be doubling every nine days, infections are set to surpass the winter peak and may reach over 100,000 per week before the end of this month. Hospitals are again canceling most operations, including cancer surgery. The backlog of health care needed for, and by, the National Health Service is, like yesterday’s flash flood, clogging the drains of health care. We no longer hear of any reference of the R number, it is drowned too. The unspoken drift of government policy is back to some version of herd immunity, in which many will get sick and the vulnerable will die.

So after some deliberation, not too much mind you, it is well known that decisions are difficult for this dithering Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is set to do what many hospital consultants do on a Friday, sending patients home from the hospital, in this case the public, and deprived of any government policy they need to fend for themselves. A quick phone call from the doctor, or a government briefing shunts the responsibility away, “I’ll leave it with you then.” Social distancing measures are to end, and fully vaccinated people will be allowed to travel to and from amber listed countries, without isolation on return. But Johnson also advises, ‘Be careful, do not throw away your masks – just yet.’ The onus of responsibility is now ‘over to you,’ that is us. But as we have sadly seen demonstrated this weekend, the onus of responsibility for self and community care is a mantle tossed aside by many of England’s populace. 

It is still sport – first. The tennis which hardly counted, as England long ago lost any contenders, was won by the supreme athlete and gentleman he is, Serbian Novak Djokovic. But on Sunday night the European football finals between England and Italy took place at London’s Wembley stadium. And Italy won. England are not good losers and though mistakes may have, must have, been made, being a sore loser is not something to be proud of. As Matt Pearson wrote from Wembley, “England’s fans clapped their players as they headed for the exits. That sense of a new bond being formed remained, despite a deserved win for Italy. But unfortunately it is not yet powerful enough to wash away the scourge of the violent English football fan. Seeing your team losing a final is tough. No team deserves ‘fans’ like this. Especially not this England team.” The violent football fan is a breed of Englishness that leaves so many of us ashamed.

Marcus Rashford was one of 3 English players to miss their penalty shootout.

It seems to be a week of Island news from England, Japan, Haiti, and Cuba. The financial focus has narrowed for Japan, due to host the 2021 Olympic Games within weeks, and many athletes dubious about travel, even for glory, and wondering what is the point of traveling to a tiny Island rife with COVID infections and serious curfews already in place. Only in Japan would spectators be instructed to ‘Clap quietly and not to shout’. Such a voice would have been drowned in Wembley on Sunday night. Japan is doing what it can to recuperate its tremendous financial outlay but the outcome may be grim both financially and for the infection rate. 

Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse

Last week, in his home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated and his wife seriously injured. The country’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, first broke the news on a local radio station, later saying, that the country was in a state of emergency – well it would be wouldn’t it – and then – maybe – under control. Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian doctor with ties to Florida was arrested in Haiti, and accused of being one of the leaders behind the assassination. Some reports say he recently entered Haiti on a private plane ‘with the intention of taking the Haitian presidency’. According to the National Police he was the first person the attackers called after President Moïse was killed. Sanon is the third person with US ties to be arrested in connection with last week’s assassination. James Solages, and Joseph G. Vincent, both from South Florida, have been in custody since they turned themselves in. The middle-of-the-night murder plunged the troubled Caribbean nation into chaos, with at least three men now claiming to be its leader. President Joe Biden sent a delegation of US officials to Haiti on Sunday to help with security and aid in the investigation. 

And now beloved Cuba maybe cracking. With mobile phones and the internet the island’s people are well-connected and news spreads quickly. Demonstrations from San Antonio de los Baños in the west and Palma Soriano in the east brought thousands of protesters into the capital city of Havana. Despite the development of their own vaccine program the triple hand of the COVID pandemic, its domino effect on the country’s health care, and the continuing American trade embargoes have brought food shortages with high prices and now the broad open hand of communist rule is bending at the wrist with the weight of its people’s suffering.

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

Sports Day

While America celebrates its independence on July 4th, here, this year, the not so Great Britain held a day of Thanksgiving to the National Health Service that turns 73 years old this week. And so for the first five years of my life all forms of medical care were paid for out of pockets that were mostly empty after the war. Being a country doctor could have made the difference between the doctor’s family eating well or not. Creating the National Health Service was one of the best things this country every did and for a long time it worked very well. But as science began to overtake the art of medicine, the economic equation became crunched and now the NHS looks like a proverbial cow-pony that has been ‘rode hard and put away wet.’ After these long months of COVID crisis, that are not over yet, many of the medical staff are exhausted and early retirement numbers are high. Johnson’s government will be hard pressed to patch the holes in this beaten war ship. The Queen awarded the King George’s Cross to the entire organization, done so with a handwritten letter, on Windsor Castle note paper, a gesture that is genuinely heartfelt. However a July 4th ‘buns and bangers barbecue’ with Boris in the garden of number 10 for some regional health administrators is an ill-fitting band-aide and will not make up for the 1% pay rise on offer for the staff who remain constantly underpaid and overworked.

The Base Line (Photo by WSM)

The school year here ends in July with sports and speech days and the summer sports season is on us. For a few brief weeks England will not care so much about what happens in the rest of the world but will look instead to the global sport stars. England may no longer have a contender at the Wimbledon World Tennis Championships it hosts, but the international players are thrilling to watch. So when the email came through ‘would we like to go to Wimbledon for a day?’ the answer was quick, ‘Yes Please’. 

As Sam, our driver, talked us through central London on a Monday morning it seems as if the city is slowly, cautiously returning. The Mayor has been busy making bike lanes much to the frustration of our driver. Sam tells me that there is now a shortage of truck drivers, those men who would slide through the tunnels from Europe to the UK and back again have gone home, and produce from the farms of Europe and England are in trouble.

But not the English Strawberries. For it is strawberry season and before the afternoon matches our hosts have a luncheon prepared. There remains a strict COVID protocol in place to follow that we have managed, and are given our COVID certificate wrist bands. This is an interesting table group for us, we are the only members of the arts’ arm of the very large Rolex family. There is a Harry Charles a young showjumper who, with his pal is enjoying a day away from the barn, but on whose shoulders rests England’s Equestrian showjumping dreams. The other men are older, all still at the top of their games. We are in heady company which finishes with the traditional strawberries and cream and good coffee. As we leave the salon we are handed new hats, seat cushions and water and as always, a lovely young masked Rolex guide shows us the way.

Center Court 1/4 finals on Manic Monday (Photo by WSM)

Seated, under cover but in the fresh air, I find that while I am surrounded by Gucci and Botox and more than a handful of Rolex wrists, there is kindness and laugher all waiting for the first match of Manic Monday. As we settle, the ball boys and girls run in and kneel in their navy shorts, line men and women march in, hanging their jackets up and bending over their knees closer to the line, now the umpire sits alone high up on their perch watching, listening and calling as the game begins. The number one player, Novak Djokvic against the Chilean Cristian Garin. The ladies played next with young Coco Gauff from the US putting in a good game with German Angelique Kerber. Then it is time for the Swiss Roger Federer came out with Italian Lorenzo Sonego. The ages of the players, the young pushing on the old add a grip to the excitement. The games unfold quickly and we watched seeing the mistakes that we all have made fast out-numbered by the brilliance we never achieved. Skill, experience, age, temperament and the weather all play their part and I wondered if this would the moment that the old would fall to the young. Thankfully they have held, for at least another year. For tennis is very gladiatorial.

In the summer of 1964 somewhere in Spain we went to a bullfight. It was not a big town, nor a famous fight, the tickets were cheap and we went knowing we might never see this again. It was as fascinating and heartbreaking as I had feared. Six bulls came to fight in the evening’s match. There is protocol, there is blood and death and also in a hard to understand way, honour. The afternoon gave way to the evening, the sunlight gave way to cloud-covered skies and then the rain poured down. The spectators groaned and roared at the skies and then, as quickly as they had come, left the stands but the bulls, the matadors and picadors all remained, and so did we. It seemed the least we could do, to stay, watch and honour the bravery however needlessly it had been shared and spilled.

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

Spring Break

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

This weekend brought the Spring break, and England got a break from the battering of rough weather and political scrapping. The sun is shining, the Elderflowers are blooming and a harvest is on its way to becoming Elderflower cordial. Men are wearing shorts in the city.

It was a welcome pause after Dominic Cummings’s seven hour ‘tell all’ to the government inquiry committee last week. Small new potatoes burnt dry on the stove-top or huge baked potatoes bursting in the oven? The mess in the kitchen of English Government is yet to be explored.

Even if, as many suspect, Dom is telling the truth – it is only – this time. For as he almost admits, he has been the spokesperson for so many untruths to do what his boss wanted to ‘Get Brexit Done’. No wonder the boss said, “Well come along with me dear Dom, help me get this sorted.” Dominic Cummings has the kind of mind that sees underlying problems, the solutions to problems, and is easily frustrated when those problems cannot be solved within the system set up and in place. The English government finds ministers on a certain track, like trains bound for Waterloo, running on rails they cannot deviate from. Would Dominic Cummings’ plans to rip into and rebuild the civil service have been possible if the COVID pandemic had not happened? It is difficult to say but the situation today shows how deeply entrenched this system of government is and the incredible mis-steps that occur within it. 

Dominic Cummings speaks

A wolf in sheep’s clothing? But Cummings never pretended to be a sheep and the circulating herd around the Prime Minister were always nervous of him. Who was guarding the flock? Certainly not the Prime Minister. It may have been his then fiancée, and now wife, that nipped at the heels of Cummings and eventually sent him away. Until this week. Cummings sat before the committee for seven hours and spoke his truth, but his previous untruths, his relentless understanding of the incompetence he saw around him has won him few supporters. The previous ministers he served and then dismissed as fools are happy to crow: ‘That’s Dom’, as he savages Prime Minister Johnson and Health Secretary Hancock in this outing. “The government is run by fools and I had no business being there,” he concluded. Dominic Cummings lays the blame for thousands of unnecessary UK deaths on the sagging shoulders of the Prime Minister and his Government. Somehow I can’t help wanting to put periwigs and beaded top coats on them all.

Noam Chomsky, one of the most important American intellectuals of today, drew up his list of 10 media manipulation strategies universally used by politicians to maintain power. His number one is the strategy of distraction.

Mr and Mrs Johnson at home

How to distract from this disastrous political week? Pushing a trusted and trussed Matt Hancock onto the train tracks of the oncoming inquiry train is one way. Getting married in secret as a ‘surprise’ is another. And so, discretely, Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds entered Westminster Cathedral on Saturday afternoon and emerged as Mr and Mrs Johnson. It was clever and fun with a save the date notice for a wedding celebration next summer already sent out. The wedding was followed by a bit of a knees-up in the garden of number 10 Downing Street and a weekend break before back to work on Tuesday. 

America and England are now looking for the inception of this coronavirus pandemic. British intelligence operatives believe that it is ‘feasible’ that the coronavirus began with a leak from a research Laboratory in Wuhan. US President Joe Biden told intelligence agencies to look into the lab leak theory. The Sunday Times reports that ‘we are one wet market or bio lab away from the next spillover’ Naturally, officials in Beijing angrily deny such allegations. A western intelligence source familiar with the British involvement said: ‘There might be pockets of evidence that take us one way, and evidence that takes us another. I don’t think we will ever know.’

While Russia’s President Putin has cancelled all flights to and from Europe to and over Russian air space, as predicted, presidents Alex Lukashenko of Belarus and Vlad Putin had their photo moment together. Set between them is a small table suggested a meeting of minds, with pads of paper for notes and flowers for collegiality. 

Presidents Alex Lukashenko of Belarus and Vlad Putin

As the country eases up, the National Better Health Sports centers and swimming baths are safely open again. As I slide into the pool I can listen to all the voices of ordinary Londoners taking to the water again. I am beginning to recognize some of the regulars, English men and women, old, middle-aged and even young come and feel the freedom that water brings. 

Better Health

Abdul, a gentleman of a certain age, comes to the pool as if to a bathing house, not to swim but to talk, to be among people. He swims just a little, mostly watching and waiting for someone to talk with by the poolside edge. 

Gladys is from the Caribbean. Her body is full and I believe surrounds a huge heart and a mind of steel. Like many of us, she has a routine – swimming for a number of lengths before hitching herself to the side-railing and completing her water exercises. I imagine this keeping her strong and out of the health care system. Does she leave the chores of the day behind her as she swims and even remembers the warmer waters of the Caribbean of her childhood? For Gladys is about my age and seeing her I remember the young women recently arrived from Kingston, Jamaica who became my sisters in nursing. I had no knowledge of their childhood, the lives and families they had left behind and they knew nothing of mine. How much has changed, or not, over the fifty-five years that bring Gladys and I to the pool on a Thursday morning.

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