Stuck

Recorded and knit together by WSM

One fine spring day, after Pooh had done his stoutness exercises, he went for a walk in the Thousand Acre Wood. He wondered what his friends were doing and decided to visit Rabbit who often knew the news. Rabbit was rather busy and not expecting visitors, but being a well brought-up Rabbit and not wanting to offend his friend he offered Pooh a snack. And, as can happen with Pooh, and others like him, Pooh ate so much honey – all there was in Rabbit’s jar – that when it was time to leave he got stuck – halfway in and halfway out of Rabbit’s front door. There he had to stay for a week while Rabbit dried his tea-towels over Pooh’s legs and Christopher Robbin read to Pooh outside Rabbit’s front door. Nobody said anything about eating too much, more than one really needed, or minding ones’ manners, thinking of others, or how much honey did Rabbit have in his pot. Eventually, after a week, all of Rabbit’s friends and relations came and with great effort managed to pull Pooh out of Rabbit’s front door where he shook himself off and continued on his walk.  We are never really sure what Pooh learnt as so many of his scrapes are about seeking out pots of honey as well as helping his friends in distress. 

This week, watching the big ship Ever Given lurch and ram sideways into the walls of the Suez canal we can see a little bit of Pooh in all of us. Shipping company cargo ships are like Rabbit’s pots, and at this writing there are 367 more of them lined up waiting to pass through the canal. And the honey – is all the goods not made in our home countries that we crave.

A work crew using excavating equipment tries to dig out the Ever Given wedged across the Suez Canal Photograph: AP

The canal’s history goes back to the time of early Pharaohs with successive kings trying this way and that to open up this trickling passage way between the Red and the Mediterranean Seas. Like the Panama Canal these little streams hold an almost magical power in terms of the world’s global trading systems today. The Suez canal is not very big, a mere 120 miles long, 673 feet wide and allows for a ship draft of 66 feet. And, as David Pilling notes in the Financial Times, the late president of Egypt, Abdel Nasser, would surely allow himself a wry smile, having nationalized the Suez Canal, which prompted the UK, France and Israel to invade Egypt in 1956.

More years ago than I can remember I raised my eyebrows hearing of redwood timber cut in California being shipped to China for milling and then returned to the Pacific Northwest for sale. But now we learn that fish caught in the Scottish waters are frozen, shipped to China for filleting and then returned to the UK supermarket shops as ‘fresh frozen fish’ where they definitely look a little travel-weary.

At the Supermarket in Camden Town

Scottish fish remain in the news as Alex Salmond strikes back at Nicola Sturgeon on Friday with his launch of The Alba Party, which sounds far too white for comfort. Kristy Strickland reports for the Guardian that Alex Salmond (pictured sitting on a wall smiling into the sunshine like an unaware Humpty Dumpty)pitched himself as a man just trying to be helpful while the fact that nobody asked for his help seems to be of little relevance.

Alex on a wall. Getty Images

Strickland goes on, astutely, that the odds are against him but that doesn’t matter. He isn’t driven by a burning desire to win an independence super-majority any more than Boris Johnson was sincere about wanting to free the UK from the ‘shackles’ of the European Union. The stated aim of both men are merely vehicles for their egos and need for relevance. Neither man is known for his care of a woman’s personal space and I get the feeling that if Alex Salmond can squeeze Nicola Sturgeon’s political space in the upcoming Scottish May elections he will take great pleasure in doing so.

Tale of two fishes

What is it with these men? Older, bully boys, with no hint remaining of what made them – a long time ago – considered smart or attractive? Their arenas are in politics, business and the military and they see no other way to be relevant than to be powerful. 

This weekend in Myanmar marked Armed Forces Day, a day to commemorate the beginning of the Army’s resistance to Japanese occupations in World War II. But as the military Chief Min Aung Hlaing watched the military display before holding a lavish dinner party for significant guests from China and Russia, the military increased their attacks on the people of Myanmar killing over 100 in the cities’ streets. Finally other world leaders are calling for a stop to the killing and discussing sanctions. Not that anyone is as yet taking any notice. Sadly Saturday was also the full moon day of Tabaung, the end of Myanmar’s lunar calendar, a day of Buddhist celebration.

As I write the sun is finally shining. Daylight savings has come into effect and as of today six people from two households are allowed to meet together outdoors. European countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands are all in various forms shaking their heads at the United Kingdom’s political maneuvering of the AstraZeneca vaccines. And it is hard not to blame them as this Prime Minister shifts his feet and blame here and there. But Boris always wants to be at the party and has joined the 20 other world leaders whose aim is to cooperate in meeting and dealing with future pandemics. Can England accept a role as just another tugboat? It would be good if that could come to pass.

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

Coming Home to Roost

A shout out for KWMR.org. This post is going out a day early so that those of you who listen or read have the opportunity to support KWMR.org. Letter from A. Broad is aired every Wednesday at 9.20 a.m Pacific Time. Usually I post the show on this blog, Face Book and Twitter after it has aired on KWMR. But today/this week you have the fantastic opportunity of supporting Community Radio by just clicking the button below. Whatever you decide, thank you for listening and reading and staying tuned. MAM.

Recorded and Knit together by WSM
The bantam rooster Little Richard and his two wives in 2009
Little Richard and his two wives in 2009

Every rooster who’s lived on the farm had a distinct personality. But none was as independent as Little Richard. He was a small Bantam Rooster gifted, as we do with roosters, by friends – so in a moment of weakness, one Sunday afternoon we drove back down Spring Mountain Road with Richard and two wives. Richard quickly decided that he was not going to live in a chicken coop when the wide world was waiting. Instead, he roosted with his ladies on the high stall walls in the horse barn where, like his namesake, he crowed and sang through the pre-dawn hours of the morning. It was too much, and so I took him up into the hills to fend for himself. After all, he had shown an independent enough spirit to outwit predators at least for a while. During a torrential rain storm two days later, as I was finishing chores in the barn, Little Richard came strutting in – dripping wet, a little battle-weary maybe – but still strutting. He walked with a look of righteous indignation as he came home to roost.

Indignation is what I feel now. For weeks we have been looking outward at the police and military’s clampdowns on protests in eastern Europe, Belarus, Moscow, the Far East in Hong Kong, and Myanmar but now protests are happening in Clapham and Bristol!

A vandalised police van on fire outside Bridewell police station in Bristol. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA
A vandalised police van on fire outside Bridewell police station in Bristol. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

I look back in anger or is it despair at how the two bombshells of Brexit and COVID-19 that have hit the UK have been handled by three Conservative Prime Ministers. None of whom liked or respected each other as they handed on the baton of government.

Before we began to really come to grips with what Brexit would mean for England, along came COVID-19 like a low-lying fog that seeped into the walls of our homes, work, and all aspects of our daily lives.

Now fingers are pointed at other countries as new variants naturally arise to name and shame the country of their seeming origin. And – dare we say it – if Brexit had not happened many discussions of travel bans and governments hoarding stashes of vaccines might not be taking place. The British cry, ‘When will we get out of lock-down? When will we be back to Normal? When can we go on holiday?’ as those thinking it is their right to escape the dreariness of an English summer by climbing aboard an EasyJet, emerging into the Spanish sunshine, and oozing out onto the warm beaches. 

But hold on. The great big British rollout of vaccinations is making a real difference on the numbers of COVID-19 infections and serious illnesses. There is breathing space in the Intensive Care Units of the NHS hospitals. While there is tentative talk about the nine most vulnerable groups getting their second vaccinations, there has been a pause on vaccinating those under 50 years old, leaving young men and women, with energy to spare, and often distanced from the immediate pressures of Covid, frustrated with now mounting anger in need of an outlet.

They know that Boris will not listen to them. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who has so far successfully clawed her way upstairs, misstep after misstep, apology after apology – only when necessary – has sought to bring greater control for the police force anyway she can. After the events of last weekend when the Metropolitan police crowded in on those women gathering at the Clapham Common band-stand in a vigil for Sarah Everard, she saw another opportunity. Some of the police that night carried a mixture of sympathies; for the protesting women, shame and guilt that the reported perpetrator of the murder was a Metropolitan police officer, and confusion at the messages from Government to the Met. Frequently Priti Patel causes more problems than she solves. Now she is grabbing this time to try and push through a bill that would give the police in England and Wales extended powers to impose heavy fines or prison sentences on non-violent protesters who are considered ‘too noisy’ or are ‘creating a nuisance’. Naturally, this is an alarm bell for those who are vigilant to government behaviors but whose only access is to the police forces acting as a river running against the tide. 

Upstream and downstream swim the fishes, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and her mentor and predecessor, Alex Salmond, as they battle out who said what, who promised what, or didn’t, regarding Salmond’s trial for sexual harassment of nine women. In the redacted report James Hamilton, the independent legal advisor exposed a clear situation when the law gets in the way of the truth. In his cover letter to his report he writes, ‘that the removal of sections of his report by the government would lead to an incomplete and even at times misleading version of what has happened.” Reading between the lines may be the only way to glimpse the truth of this affair. The Scots are good fishermen and good fishermen have a lot of patience. This fish has not yet been reeled in and landed. 

James Hamilton, the independent legal advisor
James Hamilton

In 1697 William Congreve wrote ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” in his play “Mourning Bride” but the Scottish minister Alex Salmond seems hell-bent on the destruction of his protege Nicola Sturgeon, whom he may feel is under an obligation to him – a situation a smart woman will try at all costs to avoid. For all his shouting and crowing, Alex Salmond may not find his way home to roost.

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

1 Percent

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

“In 1961, twenty-four young women came together in a classroom at The Royal Surrey Country Hospital in Guildford, Surrey. We were entering our three-month period of preliminary nurse training. With its completion, we could begin our official journey to become State Registered Nurses. But first, we had to pass through Sister Cartwright’s schoolroom, her capable hands, and caring heart. Only twenty students emerged from her classroom and by the end of our three years, we were a graduating class of sixteen.” So I wrote for ‘Learning to Heal’ published by Kent State University Press in 2018.

Of those sixteen nurses who graduated in 1964, eight left England searching for working opportunities in other countries.  We loved nursing and yet knew that it would be near impossible to afford a life much beyond the student style we already lived. My three cottage mates and I left for Australia, Africa, America, and Canada. 

In this last year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen nurses in England, and all over the world, work harder and longer than ever before. They, along with medical consultants to cleaners, have been tireless in their dedicated care of their patients. They have given their best to bus drivers and to Boris, and so it seems something of a wet fish in the face to hear this year’s budget distributions to the National Health System – while understanding that education, business, and all endeavors need financial aid at this time. Many public sector workers had a pay freeze, and the NHS staff account for half of that budget.  People cost money. Last year this very government promised an over 2% pay increase. Nada. And yet, tucked away in the LBC, a little radio program, comes the news of the HMRC, short for the tax collector, garnering a total 13% pay rise. They may deserve it, but it brings back the wet fish feeling. 

Before Brexit and COVID, nurses were moving across Europe and other countries, as we had done before them. In accepting the Tillie Olsen Award for ‘Learning to Heal’ I spoke of that too: “Oft times we choose nursing as a pathway from one social environment to another, usually empowerment and/or of a social context.”  After Brexit many European nurses returned to their home countries, leaving England once again – the poorer. 

In this Government Budget, Rishi Sunak is not looking so Dishy with a 1% pay raise for the NHS nurses, with other public-sector workers’ pay is frozen. “A row has erupted,” says one headline, “Unions warn,” says another. And I think how when I graduated in 1964 I made the conscious decision not to join the Royal College of Nursing because in their mandate was a clause whereby nurses could strike. I couldn’t believe that action would ever be needed or used. But today it is not a stretch to see how it can be discussed. We understand that equipment and machinery are expensive. But we remember the incredible spending blotches of this government: the huge Nightingale hospitals, erected with fanfare and speed, stand empty – and are soon to be dismantled. Nobody had thought of the staff needed to run them. Meanwhile, old brick-and-mortar hospitals remain hugely overcrowded, and last spring some even came close to running out of oxygen. Then there are the containers of PPE ordered from Turkey last May at a cost of millions of pounds. The shipments were delayed and then found to be below standard and useless on arrival. All this while firms in England were converting factories into making the equipment needed. I could go on, but you get the picture.

You would have thought Boris Johnson, with his own hospitalization and desperate need for nursing care, would have learned something. But as profuse as his thanks were at the moment, he thought no more of the nurses than of a maid who has ironed his shirt, nicely. 

Boris has other things to think about. This week schools reopen across England. There will be protocols of swab testing and masks in place, but not yet the sensible vaccination of all teaching staff. While fact-checking this I found an on-line petition to bring this item forward for Parliament. And signed it.

Boris Johnson in School

As we look up from Little England, which looks smaller by the day, there is a place to be grateful for a moment, for our smallness brings the ability of the mass vaccination program being rolled out across the country. The fact that we have a higher ratio of deaths per capita than almost every other country in the world is put to one side for the moment and hopefully will be dealt with later.

But we do lookout, even knowing that what we are seeing is often curated for our viewing: not much from Belarus or Moscow but still horror from Myanmar where, according to Reuters, close-by residents were warned not to enter the cemetery on Friday. The police and military were digging up the body of 19-year-old Kyal Sin in an effort to prove that the bullet that killed her could not have been theirs. They couldn’t prove it and so the protests continue to grow. A small change has happened that the military is mostly now using rubber bullets rather than live ammunition – mostly.

Meanwhile, The Pontiff, Pope Francis, traveled on a commercial plane on a pilgrimage to Iraq. He met with Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and other religious leaders and visited churches and communities bombed by ISIS in northern Iraq. 

Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani with His Holiness, Pope Francis

Many years ago, when Pope Francis was still the archbishop of Buenos Aires, California’s Bishop Bill Swing, (Also known to KWMR golfing listeners as a fine golfer and supporter of KWMR) was visiting that city. They talked of Bishop Swing’s dream of a United Religions Initiative and together gave the first interdenominational service at the Cathedral. Now, as Pope Francis, he carried that message of inclusiveness deep into the Muslim world at Ur, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. 

Timing and Dosage and the Saga of the Sussexes. I think back to our beloved Sister Cartwright and wonder that there was not a similar helping hand to light a lamp and show the way forward on the new path and calling for the young family. I hope that wherever their journey takes them they find such a person, who, like a nurse, will hold their hand in the darkest of times.

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

Unlocking the Door

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

There is a recognizable trait sometimes found in business. The person in charge creates a problem. Their problem becomes “the problem” and it can take many attempts before they find a solution. We are here now as Prime Minister Boris Johnson proudly lays out a rally road-map and we hear the engine rev, and the gears engage as we ease out of lockdown and into sunshine. Over 17 million people in England have had at least one dose of a vaccine and already this has brought the number and rate of Covid infections down. There is a schedule for the reopening and testing for pupils and staff in schools. Non-essential shops and restaurants and even pubs have their tentative time-table. We will ‘Follow the data, not the dates’ is the new catch-phrase out of Westminster. Maybe the most touching item is that residents in care homes will be allowed one designated visitor and may hold hands. Boris Johnson and the UK government want to make sure that we come out of this lock-down and stay out. The physical and mental deterioration, never mind hair-care, is visible in everyone.

Watching some of the solitary men and women that walk through our little street, I wonder how they are feeling? We wave and talk when we can, helping each other by this small interaction. I continue to bake but have to watch how much we eat. So beginning at Christmas, I make up little packages and plates to pop into the hands of ‘a lady or gentleman passing by’.

The men respond with poetry. Roughly hand-written, and carefully thought out, they pen notes that are lyrical and heart-felt and pop them in our letter-box to smile at me from the mat. Of course Eastern European Mick, of few teeth – but a growing beard – quotes Mendelssohn. We first met Mick at the Belgo Belgian Beer restaurant on Chalk Farm Road. It was sweet to recognize him as one of the monk-clad waiters, and he would grin his shy, sheepish, smile. But both Belgo and Mick have lost out to Covid. The restaurant has closed and is likely to only reopen one from its chain of six. And wherever Mick landed, that closed too. Jobs for the Micks of the city will be hard to come by.

Howard, long retired as a tennis coach in Regent’s Park, totters through, making his way to the new Morrison’s supermarket. I like to believe that as he sits at his kitchen table, a mug of tea and the crumbling shortbread biscuits at hand, he enjoys writing a verse to deliver when he next ventures out.

This week Alexei Navalny again stood in the dock in Moscow’s law chambers. His appeal was denied and he remains sentenced to two and a half years in prison. President Putin hopes that by jailing Navalny and throwing away the key, that will be the end of that. Navalny may well die in prison and, at the very least, his supporters will wait out the winter before beginning big protests again. There will be little more news from Russia unless – something happens. Putin dismisses the importance of sanctions from the West portraying poor little Russia as being put upon by Europe and North America. 

Focus does remain on Myanmar – for the moment – where protesters continue with their opposition to the military forces that seized power after the elections three weeks ago. The military threats of using deadly force against the protesters are no longer threats, and this weekend funerals were held for the first three protesters killed by the military. A friend with contacts in Myanmar says that the activists are very well organized and, for the most part, safe. The internet continues to be shut down nightly and for several hours into the morning. But the military trucks announcing the ban on gatherings of no more than five people don’t seem to be working.

The first Funeral

COVID or no COVID – Brexit is as Brexit does – and the financial capital that was London is beginning to crumble. “Where to next?’ cry out the banks, brokers, and financial institutions? I think back on the money-cities of ancient times; Rome, Venice, Amsterdam when ships, laden with goods and gold, sailed from port to port. Now trading is through the internet, as companies, like nervous frogs into a pond, jump away from the danger of taxes and excessive regulations. Amsterdam is stirring and their real-estate prices are rising as businesses lure Europeans to the canal shores. Senior executives from HSBC are having their bags packed for them as they scroll through pictures of high-rises, well above the protesters, in Hong Kong where they see profits gleaming in the city’s bright lights.

Last Tuesday the Duke of Edinburgh, who had been feeling a touch unwell, was admitted to a small, private hospital in London. On Saturday Prince Charles drove down from his Highgrove home to visit his father whom he had not seen since Christmas. He was in and out in half an hour and clearly moved as he left the hospital. The Duke is two months shy of his 100th birthday and is ill beyond that than an aspirin and a nap will take care of. What do you say to your wife, to your husband, when this moment of parting comes? Is there an iPad by his bedside with which they can stay in touch? Prince Philip will want to be left alone to heal or not as his body dictates. He will remain in hospital into this week as doctors act with an “abundance of caution” for which we are grateful.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

St. Valentine’s Weekend.

Recorded and knit together by WSM.

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

Tail down Magpie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Sunday Snow

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

It is almost time to mute Andrew Marr on Sunday mornings. The program is getting upsetting, not so much in the content but in the sharp delivery, so early and with breakfast on the sofa, and it is not good for digestion. When there was art, cinema, and theatre to discuss, Marr’s tone would soften and he would be coy like a schoolboy in a candy shop. But the politicians do not move him in the same way, while now some are figuring out how to defuse him. “Call me by my Name” is a book and a film of love, and to call Andrew by his name somehow takes a touch of the wind out of his sails. Matt Hancock has begun to do it, but it works best with the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, or Annelies Dodds, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and best of all, with Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland. They have also learned that other trick, to keep talking, and not let him interrupt. It takes practice and breath control and would be funny if some of the topics were not so serious and pertinent to our daily lives.

Matt Hancock is still working from his home office and needs to close the kitchen door. But there is a rare smile on Hancock’s face as he recited the rising numbers of those in England who’ve had their first vaccination, including 80% of those over 80 years old. But like the working terrier he is, Andrew has his nose on an important question. Originally the scientists recommended that the two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccines should be given three weeks apart for the maximum benefit. But now politicians and their statisticians, say actually no, the doses can be given up to twelve weeks apart. It seems some serious number-crunching is going on, trying to lower the number of people who would get sick enough to require hospitalization and further burden the National Health Service. But today, as the UK death toll from the Coronavirus tops 100,000, there leaks news of petty behavior from Boris Johnson to João Vale de Almeida the ambassador sent to represent the European Union in England. This rolls back to past behaviors and slights between brief-cased men and women over the last painful years of the Brexit negotiations and now rumbles on into questions of who holds how many doses of which vaccine, manufactured and stored in which country, and who is going to share, what, when.  

Boris Johnson in Trouble
The Independent

This brings back a shadow remembrance of the Ford Pinto number-crunching that went on from the 1970s to 1980s. After the gas tank misdesign was uncovered and Mother Jones published ‘The Pinto Memo’ that said the cost of recalling the cars would have been $121 million, whereas paying off the victims would only have cost Ford $50 million. ‘It’s cheaper to let them burn” in ‘the barbecue that seats four.’  For the moment the UK Government, The European Union, and medical scientists are at odds, as they wrestle with the numbers that may not be, how many lives will be lost, but whose.

The situation with the COVID-19 virus, vaccinations, questions about schools remaining closed, and with no end in this degree of lockdown in sight, have pushed even the American political changes under President Biden onto page two. News of other nation’s pandemics and war deaths are barely covered as if the continents of South America, Africa, and India are too big for us now to comprehend and explain.

Coverage of the protests in Belarus has given way to those in Russia over the arrest of Alexei Navalny. Before Navalny left Germany he made a video film, “Putin’s Palace: The $ Billion Dollar GRIFT” in which, at almost two hours long, Navalny also narrates in staccato bullet-point sentences. It is an amazing piece of work, gathering all of Navalny’s research over the last ten years as well as help from those who also see that things are not as they should be in Mother Russia. By the time Navalny returned to Moscow and was arrested, the film was already available to anyone on YouTube, and, at this point, remains untouchable by Putin. Even as the temperatures are well below freezing in Moscow, St Petersburg, and other Russian cities, the outpouring of demonstrators has filled the city streets and the protesters arrested number in the thousands.

The Russian police look like plated armadillos as they take on the protesters. The chain-mail effect as iron gives way to the sturdy plastic of their interlocking shining plates harks back to Tudor England and copied from the ancient armor held in the museums of Europe.

The harshness and speed of the clamp-down has been so severe that Western countries are ‘considering their next steps,’ as they watch Putin and the Kremlin close the fist of authoritarianism.

Back at the kitchen sink after our morning dose of politics, I look out of the window and the sky stares back at me. “Watch now,” it seems to say, and then slowly, thick drops of moisture begin to fall and, as they gathered in strength and courage they grew bigger, fatter, and fell covering the pavement, the cars, and shrubs outside with a solid blanket of snow. The old words return, none are better: solid blanket, silent night, or, in this case, day, as the snow fell for a sweet two hours, and we smiled with childlike excitement to see it so. Young Charlie fox padded softly by, paused at the window to look in on us before continuing his morning hunting rounds.  

Charlie Passing By Photo by WSM

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch First aired on Swimming Upstream –KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

January is Gathering Speed

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

What will this week bring for American politics, for England’s Covid vaccination news, and for all of us living in these times?

With Brexit a done deal, opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer is washing his hands of any Brexit redux, leaving the freedom of travel for Europeans and Britons in the hands of the European Union. Sad as it is maybe he is right to let the English people grumble and suffer on with Boris Johnson’s non-deal.

Meanwhile the Covid Vaccine timetable is being rolled out. Health workers are getting vaccinated, the Queen and Prince Philip have been vaccinated, and white-haired seniors can been seen shuffling along in the cold, queuing outside of drafty tents. Minister of the Cabinet, Michael Gove, does admit “Transport for seniors may present a bit of an issue.” All I can think of is bladder control.

The First BioNTech-Pfizer Vaccine given to ninety-year-old grandmother Margaret Keenan. Photo by Jacob King

The stillness is beginning to get oppressive. Though there are still clusters of young people milling around the High Street coffee shops, not yet able to give up on the social connection or the metabolic addiction of their cup of Joe. Once again, I write out a grocery list and send it along to Parkway Greens. Later in the day, there is a rat-a-tat-tat on the door, and an overflowing box of fruit and vegetables is laid on the steps.

£ 5 left over special

In Hampshire, where I grew up, the statistics are set out in graphs so color-coordinated I can’t follow them. But next door, Surrey, the homiest of home counties, has begun to build temporary morgues on discrete army grounds. While making room for 800 bodies, the County Council are still concerned that this will not be enough. The small hamlets and villages that surrounded my childhood are dotted with Covid virus cases and death. Old names – Ash Vale, Frimley, Bagshot, Camberley, Farnham, Elstead, Tongham, and Guildford, all a part of my childhood – are now saddened with a startled grief. The home counties suburbs are struggling in their perceived privilege with its lack of discipline as much as the industrial working north is with making a lively-hood.

A friend in London admits to now watching afternoon television. Something she would never have considered even six months ago. We are not there yet except for the momentous events of last Wednesday in Washington DC. But the death this autumn of Dame Barbara Windsor, star of the long-running TV drama East Enders reminded us of the hunger to escape into a fantasy world. And, often I do switch on my Roberts radio, tuned to BBC Radio 4, and catch the fifteen minutes of ‘The Archers’ which this year turned 70. First subtitled ‘The Every Day Story of Country Folk’ with a five-part pilot in 1950, it was created in an effort to educate farmers and improve agricultural production in the early post-war years and had a heavy government influence in the scripting until the 1970s. I can remember it playing on the wireless in my nursery where I would be having supper and someone would be ironing. Our generation listened to it for years, it was as ingrained in our minds as a Catholic catechism. School term times came and went, and whenever we returned ‘The Archers’ would be playing in their 6.45. p.m. slot. You could dip in and out of the village story, for it never lost its charm or its relevance to rural living. Even when television came nipping at radio audiences with their soap operas of Coronation Street and The East Enders that focused on working lives in London and the north of England, The Archers carried on.

Over this summer, the episodes of The Archers continued with a story of three British-born young men kept as slaves in a secret location on the outskirts of Ambridge, each one having a learning or mental health disability. This is the appalling reality that The Archers’ editor, Jeremy Howe, chose to confront as well as to challenge. According to the Global Slavery Index, it is thought there are up to 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the United Kingdom.

“It’s not simply a problem involving immigrant labour,” explains Howe. “It can be a British problem involving British slaves and British gang-masters.”

Reading the Saturday Financial Times paper on Sunday, I found a small article tucked in a lower corner. The South Korean Government knocking on Japan’s door once more for recompense for the Korean Comfort Women kept for the Japanese soldiers during WWII. The Japanese are, naturally, dismissing any further claims of compensation for the now very few women left alive. I first came to this story with Nora Okja Keller’s book “Comfort Woman” published in 1998 when for KPFA and KWMR we had a conversation about her book which was loosely told from her grandmother’s remembrances.

Three hungry young men

Slavery, and enforced indenture-hood, in today’s world, is nothing new, but something we don’t always look to find on our doorstep. Simple dramas like The Archers can do that for us. And so can the three young men of undetermined Slavik European lineage who “worked” for what we now call our Irish Rogue Roofers in 2016. We were taken for a right royal ride and I can only shake my head at our stupidity. And I remember those young men who devoured all the food I fed them and spent the longest time relishing hot water as they cleaned up at the end of the day in our bathroom. Photographs and recordings given to the police yielded nothing more than a night-time stop-over in a local police station for the family patriarch. In the silence of these restricted and cold winter months, with no work available, I pray that those young men are somewhere safe today.

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

Classroom Chaos to Lockdown

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Classed as a vulnerable senior, I was muddled as to where and when I could shop. But all that is clear now. A total lockdown has been announced across the United Kingdom lasting through to March. Thanks in part to pressure from the Teachers’ Unions that weighed in alongside the scientific community and made the government sit down and listen. As another, even more, virulent strain of the COVID-19 virus arrived from South Africa, the health minister Matt Hancock said ‘things are about to get harsh and complicated.’ and I’m almost feeling sorry for him. The view of the bumpy road has now become seriously clear. There are potholes of bankruptcy, illness, and death ahead.

Along with the national lockdown comes the news of the first Astra Zeneca vaccine being administered in Oxford. This, added to the Pfizer vaccine, is being delivered to care-homes, hospitals and doctor’s offices. Now it needs to get out to the public quickly. There is a tier system set in place and the beginning of a plan to administer the vaccine that could see the United Kingdom relatively safe, for the moment.

It was clear, as the Prime Minister began the New Year on Andrew Marr’s Sunday political program, each jousting with the other, that the Prime Minister had not done his homework of reading the June report that all of this – mutations of the virus strain, rising cases, and death tolls – was bound to happen this winter. Figures seem to be difficult for Boris and the absence of preparedness, one suspects, a life-long trait. That darn dog is always eating his homework. The BBC has to be a bit careful, so Andrew had to mind a P and a Q. But the director of the show has, I believe, a strong impulse to buck his traces and more than once showed a full-shot rear-view image of Boris at the round table. For a moment we were spared the frontal head of hair but now we see the look goes from top to tail and there are bare legs under rumpled sagging socks. It is a look that when Boris utters the words, “Believe me,” my response is immediately: ‘No’.

This week also brings up the case of the extradition of Julian Assange to the US. To avoid being sent to Sweden for sexual assault charges, always meaty fodder for the British tabloids, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012. Sweden eventually dropped their charges but the US still wants him for WikiLeaks’s publication of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in 2010 and 2011. Assange has been in British custody since April 2019. His lawyers argued that to send Assange to the US would rewrite the rules of what was permissible to publish in Britain.

“Overnight, it would chill free and open debate about abuses by our own government and by many foreign ones, too.” The judge ruled that the risk of ‘suicide’ should Assange be extradited to the US was high and that he should remain a guest of Her Majesty’s Government.

Which is of interest to journalists and filmmakers alike. Early on this program, you will have heard from Taghi Amirani and Walter Murch about the relaunch of the documentary Coup 53, the story of the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953. Because of Covid, the film was released in 118 cinemas and digitally in August of 2020. There was – to put it politely – a huge outcry from the makers of Granada Television’s ‘End of Empire’ series which aired in the 1980s. Huge. To their immense credit, the Coup 53 team battled on fighting every false mud-sling that was thrown over the film. And good people have stood up beside them which is always reassuring and has made a serious difference to the film’s outcome. 

Which of course then takes us to Donald Trump and Georgia. Where to start with this one? It was unbelievable, that word again, when on the Ten o’clock BBC news we listened to the tape of Trump speaking with the Georgian Secretary of State. 

Seville Oranges, waiting

So where do we go for lighter news, sunshine and comfort? Why to Spain. As every English housewife knows, the only oranges to use for making marmalade are from Seville in Spain. With their rough skins, bounty of pits and high pectin content, they are the only oranges to use. Making marmalade in January is an ancient tradition and ‘older people’ (the youngsters a mere 75) write into the newspapers to say how much they have made this year. My mother made marmalade and now I do too. It is, though I should not say it, the best marmalade I know and, naturally, requires two piece of toast at breakfast rather than just one. 

In June of this year, Isambard Wilkinson reported for The Times on a delicate task that recently fell to the head gardener at the Alcázar royal palace in the southern Spanish city of Seville: Manuel Hurtado, a senior official from the palace confirmed that this was the first year of reintroducing this ancient custom of choosing the oranges for the Queen’s marmalade. This gift, is harvested from the Poets’ Garden and the Marqués de la Vega’s garden, whose trees bear the most and best oranges.”

From The Times. The Alcázar royal Palace and the Marqués de la Vega.

But now what will happen with Brexit? Well, that small little rock of Gibraltar is coming in very handy now. An ‘agreement’ has been reached whereby Spain and England can have congress in Gibraltar, and with that, Parma Ham and Seville Oranges may reach our shores once more.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad.

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream –KWMR.org. Web support by murchstudio.com

A Bumpy Road Ahead

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

So speaks Michael Gove, Minister of the Cabinet. Still not sure what that is  – but not so bumpy for the young masked bandit who whizzed through the cul-de-sac on his mid-morning errand with a delivery on the hill. Dressed completely in black, one could say against the cold, the lad stood on his pedals as he hopped his bike over the curbs and up this street to find his assigned buyer. Another game of cops and robbers plays out but without the cops anywhere in sight. The Primrose Hill park is to be closed from 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve through to 5 a.m. New Year’s Day. An effort to prevent a bumpy jolt into the New Year. 

But the continental truckers and haulers have not been so lucky – some managed to get home for Christmas while over 600 were stuck in their lorries on the Kent motorway heading into Dover. Naturally, the army was called in, to calm the frustration and rising rage while conducting tests on drivers for what is now dubbed ‘The English Virus.’ Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, says that “Things are Moving” – though not what you might call ‘up to speed’. Once the tests come back negative, then drivers are allowed to travel on to France. But some will still be waiting as the New Year arrives, along with all the ‘new’ paperwork that comes into effect next Thursday. 

There is much talk of the Astra Zeneca Vaccine from Oxford being ready to roll off the assembly line and into the hospitals and GP offices as early as next week, but why oh why am I not holding my breath on this? 

Like many people who are unable to visit with our families, we have been saved from total isolation by Skype and Zoom. This weekend saw us Zooming with our families from California to Utrecht, Face-timing with friends and then a Skype visit with an older cousin in South Africa. While talking with Ian I sunk into a deeper understanding of the global reach of this pandemic for our generation. 

“What do you do?”

“Well not very much Ann. We go to the market once a week and going out for our Christmas meal was an exception.” He was saying what everyone we know of our age is saying. We are all staying at home, slipping out for the necessary shopping only when we must – and we are among the lucky ones. 

The Brexit deal was finalized on Christmas Eve and the British ministers handed a 1500 page ‘memo’, to read during the holiday break before Parliament reconvenes in January. Prime Minister Johnson suggested reading it after Christmas lunch. ‘Unbelievable’ is the word I have used far too often this year. Here is another off-hand move by Boris Johnson and his cronies to put one over on the government and the people. It is blatant school-house bully-boy tactics, giving an impossible task, and – I am at a loss for words to describe it all. And maybe that is the point – that we fold, in some apathetic despair. 

And the fishermen and women? Ah well, they have been pushed downriver, and out with the tide, a knotty problem to be revisited in five more years. The draft agreement stating that: “Sovereign rights being asserted on both sides for both the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the living resources in their water,” sounds like a load of old herring to me.

But when listening to Ursula von der Leyen give her closing speech at the end of it all, I wanted to weep for the sheer civility of her words. Europe may well be able to leave Brexit behind, but England will be left cleaning out the slops for long time to come.

News from other parts of the world has taken a back seat during this Christmas holiday break. It is hard to learn what is happening in Belarus and Poland. But news did come through that Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer and citizen journalist who was arrested in May while reporting from Wuhan, has been sentenced to four years in jail for “provoking trouble”. She is among a handful of young dissidents – if you like – voices if you prefer – who are being punished for speaking out, sharing the information they have been given with the world. 10 or the 12 young refugees fleeing to Taiwan are also up for trial, with a forgone conclusion as China uses a heavy hand to keep control of information and news leaking from its shores.

The throngs of people, families, friends gathered together, mostly unmasked, all walking up the Broadwalk though the park on Sunday, shocked and stunned us as we swung onto a path less traveled to see the architecture of 200 years ago through the bare branches of the trees lining the outer circle of the park.

But along the Broadwalk is another tale. This autumn there were no shining brown conkers falling from the Horse Chestnut trees for children to pick up and stuff into their pockets. And then, one day, the first tree was felled, its thick branches lying executed on the grass beside the trunk which still stands. A few wood chips told of the machines crushing the smaller branches. First found in the trees in 2002, the little moth, Cameraria Ohridella and its even tinier caterpillars dig and eat into the leaves, slowly starving the trees and turning them brown as if autumn has come too soon. Such slow decay, one death feeding another life, cannot be tolerated in the pristine Royal Parks. In the New Year the machines and men will be back at their work, putting old friends out of their misery, and making way for the new.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Losing

Recorded and Knit together by WSM


Late afternoon becomes early evening with the December drizzle falling softly as I turn from Marylebone High Street onto George Street on Saturday afternoon. Sitting and rocking on the ground outside of the metal railings surrounding St. James’ Roman Catholic Church, sits a woman. I have seen her here before. Reaching into my pocket I check, that yes I do have some coins ready and waiting. As I bend to give into her old paper coffee-cup she beams up at me with such an engaging, albeit tooth-shy, smile that we talk.

“Do you have somewhere to sleep?”
“Ooh yes they are very good to me, I am so grateful. But I do have to buy my own food.” We talk some more about accommodation at this time and then I ask her,
“Where are you from?” and have to ask her to repeat herself.
“Russia. I am from Russia, then I spent several years in Switzerland but they let me come back here and I am (she repeats) so grateful.”

She is smiling all the time, and rocking from side to side and I wonder at her story. So many Eastern European women came to Great Britain, and America, looking for a refuge, a better life an escape from what? I wondered. They were all working women in one way or another. Some got lucky, were successful if you like, such as Melania Trump who started life as Melanija Knavs of Yugoslavia, then Slovenia, and finally, at the moment, the United States of America. While some, like this smiling lady sitting on the pavement outside of a Catholic church in the soft rain and evening light, were not. But she looks like she will make it through the winter, though you never know.

It was only sixteen months ago that David Cornwall, John le Carré, was sitting beside me at the theater for a friends and family screening of Coup 53. It was wonderful that he came to see the film, understood so clearly the behavior and involvement of MI6 and the CIA in the take-down of Mohammad Mosaddegh. His understanding and wholehearted approval of the film led to him giving the team his total support and some wry comments of what to watch out for: “You have no idea how deep they will go.” In the subsequent months his remarks proving remarkably true. But as well as government coups, we talked of grand-children and the new best next love affairs in our lives. The news of his death on Sunday came like the news of a friends death and in the outpouring of tributes to him, so many said the same. His joy in writing was evident on every page. His literary skills were honed like a fine musician playing his instrument: piano, saxophone, violin or words on paper.

Photograph: Rob Judges/Rex/Shutterstock

On Sunday, over a dinner of scallops and turbot, discussions between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen took place in Brussels. They were described as ‘lively and frank’ in one paper and Johnson as unbelievably arrogant in another report found on Twitter, that did not make it to the papers. But Ursula held her ground against Boris and after his incredible outburst of rudeness the turbot was dispatched quietly and quickly. It doesn’t sound as if desert was on the menu. There were ten minutes of discussion after supper, some separate statements were sent out, “Very large gaps” are said to remain between the two sides, according to a No 10 source. Von der Leyen said the two sides’ positions “remain far apart” and that their teams will reconvene to try to resolve issues: and then it was away and back to their rooms. Was it Saturday that Boris suggested bringing in the Royal navy to patrol the UK Waters, and Ursula had spoken with a subdued but visible smile of the UK’s wish for “Sovereignty, if you like’ and by Sunday, when the discussions were supposed to stop, both sides had agreed to carry on.

Johnson was not happy when blocked from talking with Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron, as he tried to weasel his way around from meeting with Ursula. Ursula, as head of the European commission, has done a fine job of herding cats, as in twenty-seven nations, to one agreement. After the Sunday phone call exchange, “I’ll call you,” the EU and UK have promised to go the extra mile. Johnson seems at a loss with this strong and immaculately turned-out attractive woman. It is hard to separate the personal man from the political and when he did put forward sending the navy out to protect British waters, the public embarrassment crosses generations and classes. In past interviews Le Carré has spoken of his time as a teacher at Eton School.

“What you have to understand about the Etonian is that he is not taught to govern, he is is taught to win.” And as Malaparte has said, “Everyone would like to win but not everyone is capable of losing.”

Meanwhile the COVID-19 vaccines are beginning to be given in England. The few pictures of seniors in wheelchairs may be cheerful but are not yet reassuring. London and large parts of the North of England are heading back into the Tier 3 restrictions this week and it looks like there are rough waters ahead. Health Secretary Matt Hancock asks for caution when doing what we have all been promised we can do, travel to visit family. Winnie the Pooh’s bouncing Tiger has turned to a sad Eeyore and understandably so.

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