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

Rain Stops Play

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The third week in May – and it is still raining steadily. Umbrella in hand, it was time to take the 274 bus into town. The bus was already half full, so I sat upstairs to look down over the London streets and see a group of young Asian men, carrying their hefty bags full of cricket gear on their way to the park. One is already dressed in his Cricket whites. Do they dream of one day playing in the holy of holies, Lord’s Cricket Grounds close by in St. John’s Wood? Founded in 1788 by Thomas Lord, the grounds were moved at least three times before settling into this corner of Marylebone. Noted historical progressions through the years included that in 1864 the purchase of a lawn mower removed the need to keep sheep. Those young men I saw from my bus would have been in the grounds where my father was a member for all of his adult life.   

I arrived at the edge of the city to where, even with the soft rain falling, the pubs’ and restaurants’ outdoor tables are full. Most shops have been opened again on the Marylebone High Street, but with some noticeable gaps where high-end English brands used to sit proudly on their corner lots. They were always just out of my price range and I am not as sympathetic as I could be. 

On Monday, more lockdown restrictions were eased but we are going slowly, being sensible, as the health Minister Matt Hancock urges us all to be. But maybe there will be some lightening of the infection load that will bring this, and other countries, safely out of hibernation.

Every country is looking at what their government could have done better, safer, faster to save more lives. Doors, gateways, air pathways and sea-channels have been opened and closed with speeds that relate to the economy as much as infection rates. All governments have behaved badly to various degrees. There have been profiteers and deals of equipment, and devious deals of no equipment. Last week the head of a pharmaceutical firm in India fled to London after failing to provide more affordable vaccines to his own country. The blame? Already shifted to Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister for not booking ahead and placing his order. The high numbers of infection rates and still low numbers of vaccines are struggling to meet on a world-wide level. 

Over this year and half, the COVID-19 virus has been named and shamed as the Chinese, the Kent and now the Indian variant and – as it was named – so it fled to greener pastures. It must have been obvious to any epidemiologist that the Virus would change and mutate as the opportunity arose. That’s what viruses do. They are as opportunistic as all living beings. The Times newspaper estimated that at least 20,000 passengers from India were allowed to enter the UK because there was a trade deal in the works and a little hop to India would have got Boris out of his wallpaper dilemma . The Daily Mirror called Boris Johnson’s delay on closing travel from India another unforgivable ‘Own Goal’. 

Covid Memorial wall in London

Another news item broke this week, one that many of us have been looking for. Andrew Marr, the BBC political broadcaster, whom we regularly watch with a Sunday Sofa breakfast, said he may leave the corporation so he can share his true views on politics. Speaking in Glasgow with the Scottish journalist Ruth Wishart, he said, ‘At some point, I want to get out and use my own voice again. How and when, I have no idea …. There are many privileges of working at the BBC, including the size of the audience and all of that, but the biggest single frustration by far is losing your own voice, not being able to speak in your own voice.’ Constraints such as this are a knife edge that all paid journalists must traverse, admitting the constraints is another.

Andrew Marr – smiling

For eight days and counting we have watched Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket barrages that have killed over 200 hundred people, the vast majority of them Palestinian women and children. Hospital buildings, schools and media centers have been bombed to rubble with Palestinians running, searching for their dead children. The heavy metal disparities are impossible to ignore. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave no justification for targeting the 12-story press building in Gaza, though later claimed that Hamas had an intelligence unit inside. No news organization using the building had seen evidence of Hamas presence. He went on, “Israel’s military operation against Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza will continue with full force. We are acting now, for as long as necessary, to restore calm… It will take time,” Mr Netanyahu warned. Time, to right which wrong?

Vanessa Redgrave in Julia

1978 was the awards season for the film Julia, directed by Fred Zinneman and staring Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda and Jason Robards. Julia was up for eight nominations including for best editor and so we were there that night. Sitting aways away, (Walter’s chances of winning were not considered high) Vanessa looked very young, and alone as she scampered up onto the stage to be greeted by an even bouncier John Travolta. Graciously she accepted her Oscar and then spoke: quietly, politely but with great purpose, her memorable speech denounced what she saw as the Zionist disturbers of that time. That speech cost her a full blown career in Hollywood, thus allowing all of the richness of her work in the cinematic and theatre arts to flow through different channels. Listening again to that speech from 1978 while looking to the now scant news screens, tragically darkened by this new wave of Israeli and Palestinian bombing of the land that is Gaza and Holy – I wonder when will the world be able to bow our heads in prayer – together 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

Colours of Conscience

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The hedgerows bow down with cowslip’s white lace to welcome us walking along the canal towpath. There is the faint smell of spring in the air which will coax summer into being as the bees find the blossoms of cowslip, hawthorne and elderflower. I am searching for the elderflower but because of the continuing cold weather she is shy to blossom. Not so the dog roses, peeking cheekily along the back pathways surrounding Primrose Hill. I must wait a week, two at the most, for my harvest to make elderflower cordial. In the city and the countryside the seasons are following one after the other, the way the Earth intended.

White spring on the hill

The countryside is one thing but the country is another. On Thursday, looking for renewal or some new life to emerge, the United Kingdom went to the polls for a by-election. This is when the local councils and townships vote for their councilors and mayors, the boots on the ground, who have to balance the ever-decreasing government budget hand-outs with the needs of their constituencies that those in Westminster’s Parliament are too busy to discuss.

The results trickled in over the weekend. Ballot counting was slow –apparently due to Covid – while both paid staff and volunteers worked hard, counting by hand as they always have. There was ‘some problems’ with the London mail-in votes as 30,000 were rejected as not being filled out correctly. I hope mine was not one of them. ‘Things will change,’ said the defeated Conservative Mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey. Maybe.

But Sadiq Khan is back for another four years of hard grind and I am glad to see him. Though past Labour leaders such as Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband have seen and used Khan’s worth, the Conservative team will have little time for a working class Sunni Muslim son of a bus driver from Tooting. Growing up, Khan always worked while at school and university. Taking jobs from builders yards to the Peter Jones Department store in Sloane Square, Khan learnt early how England’s different worlds would treat him. The Westminster Conservatives will not give him an easy ride while he walks and works to his own conscience. On reelection he said, 

“I will always be a mayor for all Londoners, working to improve the lives of every single person in this city…The scars of Brexit have yet to heal. A crude culture war is pushing us further apart.”  

Sadiq Kahn
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan photo by P.A. Wire

Khan’s words are true not just for London but for the United Kingdom which look more frayed than ever before. Wales returned a strong Red rosette Labour party across the board. Scotland with Nicola Sturgeon came back with a daffodil yellow Scottish Independence party win, while England turned blue with the cold of a crushing Conservative paint job.

What happened to Labour that the nice Sir Kier Starmer lost so much ground? Maybe it was similar to Hillary Clinton’s error of not going to the people who were hurting and most afraid. For change is coming – for the English laborer who cares not to toil the fields or work the railroads. Now the work is for new technologies and inventive ways of producing and harnessing clean energy. With their belief that green policies embrace social justice, environmentalism and nonviolence and are inherently related to one another, the Green party is now nipping at the heels of the Big Two.

When Labour’s Andy Burnham was reelected as the mayor of Greater Manchester with a landslide victory, he shone a shining light on the North of England’s place in the country. Promising to adopt a “place-first not a party-first” policy he is, in his own way, echoing Sadiq Khan’s call for London with a reminder that England remains, or has become, more divided than ever before. It is not just North and South, rural and urban, English or British but a sewer-stuck mixture of all of these things in a country closing in on itself. Now more than ever the waters of the channel to Europe and beyond are looking like choppy seas.  

The Queen’s Speech is today. This ceremonial occasion is where the Queen reads out the government’s new policies. As we watch her age with years and life’s burdens, the robes and weight of the office seem to smother her. She sits on her throne, reading words written by her government and on this occasion, like other times before, one holds the secret hope that she will stand and say. “This is not good enough. It is ridiculous, cruel, or incomplete.”  We, the public, naturally have been leaked what is to be said. There is little of merit in the speech. The promise to help the United Kingdom recover from the effects of the Covid Pandemic carry, as Labour politicians point out, no meat or potatoes in those words.  But one item seemly taken from one orange man and used by a yellow one, relates to voting reforms. Britons will have to show Photo IDs to vote in future General elections, and it is combined with a strange item that limits the number of postal votes that can be handed in on behalf of others. Ministers say this will reduce the risk of electoral fraud. While the Electoral Commission is quietly shaking its collective head, for in 2019 there was just one conviction and one police caution for impersonating another voter.

Looking beyond our shores, the fires of distress spark flames of unrest and fear across the world. This week sees Israel and Palestine hurl bombs and bullets at each other fighting for their homelands as they see it. The loss of children’s lives crossed all religions while those who can see, cry out “Enough already”.  

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

Fires that Smolder and Burn

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

In India the cremation vats are burning continuously as undertakers and priests work as hard as the doctors, nurses and all the health carers. Oxygen tanks are being rolled off of lorries and loaded onto carts as relatives try to help their families at home. There is no room in the hospitals of Delhi or Mumbai and other major cities.The black market is doing a fierce trade in oxygen while fake medicines are being manufactured and sold as quickly as any that are real.

Finding Oxygen

US President Joe Biden is shipping off 60 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to India. Not that America would have been using them any time soon as the AstraZeneca vaccine has not been approved in the US. It’s a start and other countries around the world that have a clear but discrete ‘me first’ policy are bending a little and offering help with formulas and ingredients for factories in India to manufacture their own vaccines. 

India is a sprawling continent with its own ways of being that is often hard for westerners to understand. All continents are tricky, and swayed by the personalities of the men and women in power and who cling to that power. They are so big and hold so many diverse opinions that it is often impossible within a democracy to turn the tide to bring safety to those shores. In autocratic states such as China and Russia there are other difficulties. Islands are easier to contain, especially if you have a sensible woman at the head of government such as Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand. 

The fate and state of India under its pandemic situation has pushed other countries’ political dilemmas off of the news media and onto the back-burner of our minds. We are only dimly aware that Alexei Navalny has stopped his hunger strike, and that opponents to the overruling political parties in Hong Kong are being quietly jailed.

Boris with a Bottle

As India burns its dead, our Prime Minister is refurbishing the flat above number 11 Downing Street with new wall paper, while he is seen out feeding lambs in the Yorkshire Dales or playing ping-pong table tennis in a factory. Neither is a pretty sight. And parliamentary ministers are leaping up and down asking very pointed questions: not about helping India, or even updates on the UK Covid policies, but who is paying for the wallpaper? Sometimes ‘Little England’ beggars  belief. As we look on the blackmarket sales of oxygen and medication in India, are they really any different from the UK government’s Covid contracts awarded in 2020 through VIP lanes jotted down somewhere for who gets what contracts? How is this different from Street Black Markets? Maybe only in style.

People are dying in the thousands in India and this country is riding a roller coaster following the antics of David Cameron and Boris Johnson tripping over their own shoelaces running through the halls of power and out the other side. So we are left at the moment wondering and gossiping about who paid for the wallpaper at number 11, as if Boris Johnson and this family are going to stay there for a while. The power behind the Prime Minister’s throne is shifting in the back bedroom and it is unclear who is going to hold the reins on this donkey and guide him through the narrowing streets of London’s power. Will it be Carrie Symonds his fiancé, partner, girlfriend or Dominic Cummings the advisor with short sight but looking over the long view, or one of those Tory politicians seen to be “not seen” at this moment in time.

Headlining the Daily Mail paper this weekend, one senior minister was quoted, and then it was naturally denied by another, that last October at a Downing Street meeting Boris Johnson said “No more ***** lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands.”

But now, while Boris Johnson denies and flounders in the shallow waters of who paid for how much wall-paper, other tossed-off foolish remarks made when he was foreign secretary remain a serious blot on Britian’s foreign policies. In 2016 Iranian officials cited Johnson’s words that ‘Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe was teaching people journalism in Iran’, as evidence that she had engaged in “propaganda against the regime”.  Returning from visiting her mother in Tehran, she was arrested and jailed for ‘spreading such propaganda’ a charge that is hotly denied by her, her family and the British government. Having completed her five years in jail, the Iranian courts have now sentenced her to another year with a further year’s travel ban. Nazanin is but a pawn, placed on a hot square of the chess board, caught between Iran’s strong Queen and Britian’s slow moving King. She is encircled and held captive for a long overdue debt of four hundred million pounds owed to Iran that may never get paid. Nazanin is one woman, one wife, one mother set to serve one more year – if she can.

Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe

Three years ago a young Iranian friend, Fateme, give me a pair of red Iranian earrings. They are bright and pretty and similar to a pair that Nazanin is seen wearing in early pictures before she was taken prisoner. Foolishly, or not, I wear them trying with the strength of one woman’s love to bring another courage for the year ahead.

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

Sunshine Weekend

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The sun shone and the weather was perfect on Saturday for Prince Philip’s funeral at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Orchestrated by The Prince but now adapted in strict accordance with the Government’s rules for these Covid times, 30 members of the Prince’s family, all appropriately distanced, were in attendance. The ceremonial military guards, the Windsor house staff from the HMS Windsor bubble, his Fell carriage ponies, and close family remained masked and socially-distanced throughout the afternoon service. How glad we, who watched, were for their masks. As the Queen sat alone, mostly with her head bowed, her grief was only visible in her reddened eyes.

The Duke had added personal touches to his funeral: the Sailor’s piping call for permission to come aboard and entrance for his coffin into the chapel. At the service closing the highlander’s solitary bagpipe lament played in the empty nave while his coffin was lowered to the crypt below. The blessing followed, and the Dean of Windsor and the Archbishop of Canterbury led Her Majesty and the family out through the Galilee Porch. The Queen drove back to the castle with her lady-in-waiting while Prince Charles chose to walk and the family followed, the men warm in their overcoats and the women brave in their black stiletto-heeled shoes. Sometimes it is when walking in the sunshine that words can be spoken, gently, cautiously and hopefully healing. Did any of the family manage to have tea together? What sort of bubbles were established and kept? Where was the time when a family can gather, talk, sharing their sorrow under the banter of day-to-day catch-up chatter. Through the late afternoon and into the evening, I kept thinking about the Queen – wondering who was with her or did she sit – alone – in the silence of that time and all the times to come.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Fell ponies and carriage at Windsor for his funeral

The sun continued to shine on Sunday as the country began slowly to go about its weekend business. Londoners in Regent’s Park gathered in discrete family bubbles, picnicking on blankets as their children played and scootered and the volley ball games spread out beyond the football pitches. The cherry blossoms on the young trees are giving way to lime-green leaves and the wisteria buds are swelling. We wandered into the hidden St. John’s Lodge Gardens. It is a hushed meditation garden where couples and families sit quietly bringing in and packing out their picnics.

Time to get Ice cream

We sit too, watching the robins flit in and out of their nests in the tight hedgerows. Returning along The Broadwalk we crossed the canal and road before dipping into the grounds of St. Mark’s Church. There is a coffee hut, some benches and a sunlit spring garden that cascades down to the canal. It is one of those gardens that is gently tended, but it is clear the garden has the upper hand and the gardener just follows the landscape that unfolds. Now the plots where the Scottish Christmas Trees were sold is lightly fenced and reseeded – by the tree company in their best effort of cleaning up after oneself. Canal boats with happily spaced passengers are chugging and punting up and down the canal. Two young boys have been manning their canoe and brought her to shore. Their mothers and a sister climb the steps through the garden to collect small tubs of much needed ice cream for those intrepid sailors. Such small adventures are huge, taking up the whole of a sunny afternoon. We sit watching together on a bench in the sunshine overlooking the sloping spring garden and the canal. The daffodils have given way to red tulips and blue forget-me-nots. We are comfortable, sipping a fine latte coffee and sharing a crumbling iced carrot-cake, tucked into our place in the city. For the moment the sunshine bathes and soothes us all on this Sunday afternoon in a garden.

It’s an interesting question

During a weekend of national mourning some politicians hoped to be able to slip under the radar of national scrutiny but not all were lucky. The headline of the weekend edition of the Financial Times reads, ‘How Sleazy are British Politics?’ The page turned to past Prime Minister David Cameron striding from here to there – wherever there may be. Boris Johnson has sanctioned an inquiry over the allegations of misconduct but an old episode of ‘Yes Minister’, is not so far gone in memory:-

“’There is going to be an Inquiry Sir”.

“Oh good.”

“Good Sir?” 

“Yes, that means nothing will happen.”

Boris and Doris on the underground

But turning the metaphorical page, opposition leaders are urging the House Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to allow a vote on an inquiry into Boris Johnson’s ‘Consistent Failure to be honest” in statements to Ministers.

Given the size of the Conservative majority it is unlikely this motion will come to a debate, but just the idea of it is – well, ballsy Johnson’s blatant misleading and disregard for the parliamentary process is hitting a low water-line, not unlike the autocratic behavior of other world leaders that England shakes its finger at.

One of whom is Vladimir Putin. His political opponent, Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31st and Navalny has been moved to a prison hospital. There is not much time left for his healing or death to occur. Putin must personally long for Navalny to be gone – completely – and yet he must know that if Navalny were to die now it would be as a martyr. Russian news coverage of Navalny’s condition is silent while the world’s telescope scans this horizon. 

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