Bubbles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has been A Letter from A. Broad.

Canalside Berries Photo by WSM

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

Zooming Along

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hampton Palace comes into view Photo by WSM

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

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

Boats in waiting


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

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

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

The Apple Does Not Fall Far from the Tree

Recorded and Knit together by WSM. Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org
Regent’s Park – Waiting: Photo WSM

So Stanley Johnson, the Prime Minister’s father, went to Greece, by way of Bulgaria, you understand, so that he didn’t break any laws. Greece has banned flights from the United Kingdom, whose numbers of infections and deaths from the Coronavirus are the worst of the European Countries. Greece’s travel restrictions, among its other measures, has kept Greece very safe, with only 192 deaths as of this writing. But between Papa Johnson and Dominic Cummings, the leader of this conservative government has made a mockery of any laws or regulations they laid out for the rest of the country.

The actions by those close to the government are disheartening, but I too know families that have gone to the country, singletons returning to parents, and children dropped off with the grandparents for weeks of this 100 + day lockdown.

But this weekend the unlocking of England began. Many pub owners were delighted while others felt that a slower opening might have been better. Hotels, restaurants and barber shops also opened and one can only hope that the Prime Minister manages to get a haircut soon. The whizzing of e-mails back and forth uncovered plans for a Rave on Primrose Hill. Quickly, a cat-and-mouse, cops and robbers, plan was in place. Here in NW1, on the Hill, it could have been more of a game, under the cover of ‘the law.’ But instead of the police, the weather played rough, reducing the real possibility of someone getting hurt – on either side of the law.

But that didn’t save Bianca Williams, while driving their Mercedes car home in Maida Vale. The 200-meter sprinter along with her partner, the Portuguese athlete, Ricardo Dos Santos, was stopped and handcuffed. She has a voice, and spoke out, “that just being black is a crime”.

The law, a twisting turning apparatus, is rarely used for the people it is meant to protect. We watch in deep sadness at Hong Kong where speech is silenced, books are burned and the young protesters are caught in the net of the new authority from Beijing. England is making an effort to honour the people of Hong Kong but a rumbling rupture is coming from the Chinese Embassy in London, “That to interfere with China’s international policies will bring consequences”. Until now protestors outside of the embassy have been concerned with Organ Harvesting, Muslim camps, Uighur and Tibetan exiles. Today Hong Kong students and their supporters gather to denounce the Chinese Communist Party.

Meanwhile the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are at Windsor. The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall are at one home or another. The Cambridges are comfortable in Norfolk, though with three children under the age of seven, comfortable is a relative term. Now they are returning to work, all abiding to the guidelines and laws laid out by this government.

A saying that often brings laughter in our family is ‘The Apple does not fall far from the Tree’.

A website on English Language says that this saying is first attributed in America to Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1839. But looking further back in history, always a fun thing to do, I find older versions,
“The apple does not fall far from the stem,” in German.
From Wales in 1803 “Ni fell zygwyz aval o avall” ”The apple will not fall far from the tree”.
The English attribute the saying to the Germans, the Germans to the Turks, and the Turks to the Russians. The Russians attribute it to themselves.
But in 1585 is a quotation from Megiserus that is still used in Turkish, “Elma Gendy aghadschindan irk duscgnéz”, “The apple does not fall far from its own tree.” Stanley Johnson’s paternal grand-father, Ali Kemal, was Turkish, and came to an untimely end between one regime and another.

It is interesting to see where and how family apples are falling. Our Royal Family abides by the rules laid out by the government even as The Duchess of Cornwall, talks of longing to hug her grandchildren.

When we took our Sunday walk in the park there were more family groups huddled together, all at a distance, one from the other, three generations sharing their picnic on a blanket and now the park toilets are open – a big relief. There were children’s footballs, bikes and scooters and the cry “Granny, Granny, Look Granny.” My heart ached more than a little when we walked by.

As weeks become months in this new reality, trust in the governing bodies of all of the countries affected by the coronavirus is more important than ever. But when one is faced with first the Cummings lad and then the Johnson father behaving as if the law is one for you and nil for me, trust in this Conservative Government under Boris Johnson has gone missing.

Stanley produced three other siblings to Boris, all dropped from the Johnson tree. Plop. But which branch of the tree do they come from? Some may have rolled a little further afield than Boris who looks to have stayed as close to the old trunk as he could, and didn’t roll anywhere.

The virus is still with us, but the infection and death rates are finally falling in the United Kingdom. This morning, as neighbors returned from their weekly shopping, unloaded their bags and scurried away into their apartment the Uber driver reached into the boot of his car for his bottle of disinfectant. Wearily, but thoroughly, he sprayed and wiped every area that he knows they have touched. For him and most others, vigilance is still a necessary part of his life and this world.

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

Families gather on Primrose Hill. Photo WSM

Not Fit for Purpose

Recorded and knit together by WSM
Aired on KWMR.org June 17 2020

After three months in lockdown it was time to venture beyond NW1 deeper into the city at West 2. My audiologist was working through his waiting list of patients and my name came up. With two small children at home, he was, frankly, happy to be working.

“The 274 bus will take you to Marble Arch and then it is a five minute walk.” But running late I hailed a taxi. The cabbie kept his windows open and I my mask and gloves on. Late but not too late, I followed Mark into his back room wondering how is this going to work. But the appointments are spaced 15 minute apart to clean the rooms. He took a brief history and looked at my old aides, trying to hide his amazement.
“These are 9 years old.”

Into the box I go and testing begins. The spacing between beeps is far too long. This is not good. Nor is his final verdict, “You might want to tell your children. And these,” he concludes looking again at my old friends, “are no longer Fit for Purpose.”

He sets me up anew and I will read the directions several times to get the best out of my National Health aides. My fingers are crossed and my glasses adjusted hoping that these new friends will ‘See me out.’

Not Fit for Purpose. One thing to say that about an old, but still working, appliance, but a little different for a person.

Though stooped low with osteoporosis, Howard still walks as if about to run. Under his scruffy black cap his sparse, long hair flows behind him. Howard was a fine tennis coach in the small sports center at the north end of Regent’s Park. There were four tennis courts, a golf practice range and cricket nets. But a fresh administration, a clean sweep with a new broom, and the golf and tennis areas were cleared away to increase wilderness for the hedgehogs. A catering hub was built overlooking the newly laid out cricket and football pitches now there was money saved and money earned.

The little tennis club at the other end of the park grew, attracting sweet young things and handsome jocks. And the staff had to fit that look. Howard and his Russian friend did not make the cut and his friend was so devastated he committed suicide. Howard manfully struggles on. Now as his knees and heart age he often stops to rest on his hurried walks back from the village. In this coronavirus loneliness he feels keenly ‘Unfit for Purpose’.

George Floyd’s murder has brought much of the world to attention and the last two weekends in England have been marked with protest marches for ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the BAME communities. And once again the protests have been mucked about by nationalists looking for a good ‘bust up.’ There is no football, no beer and few jobs. Ironically, Nazi Nationalists are seen defending Churchill’s statue while a very buff Patrick Hutchinson tosses an older white skin-head over his shoulder, because, as he said, ’He was separated and needed to get back to his people.’

Patrick Hutchinson rescues a white nationalist Photo credit the Wimbledon Times

When Edward Colston’s statue was pulled from his pinnacle in Bristol, graffitied, today’s version of tarred and feathered – then rolled and tossed into the harbour from whence landed his slave trading fortune, people began to look around. Who else glorified a past built on the enslavement of others for the enrichment of trade? Even Oxford University faced its mixed messages of Cecil Rhodes and Nelson Mandela. “We are going to have to work together now you and I” Mandela said to the statue when he set up the Mandela Rhodes Trust in 2003 to help heal racial divisions.

In London, Winston Churchill’s doomed statue stands on Parliament Square. One weekend graffitied and the next – to protect and possibly buy time – he was boxed up. One couldn’t help smiling – just a little – at the irony of this move. Boris Johnson huffing and puffing that his hero Winston Churchill had to be put in a box and that Sadiq Khan, the son of a London bus driver and now major of London after Boris, was the one to do it. Surely even Boris might have a glimmer of understanding that these statues, even that of his beloved Winston, might now be considered Not Fit for Purpose. This week’s attention is on Clive of India – another dastardly (the word fits) fellow, who is tucked away in Whitehall.

But how do we remember history? How do we teach it, respecting what was good while acknowledging the mostly unrecognized, unspoken atrocities that each and every country inflicts on those who stand in their way or from whom they can benefit?

Typically Johnson has proclaimed ‘A committee will be formed to review race relations’. Some in government will laugh and chuckle, while those in minority communities across the country will weep with resignation at this announcement. Reviews after racial incidents have been happening since race relations began to overtake class inequalities in import. It has been hard to track the snail’s pace of change in this country. But maybe this can be the time, as families from the countries we have plundered march and kneel together, to keep pressure on this government to look again, not only at the statues but in the class-rooms and work to do more for an England that is ‘Fit For Purpose’ in today’s world.

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

Sheltering Somewhere

Recorded and Knitt together by WSM
First broadcast on KWMR.org 9.20 a.m PCT

Even as a child, the hamlet where I grew up was being hunted by urban amoeba pseudopods. The town of Fleet oozed with a hybrid sprawl, turning farms into developments, and army barracks into business centers. Not even a town worthy of its own picture house, the Odeon Cinema was closed in 1957. This corner of Hampshire is made up of just a few towns, as most of the B roads meander from villages through hamlets and back again. My mother lived in Fleet for all of her adult life. From childhood to widowhood in ‘The Old Divots’ and then as she started her life again in ‘The New Divots’. ‘The Divots’, named from her golfing and gardening life, was an important pause on life’s journey for her friends, our growing family, relatives, and yet more friends touching down from America and beyond. Bobby always had a warm welcome for everyone. There would be much serious liquid refreshment followed by a fabulous seasonal British meal, and then, after coffee and before teatime, an offer of a drive to some of the historic sites that litter this corner of England.

The village of Odiham was always a stop on Bobby’s tour. As The Young Farmers of Hampshire we would often end an evening at The George Inn in Odiham. Though I doubt any of us knew of the pertinent heritage to farmers that The George carried. In 1783, a group of, and I quote, ‘Gentlemen of Rank, Fortune and Ingenuity’ plus some ‘intelligent farmers’ met in The George Inn and formed the Odiham Agricultural Society. They went on to create a school of veterinary science which led to the foundation of the Royal Veterinary Society and profession in Britain.

Odiham also has a castle. Built by King John in 1214 the castle was then, like Fleet is today, in a prime location, between the seats of Winchester and London. The history of the castle saw the French dauphin laying siege to King John, the sitting of Parliament, and even the capture and imprisonment of the Scottish King David. Eventually the castle crumbled and was downgraded to a hunting lodge stop-over before finally left as a ruin in 1605.

The Gothic and Tudor Church of All Saints, lies behind the High Street. The church grounds leads out to The Bury courtyard. And in the Bury courtyard, now protected by a lych-gate like structure, stands the old Stocks and Whipping post. In another corner of The Bury sits The Pest House, both built around 1620. The stocks and whipping post are a reminder of times when villages, not always with a magistrate, took the punishment of community members into their own hands. A sepia postcard shows the stocks holding a tramp and the whipping post a young boy in custody, with 6 bobby-uniformed policemen in attendance some time after 1850.

Bobbies attended to the stocks and whipping post

The Pest House is one tiny room with a fire place and was restored by the Odiham Society in 1981. Usually these were placed outside of the village but this one is close to the church. Pest Houses were used to isolate people from within the community or travelers passing through who were thought to be contagious. The Plague, smallpox, and the sweating sickness brought in and spread by just one contact, could decimate families, farms and communities.

All of this comes to mind given the political shenanigans being exposed this week. It appears that Dominic Cummings, The Prime Minister’s chief advisor, did not follow the instructions that he himself had issued to Health Secretary Matthew Hancock and the government to “Stay in place, Self Isolate, Protect the NHS, Save Lives and so forth.” Nope. He packed up his car and drove his sick wife and four-year-old child north 260 miles to his family home in Durham where it appears that once in place his sister did the necessary outside shopping and errands for them. All so far infuriating but not raising the temperature of the general public until he was sighted 30 miles away from his house at Barnard Castle and later in the week on a walk to view the bluebell woods outside of the city.

I have not been the only person to write that they are ‘Incandescent with Rage’ at this sense of betrayal by a government advisor. Cummings is not appreciated for his possible far reaching governmental reform ideas but perceived as a machiavellian puppet master whose character is recognized in too many political histories.

This turmoil, which will continue to evolve through the next week, brings back to mind how small is England, and how much smaller it has become with today’s communication structures. The spirit of the people lives on from Hogarth sketching the depravity of his day in Odiham to Sunday when the ‘Led by Donkeys’ campaign truck parked outside of Cummings’ residence in Islington, the screen showing on repeat the TV footage of Boris reminding, urging, then thanking, the people of this great country who stayed at home. Disrespect can easily lead to mutiny.

But when we can look beyond this government for a moment, the unnecessary pain they have inflicted and towards a bigger picture we can take some comfort and resolve from a billboard high up in Piccadilly Circus where our captured Queen is pictured. Steadfast as always she is telling us that one day we will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again; we will meet again.

A Message from Her Majesty


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







Following Florence

Recorded and knit together by WSM
First aired on KWMR.org May 13 2020

In this new reality, a phrase that crosses my lips at least once a week is “Incandescent with Rage.” Usually by the time I come to write I have calmed down. But the feeling bubbles up and like waves rolling into the shore, heralds a possible storm at sea. This week it began – again – at Matt Hancock. A concise question from the Labour MP for Tooting, DR. Rosena Allin-Khan, about the continuing shortage of Personal Protective Equipment that was supposedly shipping from Turkey led him to respond that she should “Mind her Tone”.

And so it is UK people and businesses who step forward. On Princess Street there is a small sewing shop now closed. Walking past in the mid-afternoons we could see young children enjoying their after-school sewing programs. But the owner, Roz Davies, has gathered her staff together and, with a small army of off-site volunteers, been busy making gowns, scrubs and bags for the staff of The Royal Free Hospital. Nurses can put their scrubs in the bags for laundry and thus not contaminate their homes. This enterprising spirit has been repeated up and down the country by such shops as ‘Sew Much Fun’ and larger companies like Burberry. But wait a minute! This is the National Health Service. National, as in: owned and paid for by the UK government with our taxes. Would that not presume that the government would pay for and provide all the Personal Protective Equipment that the staff need? Ah well you see – that brings up an incandescent moment.

The testing for ‘essential workers’ has been abysmal failure. To find out if you are considered essential and how to get tested – you need a computer – where you can try to access a self-referral portal and fill out the 35 page form. Alternatively, try to book an appointment at one of the supposedly 50 testing sites open throughout the country. The nearest can be several miles away. And who is running them?

God Bless the Army. Newsreel footage now shows young soldiers with flapping blue plastic aprons over their army fatigues, standing, masked and gloved while waving cars forward. Then, while clutching papers and test tubes, they lean into car windows and poke swabs into open breathing mouths. No figures have yet been published as to how many of these young, partially trained, men and women have succumbed to the virus.

Throughout the week it was announced that The Prime Minister would outline his road map for going forward on Sunday evening. (Thereby cleverly missing a dissection by Andrew Marr on his Sunday Morning political broadcast.) We turned on the Television at 7 p.m. to see Boris in Blue. A navy suit, pale blue shirt and discrete tie. His hair, for those who like to note such things, was combed into a semblance of flattened style. Sitting at an old-fashioned desk with the door open behind him so we could see the elegant chairs and chandler in the room beyond. Did he give the broadcast live on Sunday? No he did not. It was prerecorded. Why was that? I still don’t know. And what did he say? Well a lot of us still don’t know that either. The three other United Kingdom Countries, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all rejected his new message of ‘Stay Alert’ and are continuing with ‘Stay Home and Save Lives’. This could be a moment to reflect that: “When Three Russians tell you that you’re drunk, you might want to lie down.”

But the general message seemed to be, “You‘ve all done a good job and now it is time to go back to work tomorrow. (Later that was corrected to Wednesday as tomorrow was Monday, a bank holiday.) If you can work from home, keep doing that. But if you do have to travel, try not to take public transport but “get on yer bike”.

And there must be a way to keep the natives happy and the country divided. (I’m sorry to sound so politically incorrect but here it is). Essential workers, and some businesses were to reopen, such as – wait for it – garden centers. How does that work? By keeping the home counties happy. They can shop for and work in their gardens and feel that Boris is taking care of them – as they will for him come election time. He must be careful as the warmth of the fire’s dampened faggots are beginning to smolder underneath him.

May 12th is Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. A day celebrated throughout the world with maybe even with a Google Doodle. This spring five Nightingale hospitals were built in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Harrogate and Bristol. Similar facilities have been set up in Cardiff, Glasgow and Belfast.

Frequent hand washing by nurses was an early directive of Nightingale’s and remains one of the most important health messages in this coronavirus pandemic. The new hospitals share many similarities to those that Florence Nightingale designed after returning to England from the Crimean war in 1856. But the main component was nurses. And the lack of nurses, as well as the situation just staying manageable, is what has kept these new pop-up hospitals almost empty. Nightingale also understood “politicians have short attention spans”. She was a quiet woman who would never have shown my emotion. I can’t but feel she might have given me a tight lipped smile of understanding.

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

From the Florence Nightingale Museum

Easter Weekend 2020

Easter Weekend in London brings news and time for reflection.

Some days swirl by in a non-specific haze, leading to a confusion of thought, and a seeming inability to get anything done, so that the by day’s end one wonders what did actually happen. Like older relatives and parents who cut out articles from the newspapers and mailed them to us, we now swap internet links and stories. “I thought you might be interested in …” and we often are.

Thomas arrived for my birthday. He had been hinted at, noted, ordered from our local book shop and was wrapped up to serve beside a pot of coffee for breakfast.

Thomas at Breakfast

Hilary Mantel’s “The Mirror and the Light” brings Thomas Cromwell’s life to an end. For three days and nights I managed to resist him, continuing to read an evening chapter from “Jock of the Bushveld” an old favorite book of my mother’s.

But before even a week was over, I had picked up the hefty tome of 880 pages. I said (to myself) “I’ll just take a peek”, as if “I’ll just go for a drink with him. It’s nothing. I can get up and leave whenever I want.” But now Jock is laid aside, and Thomas has my heart and mind. I love him, more than a little bit, and am infinitely in awe of and grateful to Hilary Mantel. I am not alone. Others I know read him in this gifted time of solitude. We will go with him to his end and close the book with sadness.

When Susan Sontag published ‘The Volcano Lover’ in 1992, she went on her book tour. I was fascinated with the history and had lots of questions prepared for speaking with her at KPFA, Pacifica. But as the conversation relaxed and drew to a close, I asked about living alone in New York City. “Are you ever lonely?” “How could I be,” she responded. “I have two thousand years of history in my library.”

Here in London we both have small libraries crammed full of books that we cherish. We are both re-readers, I returning to history while he explores science. Though I’m a one-at-a-time gal there are at least seven books piled behind “The Mirror and the Light”.

My father would have been in his 70’s when I was first old enough to become conscious of his reading habit. And for him, too, this age was a time of re-reading books that he welcomed back into his life as long lost friends.

Saturday morning began in the new quiet, but by noon a helicopter began to circle overhead. There is no Prince traveling from one palace to another, and the air ambulance is hardly needed now that the London streets are almost empty of traffic. This is the police, boys with their toys, circling Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park looking for those, oh no, sunbathers and loiterers. Later, when we take our walk a police patrol car is cruising The Broad Walk. They are not walking to give a face to their presence, nor even on horseback when I might get lucky with a bag full of droppings for the compost pile.

The evening news program brings the government representatives out to the podiums with their daily bulletins. Mathew Hancock, Minister for Health, speaks his coverup nonsense “Maybe the NHS are hoarding gowns and masks which is why there is a shortage.” Priti Patel, the Home Secretary says, as one does when knowing there is a need for an apology but not ready to give ground, “I’m sorry the situation makes you feel that way.” As of this writing 8 national health doctors – all of them UK immigrants – have died. The number of nurses to have died is unknown. Today at over 11,000 deaths, England is set to overtake Italy in the number of Covid-19 deaths.

On Easter Sunday morning, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from St. Thomas’s Hospital and driven to Chequers, the country seat of the current Prime Minister. Whatever one feels about this Prime Minister we are grateful that one more life has been saved. And so is he, giving public thanks to the nurses who cared for him; particularly Ward Sister Jenny McGee, from New Zealand and Staff Nurse Luis Pitarma from Portugal – again – immigrants.

Easter Sunday is when some look for a miracle. Not necessarily the one of a life returned, but possibly of the recognition in this moment of gratitude by the Prime Minister, for the nurses, doctors and all staff working in the health service. Doctors may cure but it is the nurses and hospital staff that keep us alive.

Old into New – again

A strange part of all of this is trying to accept that my job is to be out of the way, not on the ‘front line’ – not helping. But what to do? what is next? The table napkins are next, the first one already torn and sewn to make a face mask. I take up a needle and mother’s cotton threads while listening to history unfold itself again.

I bow my head over the work as a gentlewoman would in the Tudor time of King Henry and his Lord Privy Seal, Sir Thomas Cromwell.

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

Keeping Calm in London Town

“You ol rite?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Not coughin’?”
“No Maddy, not coughing.”
And Maddy gives me a thumbs up sign before she scurries away to catch an overland train to Battersea and visit her ailing mother.

Thank you Zine

“Do you need anything? Can I shop for you?”
“Thank you Sinder. We are ok at the moment.”
A note is slipped through the letterbox from Zine our neighbor at # 37. “… I would be most happy to help”.
“Aggie, Aggie.” Mr Habto has returned from his early morning taxi run and is standing by his cab. 

“Anything we can do to help. Please let us know. Knock on the door or leave a note.”
Maddy is probably London born and bred, Sinder is Hindu, Zine is from Eastern Europe, and Mr Habto a Coptic Christian from Africa. This is the mix of the little community at the bottom of our street. They all have families to care for and yet are finding moments to be watchful over us. We have become the “old folks” on the street. Thus neighbour cares for neighbour in our little corner of London. And we are grateful.

It is Sunday afternoon. The sun will not come out again today. The wind is blowing and the raindrops seem hesitant and unsure where to fall. Families are walking home from their ‘fresh air and exercise’ moment in the park. Football games are still scrubbing along in the mud. White shorts are streaked with brown, hair is windblown and there is quiet laughter coming across the pitches from the players. Out there – the city, London, – is very quiet.

Boris Johnson and his lieutenants appear very old school serious as they stride to the podiums set up in the State dining room at Number 10 Downing Street, while trying to cover up the fact that Number 19 Coronavirus may be beyond their abilities. This may be the first time in his life that Johnson gets really serious, and not everyone is convinced he knows how to do that. We can only hope that he might in fact be growing into the role of Prime Minister and treating this with all with the gravitas it deserves. One does suspect that upsetting the populace is as an important part of the equation as is protecting the insurance companies. Another supposition is that this is seen, by Johnson at least, as his Churchill moment. One can be grateful though that he has these two lieutenants: England’s Chief Scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty by his side. Whitty, or is it Vallance, produced graphs on a large board and pointed away so that the journalists in the room, sitting as close together as ever, could understand what was trying to be accomplished and then relay that information to us, the presumably less well-educated public. Vallance and Whitty are both, in their English way, considerably more competent than the school-yard gang that surrounds Donald across the water.

Daily updates from the government will now to come from Number 10 Downing Street as the situation changes every twelve hours with more confirmed cases and deaths. Johnson and his team are putting some guidelines in place while they wait to come down with a heavy hand. It’s a gamble for sure. Health Secretary, Matthew Hancock, sputtered and muttered on the Andrew Marr Sunday morning show about ‘Doing everything we can and self-isolation’. Manufacturers have an opportunity to make millions of Pounds Stirling and ventilators. “Other countries in the world will be needing them too.” Mostly though it is businesses, sports centers and banks (!) that are leading the way, encouraging working from home, cancelling big matches (though not the Cheltenham Race meet last week), and encouraging self-isolation.

And now, on Monday morning, there are more shutters coming down. Museums have already closed, special openings have been postponed, and the British Film Institute team all work from home, strategizing what this means for the film industry in England. We withdraw too, canceling lunch dates with friends and family. Being well over a certain age, 70, we are all ‘vulnerable.’ and many of us have at least one strike hitting our general health. We are being encouraged to self-isolate. What will happen then to the organizations run primarily by older volunteers who serve their communities? As I write an email comes through from one such trusted leader: ‘The Library is closed for the foreseeable future’. What will happen to those books? Sitting on their shelves so lonely and unread. Theatres, cinemas, concert halls, hotels and restaurants are all growing dark as their lights dim. Today all religious leaders united in asking their followers to pray at home.

Hand sanitizers are out and visible – where they are available. Otherwise it is serious and constant hand washing – by those who do that sort of thing. Shop-keepers and checkout folks wear rubber gloves to handle the £ coming in. And £s are rolling into supermarkets as folks panic buy and buy. That may have begun to calm down now with ‘assurances’ that the stores have enough of what we need stock-piled somewhere. This morning the pharmacy was full even as folks tried to stay apart from each other. The doctor’s office is closed with a notice on the door saying that appointments will be by phone for the near future! The local Deli and other coffee shops on the street are almost empty. Can they hold on for those over-70s for whom a little sandwich at the coffee shop is their main meal?

Daffodils from Taghi A’s Morning walk

We are grateful for the Hill and Regent’s Park where we can walk in isolation. Wild primroses rise from the soil to shine close to the ground. The daffodils are reaching their peak, staying upright through the foul weather of the last weeks. But the plum and pear trees lining the street are beginning to loosen their soft blooms and whisper in the breeze for us to keep heart. Our Robin Red Breast hops down to check my worm count as I work in the little garden. She too tells me to let the warming soil soothe my soul.

Primrose in St. Mark’s Church garden Wall. Photo WSM

‘Our’ Robin checking my work