A Few Good Men

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

As the wind whips up the autumn leaves along the bottom of the hill children are tossing them over each other as if they are snowballs. Their father stands patiently by the stroller, smiling as he allows his family to cover him with the yellow leaves. The clocks went back, the temperature is dropping, and blue skies struggle to be seen between the grey rain clouds. I reach the bus stop just as the number 274 comes along. I have an appointment with Nick. Following Covid guidelines, the salon remains quiet and his clients come in one by one. Soon a petite, sparrow-sexy lady of beyond my years enters. Socially separated, she settles in beside me for her biweekly shampoo and blow dry. I watch these two old friends sharing the news of the past weeks as best they can through their blue masks. Nick works steadily, caring for her and she relaxes under his touch.

Returning home the weather is squally. Walk, bus and walk again, along an alleyway between Mornington Cresent and Delancy Street, where an old man walks slowly towards me. Politely he stops to give me some distance on the pavement but in truth he has to pause. He is short of breath and is not sure in which pocket he will find his house keys. Then a lithe tabby cat crosses ‘his’ road – slowly – with ownership. At the pavement he leaps lightly to the railing that protects the house, and the stairwell to the basement flat, from the street. A window faces him. He calls – twice – loudly. The lace curtain flutters, the window-sash is raised and he bounds inside and out of the rain. The window closes behind him.

I hurry home to make supper. ‘My Kitchen and I are in good harmony’ wrote a chef, and I understand. One meal leads to another in a simpler way than the frantic cooking of early lock-down. Now there is just a weekly foray into the unknown. Chicken Pot Pie is the challenge for tonight.

Chicken Pot Pie for supper.

Nightly we watch the steep lift in the graph curve of the COVID-19 infection numbers in Little England. Throughout the country hospital staff are still feeling bruised as no-one seems to have caught their breath from the first wave of this disease. This summer the Duchess of Cambridge called for photographs taken during lockdown. Now 100 chosen photos are on display at the ‘Hold Still’ exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. ’Melanie March 2020’ was photographed by her colleague, Johannah Churchill, and now mural artist, Pete Barber, has painted her for the High Street in Manchester. The picture depicts what no one wants to return to.

Image from any of the many sources

Each corner of the country is metered out a different set of government rulings. People are confused, angry and frightened and not always sure of what or at whom. The rulings leave poor people struggling more than before while big businesses find lucrative loopholes.

Half-term has begun which means that school children are home for two weeks. Marcus Rashford, the 22 year-old English Football player, (who may yet have me watching football) petitioned the UK government to continue providing school meals to children whose families are in need over the holidays. The government rejected the petition. But all over the country, local restaurants, big and small businesses are supporting Rashford in providing lunch-meals through this half-term holiday. Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Rashford explained: “Growing up we didn’t have a lot, but we’ve always had the safety net of the community. That community was my family.” For those of us who live in communities we get it. News flashes show Marcus doing the heavy lifting with crates of food and Boris, softer-spoken today, holding a loaf of sliced bread. For now, and long haul, I have my money on Marcus. At least we know he is playing for Manchester and England.

Marcus Rashford helping out.

Meanwhile those restauranteurs looking for help have found a ‘Working Lunch’ loop-hole in the regulations for the Tier Two restriction areas, which includes London. One paper wrote ‘You can meet colleagues and people from other firms but you cannot take your mother to lunch. This is a conscious choice by the government to save jobs and livelihoods.’ The following tweets are full of British humor.

Somewhere, buried in this school meals and business lunch storm the Brexit discussions are still taking place. We don’t hear much about them. Fishing rights, like the Irish borders, remains a close-fisted problem of long standing. The French fishermen have fished in the waters of La Manche for centuries and the French government says nothing should change. The UK government is adamant that things will change. This game of chicken could end in a messy chicken salad sandwich.

And then comes Sunday. I confess to be ‘busy in the kitchen’ for some of Andrew Marr’s Political program. The strident tones of host and guest are upsetting and not good for digesting breakfast. But then I hear a calm voice. Andrew too is calmer. It is Dr. Fauci answering questions on the Corona Virus, and, politely sidestepping political jabs, he guides Andrew out of the gutter where he tends to slip speaking with the English politicians at his disposal. There is even a ‘I don’t know the answer to that.’ Politeness, calmness in the face of such needless suffering and death and a gentleman holding his own. Tears come to my eyes at the sight and sound of him. Surely a few good men is not too much to ask for.

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

Boris is Back

The virus, politics, shopping and the park are the sharp points on our compass as we enter week six of lockdown in London. The number of recorded UK hospital deaths from Covid-19 has climbed beyond 21,000. If the death toll in care-homes, Hospice centers and communities are included that number will reach over 40,000.

On Monday Boris Johnson returned to Parliament. Striding to the podium outside number 10 Downing Street to give his ‘Hello I’m back. Well done everybody.” speech before reminding us all that this is the time to hold steady to achieve the five key points that the government has laid out: the death rate falling; the NHS protected (whatever that means); the rate of diagnosed new cases per day to be less than 1%; the government sorting out the challenges of testing; and Personal Protective Equipment (A total blotched job up to date) to thus avoid a second peak. Can he get all this, with some of the Conservative Party nipping at his heels to get the economy and business open as usual, before restrictions are lifted.

We watched Johnson to see if he is changed. Has there been a metamorphosis to a kinder, clearer and marginally more honest Prime Minister? I hold my hopes but know I have been wrong many times before. Johnson promised more transparency to the ‘People of the British Public’ But one could ask, why should that promise have been necessary?

Sunday mornings Political Commentary program with Andrew Marr is a ritual in this household as it is across the country. Sitting on the sofa in front of the television screen we share a late Sunday breakfast with approximately two million viewers. Andrew Marr is settling into a routine with fewer guests live in the studio and others on Skype or with a camera crew in not so close range at their homes. The program is lengthened to 90 minutes, which meant another pot of coffee with breakfast. There is a change, a shift in the questions, answers and banter back and forth. Dominic Raab the deputy Prime Minister refused to get riled by Marr, repeating, “You are absolutely right Andrew” at least 5 times after I started counting, leaving Marr with not so long a lance with which to prick his opponent. As Marr questioned the Leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, and Germany’s Andreas Michaelis, his attempts to pit one country against another failed. Many European and world leaders are presenting a united front acknowledging the different difficulties each country faces. Talking with our family in the Netherlands, who in turn talk with their friends from Sweden, we know that every government is being taken to task for the things they have failed to do.

Luckily Spring carries on with and without us. Cherry trees that were full of blossoms in early March quickly faded away as the winds took hold and blew us into April where the promised showers have only just arrived. Now it is the sturdy Chestnut trees turn to unfurl their white and red flowers before us.

Horse Chestnut Blossoms

The city air is so clear we can smell the spring. The Cowslips, Elderberry and Hawthorn are as intoxicating in the park as they would be in the country lanes of my childhood. Walking to and from the bike racks I pass both a Robin and Blackbird nest in the grassy scrub land left for them. Over the weekend the bike check in booths are changed. Circles are painted onto the pavement, ‘Stay this far apart.’ Credit cards are to be tapped onto the screen, no more punching numbers with your grubby fingers.

For another period of time, shops deemed non-essential, restaurants and pubs all remain closed. Our local grocery and essential shops that are open have become inventive. Last year the Indian News Agents at one end of the High Street rebranded itself as ‘Primrose Corner’ and began a long battle with Shepards, the Arab-run deli at the other end of the village. Now, despite the higher prices more people are choosing to shop close to home and the battle for customers has heated up. The tiny aisles at both shops are crammed full of boxes to be unpacked and shelved. Two English run shops have closed and may never open the same way again.

Spilling out of La Petite Poissonerie

On a tiny corner of Gloucester Avenue, at 75A, M Rascle the owner of La Petite Poissonerie has also gone the extra mile to bring his customers more than ‘Fish on Fridays’. Fresh fruit and vegetables overflow from his boxes on the pavement while bags of pastas, loaves of fresh bread, and all things French, cram the little space inside, leaving us close to the glistening fish, if not to each other. The queue here stretches around the corner, and in a mutual symbiotic relationship with the Primrose Bakery at number 69, the lines blend from one shop to another and so before our eyes we can see how a new community corner is born.

Social distancing in the queue at La Petite Poissonerie