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

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

Audrey II

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

In 1983 we took the children to see The Little Shop of Horrors when it was playing at a West End Theater in London. The book and lyrics are written by Howard Ashman and the music composed by Alan Menkin. The play starts off almost benignly but then, the little shop, the plant, the good and evil characters emerge along with the storyline until we were all properly horrified as Audrey II’s meandering tentacles devour all before her, before coming down on the audience in the finale. Not sure what sort of mother I was taking the family to such a show but they loved it, and apart from a daughter’s inordinate fear of spiders, seem non-the-worse for wear.

But I’m thinking of the story of The Little Shop, something seemingly benign growing with a hunger for the flesh of others, as I look at China and its meandering tentacles. The protestors against China’s takeover of Hong Kong’s parliamentary structure have been crushed and key activists are now jailed. Another tentacle has reached into Myanmar helping the military to quell activists and protesters against their takeover of the democratically elected president and government. So far the Myanmar protests are continuing even as rubber bullets are giving way to metal. At this writing at least 126 civilians have been killed by the military and two policemen have died. Some soldiers are scrambling to India after refusing to follow orders to open fire on their own people. 

Aung San Suu Kyi is still in house arrest

Hidden, as much as is possible, the Russian activists carry on – Navalny may be jailed but the work continues. Like burrowing a tunnel out of a jail, they keep chipping away at the rock face of the autocratic power held by Vladimir Putin who is beginning to feel the itch under his iron jacket.

The rollout of the vaccination program in England has been methodical and steady. As of today, over 23 million people have had their first dose of vaccination while over a million and a half have had their second injection. The AstraZeneca Vaccine has got some bad press (re: blood clots) but in this time of ‘who says what’ it is hard to know the truth. Statistics, as anyone who has taken basic Statistics 101 knows, can say one thing and then another depending on the chosen variables. The UK virus infection rates are going down, though they may rise as more restrictions are lifted. Today only 52 deaths were recorded from the virus. Soon it could be that the death rate from the virus is no greater than that of the winter flu.

How will we come out of our lockdown? Maybe it is our age – of course it is our age – but my friends and I are cautious, there is a hesitancy to come out of the cave and onto the street, into the garden. It is almost a collective lethargy among older friends. There have been articles about how hard lockdown has been on younger families but I also feel a sweeter caring and closeness among those of us who are older.

Between International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday, English women from all walks of life waited and watched when Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, went missing while walking home to her flat in Clapham, south London. For days it was just her disappearance that aroused the country to a collective alert attention, overtaking any regal outpourings of emotion that had preceded it. For a fear gripped every woman of all ages. Now Wayne Couzens has been remanded into custody and here is the rub: Couzens is an officer in the Metropolitan Police Force. How could this have happened? An off-duty police officer, slowing down, maybe told her not to be walking home that late at night, flashed his badge, not his crotch, and in a moment of unthinking tiredness she got into his car. A week later her body was found in a builder’s disposable bag in the Kent woodlands. Sarah was a young white woman. A woman of color would have been too savvy to get into that car. Never trust a white man, especially a white policeman. There is not a woman alive in London, or maybe even the country, who doesn’t understand the fear that still keeps us vigilant as we age. Women flocked to Clapham Common where Sarah walked. Vigils were called for and then asked to be held privately at home, candles to be lit, as we had once clapped for the NHS. But the Duchess of Cambridge went out – as alone as she could be – mingling among the women to lay flowers with the others. “For Sarah” it read. She said, “I remember what it was like to walk home alone in London,” before she quietly slipped away.

As dusk fell on Saturday, women continued to gather at Clapham Common, laying flowers, and holding their phones high lit as candles. There was a police presence and all was calm – until it wasn’t. Who gave the order, who panicked at the sheer volume of women, at the few protesters who came specifically to disrupt the situation? Someone did and the police moved in, encircling, crowding the women until some of them panicked too. It doesn’t take much – fear, that is – on either side, to make a peaceful situation difficult, a difficult one dangerous, and the repercussions of such a situation to be an excuse for more laws to curtail such protests.

Police officers begin to crowd in on the women at Clapham Common.

Discussions continue, in public and in parliament and the fear, on both sides of the law and the people remains. As we approach the spring equinox and the sky is becoming light again I wonder if the touch of spring is enough to bring us hope and courage to create a new way of being.

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

Testing Times

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Not again. Boris, what were you thinking?! Taking off with new young mother, Carrie Symonds, baby Wilfred, and Dilyn the dog to a remote cottage out in the West Highlands, overlooking the Isle of Skye. You think that a tent in the field next door will be fine for the secret service police but the owner of the field, a farmer, didn’t find the tent – nor the fire the poor chaps must have lit to keep warm – fine. Where are your manners that you didn’t ask for permission to pitch a tent in someone else’s field? The photograph in the Weekend Telegraph paper showed a stone wall between the bleak looking cottage, the field and the sea but no sign of any facilities. A road lies between the cottage and the field. If a car drove down, wanting to have a snap and a chat with the Prime Minister in his wooly hat and PJ’s how long would it have taken for the boys in khaki to; unzip the tent, run the field, hop the wire fence, the stone wall, cross the road and ‘be at your service’? It was a good idea to cut the holiday short and return to the relative safely of London.

Coverage continues on the ongoing protests and retaliations in Belarus. The situation is reaching some kind of a pressure peak as the president, Alexander Lukashenko, wearing the black body-armored uniform of the riot police and holding his assault rifle, is heavily guarded as he inspects the police ranks. Lukashenko looks like an old war general holding onto his last vestiges of power. It is clear that Putin does not, for the moment, want to enter this battle. The protesters remain in strong numbers on the streets. They are attacked, hauled into jail cells, beaten, released and returned to the streets more determined than ever as they get information out to the rest of the world. Will it end like Czechoslovakia? Scenes from ‘The Unbearable Lightless of Being’ play though my mind along with the film’s haunting music. Thinking of the end scenes of ‘Unbearable’ that were shot in the California sunlight of Stinson Beach and Blackberry Farm in Bolinas brings back memories of a happier time. Global distress always, but our corner of the world was a safe sanctuary. Now we watch as the fires sweep through Northern California and pray for you all.

Much of the world looks bleak, with the Coronavirus pandemic being mishandled in the U.S. and other countries. In England, schools are to carefully reopen next week putting children and teachers in jeopardy for the economy.

A large envelope came through the letter box for a survey on the Coronavirus conducted by The Office of National Statistics at Oxford University. The first interview and testing took place in the bathroom and on our doorstep. After forms were signed and the testing completed there was a survey to fill out. Inda sat in her car, I sat on our doorstep. “How many people have you been in physical contact with in the last seven days?” Touching is what she meant and I realized that if we lived alone the answer would be ‘none’.

The quietness of the London Streets is sobering. The parks and canal walks are beautiful but the loss of physical contact is hard. There is a hunger now for human engagement and with that has come a change in attitude.

The Albert pub closed up 3 years ago as the building was bought for renovation. Three flats were built and sold above the pub. Then things stalled. The pub shrank, physically, as the leaded windows dusted over. Even after signs saying, ‘Everything valuable has been removed.’ The door would be broken open just to check. The community petitioned ‘Keep The Albert Open’ but to no avail, and the grumbling rumbled on, ‘There goes another one.’ Earlier this year squatters moved in, furniture was dumped on Princess Street and there were a few days of frantic activity as the squatters made themselves comfortable. But quickly they were moved out and plywood panels went up to cover the old windows. Maybe the squatters were the push that the owners needed for now there are two builders’ vans and a skip in the garden. The front door is open and young men in dust-covered teeshirts and overalls are busily coming in and out. What suddenly is making The Albert a possible proposition is the little garden out back. In these Covid times outdoor seating is at a premium.

“Should be open in September.” Says one of the young builders.

The First beginnings at The Albert Pub Photo by WSM

Sam’s Cafe first opened on the high street of the village. But last year a minor repair turned into a huge building disaster that had Sam shutting up shop – literally – and licking his wounds, brooding on a dream so cruelly crushed. Owning and running a restaurant is not for the faint-hearted. Beloved JC’s L’Absinthe on the corner of Chalcot and Fitzroy was a truly go-to spot for us. But then JC fell in love and married. And he too looked to lighten his load. The doors of L’Absinthe closed and the corner was quiet.

And then during the winter came the rumor that Sam’s Cafe was to take over the old L’Absinthe restaurant. We watched and waited. First up went the brown paper in the windows to keep private whatever activity was going on. Months went by before the doors opened as old equipment went out and new came in. Final touches to Sam’s Cafe’ are done and the doors will open on Thursday.

The Last Touches to Sam’s Cafe

Now, on this little corner street, all the shops are busy again. There is hope for a future and we are grateful.

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

An Eton Mess

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Despite being arrested and badly beaten, protesters are not giving up and protests in Belarus continue. Over 200,000 people took to the streets in Minsk over the weekend while TV Journalists are refusing to work in the state-sanctioned stations. Europe and much of the world are watching, appalled at the police and army violence used to control the protesters. Beleaguered President Alexander Lukashenko is feeling the heat and has turned to Vladimir Putin asking for help, which may – or may not – be forthcoming. Is this a world-warning to the U.S. if, in November, the U.S. presidential elections appear to be overtly tampered with?

A real Eton Mess by Helen Hall

An Eton Mess, as described in Wikipedia – the now go-to in depth Encyclopedia Britannica – is a traditional English dessert of strawberries, meringue, and whipped cream. As the name suggests the Eton Mess originated at Eton College and began life when served at the annual cricket match between the Eton and Harrow Schools at Lords Cricket Grounds in London.

In the summer time of the early 1960’s, as young student nurses, with our end of the month brown envelopes, we would walk up the hill to The Corona Cafe on the Guildford High Street. Crowded tightly into our little booth we would each order, not an Eton Mess, which was not yet on every restaurant’s menu, but a Knickerbocker Glory, which was.

A Real Knickerbocker Glory from Gastronomic Bong

Before the European Market, and a global economy, soft fruit was truly seasonal and ripe only in June and July. The berries then faded, giving way to August’s blushing peaches and plums.

But here we are in August, with strawberries and raspberries still in the markets and so, if we choose, we can make up our own versions of an Eton Mess; mashing merengue, ice-cream and fruit all together, or we can be more creative, putting together an elegant Knickerbocker Glory.

Now in this mid-summer moment, Boris Johnson’s Government has produced its own Eton Mess within the education system, taking all the good things of a last school year and, with a hairy fist and no thought for the consequences, crushed them into the industrial blender of the Ofqual algorithm. Whether it is G.C.S.E.’s or A levels, leaving school exam results are hugely important to the students, teachers and their schools. I can remember fearfully waiting during exam result’s week for the brown envelope containing my O Level results to come though the letter box. This year, because of the Corona Virus, there have been no A level exams. They are vital indicators for a student’s way forward to a university – or not – and if so which university can they attend. The government’s first choice was to wiggle through two paths. In Private (called Public) schools, the teachers were allowed to give their assessments of a student’s grades. In State schools the government implemented an algorithm from the exams watchdog, Ofqual, based on previous results from these schools. This appeared dependent on post codes for schools and students alike and did not address the hard work of the schools and teachers struggling to improve and equalize the opportunities for students throughout the country. The gap between rich and poor has been broadened and deepened more that ever.

The Scottish Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was the first to think ‘Rubbish, off with that computer’s head, we are going to listen to the teachers,’ though she put it more politely saying:
“We’ve got this wrong and apologize to both students and teachers. We are going to do whatever we can to put this right.” Northern Ireland and Wales followed suit. Quickly, old Etonian Boris Johnson, and the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, far from an Old Etonian, but maybe with such aspirations, were left watching their Eton Mess collapse into a proper Dog’s dinner. And now the students have voices; quickly they formed protests around the country and posted their stories on Social Media. Those whose post-codes down-graded their results are not going anywhere quietly. This maybe the first time that Domonic Cummings’ computer and puppet-strings for Gavin Williamson have tangled and crashed. The government has been forced to abandon their algorithm from Ofqual and now slides into a U-Turn. Like a cur that has regurgitated its Eton mess, it has turned tail, eaten its own words as a dog’s dinner and retreated.

But this week we are preparing for the Virtual launch of COUP 53 on Wednesday August 19th. That is this evening if you are listing on KWMR.org, one of the over 90 venue hosts in four countries, for COUP 53. Yes, I’m putting in a plug for the film and our own beloved radio station, where you can get tickets for Wednesday night and thereafter as long as the venues keep the link on their website. If your tickets are for the Wednesday opening you also get to see the on-line Q & A moderated by Johnathan Snow and featuring the writer/director Taghi Amirani, the writer/editor Walter Murch and actor, Ralph Fiennes. Ticket sales are split between the host venue and the film.

Everyone involved in the making of COUP 53 at times wondered what rabbit-hole we were falling into as these historic events from 67 years ago played out in more than unusual footage and film. The Press coverage has been amazing and maybe is in part due to the guts and determination it has taken to not only make the film but now to release it in these Covid-19 times. I’ve seen COUP 53 many times but truth be told, I’m looking forward to switching on and watching it again on Wednesday night.

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

Taghi Amirani and Walter Murch – Almost Done

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

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

Covid, Cummings and Crying with Clive

Recorded and knit together by WSM. Aired on KWMR.org

Tear it all up and start again, as every night gives a new twist and the morning brings another reality. Thus this letter too may arrive as if receiving the papers on board ship and reading three-month-old news.

A notebook behind my desk opens to a page, ‘Nobody Talks to the Cleaners.’ A friend returning from her hospital stay remarked how she always made a point of saying ‘Hello, how are you?’ to the lady who came to clean the ward. When cleaning and other auxiliary hospital needs were contracted out – separated from the National Health Service – little fissures had a place to enter a smooth team of personnel. This essay was still waiting to be written, when Clive Myrie beat me to it and I am grateful.

Clive Myrie Somewhere.

Born to Jamaican parents Clive is a Lancashire lad. He graduated from The University of Sussex with a Law Degree at the age of twenty. But he chose to enter a BBC graduate program, thus beginning his journalist career. Traveling to over 80 countries, covering far too many war zones, he is now a regular news reporter for the BBC.

I always like to see Clive. Each news reporter has a different persona and how we respond to them may affect how we take in the news they are sharing. Even in his prime John Simmons was always too ‘old school’ for me. Jamaican born Sir Trevor McDonald barely hid his bite and made many folks sit up a bit straighter. Beloved, comfortable Welsh Huw Edwards has an aura of stability that sometimes also carries just the tiniest edge. And the women, well bless Emily Maitlis and her clarity last week. Though she was curbed she was not arrested. But I see compassion in Clive Myrie’s eyes. Scrolling through photographs I am held by one where he is standing with a guard at Guantanamo Bay prison with his fingers on his mouth. What was he thinking? What could he say?

Last week Myrie produced a special assignment closer to home. With permissions from patients, their families, and the staff, Myrie and his team spent a week in the Royal London Hospital of Whitechapel, recording the care, successes and sorrows of the hospital’s Covid virus wards. He sought out and talked with those beyond the front-line student nurses, religious leaders of all faiths, owners of funeral homes and morgues filled to overflowing with the dead of Asian and African communities hit the hardest by the virus, and the cleaners. “We clean to reduce the infection. If I don’t come the infection is going to spread more.”

In his report Myrie said ‘So many of the nurses and doctors and consultants as well as cleaners, the helping hands guiding us through this storm, are Black, Asian and Minority ethnic. Somewhere deep down, my heart skipped a little entering the Royal London’s Corona Wards. Because studies suggest that those from these communities are being affected by the virus disproportionately and almost twice as likely to die from the infection than those who are white.’

Meanwhile up the road in number 10 Downing Street ‘The Dominic Cummings incident’ is being fast swept under the not-so-magic carpet as the bitter pill of betrayal still lies un-swallowed in the mouths of many in this country. The goal of keeping the death rate at under 20,000 is long lost and the number of UK deaths will reach over 40,000 by the end of this week.

In America too those effected by the Corona Virus are disproportionally African-American and working class. Like England, security guards and workers on public transport are at the highest risk for severe infection and death.

The news from the United States brings tears of frustration, anger and deep sadness. For now – again – the senseless death – at police hands of George Floyd. I’m remembering Rodney King, I’m remembering and not calling to mind those who have been killed in the same way before and since that time. Watching the US police forces I think back to when the old ‘cop cars’ were replaced by military SUV’s returning from Iraq. Weapons came with them, bigger and more powerful guns, man-toys. Esquire writer Charles Pierce reminds us “that since 9-11, the federal government has equipped local police with $4.3 billion in military gear and prepared them for an all-out war on terrorists.” And some useful combat techniques. Jim Cessford, who has spent 47 years in law enforcement, says ‘knee to neck’ is not a tactic. “Neck restraints are totally unacceptable and they’re not an approved policy by police.” But on Twitter, the Palestinian Solidarity working group wrote: “US cops train in Israel with Israeli troops on duty in Palestine. The police violence happening in Minneapolis is straight out of the IDF playbook.”

There is anger, tears and despair aplenty among the images across the all the news media formats. There are scenes of peaceful protesters, rioters, more looters, now that the American unemployment rate is 14.7%, alongside groups cleaning up and feeding their communities. New York police wearing ‘I can breathe’ face masks, countered by other New York Police and politicians and even National Guards kneeling with, and reaching out to, protesters. Thus is the divide of the United States of America made visible to the world.

George the Poet, on Newsnight explaining a little about Racisism in the UK

Last weekend in capital cities throughout Europe groups gathered in peaceful protest of this ‘fresh’ killing. In London, marchers gathered in Trafalgar Square and the US fortress Embassy in Wandsworth. Though Social Distancing was out the window, most of the young marchers wore masks. There were only 23 arrests and the London coppers, without a mask between them, clutching only their water bottles in the heat, walked calmly side by side, with the marchers. George the Poet came to Newsnight and spoke in a gentlemanly manner trying to explain to Emily Maitlis the chilling similarities of black men and women killed by Police tactics in the UK and the U.S.

When Martin Luther King was assassinated, The King Assassination Riots, known as The Holy Week Uprising took place in 125 cities across America. America is again bubbling like a cauldron brewed and spread from the swamps of its underbelly. If the ‘Me too Movement’ which Maitlis referred to, was able to bring down Harvey Wienstien is it too much to ask that ‘Black Lives Matter’ maybe the Trump card America needs today.

So I return, retreat maybe, to James Baldwin, watching again his 1965 debate with William Buckley at Cambridge University.
“Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?”
One could now add, “Among others.”
At night I reach for Baldwin’s ‘Collected Essays’, seeking clarity but not comfort.
In the background Nina Simone is banging on the piano and singing
Mississippi Goddamn – over and over again.

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

Grateful in Week Seven

Recorded and knit together by WSM
Photograph by WSM

Week seven of Shelter in Place or Lockdown in London. Whatever we call it, this means remaining vigilant and at home. There is a new sense of ‘wait a minute’ … a new dawning of how life is really changing. Workers on building projects have had enough time off and money is running out. White vans are again parked on the roadside and masked laborers trudge in and out of the buildings. With luck, money will slip into empty pockets by the day’s end.

Meanwhile not only are all retail shops shut but so are most of the services that we have come to rely on. Hair is an optional accessory: some of us have it and some of us don’t, and blessed are those with a hairstylist in the family. Here in Camden, Ossie’s and the younger hip barber shops are all closed. So too are the ladies’ salons. Stylists have all gone home. The phrase ‘Shut up Shop’ has taken on a new meaning. As middle-age recedes, giving way to our senior years, we face the decisions we have made. Some of us have gone silver and others golden. Yet most of us try to do so something. Maintenance has become an almost full-time occupation while ‘You are looking very neat’ could be accepted as a compliment in these times. No longer able to enter the high street chemist’s I turn to the internet and find there is a run on ‘Age Perfect’ from L’Oreal and that Amazon is only allowing one package out with each order. But one is enough for the moment and will take me behind the closed bathroom door for a morning. Soon it maybe time for a pony tail clip.

But others are not so fortunate. The nurses, doctors and auxiliary personal on the front lines of the medical care of the COVID-19 epidemic can give no time to such personal considerations. Showers and laundry are all they can manage, meals are often gifted from the communities they serve. Some staff have even been camped in hotels, isolating themselves away from their families for weeks on end.

As we enter May, and come into Nurses’ week, celebrated around the world for the birthday of Florence Nightingale, I think of us nurses particularly. There are stories, penned in hours of exhausted lonely frustration, by Intensive Care Nurses working on the front lines from London, New York, Europe and throughout the world. These are heart’s weepings at the incredible loss of life they see and the family sorrow they bear witness and give comfort to. It is in writing themselves to sleep they join in comradeship with each other.

When patients are admitted to hospital with a clinical or tested diagnosis of COVID-19, this may be the last time they see their families. The death rate of those admitted to Intensive Care still remains at 50%. So many relatives have no time or way to say goodbye to their dying family members. It is the nurses who try to bridge that gap, calling families, holding mobile phones, and then holding hands with their dying patients. Nurses take their place at the bedside with both physical patient management and emotional support. If the nurses are lucky and gowned into proper protection, it is only their eyes that the patient can see, their voice the patient hears, and the warmth or a gloved hand that they feel. These can be enough. It is what nurses do.
The hold that the National Health Service has on the UK psyche is deep. It was conceived and brought into being in 1948 by Labour’s health minister, Aneurin Bevan. Subsequent governments have all taken turns nipping away at the NHS funding, mostly with cutting the salaries of nurses and doctors alike. This virus could be the a moment that the people say: Enough. Pay our staff.

Every European country with a socialized medical system sings its own praises. “Italy has the best Health Care System in the world.” says my Florentine friend Idanna. In less serious times I would banter with her that ours is better. But Italy, like all of the socialized systems has been sorely let down by their own government at this time. Italy went into lock down on February 23rd. Other European countries quickly followed with their own forms of isolation. It was not until March 23rd that the UK government asked this country to Shelter in Place. Italy quickly turned to music for community comfort. People came together across balconies and plazas to sing in praise and gratitude to their medical teams. Spain, Germany, France, England, China and America even, began their rituals of standing on doorsteps, singing, clapping and banging on whatever they can find to say thank you.

At 8:00 PM every Thursday, as night gives way to spring-time dusk, people around this country, on doorsteps, outside of hospitals, fire departments, and public services come out to clap, smile and wave at each other and for a moment not feel so alone.

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

A Month in Lockdown London

A month in Lockdown London

Early morning walkers are wrapped up warmly against the nipping wind that dances below the sun and tosses infrequent April showers across the country. The warm winter has brought green aphids out to suck on my roses. Every morning I brush them off and say thank you to the ants who are trying to devour them as quickly as they appear.

Walking past our local supermarket, the wind added to the chill of watching the long line of one-person one-cart each distanced apart, shuffling along the wall around to the waiting guard at the store’s entrance. It still feels too dangerous to shop there and not all right to ask someone to go for us. So we stay close to home shopping in the village and getting used to doing without the simplest things. It has been two weeks since I saw Philadelphia creme cheese in the dairy cooler. This week there is no mayonnaise and I pluck the last bag of risotto rice from the shelf.

Listening to the daily news bulletins from the government it is clear that they are not ‘telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’

Health care workers, transport, postal, delivery and essential service personnel are becoming increasingly distrustful of, and frustrated by, the government. There are no state governors here to overturn and bring clarity to the federal shambles. The major of London, Sadiq Khan, the son of a bus driver, needs union pressure to catch up, trying to make all transport workers safer and promote the use of face masks for public places where the correct social distancing cannot be kept. His frustration is palpable on the news clips where he is seen. Since before the weekend a shipment from Turkey of Personal Protection Equipment for medical personnel had been promised. Today we learn that it was only officially asked for on Sunday! and is now due (again) to arrive today. Turkey – the country once demonized to help win the Brexit vote.

Beech Tree in the Wilderness of Regent’s Park

This is week four of our London shelter in place and the government has decreed at least three more weeks. But over this weekend with the Spring sun shining and the air warm, there was a casual feeling from people that this will not affect them. We walked through a wilderness area of Regent’s Park, where couples and families were picnicking under the trees, hanging out where old London tramps like to make their camps. Impromptu soccer games were played, though the goal posts and nets are all put to one side of the pitches. Hardly anyone was wearing masks but we were. The last of our table napkins have been turned into masks. A bag on the front door holds more fresh napkins from friends. They are waiting, cocooned like caterpillars to metamorphose into white butterfly masks.

From Table napkins to Face masks Photo by WSM

Mr Habtu works for Addison Lee the car hire firm. His hours are rough and spontaneous and he is still working. Who are the people who need his services? He has a wife and three growing boys to support. Every time I see him drive away I worry more than a little and yet am grateful for him that he has a job, is able to work and provide for his family.

This morning another book arrived through the letter box. ‘The Great Influenza’. Written by John M. Barry published in 2004 and picked up as one of the three books by G.W. Bush as a vacation read in 2005.

On opening it up I am immediately caught and it looks like Thomas Cromwell’s death in ‘The Mirror and the Light’ may have to wait a little longer. Glancing through The Great Influenza I am stopped by the end. Though one is not supposed to quote from books the two concluding paragraphs bear repeating at this moment in time.

“Those in Authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first and best. A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.”

And there is hope in the world as we read of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand managing her country through this crisis followed by the delicious news that the governments of Poland and Denmark are refusing to give financial aid to companies that are registered off shore.

Primrose Hill is embraced on three sides by The Regent’s Park, the Canal and then the railway heading away from the city center. Walking home through the park we paused on the bridge over the canal. In these last few weeks the canal water has become so clear that the shallow bottom was visible. The sunlight was strong and sparkled through the trees while the ducks flew in pairs along its path. Such is the stillness of the air that for the first time in twenty years we can hear the trains clatter quietly by – leaving us all behind.

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