Classroom Chaos to Lockdown

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seville Oranges, waiting

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

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

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

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

This has been a Letter from A. Broad.

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

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

Losing

Recorded and Knit together by WSM


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

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

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

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

Photograph: Rob Judges/Rex/Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Markets

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

When I walked up and over the hill to the Saturday’s farmers markets in the play-yard of St. Paul’s School on Primrose Hill Road I took a detour to a stand of shrubs that has been left to grow on the hill. The outer tresses are vines of sweet and plump blackberries, and I have a small container-full before I head down the back side of the hill into the market. Volunteers are still at the gates, watching who goes in, helping with a queue if necessary, and giving us all a squish of hand sanitizer as we enter the school yard.

What is it about markets? We gather at them as at an oasis for life. A community without such a market feels depleted in a deep way. There is rejoicing when a new market is established and a sadness when one dies.

Borough Market London Photo by WSM

It was probably in the early 1980’s when my mother first said “Come on Saturday and we can go to the market.” There was now a weekly market set up in the Ghurka Square parking lot of the Fleet town library. There were stands selling tools, some of which definitely looked as if they had fallen off the back of a lorry. There were stalls of fruit, vegetables and a small garden shop with its racks of plants, all of whom my mother would barter with, much to my embarrassment, but not to hers. The stall owners knew that they would lose nothing in giving her a bob or two off, and she would happily be back to shop with them again the following Saturday. The butcher and fishmonger, Mr. Driver and Mr. Harden, both taking over from their fathers, brought vans to the market to sell fish and any game that had come their way during the week. Being on the edge of farmland and the countryside there would be plenty of pheasant, rabbit and hare, in season or not. My mother would meet old friends, and though it was no longer the genteel coffee house moments of Mrs. Max’s Cafe it was another way to say hello and check in with each other.

These early markets had a flair of the fair about them, with the sharpness and quickness of traveling people. It was a racy flavor not usually found in the quiet suburbs but one I came to know in the old Inverness Street market in Camden. Now we have the Primrose Hill Saturday produce market and it suits us as I can chat with the organic farmers from Kent and beyond.

Buenos Aires San Telmo Sabado market

Who holds the keys to markets? For there always is a gate keeper, and not all are as amiable as the volunteers with their hand sanitizer at the St. Paul’s schoolyard entrance. What is it you have to sell and who you might serve or upset plays a part in selling pheasants or films.

The arts, and culture, are being particularly challenged within this Covid-19 crisis situation. The film business is hopping up and down, deals are being struck, contracts withdrawn, to produce, not to produce, to screen, not to screen and Coup 53 which was ready for release at the end of 2019 has been caught in the middle of this jammed water-way and was close to drowning in the river mill-stones along the road to distribution. But Todd McCarthy wondered in his article in Deadline if there was more going on with this film? He writes “At a moment in time when documentaries are in greater favor, and more widely accessible to the public than ever before, it’s both disturbing and ironic that the most enthralling and revelatory documentary I’ve seen over the past year hasn’t yet found a clear path to the public.”

There could be many reasons why mainstream streaming and cinema art-houses have not picked the film up yet for their own pockets. Is the truth of the UK and US involvement in the take-down of Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh too hot a topic at this time? It could seem that this is so.

Now the film makers have joined a new venue of online viewing. Using the streaming platform eventive.org, Coup 53 will be released in several countries and continents on August 19th and be available for viewing for several weeks thereafter. I don’t actually know how it works but I do know it involves virtual cinemas which are set up by cinemas and other parent organizations, such as KWMR.org. Another leap into the unknown for these film makers, enticing the truth-seeking and curious audience to follow. The newspaper press have already begun writing their stories and in the weeks to come there will be more. In the Sunday Observer newspaper a full page article on Coup 53 has pushed Boris Johnson off of page three onto page five, and Steve Bannon onto page seven.

U-turns and unclear explanations have led to endless chaos and a painful week for Boris Johnson. Even the Honors list has heads spinning and thinking of the saying “Keep you friends close but your enemies closer.” The list of knighthoods and peerages bulges and instead of ‘Off with their heads’, the House of Lords will now be crammed with 800 Lords and Ladies of the Realm. Maybe our Queen can delegate this investiture to Prince Charles who has a swift and steady hand with a sword. Who has been ushered upstairs? One is the cricket hero Sir Ian Botham, who was a staunch Brexiteer. Brother Jo Johnson is moved out of harm’s way into the House of Lords. Philip May, husband of ex-prime minister Theresa May for “political Service” by just getting his wife out of the door of Number 10 and into the limousine during her time in office. And let’s not forget a nice Russian. Mr. Lebedev, whose dad, since we were talking of spies, was a former KGB agent. Now Mr. Lebedev owns the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers – and has been a good friend of Mr Johnson’s. All of this announced on the second day of August when parliament is no longer sitting.

They have gone on holiday. Fewer ministers will travel overseas, but may be seen in shorts and sun-screen licking an ice lolly at a fete in their own constituencies throughout the country. Let’s hope they have plenty of sun-screen, for the temperature is about to get hotter.

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

Buenos Aires San Telmo Sabado queso market

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.

Harvesting the Hill

Recorded and knit together by WSM
First aired on KWMR.org May 20 2020

‘It’s a Debortle’ became the catch phrase for any minor/major hiccup that occurred during the post-production of Coup 53. A blazer-clad and panama-hatted Brit arriving back in England from Iran was caught on camera and asked to describe the exodus of the British from Abadan in 1951. The journalists surrounding him didn’t seem to notice his grin as he repeated ‘Debortle’ while not giving any hint of the word’s origin. ‘It’s a Debortle,’ became the cry and the tee-shirt slogan for Coup 53 and in more than one London household referencing the situation we are all in, around the world.

The UK government’s handling of the Corona19 epidemic in England has been a debortle. But watching the medical staff at the Saint-Pierre Hospital in Brussels, Belgium as they silently turned their backs on Prime minister Sophie Wilmes when she arrived to visit, we see that England is not alone. Countries all over Europe, and continents throughout the world continue to struggle with this itsy-bitsy virus that maybe is here to teach us some sort of a lesson.

Even though this government says we can begin to venture out, as long as we ‘Stay Alert’, like many others we continue to stay alone at home. Guidelines from the “Evenin’ Standud”, dropped on our doormat nightly, continues to say that as over 70 years old we are among the extremely vulnerable. We turn to this guide rather than the three blind men (and women) who at 5 p.m. each weekday night stride out to their podiums at number 10 Downing Street with the day’s rule changes. Barely one thing they say is reliable and by morning it often needs amending – again.

So we stay at home and face each morning’s question–what to wear today? If one is lucky there is someone else in the house who can smile at you looking neat or lovely. But maybe there isn’t, and just the effort of getting dressed can sometimes be too much. But there could be a delivery. A loud knocking on the door in the morning has me racing – carefully – downstairs, but the postman is already leaving before I can open the door. I shout a “Thank you” with a smiling wave and he turns with his happy smile and wave in reply, but is already striding across the parking lot and I don’t think he can notice what I am wearing.

At some point during the day, separately or together, we will go to the park, down by the canal or around the hill. The end of spring has begun to layer white across the green before the summer pinks, blues and purples come to paint the summer hedgerows. There is a tall wall around the bottom perimeter of Primrose Hill. Houses, blocks of flats and even a reservoir are closed off. But from back gardens and small alleyways there are old wooden gates in the wall. The delight in a road or a pathway leading forward never fades. This feature is found in city and country parks all over, and surely must have been a thought for the American writer Frances Hodgson Burnett when she wrote ‘The Secret Garden’ published in 1911.

Now swaths of Cowslips that grew thigh high under the lime trees are beginning to soften from their bright white, while the Elderflower shrubs stand tall and take their turn, gracefully to unfurl their florets. It is too much! and carrying a floppy old plastic bag holding my clippers I walk the perimeter of the hill, eyeing the Elderflower heads as they bow towards me. It is a slow walk, for I must gauge how low the flower heads are, and glance around to see if anyone is watching. If I walk too deeply into the underbrush I may disturb someones lodging. There are only a few signs of human habitation but there are enough to remind me to be respectful. I’m looking for 20 to 30 full flowering heads from the Elderflower shrubs. Being particular, it takes walking the mile perimeter to gather what I need. Then I can saunter on home and pop the bag in the fridge to stay fresh until I have everything ready.

Ros’s Elderflower Cordial
Recipe

Our next door neighbors are also self-isolating. They have returned to London from their years in the Irish countryside. Like us, a smaller home and the lure of grandchildren has brought them back to the city. And, like me, they have brought their country recipes with them. Ros emails me a well-stained 40 plus year-old copy of her recipe for Elderflower Cordial.

Time is 26 hours total if you count harvest and preparation.

Introduction on the Stove

Once bottled and chilled it is immediately delicious. It is a perfect summer drink and my evening glass is going down a treat. The sun is shining this week, and we are very grateful to be allowed back onto our terrace. We were definitely “personae non grata” outside while the Blue Tits began nest building and egg incubation. But now the eggs have hatched and the parents are too busy flying in and out of the nesting box above the Vanessa Bell and Sir Walter Scott Roses to be too nervous about us. Bill Oddie’s bird book says they can hatch 14 eggs but I don’t see how they can all fit in the box. Maybe I will just have come out each evening, sip a little more cordial and count until the one night they all fly away.

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