Fasten your seatbelts please

Recorded and Knit together by WSM
A paper on the plane

“There is a light drizzle on the ground” says a voice from the cockpit of the British airways flight from London to Dublin. We presume it is our captain speaking, but you never know. This it the first time we have breached an airport in eighteen months and we are cautious, as if entering a familiar jungle from long ago but that is now heavily overgrown, and we don’t know what it hides. The young people who work at the airports seem comfortable with their rolls and the stewardess clips up and down the plane isle with a quick British efficiency. As the plane begins its decent through the thick clouds that cover Ireland today – the green fields and blue ocean shine in balance with the farms and small towns that lead us into Dublin.

I don’t remember any of this from October 1964 – 57 years ago. I was just one of a plane full of nurses and physical therapists almost all from England, Ireland, Denmark and The Netherlands. In England we had obtained easy visas from the majestic old American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, so unlike in architecture and ambiance to the Embassy fortress that now sits defended South of the river. The two embassies even speak of the two states of America, then and now. But on that October day we were just young women searching for a new life. There were a few who were traveling together but mostly this plane load of almost all young women, just made friends across the isle of the plane. Some were going to the east coast, some further afield to the mid-west, even the real west as in Los Angeles. We didn’t know it then but we were just another wave of imported cheap labour.  It was a dark evening. The plane had taken us from London to Shannon where papers were checked once more before walking across the tarmac back to the prop plane taking off to Halifax, Canada. There we would refuel again before a final destination in New York. The plane landed five hours late but that wasn’t unusual back then.

Today the flight arrives on time and the cheery customs man bids us welcome to Dublin. The light drizzle had turned to a solid shower before fading again into what the Irish call ‘a soft day’ for the rest of the afternoon.

For the moment we have left behind the idiocy of the British parliament. 

Boris Johnson and Lord Frost are now tossing the Northern Ireland Brexit agreement into the sea as if an agreement is not really that – an agreement. And on his left, Boris and his other buds are changing their minds at least every week as to what Covid restrictions will stay in place – not too many – if he can help it – as the country relies more heavily on vaccinations. In and out back and forth go the papers, emails and memos and you know that no one is reading or being guided by science any more. The economy is leading the agenda – again. Boris’ breaking of a promise not to raise the national insurance tax has caused mumblings that turned to rumblings from members of his conservative party along with a backlash from the grass roots – whoever they maybe. The Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there should be no new tax rises before the next election. But nobody listens to Javid. He has been bounced around too much by the blue boys establishment for them to pay him any mind. And this is just one week.

Emma Raducanu wins the US Tennis Open

But England finally does have something to smile about when on Saturday young Emma Radacanu won the U.S. Open Tennis Championship in Flushing, New York. Emma was born in Canada. Her father is Romanian and her mother Chinese and they immigrated to England when Emma was two. Her young opponent, Leylah Fernandez, is Canadian and these two young ladies not only played some fine tennis they brought a refreshing professionalism back to their sport.

Girls walk upstairs as they enter a school before class in Kabul, Afghanistan, (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

How different it is for them than the young women of Afghanistan now the Taliban are guiding the country. Is it a step forward for the Taliban, or three steps back for the women of Afghanistan? Is it a place that for the moment two ideologies can meet? How little can the Taliban give, how much will the women accept?  

And while we are figuring out how to bring the British economy back to life, let the children return to school while protecting our elderly and vulnerable, and cheering young champions, hoping they continue to play with honour in their sport we have turned away from the problems that bubbled up in Hong Kong and Belarus and are no longer listening to the stories they have to tell us. Dissidents are jailed and we don’t know yet when we will hear their voices again.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Coming Home to Roost

A shout out for KWMR.org. This post is going out a day early so that those of you who listen or read have the opportunity to support KWMR.org. Letter from A. Broad is aired every Wednesday at 9.20 a.m Pacific Time. Usually I post the show on this blog, Face Book and Twitter after it has aired on KWMR. But today/this week you have the fantastic opportunity of supporting Community Radio by just clicking the button below. Whatever you decide, thank you for listening and reading and staying tuned. MAM.

Recorded and Knit together by WSM
The bantam rooster Little Richard and his two wives in 2009
Little Richard and his two wives in 2009

Every rooster who’s lived on the farm had a distinct personality. But none was as independent as Little Richard. He was a small Bantam Rooster gifted, as we do with roosters, by friends – so in a moment of weakness, one Sunday afternoon we drove back down Spring Mountain Road with Richard and two wives. Richard quickly decided that he was not going to live in a chicken coop when the wide world was waiting. Instead, he roosted with his ladies on the high stall walls in the horse barn where, like his namesake, he crowed and sang through the pre-dawn hours of the morning. It was too much, and so I took him up into the hills to fend for himself. After all, he had shown an independent enough spirit to outwit predators at least for a while. During a torrential rain storm two days later, as I was finishing chores in the barn, Little Richard came strutting in – dripping wet, a little battle-weary maybe – but still strutting. He walked with a look of righteous indignation as he came home to roost.

Indignation is what I feel now. For weeks we have been looking outward at the police and military’s clampdowns on protests in eastern Europe, Belarus, Moscow, the Far East in Hong Kong, and Myanmar but now protests are happening in Clapham and Bristol!

A vandalised police van on fire outside Bridewell police station in Bristol. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA
A vandalised police van on fire outside Bridewell police station in Bristol. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

I look back in anger or is it despair at how the two bombshells of Brexit and COVID-19 that have hit the UK have been handled by three Conservative Prime Ministers. None of whom liked or respected each other as they handed on the baton of government.

Before we began to really come to grips with what Brexit would mean for England, along came COVID-19 like a low-lying fog that seeped into the walls of our homes, work, and all aspects of our daily lives.

Now fingers are pointed at other countries as new variants naturally arise to name and shame the country of their seeming origin. And – dare we say it – if Brexit had not happened many discussions of travel bans and governments hoarding stashes of vaccines might not be taking place. The British cry, ‘When will we get out of lock-down? When will we be back to Normal? When can we go on holiday?’ as those thinking it is their right to escape the dreariness of an English summer by climbing aboard an EasyJet, emerging into the Spanish sunshine, and oozing out onto the warm beaches. 

But hold on. The great big British rollout of vaccinations is making a real difference on the numbers of COVID-19 infections and serious illnesses. There is breathing space in the Intensive Care Units of the NHS hospitals. While there is tentative talk about the nine most vulnerable groups getting their second vaccinations, there has been a pause on vaccinating those under 50 years old, leaving young men and women, with energy to spare, and often distanced from the immediate pressures of Covid, frustrated with now mounting anger in need of an outlet.

They know that Boris will not listen to them. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who has so far successfully clawed her way upstairs, misstep after misstep, apology after apology – only when necessary – has sought to bring greater control for the police force anyway she can. After the events of last weekend when the Metropolitan police crowded in on those women gathering at the Clapham Common band-stand in a vigil for Sarah Everard, she saw another opportunity. Some of the police that night carried a mixture of sympathies; for the protesting women, shame and guilt that the reported perpetrator of the murder was a Metropolitan police officer, and confusion at the messages from Government to the Met. Frequently Priti Patel causes more problems than she solves. Now she is grabbing this time to try and push through a bill that would give the police in England and Wales extended powers to impose heavy fines or prison sentences on non-violent protesters who are considered ‘too noisy’ or are ‘creating a nuisance’. Naturally, this is an alarm bell for those who are vigilant to government behaviors but whose only access is to the police forces acting as a river running against the tide. 

Upstream and downstream swim the fishes, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and her mentor and predecessor, Alex Salmond, as they battle out who said what, who promised what, or didn’t, regarding Salmond’s trial for sexual harassment of nine women. In the redacted report James Hamilton, the independent legal advisor exposed a clear situation when the law gets in the way of the truth. In his cover letter to his report he writes, ‘that the removal of sections of his report by the government would lead to an incomplete and even at times misleading version of what has happened.” Reading between the lines may be the only way to glimpse the truth of this affair. The Scots are good fishermen and good fishermen have a lot of patience. This fish has not yet been reeled in and landed. 

James Hamilton, the independent legal advisor
James Hamilton

In 1697 William Congreve wrote ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” in his play “Mourning Bride” but the Scottish minister Alex Salmond seems hell-bent on the destruction of his protege Nicola Sturgeon, whom he may feel is under an obligation to him – a situation a smart woman will try at all costs to avoid. For all his shouting and crowing, Alex Salmond may not find his way home to roost.

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

1 Percent

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

“In 1961, twenty-four young women came together in a classroom at The Royal Surrey Country Hospital in Guildford, Surrey. We were entering our three-month period of preliminary nurse training. With its completion, we could begin our official journey to become State Registered Nurses. But first, we had to pass through Sister Cartwright’s schoolroom, her capable hands, and caring heart. Only twenty students emerged from her classroom and by the end of our three years, we were a graduating class of sixteen.” So I wrote for ‘Learning to Heal’ published by Kent State University Press in 2018.

Of those sixteen nurses who graduated in 1964, eight left England searching for working opportunities in other countries.  We loved nursing and yet knew that it would be near impossible to afford a life much beyond the student style we already lived. My three cottage mates and I left for Australia, Africa, America, and Canada. 

In this last year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen nurses in England, and all over the world, work harder and longer than ever before. They, along with medical consultants to cleaners, have been tireless in their dedicated care of their patients. They have given their best to bus drivers and to Boris, and so it seems something of a wet fish in the face to hear this year’s budget distributions to the National Health System – while understanding that education, business, and all endeavors need financial aid at this time. Many public sector workers had a pay freeze, and the NHS staff account for half of that budget.  People cost money. Last year this very government promised an over 2% pay increase. Nada. And yet, tucked away in the LBC, a little radio program, comes the news of the HMRC, short for the tax collector, garnering a total 13% pay rise. They may deserve it, but it brings back the wet fish feeling. 

Before Brexit and COVID, nurses were moving across Europe and other countries, as we had done before them. In accepting the Tillie Olsen Award for ‘Learning to Heal’ I spoke of that too: “Oft times we choose nursing as a pathway from one social environment to another, usually empowerment and/or of a social context.”  After Brexit many European nurses returned to their home countries, leaving England once again – the poorer. 

In this Government Budget, Rishi Sunak is not looking so Dishy with a 1% pay raise for the NHS nurses, with other public-sector workers’ pay is frozen. “A row has erupted,” says one headline, “Unions warn,” says another. And I think how when I graduated in 1964 I made the conscious decision not to join the Royal College of Nursing because in their mandate was a clause whereby nurses could strike. I couldn’t believe that action would ever be needed or used. But today it is not a stretch to see how it can be discussed. We understand that equipment and machinery are expensive. But we remember the incredible spending blotches of this government: the huge Nightingale hospitals, erected with fanfare and speed, stand empty – and are soon to be dismantled. Nobody had thought of the staff needed to run them. Meanwhile, old brick-and-mortar hospitals remain hugely overcrowded, and last spring some even came close to running out of oxygen. Then there are the containers of PPE ordered from Turkey last May at a cost of millions of pounds. The shipments were delayed and then found to be below standard and useless on arrival. All this while firms in England were converting factories into making the equipment needed. I could go on, but you get the picture.

You would have thought Boris Johnson, with his own hospitalization and desperate need for nursing care, would have learned something. But as profuse as his thanks were at the moment, he thought no more of the nurses than of a maid who has ironed his shirt, nicely. 

Boris has other things to think about. This week schools reopen across England. There will be protocols of swab testing and masks in place, but not yet the sensible vaccination of all teaching staff. While fact-checking this I found an on-line petition to bring this item forward for Parliament. And signed it.

Boris Johnson in School

As we look up from Little England, which looks smaller by the day, there is a place to be grateful for a moment, for our smallness brings the ability of the mass vaccination program being rolled out across the country. The fact that we have a higher ratio of deaths per capita than almost every other country in the world is put to one side for the moment and hopefully will be dealt with later.

But we do lookout, even knowing that what we are seeing is often curated for our viewing: not much from Belarus or Moscow but still horror from Myanmar where, according to Reuters, close-by residents were warned not to enter the cemetery on Friday. The police and military were digging up the body of 19-year-old Kyal Sin in an effort to prove that the bullet that killed her could not have been theirs. They couldn’t prove it and so the protests continue to grow. A small change has happened that the military is mostly now using rubber bullets rather than live ammunition – mostly.

Meanwhile, The Pontiff, Pope Francis, traveled on a commercial plane on a pilgrimage to Iraq. He met with Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and other religious leaders and visited churches and communities bombed by ISIS in northern Iraq. 

Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani with His Holiness, Pope Francis

Many years ago, when Pope Francis was still the archbishop of Buenos Aires, California’s Bishop Bill Swing, (Also known to KWMR golfing listeners as a fine golfer and supporter of KWMR) was visiting that city. They talked of Bishop Swing’s dream of a United Religions Initiative and together gave the first interdenominational service at the Cathedral. Now, as Pope Francis, he carried that message of inclusiveness deep into the Muslim world at Ur, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. 

Timing and Dosage and the Saga of the Sussexes. I think back to our beloved Sister Cartwright and wonder that there was not a similar helping hand to light a lamp and show the way forward on the new path and calling for the young family. I hope that wherever their journey takes them they find such a person, who, like a nurse, will hold their hand in the darkest of times.

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

20,000,000 and counting

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

…is a lot of people given their first dose of the Covid vaccine. This week the rollout of vaccinations begins for those between 64-60 years old. Cases of COVID infections in the UK are down 40% and – for the moment – England can be hopeful. Last week The Queen joined health workers from around the UK on a Zoom conference call, talking of how well the program is going and how important it is. The Queen added that her vaccination “Didn’t hurt at all” and encouraged those who were nervous about having a vaccination “to think of others and protect them by having the vaccination.” At 94 she remains in lockdown in Windsor Castle while Prince Philip, her 99-year-old husband, is transferred from King Edward Vth hospital to St. Batholomew’s and there are other family concerns on her mind. She is not immune from the extra burdens that this time brings. In her own isolation from family and work, she shares the worries which we all carry with the sense that the world is closing in on us. For some people, this time brings issues of weight gain, but in The Queen I see weight loss and the concerns of aging for both her and Prince Philip are on my mind.

Her Majesty The Queen urges people to get the vaccination

Stacy Abrams was a bright light when she zoomed into Andrew Marr’s Sunday show. Smart, polite, and clear with her message of upholding the democratic voting process in North America. She is a strong intelligent woman and her interview was a source of hope of sanity in the United States. She has me wondering, almost wishing, that it will be the women of color who might save the U.S. and even humanity.

Stacey Abrams

So many nations are caught in struggles for national power and control while others reach for a form of democracy. The United Arab Emirates is not of the latter. Last week, footage from a sequestered phone-camera was released taken by Princess Latifa locked in the bathroom of her villa/jail as she called out for help. Princess Latifa has accused her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the ruler of Dubai and vice-president of the UAE, of holding her hostage in Dubai since she tried to flee the city in 2018. The statements from  Dubai say “she is safe in the loving care of her family.” But no pictures of her are forthcoming.

And in other countries, the clenched iron fist of authoritarian rule is being met with continued resistance, and the continued resistance is being countered by fists squeezing on the triggers of guns and power. 18 protesters were killed in Myanmar this weekend. Aung San Suu Kyi has been brought to court, via video link and though purported to be in good health, her lawyer was forbidden to see her – and again, no pictures of her are forthcoming.

The news from Hong Kong where protests continue is of 47 public officials who have not sworn the new oath of loyalty to Beijing, China, and Communism and who were put on trial. The newly introduced oath of loyalty aims to cull anyone who seeks to maintain or improve democracy in Hong Kong from holding public office. They would be banned from running in elections for the next five years.

It is a worn phrase – ‘while protests continue’ – and yet protests do continue wherever they are needed as democratic challenges and activists are suppressed, along with the journalists who report them. 

A Belarus court has jailed two TV journalists of Poland-based Belsat TV for two years on charges of fomenting protests while filming a rally against the country’s leader. James Shotter and Max Seddon wrote for the Financial Times reporting on the Belarusian activists who have slipped across borders, to Lithuania, and Poland. Nexta, founded by a prolific blogger, Stsiapan Putsila is run by a small young and savvy group of activists. Posting quick-fire information and images on Telegram, it has become the main source of news for what is happening and where to be for the Belarusian public.

Another story, a single paragraph, maybe of deeper relevance than first observed, is of Mikita Mikado, the Silicon Valley founder of a Belarusian software firm who launched a crowdfunded platform to help security officers pay the heavy fines needed to leave the force and re-train for other work. Hundreds from the Belarusian police-force have reached out to him, sick of the violence they are asked to perpetuate. Lukashenko is beginning to ramble with his statements while Putin hopes that with Navalny put away he can sit back and watch – for a moment.

How to find comfort or inspiration during these times? Reading helps, those books that one never had time for before. Finally, Middlemarch by George Eliot is by my bedside, and to my amazement, I am enjoying the words, the pace of reading, and the story – in the doses that bedtime reading provides.  But like many others, I return to poetry and found renewal with a program from the Wigmore-at-home series. I settled in to listen and watch a performance by Alice Coote, Christian Blackshaw, and Ralph Fiennes as they wove together the music, letters, and poetry of Tchaikovsky and Pushkin. They gather artists and audience together bringing us solace and strength for this time.

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

St. Valentine’s Weekend.

Recorded and knit together by WSM.

It was St. Valentine’s Day on Sunday. Birthed from the Roman Festival of Lupercalia that celebrated the beginning of Spring with fertility rites and the pairing of women with men – by lottery – it was eventually Christianized in the fifth century by Pope Gelasius and finally, in the 14th century, celebrated as a day of love and romance. In country law, the middle of February – St. Valentine’s day – is the moment when birds start pairing up for the spring-time nesting season. There is now bird-song calling from the trees in the parks and around the cottage. Walking up the hill on our way to the Saturday market there are a pair of Magpies in the bare branches of an Ash tree. They are perched close to each other and he is very very keen, making caressing, pecking overtures to her head and shoulders. But she is clear: he is too early – it is Saturday, not Sunday – and she is not lifting her tail for him – just yet. 

Tail down Magpie

While the snow fades away in London it continues to fall in Russia and the temperature remains at – 15 º Celsius in Moscow. where St. Valentine’s day is celebrated in Russia too.  Inspired by the ‘chain of Solidarity’ in neighboring Belarus the Russian women found their way around the restrictions of mass protests this weekend. They gathered in home gardens lighting candles, placing them in hearts, and they stood, joined together by white ribbons in lines along the streets and around the government buildings in Moscow’s city squares. In homage to Navalnaya, Alexei’s wife, they wore red scarves and hats and carried red roses and red and black paper hearts. They were freezing cold but standing firm. The bulky policemen watching them may have been warmer on the outside but it is interesting to wonder what they thought as they looked sorrowfully at the women. All through Russia’s cities the police have been clamping down on protesters and punishing them in ways that relate to their families and livelihoods.

Women formed a line of protest in Moscow by the statue of poet Alexander Pushkin and his wife Natalia Goncharova.

In Myanmar the Army has taken to patrolling the streets in armored vehicles and as such are perceived as making war on the people. Now even some government employees are resisting, with airline pilots not showing up for work and causing a deep disruption in the running of the country.  Social Media outlets, Facebook and Twitter and such, are closed and information is spotty at best. The movements may be led by the young generation and the intellectuals, but they are joined by people from all walks of life. It is a waiting, and weighted, game in these countries whose people struggle to protest their oppressive authoritarian governments.

Armoured vehicles drive along a road in Yangon, Myanmar, 15 February 2021. Photograph: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

In England, the weekend brought a long overdue ‘Hip-Hip-Hurrah’ moment led by Boris Johnson, thanking everyone – ‘you all, who have played your part’ as the goal of getting the first vaccination out to the four top-most vulnerable categories has been reached. It is a big step and the government’s outline of getting schools, followed by nonessential shops, outdoor sports, and finally, restaurants and pubs open, possibly in three-week increments, sounds like a good plan. I almost dare to trust they will follow through even as the government continues to be pressed, by its own hard-liners, to open everything at once. One can only hope that, for once, they don’t cave in. Without a slow drip of openings, it will be hard to see where the potential trouble spots for infection spread such as university students and sports venues will emerge.  

“Aggie, you have a problem”. So pronounces Neli in a voice that is beyond asking for a refill of a cleaning product. “You have mice.” I appear shocked and dare not confess that this could be possible. Neli assures me she has seen ‘the evidence’ and I bow my head in acknowledgment – she is probably right.

“What do you do about mice?” I casually ask my friend while we walk together.

“I’ve only seen one.” She quickly replies but adds that a friend has more, (is that as in several?) and uses catch and release traps. She continues “Its a big year for mice.”

Our local hardware shop is closed for a family holiday and so onto Amazon I go. In less that 24 hours (I honestly didn’t ask for prime) there is a tat-a-tat-tat on the door and a box is on the mat. The two have-a-heart traps inside have instructions only to use peanuts and, when you put the mice outside, make sure they have a food source. The compost bin seems a good idea.

We only had a mouse for a couple of weeks, racing from a gap in the skirting under the fridge, through the supermarket aisles of the floor under the dining room table, and into hiding under the cabinet. It is small, and very definitely, a city mouse – just like the mice in children’s books. City mice are dark grey almost black and the country mice, such as my friend in the Hay Loft, are a lighter grey with pink ears. London mice have black ears. This little fellow looks even darker than the mice that we used to see scurrying along the rails at the underground tube stations. But this week when my husband came downstairs to bed he held up his hand and started twitching two fingers, as if in a game of Charades. I was to guess, ‘something has happened.’ No, it is ‘just’ that he saw two mice galloping across the floor back home from their adventures under the cabinet.  

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

Winter Storms Keep Brewing

Recorded and knit together by WSM

Winter. The turning of, the date between, winter solstice and spring equinox. February 1st is celebrated with St. Brigid who moved into Christianity from the Celtic feast of Imbolc. St. Brigid’s Day is still observed as a Gaelic seasonal festival in parts of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. To make sure we don’t get too complacent, last weekend’s snowstorm arrived in England and in London managed to bring snowmen and slides to the parks and on the hill. Through the week the snow faded, the water-logged grass turned to mud and the dogs let off their leads were in heaven. Barbour Jackets and Hunter Wellington Boots are made for days like these – even in the city. 

Alberto Pezzali for AP

The Dutch named it Storm Darcy, and then as he crossed the North Sea he was nicknamed by the British Met office as the Beast from the East 2, as he is set to repeat – or exceed – the winter storms of 2018. Storm Darcy has come across North-Eastern Europe from Russia and one is mindful of the geography of the meteorology. 

And also of politics. The harshness of the winter has played out in the harshness of the political regimes of Belarus and Russia with their clamp-downs and imprisonment of opposition political leaders. We hear very little from Belarus and only minimal news of Alexey Navalny’s court appearances and continued imprisonment. The Kremlin has now expelled three European diplomats: from Germany, Sweden, and Poland. The United Kingdom, France, and the European Union have joined together to shake their fingers at Russia. But Russia doesn’t care, even as more of the Russian people join the protesters against Putin’s authoritarianism and begin to look at Navalny as the moral compass of their country. 

Navalny is seen – however briefly – more than the protesters in Myanmar. 

Aung San Suu Kyi remains in house-arrest along with several of her ministers and when she can, urges her supporters to protest against the coup. And protest they do, coming onto the streets in the cities and towns in their thousands. Currently, the military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing is holding the power of Myanmar’s military over the government – even as the country transitioned towards democracy. But not much news comes out of Myanmar. Social media has been shut down with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all closed. Information to journalists is spooled out through phone videos, just as it was shot on film before we had phones. What is clear is that the military has sent out the police to subdue the protestors and they – the police – don’t look too happy about it. The Burmese are slighter in build than their Russian counterparts in Moscow. Where the Russian police have the look of plated armadillos, these police officers move with a skittish hesitancy as they retreat behind their rubber-bullet guns and inside water-cannon tanks. For at the end of their day, they have to go home to mothers and fathers and be berated for turning against their aunts and sisters. Memories of military suppression are still strong among their parents’ generation. While the protesters are mostly young people, both men, and women, who have begun to find their voice in the emerging democracy, medical staff are also leaving the hospitals, and professors their universities, to march – while arthritic grannies are banging pots and pans from their windows and the curbsides. 

Water Canon in Nay Pyi Taw

Meanwhile, throughout England, the snow keeps falling, though in London it is unsure how to land – as snowflakes or raindrops. The wind chill is keeping the temperatures low, the snow in flurries, and ministers hurrying from their cars to Westminster or their Zoom-rooms where attention is all turned inward to the Covid virus, its variants, and the vaccines. And there is news, and rumors and charts and people trying to keep a lid on it and a Prime Minister wearing a paper hat and lab coat, out and about at vaccine factories, while muttering and mumbling “We’re doing jolly well, the number of people getting the vaccines are the highest” – then what, I wonder? Covid infection and death rates are finally coming down but the relentless level of exhaustion among hospital personnel is not. Staff morale is at a low ebb as patients keep being admitted to Intensive Care Units and there is no time to grieve over patients who have died before there is another to take that bed.

Meanwhile, at last night’s government briefing, Professor Jonathan Van Tam’s casual mention that ‘by the way, if you are over 70 and haven’t had your jab, give us a call and we’ll sort something out,’ just isn’t cutting it. Variants of the COVID-19 virus skip from country to country, turning and changing along the way as it travels throughout the world. This morning Health Minister Matt Hancock outlined the strong travel restrictions coming into force for those traveling from the Red-List Countries. But looking at the list of countries, I’m wondering how accurate this is, in terms of virus mutations and economic impact. What vaccine for which variant is now becoming a shell game that I can’t follow and there are muddles and finger-pointing and people to blame all though Whitehall, Westminster, and even the home counties. A quote from Jane Goodall might be worth reminding our government at this time. 

“Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.”

Jane Goodall

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

Covid, Coup Coo ee

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

To date, over nine million people in the UK have had their first Covid-19 vaccination. Now there is a scurry-hurry as testing is ramped up in flaring spots of the fast-spreading South African variant of the virus. The English like a good hunt and if foxes are off-limits then viruses can be the quarry. As the elderly residents of all UK care homes are now scheduled to receive their first vaccinations, Ireland, Wales and Scotland are also vaccinating the care-home staff but for some untenable reason, England is not.

The Covid virus remains indiscriminate and random in its reach. Age and health play a part but there are no guarantees of safety from the disease. This weekend Captain Sir Tom Moore who walked 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday, raising over 32 million pounds for the Nation Health Service, was hospitalized with pneumonia and a positive Covid-19 test, and he died on Tuesday afternoon. He and his family became a symbol of hope and inspiration for the whole country. We hear a lot about how the pandemic affects doctors and nurses on the front line. Today I am thinking about an anesthesiologist’s story of his first two intubations, back to back, for young women bedded in the same unit, both mothers with young families to care for. He writes of the panic in their eyes and in his heart and the moment when he has to switch from compassion to competent – and carry on. 

On Monday came the news of the military coup in Myanmar, formerly Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi and 400 members of parliament have been detained by the army and remain confined inside their government housing in the capital. Police are inside the complex and soldiers are outside. Somehow a democratic election was held in 2015 and though the military never really gave up control, Aung San Suu Kyi – after spending nearly 15 years in detention – emerged as the country’s leader. Myanmar has never been known as a soft country and her harsh treatment of the Rohingya people has inked her time in the office with the United Nations. But under her leadership, the country has begun to open for the young people who have quickly seen its new possibilities. It is hard to think that they will allow that window to close again.

As hard line coups continue to happen, people throughout the Western world also continue with protests. Alexei Navalny is still in prison but the people of Russia are protesting in their thousands. Was it the video of Putins’ Palace, the gold-plated toilet brushes or Arkady Rotenberg stepping up to claim the palace as his own – Rotenberg, a known construction magnate, judo sparring partner, and close pal to Putin – that has kept the Russian people pouring onto the street to demonstrate? Even those who are not Navalny supporters have joined the protests and this weekend over five thousand were detained by the police. These protests may be as much about questioning the authority of Vladimir Putin as the imprisonment of Navalny. Similar questions as those posed in Belarus. 

Putin’s Black Sea Palace

Military and Police forces are the powerful tools used to protect or take over a government or country and control the media. The Iranian Coup of 1953 used the military and paid mobs to overthrow Prime Minister Mosaddegh and that model has been copied and refined ever since. We can fast-forward to the almost coup 2021 in the United States – which though it appeared unruly, was orchestrated. Photographs of rioters with handcuffs and ropes harks back to a chilling American history. 

NPR reported that nearly 1 in 5 of the American rioters charged has served in the military. This made me think of the Vietnam veterans I met in the mid-1960s while nursing in Hollywood, California when new teams of respiratory therapists marched onto the wards. They were young men, edgy, competent, and clipped and all were returning Vietnam Medic Veterans. They had been fast-tracked, retrained, to treat people after surgery or with cardiac and respiratory disease. 

In 1966 President Johnson read a report “Accidental Death and Disability”, stating accidental deaths as the leading cause of death in young people. And in 1969 came the first standardization of care and emergency training for “rescue squad personnel, policemen, firemen and ambulance attendants.” This program was a life-saver, not only for accident and cardiac victims but for returning medics from the Vietnam War. The program gave their adrenaline the same pump and release that war had given them, but just a little slower, and as they cared for civilian patients many of those medics healed too. So I think about the 1 in 5 rioters who stormed the US capital building being veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and maybe having no support when they returned to the US, the country they thought they had fought for.

Hello-eee calls out the Royal Society of Protection of Birds, waving for the ‘Big Garden Birdwatch.’ In 1889 Emily Williamson founded The Plumage League to protect birds killed for the decoration of hats. Across England, the last weekend in January is set aside for anyone who wants to count the birds in their garden for an hour. I choose my Sunday morning Andrew Marr breakfast time and, with a cup of tea in one hand, pen poised over notebook in the other, I waited. This weekend the weather was miserable, cold, and foul, and the birds mostly remained shivering in the trees. But eventually, they emerged in the pattern they have long-established. One robbin, followed by two blue tits, two coal tits, one great tit, all knocked off the feeder by a starling. A feral and wood pigeon strut across the terrace while the goldfinches, dunnock, and wren stayed hidden. Then it is a walk up to my friend Lucy’s wilderness garden where we put out more seed. We sit on suitably-spaced garden stools and take our masks off to talk. It doesn’t take long before the robin who lives in this hidden quarter of Primrose Hill comes down to feed with us.

St. George’s Terrace Robbin

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

Sunday Snow

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

It is almost time to mute Andrew Marr on Sunday mornings. The program is getting upsetting, not so much in the content but in the sharp delivery, so early and with breakfast on the sofa, and it is not good for digestion. When there was art, cinema, and theatre to discuss, Marr’s tone would soften and he would be coy like a schoolboy in a candy shop. But the politicians do not move him in the same way, while now some are figuring out how to defuse him. “Call me by my Name” is a book and a film of love, and to call Andrew by his name somehow takes a touch of the wind out of his sails. Matt Hancock has begun to do it, but it works best with the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, or Annelies Dodds, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and best of all, with Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland. They have also learned that other trick, to keep talking, and not let him interrupt. It takes practice and breath control and would be funny if some of the topics were not so serious and pertinent to our daily lives.

Matt Hancock is still working from his home office and needs to close the kitchen door. But there is a rare smile on Hancock’s face as he recited the rising numbers of those in England who’ve had their first vaccination, including 80% of those over 80 years old. But like the working terrier he is, Andrew has his nose on an important question. Originally the scientists recommended that the two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccines should be given three weeks apart for the maximum benefit. But now politicians and their statisticians, say actually no, the doses can be given up to twelve weeks apart. It seems some serious number-crunching is going on, trying to lower the number of people who would get sick enough to require hospitalization and further burden the National Health Service. But today, as the UK death toll from the Coronavirus tops 100,000, there leaks news of petty behavior from Boris Johnson to João Vale de Almeida the ambassador sent to represent the European Union in England. This rolls back to past behaviors and slights between brief-cased men and women over the last painful years of the Brexit negotiations and now rumbles on into questions of who holds how many doses of which vaccine, manufactured and stored in which country, and who is going to share, what, when.  

Boris Johnson in Trouble
The Independent

This brings back a shadow remembrance of the Ford Pinto number-crunching that went on from the 1970s to 1980s. After the gas tank misdesign was uncovered and Mother Jones published ‘The Pinto Memo’ that said the cost of recalling the cars would have been $121 million, whereas paying off the victims would only have cost Ford $50 million. ‘It’s cheaper to let them burn” in ‘the barbecue that seats four.’  For the moment the UK Government, The European Union, and medical scientists are at odds, as they wrestle with the numbers that may not be, how many lives will be lost, but whose.

The situation with the COVID-19 virus, vaccinations, questions about schools remaining closed, and with no end in this degree of lockdown in sight, have pushed even the American political changes under President Biden onto page two. News of other nation’s pandemics and war deaths are barely covered as if the continents of South America, Africa, and India are too big for us now to comprehend and explain.

Coverage of the protests in Belarus has given way to those in Russia over the arrest of Alexei Navalny. Before Navalny left Germany he made a video film, “Putin’s Palace: The $ Billion Dollar GRIFT” in which, at almost two hours long, Navalny also narrates in staccato bullet-point sentences. It is an amazing piece of work, gathering all of Navalny’s research over the last ten years as well as help from those who also see that things are not as they should be in Mother Russia. By the time Navalny returned to Moscow and was arrested, the film was already available to anyone on YouTube, and, at this point, remains untouchable by Putin. Even as the temperatures are well below freezing in Moscow, St Petersburg, and other Russian cities, the outpouring of demonstrators has filled the city streets and the protesters arrested number in the thousands.

The Russian police look like plated armadillos as they take on the protesters. The chain-mail effect as iron gives way to the sturdy plastic of their interlocking shining plates harks back to Tudor England and copied from the ancient armor held in the museums of Europe.

The harshness and speed of the clamp-down has been so severe that Western countries are ‘considering their next steps,’ as they watch Putin and the Kremlin close the fist of authoritarianism.

Back at the kitchen sink after our morning dose of politics, I look out of the window and the sky stares back at me. “Watch now,” it seems to say, and then slowly, thick drops of moisture begin to fall and, as they gathered in strength and courage they grew bigger, fatter, and fell covering the pavement, the cars, and shrubs outside with a solid blanket of snow. The old words return, none are better: solid blanket, silent night, or, in this case, day, as the snow fell for a sweet two hours, and we smiled with childlike excitement to see it so. Young Charlie fox padded softly by, paused at the window to look in on us before continuing his morning hunting rounds.  

Charlie Passing By Photo by WSM

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

Mother Russia amidst Covid19

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

While America turns the ignition key for political movement and change, Russia yanks its hand brake hard bringing dissension to at least a temporary halt.

If Alexei Navalny is to carry on his work, he needs to return to Russia. The price would be high and he knew the Kremlin would come for him. As Vladimir Putin’s strongest critic, in print and on the streets, Navalny has been a thorn in Putin’s side for a long ten years. The Kremlin tried to corral him to silence him, sending out their best guard-dogs to nip at his heels. They herded him into courts, penned him in house-arrests and jail, before finally, in exasperation, tried a botched poisoning attempt by the Federal Security Office, the FSO, that was rebirthed from the old KGB. 

Whenever Navalny decided to return from Germany to Russia he knew the world’s journalists would be following him. Booking tickets on the same plane, they crowded in on Alexei’s last hours with his wife Yulia who must have accepted that this is the price they needed to pay.

What did Alexei and Yulia discuss, that they haven’t already? How far ahead can they look into the lives of their children, the family, his work, and how much can be continued if he were to be silenced forever? They must have known that Moscow’s police service had orders to immediately detain him for parole violations. The question of how long to detain him, where and for what, is a thorny political decision for Vladimir Putin as the world watches. And the world is watching, or rather glancing, for at the moment, there are other players in the world stage this week.

Police officers speaking with Alexei Navalny before leading him away at Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday. Photograph: Reuters

On Wednesday, as this program airs on KWMR the United States is inaugurating Joe Biden as their 46th president and with that act completed the United States and the world stages will change and a new act begins. While Putin may shrug off concerns for world opinion the question still remains for him, ‘What to do with this constant festering thorn in his side’.

Arrested again, Navalny is held and now jailed for a month pending his three-year prison sentence. He was last seen speaking from a holding area surrounded by masked police, and urging his supporters to take to the streets. Though the temperature is 20º below freezing, the sun is shining and his supporters are gathering and protesting for him. But the fear of the Covid virus and Covid restrictions may be enough to dampen support, and Alexei Navalny can be quietly herded into the past tense.

Text messages ping through within minutes of each other on both of our phones. “You have been invited to book for your local First COVID-19 (Astrazeneca/Oxford) vaccine this weekend”  There are instructions, ‘attend alone unless you need a carer, don’t come at all and rebook if you are feeling unwell,’ and more. This is the true excitement highlight of this week. The Belsize Priory Health Center in Kilburn is on the number 31 bus line, but are we up for getting on the number 31 bus? Not yet. Just as we step outside, Mr. Habtu returns home from a client. I tell him we are off to get our vaccines.

There is no hesitancy,

“I will take you.” ‘No no.’ “Yes I will take you. Let me get a clean mask.” and he disappears up to his flat and returns to park his Addison Lee SUV at our doorstep. It is in the kindness of such gestures that we are reminded how much people need to give as well as receive. He is more than happy and we are more than grateful to be driven to and back from the Belsize Priory Health Center in Kilburn.

It is raining. Not hard slogging-down rain but neither is it just a soft rain. The queue stretches out and winds around the cold utilitarian buildings that look older than their years. Belsize and Kilburn all look worn down and even their tiny community garden is hiding in the rain. Umbrellas are needed as we move along from under the overhanging walkway, across the small courtyard, and into the first building. Traffic flow has still to be worked out, as there are check-ins to be done here, questions to answer there, and then another walk – winding around to the clinic building offices. Here we are firmly told where to stand. Nobody is going to get sick on this volunteer’s beat. How many of the staff are volunteers, medical staff from the clinic, or retried doctors and nurses recruited for this effort, it is hard to say. But everyone, before noon on Saturday, is still upbeat and kind. Across the country, health centers, pharmacies, and even cathedrals are rearranging the furniture to become vaccination centers.

The health scares of smallpox and polio with their vaccination programs for children that followed in the 1950s are strong memories from our childhood. Now those children, including ourselves, are the vulnerable seniors, once again waiting our turn and grateful for science to save us. From self-isolation at home, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announces that vaccinations are now available for those 70 years and older and that as of today over four million people have had their first vaccination in the United Kingdom. Though the UK death toll from COVID-19 is still rising, the number of new infections in London is down 30% and there is a glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel. 

People queue outside Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire, to recieve an injection of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

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

January is Gathering Speed

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

What will this week bring for American politics, for England’s Covid vaccination news, and for all of us living in these times?

With Brexit a done deal, opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer is washing his hands of any Brexit redux, leaving the freedom of travel for Europeans and Britons in the hands of the European Union. Sad as it is maybe he is right to let the English people grumble and suffer on with Boris Johnson’s non-deal.

Meanwhile the Covid Vaccine timetable is being rolled out. Health workers are getting vaccinated, the Queen and Prince Philip have been vaccinated, and white-haired seniors can been seen shuffling along in the cold, queuing outside of drafty tents. Minister of the Cabinet, Michael Gove, does admit “Transport for seniors may present a bit of an issue.” All I can think of is bladder control.

The First BioNTech-Pfizer Vaccine given to ninety-year-old grandmother Margaret Keenan. Photo by Jacob King

The stillness is beginning to get oppressive. Though there are still clusters of young people milling around the High Street coffee shops, not yet able to give up on the social connection or the metabolic addiction of their cup of Joe. Once again, I write out a grocery list and send it along to Parkway Greens. Later in the day, there is a rat-a-tat-tat on the door, and an overflowing box of fruit and vegetables is laid on the steps.

£ 5 left over special

In Hampshire, where I grew up, the statistics are set out in graphs so color-coordinated I can’t follow them. But next door, Surrey, the homiest of home counties, has begun to build temporary morgues on discrete army grounds. While making room for 800 bodies, the County Council are still concerned that this will not be enough. The small hamlets and villages that surrounded my childhood are dotted with Covid virus cases and death. Old names – Ash Vale, Frimley, Bagshot, Camberley, Farnham, Elstead, Tongham, and Guildford, all a part of my childhood – are now saddened with a startled grief. The home counties suburbs are struggling in their perceived privilege with its lack of discipline as much as the industrial working north is with making a lively-hood.

A friend in London admits to now watching afternoon television. Something she would never have considered even six months ago. We are not there yet except for the momentous events of last Wednesday in Washington DC. But the death this autumn of Dame Barbara Windsor, star of the long-running TV drama East Enders reminded us of the hunger to escape into a fantasy world. And, often I do switch on my Roberts radio, tuned to BBC Radio 4, and catch the fifteen minutes of ‘The Archers’ which this year turned 70. First subtitled ‘The Every Day Story of Country Folk’ with a five-part pilot in 1950, it was created in an effort to educate farmers and improve agricultural production in the early post-war years and had a heavy government influence in the scripting until the 1970s. I can remember it playing on the wireless in my nursery where I would be having supper and someone would be ironing. Our generation listened to it for years, it was as ingrained in our minds as a Catholic catechism. School term times came and went, and whenever we returned ‘The Archers’ would be playing in their 6.45. p.m. slot. You could dip in and out of the village story, for it never lost its charm or its relevance to rural living. Even when television came nipping at radio audiences with their soap operas of Coronation Street and The East Enders that focused on working lives in London and the north of England, The Archers carried on.

Over this summer, the episodes of The Archers continued with a story of three British-born young men kept as slaves in a secret location on the outskirts of Ambridge, each one having a learning or mental health disability. This is the appalling reality that The Archers’ editor, Jeremy Howe, chose to confront as well as to challenge. According to the Global Slavery Index, it is thought there are up to 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the United Kingdom.

“It’s not simply a problem involving immigrant labour,” explains Howe. “It can be a British problem involving British slaves and British gang-masters.”

Reading the Saturday Financial Times paper on Sunday, I found a small article tucked in a lower corner. The South Korean Government knocking on Japan’s door once more for recompense for the Korean Comfort Women kept for the Japanese soldiers during WWII. The Japanese are, naturally, dismissing any further claims of compensation for the now very few women left alive. I first came to this story with Nora Okja Keller’s book “Comfort Woman” published in 1998 when for KPFA and KWMR we had a conversation about her book which was loosely told from her grandmother’s remembrances.

Three hungry young men

Slavery, and enforced indenture-hood, in today’s world, is nothing new, but something we don’t always look to find on our doorstep. Simple dramas like The Archers can do that for us. And so can the three young men of undetermined Slavik European lineage who “worked” for what we now call our Irish Rogue Roofers in 2016. We were taken for a right royal ride and I can only shake my head at our stupidity. And I remember those young men who devoured all the food I fed them and spent the longest time relishing hot water as they cleaned up at the end of the day in our bathroom. Photographs and recordings given to the police yielded nothing more than a night-time stop-over in a local police station for the family patriarch. In the silence of these restricted and cold winter months, with no work available, I pray that those young men are somewhere safe today.

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