Better to Give

Recorded and Knit together by WSM


It is crisp cold on Saturday morning for our hill climb to the Farmers Market. Mushrooms are laid out in small cardboard boxes at one stall while the last of the tomatoes at another. Large Mozzarella balls are two for a tenner. The Italians know that the season of Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil salads is ending. Rutabagas and Swedes are piled in crates looming over bags of potatoes. Winter is coming.

On Sunday we walked through the Italian gardens which every autumn, holds the outdoor Frieze Sculpture exhibit. This year there are more people than ever crowding the sculptures, reflecting a collective hunger for art. In this time of Covid restrictions people remain wary of indoor galleries and museums. Every year, I find one piece that speaks to me. This year, it is Kalliopi Lemos’s ‘The Plait’ A very tall braid of wire signifying a chopped-off braid of hair.

The Plait by Kalliopi Lemos Photo by WSM

And I am remembering my friend Heather and a sunny morning after a sleep-over. Her family had left Kenya abruptly and my mother had found them a place to live by Hawley Lake. There was no electricity and water was carried from the lake. My mother got Heather enrolled in St. Nicholas School and must have ferried us both back and forth to school. There were sleep-overs by kerosene lanterns and adventures by the little stream that ran past their cottage from the lake. But at our home we woke up one morning wanting to play barber. My thick hair was down to my waist but the plaits were kept knotted at night. Mornings were spent in tears with the rushed, brushing, pulling and replaiting that happened.

“I’ll be the barber” said Heather and I happily knelt in front of her.

Somehow she found scissors, maybe old paper scissors from my father’s study, as, when my plaits finally fell away, there was a clear unevenness in the line. Knowing that whatever trouble we got into I would not be spending morning in tears left me elated. All this passed through my mind as I stood looking at the giant wire braid in the park. Lemos explains “an act of disobedience and emancipation of thinking … a liberation’.

Kalliopi Lemos Artist photo by WSM

Looking at all the different people walking through the park broad-walk I am thinking of war and all the countries they came from. Now journalists have been expelled from Belarus and it is hard to image what is going on behind those iron doors.

Earlier this year, when the demonstrations began in Hong Kong at the Chinese government’s take-over laws, Dominic Raab, then Foreign Secretary for the UK government, announced: “We will take in three million residents from Hong Kong who want to come.” There must have been hurried discussions behind closed doors for there is no ‘Welcome to Britain’ flag waving at the airports.

But Nathan Law, a 27 year old activist, made it. When agreeing to give an interview to Samuel Fishwick from the Evening Standard, he chose a bench in Regent’s Park which looked to be along the broad-walk where we were walking. Law was imprisoned, assaulted, forced to leave his home and family and lives low in London. Though he fears for his life, he knows someone has to speak out.

“The Hong Kong we knew has gone”.
“Will your family know how you are?”
“If you write about me they will find it.” But unspoken is the knowledge that so will others. Can Britain give this young man the safe haven he needs?

Autumn is a time of overflowing bounty. A neighbor on our street brings the harvest of her Oxford garden to London. Boxes of Bramley cooking apples, Cox’s Pippins for eating, and those pesky green tomatoes that refuse to ripen are on her doorstep for anyone to take. I gather them as from orchard grass and now can bake to pass along to other neighbors.

Doorstep bounty

We continue to do what we can for each other as this next round of COVID-19 circles us. Daily 12,500 new cases are reported and tonight brought another set of government rules to learn and abide by.

I imagine our Queen as she follows the news and watches her people doing what they can for their country. Maybe she keeps a note-pad on which to jot down names and pass them on to her Prime Minister of the day for The Birthday Honours list usually in June, when the Queen celebrates her official birthday. This year it was delayed so that COVID-19 front-line workers and volunteers could be honored. She may leave much of the choices to her Prime Minister but with this one she could have more to say.

Orders of the British Empire seem old-fashioned considering that there is no empire but these special recognitions by the Queen mean a lot to everyone. Sir David Attenborough gets a boost upstairs with a hurried make-over of the badge for the Knight Grand Cross. The young footballer Marcus Rashford becomes an MBE. With quiet dignity and persistence, he got the government to do a U-turn, successfully campaigning to extend free school meals over the summer.

“It is never the child’s fault that they are hungry.” This is a young man to watch.

I have a smiling satisfaction at actor David Suchet, most known as Poirot in the re-running Agatha Christie series, becoming a Sir. Dabirul Islam Choudhury, who turns 101 in January, takes home an OBE for walking almost 1,000 laps of his garden, raising money for charity, while fasting for Ramadan. Between him and the better-known Captain Tom, centenarians are showing they remain full of the Right Stuff.

This has been A Letter From A. Board.
written and read for you by Muriel Murch

Week Seven in Belarus

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Autumn has blown in and plonked her grab bag of swirling leaves down on every street and alley-way in London. Thoughts of letting tomatoes linger on the vine to ripen are swept away. We would be wise to pick what remains and be grateful for onions, windfall apples and green tomato chutney.

The cooler air is over Europe too and though the weather has turned in the seven weeks since the Belarusian elections that declared Lukashenko president the protests have continued. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who, in place of her detained husband, was on the ballot against Lukashenko, and Veronika Tsepkalo are in exile while Maria Kolesnikova remains in custody. Tikhanovskaya speaks in a video made for the New York Times about the situation in Belarus as the protest movement is left almost rudderless.

Anyone who steps into that leadership role is putting their life in danger and they know it. The news shows a young organizer using his phone to coordinate protesters while his wife phones every fifteen minutes to check that he is safe. Many of the Belarusian men protesting are often sturdy, thick-set, of truck driving ilk, alongside the student, intellectual types. The O.M.O.H. Police special forces remain fully masked under their helmets and are also stocky but one suspects younger and not so street savvy. Often they need four officers to capture one man. It is easier picking up the women, two officers can grab them off the streets, toss them into vans and drive to police stations. The photographs and reports of beatings and other tortures from released prisoners seeking medical aide are chilling. Tikhanovskaya knows she is no politician, “I am just a teacher. I will preside for six months to oversee fair and democratic elections. I am a wife and a mother and just want my husband back.” It is clear that though some protesters may be released, others may not, and some may never return.

Nina Baginskia and her flag. Photographer unknown

It is now illegal to carry the old State Belarusian flag but the streets are filled with the strong red and white fluttering flags waving among the signs carried by the protestors. Nina, a 73 year old great grandmother, is especially fond of hers. Though momentarily detained she is back on the street with the protesters and Nina may be the one force that brings the O.M.O.H. to a halt. Childhood religious respect for an elder does give the masked police pause, while Nina does half-apologize for kicking a police officer when he takes her flag away from her, “That was not very good behavior, I know, but when someone takes something of yours you don’t just say ‘Thank you.’” But not everyone approves, “You follow an old babushka,” Shouted a old-Lukashenko supporter.

Yes, they do. One of the privileges of reaching a certain age is the grounding of your collective wisdom and the ability to commit to what you know is right. Among the younger generations, Nina’s grey hair is a beacon, shining like that of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, as she marches. At last the United Nations have stated it is time these allegations are investigated. This week the French president, Emmanual Marcon, said that Lukashenko must step aside. Several other European countries, including Britain, have stated they don’t recognize Mr. Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus. Even the U.S. agrees, though, as the U.S. is prone to do, they may change their statement later in the year. Poised as the U.S. is for the November’s presidential elections these events in tiny Belarus are being watched in detail by those who hold the White House at this time.

Changing statements is what some governments do best. Balancing the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic and salvaging the economy is proving a difficult business. The rigidity of the Lukashenko’s and Putin’s of the world can be contrasted with the melting iron of Johnson and other European leaders, who are struggling with this gordian knot. World wide COVID-19 cases are reported at over thirty-three million and today’s death toll has crested one million people.

France, German, Spain, Portugal and Italy are among the countries we heard about, each country trying to balance their economy with their country’s safety. Germany has already said they are putting the economy first and so other countries will be watching. Even with the governments’ ever changing statements it seems that being sensible as we go about our restricted lives with our smaller groupings of family and friends is the right thing to do. Medical personnel and hospitals are rearranging their priorities once more. Pubs and restaurants opened and last orders are called by 9 p.m. for 10 p.m. closure. I find this charming but I expect it has to do with my age. I remember those nice little drink, a nice little snack and then a nice little – not too tired, not too drunk – ‘Shall I walk you home moments’.

Primary schools have reopened and students are returning. The hardest hit are the new and returning students to University. Though all of the universities have worked really hard, there are bound to be cases of infections and illness. The numbers are just too high, the spaces just too small and the students, just as exuberant as they should be at this time in their lives.

So tonight’s headline from the Evening Standard newspaper “London Lockdown Moves a step closer” has us pause again. Though we will go out for supper tonight, it maybe the last time we can do so for a while. We will mask up to walk along the two streets and dine in the company of a few strangers trying to feel a little more connected to each other and the world.

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

Rule of Six

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Six months into this strange lockdown year many of us are still struggling to find our old normal life patterns or create and accept new ones. Families, communities, and countries are so ripped apart by war, disease and fires, that this may never happen again in their life times. The natural world is in deep fury and sorrow and has serious indigestion from humanity’s greedy excesses. For support or solace some people return to their religions, some look to science, hardly anyone looks to their politicians. In this house there are books and charts from the I–Ching, Runes and Astrology.

Anne Ortelee sends out biweekly astrology posts. I read them yet I can’t begin to fathom all the planetary positions in the heavens that she explains. Planets are joining up, and flying back to whence they came. When she reflects back into history, I always learn something new. It’s been more than 500 years since the last time that Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto all met together in Capricorn; in the autumn of 1517, just a couple of weeks after Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door and set off the Protestant Reformation.

But at this point in time it looks like trouble for America and much of the world all tumbling on into political and natural chaos.

The people of Belarus are not giving up. Another big protest rally in Minsk showed Lukashenko’s riot police, now almost completely encased in armor that makes them look like rolling armadillos, attacking protesters and bundling those they think are the remaining opposition leaders into vans and taking them away. The country’s interior minister says 774 people had been detained on Sunday.

On Monday, Lukashenko flew to Sochi to meet with Putin at Putin’s Black Sea resort home. This is Lukashenko’s first trip outside the country since the protests began after the August elections. Russian news agencies report that Russia will send paratroopers to Belarus for 10 days of military exercises entitled “Slavic brotherhood”. It is yet to be seen what else Putin will do to help the old warrior who has now interrupted Putin’s holiday break – or will Lukashenko fall ill, and not make it back home to Belarus. Such things do happen.

Alexei Navalny is up and conscious and anxious to return to Russia. Two German laboratories have independently confirmed that he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. Suspicions remain strong that the poison was probably in a cup of tea he drank at Omsk airport before boarding a flight to Moscow last week. His team lost no time in blaming Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin spokesperson, remains completely dismissive of such suggestions.

Alexei Navalny with his wife and daughters in Berlin. Photo from Sky News

Following the English government rules for the COVID-19 situation is like playing a game of hop-scotch on a chalked-out pavement that has been twisted and blurred by the rain. Back and forth until this week Boris, Matt – and maybe deeply hidden behind a scientific puppet, Dominic – have come up with the Rule of Six, nicked one can be sure from a catchy-sounding chapter heading in a book on film lying about in Dom’s editing suite. What is right for film and the arts is completely useless for this epidemic situation. Professors Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson write in the Spectator, “Our leaders amount to little more than a Dad’s Army of highly paid individuals with little or no experience of the job at hand.” Their long article reads like a doomsday book of despair and the writers barely touch on the failures of Matt Hancock’s Track and Trace schemes.

Moving from one debortle to another, Boris last week announced that he was going to flout, that is break, an agreement with the European Union on the Trade Deal that he made, and celebrated as a victory, just nine months ago. Suddenly this has given past Prime Ministers something to get excited about, join in unity around, and enjoy a new photo opportunity. John Major and Tony Blair are seen smiling and looking sweetly neat walking together across the Peace Bridge. Both probably chuckling at this dig to Johnson. David Cameron has cautiously joined the chorus but did not see fit to walk the plank with Major and Blair. He is a young man and may still have hopes of a political life before him. But he did say that “Passing an act of Parliament and then going on to break an international treaty obligation is the very, very last thing you should contemplate. It should be an absolute final resort. So, I do have misgivings about what’s being proposed.”

“See Thomas, See how you have angered me so!” Henry VIII roars, on a supposedly surprise visit, to Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s’ “A Man for All Seasons.” It seems that it is this wrath that politicians fear, but what I can’t yet figure out: who is playing Henry?

So much politics to think and write about. All pushing back the desperately important thoughts and ideas needed in this time of Global Warming and the eruption of this pandemic experience. Last year we looked in amazed horror when the Australian bush went up in flames. This year California is following the fire season’s pattern of Australia, with ‘some fires in 2019’ becoming the whole of the western states of America in 2020. In both continents the fire season is barely beginning.

Meanwhile Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Lesvos continue to burn and drown with no helping hands in sight.

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






Murder is a Messy Thing

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Murder can be a messy business. Countries, cultures and times evolve and often a culture is the defining influence as to how political problems disappear.

This is uppermost in my mind in those pre-dawn moments; beyond the fast-climbing number of cases of COVID-19 in England, beyond the raging fires in California, and the understandable distrust for the British Prime Minister by the European Brexit team. The UK government is now reneging on the agreement with the European Union on the border for Northern Ireland. While the Brexit clock is ticking, the leaders of Russia, the US, and China are watching the chip, chipping away of Europe with glee.

But it is Belarus that is again, sounding the alarm bells in my head and my heart. Over one hundred thousand protestors marched in Minsk this weekend, and other cities were filled with protestors. The police targeted young men returning to the universities, as well as reporters, and one journalist remains in jail. Lukashenko has not been seen, only his riot police force out with their agenda. Luke Harding wrote of it in the Guardian Newspaper: “On Monday, unidentified masked men snatched the leading Belarusian opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova from the street in the centre of the capital, Minsk, and drove her away in a minivan.” Three young idealistic women formed a new opposition party called ‘Together’.

Veronika Tsepkalo (left), Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (centre), and Maria Kolesnikova display their signature gestures at a press-conference in Minsk in July. Photograph: Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA

The opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a teacher, unexpectedly allowed to run for president and had claimed victory against Alexander Lukashenko, fled after Lukashenko rejected the vote of the people. Maria Kolesnikova is reported as detained at the Lithuanian border, apparently after an escape bid, though Veronika Tsepkalo may still be in Belarus.

Russia seems to favour poison even as they make such a mess of it. Alexander Litvinenkno in 2004, Sergei and Yulias Skripal in 2018, and now Alexei Navalny in August. Navalny suddenly became ill on an internal flight from Siberia. The plane diverted to Omsk where he was treated for three days before being eventually airlifted to the Charité hospital in Berlin where doctors confirmed what the rest of the world knows, that Navalny was poisoned with nerve agent Novichok. The world will look in vain for an explanation from the Russian Government that does not care a button what the rest of the world thinks.

The Saudis preferred a strangulation, a little drug use, before the chain saw for the removal of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, while the United Kingdom takes the depression-walk-in-the-woods approach to the removal of dissidents to power – David Kelly’s death in 2003 is still remembered. North America uses guns and choke-holds and when countries collaborate the removals can become truly messy. During our years in Argentina I learnt of the 1970s student disappearances by the plane-load over the River Plata. I still cannot eat fish in Buenos Aires.

In these times of solitude I find myself with a strange kind of homesickness. While the farm and the California fires that surround it and all of our corner of West Marin are constantly on my mind, I also think of Buenos Aires and of that time in our lives when San Telmo held a home for us. Smells come over me in waves, they linger and bring memories quickly into my mind.

Walking along the cleaning aisle at the supermarket, with the mixtures of house-cleaning products, takes me to Fridays at the casa. Maritza, who is Bolivian, would take an hour-long bus from her home to San Telmo and spend all day cleaning that big apartment. Bea or I would make lunch and we would sit all together to eat a simple meal. It is the custom there. The espresso coffee pot bubbles up on the stove and, if I have missed it, a metallic smell spills over, with the coffee, onto the stove top. It is the same coffee pot as I had in the Abuela-Dome that spits onto the electric hot plate.

Breakfast with Granny in the Abuela Dome

On sunny Sundays I would bring the morning coffee out to the little table and chairs sitting by the window on the terrace. The terrace, between the main apartment and the bedsit Abuela dome, is long and as soon as David could, he would escape from the main apartment and run across to us. Through the glass doors we could see him standing on tip-toe, reaching up for the doorknob, and click, pull it down to come in. And there we would be. Were we ready to play, to read or maybe was it time for a second breakfast? Inside or out? He had a special mug for tea, as did Grandpa, while Granny has her own Royal Albert tea cup and saucer. And then there would be toast, just a little because actually David has already had breakfast with Mummy and Daddy.

This week is Bea and Santi’s 5th wedding anniversary. And in two weeks it is David’s 5th birthday. Bea posted a picture on Facebook of the wedding ceremony. The little courthouse is packed with Santi’s family, their friends, including Bea’s first husband Kragen, who stood up to wish them all happiness. Bea sits so ‘barefoot and pregnant’. They look young and nervous and yet with that determination that love can bring. The presiding officer was a kind motherly woman magistrate and her presence draws me back to memories of Argentina and all that is good in the world wherever we are.

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