Back to Work

Written and read for you by MAM with WSM by my side

The coronation is over, the King and Queen have had their little rest and are now back working; the King shaking hands with ministers and world leaders, and reading those dispatch papers that keep him informed as to who is doing what- and where – while the Queen goes out and about visiting and spreading good cheer as she continues to learn who is doing what in this country. The flags are still flying over the London streets teasing the tourists out to take another picture or two.

King Charles III. Photo by Victoria Jones /PA

The roses are only just beginning to bloom and have not yet pushed spring into summer. The bluebells are fading and the air in London is rich with the attar of cowslips growing in the hedges around the parks and along the canals and rivers. Last week while, walking up alongside of Primrose Hill I saw two vans parked on the same side of the street – back to back with their boot hatches open facing one another. The two men – from street-savvy habit – look up, always conscious of who might be watching, and we catch each other’s eyes. I’m smiling at them and – like fourteen-year-old boys caught smoking at school – they sheepishly grin back. There is an exchange going on. The slightly younger man is holding a plastic fitting, something that could be used in plumbing or electrical works. He seems to have at least a box of them and is proudly showing them to the slightly older man. Both are in their forties and when they were babes such things would appear on the lot of the film studio at Elstree, ‘It fell off of a lorry’ was the phrase for such items. Here in town, lorries are too conspicuous in the city streets and an unmarked white van can disappear quickly into the traffic. The men know that I know – and that I remember such mischief – and am too old to do anything but go on my way. And with another grin exchanged that is what I do.

The newspapers are quieter, looking as they can for other news. Well, there are always wars, and though we have a hard time keeping up with the Ukrainian president as he moves from the front lines of his country’s war to diplomatic meetings and back again, he does keep visible and keep the world informed. Is he luckier – in a sickening sense of that phrase – than the people of Syria with their multi-sided civil war or the Sudan where civilians are killed on a daily basis. Wars continue in what could be called the B column. In the C column, news of the treatments of refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia by the Greek authorities are not even reaching the English papers. The refugees fleeing these wars have made their way from Turkey to Greece only to be captured – by whom – and pushed into vans – driven to launches – taken out to sea and transferred to the Greek coast guard vessels before being set adrift in rubber dinghies. Is this bounty hunting as in ‘I’ll give you so much for an adult, so much for a child’? We are horrified and sickened as we catch glimpses of such cruelty – and yet – it is hard to think of a time or place in ‘civilized history’ where and when this has not been true. 

But at home – in England – the Prime Minister is missing. Rishi Sunak and his wife have gone to Japan for the G7 conference where everyone has a chat and so politely says ’After you’ as in ‘if you give Ukraine bombers we will too. If you shake China’s hand – we will too’. All are consumed with the war in Ukraine. Well, almost all, India and the Arab States are keeping a distance from that chat while Volodymyr Zelensky strides about this world stage, clad in his army fatigues moving and talking to anyone and everyone he can. What deals can he cut? A little pilot training here, a couple of fighter jets there. It may not be much but he wouldn’t get any of it without showing up and giving a photo opportunity for the supposed great and good.

While Rishi is away, the little problem of Suella Braverman’s speeding ticket has blown up across the papers. It is almost good for a laugh. Those pesky cameras are everywhere and even with the warnings, ‘speed camera ahead’ one can get careless, and click, click there is your license plate picture in a civil service office and the next thing you know a paper notice comes through the letter box. Then what do you do? Well if you are the Archbishop of Canterbury and you get nicked popping in and out of London you may try to resolve it out of court but accept that, “No your worship – you was speeding – a hot 25 in a 20 mph zone.” He may have muttered some words about the press getting ahold of this one but paid up and accepted the points on his license. But a politician is different and good – not so old – Suella Braverman tried to wiggle out of taking her speeding awareness course within a class. The media spotlight swung quickly onto her – again – and she looks more and more like the most recent hole in the Tory bucket shining light into the murky interior of her political party.

And with Rishi still in Japan, Boris popped back into the news announcing that he and Carrie are expecting another child, bringing this family up to three children trotting along beside the other known five he has begat. What a lovely old word begat is.

But some words are not so lovely – they are hard to pronounce and to say. Nigel and Farage are two such words heard again as he showed up on the news once more to finally admit – ‘Brexit is not working.’  He goes on – that of course it is not Brexit’s fault, but the bureaucratic administration that has got it all wrong. The communist party said the same thing but no one remembers that. What is so terribly sad is how this country cannot yet see itself as a minor player on the world stage, and behave accordingly. Europe has no need of England, but England has great need of Europe and European business, industry, and people.

On Monday evening our plane touched down in Athens Airport, 59 years after we left – not knowing if we would ever see each other again. The drive to the city dips in and out of old memories. Small towns and old olive groves spread out in age, showing dreams made, broken, and reset as the trees are realigned to the country’s fortunes. The scattered sage and scrub are muted in the decaying dusk before we enter the city center where there is not a refugee to be seen. The limousine pulls up beside the hotel, and we are welcomed to Athena. For 24 hours we can disappear into an old marble suite, deep hot baths, and room service before reemerging to work in the world once more.

Yorgos Mavropsaridis and Walter Murch in conversation with Orestis Andreadakis at the Astor Cinema for the Rolex Arts Festival. Photo Credit – in Greek!

This has been A Letter From A. Broad. written and produced for you by Muriel Murch.

Tripping About the Countryside

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

They took to the stage on all three major television channels; the BBC, ITV, and Sky. Rishi Sunak trots eagerly up to the podium in his Gucci loafers, though sometimes jacket-less, unsuccessfully portraying a working man. Liz Truss walks carefully in her heels with a smug smile and discreet earrings – one day saying one thing and the next day saying another. She is changing statements, but maybe not her mind which appears to be missing in action at the moment. These are the Conservative leadership rivals to be the next Prime Minister clashing on how they will address: high inflation, the rising cost of living, gas prices, Ukraine’s war with Russia, while sidestepping how both of them are looking to kill the National Health Service. But then the broadcasts stop, the candidates and their lies are just too transparent and boring. Now each gets a news moment as Liz changes her earrings to gold stirrups visiting a farm, and Rishi puts his jacket back on to speak at the Royal St. George’s Golf Club.

Those rural earrings

Like the story of the frog in the hot-tub, the National Health Service is coming to a slow boil. The news has me hold my head with the charts of the numbers of medical staff, doctors, and nurses that have left the Health Service. There are two main reasons for this. Since Brexit, European nurses and doctors are better off regarding pay, hours, and family situations returning home. English-trained nurses and doctors are fleeing abroad to countries that pay more. England is reaching out to poorer countries and importing staff from those that pay even less than England. This migration has gone on since we English, Irish and European nurses flew to America, Canada, and Australia for better living and pay. But nobody talks about Brexit being the cause for this new low, the ridiculous staff-patient ratios, and the non-pay of nurses and doctors. The government counts on the moral inability of nurses and doctors to abandon their patients, and laugh all the way to the locked coffers.

The sky is cloudy and dull, pouting at being left behind in grey England while these two politicians vie for the Conservative leadership. The chambers of the House of Commons sit empty as ministers flee the city, following the example of their old boss Boris Johnson, who took his family off to Greece for the holiday month of August. 

There is no rain. The streets are sticky with the detritus of human and animal food ingested and eliminated. Leaves are falling from trees a month ahead of Autumn. They are dry, crisp, and crackle when kicked about on the pavements. There are no conkers on the chestnut trees in the park and those not-so-old trees are dying.

The second heat wave was well underway, and the scheduled train strikes still a day off when I traveled from Waterloo to Hampshire. The South West trains are all new and all air-conditioned which bought a welcome relief from the rising heat. I am meeting three old friends for lunch at the North Hants Golf Club. The youngest of us is only 75 years old. The tables and umbrellas are set out on the veranda overlooking the first and last holes of the course. Though it is hot we can safely gather in the shade. We sort of look great – in our elderly way. We were children together, almost sisters, and though our paths diverged our roots were seeded in the same soil. My friends stayed close to their rootstock and settled deep in rural Hampshire and Wiltshire, each raising champion horses, sheep, and cattle.

Four for Lunch, Sue, Susan, Ann, and Susette

The North Hants Club is well over 100 years old but was still young when we were. Within that world, there is the sweetnesses to be found in any close-knit organization that becomes a family. Jackie has been a part of the kitchen staff for 43 years and we have known each other with mutual respect and admiration through all that time. The kitchen, where deep frying remains a specialty, is stellar and provided us four Caesar salads that were not on the menu along with teasers from their small tapas plates. It was grand to be together and share our autumnal news. We spoke of our lives, of families, and thought of old friends, remembering that though now we are four, we used to be six. The relentlessness of life continuing after another’s death has a bite to it that is hard to define.

Susan getting Settled

Returning to London the train stops at Weybridge and ‘all change’ is called out – to anyone who can understand the voice through the microphone. There are no leaves on the line, these tracks have not buckled from the heat but there is a fault with the train and so we are directed to a local one waiting on a side platform. ‘Change at Staines for the fast train to Waterloo.’ But I don’t. I stay seeing the names Virginia Water, Staines, Barnes, East and West, Putney, and Chiswick before Clapham and Vauxhall. I realize this so slow train travels alongside the western A30 road laid down over the old Roman Road and follows the historic London to Land’s End coaching route – a popular place for highwaymen. William Davies, known as the Golden Farmer and robber of coaches traveled across Bagshot Heath and was hanged in 1689 at a gallows at the local gibbet hill between Bagshot and Camberley. The Jolly Farmer pub built close by was in remembrance of him.

Sculpture to honour the Windrush Generation of Immigration at Waterloo

The train pulled into Waterloo and the platform exit is beside the newly erected statue tribute to The Windrush Generation immigrants who came from Jamaica and the Caribbean to help England after the Second World War. It is a fine statue, showing hopeful and proud parents and their young daughter. She would grow up to become one among us in nursing school, another sister from another time. Tourists from Africa and America proudly stand beside the statue for their photograph moment.

I was not alone in going out today with a cardigan and umbrella though neither was needed. We, and the earth, are crying for rain – or would be if we could cry. All we can do now is sweat, copiously, as we wait for the bus. An Asian gentleman of about my age is also waiting for the number 274. When it arrives he graciously extends an ‘after you’ gesture to let me board before him. We sit on opposite sides of the bus in the reserved for old people seats. The bus driver is not yet exhausted and the bus almost empty. It is August. Hot, dry, there is no school, and whoever can be – is on holiday. I find myself imagining the cold rainy days of autumn, wishing for them, and having a hard time believing the evidence before me that we are seriously damaging our planet. ‘First, do no Harm’ is the Hippocratic oath and here we are committing murder. The bus goes quickly along its route carrying its few passengers. My gentleman friend gets off at Prince Albert Road. He smiles at me and I at him. It is a moment of grateful recognition but I’m not sure what of.

Now there are hosepipe bans imposed by most of the Water districts, whose own leaks are responsible for almost 30 % of water loss around the country. Then quickly news comes of the other leaks, of sewage from more faulty treatment plants into the local rivers and streams, or to the sea for those low-lying coastal areas. It is too much for the cartoonists who show pictures of Boris Johnson, remember him? the still – but on holiday – Prime Minister, entering the sea somewhere in Greece. Sewage flowing outwards but not yet gone.

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