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

Mad with Grief

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The sun was shining when we took our Sunday walk. The Broadwalk was full of families not able to leave the city for the long weekend and we are among the few who are still wearing masks. Walking along the grass, underneath the row of now toast-crisp leaved chestnut trees, is a grey haired man. He has a cane in one hand, a plastic bag in the other and he is shouting. At first it seems that he is shouting at the grass or the trees, but he is shouting at a little dog. The dog is very busy, trotting along the paved Broadwalk, clearly ignoring the man who is now waving his cane and the plastic bag. The dog is a little mix with a black body and stubby brown legs. She, it must be a she, wears a pink studded collar and holds her head high as she trots about, sniffing this, and exploring that. We slow down beside the man, and the little dog trots towards me. I bend down and stroke her fur which is soft under my hand. Because she has stopped by me the man comes over and continues to talk in a stream of words.

“I’m older than you, I’m 81. How old are you?” I tell him and we laugh.
“Yes you are older than us.” And then he continues, “My girlfriend died two weeks ago.” And in an instant a picture unfolds for me. She died and now he must care for the dog as maybe his girlfriend cared for him. The dog is not too happy with this arrangement. Today it looks as if the coronavirus, loneliness, death and the days ahead are all too much for him. Are they both, the man and the dog, searching for her in the park? If he holds the dog close to him can she give his days purpose and his nights comfort?

I could not help but reach out and touch his arm though we immediately knew that was forbidden and I withdrew my hand. But in his eyes I read despair and realized he was probably at this moment in time, in the park, going mad with grief.

As we all are trying not to. The pains of India, Syria and Lebanon are pushed off of the news pages. Belarus and the disunited States of America hold our attention in equal measure.

Week four in Belarus shows protesters coming out in greater numbers onto the streets of Minsk. Even the middle class have had enough of the government’s bullying. President Lukashenko strides out alone, masked, in police uniform and carrying a machine gun. His riot police are thick on the ground. But the lion is stirring from his sleep in Moscow. According to the BBC’s Steve Rosenburg, President Putin says he has formed a police reserve unit which won’t be used until the situation gets out of control. Seventeen journalists, mostly from Belarus, reporting to the outside world have had their accreditation removed.

Hero City Square Minsk

We look in horror and shame at America with the killings, protests and police activities in the news. It is as if the Coronavirus has become an annoying distraction to the business of the next elections in November. And Melania’s speech-giving military uniform followed by the Teddy-boy fuchsia and line-green gowns for the Republican Convention were chilling. It takes very little imagination to understand their meaning.

In England this week children and teachers are to return to their schools. Numbers must have been crunched somewhere and somebody knows what the effects of pouring children onto public transport and then into the schools will be, but nobody is telling the teachers, parents or students.

The weekend’s Financial Times carried an obituary – for Mercedes Barcha. Known as ‘La Gaba’ she was married to Gabriel Garcia Márquez for 56 years. On Márquez’s death in 2014 she was described as being ‘serine and tranquil, dressed in the blouse and shoes of a Tigress, holding a cigarette and a glass of white Tequila, as she took phone calls from world leaders paying their respects’. “Thank you.” She said. I missed reading ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ along with other works by Márquez. It was not until ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ came my way for KPFA, Pacifica that I picked up my first Márquez and fell deeply into his world. Maybe now, in our own time of Covid, I can return to him.

The passing of ‘La Gaba’ pulled at my heart strings, and took me back to our trip to Cuba, in 1989. That year the Russia’s president, Mikhail Gorbachev, announced there would be no more Russian funding for Cuba. The news colored many of the conversations during our weeks at the film school. Our last day ended with a lingering lunch in Havana put together by the film school director Ricardo. Seated at the table were Gabriel Márquez and La Gaba, Thomas Alea and his wife, Julio Garcia Esponso and his wife, Walter and I, and Ricardo. There was lobster, there was wine, sunshine and deep conversation. The men needed little interpretations from Ricardo and, as wives, we spoke quickly, with laughter, together. After lunch we were to board a plane. Gabriel was due at a wedding, but with the discretion of Ricardo both the plane and the wedding would wait for us. Luncheon ended in a solitary walk with Gabriel that has stayed forever in my memory. Now as I think of La Gaba, I raise my glass in salute to her in joining Gabriel wherever that might be.

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

Photograph by Alejandra Vega. Thank you.