A Month in Lockdown London

A month in Lockdown London

Early morning walkers are wrapped up warmly against the nipping wind that dances below the sun and tosses infrequent April showers across the country. The warm winter has brought green aphids out to suck on my roses. Every morning I brush them off and say thank you to the ants who are trying to devour them as quickly as they appear.

Walking past our local supermarket, the wind added to the chill of watching the long line of one-person one-cart each distanced apart, shuffling along the wall around to the waiting guard at the store’s entrance. It still feels too dangerous to shop there and not all right to ask someone to go for us. So we stay close to home shopping in the village and getting used to doing without the simplest things. It has been two weeks since I saw Philadelphia creme cheese in the dairy cooler. This week there is no mayonnaise and I pluck the last bag of risotto rice from the shelf.

Listening to the daily news bulletins from the government it is clear that they are not ‘telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’

Health care workers, transport, postal, delivery and essential service personnel are becoming increasingly distrustful of, and frustrated by, the government. There are no state governors here to overturn and bring clarity to the federal shambles. The major of London, Sadiq Khan, the son of a bus driver, needs union pressure to catch up, trying to make all transport workers safer and promote the use of face masks for public places where the correct social distancing cannot be kept. His frustration is palpable on the news clips where he is seen. Since before the weekend a shipment from Turkey of Personal Protection Equipment for medical personnel had been promised. Today we learn that it was only officially asked for on Sunday! and is now due (again) to arrive today. Turkey – the country once demonized to help win the Brexit vote.

Beech Tree in the Wilderness of Regent’s Park

This is week four of our London shelter in place and the government has decreed at least three more weeks. But over this weekend with the Spring sun shining and the air warm, there was a casual feeling from people that this will not affect them. We walked through a wilderness area of Regent’s Park, where couples and families were picnicking under the trees, hanging out where old London tramps like to make their camps. Impromptu soccer games were played, though the goal posts and nets are all put to one side of the pitches. Hardly anyone was wearing masks but we were. The last of our table napkins have been turned into masks. A bag on the front door holds more fresh napkins from friends. They are waiting, cocooned like caterpillars to metamorphose into white butterfly masks.

From Table napkins to Face masks Photo by WSM

Mr Habtu works for Addison Lee the car hire firm. His hours are rough and spontaneous and he is still working. Who are the people who need his services? He has a wife and three growing boys to support. Every time I see him drive away I worry more than a little and yet am grateful for him that he has a job, is able to work and provide for his family.

This morning another book arrived through the letter box. ‘The Great Influenza’. Written by John M. Barry published in 2004 and picked up as one of the three books by G.W. Bush as a vacation read in 2005.

On opening it up I am immediately caught and it looks like Thomas Cromwell’s death in ‘The Mirror and the Light’ may have to wait a little longer. Glancing through The Great Influenza I am stopped by the end. Though one is not supposed to quote from books the two concluding paragraphs bear repeating at this moment in time.

“Those in Authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first and best. A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.”

And there is hope in the world as we read of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand managing her country through this crisis followed by the delicious news that the governments of Poland and Denmark are refusing to give financial aid to companies that are registered off shore.

Primrose Hill is embraced on three sides by The Regent’s Park, the Canal and then the railway heading away from the city center. Walking home through the park we paused on the bridge over the canal. In these last few weeks the canal water has become so clear that the shallow bottom was visible. The sunlight was strong and sparkled through the trees while the ducks flew in pairs along its path. Such is the stillness of the air that for the first time in twenty years we can hear the trains clatter quietly by – leaving us all behind.

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

Easter Weekend 2020

Easter Weekend in London brings news and time for reflection.

Some days swirl by in a non-specific haze, leading to a confusion of thought, and a seeming inability to get anything done, so that the by day’s end one wonders what did actually happen. Like older relatives and parents who cut out articles from the newspapers and mailed them to us, we now swap internet links and stories. “I thought you might be interested in …” and we often are.

Thomas arrived for my birthday. He had been hinted at, noted, ordered from our local book shop and was wrapped up to serve beside a pot of coffee for breakfast.

Thomas at Breakfast

Hilary Mantel’s “The Mirror and the Light” brings Thomas Cromwell’s life to an end. For three days and nights I managed to resist him, continuing to read an evening chapter from “Jock of the Bushveld” an old favorite book of my mother’s.

But before even a week was over, I had picked up the hefty tome of 880 pages. I said (to myself) “I’ll just take a peek”, as if “I’ll just go for a drink with him. It’s nothing. I can get up and leave whenever I want.” But now Jock is laid aside, and Thomas has my heart and mind. I love him, more than a little bit, and am infinitely in awe of and grateful to Hilary Mantel. I am not alone. Others I know read him in this gifted time of solitude. We will go with him to his end and close the book with sadness.

When Susan Sontag published ‘The Volcano Lover’ in 1992, she went on her book tour. I was fascinated with the history and had lots of questions prepared for speaking with her at KPFA, Pacifica. But as the conversation relaxed and drew to a close, I asked about living alone in New York City. “Are you ever lonely?” “How could I be,” she responded. “I have two thousand years of history in my library.”

Here in London we both have small libraries crammed full of books that we cherish. We are both re-readers, I returning to history while he explores science. Though I’m a one-at-a-time gal there are at least seven books piled behind “The Mirror and the Light”.

My father would have been in his 70’s when I was first old enough to become conscious of his reading habit. And for him, too, this age was a time of re-reading books that he welcomed back into his life as long lost friends.

Saturday morning began in the new quiet, but by noon a helicopter began to circle overhead. There is no Prince traveling from one palace to another, and the air ambulance is hardly needed now that the London streets are almost empty of traffic. This is the police, boys with their toys, circling Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park looking for those, oh no, sunbathers and loiterers. Later, when we take our walk a police patrol car is cruising The Broad Walk. They are not walking to give a face to their presence, nor even on horseback when I might get lucky with a bag full of droppings for the compost pile.

The evening news program brings the government representatives out to the podiums with their daily bulletins. Mathew Hancock, Minister for Health, speaks his coverup nonsense “Maybe the NHS are hoarding gowns and masks which is why there is a shortage.” Priti Patel, the Home Secretary says, as one does when knowing there is a need for an apology but not ready to give ground, “I’m sorry the situation makes you feel that way.” As of this writing 8 national health doctors – all of them UK immigrants – have died. The number of nurses to have died is unknown. Today at over 11,000 deaths, England is set to overtake Italy in the number of Covid-19 deaths.

On Easter Sunday morning, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from St. Thomas’s Hospital and driven to Chequers, the country seat of the current Prime Minister. Whatever one feels about this Prime Minister we are grateful that one more life has been saved. And so is he, giving public thanks to the nurses who cared for him; particularly Ward Sister Jenny McGee, from New Zealand and Staff Nurse Luis Pitarma from Portugal – again – immigrants.

Easter Sunday is when some look for a miracle. Not necessarily the one of a life returned, but possibly of the recognition in this moment of gratitude by the Prime Minister, for the nurses, doctors and all staff working in the health service. Doctors may cure but it is the nurses and hospital staff that keep us alive.

Old into New – again

A strange part of all of this is trying to accept that my job is to be out of the way, not on the ‘front line’ – not helping. But what to do? what is next? The table napkins are next, the first one already torn and sewn to make a face mask. I take up a needle and mother’s cotton threads while listening to history unfold itself again.

I bow my head over the work as a gentlewoman would in the Tudor time of King Henry and his Lord Privy Seal, Sir Thomas Cromwell.

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

Week One of London Lockdown

March 29th 2020 (Updated on April 1 2020) — Week One of Lock Down in London

A week ago on Friday, when my husband walked into Camden for some printer ink and returned with 5 Kilos of rice, I smiled. But now more than a week later I’m grateful to have that not so little bag of rice tucked away behind a chair in the living room. In the United Kingdom the death toll is over over 2200 and in London will be 700 plus by the time this reaches you. We are all finding different ways of being prepared for this new reality and the challenges and solutions of city living are different from life in the country.

Government Alert sent to ‘almost’ everyone

Being of a certain age we have been told – in no uncertain terms – to stay indoors except for one daily exercise adventure. This could be going to the grocery store, the pharmacy or, if really necessary, the doctor or hospital. In an effort to keep one’s sanity, the dog happy, blood circulating and bowels open we are all encouraged to take a daily constitutional in whatever way suits our fancy. There are signs posted in Regent’s Park reminding us to keep our social distance from each other.

We walk carefully, mindful of others on the pathway, staying at that social distance from each other with a grateful nod of thanks. And it is spring and we can all be grateful for that. But I can’t help wondering if someone were to fall, or become ill on the path would anyone stop to help them? Some areas are closed. Understandably the Zoo is closed. But then, also understandably, are the public toilets. The notice, posted by the label for the ‘Golden Showers’ Roses reads ‘Due to the present day crisis these facilities are closed.’ Which, due to the present moment crisis, could provide another critical moment.

A serious crisis moment

But we are taking it all seriously and are tremendously grateful for our neighbors with their offers to help and the shops with delivery services that are working to full capacity. On Monday Vinnie, our milkman, said that he ran out of cheese. At first I thought he had just forgotten the order and put it down to typical milkman behavior. But then my little carrier had only one slab of cheese besides the two pints of milk so maybe his supplies are getting low.

Necdet from Parkway Greens has been busy beyond belief sending out daily delivery vans with boxes of fruit and vegetables. Delivery is free for house-bound seniors giving us another reason to be grateful.

Our little corner of London is quiet. Occasionally we see a neighbor and wave from a scarfed or masked distance while still asking “Are you OK? Do you need anything?” Every weekday morning Bob from Manley Street strides out of his cottage early, not for a walk but off to work. I wonder what is essential about his job and my imagination leads me to him working for MI5 in one of the discreet building along the 274 bus route.

From 8 a.m onwards throughout the day solitary delivery trucks come up and down the street. Masked young men bang on doors to drop off a package and then flee the doorsteps, behaving, though not yet looking, like one of Santa’s elves. No one stops for a signature any more. I’m grateful when our tea order from Fortnum and Mason’s arrives and smile at my last extravagance. If we do get sick at least we can still be drinking good tea.

Another van drops off builders next door. Essential work ? Well that depends who you are asking. It’s a balancing act between abandoning or completing a job, leaving a client in disarray and – or the workmen left with no income.

No longer able to walk to the Camden Bakery I turn to my old farm recipes and begin to bake. But it seems that the whole country is baking and the shortage of flour on the shop shelves this week made news headlines. I suspect this is more than a necessity for food, it is a need for the giving and receiving of comfort within our families and for each other.

First loaves I learnt to bake in 1969?

And who would have thought it possible that the English could garden even more than they do. But on the kitchen windowsill my chard seeds have sprouted and already have four leaves. Soon they will be ready to go out into the little garden patch that I work. But not today because March is going out like a lion. The wind is blowing and we wrap warmly up to take our walk. The door blows shut as we turn to face the empty street and the tiny snow flakes falling on our faces. 

First aired on KWMR.org Swimming Upstream with host Amanda Eichstaedt – April 1 2020

Wilding: A conversation with Isabella Tree

Ways of Wilding.

Sweeping in from the Atlantic Ocean, crossing over England, Wales and into Europe, storm Dennis came on the heels of storm Ciara while storm Ellen is due in this weekend. The TV news no longer leads with stories of Middle Eastern war, disgraced public figures nor even upset politicians but shows aerial views of flooding and interviews with families and farmers absorbing the devastation to their homes and farmland.

Walking down our street at dusk, I hear the robin calling as she goes to roost in the Silver Birch tree outside our cottage.

Robin Red Breast

She, the finches, tits, blackbirds and pigeons are all engaged in the business of city living. It is the same in the countryside, where animals and birds move around us, making the best of a not-so-good-job. But there are some places around the world and now in the UK where we humans have given way, admittedly mostly out of necessity, and are returning the land to those who were here before us.

One such place is the Knepp Farm in West Sussex. After years of intensive farming the Burrell family came to accept that modern farming methods on such heavy clay soil would never be fruitful. They began to wonder what would happen if … ? and then set out to record it. Isabella Tree’s book ‘Wilding The Return of Nature to a British Farm’ is the result. When first published in 2018 the book caused quite a stir. And Tree continues to stir, writing articles and giving talks wherever an audience is to be found. There are naysayers of course, and some of my dearest old farming friends in England are among them. But there is thought, and outcome, and more people willing to wonder ‘what if we …?’ The changes in the land, the flora and fauna and their habitat that has returned is already visible. So there is excitement and encouragement and a willingness to search out ways that we who care for such things can carry on, sharing and yet returning the land to those creatures to whom it first belonged.

This interview with Isabella Tree was recorded at Knepp Castle in August 2019. We took the train to West Sussex and, with equipment borrowed from Amirani Media, Isabella Tree and I sat down for an hour while she shared her passion, findings and hopes for the future of farming in the UK. The program was aired in September on KWMR.org the day before Isabella Tree spoke at the Point Reyes Book Store in Point Reyes Station, California.

During the last two weeks that England has been battered by two storms, one on top of the other the flooding damage to many towns and farms still continues. Strangely though, in West Sussex, where the county councils have incorporated some of the principles of Wilding in water management the damage has been considerably less. In Devon where beavers escaped into the River Otter and now in Cornwall where both Wildlife Trusts are monitoring the beavers’ behaviors, the creation of beaver lodges and dams has been seen to slow water runoff and thus lessening storm damage. Maybe there is something to letting nature take her course, and us our cue from her as we work and farm mindfully within her embrace.

Charlie – Just checking

On our little city terrace, we share space with those who come to call. In the mornings we feed the small birds who, sensibly, have not begun to nest quite yet. At night, ready to turn out the kitchen light I look out the window and see our Charlie, a big urban fox, doing his rounds. I like to think that they, all creatures great and small, are ready to help us if we could only find our way to let them.

Doctor Patel Comes to Tea

DrPatelPoster_draft2This Saturday evening, April 9th, there will be a staged reading of “Doctor Patel Comes to Tea” from the book The Bell Lap  at the Bolinas Community Center. Doors open at 6.30 p.m. refreshments will be served beforehand and Davia Nelson of The Kitchen Sisters will talk with Muriel Murch afterwards. This evening also honors Erik Bauersfeld who, aged 93, moved onto other airwaves on April 3rd. Bauersfeld was mentor to many Bay Area radio and film sound professionals and a very early supporter of KWMR.org. Please join us for a very special evening.