The Queen

Recorded by WSM Written, read and knit together by MAM
Waiting for the next Prime Minister photo by Jane Barlow

It has barely been three weeks since September 6th, when a rumpled Prime Minister Johnson arrived at the Balmoral Castle gates to hand in his card at 11 a.m. In quick succession, he was followed by the tight-skirted Truss. It was a long morning for our Queen, and for those watching with concern – seeing the Queen holding onto a stick with one hand while smiling and extending the other used and bruised hand, to Liz Truss. The Queen’s head looking large on her diminished frame, her nose pinched – straining for air – while no amount of lipstick covered the cyanosis of her lips. Tuesday was a brave day. Barely 48 hours later the Queen died as she had lived, in service to her nation. The heavens opened, pouring down their tears and we are still grieving.

Accompanied by The Princess Royal and her husband Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Queen’s coffin slowly made its way south to London to lie in state at Westminster Hall where over two hundred and fifty thousand people from all walks of life filed past to pay their respects and say ‘Thank you Ma’am for your service’. Did she cover all the bases? One could, if one chose, fault her for some family issues, but not on duty to her country as she saw it; honoring and hosting state and national moments or those small engagements around the country. The late Queen Mary was paraphrased as saying ‘We are the Royal Family and we love Infrastructure.’ We all feel a little stronger and stand a little straighter, when someone else shows interest and gratitude for what we do.

Her Majesty The Queen opens Parliament 2017 wearing – a hat –

The Saturday after the Queen’s death I wove my way behind Piccadilly through the lines of police vans parked all around St. James’ Square, then down the stairs behind that Palace to enter The Mall that felt like the nave of a giant cathedral. There was a quietness in this crowd, many carrying flowers and leading children, that was to last for days all across the country. People walked along the pavements to Buckingham Palace, sometimes with a pause as King Charles III and the Queen Consort were driven in and out of those palaces, Buckingham and St. James’. They were back and forth all afternoon and one hoped that they got at least 15 minutes for a sit-down cup of tea. The Autumn skies tossed grey and white clouds over the park trees, but the rain stayed hidden behind them.

What does it mean for a young girl to take a vow to follow a life that was chosen for her rather than she chose? It happens in all walks of life, people are lucky if they get to live their dreams. It takes an effort and strong will to turn your given path into your chosen one. The Queen embraced her role until she could relish it and turn it to her desiring. 

There are fewer of us alive now who remember Queen Elizabeth’s coronation than who will remember her death and funeral. John Galsworthy wrote in the Forsythe Saga at the death of Queen Victoria. “We shan’t see the like of her again”. But now we have this Elizabeth was our Queen for 70 years. Even in death, the Queen managed something that the government could not – as the Transport Unions and the Royal Mail held off their strikes until next month. 

At the announcement of the Queen’s death, all the television stations began airing their programs that they had been building for this moment. Planning for the Queen’s funeral had begun when she turned 79. All the news Broadcasters wore black. Huw Edwards, the senior news anchor man at the BBC – and he a Welshman – allowed himself to show some emotion. Those who wished to see the films, the footage, forever repeated could do so. It was like a huge family album of our family, our Queen, for as she vowed to give her life, be it long or short, to our service, she did – and we claimed her and the family as our own, rejoicing in the good times and fussing at the bad. The television stations played ten full days of coverage, back and forth with all the joys and the horrors replayed over and over again, probing into a life lived in the spotlight of her public, her people. The new King’s state and public greetings and meetings were followed in flashy detail. The pageantry and processions built like gentle love-making to the climax as the coffin was carried from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. Giving his address from the pulpit of the Abbey – Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury – looked down across the nave at the congregation seated below. He spoke of our collective grief, the Queen’s abiding Christian faith, and service to duty, and then let out his zinger: “People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer.” 

The service over, it was on to Wellington Arch where the coffin was transferred to the royal Hearse then driven slowly on through Hyde Park to join the A 30 road to Windsor. Just as she had begun her journey from Balmoral through the countryside of Scotland now she returned to the farms and lanes of Berkshire.

The Queen’s Corgi Dogs return from Balmoral Castle

The flags at all the royal residences flew at half-mast until the day after the State Funeral when the official period of public mourning ended. The Royal family and some of us will continue as long as we need.

In our little London garden is a David Austin Queen Elizabeth rose – still blooming in autumn. My mother bought it after my father died when she had to start a new life in her new home. Now it is with us. The same rose was among the flowers on the Queen’s coffin – in remembrance of things past but not forgotten.

Queen Elizabeth Rose by David Austin.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad, written and read 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

It’s Here Now

A Map of Wildfires across Europe July 2022
It’s Here Now. Written and Read for you by Muriel Murch, Recorded and Knit together by Walter

July 2022

It was here, the heat wave, the amber warning turning to red and the temperatures rose to over 101º. Downstairs in our little cottage the bedroom, study and bathrooms are cool – and we are grateful. Upstairs, in the open-spaced living area the curtains are drawn as in my childhood when the temperature first climbed into the 70s and then, in 1976 to the low-80s. My mother’s curtains were heavy, chintz, and lined, a hold-over from black-out curtains used during the last war, with a thickness for keeping heat in during the winter. As we slide into climate change, heavy curtains  are now used for cooling.

The heat has also brought raised temperatures and tempers of another kind into the UK Parliament. This month the collective Tory MPs  cried out, “Enough,” and called for a vote of No Confidence in Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. With 52 members of the government resigning and MPs of all parties snapping at his heels and shouting “Resign now”  Boris gave a ‘well maybe’ speech – complaining of the herd mentality of those who ousted him as head of the Tory Party and thus soon to be no longer Prime Minister. Sir Kier Starmer called across the chamber, “This maybe the one time when the sinking ship abandoned the rat. Ha, Ha, Ha”. “Ho Ho Ho” replied Boris as he stepped sideways, not actually resigning, never saying those words, and instead of attending the emergency COBRA meeting about the heatwave taking himself off to the Farnborough Air Show to whizz about in a state-of-the-art fighter jet giving a thumb and bum up to us all from his clear skies. 

Through the heatwave, the government told the country to wherever possible  ‘Shut up shop’ and stay at home. Then they took their own advice to heart. Labour’s Lisa Nandy accused Boris Johnson and his ministers of having “clocked off” during the UK’s first red extreme heat warning saying:

“We think the government ought to do a number of things: first is to show up to work”.

But after just days of gossip, resignations by this and that minister with gunpowder plotting, the herd turned, tumbling back and forth along the beach sand as pebbles in a tide change.  It was sobering watching the Commons crowded with members of Parliament from all parties there to listen to Johnson’s last speech. The herd, for one more moment his herd, gathered around, cheering and giving him that standing ovation he does not deserve. Only Teresa May, the past Prime Minister that Boris threw under the bus, sat while the others stood. She paid attention, listening to his farewell, shaking her head at the lies that were spoken and the truths that remain hidden. “Hasta La Vista – See you Later – Baby” were his parting words. Like Donald Trump he doesn’t believe his reign is over, and, like Donald Trump we can be sure he is plotting his return. 

In the British Isles, which may no longer be plural before I die, the Platinum Jubilee celebrated for our Queen’s 70 years of service are over. The Queen has retired to Windsor Castle, keeping a low profile as befits a 96-year-old Monarch still in service. Younger Princes, Dukes and Earls gather round and fill in – as families do. 

Charles and Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, began their three-day visit to the west country, in the seaside town of Mousehole. Here HRH. still in a light grey, silk two-piece suit, took a moment to mop his brow before speaking, ‘As I have been saying for quite some time now,’ about Climate Change.  While the temperature has finally dropped into the low 80s in England, the fires continue to blaze across Europe. The firefighters in France and Spain are battling fires equal to those that spread through California in 2018. They are all brave, strong and fueled by the adrenaline that such danger brings. This week the BBC aired a damming documentary about the US and Climate change over the last thirty years. Al Gore and climate scientist spoke, all basically saying ‘we missed our window.’ Even the nay-sayers agreed, blaming mis-information for their more than misplaced decisions.

Meanwhile the Hedgehog Society is reminding people not to forget another neighbour who might be suffering in the heat. A tweet warns that our spiky friends are dying of dehydration, and has suggested people place shallow bowls of water for wildlife in their gardens – with a reminder to pop in a few pebbles to make sure insects that fall in can escape. You have to love this aspect of Our England.

Summer time and the livin’ is easy, but it is not. It would have been beyond churlish to strike while the population was enjoying a four-day weekend courtesy of Her Majesty. Now strike actions on British Rail and the London Underground are coinciding with the school summer holidays. The many cancelations of the cheap and Easy Jets and British Air flights in and out of Europe are combined with a severe shortage of baggage handling staff, (low-paid Europeans went home after Brexit) and now airport runways are melting with the heat while cars and lorries queue for literally miles at the Dover tunnel, waiting for twelve hours and more to make it through the customs checks.

Coming onto the Dover Road by Garath Fuller

French diplomats, officials and border staff warned last year that delays were inevitable with the post-Brexit border arrangement. New rules require that all passports be checked and stamped. The Port of Dover executives can barely contain their anger that the government turned down a £33m bid to help with upgrades to manage the additional pressures of Brexit. It was given just £33,000, 0.1% of the initial request. The French transport minister, Clément Beaune, is talking with the UKs transport secretary Grant Shapps, which may or may not be helpful, but reminded us that: “France is not responsible for Brexit.

In their appeal to the conservative party members the two remaining candidates for Prime Minister are blaming a shortage of French border staff for these delays. Former chancellor Rishi Sunak said the French “need to stop blaming Brexit and start getting the staff required to match demand”. Foreign secretary Liz Truss said she was in touch with her French counterparts, blaming a “lack of resources at the border”. It is sobering, again, to see so early in this contest these potential Prime Ministers be so ready to lie and blame the French authorities for this chaos. Sunak and Truss are both moving on though, targeting ‘how they would handle illegal immigration’ neither one with compassion, and those darn taxes, to cut now or later ….

It is hard to pull our heads out of the sand to look at Sri Lanka and watch the hearings from the affairs of January 6 in Washington DC and how close America came to that kind of a Coup. 

There is – was – a small win for the United Nations, brokered mostly through Turkey as Russia agreed not to target ships carrying 20 million tons of grain from The Ukraine sailing across the Black Sea to Turkey. This is a huge concession yet already the Ukrainian port of Odesa has been bombed. Russia has said it will not target the grain ships but neither will it disarm the mines that already bob and toss in the dark Black Sea.  

This has been A Letter From A. Broad.