Fair Winds and Following Seas

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

On Friday Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh aged 99, quietly slipped away from his berth on this Earth leaving Her Majesty our Queen alone after 73 years of marriage. The Queen was by his side. But as Princess Anne said, “You know this is coming but you are never fully prepared for it.” Death can do that, arriving punctually at a given time, as we know it must, while remaining an unbelievable mystery. Yet, with an unbounded love, the loved one remains in our hearts and minds while the physical presence is lost to us. We grieve for our Queen, for the loss of her husband. Some of us know this loss and some of us have it yet ahead of us. There is a week of National mourning for the Duke in which to reflect on the effect of his life and work within the Royal Family, as a Prince, Duke, husband, father, grand and great grandfather. That was his job and no other man could have done it as well. He was the best he could be which is what we all strive for. The COVID restrictions that the Palace is adhering to, would actually suit the Duke, wherever his spirit is. He did not want his funeral to be a state occasion, but a ceremonial royal funeral in line with the Queen Mother’s in 2002. His earthly body will be privately interred in the Royal Vault of St George’s Chapel until such time as The Queen joins him. Then they will be laid to rest together, in the medieval manor to which they were born.

HRH Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh

Pages have been written about all aspects of The Duke’s royal and private life. Some papers have devoted columns to his life history, his charities, his sports and his gaffes or plain-speaking. Some of which were funny, some were exasperating, a few plain thoughtless, not something he was necessarily proud of. But this quote in 1966 says more than the words when he was speaking with a Hospital matron in the Caribbean, ‘You have mosquitoes, I have the press.’ 

Meanwhile, not pausing for the Duke’s passing, political shenanigans continue. Past Prime Minister David Cameron, has been caught out with a little private personal lobbying of the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and other members of Parliament, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, (oh Matty why were you so matey?). Cameron wished to help out with a wee business that was in a spot of bother, owned by his pal, Mr. Greensill. Named the Supply Chain Finance Company – you just know that it must shuffle pounds, shillings and pence around like the ‘Keep your eye on the Ace’ card games set out on street corners to catch out tourists. 

When stumping in 2010 to be Prime Minister, Cameron ‘Call me Dave’ gave a speech about lobbying, “We all know how it works.” He said, “The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics,’ he said. “It’s an issue that… has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.”

Well, yes it does Dave.

Yesterday a somewhat contrite Cameron admitted, “There have been various charges leveled against me these past weeks, mainly that I made representations to the government on behalf of a company I worked for. I did.” Cameron began working for Greensill two years and one month after leaving office – a month past the legal time period permitted.

Boris Johnson and Dave Cameron

The government is to a launch an independent investigation. Prime Minister Johnson could have rubbed his hands with glee catching out his old school-mate as he calls for the review to ensure government is completely transparent about such activities, and that the public can see for themselves if “good value was secured for taxpayers money”. Hang on “Good value for money,” isn’t the issue really was this legal or ethical? ‘Call me Dave’ has responded with:

“Well maybe I should have gone through channels and done this another way. Lessons have been learnt.” But have they, and shouldn’t by now he not need those lessons? It could seem that the lessons that such schools as his and Johnson’s teach is not so much about team spirit as how not to get caught out. This is a class that both of them may have to repeat in the years to come.

Mr. Minn, Myanmar’s UK ambassador locked out of London embassy in a ‘kind of coup’.

Last Wednesday we were able to briefly look over the parapet of The British Isles just down the street to the Myanmar Embassy in London. The Military coup that continues in that country has taken a shot over the prow of its ship. Myanmar’s now ex-ambassador, Mr. Minn, was locked out of his embassy in Mayfair and spent Wednesday night in his car. Staff had been asked to leave the building by Myanmar’s military attaché, and he was dismissed as the country’s representative.

At first the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the “bullying actions,” but quietly the UK has now accepted the change. Will the government offer Mr. Minn diplomatic immunity? For if he returns to Myanmar the Junta will surely arrest him. As Burma became Myanmar, its history is fraught with British interference and political maneuvering. It is no wonder that the country is in an uproar and no wonder that we, in some distant memory, care what happens there.

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

Kill the Bill

Recorded and knit together by WSM

Passover, Easter, the Spring Break, however we call it, the sun came out to bring a little warmth and welcome spring on Sunday. But reminding us to why the English talk constantly about the weather – on Monday snow fell in London. Further north there were gales and serious snow storms and sheep that needed watching as they tried to lamb under the hedgerows.

Over the weekend, Church services took place following the Covid guidelines laid out by the government. Queues outside of one church were reported and, in line with the increasing iron hand of the home office, the Metropolitan police force went out to do their duty. Like a bombing target, the Catholic Church, Christ the King, in South Wimbledon was cited.

As well as following the Covid restriction guidelines, the service was being streamed live on social media, so showed officers striding in, warning priests and parishioners that the gathering was ‘unlawful’. Threatened with fines, the service was abruptly ended. Other places of worship were holding restricted services, and there were probably queues outside of Synagogues and Christian Churches but maybe it was safe to target a nice Polish immigrant Catholic Church. That would do nicely. But it didn’t do nicely and once again the Met has back-footed their agenda. Or have they?

Defending the right to protest – Kill the Bill march, London 3rd April 2021 by Steve Eason

Bringing Covid restrictions into law was the opening the Home Secretary Priti Patel had been looking for, and she is forcing it into action with the Metropolitan police under the Commissioner, Cressida Dick. It looks increasingly clear that Patel wants stronger control of how people behave and, like an insecure school teacher, her default position is to add more regulations with harsher penalties for those who break her rules.

But why has this all gone so wrong – to the right? The British are addicted to their TV sitcoms of Cops and killers. We love to see the police track and solve the most gruesome of murders; either tromping across the rain-battered Yorkshire moors or in the picturesque villages of Oxfordshire, where the weather is almost always sunny. They remind us of gentler days, as when at our small town train station, a policeman would meet the last train from London. I remember returning, close to midnight mind you, and the young policeman, wheeling his bicycle, as he walked me along Elvetham Road to my mother’s house. Surely we would be supporting those fine upstanding men and women. But today they have been found to be not so fine and, like the politicians in power, the humanity they brazenly show dances on either side of criminality.

Trust in the police force has eroded steadily and visibly since the trials of The Guildford Four in 1974, building to a concentrated core over Steven Lawrence’s murder in 1993. Today when people march and protest for Black Lives Matter, or with a policeman held in custody over the murder of Sarah Everard, it seems to frighten Ms Patel into producing a bill called the ‘PoliceCrimeSentencing and Courts Bill 2021‘. It is a mere extension of the Coronavirus Act passed in 2020.

In a Democracy, protesting is considered a human right, and the Home Office says its proposals will respect this. Writing for gal-dem, Moya Lothian McLean says the proposed rules have given the state “enormous authoritarian power using extremely vague language that can be twisted for any purpose”.

The Labour MP Nadia Whittome said: “This bill will see the biggest assault on protest rights in recent history”. Kill the Bill Protests are continuing around the country. It could seem that the freedom to protest governments and military takeovers of state powers, and the freedom to report globally on these issues are getting as tricky and dangerous in England as we’ve seen in Belarus, Moscow, China and Myanmar.

Last week the the BBC’s correspondent John Sudworth abruptly left Beijing, taking his family to Taiwan. The Chinese Government do not care for – and have denounced – his reporting for the BBC on the treatment of the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang region.

In Hong Kong, China held a four week trial and found guilty seven of Hong Kong’s most senior and prominent pro-democracy figures of organizing and participating in an un-authorized rally.

And for leading an opposition party to the government, Alexei Navalny is jailed in Russia following an attempted poisoning on his life. Navalny is now in hospital with respiratory symptoms which must be as alarming as in jail when guards had tortured him with sleep deprivation while encouraging the other prisoners to do the same.

Rebecca Radcliffe reports in the Guardian on Myanmar where the military-controlled media state newspaper, Global New Light, has published wanted lists with the names and photographs of dozens of prominent figures, from actors to musicians. The junta said it would bring charges and criminalizes comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news”. Those accused under the law can face up to three years in prison.

President Joe Biden at work. Reuters

But for the first time in a long time we look back at the United States and see a glimmer of hope, holding our breath as we watch President Joe Biden get right to work with a little train engineer’s hat atop of his head. Maybe he can grease the wheels of government and get that engine going again to carry the American people forward into safety and work. Biden had been around the Washington block a long time and knows how that engine yard works. His oil can is at the ready and he is busy greasing those wheels.

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

Stuck

Recorded and knit together by WSM

One fine spring day, after Pooh had done his stoutness exercises, he went for a walk in the Thousand Acre Wood. He wondered what his friends were doing and decided to visit Rabbit who often knew the news. Rabbit was rather busy and not expecting visitors, but being a well brought-up Rabbit and not wanting to offend his friend he offered Pooh a snack. And, as can happen with Pooh, and others like him, Pooh ate so much honey – all there was in Rabbit’s jar – that when it was time to leave he got stuck – halfway in and halfway out of Rabbit’s front door. There he had to stay for a week while Rabbit dried his tea-towels over Pooh’s legs and Christopher Robbin read to Pooh outside Rabbit’s front door. Nobody said anything about eating too much, more than one really needed, or minding ones’ manners, thinking of others, or how much honey did Rabbit have in his pot. Eventually, after a week, all of Rabbit’s friends and relations came and with great effort managed to pull Pooh out of Rabbit’s front door where he shook himself off and continued on his walk.  We are never really sure what Pooh learnt as so many of his scrapes are about seeking out pots of honey as well as helping his friends in distress. 

This week, watching the big ship Ever Given lurch and ram sideways into the walls of the Suez canal we can see a little bit of Pooh in all of us. Shipping company cargo ships are like Rabbit’s pots, and at this writing there are 367 more of them lined up waiting to pass through the canal. And the honey – is all the goods not made in our home countries that we crave.

A work crew using excavating equipment tries to dig out the Ever Given wedged across the Suez Canal Photograph: AP

The canal’s history goes back to the time of early Pharaohs with successive kings trying this way and that to open up this trickling passage way between the Red and the Mediterranean Seas. Like the Panama Canal these little streams hold an almost magical power in terms of the world’s global trading systems today. The Suez canal is not very big, a mere 120 miles long, 673 feet wide and allows for a ship draft of 66 feet. And, as David Pilling notes in the Financial Times, the late president of Egypt, Abdel Nasser, would surely allow himself a wry smile, having nationalized the Suez Canal, which prompted the UK, France and Israel to invade Egypt in 1956.

More years ago than I can remember I raised my eyebrows hearing of redwood timber cut in California being shipped to China for milling and then returned to the Pacific Northwest for sale. But now we learn that fish caught in the Scottish waters are frozen, shipped to China for filleting and then returned to the UK supermarket shops as ‘fresh frozen fish’ where they definitely look a little travel-weary.

At the Supermarket in Camden Town

Scottish fish remain in the news as Alex Salmond strikes back at Nicola Sturgeon on Friday with his launch of The Alba Party, which sounds far too white for comfort. Kristy Strickland reports for the Guardian that Alex Salmond (pictured sitting on a wall smiling into the sunshine like an unaware Humpty Dumpty)pitched himself as a man just trying to be helpful while the fact that nobody asked for his help seems to be of little relevance.

Alex on a wall. Getty Images

Strickland goes on, astutely, that the odds are against him but that doesn’t matter. He isn’t driven by a burning desire to win an independence super-majority any more than Boris Johnson was sincere about wanting to free the UK from the ‘shackles’ of the European Union. The stated aim of both men are merely vehicles for their egos and need for relevance. Neither man is known for his care of a woman’s personal space and I get the feeling that if Alex Salmond can squeeze Nicola Sturgeon’s political space in the upcoming Scottish May elections he will take great pleasure in doing so.

Tale of two fishes

What is it with these men? Older, bully boys, with no hint remaining of what made them – a long time ago – considered smart or attractive? Their arenas are in politics, business and the military and they see no other way to be relevant than to be powerful. 

This weekend in Myanmar marked Armed Forces Day, a day to commemorate the beginning of the Army’s resistance to Japanese occupations in World War II. But as the military Chief Min Aung Hlaing watched the military display before holding a lavish dinner party for significant guests from China and Russia, the military increased their attacks on the people of Myanmar killing over 100 in the cities’ streets. Finally other world leaders are calling for a stop to the killing and discussing sanctions. Not that anyone is as yet taking any notice. Sadly Saturday was also the full moon day of Tabaung, the end of Myanmar’s lunar calendar, a day of Buddhist celebration.

As I write the sun is finally shining. Daylight savings has come into effect and as of today six people from two households are allowed to meet together outdoors. European countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands are all in various forms shaking their heads at the United Kingdom’s political maneuvering of the AstraZeneca vaccines. And it is hard not to blame them as this Prime Minister shifts his feet and blame here and there. But Boris always wants to be at the party and has joined the 20 other world leaders whose aim is to cooperate in meeting and dealing with future pandemics. Can England accept a role as just another tugboat? It would be good if that could come to pass.

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

Audrey II

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

In 1983 we took the children to see The Little Shop of Horrors when it was playing at a West End Theater in London. The book and lyrics are written by Howard Ashman and the music composed by Alan Menkin. The play starts off almost benignly but then, the little shop, the plant, the good and evil characters emerge along with the storyline until we were all properly horrified as Audrey II’s meandering tentacles devour all before her, before coming down on the audience in the finale. Not sure what sort of mother I was taking the family to such a show but they loved it, and apart from a daughter’s inordinate fear of spiders, seem non-the-worse for wear.

But I’m thinking of the story of The Little Shop, something seemingly benign growing with a hunger for the flesh of others, as I look at China and its meandering tentacles. The protestors against China’s takeover of Hong Kong’s parliamentary structure have been crushed and key activists are now jailed. Another tentacle has reached into Myanmar helping the military to quell activists and protesters against their takeover of the democratically elected president and government. So far the Myanmar protests are continuing even as rubber bullets are giving way to metal. At this writing at least 126 civilians have been killed by the military and two policemen have died. Some soldiers are scrambling to India after refusing to follow orders to open fire on their own people. 

Aung San Suu Kyi is still in house arrest

Hidden, as much as is possible, the Russian activists carry on – Navalny may be jailed but the work continues. Like burrowing a tunnel out of a jail, they keep chipping away at the rock face of the autocratic power held by Vladimir Putin who is beginning to feel the itch under his iron jacket.

The rollout of the vaccination program in England has been methodical and steady. As of today, over 23 million people have had their first dose of vaccination while over a million and a half have had their second injection. The AstraZeneca Vaccine has got some bad press (re: blood clots) but in this time of ‘who says what’ it is hard to know the truth. Statistics, as anyone who has taken basic Statistics 101 knows, can say one thing and then another depending on the chosen variables. The UK virus infection rates are going down, though they may rise as more restrictions are lifted. Today only 52 deaths were recorded from the virus. Soon it could be that the death rate from the virus is no greater than that of the winter flu.

How will we come out of our lockdown? Maybe it is our age – of course it is our age – but my friends and I are cautious, there is a hesitancy to come out of the cave and onto the street, into the garden. It is almost a collective lethargy among older friends. There have been articles about how hard lockdown has been on younger families but I also feel a sweeter caring and closeness among those of us who are older.

Between International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday, English women from all walks of life waited and watched when Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, went missing while walking home to her flat in Clapham, south London. For days it was just her disappearance that aroused the country to a collective alert attention, overtaking any regal outpourings of emotion that had preceded it. For a fear gripped every woman of all ages. Now Wayne Couzens has been remanded into custody and here is the rub: Couzens is an officer in the Metropolitan Police Force. How could this have happened? An off-duty police officer, slowing down, maybe told her not to be walking home that late at night, flashed his badge, not his crotch, and in a moment of unthinking tiredness she got into his car. A week later her body was found in a builder’s disposable bag in the Kent woodlands. Sarah was a young white woman. A woman of color would have been too savvy to get into that car. Never trust a white man, especially a white policeman. There is not a woman alive in London, or maybe even the country, who doesn’t understand the fear that still keeps us vigilant as we age. Women flocked to Clapham Common where Sarah walked. Vigils were called for and then asked to be held privately at home, candles to be lit, as we had once clapped for the NHS. But the Duchess of Cambridge went out – as alone as she could be – mingling among the women to lay flowers with the others. “For Sarah” it read. She said, “I remember what it was like to walk home alone in London,” before she quietly slipped away.

As dusk fell on Saturday, women continued to gather at Clapham Common, laying flowers, and holding their phones high lit as candles. There was a police presence and all was calm – until it wasn’t. Who gave the order, who panicked at the sheer volume of women, at the few protesters who came specifically to disrupt the situation? Someone did and the police moved in, encircling, crowding the women until some of them panicked too. It doesn’t take much – fear, that is – on either side, to make a peaceful situation difficult, a difficult one dangerous, and the repercussions of such a situation to be an excuse for more laws to curtail such protests.

Police officers begin to crowd in on the women at Clapham Common.

Discussions continue, in public and in parliament and the fear, on both sides of the law and the people remains. As we approach the spring equinox and the sky is becoming light again I wonder if the touch of spring is enough to bring us hope and courage to create a new way of being.

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

1 Percent

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

“In 1961, twenty-four young women came together in a classroom at The Royal Surrey Country Hospital in Guildford, Surrey. We were entering our three-month period of preliminary nurse training. With its completion, we could begin our official journey to become State Registered Nurses. But first, we had to pass through Sister Cartwright’s schoolroom, her capable hands, and caring heart. Only twenty students emerged from her classroom and by the end of our three years, we were a graduating class of sixteen.” So I wrote for ‘Learning to Heal’ published by Kent State University Press in 2018.

Of those sixteen nurses who graduated in 1964, eight left England searching for working opportunities in other countries.  We loved nursing and yet knew that it would be near impossible to afford a life much beyond the student style we already lived. My three cottage mates and I left for Australia, Africa, America, and Canada. 

In this last year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen nurses in England, and all over the world, work harder and longer than ever before. They, along with medical consultants to cleaners, have been tireless in their dedicated care of their patients. They have given their best to bus drivers and to Boris, and so it seems something of a wet fish in the face to hear this year’s budget distributions to the National Health System – while understanding that education, business, and all endeavors need financial aid at this time. Many public sector workers had a pay freeze, and the NHS staff account for half of that budget.  People cost money. Last year this very government promised an over 2% pay increase. Nada. And yet, tucked away in the LBC, a little radio program, comes the news of the HMRC, short for the tax collector, garnering a total 13% pay rise. They may deserve it, but it brings back the wet fish feeling. 

Before Brexit and COVID, nurses were moving across Europe and other countries, as we had done before them. In accepting the Tillie Olsen Award for ‘Learning to Heal’ I spoke of that too: “Oft times we choose nursing as a pathway from one social environment to another, usually empowerment and/or of a social context.”  After Brexit many European nurses returned to their home countries, leaving England once again – the poorer. 

In this Government Budget, Rishi Sunak is not looking so Dishy with a 1% pay raise for the NHS nurses, with other public-sector workers’ pay is frozen. “A row has erupted,” says one headline, “Unions warn,” says another. And I think how when I graduated in 1964 I made the conscious decision not to join the Royal College of Nursing because in their mandate was a clause whereby nurses could strike. I couldn’t believe that action would ever be needed or used. But today it is not a stretch to see how it can be discussed. We understand that equipment and machinery are expensive. But we remember the incredible spending blotches of this government: the huge Nightingale hospitals, erected with fanfare and speed, stand empty – and are soon to be dismantled. Nobody had thought of the staff needed to run them. Meanwhile, old brick-and-mortar hospitals remain hugely overcrowded, and last spring some even came close to running out of oxygen. Then there are the containers of PPE ordered from Turkey last May at a cost of millions of pounds. The shipments were delayed and then found to be below standard and useless on arrival. All this while firms in England were converting factories into making the equipment needed. I could go on, but you get the picture.

You would have thought Boris Johnson, with his own hospitalization and desperate need for nursing care, would have learned something. But as profuse as his thanks were at the moment, he thought no more of the nurses than of a maid who has ironed his shirt, nicely. 

Boris has other things to think about. This week schools reopen across England. There will be protocols of swab testing and masks in place, but not yet the sensible vaccination of all teaching staff. While fact-checking this I found an on-line petition to bring this item forward for Parliament. And signed it.

Boris Johnson in School

As we look up from Little England, which looks smaller by the day, there is a place to be grateful for a moment, for our smallness brings the ability of the mass vaccination program being rolled out across the country. The fact that we have a higher ratio of deaths per capita than almost every other country in the world is put to one side for the moment and hopefully will be dealt with later.

But we do lookout, even knowing that what we are seeing is often curated for our viewing: not much from Belarus or Moscow but still horror from Myanmar where, according to Reuters, close-by residents were warned not to enter the cemetery on Friday. The police and military were digging up the body of 19-year-old Kyal Sin in an effort to prove that the bullet that killed her could not have been theirs. They couldn’t prove it and so the protests continue to grow. A small change has happened that the military is mostly now using rubber bullets rather than live ammunition – mostly.

Meanwhile, The Pontiff, Pope Francis, traveled on a commercial plane on a pilgrimage to Iraq. He met with Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and other religious leaders and visited churches and communities bombed by ISIS in northern Iraq. 

Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani with His Holiness, Pope Francis

Many years ago, when Pope Francis was still the archbishop of Buenos Aires, California’s Bishop Bill Swing, (Also known to KWMR golfing listeners as a fine golfer and supporter of KWMR) was visiting that city. They talked of Bishop Swing’s dream of a United Religions Initiative and together gave the first interdenominational service at the Cathedral. Now, as Pope Francis, he carried that message of inclusiveness deep into the Muslim world at Ur, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. 

Timing and Dosage and the Saga of the Sussexes. I think back to our beloved Sister Cartwright and wonder that there was not a similar helping hand to light a lamp and show the way forward on the new path and calling for the young family. I hope that wherever their journey takes them they find such a person, who, like a nurse, will hold their hand in the darkest of times.

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

20,000,000 and counting

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

…is a lot of people given their first dose of the Covid vaccine. This week the rollout of vaccinations begins for those between 64-60 years old. Cases of COVID infections in the UK are down 40% and – for the moment – England can be hopeful. Last week The Queen joined health workers from around the UK on a Zoom conference call, talking of how well the program is going and how important it is. The Queen added that her vaccination “Didn’t hurt at all” and encouraged those who were nervous about having a vaccination “to think of others and protect them by having the vaccination.” At 94 she remains in lockdown in Windsor Castle while Prince Philip, her 99-year-old husband, is transferred from King Edward Vth hospital to St. Batholomew’s and there are other family concerns on her mind. She is not immune from the extra burdens that this time brings. In her own isolation from family and work, she shares the worries which we all carry with the sense that the world is closing in on us. For some people, this time brings issues of weight gain, but in The Queen I see weight loss and the concerns of aging for both her and Prince Philip are on my mind.

Her Majesty The Queen urges people to get the vaccination

Stacy Abrams was a bright light when she zoomed into Andrew Marr’s Sunday show. Smart, polite, and clear with her message of upholding the democratic voting process in North America. She is a strong intelligent woman and her interview was a source of hope of sanity in the United States. She has me wondering, almost wishing, that it will be the women of color who might save the U.S. and even humanity.

Stacey Abrams

So many nations are caught in struggles for national power and control while others reach for a form of democracy. The United Arab Emirates is not of the latter. Last week, footage from a sequestered phone-camera was released taken by Princess Latifa locked in the bathroom of her villa/jail as she called out for help. Princess Latifa has accused her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the ruler of Dubai and vice-president of the UAE, of holding her hostage in Dubai since she tried to flee the city in 2018. The statements from  Dubai say “she is safe in the loving care of her family.” But no pictures of her are forthcoming.

And in other countries, the clenched iron fist of authoritarian rule is being met with continued resistance, and the continued resistance is being countered by fists squeezing on the triggers of guns and power. 18 protesters were killed in Myanmar this weekend. Aung San Suu Kyi has been brought to court, via video link and though purported to be in good health, her lawyer was forbidden to see her – and again, no pictures of her are forthcoming.

The news from Hong Kong where protests continue is of 47 public officials who have not sworn the new oath of loyalty to Beijing, China, and Communism and who were put on trial. The newly introduced oath of loyalty aims to cull anyone who seeks to maintain or improve democracy in Hong Kong from holding public office. They would be banned from running in elections for the next five years.

It is a worn phrase – ‘while protests continue’ – and yet protests do continue wherever they are needed as democratic challenges and activists are suppressed, along with the journalists who report them. 

A Belarus court has jailed two TV journalists of Poland-based Belsat TV for two years on charges of fomenting protests while filming a rally against the country’s leader. James Shotter and Max Seddon wrote for the Financial Times reporting on the Belarusian activists who have slipped across borders, to Lithuania, and Poland. Nexta, founded by a prolific blogger, Stsiapan Putsila is run by a small young and savvy group of activists. Posting quick-fire information and images on Telegram, it has become the main source of news for what is happening and where to be for the Belarusian public.

Another story, a single paragraph, maybe of deeper relevance than first observed, is of Mikita Mikado, the Silicon Valley founder of a Belarusian software firm who launched a crowdfunded platform to help security officers pay the heavy fines needed to leave the force and re-train for other work. Hundreds from the Belarusian police-force have reached out to him, sick of the violence they are asked to perpetuate. Lukashenko is beginning to ramble with his statements while Putin hopes that with Navalny put away he can sit back and watch – for a moment.

How to find comfort or inspiration during these times? Reading helps, those books that one never had time for before. Finally, Middlemarch by George Eliot is by my bedside, and to my amazement, I am enjoying the words, the pace of reading, and the story – in the doses that bedtime reading provides.  But like many others, I return to poetry and found renewal with a program from the Wigmore-at-home series. I settled in to listen and watch a performance by Alice Coote, Christian Blackshaw, and Ralph Fiennes as they wove together the music, letters, and poetry of Tchaikovsky and Pushkin. They gather artists and audience together bringing us solace and strength for this time.

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

Unlocking the Door

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

There is a recognizable trait sometimes found in business. The person in charge creates a problem. Their problem becomes “the problem” and it can take many attempts before they find a solution. We are here now as Prime Minister Boris Johnson proudly lays out a rally road-map and we hear the engine rev, and the gears engage as we ease out of lockdown and into sunshine. Over 17 million people in England have had at least one dose of a vaccine and already this has brought the number and rate of Covid infections down. There is a schedule for the reopening and testing for pupils and staff in schools. Non-essential shops and restaurants and even pubs have their tentative time-table. We will ‘Follow the data, not the dates’ is the new catch-phrase out of Westminster. Maybe the most touching item is that residents in care homes will be allowed one designated visitor and may hold hands. Boris Johnson and the UK government want to make sure that we come out of this lock-down and stay out. The physical and mental deterioration, never mind hair-care, is visible in everyone.

Watching some of the solitary men and women that walk through our little street, I wonder how they are feeling? We wave and talk when we can, helping each other by this small interaction. I continue to bake but have to watch how much we eat. So beginning at Christmas, I make up little packages and plates to pop into the hands of ‘a lady or gentleman passing by’.

The men respond with poetry. Roughly hand-written, and carefully thought out, they pen notes that are lyrical and heart-felt and pop them in our letter-box to smile at me from the mat. Of course Eastern European Mick, of few teeth – but a growing beard – quotes Mendelssohn. We first met Mick at the Belgo Belgian Beer restaurant on Chalk Farm Road. It was sweet to recognize him as one of the monk-clad waiters, and he would grin his shy, sheepish, smile. But both Belgo and Mick have lost out to Covid. The restaurant has closed and is likely to only reopen one from its chain of six. And wherever Mick landed, that closed too. Jobs for the Micks of the city will be hard to come by.

Howard, long retired as a tennis coach in Regent’s Park, totters through, making his way to the new Morrison’s supermarket. I like to believe that as he sits at his kitchen table, a mug of tea and the crumbling shortbread biscuits at hand, he enjoys writing a verse to deliver when he next ventures out.

This week Alexei Navalny again stood in the dock in Moscow’s law chambers. His appeal was denied and he remains sentenced to two and a half years in prison. President Putin hopes that by jailing Navalny and throwing away the key, that will be the end of that. Navalny may well die in prison and, at the very least, his supporters will wait out the winter before beginning big protests again. There will be little more news from Russia unless – something happens. Putin dismisses the importance of sanctions from the West portraying poor little Russia as being put upon by Europe and North America. 

Focus does remain on Myanmar – for the moment – where protesters continue with their opposition to the military forces that seized power after the elections three weeks ago. The military threats of using deadly force against the protesters are no longer threats, and this weekend funerals were held for the first three protesters killed by the military. A friend with contacts in Myanmar says that the activists are very well organized and, for the most part, safe. The internet continues to be shut down nightly and for several hours into the morning. But the military trucks announcing the ban on gatherings of no more than five people don’t seem to be working.

The first Funeral

COVID or no COVID – Brexit is as Brexit does – and the financial capital that was London is beginning to crumble. “Where to next?’ cry out the banks, brokers, and financial institutions? I think back on the money-cities of ancient times; Rome, Venice, Amsterdam when ships, laden with goods and gold, sailed from port to port. Now trading is through the internet, as companies, like nervous frogs into a pond, jump away from the danger of taxes and excessive regulations. Amsterdam is stirring and their real-estate prices are rising as businesses lure Europeans to the canal shores. Senior executives from HSBC are having their bags packed for them as they scroll through pictures of high-rises, well above the protesters, in Hong Kong where they see profits gleaming in the city’s bright lights.

Last Tuesday the Duke of Edinburgh, who had been feeling a touch unwell, was admitted to a small, private hospital in London. On Saturday Prince Charles drove down from his Highgrove home to visit his father whom he had not seen since Christmas. He was in and out in half an hour and clearly moved as he left the hospital. The Duke is two months shy of his 100th birthday and is ill beyond that than an aspirin and a nap will take care of. What do you say to your wife, to your husband, when this moment of parting comes? Is there an iPad by his bedside with which they can stay in touch? Prince Philip will want to be left alone to heal or not as his body dictates. He will remain in hospital into this week as doctors act with an “abundance of caution” for which we are grateful.

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

St. Valentine’s Weekend.

Recorded and knit together by WSM.

It was St. Valentine’s Day on Sunday. Birthed from the Roman Festival of Lupercalia that celebrated the beginning of Spring with fertility rites and the pairing of women with men – by lottery – it was eventually Christianized in the fifth century by Pope Gelasius and finally, in the 14th century, celebrated as a day of love and romance. In country law, the middle of February – St. Valentine’s day – is the moment when birds start pairing up for the spring-time nesting season. There is now bird-song calling from the trees in the parks and around the cottage. Walking up the hill on our way to the Saturday market there are a pair of Magpies in the bare branches of an Ash tree. They are perched close to each other and he is very very keen, making caressing, pecking overtures to her head and shoulders. But she is clear: he is too early – it is Saturday, not Sunday – and she is not lifting her tail for him – just yet. 

Tail down Magpie

While the snow fades away in London it continues to fall in Russia and the temperature remains at – 15 º Celsius in Moscow. where St. Valentine’s day is celebrated in Russia too.  Inspired by the ‘chain of Solidarity’ in neighboring Belarus the Russian women found their way around the restrictions of mass protests this weekend. They gathered in home gardens lighting candles, placing them in hearts, and they stood, joined together by white ribbons in lines along the streets and around the government buildings in Moscow’s city squares. In homage to Navalnaya, Alexei’s wife, they wore red scarves and hats and carried red roses and red and black paper hearts. They were freezing cold but standing firm. The bulky policemen watching them may have been warmer on the outside but it is interesting to wonder what they thought as they looked sorrowfully at the women. All through Russia’s cities the police have been clamping down on protesters and punishing them in ways that relate to their families and livelihoods.

Women formed a line of protest in Moscow by the statue of poet Alexander Pushkin and his wife Natalia Goncharova.

In Myanmar the Army has taken to patrolling the streets in armored vehicles and as such are perceived as making war on the people. Now even some government employees are resisting, with airline pilots not showing up for work and causing a deep disruption in the running of the country.  Social Media outlets, Facebook and Twitter and such, are closed and information is spotty at best. The movements may be led by the young generation and the intellectuals, but they are joined by people from all walks of life. It is a waiting, and weighted, game in these countries whose people struggle to protest their oppressive authoritarian governments.

Armoured vehicles drive along a road in Yangon, Myanmar, 15 February 2021. Photograph: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

In England, the weekend brought a long overdue ‘Hip-Hip-Hurrah’ moment led by Boris Johnson, thanking everyone – ‘you all, who have played your part’ as the goal of getting the first vaccination out to the four top-most vulnerable categories has been reached. It is a big step and the government’s outline of getting schools, followed by nonessential shops, outdoor sports, and finally, restaurants and pubs open, possibly in three-week increments, sounds like a good plan. I almost dare to trust they will follow through even as the government continues to be pressed, by its own hard-liners, to open everything at once. One can only hope that, for once, they don’t cave in. Without a slow drip of openings, it will be hard to see where the potential trouble spots for infection spread such as university students and sports venues will emerge.  

“Aggie, you have a problem”. So pronounces Neli in a voice that is beyond asking for a refill of a cleaning product. “You have mice.” I appear shocked and dare not confess that this could be possible. Neli assures me she has seen ‘the evidence’ and I bow my head in acknowledgment – she is probably right.

“What do you do about mice?” I casually ask my friend while we walk together.

“I’ve only seen one.” She quickly replies but adds that a friend has more, (is that as in several?) and uses catch and release traps. She continues “Its a big year for mice.”

Our local hardware shop is closed for a family holiday and so onto Amazon I go. In less that 24 hours (I honestly didn’t ask for prime) there is a tat-a-tat-tat on the door and a box is on the mat. The two have-a-heart traps inside have instructions only to use peanuts and, when you put the mice outside, make sure they have a food source. The compost bin seems a good idea.

We only had a mouse for a couple of weeks, racing from a gap in the skirting under the fridge, through the supermarket aisles of the floor under the dining room table, and into hiding under the cabinet. It is small, and very definitely, a city mouse – just like the mice in children’s books. City mice are dark grey almost black and the country mice, such as my friend in the Hay Loft, are a lighter grey with pink ears. London mice have black ears. This little fellow looks even darker than the mice that we used to see scurrying along the rails at the underground tube stations. But this week when my husband came downstairs to bed he held up his hand and started twitching two fingers, as if in a game of Charades. I was to guess, ‘something has happened.’ No, it is ‘just’ that he saw two mice galloping across the floor back home from their adventures under the cabinet.  

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

Winter Storms Keep Brewing

Recorded and knit together by WSM

Winter. The turning of, the date between, winter solstice and spring equinox. February 1st is celebrated with St. Brigid who moved into Christianity from the Celtic feast of Imbolc. St. Brigid’s Day is still observed as a Gaelic seasonal festival in parts of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. To make sure we don’t get too complacent, last weekend’s snowstorm arrived in England and in London managed to bring snowmen and slides to the parks and on the hill. Through the week the snow faded, the water-logged grass turned to mud and the dogs let off their leads were in heaven. Barbour Jackets and Hunter Wellington Boots are made for days like these – even in the city. 

Alberto Pezzali for AP

The Dutch named it Storm Darcy, and then as he crossed the North Sea he was nicknamed by the British Met office as the Beast from the East 2, as he is set to repeat – or exceed – the winter storms of 2018. Storm Darcy has come across North-Eastern Europe from Russia and one is mindful of the geography of the meteorology. 

And also of politics. The harshness of the winter has played out in the harshness of the political regimes of Belarus and Russia with their clamp-downs and imprisonment of opposition political leaders. We hear very little from Belarus and only minimal news of Alexey Navalny’s court appearances and continued imprisonment. The Kremlin has now expelled three European diplomats: from Germany, Sweden, and Poland. The United Kingdom, France, and the European Union have joined together to shake their fingers at Russia. But Russia doesn’t care, even as more of the Russian people join the protesters against Putin’s authoritarianism and begin to look at Navalny as the moral compass of their country. 

Navalny is seen – however briefly – more than the protesters in Myanmar. 

Aung San Suu Kyi remains in house-arrest along with several of her ministers and when she can, urges her supporters to protest against the coup. And protest they do, coming onto the streets in the cities and towns in their thousands. Currently, the military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing is holding the power of Myanmar’s military over the government – even as the country transitioned towards democracy. But not much news comes out of Myanmar. Social media has been shut down with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all closed. Information to journalists is spooled out through phone videos, just as it was shot on film before we had phones. What is clear is that the military has sent out the police to subdue the protestors and they – the police – don’t look too happy about it. The Burmese are slighter in build than their Russian counterparts in Moscow. Where the Russian police have the look of plated armadillos, these police officers move with a skittish hesitancy as they retreat behind their rubber-bullet guns and inside water-cannon tanks. For at the end of their day, they have to go home to mothers and fathers and be berated for turning against their aunts and sisters. Memories of military suppression are still strong among their parents’ generation. While the protesters are mostly young people, both men, and women, who have begun to find their voice in the emerging democracy, medical staff are also leaving the hospitals, and professors their universities, to march – while arthritic grannies are banging pots and pans from their windows and the curbsides. 

Water Canon in Nay Pyi Taw

Meanwhile, throughout England, the snow keeps falling, though in London it is unsure how to land – as snowflakes or raindrops. The wind chill is keeping the temperatures low, the snow in flurries, and ministers hurrying from their cars to Westminster or their Zoom-rooms where attention is all turned inward to the Covid virus, its variants, and the vaccines. And there is news, and rumors and charts and people trying to keep a lid on it and a Prime Minister wearing a paper hat and lab coat, out and about at vaccine factories, while muttering and mumbling “We’re doing jolly well, the number of people getting the vaccines are the highest” – then what, I wonder? Covid infection and death rates are finally coming down but the relentless level of exhaustion among hospital personnel is not. Staff morale is at a low ebb as patients keep being admitted to Intensive Care Units and there is no time to grieve over patients who have died before there is another to take that bed.

Meanwhile, at last night’s government briefing, Professor Jonathan Van Tam’s casual mention that ‘by the way, if you are over 70 and haven’t had your jab, give us a call and we’ll sort something out,’ just isn’t cutting it. Variants of the COVID-19 virus skip from country to country, turning and changing along the way as it travels throughout the world. This morning Health Minister Matt Hancock outlined the strong travel restrictions coming into force for those traveling from the Red-List Countries. But looking at the list of countries, I’m wondering how accurate this is, in terms of virus mutations and economic impact. What vaccine for which variant is now becoming a shell game that I can’t follow and there are muddles and finger-pointing and people to blame all though Whitehall, Westminster, and even the home counties. A quote from Jane Goodall might be worth reminding our government at this time. 

“Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.”

Jane Goodall

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

Covid, Coup Coo ee

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

To date, over nine million people in the UK have had their first Covid-19 vaccination. Now there is a scurry-hurry as testing is ramped up in flaring spots of the fast-spreading South African variant of the virus. The English like a good hunt and if foxes are off-limits then viruses can be the quarry. As the elderly residents of all UK care homes are now scheduled to receive their first vaccinations, Ireland, Wales and Scotland are also vaccinating the care-home staff but for some untenable reason, England is not.

The Covid virus remains indiscriminate and random in its reach. Age and health play a part but there are no guarantees of safety from the disease. This weekend Captain Sir Tom Moore who walked 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday, raising over 32 million pounds for the Nation Health Service, was hospitalized with pneumonia and a positive Covid-19 test, and he died on Tuesday afternoon. He and his family became a symbol of hope and inspiration for the whole country. We hear a lot about how the pandemic affects doctors and nurses on the front line. Today I am thinking about an anesthesiologist’s story of his first two intubations, back to back, for young women bedded in the same unit, both mothers with young families to care for. He writes of the panic in their eyes and in his heart and the moment when he has to switch from compassion to competent – and carry on. 

On Monday came the news of the military coup in Myanmar, formerly Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi and 400 members of parliament have been detained by the army and remain confined inside their government housing in the capital. Police are inside the complex and soldiers are outside. Somehow a democratic election was held in 2015 and though the military never really gave up control, Aung San Suu Kyi – after spending nearly 15 years in detention – emerged as the country’s leader. Myanmar has never been known as a soft country and her harsh treatment of the Rohingya people has inked her time in the office with the United Nations. But under her leadership, the country has begun to open for the young people who have quickly seen its new possibilities. It is hard to think that they will allow that window to close again.

As hard line coups continue to happen, people throughout the Western world also continue with protests. Alexei Navalny is still in prison but the people of Russia are protesting in their thousands. Was it the video of Putins’ Palace, the gold-plated toilet brushes or Arkady Rotenberg stepping up to claim the palace as his own – Rotenberg, a known construction magnate, judo sparring partner, and close pal to Putin – that has kept the Russian people pouring onto the street to demonstrate? Even those who are not Navalny supporters have joined the protests and this weekend over five thousand were detained by the police. These protests may be as much about questioning the authority of Vladimir Putin as the imprisonment of Navalny. Similar questions as those posed in Belarus. 

Putin’s Black Sea Palace

Military and Police forces are the powerful tools used to protect or take over a government or country and control the media. The Iranian Coup of 1953 used the military and paid mobs to overthrow Prime Minister Mosaddegh and that model has been copied and refined ever since. We can fast-forward to the almost coup 2021 in the United States – which though it appeared unruly, was orchestrated. Photographs of rioters with handcuffs and ropes harks back to a chilling American history. 

NPR reported that nearly 1 in 5 of the American rioters charged has served in the military. This made me think of the Vietnam veterans I met in the mid-1960s while nursing in Hollywood, California when new teams of respiratory therapists marched onto the wards. They were young men, edgy, competent, and clipped and all were returning Vietnam Medic Veterans. They had been fast-tracked, retrained, to treat people after surgery or with cardiac and respiratory disease. 

In 1966 President Johnson read a report “Accidental Death and Disability”, stating accidental deaths as the leading cause of death in young people. And in 1969 came the first standardization of care and emergency training for “rescue squad personnel, policemen, firemen and ambulance attendants.” This program was a life-saver, not only for accident and cardiac victims but for returning medics from the Vietnam War. The program gave their adrenaline the same pump and release that war had given them, but just a little slower, and as they cared for civilian patients many of those medics healed too. So I think about the 1 in 5 rioters who stormed the US capital building being veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and maybe having no support when they returned to the US, the country they thought they had fought for.

Hello-eee calls out the Royal Society of Protection of Birds, waving for the ‘Big Garden Birdwatch.’ In 1889 Emily Williamson founded The Plumage League to protect birds killed for the decoration of hats. Across England, the last weekend in January is set aside for anyone who wants to count the birds in their garden for an hour. I choose my Sunday morning Andrew Marr breakfast time and, with a cup of tea in one hand, pen poised over notebook in the other, I waited. This weekend the weather was miserable, cold, and foul, and the birds mostly remained shivering in the trees. But eventually, they emerged in the pattern they have long-established. One robbin, followed by two blue tits, two coal tits, one great tit, all knocked off the feeder by a starling. A feral and wood pigeon strut across the terrace while the goldfinches, dunnock, and wren stayed hidden. Then it is a walk up to my friend Lucy’s wilderness garden where we put out more seed. We sit on suitably-spaced garden stools and take our masks off to talk. It doesn’t take long before the robin who lives in this hidden quarter of Primrose Hill comes down to feed with us.

St. George’s Terrace Robbin

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