Harvesting the Hill

Recorded and knit together by WSM
First aired on KWMR.org May 20 2020

‘It’s a Debortle’ became the catch phrase for any minor/major hiccup that occurred during the post-production of Coup 53. A blazer-clad and panama-hatted Brit arriving back in England from Iran was caught on camera and asked to describe the exodus of the British from Abadan in 1951. The journalists surrounding him didn’t seem to notice his grin as he repeated ‘Debortle’ while not giving any hint of the word’s origin. ‘It’s a Debortle,’ became the cry and the tee-shirt slogan for Coup 53 and in more than one London household referencing the situation we are all in, around the world.

The UK government’s handling of the Corona19 epidemic in England has been a debortle. But watching the medical staff at the Saint-Pierre Hospital in Brussels, Belgium as they silently turned their backs on Prime minister Sophie Wilmes when she arrived to visit, we see that England is not alone. Countries all over Europe, and continents throughout the world continue to struggle with this itsy-bitsy virus that maybe is here to teach us some sort of a lesson.

Even though this government says we can begin to venture out, as long as we ‘Stay Alert’, like many others we continue to stay alone at home. Guidelines from the “Evenin’ Standud”, dropped on our doormat nightly, continues to say that as over 70 years old we are among the extremely vulnerable. We turn to this guide rather than the three blind men (and women) who at 5 p.m. each weekday night stride out to their podiums at number 10 Downing Street with the day’s rule changes. Barely one thing they say is reliable and by morning it often needs amending – again.

So we stay at home and face each morning’s question–what to wear today? If one is lucky there is someone else in the house who can smile at you looking neat or lovely. But maybe there isn’t, and just the effort of getting dressed can sometimes be too much. But there could be a delivery. A loud knocking on the door in the morning has me racing – carefully – downstairs, but the postman is already leaving before I can open the door. I shout a “Thank you” with a smiling wave and he turns with his happy smile and wave in reply, but is already striding across the parking lot and I don’t think he can notice what I am wearing.

At some point during the day, separately or together, we will go to the park, down by the canal or around the hill. The end of spring has begun to layer white across the green before the summer pinks, blues and purples come to paint the summer hedgerows. There is a tall wall around the bottom perimeter of Primrose Hill. Houses, blocks of flats and even a reservoir are closed off. But from back gardens and small alleyways there are old wooden gates in the wall. The delight in a road or a pathway leading forward never fades. This feature is found in city and country parks all over, and surely must have been a thought for the American writer Frances Hodgson Burnett when she wrote ‘The Secret Garden’ published in 1911.

Now swaths of Cowslips that grew thigh high under the lime trees are beginning to soften from their bright white, while the Elderflower shrubs stand tall and take their turn, gracefully to unfurl their florets. It is too much! and carrying a floppy old plastic bag holding my clippers I walk the perimeter of the hill, eyeing the Elderflower heads as they bow towards me. It is a slow walk, for I must gauge how low the flower heads are, and glance around to see if anyone is watching. If I walk too deeply into the underbrush I may disturb someones lodging. There are only a few signs of human habitation but there are enough to remind me to be respectful. I’m looking for 20 to 30 full flowering heads from the Elderflower shrubs. Being particular, it takes walking the mile perimeter to gather what I need. Then I can saunter on home and pop the bag in the fridge to stay fresh until I have everything ready.

Ros’s Elderflower Cordial
Recipe

Our next door neighbors are also self-isolating. They have returned to London from their years in the Irish countryside. Like us, a smaller home and the lure of grandchildren has brought them back to the city. And, like me, they have brought their country recipes with them. Ros emails me a well-stained 40 plus year-old copy of her recipe for Elderflower Cordial.

Time is 26 hours total if you count harvest and preparation.

Introduction on the Stove

Once bottled and chilled it is immediately delicious. It is a perfect summer drink and my evening glass is going down a treat. The sun is shining this week, and we are very grateful to be allowed back onto our terrace. We were definitely “personae non grata” outside while the Blue Tits began nest building and egg incubation. But now the eggs have hatched and the parents are too busy flying in and out of the nesting box above the Vanessa Bell and Sir Walter Scott Roses to be too nervous about us. Bill Oddie’s bird book says they can hatch 14 eggs but I don’t see how they can all fit in the box. Maybe I will just have come out each evening, sip a little more cordial and count until the one night they all fly away.

This 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.