January is Gathering Speed

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

What will this week bring for American politics, for England’s Covid vaccination news, and for all of us living in these times?

With Brexit a done deal, opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer is washing his hands of any Brexit redux, leaving the freedom of travel for Europeans and Britons in the hands of the European Union. Sad as it is maybe he is right to let the English people grumble and suffer on with Boris Johnson’s non-deal.

Meanwhile the Covid Vaccine timetable is being rolled out. Health workers are getting vaccinated, the Queen and Prince Philip have been vaccinated, and white-haired seniors can been seen shuffling along in the cold, queuing outside of drafty tents. Minister of the Cabinet, Michael Gove, does admit “Transport for seniors may present a bit of an issue.” All I can think of is bladder control.

The First BioNTech-Pfizer Vaccine given to ninety-year-old grandmother Margaret Keenan. Photo by Jacob King

The stillness is beginning to get oppressive. Though there are still clusters of young people milling around the High Street coffee shops, not yet able to give up on the social connection or the metabolic addiction of their cup of Joe. Once again, I write out a grocery list and send it along to Parkway Greens. Later in the day, there is a rat-a-tat-tat on the door, and an overflowing box of fruit and vegetables is laid on the steps.

£ 5 left over special

In Hampshire, where I grew up, the statistics are set out in graphs so color-coordinated I can’t follow them. But next door, Surrey, the homiest of home counties, has begun to build temporary morgues on discrete army grounds. While making room for 800 bodies, the County Council are still concerned that this will not be enough. The small hamlets and villages that surrounded my childhood are dotted with Covid virus cases and death. Old names – Ash Vale, Frimley, Bagshot, Camberley, Farnham, Elstead, Tongham, and Guildford, all a part of my childhood – are now saddened with a startled grief. The home counties suburbs are struggling in their perceived privilege with its lack of discipline as much as the industrial working north is with making a lively-hood.

A friend in London admits to now watching afternoon television. Something she would never have considered even six months ago. We are not there yet except for the momentous events of last Wednesday in Washington DC. But the death this autumn of Dame Barbara Windsor, star of the long-running TV drama East Enders reminded us of the hunger to escape into a fantasy world. And, often I do switch on my Roberts radio, tuned to BBC Radio 4, and catch the fifteen minutes of ‘The Archers’ which this year turned 70. First subtitled ‘The Every Day Story of Country Folk’ with a five-part pilot in 1950, it was created in an effort to educate farmers and improve agricultural production in the early post-war years and had a heavy government influence in the scripting until the 1970s. I can remember it playing on the wireless in my nursery where I would be having supper and someone would be ironing. Our generation listened to it for years, it was as ingrained in our minds as a Catholic catechism. School term times came and went, and whenever we returned ‘The Archers’ would be playing in their 6.45. p.m. slot. You could dip in and out of the village story, for it never lost its charm or its relevance to rural living. Even when television came nipping at radio audiences with their soap operas of Coronation Street and The East Enders that focused on working lives in London and the north of England, The Archers carried on.

Over this summer, the episodes of The Archers continued with a story of three British-born young men kept as slaves in a secret location on the outskirts of Ambridge, each one having a learning or mental health disability. This is the appalling reality that The Archers’ editor, Jeremy Howe, chose to confront as well as to challenge. According to the Global Slavery Index, it is thought there are up to 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the United Kingdom.

“It’s not simply a problem involving immigrant labour,” explains Howe. “It can be a British problem involving British slaves and British gang-masters.”

Reading the Saturday Financial Times paper on Sunday, I found a small article tucked in a lower corner. The South Korean Government knocking on Japan’s door once more for recompense for the Korean Comfort Women kept for the Japanese soldiers during WWII. The Japanese are, naturally, dismissing any further claims of compensation for the now very few women left alive. I first came to this story with Nora Okja Keller’s book “Comfort Woman” published in 1998 when for KPFA and KWMR we had a conversation about her book which was loosely told from her grandmother’s remembrances.

Three hungry young men

Slavery, and enforced indenture-hood, in today’s world, is nothing new, but something we don’t always look to find on our doorstep. Simple dramas like The Archers can do that for us. And so can the three young men of undetermined Slavik European lineage who “worked” for what we now call our Irish Rogue Roofers in 2016. We were taken for a right royal ride and I can only shake my head at our stupidity. And I remember those young men who devoured all the food I fed them and spent the longest time relishing hot water as they cleaned up at the end of the day in our bathroom. Photographs and recordings given to the police yielded nothing more than a night-time stop-over in a local police station for the family patriarch. In the silence of these restricted and cold winter months, with no work available, I pray that those young men are somewhere safe today.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org.

Web support by murchstudio.com

Monty’s Monday Mornings

Monty on a Monday

In his own words.

Today was terrible and I will never, ever go there again. She was a looking for a big box of baking soda to refresh the drains. We started off down the canal path but then went up the steps to Morrison’s Supermarket. It is vast and smells bad. What she wanted wasn’t there and so we went through more back streets to Sainsbury’s where she did find four bottles of Vinegar at .50 p each. Both stores have security guards and when we got to Sainsbury’s one of them came over and stood beside me. She gave him a firm look and he moved away!

Usually we go to Camden Town on a Monday morning. Camden holds a real mix of working Londoners. It is especially nice on Monday after the midnight city lorries, hosing down as they sweep, have cleaned the punk madness of the weekend away. The streets seem refreshed, though the polka-dot chewing gum still decorates the pavement and the water has long dried by the time we get to town. Often something has been found wanting over the weekend. ‘I may have to go into Camden for that’ is uttered in more than one household whilst drinking the morning tea when lists are made.

Delancy Street

Delancey Street curving in the sunshine

We set out weaving through the Auden Place Estate to Regent’s Park Road and walk to the big five-way junction. We cross through the maze of traffic lights onto Delancey Street and carry on past the curved row of white terraced houses where, according to his Blue Plaque, Dylan Thomas once lived.

Blue plaque for Dylan Thomas

Blue Plaque for Dylan Thomas

It is a quiet, bright street and the sun almost always seems to shine there. Often the C2 and 274 busses pass us on their way to either end of Oxford Street.

Our first stop is the coffee shop owned by George Constinantou who has been at this location for forty-two years and five months. If there are no other customers, there is room for me to come inside, while she waits and talks. She is always talking.

beans roasting

Beans roasting at Camden Coffee House

Georgio

Georgio behind his counter

Despite his shyness and the roar of the roasting beans, she knows about his annual holiday when he goes home to Cyprus to his mother and sister’s family every year. He is constantly in motion, weighing, scooping and roasting beans taken from the sacks piled up along one wall. Then 250 grams of Continental and £3.80 later we are on our way, another half a block to the Camden High Street where the pub on this corner still looks hungover on Monday morning. It is the only place that is not refreshed.

Now she crosses over the busy High Street to The Camden Town Bakery, established 1972, and gets a White Tin Loaf of bread. The bakery closed recently and ‘he’ said there were no more tin loaves, that it has all gone fast food. But thank goodness it was only getting a makeover. Housewives of a certain generation who shop on the High Street don’t want anything too fancy – sweet, yes, quick take away deli food, yes – but please keep the familiar Old Tin loaves in the corner.

She puts the loaf next to the coffee, both keeping the other warm, and we go back across the High Street to Waitrose. It is the only supermarket we like. It is small, there are more shelves with produce for proper cooking and a little less plastic wrap and more organic produce. Mostly she comes here for the household staples and I always have to nudge her at the checkout to move the tin loaf and not squash it with the laundry powder. She never remembers her coupons – she should, at her age.

One time she took me back across the road to the small artsy-crafty shop. The isles were so narrow there was barely room for me. What was she after? Turned out she needed a big bag of toy stuffing. She can’t keep up with the need for knitted piglets for all the little people she meets.

Piglett family

A litter of Piglets

It is sweet really but there are two big sweaters, I know because I’ve seen the wool, waiting for her to finish. The stuffing is cheap, I hear coins changing hands. It is bulky but very light thank goodness as I am always almost full when we leave Waitrose.

Ossie's Barber Shop

Up Parkway past Ossie’s to the greengrocer

Now we are nearly done and cross the Camden Hub High Street intersection where six roads come together by the tube station. We can go up Parkway, past the Odeon cinema, an Italian deli and Ossie the barber, to the Turkish greengrocer. We love this shop the best.  I just get to squeeze in and have to wait by the checkout counters where I can see her. The shop is so small they don’t have trolleys – only baskets. ‘Don’t get too much,’ I try to say but she never listens.

The produce is bright, very pretty and the trays are kept full. Everything is labeled, what it is, where it is from, if it is organic and there are always several varieties of whatever it is. Take choosing the organic eggs: there are chicken, duck, quail or goose. The pears are from Spain and Argentina. She always buys the ones from Argentina. The peaches from Spain are better, at the moment, than those from Italy. But the tomatoes from Italy are better than those from England. These last few weeks she has been getting gooseberries and always a bottle of pomegranate juice. The fresh organic turmeric and ginger are from Peru.

long view

Summer veg lined up

Eventually she is ready and comes back to me at the counter. No she doesn’t need a bag, she has me, and one way and another, moving the tin loaf again, everything fits in and we leave. It is uphill along Parkway but I don’t wobble at all. There are more traffic lights to cross and then the downhill bit along Regent’s Park Road back through Auden Place until we are home.

She could never carry all this on her own and she has quite come to rely on me. Inside it is one step at a time and she can pull me upstairs. Then she unloads everything out onto the kitchen counter. The relief. It is hard work, but I don’t complain. After all she nearly threw me out when she returned home last spring and saw me in my box on the terrace. I know what could have happened to me – off to the charity shop and who knows where after that. When she is done she carries me back downstairs and carefully puts me to bed, tucked away behind the washing machine. But she always remembers to say, ‘Thanks you Monty, I couldn’t have done it without you’. That “Thank You” keeps me content until Saturday when we will go out again, up and over Primrose Hill to the farmer’s market.