Colours of Conscience

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The hedgerows bow down with cowslip’s white lace to welcome us walking along the canal towpath. There is the faint smell of spring in the air which will coax summer into being as the bees find the blossoms of cowslip, hawthorne and elderflower. I am searching for the elderflower but because of the continuing cold weather she is shy to blossom. Not so the dog roses, peeking cheekily along the back pathways surrounding Primrose Hill. I must wait a week, two at the most, for my harvest to make elderflower cordial. In the city and the countryside the seasons are following one after the other, the way the Earth intended.

White spring on the hill

The countryside is one thing but the country is another. On Thursday, looking for renewal or some new life to emerge, the United Kingdom went to the polls for a by-election. This is when the local councils and townships vote for their councilors and mayors, the boots on the ground, who have to balance the ever-decreasing government budget hand-outs with the needs of their constituencies that those in Westminster’s Parliament are too busy to discuss.

The results trickled in over the weekend. Ballot counting was slow –apparently due to Covid – while both paid staff and volunteers worked hard, counting by hand as they always have. There was ‘some problems’ with the London mail-in votes as 30,000 were rejected as not being filled out correctly. I hope mine was not one of them. ‘Things will change,’ said the defeated Conservative Mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey. Maybe.

But Sadiq Khan is back for another four years of hard grind and I am glad to see him. Though past Labour leaders such as Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband have seen and used Khan’s worth, the Conservative team will have little time for a working class Sunni Muslim son of a bus driver from Tooting. Growing up, Khan always worked while at school and university. Taking jobs from builders yards to the Peter Jones Department store in Sloane Square, Khan learnt early how England’s different worlds would treat him. The Westminster Conservatives will not give him an easy ride while he walks and works to his own conscience. On reelection he said, 

“I will always be a mayor for all Londoners, working to improve the lives of every single person in this city…The scars of Brexit have yet to heal. A crude culture war is pushing us further apart.”  

Sadiq Kahn
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan photo by P.A. Wire

Khan’s words are true not just for London but for the United Kingdom which look more frayed than ever before. Wales returned a strong Red rosette Labour party across the board. Scotland with Nicola Sturgeon came back with a daffodil yellow Scottish Independence party win, while England turned blue with the cold of a crushing Conservative paint job.

What happened to Labour that the nice Sir Kier Starmer lost so much ground? Maybe it was similar to Hillary Clinton’s error of not going to the people who were hurting and most afraid. For change is coming – for the English laborer who cares not to toil the fields or work the railroads. Now the work is for new technologies and inventive ways of producing and harnessing clean energy. With their belief that green policies embrace social justice, environmentalism and nonviolence and are inherently related to one another, the Green party is now nipping at the heels of the Big Two.

When Labour’s Andy Burnham was reelected as the mayor of Greater Manchester with a landslide victory, he shone a shining light on the North of England’s place in the country. Promising to adopt a “place-first not a party-first” policy he is, in his own way, echoing Sadiq Khan’s call for London with a reminder that England remains, or has become, more divided than ever before. It is not just North and South, rural and urban, English or British but a sewer-stuck mixture of all of these things in a country closing in on itself. Now more than ever the waters of the channel to Europe and beyond are looking like choppy seas.  

The Queen’s Speech is today. This ceremonial occasion is where the Queen reads out the government’s new policies. As we watch her age with years and life’s burdens, the robes and weight of the office seem to smother her. She sits on her throne, reading words written by her government and on this occasion, like other times before, one holds the secret hope that she will stand and say. “This is not good enough. It is ridiculous, cruel, or incomplete.”  We, the public, naturally have been leaked what is to be said. There is little of merit in the speech. The promise to help the United Kingdom recover from the effects of the Covid Pandemic carry, as Labour politicians point out, no meat or potatoes in those words.  But one item seemly taken from one orange man and used by a yellow one, relates to voting reforms. Britons will have to show Photo IDs to vote in future General elections, and it is combined with a strange item that limits the number of postal votes that can be handed in on behalf of others. Ministers say this will reduce the risk of electoral fraud. While the Electoral Commission is quietly shaking its collective head, for in 2019 there was just one conviction and one police caution for impersonating another voter.

Looking beyond our shores, the fires of distress spark flames of unrest and fear across the world. This week sees Israel and Palestine hurl bombs and bullets at each other fighting for their homelands as they see it. The loss of children’s lives crossed all religions while those who can see, cry out “Enough already”.  

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

A Bumpy Road Ahead

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

So speaks Michael Gove, Minister of the Cabinet. Still not sure what that is  – but not so bumpy for the young masked bandit who whizzed through the cul-de-sac on his mid-morning errand with a delivery on the hill. Dressed completely in black, one could say against the cold, the lad stood on his pedals as he hopped his bike over the curbs and up this street to find his assigned buyer. Another game of cops and robbers plays out but without the cops anywhere in sight. The Primrose Hill park is to be closed from 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve through to 5 a.m. New Year’s Day. An effort to prevent a bumpy jolt into the New Year. 

But the continental truckers and haulers have not been so lucky – some managed to get home for Christmas while over 600 were stuck in their lorries on the Kent motorway heading into Dover. Naturally, the army was called in, to calm the frustration and rising rage while conducting tests on drivers for what is now dubbed ‘The English Virus.’ Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, says that “Things are Moving” – though not what you might call ‘up to speed’. Once the tests come back negative, then drivers are allowed to travel on to France. But some will still be waiting as the New Year arrives, along with all the ‘new’ paperwork that comes into effect next Thursday. 

There is much talk of the Astra Zeneca Vaccine from Oxford being ready to roll off the assembly line and into the hospitals and GP offices as early as next week, but why oh why am I not holding my breath on this? 

Like many people who are unable to visit with our families, we have been saved from total isolation by Skype and Zoom. This weekend saw us Zooming with our families from California to Utrecht, Face-timing with friends and then a Skype visit with an older cousin in South Africa. While talking with Ian I sunk into a deeper understanding of the global reach of this pandemic for our generation. 

“What do you do?”

“Well not very much Ann. We go to the market once a week and going out for our Christmas meal was an exception.” He was saying what everyone we know of our age is saying. We are all staying at home, slipping out for the necessary shopping only when we must – and we are among the lucky ones. 

The Brexit deal was finalized on Christmas Eve and the British ministers handed a 1500 page ‘memo’, to read during the holiday break before Parliament reconvenes in January. Prime Minister Johnson suggested reading it after Christmas lunch. ‘Unbelievable’ is the word I have used far too often this year. Here is another off-hand move by Boris Johnson and his cronies to put one over on the government and the people. It is blatant school-house bully-boy tactics, giving an impossible task, and – I am at a loss for words to describe it all. And maybe that is the point – that we fold, in some apathetic despair. 

And the fishermen and women? Ah well, they have been pushed downriver, and out with the tide, a knotty problem to be revisited in five more years. The draft agreement stating that: “Sovereign rights being asserted on both sides for both the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the living resources in their water,” sounds like a load of old herring to me.

But when listening to Ursula von der Leyen give her closing speech at the end of it all, I wanted to weep for the sheer civility of her words. Europe may well be able to leave Brexit behind, but England will be left cleaning out the slops for long time to come.

News from other parts of the world has taken a back seat during this Christmas holiday break. It is hard to learn what is happening in Belarus and Poland. But news did come through that Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer and citizen journalist who was arrested in May while reporting from Wuhan, has been sentenced to four years in jail for “provoking trouble”. She is among a handful of young dissidents – if you like – voices if you prefer – who are being punished for speaking out, sharing the information they have been given with the world. 10 or the 12 young refugees fleeing to Taiwan are also up for trial, with a forgone conclusion as China uses a heavy hand to keep control of information and news leaking from its shores.

The throngs of people, families, friends gathered together, mostly unmasked, all walking up the Broadwalk though the park on Sunday, shocked and stunned us as we swung onto a path less traveled to see the architecture of 200 years ago through the bare branches of the trees lining the outer circle of the park.

But along the Broadwalk is another tale. This autumn there were no shining brown conkers falling from the Horse Chestnut trees for children to pick up and stuff into their pockets. And then, one day, the first tree was felled, its thick branches lying executed on the grass beside the trunk which still stands. A few wood chips told of the machines crushing the smaller branches. First found in the trees in 2002, the little moth, Cameraria Ohridella and its even tinier caterpillars dig and eat into the leaves, slowly starving the trees and turning them brown as if autumn has come too soon. Such slow decay, one death feeding another life, cannot be tolerated in the pristine Royal Parks. In the New Year the machines and men will be back at their work, putting old friends out of their misery, and making way for the new.

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

A Month in Lockdown London

A month in Lockdown London

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

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

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

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

Beech Tree in the Wilderness of Regent’s Park

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

From Table napkins to Face masks Photo by WSM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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