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

Mad with Grief

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The sun was shining when we took our Sunday walk. The Broadwalk was full of families not able to leave the city for the long weekend and we are among the few who are still wearing masks. Walking along the grass, underneath the row of now toast-crisp leaved chestnut trees, is a grey haired man. He has a cane in one hand, a plastic bag in the other and he is shouting. At first it seems that he is shouting at the grass or the trees, but he is shouting at a little dog. The dog is very busy, trotting along the paved Broadwalk, clearly ignoring the man who is now waving his cane and the plastic bag. The dog is a little mix with a black body and stubby brown legs. She, it must be a she, wears a pink studded collar and holds her head high as she trots about, sniffing this, and exploring that. We slow down beside the man, and the little dog trots towards me. I bend down and stroke her fur which is soft under my hand. Because she has stopped by me the man comes over and continues to talk in a stream of words.

“I’m older than you, I’m 81. How old are you?” I tell him and we laugh.
“Yes you are older than us.” And then he continues, “My girlfriend died two weeks ago.” And in an instant a picture unfolds for me. She died and now he must care for the dog as maybe his girlfriend cared for him. The dog is not too happy with this arrangement. Today it looks as if the coronavirus, loneliness, death and the days ahead are all too much for him. Are they both, the man and the dog, searching for her in the park? If he holds the dog close to him can she give his days purpose and his nights comfort?

I could not help but reach out and touch his arm though we immediately knew that was forbidden and I withdrew my hand. But in his eyes I read despair and realized he was probably at this moment in time, in the park, going mad with grief.

As we all are trying not to. The pains of India, Syria and Lebanon are pushed off of the news pages. Belarus and the disunited States of America hold our attention in equal measure.

Week four in Belarus shows protesters coming out in greater numbers onto the streets of Minsk. Even the middle class have had enough of the government’s bullying. President Lukashenko strides out alone, masked, in police uniform and carrying a machine gun. His riot police are thick on the ground. But the lion is stirring from his sleep in Moscow. According to the BBC’s Steve Rosenburg, President Putin says he has formed a police reserve unit which won’t be used until the situation gets out of control. Seventeen journalists, mostly from Belarus, reporting to the outside world have had their accreditation removed.

Hero City Square Minsk

We look in horror and shame at America with the killings, protests and police activities in the news. It is as if the Coronavirus has become an annoying distraction to the business of the next elections in November. And Melania’s speech-giving military uniform followed by the Teddy-boy fuchsia and line-green gowns for the Republican Convention were chilling. It takes very little imagination to understand their meaning.

In England this week children and teachers are to return to their schools. Numbers must have been crunched somewhere and somebody knows what the effects of pouring children onto public transport and then into the schools will be, but nobody is telling the teachers, parents or students.

The weekend’s Financial Times carried an obituary – for Mercedes Barcha. Known as ‘La Gaba’ she was married to Gabriel Garcia Márquez for 56 years. On Márquez’s death in 2014 she was described as being ‘serine and tranquil, dressed in the blouse and shoes of a Tigress, holding a cigarette and a glass of white Tequila, as she took phone calls from world leaders paying their respects’. “Thank you.” She said. I missed reading ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ along with other works by Márquez. It was not until ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ came my way for KPFA, Pacifica that I picked up my first Márquez and fell deeply into his world. Maybe now, in our own time of Covid, I can return to him.

The passing of ‘La Gaba’ pulled at my heart strings, and took me back to our trip to Cuba, in 1989. That year the Russia’s president, Mikhail Gorbachev, announced there would be no more Russian funding for Cuba. The news colored many of the conversations during our weeks at the film school. Our last day ended with a lingering lunch in Havana put together by the film school director Ricardo. Seated at the table were Gabriel Márquez and La Gaba, Thomas Alea and his wife, Julio Garcia Esponso and his wife, Walter and I, and Ricardo. There was lobster, there was wine, sunshine and deep conversation. The men needed little interpretations from Ricardo and, as wives, we spoke quickly, with laughter, together. After lunch we were to board a plane. Gabriel was due at a wedding, but with the discretion of Ricardo both the plane and the wedding would wait for us. Luncheon ended in a solitary walk with Gabriel that has stayed forever in my memory. Now as I think of La Gaba, I raise my glass in salute to her in joining Gabriel wherever that might be.

This has been A Letter from A. Board.
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

Photograph by Alejandra Vega. Thank you.