Shutting up Shop

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Factory workers and university students have now joined the rota of protests in Belarus now working in daily shifts, slowing the country’s economy down hour by hour, adding their voices to the opposition of President Lukashenko.

In Poland too, the women have had enough. The latest change in the abortion laws – stating that even when the fetus is diagnosed with a serious and irreversible defect – abortion is now illegal, is seen as the last tightening knot against democracy, and there is a growing anger at the Church’s complicity in this ruling. The strikes are led by women in the work force, housewives will no longer keep house, and more women than are counted have ‘Shut up Shop’ – completely. 

While Belarus and Poland protest, France mourns and prays as the attacks by ISIS extremists continue. With night-time curfews in France, Spain and Italy no-one knows when to have dinner.

Most of Europe now recognizes that each country’s initial ‘me-first’ reaction to COVID-19 didn’t help countries individually or Europe collectively. Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and Spain are now opening their borders for any needed treatments of COVID-19 patients. While England goes into Lockdown for four weeks. There is an old adage in medicine, “Timing and Dosage” which applies to everything we try to do. Everyone is struggling and, unlike Asia, no European country has succeed thus far in controlling the virus.

Here on Thursday all non-essential businesses will close for another month. Shutting up Shop has never felt so poignant. We tend to look inward and not venture too far afield. While the first wave of COVID caused a lot of closures and adjustments there were also new beginnings. Now there are six pubs within less than five minutes of our front door: The Pembroke, The Queen’s, The Lansdowne, The Princess, The Engineer, and finally The Albert which has reopened after four years. The opening of The Albert took place on Friday. A handful of locals gathered outside and Andrew Marr, of political inclination, declared The Albert open and joked that this was the most important thing he had done all year.  Cheering and clapping on the corner of the street, but it too will close again on Thursday. 

The Albert is ‘Declared Open’ by Andrew Marr. Walter Murch, Phil Cowan, Line Copper are among others present. Photo credit unknown. Thank you.

While walking through the modern complex of shops and high-rise apartments at the Tower complex I thought of our friends Hwai-Min LIN and Hsun CHIANG who had been gifted an apartment there for this summer. They arrived in February, and left in March. “The English are crazy, no masks no distance.” They very sensibly fled to the safety of home in Taiwan.

We had been nervous of going to a theater in these COVID Times. And maybe that is what these times will be known as – These COVID Times. But I snagged the last two seats available for a Saturday afternoon matinee at The Bridge Theatre. We were to see a one hour monologue of David Hare’s “Beat the Devil” performed by Ralph Fiennes.

Tower Bridge. Photo by WSM

How wonderful it was. And how brave. The Bridge Theater shines as a beacon by the Thames River and is looked down on by Tower Bridge. Across the river stands The Tower of London. Old and New London within a cricket ball toss of each other. The entrance doors of the theater are open, we have a window of time within which to arrive. Masked attendants guide us through the temperature check, check our tickets and show us where to go. The loos are easily accessible. The theater seating looks as if it has been prepared for an orchestra, so many seats are missing and spaced apart.

Getting Settled at the Theatre. Photo by WSM

More staff come by for bar orders, another holds a glowing “Please wear a mask” sign and – if someone leaves their mask down for a chat beyond a sip – gently goes to remind them of their collective responsibility. The mask notice supplanting the ‘please turn off your cell phones’ message. At first I wonder, what on earth is it like to perform to such a sparse house? Does it feel provincial, like stepping out on the boards for the first time, trying to make your way in a flea-bag pit. But this is not that and soon after our ginger-beer drinks arrive the audience buzz begins. It is the same hum of excitement the same music of expectation, as if the audience is indeed in the orchestra pit and tuning up as musicians do. The hum grows, but then – the lights dim – and a hush comes over us all. 

Ralph strides onto the stage and loudly places his props on the table, claiming the table and the props as a supporting cast. He is the magician who will hold us in David Hare’s mind with his fears of the disease, his anger at the government’s handling of it all, and his heart’s rage at the treatment of the NHS nurses. He longs for a gentle ‘Platonic disease’ while later realizes that “The Virus is always with me now.” The septuagenarian is there, twisted in Ralph’s body now sinewy as a maturing cockerel.

Under the London Bridge Photo by WSM

When the play was over, the applause was wondrous and we left the theater uplifted as art moves us, brings us closer to each other. As the audience goes their separate ways, we share that communion and feeling of belonging within this city.

Under the night lights we walk along the river finding our way back to the little enclave of Primrose Hill. It is time to try out the newly opened Albert pub for a half pint of cider and an elegant Ploughman’s supper bowl. It has been too long since I’ve crunched a pickled onion. 

This has been A letter From A. Broad.

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

Testing Times

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Not again. Boris, what were you thinking?! Taking off with new young mother, Carrie Symonds, baby Wilfred, and Dilyn the dog to a remote cottage out in the West Highlands, overlooking the Isle of Skye. You think that a tent in the field next door will be fine for the secret service police but the owner of the field, a farmer, didn’t find the tent – nor the fire the poor chaps must have lit to keep warm – fine. Where are your manners that you didn’t ask for permission to pitch a tent in someone else’s field? The photograph in the Weekend Telegraph paper showed a stone wall between the bleak looking cottage, the field and the sea but no sign of any facilities. A road lies between the cottage and the field. If a car drove down, wanting to have a snap and a chat with the Prime Minister in his wooly hat and PJ’s how long would it have taken for the boys in khaki to; unzip the tent, run the field, hop the wire fence, the stone wall, cross the road and ‘be at your service’? It was a good idea to cut the holiday short and return to the relative safely of London.

Coverage continues on the ongoing protests and retaliations in Belarus. The situation is reaching some kind of a pressure peak as the president, Alexander Lukashenko, wearing the black body-armored uniform of the riot police and holding his assault rifle, is heavily guarded as he inspects the police ranks. Lukashenko looks like an old war general holding onto his last vestiges of power. It is clear that Putin does not, for the moment, want to enter this battle. The protesters remain in strong numbers on the streets. They are attacked, hauled into jail cells, beaten, released and returned to the streets more determined than ever as they get information out to the rest of the world. Will it end like Czechoslovakia? Scenes from ‘The Unbearable Lightless of Being’ play though my mind along with the film’s haunting music. Thinking of the end scenes of ‘Unbearable’ that were shot in the California sunlight of Stinson Beach and Blackberry Farm in Bolinas brings back memories of a happier time. Global distress always, but our corner of the world was a safe sanctuary. Now we watch as the fires sweep through Northern California and pray for you all.

Much of the world looks bleak, with the Coronavirus pandemic being mishandled in the U.S. and other countries. In England, schools are to carefully reopen next week putting children and teachers in jeopardy for the economy.

A large envelope came through the letter box for a survey on the Coronavirus conducted by The Office of National Statistics at Oxford University. The first interview and testing took place in the bathroom and on our doorstep. After forms were signed and the testing completed there was a survey to fill out. Inda sat in her car, I sat on our doorstep. “How many people have you been in physical contact with in the last seven days?” Touching is what she meant and I realized that if we lived alone the answer would be ‘none’.

The quietness of the London Streets is sobering. The parks and canal walks are beautiful but the loss of physical contact is hard. There is a hunger now for human engagement and with that has come a change in attitude.

The Albert pub closed up 3 years ago as the building was bought for renovation. Three flats were built and sold above the pub. Then things stalled. The pub shrank, physically, as the leaded windows dusted over. Even after signs saying, ‘Everything valuable has been removed.’ The door would be broken open just to check. The community petitioned ‘Keep The Albert Open’ but to no avail, and the grumbling rumbled on, ‘There goes another one.’ Earlier this year squatters moved in, furniture was dumped on Princess Street and there were a few days of frantic activity as the squatters made themselves comfortable. But quickly they were moved out and plywood panels went up to cover the old windows. Maybe the squatters were the push that the owners needed for now there are two builders’ vans and a skip in the garden. The front door is open and young men in dust-covered teeshirts and overalls are busily coming in and out. What suddenly is making The Albert a possible proposition is the little garden out back. In these Covid times outdoor seating is at a premium.

“Should be open in September.” Says one of the young builders.

The First beginnings at The Albert Pub Photo by WSM

Sam’s Cafe first opened on the high street of the village. But last year a minor repair turned into a huge building disaster that had Sam shutting up shop – literally – and licking his wounds, brooding on a dream so cruelly crushed. Owning and running a restaurant is not for the faint-hearted. Beloved JC’s L’Absinthe on the corner of Chalcot and Fitzroy was a truly go-to spot for us. But then JC fell in love and married. And he too looked to lighten his load. The doors of L’Absinthe closed and the corner was quiet.

And then during the winter came the rumor that Sam’s Cafe was to take over the old L’Absinthe restaurant. We watched and waited. First up went the brown paper in the windows to keep private whatever activity was going on. Months went by before the doors opened as old equipment went out and new came in. Final touches to Sam’s Cafe’ are done and the doors will open on Thursday.

The Last Touches to Sam’s Cafe

Now, on this little corner street, all the shops are busy again. There is hope for a future and we are grateful.

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