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

The Apple Does Not Fall Far from the Tree

Recorded and Knit together by WSM. Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org
Regent’s Park – Waiting: Photo WSM

So Stanley Johnson, the Prime Minister’s father, went to Greece, by way of Bulgaria, you understand, so that he didn’t break any laws. Greece has banned flights from the United Kingdom, whose numbers of infections and deaths from the Coronavirus are the worst of the European Countries. Greece’s travel restrictions, among its other measures, has kept Greece very safe, with only 192 deaths as of this writing. But between Papa Johnson and Dominic Cummings, the leader of this conservative government has made a mockery of any laws or regulations they laid out for the rest of the country.

The actions by those close to the government are disheartening, but I too know families that have gone to the country, singletons returning to parents, and children dropped off with the grandparents for weeks of this 100 + day lockdown.

But this weekend the unlocking of England began. Many pub owners were delighted while others felt that a slower opening might have been better. Hotels, restaurants and barber shops also opened and one can only hope that the Prime Minister manages to get a haircut soon. The whizzing of e-mails back and forth uncovered plans for a Rave on Primrose Hill. Quickly, a cat-and-mouse, cops and robbers, plan was in place. Here in NW1, on the Hill, it could have been more of a game, under the cover of ‘the law.’ But instead of the police, the weather played rough, reducing the real possibility of someone getting hurt – on either side of the law.

But that didn’t save Bianca Williams, while driving their Mercedes car home in Maida Vale. The 200-meter sprinter along with her partner, the Portuguese athlete, Ricardo Dos Santos, was stopped and handcuffed. She has a voice, and spoke out, “that just being black is a crime”.

The law, a twisting turning apparatus, is rarely used for the people it is meant to protect. We watch in deep sadness at Hong Kong where speech is silenced, books are burned and the young protesters are caught in the net of the new authority from Beijing. England is making an effort to honour the people of Hong Kong but a rumbling rupture is coming from the Chinese Embassy in London, “That to interfere with China’s international policies will bring consequences”. Until now protestors outside of the embassy have been concerned with Organ Harvesting, Muslim camps, Uighur and Tibetan exiles. Today Hong Kong students and their supporters gather to denounce the Chinese Communist Party.

Meanwhile the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are at Windsor. The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall are at one home or another. The Cambridges are comfortable in Norfolk, though with three children under the age of seven, comfortable is a relative term. Now they are returning to work, all abiding to the guidelines and laws laid out by this government.

A saying that often brings laughter in our family is ‘The Apple does not fall far from the Tree’.

A website on English Language says that this saying is first attributed in America to Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1839. But looking further back in history, always a fun thing to do, I find older versions,
“The apple does not fall far from the stem,” in German.
From Wales in 1803 “Ni fell zygwyz aval o avall” ”The apple will not fall far from the tree”.
The English attribute the saying to the Germans, the Germans to the Turks, and the Turks to the Russians. The Russians attribute it to themselves.
But in 1585 is a quotation from Megiserus that is still used in Turkish, “Elma Gendy aghadschindan irk duscgnéz”, “The apple does not fall far from its own tree.” Stanley Johnson’s paternal grand-father, Ali Kemal, was Turkish, and came to an untimely end between one regime and another.

It is interesting to see where and how family apples are falling. Our Royal Family abides by the rules laid out by the government even as The Duchess of Cornwall, talks of longing to hug her grandchildren.

When we took our Sunday walk in the park there were more family groups huddled together, all at a distance, one from the other, three generations sharing their picnic on a blanket and now the park toilets are open – a big relief. There were children’s footballs, bikes and scooters and the cry “Granny, Granny, Look Granny.” My heart ached more than a little when we walked by.

As weeks become months in this new reality, trust in the governing bodies of all of the countries affected by the coronavirus is more important than ever. But when one is faced with first the Cummings lad and then the Johnson father behaving as if the law is one for you and nil for me, trust in this Conservative Government under Boris Johnson has gone missing.

Stanley produced three other siblings to Boris, all dropped from the Johnson tree. Plop. But which branch of the tree do they come from? Some may have rolled a little further afield than Boris who looks to have stayed as close to the old trunk as he could, and didn’t roll anywhere.

The virus is still with us, but the infection and death rates are finally falling in the United Kingdom. This morning, as neighbors returned from their weekly shopping, unloaded their bags and scurried away into their apartment the Uber driver reached into the boot of his car for his bottle of disinfectant. Wearily, but thoroughly, he sprayed and wiped every area that he knows they have touched. For him and most others, vigilance is still a necessary part of his life and this world.

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

Families gather on Primrose Hill. Photo WSM