The Mound

Recorded and Knit together by WS

Walking across Hyde Park from Knightsbridge, clocking in those steps to bring me close to my allotted healthy number, I reached Marble Arch and for a moment couldn’t find it.

Marble Arch Obscura

Hyde Park is comfortably London, full of geese and people but that is not enough for the hop-on and hop-off tourist busses that wait – not too hopefully – by the roadside at Marble Arch. The Arch, long ago dumped here, has now been squashed by The Mound that has been built beside it and sits like a giant turd making the poor Arch look quite tiny and shabby. Marble Arch was built to be a state entrance to Buckingham Palace but didn’t fit and so was moved to its place at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street, close to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. The the best thing about ‘Marble Arch Mound’ is that it is a temporary ‘pop-up’ though no-one is saying when it will pop-down. Like any pop-up the goal is to encourage the now non-existent tourists to pay up, climb up, look down and empty their pockets in the shops below. The cost to build the mound ballooned from 2.5 million pounds to over six million. “I resign!” said a Westminster City Council deputy minister, but that isn’t going to help The Mound go away.

The Mound

Does its conception, its construction, speak in a oblique way of England today? Covering something that is not fit for purpose, The Marble Arch itself, that eventually found a happy placement, is now surrounded by detritus and foolishness – rather similar to what we see at the other end of town in Westminster.

Now that everyone has returned from their holidays to watch over the evacuation of foreign nations and afghans from Kabul the Prime Minister has slid off to the G7 Summit leaving the British Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow to ‘carry on’.

Very Busy Dominic Raab

The lucky few, those who can afford it, tripped off to Spain where the sun was scorching and the mosquitoes bit, much like England’s Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab, who was found sunning himself in fashionable Crete and not picking up the brought-to-your-lounger telephone to answer a call from his Afgan counterpart. The quickly put-together photo shoot of Raab behind his big desk, English and Chinese flags flying, one hand gripping the big chair, the other holding his telephone, looking earnestly at the computer screen are fooling no-one. 

Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was ordered to stay in Kabul while the rest of the UK embassy staff and their families left on Friday night. We see and hear only the English and American struggles but there are other countries whose presence in Afganistan is no longer welcome and they too are trying to get their people out.

Kilgore in the Morning

“I want my men out of there. Now.” Says Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. Raab is no Kilgore. 

The implosion of western forces in Afghanistan, the walk-through of the Taliban takeover of their country’s government, remains a debortle of immense proportions. So many stories of terror render most of us sick with helpless heartache at this moment of suffering caused by each and every one of us. No wonder there was a full house when Boris recalled the government last week. More ruffled than usual – not quite taking in that everyone was really calling for his blood – his bluster could not cover his bemusement. And when the past Prime Minister, Teresa May, stood up to speak she was heard, even as some of us blinked at her dress of bright Conservative Blue caped in Mourning black. But there were others, retired but young military men now serving their country in another way, ashamed of their government. For a moment I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe one of them could step forward and possibly lead this country into some new beginnings.

Where are the hyenas hiding in those benches? But here comes Tony Blair, wearing the wise elder-statesman look with slightly too-long silver hair as he shakes his head smiling ruefully, ‘Why can’t you pull yourselves out of the hole I dug for you?’

Holes for whole countries are one thing, traps for individuals are another. The Weekend Financial Times newspaper has a weekly column, “Lunch with the FT.” which during COVID has all been virtual. But this weeks interview took place in Warsaw, Poland where journalist Magdalena Miecznicka met with the defected sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya and her husband. Because poison is a weapon of choice for Russian and therefore Belarusian authorities only Magdalena was eating. The story that 24 year-old Krystsina tells is harrowing, from her first realization that someone is trying to remove her from Tokyo and return her to a mental hospital in Minsk. Her grandmother tells her not to return to Belarus and her husband escaped to the Ukraine before Poland. She was escorted from the Olympic Village by a psychiatrist and a Belarusian committee official to Tokyo’s Haneda airport where she was saved by an app on her phone. Typing in ‘I need help they are trying to take me out of the country by force.’ and translating it from Russian to Japanese, she reached an airport policeman who took her to safety. Magdalena’s article is quietly compelling, mixing Borsch soup with Poland and Belarus and all that it means to suddenly leave your country, your home with as many of your family as are able. Krystsina’s parents escaped but what will happen to her grandmother? We go from one story to many as in these Afghan days, another wave of desperate immigration carries fearful repercussions for the families left behind. 

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream

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Rebooked for Tomorrow

You are rebooked for Tomorrow.

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Whoops, the paper work, so checked and double checked still missed page one, which holds a QR code – something that those of us of a certain age are still unclear of its importance. But it only takes one whoops-e-daisy to learn pretty quickly. And so here we are back at number 19 Rue de l’Église, Gravelines, on the north coast of France for one more night.

Once more unto the breach dear friends …

We are staying in an old converted fisherman’s cottage, one of many such cottages along this street. The old fishermen are retired but some sons continue to take their boats, nets and hopes into the channel. The Granny wives stay sitting on a chair out in the street, catching the morning sun before tending their wind-protected gardens at the back. At onetime Gravelines was a thriving fishing town and much of the ‘old’ business is still in fish. Through the day the coastline is dotted with small fishing craft, a car ferry or two chugging back and forth between Dover and Dunkirk, and then a container ship looming, as they do, showing us the strength of our destruction. Now the town is mainly known for having the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. The size of the plant is sobering. Covid has made a good excuse for it not to have visitors – for the time being.

Gravelines beach with nuclear plant on the left and “our church” on the right. (photo by Beatrice Murch)
Saying hello to each other and the sea (photo by Beatrice Murch)

On our first day of meeting up, we are so excited to see each other again after 18 months apart from the little family in the Netherlands. We walked to the beach, and on the beach. The tide is strong, the beach low, the river pours in and is pushed back twice a day as with anywhere on this Earth that the Moon has residence. But the water is shallow. We have to walk a long, long way out to reach a depth that is swimmable. Clams live under the sand, jellyfish float back and forth in the small wavelets and, according to the restaurant menus, fish and the European spiny spider crab, are plentiful. But while at the beach, leading, and being led, into the waves by an ecstatic grandson, I look back along the long stretch of sand to see the dream-ghosts of solders waiting to leave. Queuing, all quietly, some in terror, and some with bravery. Gravelines was also a stronghold for the evacuation of Dunkirk in the Second World War.

We had been fortunate, our paperwork was all in order to make it into France and enjoyed the relaxation that only comes when someone else is in charge and a grandson is there to demand attention and shower us with love. And we thought all was in order to return today. But no – our age-related knowledge of the aforementioned QR code left us sitting at the station taking a deep breath with a good strong coffee for the return trip from Lille to Gravelines. Tired, dispirited, and in need of a deep glass of red wine to accompany Santi’s barbecued supper, the truth is we are only ‘inconvenienced’ in time and money as we sit outside on the patio for one more night with the little family.

Inconvenienced. It’s nothing. These last two weeks much of the world has been watching the Tokyo Olympics, athletes from 205 countries across the world giving their bes,t whatever their countries politics are. They have traveled with coaches, equipment, horses and often without loved ones. And some have come in fear. Fear of their health, their performance, and their governments, asking of each of them a different kind of courage: Simone Biles knowing her mind is not in tune with her body and retires, Harry Charles knew he was not in rhythm with Romeo 88 for the final showjumping event and retired. Personal losses both, as well as for their countries, but maybe nothing as sobering in consideration as the decision made by the Belarusian sprinter Kristsina Tsimanouskaya who appealed for, and received, political asylum from Poland. All three of these athletes are among many I haven’t registered who, often alone, have had to make such difficult and high-profile decisions. They all put our minor QR code ignorance and inconvenience properly in its place.

Driving along the A25 back to Gravelines from Lille. (photo by Beatrice Murch)

Driving back from Lille we enter Gravelines along roads that are becoming familiar. On the edge of town I look out at one nearly ripe wheat-field from where five young men have emerged. The farmer will be cross when he sees where they have walked in hiding. They are a rag-tag bunch, a couple have staffs, a couple more bags over their shoulders. They are very black, very young and very brave, as they slip away into the woods. They still have a ways to go before crossing the sea they are heading for and their tomorrow maybe a long time coming.

Leading the way to buy breakfast.

Tonight, as the church bells signal the end of evensong we will go to sleep for one more night in this little cottage. Tomorrow morning David will lead his granny back to the pastry shop across the town square and practice his 6 year old french, 

“Bonjour madame, comment allez-vous ? Deux pains au chocolat, croissants et deux baguettes s’il vous plait. Merci beaucoup. Au revoir.”

And then we will walk home and have breakfast together just one more time.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream

Web support by

+3 = -7

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Summertime – to spend on holiday or in self-Isolation, depending on which rules and gateways you are following. The news channels are searching for stories that can wake the public out of a lethargy from the recent heatwave and flash floods. 

 Brazil’s Rayssa Leal (silver), Japan’s Momiji Nishiya (gold) 

But in Japan the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are taking place, a year late and bound to be more than a dollar short. But Japan is a proud nation and will hold its head up high no matter what the financial outcome is from these precious days. The empty stands are a grim reminder of what is and is not at stake in the world today and for the 11,000 athletes gathered with their coaches and staff from over 206 countries. Those of us who can, are watching – just a little bit. With the COVID restrictions in place and without the huge crowds roaring, there is a visible difference in the atmosphere. There seems a real focus on the athletes, their sport. Glimpses of the cross-country comradeship between the competitors. Alex Yee, the Asian English Triathlon runner, who came in second is genuinely smiling as he congratulates Kristian Blummenfelt the winner from Norway. The sweet young skateboarders are proud of their countries, yet more deeply excited to be here with each other. An extreme version of summer camp, that, being teenagers, they will take in their stride to adulthood.

This could be the time for a little news item while everyone is too distracted to notice. The television shows a nurse ironing her home-laundered scrubs. I recognize myself in her, a good woman, a good nurse, trying hard to make ends meet as she works at her chosen profession. The government is to give the National Health medical staff a 3% pay rise. Given, so says the statement “In recognition of the important courageous work done by the medical staff through these last terrible months of the Coronavirus pandemic.” No junior doctors or dentists still in training, most of the medical staff, will receive that rise and the nurses are exhausted. The question remains are the nurses too worn out to consider a some kind of action? 

And so do I

A 3 % raise sounds good – but it equates to a 7.6% decrease in today’s economy for nurses who, more than most public sector workers, have been consistently underpaid. As if tending the body of the sick and oft-time dying is still looked upon as an unclean act. And yet – tending to the body of another is the greatest and first, according to Margaret Mead, sign of a civilized society. All nurses understand it is a privilege, and in a cruel way those who eke out the pounds, shillings and pence also understand that we care for our privilege. But this pay rise remains an insult that is getting harder to ignore. 3% they say, because of all the hard work and dedication you have shown through the pandemic. Hang on, that is what nurses do – all the time. And the police and teachers are to have their pay frozen for at least this year. I can remember being given ten shillings more a week, knowing it would be eaten up in a heartbeat. 

Now that Freedom day has come and we are all following government guidelines that say it is safe to go out – carefully – we cautiously took the train to Oxford. This was for a long overdue visit to friends with whom we had promised to bring a fish pie. And so we packed up a picnic, fish pie, champagne to celebrate a beloved mutual friend’s passing, home-grown and home-made blackcurrant jam, and home-brewed elderflower cordial. 

The Saturday train to Oxford was packed. Every seat was taken and strangers sat beside each other, some carefully, while for others, within the comradeship of youth, conversations began with today’s pickup questions for a new piece of computer software. The train hauled out of Paddington and into the countryside. Buddleia-covered concrete giving way to ragwort and fireweed alongside of un-ripened wheat fields. Our friends live on the outskirts of Oxford and we walked our way from the train station to the bus stop through the town. The river holds, the narrow streets remain the same, the pavements are hard for wheelchairs and the city looks as weary and beaten as any city that is trafficked by students, and where COVID has lain bare the worn cobblestones normally covered by tourists. There are empty store-fronts and as it must be after any war, it is hard to see if they will return fresh and hopeful for the students of the future. It is only when you look up at the massive yellow stone, with its the carved beauty leaning down on you in the narrow streets that you say, “Ah yes, Oxford.”

Photo by WSM

Oxford has been battled over, lost and won again over many centuries. The University was founded 800 years ago and since that time has remained one of the seats of higher education in England. It is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, though, lest we forget, as the English are wont to do, there have been and remain other ancient dynasties throughout the world. In England and at Oxford, church and state were intertwined throughout the centuries, with scholars and politicians emerging from the monasteries and bishops burnt as traitors and martyrs. It was heady stuff. Church and education marched hand in hand and, to enter Oxford, never mind graduate, remains a path to many doors of power. Which brings us to today’s politicians, those who walked the hallowed halls, crossed the sun-shone quads and have too easily assumed the mantle of entitlement that does not become them. But it is these men and women, who hold the purse strings of tax-payers pounds and whose education and political persuasion have led them to justify the equation that plus 3 actually equals minus 7.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream

Web support by