Tripping About the Countryside

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

They took to the stage on all three major television channels; the BBC, ITV, and Sky. Rishi Sunak trots eagerly up to the podium in his Gucci loafers, though sometimes jacket-less, unsuccessfully portraying a working man. Liz Truss walks carefully in her heels with a smug smile and discreet earrings – one day saying one thing and the next day saying another. She is changing statements, but maybe not her mind which appears to be missing in action at the moment. These are the Conservative leadership rivals to be the next Prime Minister clashing on how they will address: high inflation, the rising cost of living, gas prices, Ukraine’s war with Russia, while sidestepping how both of them are looking to kill the National Health Service. But then the broadcasts stop, the candidates and their lies are just too transparent and boring. Now each gets a news moment as Liz changes her earrings to gold stirrups visiting a farm, and Rishi puts his jacket back on to speak at the Royal St. George’s Golf Club.

Those rural earrings

Like the story of the frog in the hot-tub, the National Health Service is coming to a slow boil. The news has me hold my head with the charts of the numbers of medical staff, doctors, and nurses that have left the Health Service. There are two main reasons for this. Since Brexit, European nurses and doctors are better off regarding pay, hours, and family situations returning home. English-trained nurses and doctors are fleeing abroad to countries that pay more. England is reaching out to poorer countries and importing staff from those that pay even less than England. This migration has gone on since we English, Irish and European nurses flew to America, Canada, and Australia for better living and pay. But nobody talks about Brexit being the cause for this new low, the ridiculous staff-patient ratios, and the non-pay of nurses and doctors. The government counts on the moral inability of nurses and doctors to abandon their patients, and laugh all the way to the locked coffers.

The sky is cloudy and dull, pouting at being left behind in grey England while these two politicians vie for the Conservative leadership. The chambers of the House of Commons sit empty as ministers flee the city, following the example of their old boss Boris Johnson, who took his family off to Greece for the holiday month of August. 

There is no rain. The streets are sticky with the detritus of human and animal food ingested and eliminated. Leaves are falling from trees a month ahead of Autumn. They are dry, crisp, and crackle when kicked about on the pavements. There are no conkers on the chestnut trees in the park and those not-so-old trees are dying.

The second heat wave was well underway, and the scheduled train strikes still a day off when I traveled from Waterloo to Hampshire. The South West trains are all new and all air-conditioned which bought a welcome relief from the rising heat. I am meeting three old friends for lunch at the North Hants Golf Club. The youngest of us is only 75 years old. The tables and umbrellas are set out on the veranda overlooking the first and last holes of the course. Though it is hot we can safely gather in the shade. We sort of look great – in our elderly way. We were children together, almost sisters, and though our paths diverged our roots were seeded in the same soil. My friends stayed close to their rootstock and settled deep in rural Hampshire and Wiltshire, each raising champion horses, sheep, and cattle.

Four for Lunch, Sue, Susan, Ann, and Susette

The North Hants Club is well over 100 years old but was still young when we were. Within that world, there is the sweetnesses to be found in any close-knit organization that becomes a family. Jackie has been a part of the kitchen staff for 43 years and we have known each other with mutual respect and admiration through all that time. The kitchen, where deep frying remains a specialty, is stellar and provided us four Caesar salads that were not on the menu along with teasers from their small tapas plates. It was grand to be together and share our autumnal news. We spoke of our lives, of families, and thought of old friends, remembering that though now we are four, we used to be six. The relentlessness of life continuing after another’s death has a bite to it that is hard to define.

Susan getting Settled

Returning to London the train stops at Weybridge and ‘all change’ is called out – to anyone who can understand the voice through the microphone. There are no leaves on the line, these tracks have not buckled from the heat but there is a fault with the train and so we are directed to a local one waiting on a side platform. ‘Change at Staines for the fast train to Waterloo.’ But I don’t. I stay seeing the names Virginia Water, Staines, Barnes, East and West, Putney, and Chiswick before Clapham and Vauxhall. I realize this so slow train travels alongside the western A30 road laid down over the old Roman Road and follows the historic London to Land’s End coaching route – a popular place for highwaymen. William Davies, known as the Golden Farmer and robber of coaches traveled across Bagshot Heath and was hanged in 1689 at a gallows at the local gibbet hill between Bagshot and Camberley. The Jolly Farmer pub built close by was in remembrance of him.

Sculpture to honour the Windrush Generation of Immigration at Waterloo

The train pulled into Waterloo and the platform exit is beside the newly erected statue tribute to The Windrush Generation immigrants who came from Jamaica and the Caribbean to help England after the Second World War. It is a fine statue, showing hopeful and proud parents and their young daughter. She would grow up to become one among us in nursing school, another sister from another time. Tourists from Africa and America proudly stand beside the statue for their photograph moment.

I was not alone in going out today with a cardigan and umbrella though neither was needed. We, and the earth, are crying for rain – or would be if we could cry. All we can do now is sweat, copiously, as we wait for the bus. An Asian gentleman of about my age is also waiting for the number 274. When it arrives he graciously extends an ‘after you’ gesture to let me board before him. We sit on opposite sides of the bus in the reserved for old people seats. The bus driver is not yet exhausted and the bus almost empty. It is August. Hot, dry, there is no school, and whoever can be – is on holiday. I find myself imagining the cold rainy days of autumn, wishing for them, and having a hard time believing the evidence before me that we are seriously damaging our planet. ‘First, do no Harm’ is the Hippocratic oath and here we are committing murder. The bus goes quickly along its route carrying its few passengers. My gentleman friend gets off at Prince Albert Road. He smiles at me and I at him. It is a moment of grateful recognition but I’m not sure what of.

Now there are hosepipe bans imposed by most of the Water districts, whose own leaks are responsible for almost 30 % of water loss around the country. Then quickly news comes of the other leaks, of sewage from more faulty treatment plants into the local rivers and streams, or to the sea for those low-lying coastal areas. It is too much for the cartoonists who show pictures of Boris Johnson, remember him? the still – but on holiday – Prime Minister, entering the sea somewhere in Greece. Sewage flowing outwards but not yet gone.

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

It’s Here Now

A Map of Wildfires across Europe July 2022
It’s Here Now. Written and Read for you by Muriel Murch, Recorded and Knit together by Walter

July 2022

It was here, the heat wave, the amber warning turning to red and the temperatures rose to over 101º. Downstairs in our little cottage the bedroom, study and bathrooms are cool – and we are grateful. Upstairs, in the open-spaced living area the curtains are drawn as in my childhood when the temperature first climbed into the 70s and then, in 1976 to the low-80s. My mother’s curtains were heavy, chintz, and lined, a hold-over from black-out curtains used during the last war, with a thickness for keeping heat in during the winter. As we slide into climate change, heavy curtains  are now used for cooling.

The heat has also brought raised temperatures and tempers of another kind into the UK Parliament. This month the collective Tory MPs  cried out, “Enough,” and called for a vote of No Confidence in Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. With 52 members of the government resigning and MPs of all parties snapping at his heels and shouting “Resign now”  Boris gave a ‘well maybe’ speech – complaining of the herd mentality of those who ousted him as head of the Tory Party and thus soon to be no longer Prime Minister. Sir Kier Starmer called across the chamber, “This maybe the one time when the sinking ship abandoned the rat. Ha, Ha, Ha”. “Ho Ho Ho” replied Boris as he stepped sideways, not actually resigning, never saying those words, and instead of attending the emergency COBRA meeting about the heatwave taking himself off to the Farnborough Air Show to whizz about in a state-of-the-art fighter jet giving a thumb and bum up to us all from his clear skies. 

Through the heatwave, the government told the country to wherever possible  ‘Shut up shop’ and stay at home. Then they took their own advice to heart. Labour’s Lisa Nandy accused Boris Johnson and his ministers of having “clocked off” during the UK’s first red extreme heat warning saying:

“We think the government ought to do a number of things: first is to show up to work”.

But after just days of gossip, resignations by this and that minister with gunpowder plotting, the herd turned, tumbling back and forth along the beach sand as pebbles in a tide change.  It was sobering watching the Commons crowded with members of Parliament from all parties there to listen to Johnson’s last speech. The herd, for one more moment his herd, gathered around, cheering and giving him that standing ovation he does not deserve. Only Teresa May, the past Prime Minister that Boris threw under the bus, sat while the others stood. She paid attention, listening to his farewell, shaking her head at the lies that were spoken and the truths that remain hidden. “Hasta La Vista – See you Later – Baby” were his parting words. Like Donald Trump he doesn’t believe his reign is over, and, like Donald Trump we can be sure he is plotting his return. 

In the British Isles, which may no longer be plural before I die, the Platinum Jubilee celebrated for our Queen’s 70 years of service are over. The Queen has retired to Windsor Castle, keeping a low profile as befits a 96-year-old Monarch still in service. Younger Princes, Dukes and Earls gather round and fill in – as families do. 

Charles and Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, began their three-day visit to the west country, in the seaside town of Mousehole. Here HRH. still in a light grey, silk two-piece suit, took a moment to mop his brow before speaking, ‘As I have been saying for quite some time now,’ about Climate Change.  While the temperature has finally dropped into the low 80s in England, the fires continue to blaze across Europe. The firefighters in France and Spain are battling fires equal to those that spread through California in 2018. They are all brave, strong and fueled by the adrenaline that such danger brings. This week the BBC aired a damming documentary about the US and Climate change over the last thirty years. Al Gore and climate scientist spoke, all basically saying ‘we missed our window.’ Even the nay-sayers agreed, blaming mis-information for their more than misplaced decisions.

Meanwhile the Hedgehog Society is reminding people not to forget another neighbour who might be suffering in the heat. A tweet warns that our spiky friends are dying of dehydration, and has suggested people place shallow bowls of water for wildlife in their gardens – with a reminder to pop in a few pebbles to make sure insects that fall in can escape. You have to love this aspect of Our England.

Summer time and the livin’ is easy, but it is not. It would have been beyond churlish to strike while the population was enjoying a four-day weekend courtesy of Her Majesty. Now strike actions on British Rail and the London Underground are coinciding with the school summer holidays. The many cancelations of the cheap and Easy Jets and British Air flights in and out of Europe are combined with a severe shortage of baggage handling staff, (low-paid Europeans went home after Brexit) and now airport runways are melting with the heat while cars and lorries queue for literally miles at the Dover tunnel, waiting for twelve hours and more to make it through the customs checks.

Coming onto the Dover Road by Garath Fuller

French diplomats, officials and border staff warned last year that delays were inevitable with the post-Brexit border arrangement. New rules require that all passports be checked and stamped. The Port of Dover executives can barely contain their anger that the government turned down a £33m bid to help with upgrades to manage the additional pressures of Brexit. It was given just £33,000, 0.1% of the initial request. The French transport minister, Clément Beaune, is talking with the UKs transport secretary Grant Shapps, which may or may not be helpful, but reminded us that: “France is not responsible for Brexit.

In their appeal to the conservative party members the two remaining candidates for Prime Minister are blaming a shortage of French border staff for these delays. Former chancellor Rishi Sunak said the French “need to stop blaming Brexit and start getting the staff required to match demand”. Foreign secretary Liz Truss said she was in touch with her French counterparts, blaming a “lack of resources at the border”. It is sobering, again, to see so early in this contest these potential Prime Ministers be so ready to lie and blame the French authorities for this chaos. Sunak and Truss are both moving on though, targeting ‘how they would handle illegal immigration’ neither one with compassion, and those darn taxes, to cut now or later ….

It is hard to pull our heads out of the sand to look at Sri Lanka and watch the hearings from the affairs of January 6 in Washington DC and how close America came to that kind of a Coup. 

There is – was – a small win for the United Nations, brokered mostly through Turkey as Russia agreed not to target ships carrying 20 million tons of grain from The Ukraine sailing across the Black Sea to Turkey. This is a huge concession yet already the Ukrainian port of Odesa has been bombed. Russia has said it will not target the grain ships but neither will it disarm the mines that already bob and toss in the dark Black Sea.  

This has been A Letter From A. Broad.

Female Complaints

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

September mornings, and the sun is finally shining in London. The first flurry of falling leaves are swept up and the pavements look just a little bit fresher, gardens are tidied for winter and their last autumnal blooms wave at us before the summer light fades. Children are back to school and there is a bustle of work, increased traffic on public transport and Boris had some questions to answer in Parliament on Monday afternoon. Which he did, with his hair combed softly – he knew it would be a difficult day – and a promise to fulfill one election pledge by breaking another. Taxes in one form or another must to go up, to pay for the increased health care needs of the country. It is not all the fault of the elderly for living longer – though that could be where to focus some attention. But after the afternoon session in parliament, it is onto the ‘Let’s all have a drink together and get along’ cocktail party hosted by Johnson, and paid for by us, as he tries to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg gave a weak smile before turning his back on the reporters and, with double-vented jacket not showing him to advantage, entering number 10 Downing Street. The Right Honorable Michael Gove may still be in Aberdeen. Luckily Domonic Raab is nowhere to be seen having slipped off to Pakistan trying to find safe passage for those afghans left behind after the British evacuation of Afghanistan. There is no certainty that Raab can return with the needed free pass tickets on his shopping list.

The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg on the bench

We hear less from Afghanistan, but the news stories that do come through are of cruelty and despair, such as the pregnant police woman, Banu Negar, killed in front of her family. There will be no ‘good news’ coming from Kabul until the Taliban control the media outlets and feed news to the Western world. How it is that Secunder Kermani and Lyse Doucet can continue to report for the BBC from Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan is hard to fathom. With a new government not yet formed, and young men on the streets all eager to do something, the Taliban’s promise of ‘No grudges, no revenge’ is proving messy to follow. We hear little of how other countries faired getting their personal out during the Taliban take over and may hear even less about how they might return.

But the Taliban and the new Afghanistan leadership need money. Europe recognizes this and Germany appears to be leading by a nose, sniffing out what opportunities there are still in this land-locked country. Where can a foothold be found that will ensure a western presence to plug the hole of a ship-side leak open to the seas of Russian and Chinese advances?

The Taliban say that women and girls will have full rights ‘under Islamic law’ but Islamic law, like any other law, is subject to interpretation and already new rules about dress and education leave many women and their families fearful. Such strict laws preclude many women from the problems that beset women from other countries and, as has been recently seen – states such as Texas.

The new laws in Texas, banning abortion for whatever reason beyond 6 weeks of gestation, brings fear to this generation of fecund women and some hash memories back to those way past their prime. Seeing the protests in Texas of young women dressed in the red cloak of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was as chilling as anything we have seen in America since the beginning of this year. Margaret Atwood says of her 1985 novel “I didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress… So all of these things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil.” It is as if the men of Texas and beyond have said to themselves, ‘Yeah. This is how it should be.’ 

Women in Texas

And that can be the burping misfiring of art, rather like ‘Apocalypse Now’ conceived as the ultimate antiwar film only ofttimes used as a training tool to those young men and women heading out to the deserts and beyond.   

“I tried gin, hot baths, the lot” said my mother recounting her reaction when learning she was pregnant – with me. Not necessarily how one wants to feel welcomed into the world, but no less true because of it. Documented in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus 1850 BC, ways to prevent an unwanted pregnancy have been sought out and used to various degrees of dissatisfaction, despair, disease and death. Fighting for legal methods of birth control have consumed women, and some men, during the past two centuries, and remains contentious to this day. Those of us who ‘came of age’, in the mid-1960’s still remember the fear of unwanted pregnancies.

A little box of little pills. From the Welcome Trust Museum.

For nurses there were various paths open within hospital systems: volunteering to take patients to the X-ray department, before the mandatory introduction of lead aprons was one; a somewhat-drunken date with a maintenance supervisor who was as handy as any Vera Drake in his day another. And then there were Widow Welch’s Pills. Containing high doses of iron, pennyroyal and juniper and advertised as being very effective in curing ‘Female Obstruction’ they were freely obtainable from Boots the Chemists.

And if prayer, that first and last resort, was also tried and failed, there may be a rushed marriage and definitely expulsion from nursing school. For pregnancy and even marriage made one unsuitable for the profession. Meanwhile those impregnating young doctors graduated into their lives carrying only their memories that faded over time.

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

Sports Day

While America celebrates its independence on July 4th, here, this year, the not so Great Britain held a day of Thanksgiving to the National Health Service that turns 73 years old this week. And so for the first five years of my life all forms of medical care were paid for out of pockets that were mostly empty after the war. Being a country doctor could have made the difference between the doctor’s family eating well or not. Creating the National Health Service was one of the best things this country every did and for a long time it worked very well. But as science began to overtake the art of medicine, the economic equation became crunched and now the NHS looks like a proverbial cow-pony that has been ‘rode hard and put away wet.’ After these long months of COVID crisis, that are not over yet, many of the medical staff are exhausted and early retirement numbers are high. Johnson’s government will be hard pressed to patch the holes in this beaten war ship. The Queen awarded the King George’s Cross to the entire organization, done so with a handwritten letter, on Windsor Castle note paper, a gesture that is genuinely heartfelt. However a July 4th ‘buns and bangers barbecue’ with Boris in the garden of number 10 for some regional health administrators is an ill-fitting band-aide and will not make up for the 1% pay rise on offer for the staff who remain constantly underpaid and overworked.

The Base Line (Photo by WSM)

The school year here ends in July with sports and speech days and the summer sports season is on us. For a few brief weeks England will not care so much about what happens in the rest of the world but will look instead to the global sport stars. England may no longer have a contender at the Wimbledon World Tennis Championships it hosts, but the international players are thrilling to watch. So when the email came through ‘would we like to go to Wimbledon for a day?’ the answer was quick, ‘Yes Please’. 

As Sam, our driver, talked us through central London on a Monday morning it seems as if the city is slowly, cautiously returning. The Mayor has been busy making bike lanes much to the frustration of our driver. Sam tells me that there is now a shortage of truck drivers, those men who would slide through the tunnels from Europe to the UK and back again have gone home, and produce from the farms of Europe and England are in trouble.

But not the English Strawberries. For it is strawberry season and before the afternoon matches our hosts have a luncheon prepared. There remains a strict COVID protocol in place to follow that we have managed, and are given our COVID certificate wrist bands. This is an interesting table group for us, we are the only members of the arts’ arm of the very large Rolex family. There is a Harry Charles a young showjumper who, with his pal is enjoying a day away from the barn, but on whose shoulders rests England’s Equestrian showjumping dreams. The other men are older, all still at the top of their games. We are in heady company which finishes with the traditional strawberries and cream and good coffee. As we leave the salon we are handed new hats, seat cushions and water and as always, a lovely young masked Rolex guide shows us the way.

Center Court 1/4 finals on Manic Monday (Photo by WSM)

Seated, under cover but in the fresh air, I find that while I am surrounded by Gucci and Botox and more than a handful of Rolex wrists, there is kindness and laugher all waiting for the first match of Manic Monday. As we settle, the ball boys and girls run in and kneel in their navy shorts, line men and women march in, hanging their jackets up and bending over their knees closer to the line, now the umpire sits alone high up on their perch watching, listening and calling as the game begins. The number one player, Novak Djokvic against the Chilean Cristian Garin. The ladies played next with young Coco Gauff from the US putting in a good game with German Angelique Kerber. Then it is time for the Swiss Roger Federer came out with Italian Lorenzo Sonego. The ages of the players, the young pushing on the old add a grip to the excitement. The games unfold quickly and we watched seeing the mistakes that we all have made fast out-numbered by the brilliance we never achieved. Skill, experience, age, temperament and the weather all play their part and I wondered if this would the moment that the old would fall to the young. Thankfully they have held, for at least another year. For tennis is very gladiatorial.

In the summer of 1964 somewhere in Spain we went to a bullfight. It was not a big town, nor a famous fight, the tickets were cheap and we went knowing we might never see this again. It was as fascinating and heartbreaking as I had feared. Six bulls came to fight in the evening’s match. There is protocol, there is blood and death and also in a hard to understand way, honour. The afternoon gave way to the evening, the sunlight gave way to cloud-covered skies and then the rain poured down. The spectators groaned and roared at the skies and then, as quickly as they had come, left the stands but the bulls, the matadors and picadors all remained, and so did we. It seemed the least we could do, to stay, watch and honour the bravery however needlessly it had been shared and spilled.

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

Poor Man

“I’ve been speaking with your Health Secretary. He says things are getting better. Poor man.” So said the Queen, dressed demurely in a mauve frock, when, last Tuesday, after fifteen months, she met in person her current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. With the cameras rolling and clicking Johnson looked the unruly but chuffed school boy he is, standing with hands clasped behind him, before the Queen’s constant good manners.

“Yes, Yes.” The Prime Minister assures the Queen and that is all we see of that moment. 

Queen Elizabeth II greets Prime Minister Boris Johnson at an audience at Buckingham Palace, London, the Queen’s first in-person weekly audience with the Prime Minister since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Picture date: Wednesday June 23, 2021.

Until later in the week The Sun Newspaper hits the stands. There is Matty Hancock, Health Minister, clutching aide Gina Coladangelo in a clinch-hold on the front page, with the headline. “Face, Hands, Cock no distance” In the little-known dangers of University life, Matt and Gina first met at the Oxford University radio station. By Saturday evening, Hancock had resigned and Sajid Javid, previously chucked out as the Chancellor has been brought in as Minister of Health. A Cabinet reshuffle is not an empty phrase. Javid is a solid Tory man, called by some the First Son of Margaret Thatcher, and he will have to come up to speed quickly in this Health crisis brought about by this government.

Hello Javid

On his first day in office he said ‘Yes’ to every question put to him. Sometimes adding the unnerving, ‘Absolutely’. Back to hypocritical, humbled-for-the-moment Hancock, who made a public apology for ‘breaking the rules on social distancing’ and says he will continue to serve his country from the back benches. After lying to our Queen, ‘Things are getting better’ and taking his eyes from ‘working around the clock’. Opinions from the dustman to the politician run between – ‘long may he rot there’, to ‘how dare he show his face in Westminster’. His constituency of West Suffolk is none too pleased with their minister’s behavior and if not exactly cries, there are certainly mutterings of “Off with his head.” Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts was ahead of her time. Even with their budgetary caution, the BBC has added their voice to the clamor from Labour and opposition government parties with outcries of ‘shame’, Johnson should have fired Hancock. Johnson knows as well as any man, that when the little brain takes over there is not a lot of logic going on.

Anglican church memorial to British officers in the Afghan war. 1866

But wait – stuffed behind a bus stop in Kent – someone – who was that – happens to find a bundle of soggy classified documents from the Minister of Defence. Information on the HMS Defender trying out a quick sail through the Black Sea checking on Russia’s response to edging a wee bit close to the Ukraine and Crimea was laid out in those soggy pages. Russia made their position clear with a quick response. This is a shell game over the waters and one can only hope that the fish have something to say about it. As NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan to its fate, Britain is thinking it might move in – again. While visiting India in 2004 we stopped at an old Anglican church. Along the nave, beside each pew, was a scabbard in which the British officers should place their swords. A memorial Cross stood outside to commemorate British officers who had died in the Afghan War – of 1865.

Following last week’s closure of the Apple Daily Newspaper in Hong Kong a seventh senior editor, Fung Wai-kong, was arrested as he prepared to leave Hong Kong for the United Kingdom. Now another newspaper, Stand News, has removed all their past published Opinion pieces. The Chinese Government’s net is tightening its draw string.  

Meanwhile Alexander Lukashenko responded to the Western worlds imposed sanctions by sending plane-loads of Iraqi refugees to be unloaded in Lithuania while moving Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega from jail into house arrest. But this is no picnic or sign of safety for Roman, Sofia or any of the young people in Belarus, calling for a more democratic government. The IT industry that was booming in Minsk is disintegrating in the sewer of government impositions. Those young IT engineers that can, are leaving for the neighboring Ukraine.  

Angela Merkel is lobbying the European Union to adopt Germany’s ruling that everyone coming from Britain to Germany go into quarantine. She is to visit with Boris Johnson in England this week and then onto the US before she leaves office in the autumn. She may be being very sensible and cautious, but so far the rest of Europe is not going along with her idea. 

In this little island we are dealing with the crater-hole of one Minister falling on his sword and another picking it up out of the gutter. On Monday Chris Whittey, England’s chief medical officer, went to St. Jame’s Park for a little sit and think and was set upon by two men, angry, frustrated and feeling helpless in this continued uncertainty. Police were called to investigate, but will get no further than form filling.

Guillen Nieto with the Abdala Vaccine

But on another Island, Cuba, there is news that lifts the spirits with the development of their own Covid vaccine. Named Abdala – as a latin country would –  from a poem by José Martí. It has so far proved 92% effective and thus is on par with BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna. There is no attacking scientists or health workers in Cuba where political Isolation from the US embargo, their reluctance to take vaccines from China or Russia has kept the country poor and yet rich in its independence and humanity with a health system to be proud of.

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

May Day

Recorded and Knit together by WSM
Lilly of the Valley

“What was the first foreign country you visited?” asks my computer as I enter yet another protected website. “France” I type in and think back on that first visit, when spring and love were beginning, and April in Paris was not just a song. Wearing an oatmeal-colored Jaeger suit of a little box jacket and the skirt that just touched my knees, I nervously boarded an AirFrance plane at London Heathrow Airport. Looking back I realize that the elegant gentleman sitting beside me was remaining extremely courteous as he escorted me through the departure gate – though he quickly faded away when he saw a very lean young man in pinstriped jeans and a cocky hat hiding by a pillar, watching and waiting for me. It was spring of 1964 and I had just turned 21 years old, about to enjoy two weeks of spring-time in Paris and the acceptance of what has turned out to be a very long love affair. 

Though the love affair endures, the spring-time weather has spun out of control and this May Day weekend the wind whipped cherry blossoms off the trees with a cruel beating. It is difficult to see how any bee can make it to the blossoms and scatter their fruit-inducing pollen. A friend tells me that in France on May Day people give bouquets of Lilly of the Valley to their friends and family. They are tokens of appreciation and to bring happiness and good luck. The Lilly of the Valley bulbs I planted last autumn are sadly slow and shy. The leaves are only now just unfolding above the ground.

The May Day bank holiday pays tribute to workers and unions across the world and May 1st is known as International Workers’ Day. Not that at the moment the banks in Britain need a holiday. Most High Street branches have taken the COVID crisis as a time to comb through low lying employees, cutting their on-site staff and reducing their always short counter hours to four a day. There is no union help for the bank staff on this Bank Holiday.

MayDay has another meaning. The “Mayday Mayday Mayday” call of distress from a plane or a ship originated over a hundred years ago in the 1920s. Frederick Stanley Mockford was a radio officer at London’s Croydon Airport. He was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and be easily understood by all pilots and ground staff during an emergency. In those days much of the traffic at the Croydon airport was to and from Le Bourget Airport in Paris. Mockford came up with “Mayday” derived from the French word “m’aider” that means “help me” a shortened form of “venez m’aider”, “come and help me”.

Now there are different reasons to call out MayDay, as talks are discretely held and whispered through the corridors of power in the capitals of Britian, Iran, and the United States.

Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe is not the only dual national citizen held in prison in Iran, but here in Britain her case is the most visible. Finishing one five-year term in prison she is now staying at her parents’ home in Tehran waiting for release or a return to prison. Having completed her sentence for alleged spying she has been rearrested on fresh false charges. If she loses her appeal against this new conviction, she will face another year in jail and a further 12 months in which she is not allowed to leave the country.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has finally spoken out saying  “It is difficult to argue against the suggestion that Nazanin is being held ‘state hostage’ and her treatment amounts to torture.” For the first time Raab said her fate was now tied not just to a £400 million debt that the UK government owes to Iran but also the outcome of talks in Vienna on the future of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. “We’ve said that the debt is something we want to have resolved,” Nazanin remains the pawn in this chess game of flesh and coin. America is, naturally, also mixed up in this discussion. There is the little matter of four Americans, and the release of $7 billon of Iranian assets held in foreign bank accounts since 1979, and which sanctions the US is prepared to lift in return for Iran coming back into full compliance with the nuclear deal. International talks in Vienna will end at the beginning of June, not very far away, and by then the Iranian presidential election campaign will have begun.

Pay the Debt. Is it really too much to ask? Britain, like other imperialistic powers tries to wiggle out of debts owned, using whatever is at their disposal, wether it be a mere £ 400 million to Iran or £58,000 for refurbishing a ministerial apartment.

Then there is the guilt, or not, of leaving a lover from whom you have used all they have to give as we watch the continents of India, Africa and South America burn up with the hot rasp of breath from the parched dry lungs of their people who go without oxygen. 

What tidbits can be tossed our way to distract us from these global tragedies? From May 17th the UK government has given us unlimited mourners at funerals, moving the stored bodies along from over-filled mortuaries. For weddings there remains a limit of 30 people until June, while crowds and their cash, later to count the cost, are already returning to select outdoor football matches, indoor snooker tournaments, and concerts around the country.

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

Still Watching

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

For a brief moment it looked as if life was going to creep back into an old new normality. Across Europe football clubs began allowing a few fans in the stadiums but now the cinema chains of Cineworld and Picture House have closed for the foreseeable … Odeons are only open on the weekends and, for the moment, a few select art-houses are screening films. We were even going to an invited screening of “Nomadland” in Soho but now – not. There is a play to see and support, a monologue on David Hare’s bout with Covid, performed by Ralph Fines, ’Beat the Devil’ but will it go on? As London returns to the second tier of lockdown, while Manchester is pushed into the third.

The balance of health, education, economy and viability is a gordian knot for every European Government. On Monday the Welsh Prime Minister announced a two-week total lockdown for their corner of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland too is imposing tighter restrictions and the North of England is set to face tier-three lockdowns.

“Good for them.” We say and we will join others to see how that plays out. Maybe there are some benefits in being small and scrappy.

Meanwhile, the five Archbishops of the Anglican church have joined together in condemnation of the UK government’s proposal to break international law with their plots and plans over Brexit. It is an extraordinary intervention. The letter is signed by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury; Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York; Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal church; John Davies, Archbishop of Wales; and John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh, and it asks: “If carefully negotiated terms are not honoured and laws can be ‘legally’ broken, on what foundations does our democracy stand?” The Internal Market Bill would ride roughshod over the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU last year – and potentially put peace in Northern Ireland at at risk. It’s a gamble, by a gambling man, who doesn’t seem to know the odds and is unclear for which team he is batting.

Meanwhile, in my mother’s paper, the Saturday Telegraph, I was too tired this weekend, I couldn’t manage anything more serious, there is an interview by Nataliya Vasilyeva with the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya. After four months Sviatlana has just spoken to her husband Sergey. How did this come about? Constant and perpetual protests by the people of Belarus which continues to affect all of Belarusian society. Women march with flowers on Saturdays, cities and towns protest on Sundays and pensioners come out on Mondays. Last week Lukashenko visited the KGB prison where Sergey and the other political prisoners are held, and this crumb, held in a still iron-clad fist, was offered, the phone call between husband and wife. Let us pray for the protests, and dialogue to continue so that eventually the grandmothers can put their feet up on Mondays.

On Friday afternoon, in a Parisian suburb, the 47 year-old teacher, Samuel Paty, was stabbed and beheaded by 18 year-old Aboulakh Anzorov. Paty was trying to examine the concept of free speech by showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammand in his class. This was a grisly incident by any barometer and in Paris, on Sunday, crowds of thousands, including the Prime Minister Jean Castex, gathered to pay tribute to the slain teacher at the Place de la République. A retired teacher, Michaël Prazan, told the BBC that this dissent really began to fester in the early 2000s when the government banned religious symbols in schools. ‘We will not be defeated,’ tweeted President Macron, but for the moment Monsieur Paty’s family must not quite feel that. Even a posthumous medal will not keep his bed and family warm at night.

The Pan-American Highway stretches for approximately 19,000 miles across the American continents from Argentina to Alaska. Many years ago two young Argentine men were motorcycling that Highway and stopped in Point Reyes. We met outside the Bovine Bakery. And talked, and that led to their coming on air in the Old Red Barn studio ‘right after your sticky bun lunch’ and sharing some of their adventures on air. They came home to the farm for laundry, feeding and a couple of nights of comfort before they headed out to route one and continue back to their way north.

Just this week has come the news of a new discovery of a sculpted 120 foot-long cat out on the Nazca Desert in Peru which lies alongside the Pan-American Highway. The Nazca Lines, first discovered in 1927, are believed to have been created between 500BC and 500AD. Many depict humans, animals and plants. The cat is a new addition, uncovered by cleaning and conservation work. It’s nice to read something good.

A new old Cat – watching the world


Meanwhile back in London there are smaller geological sites to be explored. In the middle of Fitzroy Road, just where it peels off Regent’s Park Road is a raised brick planter that spent the last three summers growing ivy and grass. At one time, someone cared for this little patch but, things happen and the little plot has been neglected. But this weekend it was time for group number 1116 to check it out. In 2004 Richard Reynolds began the now world-wide Guerrilla Gardeners movement in London.

All you need


The concept of Guerrilla Gardening is simple. Never ask permission from any council or organization that might want a committee meeting. You just need a patch of neglected ground, a small trowel, fork, and some seed and bulbs. It takes less than an hour. Passers-by look, smile and some even chat, but nobody stops me. Come spring there will be new life, color and smiles for those who walk past and into a new year.

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

Second Wave

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The British government again seems to be struggling with making up their mind about their ‘rule of six’. Hot spots of increased infection rates are happening, and England, like many other European countries, is rolling lock-down rules out of the front door of #10 Downing Street as if trying to knock off coconuts at a country stall fair. It is very possible that the coconuts are an easier target. The infection rate is going up, faster than the number of testings, though the rate of hospitalization and COVID-19 deaths is slower. The Health Minister, Matt Hancock, tried to talk a good talk on Andrew Marr’s Sunday political program, but it was heavy going. He predicts that a second wave of infections is coming. In trying to be stern, he repeated again and again “We must obey the rules”. But the rules keep changing and Hancock was ill equipped, and nervous. Monday morning we found out why.

Number 10 Downing Street had to ‘strongly deny’ that, as reported in La Republica News, Boris Johnson flew to Perugia to meet with Evgeny Lebedev at his villa in Umbria. Airport sources said that Johnson arrived on Friday, September 11th at 2. pm. and left on Monday morning 7.45 a.m. Every once in a while you have to love those airport staff and guards at these tiny airports. Johnson and Lebedev are tight, in that way that friends bond over what one could call ‘similar behavior patterns and tastes’. And apparently, according to the same source, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, also flew into Perugia on September 8th leaving the day that Johnson arrived. Perugia has become a bustling hot spot surrounded by those busy villas tucked away in the Umbria hills. In London, the government brushed aside the Italian paper report as being – Italian – and now – sadly – the Italian government has concurred.

But the British people are fast losing faith and trust in this government as a second wave of increased infections and measures to contain the virus look inevitable. And so on Tuesday, Boris is to speak. First scheduled for 10 a.m. this morning he has now slipped to 12.20 p.m. in the house of Commons and will address the nation at 8 p.m. So far we know, that from Thursday, pubs and restaurants will close at 10 p.m.

As we adjust to another new normal, those of us lucky enough not to be directly effected by the virus look to see what got us through so far. There were friends and neighbors, grocery deliveries, the telephone, email and Zoom that kept us connected and took care of our more basic needs. These are community’s first responders.

But the cities were closed. There were no galleries to visit, no concerts or theaters to attend, no films to see. For some, music came through the wireless, while the television played endless reruns. There are books to read. A friend called Art the second wave of responder. And so, as we can, we search for Art.

In 2017 Beatrice had an exhibit at the Botanical Gardens featuring her photographs of the Trees of Buenos Aires. It was a fabulous exhibit and we were grateful to be there and see it. I chose about six of the pictures and had jigsaw puzzles made up from them thinking they would be great Christmas presents, but my friends said ‘Thank you very much Aggie’ and put the boxes away. I kept one here and after almost two years it was still in its box. Two weeks into England’s lock down we poured the one thousand pieces onto the kitchen – dinning table and the puzzle took over. Eventually we had to add the extra table-leaf. As nobody was coming to dinner the puzzle became our companion for the next several months. We would linger after a meal, like addicts, for just one more piece to put in place. It was completed in July.

Place for the puzzle on the table WSM

This weekend it returned from the frame shop and now hangs on the wall bringing us comfort in a familial way and maybe even a little courage as we go forward. Bea’s photograph became something bigger we can share.

Comfort in the evening Photo WSM

Carol Witman, from West Marin, has found her strength and comfort in art. Each morning (I think I have this right) before she starts her daily work of political activism she gathers flora from wherever she is: at home, on a walk or with a friend. Bob made her a work bench. She has gathered her tools. I image it as an alter, somewhere in a shed or close to the kitchen door, where she places her day’s harvest. The flowers, fruits and leaves seem an offering to the woodland gods and I believe guide her as she lays them out in a mandala circle. Carol says, “I started doing them as a response to my depression and anxiety over Trump/GOP and the pandemic, to focus myself each morning, and remind myself that there is still beauty in the world. When I posted them on social media, I found that others were given joy by them too”.

Susan’s Quinces Mangela and
Photo by Carol Witman
Sage and Nigella. Mandala and Photo by Carol Whitman

Even as Carol, Bob, and their cats evacuated to Oakland during the California fires, she kept her daily practice with making mandalas, calming and bringing joy to herself and us all. After this is all over and we come through to our newer still normal, I can’t wait to view a show celebrating her work in a book, to leaf (!) through with a smile, remembering when and how we survived this somber moment in our time.

This has Been A Letter From A. Broad
Written and Read for you by Muriel Murch.

Murder is a Messy Thing

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Murder can be a messy business. Countries, cultures and times evolve and often a culture is the defining influence as to how political problems disappear.

This is uppermost in my mind in those pre-dawn moments; beyond the fast-climbing number of cases of COVID-19 in England, beyond the raging fires in California, and the understandable distrust for the British Prime Minister by the European Brexit team. The UK government is now reneging on the agreement with the European Union on the border for Northern Ireland. While the Brexit clock is ticking, the leaders of Russia, the US, and China are watching the chip, chipping away of Europe with glee.

But it is Belarus that is again, sounding the alarm bells in my head and my heart. Over one hundred thousand protestors marched in Minsk this weekend, and other cities were filled with protestors. The police targeted young men returning to the universities, as well as reporters, and one journalist remains in jail. Lukashenko has not been seen, only his riot police force out with their agenda. Luke Harding wrote of it in the Guardian Newspaper: “On Monday, unidentified masked men snatched the leading Belarusian opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova from the street in the centre of the capital, Minsk, and drove her away in a minivan.” Three young idealistic women formed a new opposition party called ‘Together’.

Veronika Tsepkalo (left), Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (centre), and Maria Kolesnikova display their signature gestures at a press-conference in Minsk in July. Photograph: Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA

The opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a teacher, unexpectedly allowed to run for president and had claimed victory against Alexander Lukashenko, fled after Lukashenko rejected the vote of the people. Maria Kolesnikova is reported as detained at the Lithuanian border, apparently after an escape bid, though Veronika Tsepkalo may still be in Belarus.

Russia seems to favour poison even as they make such a mess of it. Alexander Litvinenkno in 2004, Sergei and Yulias Skripal in 2018, and now Alexei Navalny in August. Navalny suddenly became ill on an internal flight from Siberia. The plane diverted to Omsk where he was treated for three days before being eventually airlifted to the Charité hospital in Berlin where doctors confirmed what the rest of the world knows, that Navalny was poisoned with nerve agent Novichok. The world will look in vain for an explanation from the Russian Government that does not care a button what the rest of the world thinks.

The Saudis preferred a strangulation, a little drug use, before the chain saw for the removal of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, while the United Kingdom takes the depression-walk-in-the-woods approach to the removal of dissidents to power – David Kelly’s death in 2003 is still remembered. North America uses guns and choke-holds and when countries collaborate the removals can become truly messy. During our years in Argentina I learnt of the 1970s student disappearances by the plane-load over the River Plata. I still cannot eat fish in Buenos Aires.

In these times of solitude I find myself with a strange kind of homesickness. While the farm and the California fires that surround it and all of our corner of West Marin are constantly on my mind, I also think of Buenos Aires and of that time in our lives when San Telmo held a home for us. Smells come over me in waves, they linger and bring memories quickly into my mind.

Walking along the cleaning aisle at the supermarket, with the mixtures of house-cleaning products, takes me to Fridays at the casa. Maritza, who is Bolivian, would take an hour-long bus from her home to San Telmo and spend all day cleaning that big apartment. Bea or I would make lunch and we would sit all together to eat a simple meal. It is the custom there. The espresso coffee pot bubbles up on the stove and, if I have missed it, a metallic smell spills over, with the coffee, onto the stove top. It is the same coffee pot as I had in the Abuela-Dome that spits onto the electric hot plate.

Breakfast with Granny in the Abuela Dome

On sunny Sundays I would bring the morning coffee out to the little table and chairs sitting by the window on the terrace. The terrace, between the main apartment and the bedsit Abuela dome, is long and as soon as David could, he would escape from the main apartment and run across to us. Through the glass doors we could see him standing on tip-toe, reaching up for the doorknob, and click, pull it down to come in. And there we would be. Were we ready to play, to read or maybe was it time for a second breakfast? Inside or out? He had a special mug for tea, as did Grandpa, while Granny has her own Royal Albert tea cup and saucer. And then there would be toast, just a little because actually David has already had breakfast with Mummy and Daddy.

This week is Bea and Santi’s 5th wedding anniversary. And in two weeks it is David’s 5th birthday. Bea posted a picture on Facebook of the wedding ceremony. The little courthouse is packed with Santi’s family, their friends, including Bea’s first husband Kragen, who stood up to wish them all happiness. Bea sits so ‘barefoot and pregnant’. They look young and nervous and yet with that determination that love can bring. The presiding officer was a kind motherly woman magistrate and her presence draws me back to memories of Argentina and all that is good in the world wherever we are.

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

Bubbles

Recorded and Knit together by WSM aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Now the open season on game for blame had begun and stalkers are on the beat. Who said what to whom and when? There is much scuttling around the zooming halls of Westminster as the cozy personal chats in the tea room become more difficult to access. Will it be the scientists, Public Health England, the National Health Service, or a couple of ministers who will get the blame now and – or the ax later? There will be ‘An Official Inquiry.’ though the PM Boris Johnson doesn’t feel this is quite the time for that. 

The Coronavirus is still very much with us in England, even as it recedes in other parts of the United Kingdom and Europe. Spikes and new outbreaks of infections have caused mini-lockdowns, The City of Leicester from an outbreak in a sweat-shop, and a farm in Herefordshire from the immigrant workers flown into the country for harvest. 

Other governments in similar predicaments and with similar geographies and social economic situations have managed better than Mr. Johnson. At 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning the European Council came to the end of a masked. ninety-hour session that agreed to 750 billion Euros in grants and loans to the 27 members of the Union. What a pity not to be a part of that Union. Instead the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has given 900,00 Public Sector workers, teachers, doctors, and dentists a 3.1% pay rise, back-dated to April, recognizing their vital contribution during the coronavirus pandemic but this is not for nurses or any other auxiliary staff.

Timing and Dosage. A medical term that also works well in all walks of life and work. Because this week the major – minor row in Government is not so much about the global pandemic we are living through, but some serious flag waving to obscure the view of a deeper investigation into the Russian Report that comes out today.

Johnson and his boys wanted their man, Mr. Grayling, to be the committee chair. But trying to make the appointment was against the rules. It gets confusing in here but with a little campaigning from back-benchers across the aisles, and a lot of tut-tutting, Mr. Lewis (already a committee member and someone who actually knows something about espionage) was appointed the chair. It was more than squabbling about who would chair a committee but hopefully who would really examine or obscure Russia’s use of cyber-espionage, money and social media campaigns to influence other countries political outcomes.

This week could be interesting, but it is getting tiring. As well as a global pandemic there is the Russian Report, and now the row with China over 1. Hong Kong  2. Ethnic Cleansing with forced Sterilization and ‘re eduction camps’. 3. the threat to national security from China’s Huawei firm. 

And all of this before turning to America and see undocumented Federal agents in Portland, the passing of the great warriors John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian and an imbecilic dialogue about washing machines. Somehow this week’s news brought me to tears.  And I am not alone. 

We retreat into the bubbles that we create, and with the summer stretching before us, can be excused for struggling with the scrapping dog-fights of the world’s governments. (Our tiredness being counted on to defuse us). We long for our families and friends. As we come to the end of month four of lockdown and sheltering in place, no one over 65 is going anywhere soon or fast. But we miss each other, the frantic tidying before grandparents arrive, the rumble-tumble of grand-children, and then the meals, games and naps all shared together and the exhaustion after it is over. 

We see it in all ages as we slide along in our own bubbles. For many, loneliness creeps into the mornings and lingers through the days, leaving some people shuffling about and questioning their place in the universe. But as the lock-down has eased and social distancing measures made a little clearer, some communities have found ways to connect. Not everyone is ready to rush out to the pub or the restaurant or even the shops, but people do want a natter, a chatter, a grumble or a moment with another. With summer weather and some organizing, the Oldfield council housing estate up the road has put out clusters of a few tables and chairs, an umbrella here, another table with drinks and chips there, and they have their own pub garden. 

As we walk through the days and weeks of this year not knowing where it, or we, will stop it can feel as if we are walking towards an unknown abyss. But on Monday’s sunny afternoon, when the park was less full, we walked down to the lake and lingered to watch the ducks and geese resting in the sun, taking things a little easy as their fledglings got on with the business of feeding themselves. We wandered on, down by the canal and found the blackberry brambles that have begun to ripen. Weaving in and out of the elderflower and nettles, the brambles produce tiny berries that have a flavor all of their own. These are not the lush bushes of the rivers or low-lying fields, but scrappy brambles that continue to grow despite the grounds-men’s best efforts to whack them back out of the canal-path. We slow down and begin plucking a little black berry here and another there. I pull out a plastic box that I had brought, ‘just in case’ and for the next twenty minutes we are at peace.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad.

Canalside Berries Photo by WSM

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch