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

Strawberries in June

Fresh Strawberries from the market
Recorded and Knit together by WSM. Aired on KWMR.org July 1

Strawberries are Ripe.

If I was to have another jab under the jacket of the government I see them in my mind’s eye zooming around their screens in search of the national unlocking with ‘a little bit here and a little bit there’ while trying to hold unrest and disruption in check. What they can’t control is the weather and the changing the English temperament.

They started with the garden centers, insane on the one hand and brilliant on the other. For anyone with a garden and wanting to DO something, getting dug in would ease off pressure like a slow puncture in a bicycle tire. What next? Shopping. Who knew how many people shop for shopping’s sake ?

Now something for the Yobs and the Snobs, to be unkind – which I will try not to be. Street markets. Stalls opened up, shops became markets and the Camden Market, just newly renovated last year, is open for business along with the Farmer’s Markets.

Primrose Hill Market opened up three weeks ago. Nope – not going on the first week. The second week we joined the long queue that shuffled along both sides of Primrose Hill, everyone making an effort at social distancing. The market was sparse, war weary, and I wanted to buy something from everyone just to help them feel it was worth the effort.

Mid-morning on week three we return. The day is blustery as if spring is pouting into summer. There is no queue. We are welcomed by the volunteers and the sweet young thing who is trying to sell her own mixture of hand sanitizer at the gate. But at £ 5.00 a bottle it’s pricey. “How do you like the smell?” “It’s very nice.” But I don’t add at this point that I don’t care how my hands smell from sanitizer. The market looks a little better as if a week’s rest has helped. But there are still big holes where stalls used to be. Where is farmer Geoff and his vegetables and eggs from Canterbury, the fishmonger from Poole, the local London honey and the wonderful Italian Pasta ladies? Even jolly Tony has sent a younger man from his dairy. For some market stalls this has been a swift axe blow, others are in hibernation, licking wounds inflicted by the virus induced lockdown. Vegetables are rotting in fields, but livestock still needs care, growth and slaughter. The two butchers are here and I shop from one.

And so is Carlo from the organic fruit farm in Kent where the soft berries are bursting on their vines and the ripe cherries dripping from the trees. Carlo has brought them all. He is a fast-talking, fast-working Eastern European who has an ease of knowing and selling that makes me wonder where he came from. Was he raised on a farm? Did his grandmother and mother want the same fruit that I do? For he has my strawberries. The berries that do not make the grade for elegant strawberries tarts or the Wimbledon tennis parties that are not happening this year, the little ones, odd shaped and more deeply flavorful from having been left in the field a little longer, in the hopes that they would turn into something prettier. Carlo knows that I want mine for jam and he has set aside – for ladies of a certain age – a few punnets of these berries. He tips three into a bag for me and I add some cherries for a morning coffee treat.

Strawberries and Sugar getting to know each other

Standing at the sink and hulling the berries is soothing. The berries are small and flavorful and as I started them right away there are only three to be taste tested. Into the pan they go, layered with preserving sugar that is available for those of us who still do such things and a younger generation replaying their childhood memories and making new ones for their own families.

As children, out from boarding school for Sunday lunch, we would be sent ‘into the garden to see if you can find some berries,’ Did we ever. We had a huge bed of strawberries in the kitchen garden. Covered in high netting so that the gardener could walk through, the plants laid on fresh straw that reflected the sunlight and kept the berries clean. But first there were birds who had been caught in the netting to capture, and set free, before eating all the berries we picked before lunch which, of course, included strawberries and home made ice cream.

A Rolling Boil brings two drips

But now there are just the two of us in a little cottage in London to enjoy the fresh berries and make a little jam. After coffee the strawberries are hulled and layered together with the preserving sugar all smelling so sweet, a check that we have not lost our sense of smell. They will slowly absorb the sugar for 24 hours before I turn the heat on to bring it all to a rolling boil.

In the farm kitchen there is a jar full of spoons and one is ‘the jam spoon’ that over the years has been honed into shape, one side growing straighter from stirring and lifting to see the two drops come together as one and tell me that the jam or jelly is done. I have only one long-handled wooden spoon in the cottage and over time this too is beginning to change as the drops form with promise of the gifts that are to come.

Strawberry Jam for the summer


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

Hibernation Gin

Recorded and knit together by WSM. Aired on KWMR.org June 24 2020

The Summer Solstice has brought bright sunshine. But there are no trips to Stonehenge to divine what the sun’s rising foretold today’s Druids. The longest day turns us to face the oncoming months of summer and review the fruition of the last few months of solitude. We are lucky and blessed, each with work that can be done sitting in a dressing gown on the sofa or – as some of us prefer – dressed for reclining out on the terrace.

We are also surrounded by a wonderful mix of neighbors gently watching out for us all. Tentative new friendships have begun between those of us who have been aware of each other for a mere twenty years. I now know that Leslie likes to read historical fiction, ‘I’ve got bookcases full of ‘em. You are welcome to borrow anything, come over any time.” She now knows that many of the flowers she enjoys when looking out of her window come from my mother’s garden.

Pressure on the government by ministers, businesses and the economy is growing. Non-essential shops have begun to open, though I’m not too sure what separates essential and non-essential, and for whom. One of my essential shops remain unable to get to their Piccadilly warehouse for what I require.

“The Prime Minister will share his outlines for reopening the economy on Tuesday.” The Government hands out information like school homework assignments and I’m not getting too excited about what Tuesday might bring. There will still be queues outside of the shops, there will still be people mindful of how they walk, and others uncaring as they pass you. And this new reality does not bear looking into too far ahead. Whatever Tuesday’s briefing may bring, I know that ‘we will never get back to normal, how things were.’ Intellectually I understand that, I really do. But emotionally I am a little worn down.

A friend and I had a socially-distanced wine bar meeting in the Library Garden. But as she steadies me down off of the ladder, where I have climbed for a little pruning, I longed to take her hand. Another friend is coming for tea in the Square’s garden on Wednesday. Will we be able to hug each other then?

Touch is the glue that holds us together. The skin is our biggest organ, it covers, protects and feeds us all at one time. Again we are lucky, there are two of us living side by side and touch is as much a part of our lives as is ‘time for a cup of tea then?’

The moments of solitude and intense personal work can also be a time to pause and look inward. It is James Baldwin’s clarity of thought and literary articulation in his essay ‘Faulkner and Desegregation’ that helps me delve into the minutiae of my mind and think of the prejudices that I carry.

“Just because they speak the same language, remember, they are still foreigners.” Said my mother in 1964 as I sat on her bed late one evening before leaving for America. I was appalled, as I often was, at ‘the things my mother says.’ I left for America determined to pay no attention to her words. It took a month, six weeks at most, for our cluster of three Irish and one English nurses to start squawking at how the Americans we met, patients, doctors and fellow nurses, behaved. Where was their stiff upper-lip? Did everything need to be written out before we got a patient out of bed? What, in other words, was the matter with these people? Our little gang of gals grumbled our way through winter into spring. New York and all across America was in racial turmoil during those months and on throughout the summer.

My mother arrived in July for my marriage (to an American!) in August. She came bearing gifts, lists and more scoldings on what I still had to get done in the remaining two weeks and also with an openness that put me to shame. For her ‘They are different’ translated into a sincere effort to understand the differences she encountered in the Americans she met. Naturally, she found more similarities than differences, and absorbed them all.

After the Friday morning wedding and lunch time snack we left, heading out for a six week motorcycle Odyssey to California. My mother stayed with her new relatives for the weekend. I can only image that after we had left, and the guests slowly finished up the sandwiches, champagne and tea, and also departed, my new in-laws, the grandmother and uncle who had flown down from Toronto and my mother had all sat down together with some relief. Conversation would have relaxed as they sipped something soothing and maybe smoked a little before dinner.

On Sunday our mothers went to hear Martin Luther King speak at Riverside Church. For my mother whose knowledge of Africans was from Africa this must have been an extraordinary event giving her another glimmer of understanding. And a glimmer is maybe all that most of us can hope for however hard we try.

Hibernation on the Terrace Photo by WSM


Fifty-five years later I look back, and see how far we have not come, how much work there is still to do and how the tap and tide of human kindness does not always seem to be turning clockwise. On our little terrace I try not to be discouraged as I add Hibernation Gin to the Elderflower cordial and listen to the blackbirds calling to their fledglings. But I can smile and give thanks for all the young people we have raised who are finding those glimmers of understanding and a light to shine for us all.

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

Sheltering Somewhere

Recorded and Knitt together by WSM
First broadcast on KWMR.org 9.20 a.m PCT

Even as a child, the hamlet where I grew up was being hunted by urban amoeba pseudopods. The town of Fleet oozed with a hybrid sprawl, turning farms into developments, and army barracks into business centers. Not even a town worthy of its own picture house, the Odeon Cinema was closed in 1957. This corner of Hampshire is made up of just a few towns, as most of the B roads meander from villages through hamlets and back again. My mother lived in Fleet for all of her adult life. From childhood to widowhood in ‘The Old Divots’ and then as she started her life again in ‘The New Divots’. ‘The Divots’, named from her golfing and gardening life, was an important pause on life’s journey for her friends, our growing family, relatives, and yet more friends touching down from America and beyond. Bobby always had a warm welcome for everyone. There would be much serious liquid refreshment followed by a fabulous seasonal British meal, and then, after coffee and before teatime, an offer of a drive to some of the historic sites that litter this corner of England.

The village of Odiham was always a stop on Bobby’s tour. As The Young Farmers of Hampshire we would often end an evening at The George Inn in Odiham. Though I doubt any of us knew of the pertinent heritage to farmers that The George carried. In 1783, a group of, and I quote, ‘Gentlemen of Rank, Fortune and Ingenuity’ plus some ‘intelligent farmers’ met in The George Inn and formed the Odiham Agricultural Society. They went on to create a school of veterinary science which led to the foundation of the Royal Veterinary Society and profession in Britain.

Odiham also has a castle. Built by King John in 1214 the castle was then, like Fleet is today, in a prime location, between the seats of Winchester and London. The history of the castle saw the French dauphin laying siege to King John, the sitting of Parliament, and even the capture and imprisonment of the Scottish King David. Eventually the castle crumbled and was downgraded to a hunting lodge stop-over before finally left as a ruin in 1605.

The Gothic and Tudor Church of All Saints, lies behind the High Street. The church grounds leads out to The Bury courtyard. And in the Bury courtyard, now protected by a lych-gate like structure, stands the old Stocks and Whipping post. In another corner of The Bury sits The Pest House, both built around 1620. The stocks and whipping post are a reminder of times when villages, not always with a magistrate, took the punishment of community members into their own hands. A sepia postcard shows the stocks holding a tramp and the whipping post a young boy in custody, with 6 bobby-uniformed policemen in attendance some time after 1850.

Bobbies attended to the stocks and whipping post

The Pest House is one tiny room with a fire place and was restored by the Odiham Society in 1981. Usually these were placed outside of the village but this one is close to the church. Pest Houses were used to isolate people from within the community or travelers passing through who were thought to be contagious. The Plague, smallpox, and the sweating sickness brought in and spread by just one contact, could decimate families, farms and communities.

All of this comes to mind given the political shenanigans being exposed this week. It appears that Dominic Cummings, The Prime Minister’s chief advisor, did not follow the instructions that he himself had issued to Health Secretary Matthew Hancock and the government to “Stay in place, Self Isolate, Protect the NHS, Save Lives and so forth.” Nope. He packed up his car and drove his sick wife and four-year-old child north 260 miles to his family home in Durham where it appears that once in place his sister did the necessary outside shopping and errands for them. All so far infuriating but not raising the temperature of the general public until he was sighted 30 miles away from his house at Barnard Castle and later in the week on a walk to view the bluebell woods outside of the city.

I have not been the only person to write that they are ‘Incandescent with Rage’ at this sense of betrayal by a government advisor. Cummings is not appreciated for his possible far reaching governmental reform ideas but perceived as a machiavellian puppet master whose character is recognized in too many political histories.

This turmoil, which will continue to evolve through the next week, brings back to mind how small is England, and how much smaller it has become with today’s communication structures. The spirit of the people lives on from Hogarth sketching the depravity of his day in Odiham to Sunday when the ‘Led by Donkeys’ campaign truck parked outside of Cummings’ residence in Islington, the screen showing on repeat the TV footage of Boris reminding, urging, then thanking, the people of this great country who stayed at home. Disrespect can easily lead to mutiny.

But when we can look beyond this government for a moment, the unnecessary pain they have inflicted and towards a bigger picture we can take some comfort and resolve from a billboard high up in Piccadilly Circus where our captured Queen is pictured. Steadfast as always she is telling us that one day we will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again; we will meet again.

A Message from Her Majesty


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







Boris is Back

The virus, politics, shopping and the park are the sharp points on our compass as we enter week six of lockdown in London. The number of recorded UK hospital deaths from Covid-19 has climbed beyond 21,000. If the death toll in care-homes, Hospice centers and communities are included that number will reach over 40,000.

On Monday Boris Johnson returned to Parliament. Striding to the podium outside number 10 Downing Street to give his ‘Hello I’m back. Well done everybody.” speech before reminding us all that this is the time to hold steady to achieve the five key points that the government has laid out: the death rate falling; the NHS protected (whatever that means); the rate of diagnosed new cases per day to be less than 1%; the government sorting out the challenges of testing; and Personal Protective Equipment (A total blotched job up to date) to thus avoid a second peak. Can he get all this, with some of the Conservative Party nipping at his heels to get the economy and business open as usual, before restrictions are lifted.

We watched Johnson to see if he is changed. Has there been a metamorphosis to a kinder, clearer and marginally more honest Prime Minister? I hold my hopes but know I have been wrong many times before. Johnson promised more transparency to the ‘People of the British Public’ But one could ask, why should that promise have been necessary?

Sunday mornings Political Commentary program with Andrew Marr is a ritual in this household as it is across the country. Sitting on the sofa in front of the television screen we share a late Sunday breakfast with approximately two million viewers. Andrew Marr is settling into a routine with fewer guests live in the studio and others on Skype or with a camera crew in not so close range at their homes. The program is lengthened to 90 minutes, which meant another pot of coffee with breakfast. There is a change, a shift in the questions, answers and banter back and forth. Dominic Raab the deputy Prime Minister refused to get riled by Marr, repeating, “You are absolutely right Andrew” at least 5 times after I started counting, leaving Marr with not so long a lance with which to prick his opponent. As Marr questioned the Leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, and Germany’s Andreas Michaelis, his attempts to pit one country against another failed. Many European and world leaders are presenting a united front acknowledging the different difficulties each country faces. Talking with our family in the Netherlands, who in turn talk with their friends from Sweden, we know that every government is being taken to task for the things they have failed to do.

Luckily Spring carries on with and without us. Cherry trees that were full of blossoms in early March quickly faded away as the winds took hold and blew us into April where the promised showers have only just arrived. Now it is the sturdy Chestnut trees turn to unfurl their white and red flowers before us.

Horse Chestnut Blossoms

The city air is so clear we can smell the spring. The Cowslips, Elderberry and Hawthorn are as intoxicating in the park as they would be in the country lanes of my childhood. Walking to and from the bike racks I pass both a Robin and Blackbird nest in the grassy scrub land left for them. Over the weekend the bike check in booths are changed. Circles are painted onto the pavement, ‘Stay this far apart.’ Credit cards are to be tapped onto the screen, no more punching numbers with your grubby fingers.

For another period of time, shops deemed non-essential, restaurants and pubs all remain closed. Our local grocery and essential shops that are open have become inventive. Last year the Indian News Agents at one end of the High Street rebranded itself as ‘Primrose Corner’ and began a long battle with Shepards, the Arab-run deli at the other end of the village. Now, despite the higher prices more people are choosing to shop close to home and the battle for customers has heated up. The tiny aisles at both shops are crammed full of boxes to be unpacked and shelved. Two English run shops have closed and may never open the same way again.

Spilling out of La Petite Poissonerie

On a tiny corner of Gloucester Avenue, at 75A, M Rascle the owner of La Petite Poissonerie has also gone the extra mile to bring his customers more than ‘Fish on Fridays’. Fresh fruit and vegetables overflow from his boxes on the pavement while bags of pastas, loaves of fresh bread, and all things French, cram the little space inside, leaving us close to the glistening fish, if not to each other. The queue here stretches around the corner, and in a mutual symbiotic relationship with the Primrose Bakery at number 69, the lines blend from one shop to another and so before our eyes we can see how a new community corner is born.

Social distancing in the queue at La Petite Poissonerie


A Month in Lockdown London

A month in Lockdown London

Early morning walkers are wrapped up warmly against the nipping wind that dances below the sun and tosses infrequent April showers across the country. The warm winter has brought green aphids out to suck on my roses. Every morning I brush them off and say thank you to the ants who are trying to devour them as quickly as they appear.

Walking past our local supermarket, the wind added to the chill of watching the long line of one-person one-cart each distanced apart, shuffling along the wall around to the waiting guard at the store’s entrance. It still feels too dangerous to shop there and not all right to ask someone to go for us. So we stay close to home shopping in the village and getting used to doing without the simplest things. It has been two weeks since I saw Philadelphia creme cheese in the dairy cooler. This week there is no mayonnaise and I pluck the last bag of risotto rice from the shelf.

Listening to the daily news bulletins from the government it is clear that they are not ‘telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’

Health care workers, transport, postal, delivery and essential service personnel are becoming increasingly distrustful of, and frustrated by, the government. There are no state governors here to overturn and bring clarity to the federal shambles. The major of London, Sadiq Khan, the son of a bus driver, needs union pressure to catch up, trying to make all transport workers safer and promote the use of face masks for public places where the correct social distancing cannot be kept. His frustration is palpable on the news clips where he is seen. Since before the weekend a shipment from Turkey of Personal Protection Equipment for medical personnel had been promised. Today we learn that it was only officially asked for on Sunday! and is now due (again) to arrive today. Turkey – the country once demonized to help win the Brexit vote.

Beech Tree in the Wilderness of Regent’s Park

This is week four of our London shelter in place and the government has decreed at least three more weeks. But over this weekend with the Spring sun shining and the air warm, there was a casual feeling from people that this will not affect them. We walked through a wilderness area of Regent’s Park, where couples and families were picnicking under the trees, hanging out where old London tramps like to make their camps. Impromptu soccer games were played, though the goal posts and nets are all put to one side of the pitches. Hardly anyone was wearing masks but we were. The last of our table napkins have been turned into masks. A bag on the front door holds more fresh napkins from friends. They are waiting, cocooned like caterpillars to metamorphose into white butterfly masks.

From Table napkins to Face masks Photo by WSM

Mr Habtu works for Addison Lee the car hire firm. His hours are rough and spontaneous and he is still working. Who are the people who need his services? He has a wife and three growing boys to support. Every time I see him drive away I worry more than a little and yet am grateful for him that he has a job, is able to work and provide for his family.

This morning another book arrived through the letter box. ‘The Great Influenza’. Written by John M. Barry published in 2004 and picked up as one of the three books by G.W. Bush as a vacation read in 2005.

On opening it up I am immediately caught and it looks like Thomas Cromwell’s death in ‘The Mirror and the Light’ may have to wait a little longer. Glancing through The Great Influenza I am stopped by the end. Though one is not supposed to quote from books the two concluding paragraphs bear repeating at this moment in time.

“Those in Authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first and best. A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.”

And there is hope in the world as we read of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand managing her country through this crisis followed by the delicious news that the governments of Poland and Denmark are refusing to give financial aid to companies that are registered off shore.

Primrose Hill is embraced on three sides by The Regent’s Park, the Canal and then the railway heading away from the city center. Walking home through the park we paused on the bridge over the canal. In these last few weeks the canal water has become so clear that the shallow bottom was visible. The sunlight was strong and sparkled through the trees while the ducks flew in pairs along its path. Such is the stillness of the air that for the first time in twenty years we can hear the trains clatter quietly by – leaving us all behind.

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

Easter Weekend 2020

Easter Weekend in London brings news and time for reflection.

Some days swirl by in a non-specific haze, leading to a confusion of thought, and a seeming inability to get anything done, so that the by day’s end one wonders what did actually happen. Like older relatives and parents who cut out articles from the newspapers and mailed them to us, we now swap internet links and stories. “I thought you might be interested in …” and we often are.

Thomas arrived for my birthday. He had been hinted at, noted, ordered from our local book shop and was wrapped up to serve beside a pot of coffee for breakfast.

Thomas at Breakfast

Hilary Mantel’s “The Mirror and the Light” brings Thomas Cromwell’s life to an end. For three days and nights I managed to resist him, continuing to read an evening chapter from “Jock of the Bushveld” an old favorite book of my mother’s.

But before even a week was over, I had picked up the hefty tome of 880 pages. I said (to myself) “I’ll just take a peek”, as if “I’ll just go for a drink with him. It’s nothing. I can get up and leave whenever I want.” But now Jock is laid aside, and Thomas has my heart and mind. I love him, more than a little bit, and am infinitely in awe of and grateful to Hilary Mantel. I am not alone. Others I know read him in this gifted time of solitude. We will go with him to his end and close the book with sadness.

When Susan Sontag published ‘The Volcano Lover’ in 1992, she went on her book tour. I was fascinated with the history and had lots of questions prepared for speaking with her at KPFA, Pacifica. But as the conversation relaxed and drew to a close, I asked about living alone in New York City. “Are you ever lonely?” “How could I be,” she responded. “I have two thousand years of history in my library.”

Here in London we both have small libraries crammed full of books that we cherish. We are both re-readers, I returning to history while he explores science. Though I’m a one-at-a-time gal there are at least seven books piled behind “The Mirror and the Light”.

My father would have been in his 70’s when I was first old enough to become conscious of his reading habit. And for him, too, this age was a time of re-reading books that he welcomed back into his life as long lost friends.

Saturday morning began in the new quiet, but by noon a helicopter began to circle overhead. There is no Prince traveling from one palace to another, and the air ambulance is hardly needed now that the London streets are almost empty of traffic. This is the police, boys with their toys, circling Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park looking for those, oh no, sunbathers and loiterers. Later, when we take our walk a police patrol car is cruising The Broad Walk. They are not walking to give a face to their presence, nor even on horseback when I might get lucky with a bag full of droppings for the compost pile.

The evening news program brings the government representatives out to the podiums with their daily bulletins. Mathew Hancock, Minister for Health, speaks his coverup nonsense “Maybe the NHS are hoarding gowns and masks which is why there is a shortage.” Priti Patel, the Home Secretary says, as one does when knowing there is a need for an apology but not ready to give ground, “I’m sorry the situation makes you feel that way.” As of this writing 8 national health doctors – all of them UK immigrants – have died. The number of nurses to have died is unknown. Today at over 11,000 deaths, England is set to overtake Italy in the number of Covid-19 deaths.

On Easter Sunday morning, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from St. Thomas’s Hospital and driven to Chequers, the country seat of the current Prime Minister. Whatever one feels about this Prime Minister we are grateful that one more life has been saved. And so is he, giving public thanks to the nurses who cared for him; particularly Ward Sister Jenny McGee, from New Zealand and Staff Nurse Luis Pitarma from Portugal – again – immigrants.

Easter Sunday is when some look for a miracle. Not necessarily the one of a life returned, but possibly of the recognition in this moment of gratitude by the Prime Minister, for the nurses, doctors and all staff working in the health service. Doctors may cure but it is the nurses and hospital staff that keep us alive.

Old into New – again

A strange part of all of this is trying to accept that my job is to be out of the way, not on the ‘front line’ – not helping. But what to do? what is next? The table napkins are next, the first one already torn and sewn to make a face mask. I take up a needle and mother’s cotton threads while listening to history unfold itself again.

I bow my head over the work as a gentlewoman would in the Tudor time of King Henry and his Lord Privy Seal, Sir Thomas Cromwell.

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

Keeping Calm in London Town

“You ol rite?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Not coughin’?”
“No Maddy, not coughing.”
And Maddy gives me a thumbs up sign before she scurries away to catch an overland train to Battersea and visit her ailing mother.

Thank you Zine

“Do you need anything? Can I shop for you?”
“Thank you Sinder. We are ok at the moment.”
A note is slipped through the letterbox from Zine our neighbor at # 37. “… I would be most happy to help”.
“Aggie, Aggie.” Mr Habto has returned from his early morning taxi run and is standing by his cab. 

“Anything we can do to help. Please let us know. Knock on the door or leave a note.”
Maddy is probably London born and bred, Sinder is Hindu, Zine is from Eastern Europe, and Mr Habto a Coptic Christian from Africa. This is the mix of the little community at the bottom of our street. They all have families to care for and yet are finding moments to be watchful over us. We have become the “old folks” on the street. Thus neighbour cares for neighbour in our little corner of London. And we are grateful.

It is Sunday afternoon. The sun will not come out again today. The wind is blowing and the raindrops seem hesitant and unsure where to fall. Families are walking home from their ‘fresh air and exercise’ moment in the park. Football games are still scrubbing along in the mud. White shorts are streaked with brown, hair is windblown and there is quiet laughter coming across the pitches from the players. Out there – the city, London, – is very quiet.

Boris Johnson and his lieutenants appear very old school serious as they stride to the podiums set up in the State dining room at Number 10 Downing Street, while trying to cover up the fact that Number 19 Coronavirus may be beyond their abilities. This may be the first time in his life that Johnson gets really serious, and not everyone is convinced he knows how to do that. We can only hope that he might in fact be growing into the role of Prime Minister and treating this with all with the gravitas it deserves. One does suspect that upsetting the populace is as an important part of the equation as is protecting the insurance companies. Another supposition is that this is seen, by Johnson at least, as his Churchill moment. One can be grateful though that he has these two lieutenants: England’s Chief Scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty by his side. Whitty, or is it Vallance, produced graphs on a large board and pointed away so that the journalists in the room, sitting as close together as ever, could understand what was trying to be accomplished and then relay that information to us, the presumably less well-educated public. Vallance and Whitty are both, in their English way, considerably more competent than the school-yard gang that surrounds Donald across the water.

Daily updates from the government will now to come from Number 10 Downing Street as the situation changes every twelve hours with more confirmed cases and deaths. Johnson and his team are putting some guidelines in place while they wait to come down with a heavy hand. It’s a gamble for sure. Health Secretary, Matthew Hancock, sputtered and muttered on the Andrew Marr Sunday morning show about ‘Doing everything we can and self-isolation’. Manufacturers have an opportunity to make millions of Pounds Stirling and ventilators. “Other countries in the world will be needing them too.” Mostly though it is businesses, sports centers and banks (!) that are leading the way, encouraging working from home, cancelling big matches (though not the Cheltenham Race meet last week), and encouraging self-isolation.

And now, on Monday morning, there are more shutters coming down. Museums have already closed, special openings have been postponed, and the British Film Institute team all work from home, strategizing what this means for the film industry in England. We withdraw too, canceling lunch dates with friends and family. Being well over a certain age, 70, we are all ‘vulnerable.’ and many of us have at least one strike hitting our general health. We are being encouraged to self-isolate. What will happen then to the organizations run primarily by older volunteers who serve their communities? As I write an email comes through from one such trusted leader: ‘The Library is closed for the foreseeable future’. What will happen to those books? Sitting on their shelves so lonely and unread. Theatres, cinemas, concert halls, hotels and restaurants are all growing dark as their lights dim. Today all religious leaders united in asking their followers to pray at home.

Hand sanitizers are out and visible – where they are available. Otherwise it is serious and constant hand washing – by those who do that sort of thing. Shop-keepers and checkout folks wear rubber gloves to handle the £ coming in. And £s are rolling into supermarkets as folks panic buy and buy. That may have begun to calm down now with ‘assurances’ that the stores have enough of what we need stock-piled somewhere. This morning the pharmacy was full even as folks tried to stay apart from each other. The doctor’s office is closed with a notice on the door saying that appointments will be by phone for the near future! The local Deli and other coffee shops on the street are almost empty. Can they hold on for those over-70s for whom a little sandwich at the coffee shop is their main meal?

Daffodils from Taghi A’s Morning walk

We are grateful for the Hill and Regent’s Park where we can walk in isolation. Wild primroses rise from the soil to shine close to the ground. The daffodils are reaching their peak, staying upright through the foul weather of the last weeks. But the plum and pear trees lining the street are beginning to loosen their soft blooms and whisper in the breeze for us to keep heart. Our Robin Red Breast hops down to check my worm count as I work in the little garden. She too tells me to let the warming soil soothe my soul.

Primrose in St. Mark’s Church garden Wall. Photo WSM

‘Our’ Robin checking my work