The coronation is over, the King and Queen have had their little rest and are now back working; the King shaking hands with ministers and world leaders, and reading those dispatch papers that keep him informed as to who is doing what- and where – while the Queen goes out and about visiting and spreading good cheer as she continues to learn who is doing what in this country. The flags are still flying over the London streets teasing the tourists out to take another picture or two.
The roses are only just beginning to bloom and have not yet pushed spring into summer. The bluebells are fading and the air in London is rich with the attar of cowslips growing in the hedges around the parks and along the canals and rivers. Last week while, walking up alongside of Primrose Hill I saw two vans parked on the same side of the street – back to back with their boot hatches open facing one another. The two men – from street-savvy habit – look up, always conscious of who might be watching, and we catch each other’s eyes. I’m smiling at them and – like fourteen-year-old boys caught smoking at school – they sheepishly grin back. There is an exchange going on. The slightly younger man is holding a plastic fitting, something that could be used in plumbing or electrical works. He seems to have at least a box of them and is proudly showing them to the slightly older man. Both are in their forties and when they were babes such things would appear on the lot of the film studio at Elstree, ‘It fell off of a lorry’ was the phrase for such items. Here in town, lorries are too conspicuous in the city streets and an unmarked white van can disappear quickly into the traffic. The men know that I know – and that I remember such mischief – and am too old to do anything but go on my way. And with another grin exchanged that is what I do.
The newspapers are quieter, looking as they can for other news. Well, there are always wars, and though we have a hard time keeping up with the Ukrainian president as he moves from the front lines of his country’s war to diplomatic meetings and back again, he does keep visible and keep the world informed. Is he luckier – in a sickening sense of that phrase – than the people of Syria with their multi-sided civil war or the Sudan where civilians are killed on a daily basis. Wars continue in what could be called the B column. In the C column, news of the treatments of refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia by the Greek authorities are not even reaching the English papers. The refugees fleeing these wars have made their way from Turkey to Greece only to be captured – by whom – and pushed into vans – driven to launches – taken out to sea and transferred to the Greek coast guard vessels before being set adrift in rubber dinghies. Is this bounty hunting as in ‘I’ll give you so much for an adult, so much for a child’? We are horrified and sickened as we catch glimpses of such cruelty – and yet – it is hard to think of a time or place in ‘civilized history’ where and when this has not been true.
But at home – in England – the Prime Minister is missing. Rishi Sunak and his wife have gone to Japan for the G7 conference where everyone has a chat and so politely says ’After you’ as in ‘if you give Ukraine bombers we will too. If you shake China’s hand – we will too’. All are consumed with the war in Ukraine. Well, almost all, India and the Arab States are keeping a distance from that chat while Volodymyr Zelensky strides about this world stage, clad in his army fatigues moving and talking to anyone and everyone he can. What deals can he cut? A little pilot training here, a couple of fighter jets there. It may not be much but he wouldn’t get any of it without showing up and giving a photo opportunity for the supposed great and good.
While Rishi is away, the little problem of Suella Braverman’s speeding ticket has blown up across the papers. It is almost good for a laugh. Those pesky cameras are everywhere and even with the warnings, ‘speed camera ahead’ one can get careless, and click, click there is your license plate picture in a civil service office and the next thing you know a paper notice comes through the letter box. Then what do you do? Well if you are the Archbishop of Canterbury and you get nicked popping in and out of London you may try to resolve it out of court but accept that, “No your worship – you was speeding – a hot 25 in a 20 mph zone.” He may have muttered some words about the press getting ahold of this one but paid up and accepted the points on his license. But a politician is different and good – not so old – Suella Braverman tried to wiggle out of taking her speeding awareness course within a class. The media spotlight swung quickly onto her – again – and she looks more and more like the most recent hole in the Tory bucket shining light into the murky interior of her political party.
And with Rishi still in Japan, Boris popped back into the news announcing that he and Carrie are expecting another child, bringing this family up to three children trotting along beside the other known five he has begat. What a lovely old word begat is.
But some words are not so lovely – they are hard to pronounce and to say. Nigel and Farage are two such words heard again as he showed up on the news once more to finally admit – ‘Brexit is not working.’ He goes on – that of course it is not Brexit’s fault, but the bureaucratic administration that has got it all wrong. The communist party said the same thing but no one remembers that. What is so terribly sad is how this country cannot yet see itself as a minor player on the world stage, and behave accordingly. Europe has no need of England, but England has great need of Europe and European business, industry, and people.
On Monday evening our plane touched down in Athens Airport, 59 years after we left – not knowing if we would ever see each other again. The drive to the city dips in and out of old memories. Small towns and old olive groves spread out in age, showing dreams made, broken, and reset as the trees are realigned to the country’s fortunes. The scattered sage and scrub are muted in the decaying dusk before we enter the city center where there is not a refugee to be seen. The limousine pulls up beside the hotel, and we are welcomed to Athena. For 24 hours we can disappear into an old marble suite, deep hot baths, and room service before reemerging to work in the world once more.
This has been A Letter From A. Broad. written and produced for you by Muriel Murch.