Step Right This Way

Step right this way – 

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

And we are back in Belarus. On Sunday when the journalist Roman Protasevich boarded a plane in Greece, he was already nervous, texting back to colleagues that he believed someone was following him. The plane was under an hour away from Vilnius in Lithuania when the announcement came, “This is your captain speaking. We have received information of a possible bomb on board and are to be diverted to Minsk”. As a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet, ordered by President Lukashenko, came alongside to escort the Ryanair plane to Minsk, Roman and his girlfriend must have really felt fear. Passengers were taken off the plane, claiming their luggage laid out across the tarmac as the charade continued. But it was Roman Protasevich who was the luggage to be collected by the two Belarusian secret service men also on board the plane. Protasevich was detained, with his girlfriend, accused of organizing last year’s protests against Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. Ryanair said that the situation had been “out of its hands”. The plane was over Belarusian airspace when it was diverted to Minsk though it was closer to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. 

Here Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, can tut-tut away, grateful that, for this moment at least, we are not a part of the European Union. The US has also joined the tut-tut brigade and most of the responsibility will fall to the slight but firm shoulders of Ursula von der Leyen and the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki who accused Lukashenko of a “reprehensible act of state terrorism”. As of today European flights are no longer flying over Belarusian airspace and Belarusian planes can no longer fly through Europe. That will be a lot of detours. The incident is alternately described as a hijack and/or a criminal offense, (I’m not sure of the difference) but Alexander Lukashenko doesn’t care. He has got his man and thumbed his nose at Europe and the western world at the same time. This must call for a phone call chuckle and a drink with his chum Vladimir Putin. 

There is an English saying, ‘Ash before the oak, in for a soak, oak before the ash, in for a splash’. And so it is proving this May where the Ash tree leaves are already a mature green while the oaks remain delicate and pale. But umbrella raised above the wind and rain we strode out on Sunday, taking the 168 bus down to the the south bank of the river where the wind blew even as the rain stopped. Stepping down to the river from the Waterloo bridge we walked – among people – many still masked – along the banks of Old Father Thames. The river-water was mud-brown with tide hurried wavelets shaking like a dog coming in from a run. The cafes were open, the open-air bookstall up and running outside of the British Film Institute and clean public toilets close by. ‘Spending a Penny’ now costs a pound – no change given. At the bright orange carousel a young man fishes deep into his pockets giving me change for my two pound coin. Someone is making a pretty penny with these necessary facilities.

We walked past the London Eye, looking so huge from the ground, and then under the Westminster Bridge through to the “Wall of Hearts.” Painted on the wall that surrounds St. Thomas’s Hospital it faces the river and the Houses of Parliament. Organized by Matt Fowler, whose father died from the virus, each heart is for another death. To date over 128,000 lives have been lost in the United Kingdom. The 150,000 hearts already painted will be used up soon enough as family members continue to come and write, commemorating the names of their beloveds in all the languages that make up this country.

The Covid Memorial Wall

The wall covers the length of the two old prestigious hospitals Guy’s and St. Thomas’s, now merged as one. Looking high above the wall, there are still old stone arches crumbled and moss-laden leading from the hospital’s beginnings in history through to the buildings of today. May holds Nurses’ Day and I am thinking of Dame Cicely Saunders, who trained here, first as a nurse then as medical social worker and finally as a physician. It was here she pioneered her palliative care treatments before founding St. Christophers Hospice in 1967, expanding to community home care in 1969.

Nurse Saunders and Dame Cicely Saunders

The wall ends bringing us to the Lambeth Bridge and the Lambeth Garden Museum which must wait for another day.

“The BBC is in a dangerous place at the moment, and people like me have a special duty to be careful about what they say,” said Andrew Marr last week. And I can’t even remember what scandal that was about, for now an old chestnut has come back to haunt them. 

After 25 years an inquiry has finally been completed into the Martin Bashir 1995 panorama interview with Princess Diana. And this week Prince William spoke publicly. His comments almost bypassing Bashir, going straight to the jugular of the BBC. He called for them to never air the program again and blasted the BBC top brass for presiding over a “cover-up”, rather than lay the blame squarely with rogue reporter Martin Bashir who used fake bank statements to falsely claim Diana’s inner circle were selling information on her to the press. Heads have already begun to roll with resignations here and there. No doubt this will lead to another inquiry, but it will have to wait in line as there are many files already stacked in the constipated bowels of Westminster.

Palace of Westminster UK Parliment from across the river

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

A Bumpy Road Ahead

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

So speaks Michael Gove, Minister of the Cabinet. Still not sure what that is  – but not so bumpy for the young masked bandit who whizzed through the cul-de-sac on his mid-morning errand with a delivery on the hill. Dressed completely in black, one could say against the cold, the lad stood on his pedals as he hopped his bike over the curbs and up this street to find his assigned buyer. Another game of cops and robbers plays out but without the cops anywhere in sight. The Primrose Hill park is to be closed from 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve through to 5 a.m. New Year’s Day. An effort to prevent a bumpy jolt into the New Year. 

But the continental truckers and haulers have not been so lucky – some managed to get home for Christmas while over 600 were stuck in their lorries on the Kent motorway heading into Dover. Naturally, the army was called in, to calm the frustration and rising rage while conducting tests on drivers for what is now dubbed ‘The English Virus.’ Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, says that “Things are Moving” – though not what you might call ‘up to speed’. Once the tests come back negative, then drivers are allowed to travel on to France. But some will still be waiting as the New Year arrives, along with all the ‘new’ paperwork that comes into effect next Thursday. 

There is much talk of the Astra Zeneca Vaccine from Oxford being ready to roll off the assembly line and into the hospitals and GP offices as early as next week, but why oh why am I not holding my breath on this? 

Like many people who are unable to visit with our families, we have been saved from total isolation by Skype and Zoom. This weekend saw us Zooming with our families from California to Utrecht, Face-timing with friends and then a Skype visit with an older cousin in South Africa. While talking with Ian I sunk into a deeper understanding of the global reach of this pandemic for our generation. 

“What do you do?”

“Well not very much Ann. We go to the market once a week and going out for our Christmas meal was an exception.” He was saying what everyone we know of our age is saying. We are all staying at home, slipping out for the necessary shopping only when we must – and we are among the lucky ones. 

The Brexit deal was finalized on Christmas Eve and the British ministers handed a 1500 page ‘memo’, to read during the holiday break before Parliament reconvenes in January. Prime Minister Johnson suggested reading it after Christmas lunch. ‘Unbelievable’ is the word I have used far too often this year. Here is another off-hand move by Boris Johnson and his cronies to put one over on the government and the people. It is blatant school-house bully-boy tactics, giving an impossible task, and – I am at a loss for words to describe it all. And maybe that is the point – that we fold, in some apathetic despair. 

And the fishermen and women? Ah well, they have been pushed downriver, and out with the tide, a knotty problem to be revisited in five more years. The draft agreement stating that: “Sovereign rights being asserted on both sides for both the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the living resources in their water,” sounds like a load of old herring to me.

But when listening to Ursula von der Leyen give her closing speech at the end of it all, I wanted to weep for the sheer civility of her words. Europe may well be able to leave Brexit behind, but England will be left cleaning out the slops for long time to come.

News from other parts of the world has taken a back seat during this Christmas holiday break. It is hard to learn what is happening in Belarus and Poland. But news did come through that Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer and citizen journalist who was arrested in May while reporting from Wuhan, has been sentenced to four years in jail for “provoking trouble”. She is among a handful of young dissidents – if you like – voices if you prefer – who are being punished for speaking out, sharing the information they have been given with the world. 10 or the 12 young refugees fleeing to Taiwan are also up for trial, with a forgone conclusion as China uses a heavy hand to keep control of information and news leaking from its shores.

The throngs of people, families, friends gathered together, mostly unmasked, all walking up the Broadwalk though the park on Sunday, shocked and stunned us as we swung onto a path less traveled to see the architecture of 200 years ago through the bare branches of the trees lining the outer circle of the park.

But along the Broadwalk is another tale. This autumn there were no shining brown conkers falling from the Horse Chestnut trees for children to pick up and stuff into their pockets. And then, one day, the first tree was felled, its thick branches lying executed on the grass beside the trunk which still stands. A few wood chips told of the machines crushing the smaller branches. First found in the trees in 2002, the little moth, Cameraria Ohridella and its even tinier caterpillars dig and eat into the leaves, slowly starving the trees and turning them brown as if autumn has come too soon. Such slow decay, one death feeding another life, cannot be tolerated in the pristine Royal Parks. In the New Year the machines and men will be back at their work, putting old friends out of their misery, and making way for the new.

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

Losing

Recorded and Knit together by WSM


Late afternoon becomes early evening with the December drizzle falling softly as I turn from Marylebone High Street onto George Street on Saturday afternoon. Sitting and rocking on the ground outside of the metal railings surrounding St. James’ Roman Catholic Church, sits a woman. I have seen her here before. Reaching into my pocket I check, that yes I do have some coins ready and waiting. As I bend to give into her old paper coffee-cup she beams up at me with such an engaging, albeit tooth-shy, smile that we talk.

“Do you have somewhere to sleep?”
“Ooh yes they are very good to me, I am so grateful. But I do have to buy my own food.” We talk some more about accommodation at this time and then I ask her,
“Where are you from?” and have to ask her to repeat herself.
“Russia. I am from Russia, then I spent several years in Switzerland but they let me come back here and I am (she repeats) so grateful.”

She is smiling all the time, and rocking from side to side and I wonder at her story. So many Eastern European women came to Great Britain, and America, looking for a refuge, a better life an escape from what? I wondered. They were all working women in one way or another. Some got lucky, were successful if you like, such as Melania Trump who started life as Melanija Knavs of Yugoslavia, then Slovenia, and finally, at the moment, the United States of America. While some, like this smiling lady sitting on the pavement outside of a Catholic church in the soft rain and evening light, were not. But she looks like she will make it through the winter, though you never know.

It was only sixteen months ago that David Cornwall, John le Carré, was sitting beside me at the theater for a friends and family screening of Coup 53. It was wonderful that he came to see the film, understood so clearly the behavior and involvement of MI6 and the CIA in the take-down of Mohammad Mosaddegh. His understanding and wholehearted approval of the film led to him giving the team his total support and some wry comments of what to watch out for: “You have no idea how deep they will go.” In the subsequent months his remarks proving remarkably true. But as well as government coups, we talked of grand-children and the new best next love affairs in our lives. The news of his death on Sunday came like the news of a friends death and in the outpouring of tributes to him, so many said the same. His joy in writing was evident on every page. His literary skills were honed like a fine musician playing his instrument: piano, saxophone, violin or words on paper.

Photograph: Rob Judges/Rex/Shutterstock

On Sunday, over a dinner of scallops and turbot, discussions between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen took place in Brussels. They were described as ‘lively and frank’ in one paper and Johnson as unbelievably arrogant in another report found on Twitter, that did not make it to the papers. But Ursula held her ground against Boris and after his incredible outburst of rudeness the turbot was dispatched quietly and quickly. It doesn’t sound as if desert was on the menu. There were ten minutes of discussion after supper, some separate statements were sent out, “Very large gaps” are said to remain between the two sides, according to a No 10 source. Von der Leyen said the two sides’ positions “remain far apart” and that their teams will reconvene to try to resolve issues: and then it was away and back to their rooms. Was it Saturday that Boris suggested bringing in the Royal navy to patrol the UK Waters, and Ursula had spoken with a subdued but visible smile of the UK’s wish for “Sovereignty, if you like’ and by Sunday, when the discussions were supposed to stop, both sides had agreed to carry on.

Johnson was not happy when blocked from talking with Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron, as he tried to weasel his way around from meeting with Ursula. Ursula, as head of the European commission, has done a fine job of herding cats, as in twenty-seven nations, to one agreement. After the Sunday phone call exchange, “I’ll call you,” the EU and UK have promised to go the extra mile. Johnson seems at a loss with this strong and immaculately turned-out attractive woman. It is hard to separate the personal man from the political and when he did put forward sending the navy out to protect British waters, the public embarrassment crosses generations and classes. In past interviews Le Carré has spoken of his time as a teacher at Eton School.

“What you have to understand about the Etonian is that he is not taught to govern, he is is taught to win.” And as Malaparte has said, “Everyone would like to win but not everyone is capable of losing.”

Meanwhile the COVID-19 vaccines are beginning to be given in England. The few pictures of seniors in wheelchairs may be cheerful but are not yet reassuring. London and large parts of the North of England are heading back into the Tier 3 restrictions this week and it looks like there are rough waters ahead. Health Secretary Matt Hancock asks for caution when doing what we have all been promised we can do, travel to visit family. Winnie the Pooh’s bouncing Tiger has turned to a sad Eeyore and understandably so.

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