Classroom Chaos to Lockdown

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Classed as a vulnerable senior, I was muddled as to where and when I could shop. But all that is clear now. A total lockdown has been announced across the United Kingdom lasting through to March. Thanks in part to pressure from the Teachers’ Unions that weighed in alongside the scientific community and made the government sit down and listen. As another, even more, virulent strain of the COVID-19 virus arrived from South Africa, the health minister Matt Hancock said ‘things are about to get harsh and complicated.’ and I’m almost feeling sorry for him. The view of the bumpy road has now become seriously clear. There are potholes of bankruptcy, illness, and death ahead.

Along with the national lockdown comes the news of the first Astra Zeneca vaccine being administered in Oxford. This, added to the Pfizer vaccine, is being delivered to care-homes, hospitals and doctor’s offices. Now it needs to get out to the public quickly. There is a tier system set in place and the beginning of a plan to administer the vaccine that could see the United Kingdom relatively safe, for the moment.

It was clear, as the Prime Minister began the New Year on Andrew Marr’s Sunday political program, each jousting with the other, that the Prime Minister had not done his homework of reading the June report that all of this – mutations of the virus strain, rising cases, and death tolls – was bound to happen this winter. Figures seem to be difficult for Boris and the absence of preparedness, one suspects, a life-long trait. That darn dog is always eating his homework. The BBC has to be a bit careful, so Andrew had to mind a P and a Q. But the director of the show has, I believe, a strong impulse to buck his traces and more than once showed a full-shot rear-view image of Boris at the round table. For a moment we were spared the frontal head of hair but now we see the look goes from top to tail and there are bare legs under rumpled sagging socks. It is a look that when Boris utters the words, “Believe me,” my response is immediately: ‘No’.

This week also brings up the case of the extradition of Julian Assange to the US. To avoid being sent to Sweden for sexual assault charges, always meaty fodder for the British tabloids, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012. Sweden eventually dropped their charges but the US still wants him for WikiLeaks’s publication of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in 2010 and 2011. Assange has been in British custody since April 2019. His lawyers argued that to send Assange to the US would rewrite the rules of what was permissible to publish in Britain.

“Overnight, it would chill free and open debate about abuses by our own government and by many foreign ones, too.” The judge ruled that the risk of ‘suicide’ should Assange be extradited to the US was high and that he should remain a guest of Her Majesty’s Government.

Which is of interest to journalists and filmmakers alike. Early on this program, you will have heard from Taghi Amirani and Walter Murch about the relaunch of the documentary Coup 53, the story of the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953. Because of Covid, the film was released in 118 cinemas and digitally in August of 2020. There was – to put it politely – a huge outcry from the makers of Granada Television’s ‘End of Empire’ series which aired in the 1980s. Huge. To their immense credit, the Coup 53 team battled on fighting every false mud-sling that was thrown over the film. And good people have stood up beside them which is always reassuring and has made a serious difference to the film’s outcome. 

Which of course then takes us to Donald Trump and Georgia. Where to start with this one? It was unbelievable, that word again, when on the Ten o’clock BBC news we listened to the tape of Trump speaking with the Georgian Secretary of State. 

Seville Oranges, waiting

So where do we go for lighter news, sunshine and comfort? Why to Spain. As every English housewife knows, the only oranges to use for making marmalade are from Seville in Spain. With their rough skins, bounty of pits and high pectin content, they are the only oranges to use. Making marmalade in January is an ancient tradition and ‘older people’ (the youngsters a mere 75) write into the newspapers to say how much they have made this year. My mother made marmalade and now I do too. It is, though I should not say it, the best marmalade I know and, naturally, requires two piece of toast at breakfast rather than just one. 

In June of this year, Isambard Wilkinson reported for The Times on a delicate task that recently fell to the head gardener at the Alcázar royal palace in the southern Spanish city of Seville: Manuel Hurtado, a senior official from the palace confirmed that this was the first year of reintroducing this ancient custom of choosing the oranges for the Queen’s marmalade. This gift, is harvested from the Poets’ Garden and the Marqués de la Vega’s garden, whose trees bear the most and best oranges.”

From The Times. The Alcázar royal Palace and the Marqués de la Vega.

But now what will happen with Brexit? Well, that small little rock of Gibraltar is coming in very handy now. An ‘agreement’ has been reached whereby Spain and England can have congress in Gibraltar, and with that, Parma Ham and Seville Oranges may reach our shores once more.

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

Arrival

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

As I write, the first of the vaccines for the COVID-19 virus are being administered in 70 hospitals throughout the United Kingdom. Margaret Keenan, who will be 91 next week, received the first of the 800,000 doses that have arrived. 40 million doses of the Pfizer/bioNtech vaccine are on order to be delivered to the United Kingdom in the coming weeks.

The vaccines were made by the husband and wife team of Professors Sahin and Özlem Türeci at their German firm BioNTech. Professor Türeci’s father had come to Germany as a refugee from Turkey and found work as a mechanic at the Ford factory. When Sahin was four years old the family followed and the immigrant refugee family settled in Germany.

Last week England came out of lockdown from the Coronavirus while this week much of California enters it. So the virus wings about through the world. The World Health Organization is scrambling to keep the regional information current. Each country and region looks for different ways to combat the virus and it is clear that countries led by women leaders have fared best thus far in their handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. One could argue that those are ‘small countries with manageable numbers’ or one could say ‘those are women who know how to think of more than one thing at a time.’ Other women, in government, or opposition, are also organizing their worlds, fighting back against right-wing oppressive governments. And mostly they do it in tandem or groups: Marta Lempart, a co-founder of Polish Women Strike has been battling the latest anti-abortion laws in her country laid out by the government and the Catholic Church.

Martha Lempart picture from the Financial Times

The team of three Belarusian ladies work together even as they are physically far apart. Patrisse Cullors a co-founder of Black Lives Matter says the obvious, “No movement has one leader. It never did and it never will.” Maybe this is something women understand clearer than men.

Patrisse Cullors

Due as much to science, and the infection numbers coming down as to the Christmas retail needs, London is buzzing again. Shoppers are out in such force in the West End and Knightsbridge that over the weekend four arrests were made outside of the Harrod’s department store, while the crowds of mostly young people, struggled to shop ’til they drop. And some sadly will. Even in our little corner of town, people are shopping, clustering at coffee shops and spending money. I am too, being careful and almost guilt-free in my efforts to support the local economy. But the empty shop windows in the high streets strip the phrase ‘shutting up shop’ of its humor as workers lose their jobs. What is the key to shops staying alive? Beyond getting savvy with the new online way of buying and selling it has to be related to those who own the real estate underneath the buildings. If the rents and taxes can be managed then the shop has a chance to make it through.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak know all this of course and must look to whose bread is to be buttered.

So again I ask, why are the UK and European fishing rights so important when all the seafaring European countries have been dipping their oars and nets into everyone’s waters for centuries, and who, for goodness sake owns all the boats and fleets? It really is a medieval moment, without the costumes. There is a news outlet ‘Unearthed’ that digs into this to the point of making you despair at anyone with a net and a trawler not being a pirate.

As Boris rushed from congratulating 81 year old Lyn Wheeler for getting her vaccine jab at Guy’s Hospital onto his next stop, Brussels, one had to wonder about the UK’s group of small and wealthy elite. Maybe understanding their concerns is the beginning of the answer to defending ‘Our sovereign rights’ as opposed to ‘workers rights’. It is hard to find anyone writing or talking about Off-Shore banking. Those little Islands close by, of Man, Jersey and Guernsey and further afield like Bermuda, that hold the banks that are happy to take your funds and ignore reports for UK taxes. Even as I pay my UK taxes to Her Majesty’s Government I then pay the tax ladies’ bill into their bank in Guernsey! The small and wealthy elite are rushing to come out of the European Union before those EU rules and regulations come snooping into the Islands.

An Obituary in the weekly local Camden Newspaper said of a lady who had died at 103, ‘She used to be a fine cook in her prime.’ It made me pause and wonder what and when is ‘prime’? Cooking is a part of who I am, it is a joy and often an adventure. Someone else wrote, ‘My Kitchen and I work in harmony’ and I know that, as one ingredient or dish of left-overs leads into an old favorite or a new creation to place on the table. Grandma Murch would cook her oatmeal cookies whenever someone came to visit at her home in 1 Vermont Avenue in Toronto. Those cookies, from the old Quaker oatmeal recipe, are the ones I made for our children and now at least one daughter makes them for hers.

Four generations of Quaker Oatmeal Cookies

The Christmas lights are on and the birds have gone to roost. Maybe it is time to pull out that oatmeal cookie recipe once more and put the kettle on as the light fades before tea-time and all is dark outside.

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