November Light

Written and produced by Muriel Murch. Recorded by Walter Murch

November has closed in and daylight already slips away before tea time leading into the long evenings. For amusement, we watched our new prime minister and cabinet ministers dance a Scottish highland eight-some reel as partners were swung about, changed, and reunited as fast as the fiddler could play. But a Prince who has become the King rehearsed more than dancing in his beloved Scotland. When the past Prime Minister, Liz Truss ‘recommended’ that the King not go to the COP 27 Climate summit in Egypt he bowed to her will and – as the dance partners changed once more, the New Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, appeared too busy to go. So King Charles drew up an invitation to a reception, more commonly known as a ‘drinks party’ for world leaders to drop in at Buckingham Palace on their way to Egypt where our new prime minister would address them, before packing his bags, and joining the caravan to Egypt. It was a masterstroke of Diplomacy. It might have helped if Rishi did not look like a happy puppy seeing his master come home, but he showed that – at least on the face of it – his government has one eye on climate change. Rishi did not stay long and the conference ended late, finally promising some financial help to those countries worst hit by climate change. This is not enough and there was no real resolution on curbing Co2 emissions. We remain in danger.

King Charles greats Prime Minister Sunak

Struggling to remain relevant, Sir Keir Starmer announced that if he became Prime Minister he would abolish the House of Lords to ‘restore trust in politics’. With so many Tory ministers in the House of Commons having a spot of bother with the press, this may not be that effective. And he may be too late as Peers from the House of Lords have joined members of the House of Commons all hedging their bets. In 2016 only 47 MPs held an Irish passport. By the end of 2022, there are 321 of them. Our ruling class seems to be keen to remain in Europe. 

We watched the American Mid-term elections with trepidation and the physical attack on Paul Pelosi at home in San Francisco holds only two degrees of separation for us. But Mark Kelly won in Arizona and what we feared would become a miscarriage turned into – as one young friend called it – a little mid-monthly-term spotting. But as we see money amassed to be traded for power and the children who hold it become so willful and petulant, it is a warning that this American child called Democracy is as fragile as in any other country.

Mid-November saw us in Poland where Walter gave the first outing of his presentation on the Golden Ratio in the Cinematic Frame to an international conference of Cinematographers. And they took it well. Toruñ is an old city, a two-and-a-half-hour drive North-west from Warsaw and only a hundred miles from the borders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. I was sobered at them all breathing the same cold air as Poland. The Polish men, young and middle-aged, are stoic and handsome – not yet fat with excess – they look as if they could be artists or soldiers – preparing for another war.  

The first afternoon I left the hotel for a mid-afternoon stroll and at 2 p.m. the grey day was already receding. Walking along the towpath by the River Vistula, little white pieces of flotsam kept pace with me, bobbing in and out of the whirlpool eddies. The river is fat, wide, and brown as if grumbling from the mud below. The bridges that span across it are sturdy and utilitarian. There has been no money to spend on beauty. Under the bridge, back up into a small park, rests an old war-lookout bunker with its slotted windows. There is graffiti on the bricks and a homeless man had parked his belongings beside it in the long grass.

Copernicus’ house in Poland

The final morning was free and we set out walking to Copernicus’ house – as one does – which is now a museum to the study of the stars, mathematics, and medieval life complete with a hand spindle for spinning wool. Along the small cobbled street, we were approached by a young mother and her not-yet-teenage daughter. With her broken English, she showed us the map on her cellphone written in Ukrainian. She was anxious, and lost, not wanting to be late for a job interview. She is a refugee here as the old enemies of Poland and Ukraine unite, sharing the same fears and foes – of Russia. After touring Copernicus’s medieval mathematics we came back onto the cobblestone street and drifted over to the beautiful, small chocolate shop. An old van was parked outside with its doors propped open. Tree branches, wire, and tools were strewn on the pavement as two well-wrapped-up gentlemen began to dress the shop window for Christmas and winter. The shop owner was holding their ladder steady, and, no doubt sharing her directions. On such a dark afternoon this promise of light, which will stay until spring, is comforting.

The train traveled fast through the French Countryside and for Thanksgiving, we go home to where the heart is joining our daughter’s young family in Utrecht. Though we were concerned as that day Argentina had lost to Saudi Arabia 2 to 1 in the World Soccer Tournament being played in Qatar. But a world goal was scored by the team from Iran, everybody’s favorite football to kick around. Iran lost to England 6 to 2 that night but won in respect as they stood silently in solidarity with their country’s women while their national anthem was played. Knowing what could await them and what already might be happening with their families, no one can doubt the raw courage of these young players asking for a freer more democratic country. It is early days yet in the month-long tournament and who knows how far that ball will be kicked down the field. 

Our last afternoon in Utrecht we all walked to the Magic Circus pitched up in the park beside the school. In the late afternoon, we queued outside the small striped tent and single mobile kiosk selling popcorn. The rough benches inside were arranged in a semicircle and it looked like there had been a new expenditure on fifty black plastic chairs. For two hours seven performers from Europe and Argentina, doubled up as spinners of candy floss and flippers of dutch pancakes in the intermission, brought magic to the families in this international city and we carried our smiles with us as we walked home in the dark. Our last evening – hamburgers for supper and then Argentina played Mexico in a game as football should be played. Argentina won 2 – 0.  

Our son-in-law Santi on stage with and then carried off by the Argentine circus performer
Cotton candy tastes just the same ‘says Granny’ and doesn’t stand a chance with this kid.

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

Stuck

Recorded and knit together by WSM

One fine spring day, after Pooh had done his stoutness exercises, he went for a walk in the Thousand Acre Wood. He wondered what his friends were doing and decided to visit Rabbit who often knew the news. Rabbit was rather busy and not expecting visitors, but being a well brought-up Rabbit and not wanting to offend his friend he offered Pooh a snack. And, as can happen with Pooh, and others like him, Pooh ate so much honey – all there was in Rabbit’s jar – that when it was time to leave he got stuck – halfway in and halfway out of Rabbit’s front door. There he had to stay for a week while Rabbit dried his tea-towels over Pooh’s legs and Christopher Robbin read to Pooh outside Rabbit’s front door. Nobody said anything about eating too much, more than one really needed, or minding ones’ manners, thinking of others, or how much honey did Rabbit have in his pot. Eventually, after a week, all of Rabbit’s friends and relations came and with great effort managed to pull Pooh out of Rabbit’s front door where he shook himself off and continued on his walk.  We are never really sure what Pooh learnt as so many of his scrapes are about seeking out pots of honey as well as helping his friends in distress. 

This week, watching the big ship Ever Given lurch and ram sideways into the walls of the Suez canal we can see a little bit of Pooh in all of us. Shipping company cargo ships are like Rabbit’s pots, and at this writing there are 367 more of them lined up waiting to pass through the canal. And the honey – is all the goods not made in our home countries that we crave.

A work crew using excavating equipment tries to dig out the Ever Given wedged across the Suez Canal Photograph: AP

The canal’s history goes back to the time of early Pharaohs with successive kings trying this way and that to open up this trickling passage way between the Red and the Mediterranean Seas. Like the Panama Canal these little streams hold an almost magical power in terms of the world’s global trading systems today. The Suez canal is not very big, a mere 120 miles long, 673 feet wide and allows for a ship draft of 66 feet. And, as David Pilling notes in the Financial Times, the late president of Egypt, Abdel Nasser, would surely allow himself a wry smile, having nationalized the Suez Canal, which prompted the UK, France and Israel to invade Egypt in 1956.

More years ago than I can remember I raised my eyebrows hearing of redwood timber cut in California being shipped to China for milling and then returned to the Pacific Northwest for sale. But now we learn that fish caught in the Scottish waters are frozen, shipped to China for filleting and then returned to the UK supermarket shops as ‘fresh frozen fish’ where they definitely look a little travel-weary.

At the Supermarket in Camden Town

Scottish fish remain in the news as Alex Salmond strikes back at Nicola Sturgeon on Friday with his launch of The Alba Party, which sounds far too white for comfort. Kristy Strickland reports for the Guardian that Alex Salmond (pictured sitting on a wall smiling into the sunshine like an unaware Humpty Dumpty)pitched himself as a man just trying to be helpful while the fact that nobody asked for his help seems to be of little relevance.

Alex on a wall. Getty Images

Strickland goes on, astutely, that the odds are against him but that doesn’t matter. He isn’t driven by a burning desire to win an independence super-majority any more than Boris Johnson was sincere about wanting to free the UK from the ‘shackles’ of the European Union. The stated aim of both men are merely vehicles for their egos and need for relevance. Neither man is known for his care of a woman’s personal space and I get the feeling that if Alex Salmond can squeeze Nicola Sturgeon’s political space in the upcoming Scottish May elections he will take great pleasure in doing so.

Tale of two fishes

What is it with these men? Older, bully boys, with no hint remaining of what made them – a long time ago – considered smart or attractive? Their arenas are in politics, business and the military and they see no other way to be relevant than to be powerful. 

This weekend in Myanmar marked Armed Forces Day, a day to commemorate the beginning of the Army’s resistance to Japanese occupations in World War II. But as the military Chief Min Aung Hlaing watched the military display before holding a lavish dinner party for significant guests from China and Russia, the military increased their attacks on the people of Myanmar killing over 100 in the cities’ streets. Finally other world leaders are calling for a stop to the killing and discussing sanctions. Not that anyone is as yet taking any notice. Sadly Saturday was also the full moon day of Tabaung, the end of Myanmar’s lunar calendar, a day of Buddhist celebration.

As I write the sun is finally shining. Daylight savings has come into effect and as of today six people from two households are allowed to meet together outdoors. European countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands are all in various forms shaking their heads at the United Kingdom’s political maneuvering of the AstraZeneca vaccines. And it is hard not to blame them as this Prime Minister shifts his feet and blame here and there. But Boris always wants to be at the party and has joined the 20 other world leaders whose aim is to cooperate in meeting and dealing with future pandemics. Can England accept a role as just another tugboat? It would be good if that could come to pass.

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