Dear oh Dear

Recorded by WSM edited by MAM
King Charles III greets Prime Minister Sunak

“Dear, oh dear” muttered the new King, Charles III, as he greeted Liz Truss at Buckingham Palace only two weeks ago. The double doors were swung open by a liveried equerry announcing “Prime Minister – Your Majesty”. Ms. Truss bobbed forward to shake hands with the King, and said, ”Your Majesty, great to see you again,” the King smiled as he replied “Back again?” – “Well come along then,” he may have continued – but we missed that bit as, like a patient headmaster, he led the not quite settled in new Prime Minister into another room. Last week – as I began to unpack in Rome – she was back. “Oh dear oh dear.” The King may have said – again.

So Liz Truss was out, holding the seat warm for whoever wanted her place. There were only three takers for the open seating plan at Number Ten Downing Street, and they were not sitting in the stalls. Boris Johnson immediately flew back from his holiday in the Caribbean – reportedly booed as he got on the plane. Rishi Sunak got busy on his phone, emails, or in the tea rooms. Only Penny Mordaunt was seen in the halls of Westminster, looking strong, sensible, and even a little tough. She made me wonder what a woman like her could do if the men in Parliament really backed her. But these men are not the backing kind. 

The country was in an uproar as the disaster of Truss’s short-stay-to-let was seen but not averted. Clusters of shoppers were shown tut-tutting at the country markets – always the prettiest picture – as parliamentary plotting – all perfectly legal – continued. A candidate had to have at least 100 Conservative votes to make the ballot for the role of Prime Minister and by the deadline of 2 p.m. on Monday Rishi had 182. Penny conceded at 1.58 p.m. Boris, like a cornered bear, threw in his towel, and lumbered away on Sunday night, declaring ‘this is not the right time’. Let us hope history is remembered and it never becomes his right time again. Sunak was educated at Winchester College, not Eton, and like Avis, it can be hoped that he will ‘try harder’. 

The autumn temperature drops day by day and the leaves fall from the London trees only just faster than the Conservative cabinet ministers gathering their pens and papers as they scuttle out of their seats.

In our corner of London the cool morning air smells of sweet ripe apples, from a box of them set out by a neighbor when she returns from her country retreat. I make apple sauce that is as perfect as Bramley apples give before we go to Europe: first to Utrecht with family and an end-of-summer outdoor birthday party, then onto Paris to be with friends. Paris sparkles with the first crispness of autumn sunlight and delight, the streets and buildings shine as they brush off the stale air of summer and the lingerings of Covid. People are cautious and sensible as they move through the streets, mindful of the effects of the Ukrainian war on fuel supplies and costs. The city seems hopeful, bordering on contentment. A restaurant owner brings out a jar of truffles he has just acquired and we laugh in happy expectation of his fine omelets. We are here in the autumn of our lives, cherishing it, for we know our winter is near.

Fresh Truffles in Paris

And then it is onto Rome for their Film Festival, showing William Kentridge’s ‘Self Portrait as a Coffee Pot’. We are driven from the airport through the back streets into bulging traffic leading to the Tiber River and the city beyond looking weary, beaten down by the effects of the Covid pandemic. A bad garbage strike after the summer’s heat has left the big street bins battered and tainted with pigeon residue. Finally, we reach The Eden Hotel and from our terraced window we look down on a Rome that doesn’t seem so bruised. Lying in the marble bath at dusk I watch the bats wake up and zoom out from under the tile roof just above me to the park below.

Old and new friends in Roma; Noah, Linda, Aggie, Franca, Walter, Conrad, Laura

It takes a day – and we only had two – to breathe in the air of this city which I had come to terms with 24 years ago when I joined Walter on location. On our last evening, walking with friends after dinner we passed by an alleyway I remembered. Then, in a store window, three or four prepubescent girls sat cross-legged under a single light bulb. Old Persian rugs hung behind the girls, and their heads were bent low over their hands which were busy, stitching, weaving threads through old worn carpets. 

The day we leave, our driver is a woman and I am grateful to see this small step forward for equality in Rome. The road she took out of the city twists and turns and we crossed the river three times. The small riverside shrubs of 24 years ago have grown to trees but still the Tiber moves fast. They say a body tossed into the river is never found.  As we left the ancients – looking worn in the grey light – we drove up through the graffiti-clad outskirts of the city. The colors were dusty as they lay scrawled over the lower apartments of these almost middle-class neighborhoods, pulling them down as if in anger that the slums cannot rise but only spread. 

The flight to London was full and it was not until we landed and were ready to go through UK passport control that I stopped to use the facilities. There was a poster on the stall door; a young man’s face peering out from a confusion – of a woman’s hand, a car window, and lights, with the words ’Can you see me?’ ‘Slavery Still Exists’. On the way home, amidst catching the stealth movements of our politicians, I thought of those young girls sitting in the shop window and wondered what became of them in the ancient world that is Rome. 

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

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