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. 

January is Gathering Speed

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

What will this week bring for American politics, for England’s Covid vaccination news, and for all of us living in these times?

With Brexit a done deal, opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer is washing his hands of any Brexit redux, leaving the freedom of travel for Europeans and Britons in the hands of the European Union. Sad as it is maybe he is right to let the English people grumble and suffer on with Boris Johnson’s non-deal.

Meanwhile the Covid Vaccine timetable is being rolled out. Health workers are getting vaccinated, the Queen and Prince Philip have been vaccinated, and white-haired seniors can been seen shuffling along in the cold, queuing outside of drafty tents. Minister of the Cabinet, Michael Gove, does admit “Transport for seniors may present a bit of an issue.” All I can think of is bladder control.

The First BioNTech-Pfizer Vaccine given to ninety-year-old grandmother Margaret Keenan. Photo by Jacob King

The stillness is beginning to get oppressive. Though there are still clusters of young people milling around the High Street coffee shops, not yet able to give up on the social connection or the metabolic addiction of their cup of Joe. Once again, I write out a grocery list and send it along to Parkway Greens. Later in the day, there is a rat-a-tat-tat on the door, and an overflowing box of fruit and vegetables is laid on the steps.

£ 5 left over special

In Hampshire, where I grew up, the statistics are set out in graphs so color-coordinated I can’t follow them. But next door, Surrey, the homiest of home counties, has begun to build temporary morgues on discrete army grounds. While making room for 800 bodies, the County Council are still concerned that this will not be enough. The small hamlets and villages that surrounded my childhood are dotted with Covid virus cases and death. Old names – Ash Vale, Frimley, Bagshot, Camberley, Farnham, Elstead, Tongham, and Guildford, all a part of my childhood – are now saddened with a startled grief. The home counties suburbs are struggling in their perceived privilege with its lack of discipline as much as the industrial working north is with making a lively-hood.

A friend in London admits to now watching afternoon television. Something she would never have considered even six months ago. We are not there yet except for the momentous events of last Wednesday in Washington DC. But the death this autumn of Dame Barbara Windsor, star of the long-running TV drama East Enders reminded us of the hunger to escape into a fantasy world. And, often I do switch on my Roberts radio, tuned to BBC Radio 4, and catch the fifteen minutes of ‘The Archers’ which this year turned 70. First subtitled ‘The Every Day Story of Country Folk’ with a five-part pilot in 1950, it was created in an effort to educate farmers and improve agricultural production in the early post-war years and had a heavy government influence in the scripting until the 1970s. I can remember it playing on the wireless in my nursery where I would be having supper and someone would be ironing. Our generation listened to it for years, it was as ingrained in our minds as a Catholic catechism. School term times came and went, and whenever we returned ‘The Archers’ would be playing in their 6.45. p.m. slot. You could dip in and out of the village story, for it never lost its charm or its relevance to rural living. Even when television came nipping at radio audiences with their soap operas of Coronation Street and The East Enders that focused on working lives in London and the north of England, The Archers carried on.

Over this summer, the episodes of The Archers continued with a story of three British-born young men kept as slaves in a secret location on the outskirts of Ambridge, each one having a learning or mental health disability. This is the appalling reality that The Archers’ editor, Jeremy Howe, chose to confront as well as to challenge. According to the Global Slavery Index, it is thought there are up to 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the United Kingdom.

“It’s not simply a problem involving immigrant labour,” explains Howe. “It can be a British problem involving British slaves and British gang-masters.”

Reading the Saturday Financial Times paper on Sunday, I found a small article tucked in a lower corner. The South Korean Government knocking on Japan’s door once more for recompense for the Korean Comfort Women kept for the Japanese soldiers during WWII. The Japanese are, naturally, dismissing any further claims of compensation for the now very few women left alive. I first came to this story with Nora Okja Keller’s book “Comfort Woman” published in 1998 when for KPFA and KWMR we had a conversation about her book which was loosely told from her grandmother’s remembrances.

Three hungry young men

Slavery, and enforced indenture-hood, in today’s world, is nothing new, but something we don’t always look to find on our doorstep. Simple dramas like The Archers can do that for us. And so can the three young men of undetermined Slavik European lineage who “worked” for what we now call our Irish Rogue Roofers in 2016. We were taken for a right royal ride and I can only shake my head at our stupidity. And I remember those young men who devoured all the food I fed them and spent the longest time relishing hot water as they cleaned up at the end of the day in our bathroom. Photographs and recordings given to the police yielded nothing more than a night-time stop-over in a local police station for the family patriarch. In the silence of these restricted and cold winter months, with no work available, I pray that those young men are somewhere safe today.

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