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. 

Tripping About the Countryside

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

They took to the stage on all three major television channels; the BBC, ITV, and Sky. Rishi Sunak trots eagerly up to the podium in his Gucci loafers, though sometimes jacket-less, unsuccessfully portraying a working man. Liz Truss walks carefully in her heels with a smug smile and discreet earrings – one day saying one thing and the next day saying another. She is changing statements, but maybe not her mind which appears to be missing in action at the moment. These are the Conservative leadership rivals to be the next Prime Minister clashing on how they will address: high inflation, the rising cost of living, gas prices, Ukraine’s war with Russia, while sidestepping how both of them are looking to kill the National Health Service. But then the broadcasts stop, the candidates and their lies are just too transparent and boring. Now each gets a news moment as Liz changes her earrings to gold stirrups visiting a farm, and Rishi puts his jacket back on to speak at the Royal St. George’s Golf Club.

Those rural earrings

Like the story of the frog in the hot-tub, the National Health Service is coming to a slow boil. The news has me hold my head with the charts of the numbers of medical staff, doctors, and nurses that have left the Health Service. There are two main reasons for this. Since Brexit, European nurses and doctors are better off regarding pay, hours, and family situations returning home. English-trained nurses and doctors are fleeing abroad to countries that pay more. England is reaching out to poorer countries and importing staff from those that pay even less than England. This migration has gone on since we English, Irish and European nurses flew to America, Canada, and Australia for better living and pay. But nobody talks about Brexit being the cause for this new low, the ridiculous staff-patient ratios, and the non-pay of nurses and doctors. The government counts on the moral inability of nurses and doctors to abandon their patients, and laugh all the way to the locked coffers.

The sky is cloudy and dull, pouting at being left behind in grey England while these two politicians vie for the Conservative leadership. The chambers of the House of Commons sit empty as ministers flee the city, following the example of their old boss Boris Johnson, who took his family off to Greece for the holiday month of August. 

There is no rain. The streets are sticky with the detritus of human and animal food ingested and eliminated. Leaves are falling from trees a month ahead of Autumn. They are dry, crisp, and crackle when kicked about on the pavements. There are no conkers on the chestnut trees in the park and those not-so-old trees are dying.

The second heat wave was well underway, and the scheduled train strikes still a day off when I traveled from Waterloo to Hampshire. The South West trains are all new and all air-conditioned which bought a welcome relief from the rising heat. I am meeting three old friends for lunch at the North Hants Golf Club. The youngest of us is only 75 years old. The tables and umbrellas are set out on the veranda overlooking the first and last holes of the course. Though it is hot we can safely gather in the shade. We sort of look great – in our elderly way. We were children together, almost sisters, and though our paths diverged our roots were seeded in the same soil. My friends stayed close to their rootstock and settled deep in rural Hampshire and Wiltshire, each raising champion horses, sheep, and cattle.

Four for Lunch, Sue, Susan, Ann, and Susette

The North Hants Club is well over 100 years old but was still young when we were. Within that world, there is the sweetnesses to be found in any close-knit organization that becomes a family. Jackie has been a part of the kitchen staff for 43 years and we have known each other with mutual respect and admiration through all that time. The kitchen, where deep frying remains a specialty, is stellar and provided us four Caesar salads that were not on the menu along with teasers from their small tapas plates. It was grand to be together and share our autumnal news. We spoke of our lives, of families, and thought of old friends, remembering that though now we are four, we used to be six. The relentlessness of life continuing after another’s death has a bite to it that is hard to define.

Susan getting Settled

Returning to London the train stops at Weybridge and ‘all change’ is called out – to anyone who can understand the voice through the microphone. There are no leaves on the line, these tracks have not buckled from the heat but there is a fault with the train and so we are directed to a local one waiting on a side platform. ‘Change at Staines for the fast train to Waterloo.’ But I don’t. I stay seeing the names Virginia Water, Staines, Barnes, East and West, Putney, and Chiswick before Clapham and Vauxhall. I realize this so slow train travels alongside the western A30 road laid down over the old Roman Road and follows the historic London to Land’s End coaching route – a popular place for highwaymen. William Davies, known as the Golden Farmer and robber of coaches traveled across Bagshot Heath and was hanged in 1689 at a gallows at the local gibbet hill between Bagshot and Camberley. The Jolly Farmer pub built close by was in remembrance of him.

Sculpture to honour the Windrush Generation of Immigration at Waterloo

The train pulled into Waterloo and the platform exit is beside the newly erected statue tribute to The Windrush Generation immigrants who came from Jamaica and the Caribbean to help England after the Second World War. It is a fine statue, showing hopeful and proud parents and their young daughter. She would grow up to become one among us in nursing school, another sister from another time. Tourists from Africa and America proudly stand beside the statue for their photograph moment.

I was not alone in going out today with a cardigan and umbrella though neither was needed. We, and the earth, are crying for rain – or would be if we could cry. All we can do now is sweat, copiously, as we wait for the bus. An Asian gentleman of about my age is also waiting for the number 274. When it arrives he graciously extends an ‘after you’ gesture to let me board before him. We sit on opposite sides of the bus in the reserved for old people seats. The bus driver is not yet exhausted and the bus almost empty. It is August. Hot, dry, there is no school, and whoever can be – is on holiday. I find myself imagining the cold rainy days of autumn, wishing for them, and having a hard time believing the evidence before me that we are seriously damaging our planet. ‘First, do no Harm’ is the Hippocratic oath and here we are committing murder. The bus goes quickly along its route carrying its few passengers. My gentleman friend gets off at Prince Albert Road. He smiles at me and I at him. It is a moment of grateful recognition but I’m not sure what of.

Now there are hosepipe bans imposed by most of the Water districts, whose own leaks are responsible for almost 30 % of water loss around the country. Then quickly news comes of the other leaks, of sewage from more faulty treatment plants into the local rivers and streams, or to the sea for those low-lying coastal areas. It is too much for the cartoonists who show pictures of Boris Johnson, remember him? the still – but on holiday – Prime Minister, entering the sea somewhere in Greece. Sewage flowing outwards but not yet gone.

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