22nd October

Accidents of Birth

This thing was unfolding as we watched. The biggest industrial complex in the land, the nerve centre of what was left of a pre-post-industrial economy, was shut down and would stay shut because the people who worked there had failed to agree, unconditionally, to the conditions demanded by the owner. We were sixty miles away but it felt as if it were happening in the street outside. We could feel the tension, the fear, the disbelief.

Helpful people had been expressing their online opinions all day: wake up and smell the coffee, guys; no individual should be able to hold an entire country to ransom like this; the workers betrayed again – by their own unions; a capitalist conspiracy. A town was on the brink of becoming a dead zone, the present was about to morph overnight into the past – and this was a complex built not on coal or shipbuilding but on oil, which was sup- posed to be about the future. Watching, we felt anger, dismay, helplessness. We felt, however faintly, what the people of that town were feeling. This story was about real lives, real decisions. We knew it mattered.

The next story came on. This was about an old woman, her son, her grandson and her great-grandson. The great-grandson had been christened. One future day the baby would be a king. One day before that his father would be a king. One day before that his father’s father would be a king. All this would happen but only if and when the old woman died. If ? Well, she was a queen. It was possible, given the way the story was being told, that queens were immortal, but on the other hand the reporter seemed absolutely certain that these three would be kings. Nothing succeeds like succession.

There was a mystical insanity to this christening, this supposedly private ceremony which with its outfits, anthems and seven godparents was news everywhere. Could this story possibly come from the same world as the previous story?

It could. A petrochemical plant might close, an oil refinery might not reopen, eight hundred or thirteen hundred or thousands of people might lose their jobs. A baby would be king.

Reader: Claire Sawers
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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