CHAPTER SEVEN – Anyone for doubles?
“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”
When Satan later returned to Leigh, Micky Gaze was waiting outside the Crooked Billet.
Satan handed across small change and the mobile phone as they surveyed the becalmed estuary and the easternmost tip of Canvey Island. “How do you do that thing in the loo?” asked Micky. They were drinking Balvenie, from the Speyside distillery.
Satan waited, enjoying the drink’s wood finish. “It’s not unlike Scotty beaming up Captain Kirk in Star Trek.” Micky wanted far more than that. “OK, when I’m here I vibrate at a lower frequency. Stop laughing. At The Place I vibrate at a higher rate. The bridge between the two, accessed from those toilets, is a kind of ‘wormhole’, translating one frequency to another. Make sense?”
Micky shrugged. “Do you mean a shithole? How far away is your home?”
“How far away are radio signals that your phone turns into digital messages and sound? They exist to the left of your elbow as you raise that glass, over there on Two-Tree Island where your cousin walks his dog, and above Sydney Bridge on the other side of this world.”
As they talked, Satan processed the last 24 hours. The Nick Cave song had launched a controlled drinking bout in a darkly intimate environment. It had brought back memories of 1930s Chicago, without the machine guns. The first tipple was Lagavulin single malt, from Islay. Wary of standing at bars, given his height, Satan poached a table and prepared to drink through the night.
He let the aromatic, plummy flavours work, listening into football discussions nearby. 1966 never stopped for the English.
Even Jesus and Buddha were hooked on the game. Their enlightenment included watching every North London derby on God’s screens, and engaging in ‘siddhi’, as Buddha called them. If Jesus began to chant “Glory, Glory Hallelujah”, Arsenal would be unable to get the ball from Tottenham. Buddha then fell into stone-deep meditations that coincided with intricate passing by Arsenal’s midfield, bringing the Spurs goal within range.
Sal snapped from his reverie. Soccer was part of the bread and circus routine distracting from a “perfect storm” brewing across Earth, according to God’s most recent briefing. Stony-faced, she had focused on the root of the current “austerity” drive, when Gordon Brown bailed out a potential half trillion pounds banking “hole” in 2008. This hole riddled many of God’s briefings.
A middle-aged woman seeking a table asked Sal if he minded her joining him. “Be my guest”, he nodded absent-mindedly.
Back to God, who had recapped how a temporary calm had returned to global capital markets when the rest of Europe, plus the US, followed suit. “It obscured the numbing reality that capitalism was bankrupt,” hissed the Creator. “Exit the idea of rising and falling on your merit. Enter the notion of too big to fail.”
Satan had rarely seen her so unhappy. “Citizens’ money was thrown at banks as if there was no tomorrow, which may be the case,” she groaned. “Iceland, God bless it, let the banks go bust. Corrupt politicians were physically removed from the Parliament building, and individuals arrested and tried for reckless decisions. The country is back on its financial feet.”
The woman introduced herself as Mary, asking if Sal wanted a refill. “Only if you promise to let me reciprocate,” he answered. “It’s the Lagavulin, but I’m an expensive partner. I drink doubles!”
He fell into contemplation again before Mary returned with the malts. “I’m Sal,” he purred. “To a very long life, Mary. Did you know that Britain is technically bankrupt?”
“Cheers Sal – and no!” she replied. He was pleasantly surprised that she looked interested.
“OK, stop me when I bore you.” He explained, as simply as he could, that if you added together the UK’s official public debt of almost £1.4 trillion, to Private Finance Initiative (PFI) debt, which the government guaranteed, and the lending which would be needed to plug massive gaps in the money required for state pensions, you had a potential debt that could never be repaid.
Relieved that she wasn’t yawning, he forged on. “Some economists say the UK’s debt liabilities, per person, are way higher than Greece, which is dying on its feet as the world watches.”
“Do you work in the City?” she asked. Naturally blond, she had a kind face. “Hardly,” he laughed. “But I have a boss who knows everything about everything. She insists I listen.”
“Well here’s a chance to educate myself. What else should I worry about Sal?”
“You may soon have to pay for cancer treatment and kids’ operations, because the NHS is massively cash-strapped, and demand for its services will rise as the population ages.”
“No! The NHS is our God-given right, paid for by taxes and national health contributions.” Mary was shaking her head, annoyed, as he continued.
“What your media – I call them the ‘Disney media’- under-publicise is how PFI debt repayments are killing hospitals. Now, before you snore, what’s your line of work?”
“It’s fascinating Sal. I’m a psychologist at a psychiatric hospital. By the way the Lagavulin is delicious. I decided to copy you.”
“If there was a heaven, they would drink this stuff!”
“Yes. So, I’ve been at a recent conference where Professor David Nutt gave two talks. He does have an unfortunate name, and a Bristolian accent which makes him sound like a farmer.”
She warmed to it. “But his thought processes are compelling. He has been lobbying the government for years to let him research psilocybin and other class-A drugs which might help various psychiatric disorders. But your ‘Disney media’ – I do like that nickname – portray him as an eccentric urging everyone to take drugs.”
Satan sighed. “The alliance of media, governments and Big Pharma is killing us all.” He flashed back to another of God’s briefings. Nutt had been fired as Britain’s most senior drugs adviser, having promoted evidence that a component of psilocybin can help repress parts of the brain associated with self-criticism. However, the mind-altering effects were similar to those of LSD, which not only scared Whitehall silly, but had led the USA to ban LSD in 1966, terrified that American youth would trip heavily and resist conscription to Vietnam.
Mary related how Nutt did a Channel 4 trial of ecstasy, to obtain research funding. Her eyes lit. “He has even suggested cocaine-sniffing bankers caused the financial crisis!” She smiled, self-conscious at her passion.
“Your enthusiasm is how we should all approach our work,” said Satan, remembering the effects of just one ecstasy tab when God let him attend a mid-Essex music festival. He ended up dancing to The Prodigy with his tail hanging out. A group of girls had become hysterical. When the band sang how they would “put on an iron shirt, and chase Satan out of earth” he had wept with laughter.
“Same again Mary?” he asked, standing. She nodded, tongue-tied at the uninterrupted view of his full height. Satan’s attention switched to the jukebox, where Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” was playing. He changed it with a flick of his mind, a practice God had warned against. Now it was “Stand Down Margaret” by The Beat. The amazing saxophone kicked in, the bass, the drums. His darkly-clad buttocks wiggled unstoppably.
Desiring feedback on Maggie, before tomorrow’s funeral, he web-surfed on the iphone provided by Micky. The first comment was harsh, with a glaring spelling mistake: “She was the woman who single handley robbed a generation of all hope and then laughed at them. I hope the fella with the big fork sticks it right up you.” Christ that’s me, thought Satan, taking the drinks back.
A second opinion provided more of the strong opinions Satan loved. “I think her stand against the unions as exactly what the country needed at a time when we were considered a hopeless basket case of a country,” said another woman. “I remember doing homework by candlelight in the 70s because of yet another strike. I remember Ford workers at Dagenham threatening to strike because management tried to stop them sleeping through the night shift. I remember the bullying of flying pickets and the arrogance of Arthur Scargill.”
Essex musician Billy Bragg was next up. He had argued, compassionately, against “raising a glass to the death of an infirm old lady”. He said: “The death of Margaret…. is nothing more than a salient reminder of how Britain got into the mess that we are in today. Of why ordinary working people are no longer able to earn enough from one job to support a family; of why there is a shortage of decent affordable housing; of why domestic growth is driven by credit, not by real incomes.”
Satan asked Mary for her line on Maggie. She talked of her father, a miner who had died in Nottingham without state help for his funeral after Thatcher had targeted the elimination of every single benefit for striking miners. “I hope the crowd tomorrow let rip with an explosion of contempt for her. I think most people remember what she destroyed.” Mary was trembling a little. Satan stretched out his hand, hoping she would not mention the gloves. “There are lots of ways to look back at Maggie,” he said, and flicked with his mind. The Who’s “Don’t Get Fooled Again” commenced.
A guy behind leaned over. “Very sorry to hear about your dad, but uncanny that you should mention Nottingham,” he said. “I picketed the Nottingham Evening Post in 1978/9. The police were brilliantly marshalled into what we called ‘The Wedge’. The biggest copper fronted the V shape they drove at us, and those behind wore a number 49 or 51 on the back of their helmets. They were Maggie’s Special Force,” he recalled.
Another mind flick, lining up The Clash’s ‘White Man in the Hammersmith Palais’. Nobody noticed. The whole place was in its cups. More single malts, and he was so far in the zone that he barely listened to one of Maggie’s defenders talking to Mary. Satan loved Joe Strummer’s line that if Hitler flew in today, a limousine would await. There could be no denying that the mass murderer Pinochet had received the ‘red carpet’ treatment when Maggie invited him to Britain.
Now the pro-Maggie guy spoke. “She made Britain punch above its weight.” Satan couldn’t help himself. “Think about your words,” he said. “Why does any country want to be punching? Fighting begets only more fighting.” That stopped the bloke in his tracks. Satan changed the sound again. Ghost Town, by The Specials, describing Coventry in 1981.
Half-listening, he stewed on one of God’s conclusions that morning: that the potential for a major war was widening, especially in the Middle East, Ukraine and Korea. “Wars revitalise munitions production, overshadow debt concerns and permit ruling regimes to censor their opponents,” the boss had observed.
Satan relayed all of this to Mary, plus God’s prognosis that an act of war or a natural disaster could tip financial markets over a cliff. Mary chipped in. “My husband was briefed by one insurance company last year that radiation leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant remain so bad they categorise it as a potential “extinction event”. He is a journalist, by the way.”
They needed another drink. “Shall we try some of the Oban?” asked Satan. “It’s an 18 year-old with a classic balance – not too smoky, not too sweet.”
When he came back, the glow surrounding Mary’s heart was obvious. “My husband and I are saving for an “ayahuasca” trip to Brazil or Peru, to experience shamanic healing ceremonies.” Satan raised an eyebrow. Jesus had enthused about these ancient tribal rituals which allowed people to heal themselves away from allopathic medicine.
He took up the baton. “Then you probably know that the core element in those ceremonies, DMT, or dimethyltryptomine, is stored in the tiny pineal gland, in the middle of your brain. Jesus told me that boosting DMT levels cures depression and heightens perceptions that most humans lost long ago.”
Her puzzled look by-passed Satan. “Once you replace missing DMT a natural joy returns and remains, often for years. We are convinced that would help humanity.”
Her smile was gone. “Who is we? Have you met Jesus?”
Shit! His big mouth when he was drinking. Could he risk the truth? God granted him licence to select a few reliable humans to help the Firm. Mary was ticking every box, but her husband was a journalist. Keeping that decision at bay, he carried on. “One of the reasons humans generally trudge through adult life with a low-functioning pineal gland is the fluoride in water.”
She was aware. “Not just water but toothpaste and mouthwash,” said Mary. “X-rays have shown the pineal gland lining becomes encrusted. That very possibly denies lucid dreams and diminishes creativity, from early teens to the grave. DMT starts to reverse that.” She hesitated. “Now, will you trust me and tell me about Jesus?”
“Tell me first what you think of X-Factor.” He loved asking this. Visibly exasperated, she considered it. “I’m certainly no fan. I’d compare X-Factor to fluoride. It depletes something inside you.” She carried on: “Was it designed that way? Deliberately?” Her thoughts raced. “You might have to strap Simon Cowell to a torture rack to know that.”
He exploded with laughter. “Yes, I might, I just might” he said.