CHAPTER 9 – The big day
“For £3 million you could give everyone in Scotland a shovel, and we could dig a hole so deep we could hand her over to Satan in person.”
Frankie Boyle, on Margaret Thatcher
Satan and his favourite cat, Bob, trotted up the Highway to Hell. Sal’s guts said God was about to press the button at the coming briefing.
Oblivious, Maggie was tucked up, processing shadows, complexities and ramifications from her last life.
Bob made small talk, telling Satan that around 56 million souls had arrived at The Place for processing during the past Earth year. The tabby was keenly clued up on the Firm’s statistics.
Bob excelled at persuading passing souls to call up and read information on The Place’s ubiquitous screens. As a result, he could relate snippets on any number of subjects to his six feline pals, but only Rosie, a jet-black beauty, showed genuine interest.
The screens could pick up virtually any activity on Earth. While God’s much-touted omniscience was linked to this live viewing facility, it was supported robustly by another technological marvel. “7 billion souls are embodied on earth, so events of significance occasionally miss my eye,” she had once explained. The screens, she highlighted, were also a comprehensive access point to the history of each soul on Earth, except for a few rare individuals possessing powers of obfuscation. Some religions referred to this library as the “Akashic records”. Satan just called them the “files”.
If he wanted to know what John F Kennedy said to Marilyn Monroe on 5 December 1962, for example, it was accessible in nano-time. He did once need to know that. The key phrases, to the best of his recollection, were “Jack, you are insatiable, but I don’t do that for any man”; “your damned father cannot keep his hands off me”; and “be careful Jack, the mob and the CIA are talking about whacking you”.
Satan described Maggie’s funeral to Bob. “It was a curiously reverent and quiet event. 4,000 policemen were on the streets, and maybe that was right. Whatever divisions her politics caused, my guess is that Maggie’s soul would genuinely have hated any violence.”
Bob’s body language sang out empathy. Whenever Satan’s efforts in the deepest caverns could make no indent in the inbred avarice, Bob waited for him. Rubbed against him, transmitting unconditional love.
After a hungover breakfast in a working man’s café, Satan had walked at a leisurely pace into Central London. He vividly recalled a similar walk back in November 2011, bathed in autumn sunshine. The anti-capitalist Occupy movement had been camped out on the streets, while students marched against changes to higher education. Huge numbers of police had been armed with rubber bullets.
On April 17, 2013, he watched protesters at Ludgate Circus booing, blowing whistles and chanting “waste of money” as military marching bands followed the procession route. Some turned their backs as the cortege passed. Very Gandhi like, thought Satan. He burst into laughter, seeing a banner that referenced Maggie’s nickname of “the children’s milk snatcher”, and announcing that “the Devil has come” for her.
Finding a spot near St. Paul’s Cathedral, he watched as over 2,000 invited guests arrived, topped by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip drawing up in the royal limo. BBC broadcaster Nicky Campbell rubbed shoulders with celebrities. Satan stood in a doorway, masking his height.
During the service, he was disappointed to hear 19-year old Amanda Thatcher reading lines from the Book of Ephesians. Quoting Chapter 6, verses 10 to 18, she called for the righteous to put “on the whole armour of God that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil”. The righteous will need no protection against me.
A face at the back, an older man caught briefly by the giant TV screen, triggered an odd sensation in Sal.
The reading contained powerful passages. From her well-worn briefing seat, God had reminded Satan endlessly that much of the Bible was interpretation. Certain passages were encoded, including her gender. But strong kernels of truth were available at a surface level. Satan felt it in his heart, as he heard a reference to fighting “against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
Amanda’s father, the arms dealer, stood near the front of the service. Sir Mark had a knighthood. The mark of a sick society, Satan mulled to himself.
Sal recalled his new friend Mary saying how two of her friends in Southend-on-Sea had recently “cleansed” St Pauls. Essex again. What was it about the county? The two women, who practised an esoteric branch of Buddhism, had performed rituals which banished bad vibes accumulated from Britain’s ruling elite over the years. It would need cleaning again after this. Big-time.
Satan said nothing to Bob about a power cut that plunged thousands of Londoners into darkness. The cut hit at around 1.13pm, minutes before the Prime Minister, senior ministers and members of Maggie’s family arrived at the Guildhall for a post-funeral reception. Satan smirked. How in heavens did that happen?
Sal finished by telling Bob that when the degenerate classes – the banking elites and their various puppets – were finally ousted, their shock would be akin to tumbling backwards from a plane at 33,000 feet. “Bob, you would not believe the narcissism, selfishness, greed and delusions of grandeur that I see down in the depths.”
At the meeting, God was near-apoplectic. She curtly ordered Satan to sit and listen. “I cannot sit passively a moment longer,” she growled. “There is no longer any attempt to hide the one set of rules for ordinary citizens, and the other for the richest.”
Jesus contemplated his toes. He was used to his mum’s tempers. He had watched her create floods and pestilence. Now she was fuming about a stealthy move to retract new transparency measures covering the financial affairs of senior US governmental employees.
“You’ve all seen how the events in Boston have been dominating the national media this week,” said God, through gritted teeth, referring to bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon. “All the fuss conveniently – far too conveniently – overshadowed a bill which has passed through Congress very quietly.”
God raged about the new bill. “It specifically alters the STOCK Act, which was supposed to halt rampant insider trading by US politicians.”
President Barack Obama had promised to halt the rot. In a highly publicised ceremony, the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act had been signed by his administration in 2012. In his fullest pomp, the US President said the new law would restore public faith in Washington, by forcing high-ranking federal employees to disclose financial information online.
Satan snarled when he heard that lie. And again when he heard that officials in both Chambers had cleared the amending legislation in near record time. “It took ten seconds in the Senate and 14 seconds in the House to pass – and attracted next to no media attention,” said God, almost foaming at the mouth.
Sal heard her real emotion: deep hurt. “This is the sort of hogwash you would expect in a corrupt banana republic,” he empathised. “This is how criminal classes work.”
God blew her nose. She had sat so patiently, observing free will at play. Just the one intervention, to sow new spirituality. But the seed had sat in near darkness. She had become a virtual couch potato, waiting for humans to wake up and flourish, while watching screens dominated by hopelessness.
40 years back, economists had talked confidently about the potential for the abundance in OECD countries – the full bellies and sufficient housing – to span the planet. Now Western nations were wracked with homelessness and unemployment. Official statistics indicated the top 10% of British households in 2012 were 850 times wealthier than the bottom 10%.
The bitter frustration in parts of Britain manifested at a 17 April gathering held in Logan, East Ayrshire, near the former Scottish mining town of Cumnock. After Maggie’s funeral, around 100 people gathered at a pub decked with bunting. Jim McMahon, the 52-year-old owner, was a former miner, arrested during a 1984 strike outside Hunterston power station and later convicted of breach of the peace. He told reporters he had planned a “celebration” of Maggie’s death for almost 30 years. “I went on strike in 1984 for one reason: to make sure community spirit and jobs survived. We lost that.”
He continued: “Deprivation is there for everybody to see. Last year there was a job advertised for a shop assistant and 345 people applied.”
Satan noticed Bob had snuck into the room. Jesus was stroking his back. God heaved a sigh: “Human life was not designed to be fair, but food, shelter and clothing for all – given Earth’s resources – was always more or less achievable. Instead a vampiric upper order is sucking the life from the poor, preventing them from being the best they can as humans.” She tugged at her hair, curling it around a finger. “Was I naive?”
She was so quiet that Satan stepped in again, summarising his London escapade. He then offered a pessimistic view about the UK. “From everything I’ve seen, the days when serious numbers of Brits might man any social or political barricades are long gone, due to a combination of apathy, ignorance, stress, debt, deference and disinformation from fourth rate corporate media.” Many were also so self-absorbed – or so hopelessly at the mercy of alcohol, drugs and, above all, their various screens – that there was little concern about how elites behaved, Sal suggested.
Bob wandered to the balcony, looking at the familiar Stacks. Recuperating souls piled in giant silos. His heart jumped with joy. Rosie was sitting there.
God finally spilled the beans. “The time has arrived for new intermediation, drawing on two aspects of my creation.”
On the main screen appeared front cover images from the science fiction novels of Scottish writer Iain M Banks. “These books involve this author’s very best conception, The Culture”, said God. Satan’s favourite was The Player of Games.
The Culture novels envisioned a post-scarcity world, where advanced technologies provide everyone with practically limitless material wealth and comforts. No money, no leaders, no organised religions. Satan loved the books for a second reason: the ‘Special Circumstances’ agents who undertook the Culture’s dirty work, ensuring other societies did not compromise Culture ideals.
God explained that a moneyless community was to be created in the UK, offering a first step to a new society. “I so want them to do it for themselves, but a nudge is necessary.”
God’s second initiative entered through a side door. A wiry, brown-skinned bespectacled man, wearing loose white clothing that left his legs exposed. His brow wrinkled with a force of determination. “Mahatma is our newest partner”, said God.
Rosie and Bob cuddled up, thrilled.
Gandhi had joined the Firm.