232. The Queen of Southend

OUT OF ESSEX – CHAPTER 20

 

“Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits—a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.”
Hunter S. Thompson

 

 

Dawn was crammed with melancholy.

She stowed her gear in the pub, crossed back over the A127 and peeled open a McVitie’s Gold biscuit bar to sweeten the walk home. The sun on her bare arms felt poised between mellow and spent. Tomorrow was the first of September.

Her takings were going down. £44 today, £49 yesterday. Just numbers, she told herself. She heard a voice in her head suggest she might be too familiar with her customers, breeding contempt. Another voice said weekend work might bridge the growing gap.

Looking up at the nearly full moon, she eked out the Gold bar. Why didn’t Steve worry like she did? His new job, in one of the reconstructed seafront cafes, paid less than IKEA had. Explaining that to the debt management company hadn’t been easy. He was so much happier, which she loved. But at this rate, there would be no cash for Christmas. She might have to borrow from her mum.

Steve greeted her with a huge hug. He had cooked jacket potatoes for tea, with a lentil sauce. For a man holding over 100k in debt, he was so bloody relaxed. At the table, Nigel was rabbiting on about a lad at school who reckoned the world had ended on the last day of 2012, as prophesied by the Mayan calendar.

Genevieve was smiling at his story, a rare event. She looked like the self-declared Queen of Southend, in her black skinny jeans and DMs, lurid red blazer to match her lipstick, sleeves rolled up. Jet black hair worn in an asymmetrical blunt bob. Three earrings on the left.

Dawn saw her daughter was reading a comic. She nudged her. “Oi genius, what’s that?” Genevieve flipped up the front page. ‘The Invisibles’, by Grant Morrison. Then head back down, sharp eyes missing nothing.

After tea, Dawn washed up, standing at the sink. Wondering if she should take on more part-time work. Or return to the call centre. In the adjoining room, Steve watched the news while the kids web-surfed.

Dawn’s reverie was shattered by the sound of plastic hitting glass. And Genevieve shouting.

“YOU LYING CUNTS. YOU FUCKING LYING BASTARDS!”

“What’s going on?” said Dawn, hurrying in. The remote control was in pieces on the floor. Steve looked scared.

“It’s the fucking BBC. The bastards have made up a report about Southchurch Park. They’ve invented it. Lie after lie.” Genevieve was spitting blood.

“What on earth?…….Why would the BBC lie? It’s a proper news channel.”

“Don’t make me laugh mum. It’s the channel that banged on about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. The organisation where the journalists knew about Jimmy Savile but did nothing.”

Dawn frowned. “OK, but how could you know? About this? Anyone can sit and accuse people of lying. Where’s your evidence?”

“I was there yesterday.”

“You missed school? Genevieve! Don’t you want your ‘A’ levels.”

“Mum, that’s like asking me if I want to be famous. I couldn’t care less. What matters is that the guys there voted not to let in news crews. They reckoned they’d get stitched up.”

 

***

 

Dawn made them all a hot drink. Nige reassembled the remote and Genevieve hit the playback switch. “Watch,” she commanded.

“Now we bring you a special report”, said the news anchor, “from Southend-on-Sea, in Essex, where an unusual social community has come together in the wake of the May 12 tsunami. There may be some disturbing images.”

A young female reporter stood outside the park, looking earnest. She told viewers of the rising use of illegal drugs in the new community. The first images were of multiple syringes strewn near dustbins.

Genevieve hit pause. “Right that’s rubbish, straight away. They vote on everything.”

“What’s that got to do with it?” said Steve.

“Alex – nice guy who runs the park security – was telling me that one of the first things they voted in was no drugs. Not because they’re prudes. They simply don’t want the Old Bill having any reason to raid the place. Plenty of weed users there, and others who enjoy mushrooms, but they always go outside, well away. Down by the sea wall at night is a favourite. Anyone caught buying, using or even stashing in the park is kicked out, within minutes. You’re looking at a picture from somewhere else.”

“How can you be so sure?” asked Steve.

“Because the building behind the dustbins you see – look, right there – is bright royal blue. There’s nothing in Southchurch Park that colour. I clocked the whole place. You know how good I am at that. I walked around the park with the bloke who organises most things, Dave Dawson. He was sweet – to be honest, they all are.”

Steve and Dawn knew to keep quiet. Their daughter’s intelligence was like a stream of molten lava, burning through all it touched.

The report continued with an interview. A middle-aged woman with dreadlocks was telling the camera that she had left the community after she suspected a plan to rape her, and then became uneasy that it was a hub for people trafficking. “A lot of kids were there one day, gone the next. Same with adults, particularly Asians. That wasn’t normal. It is a frightening place. People should stay away.”

Genevieve was calculating. “I can’t prove she wasn’t there, but I can find out. If she was, chances are she’s been bunged a big wedge to say that. One of the things Dave mentioned was how few people do leave. That it’s a remarkably calm and stable community, that is gradually growing.”

She shook her head. “This is the killer though.” She hit ‘play’ again.

A picture clearly shot through railings showed a child being chased into a minibus full of other children. A middle-aged man and a woman, both wearing shades, locked the doors, and hurried around to the front seats. The vehicle pulled out of the park’s southern entrance. The reporter referred to a “suspected incidence of child trafficking, captured live”.

“That’s definitely Southchurch Park,” said Steve.

Genevieve nodded. “Yeah, I stood and watched this ‘incident’ happen yesterday morning, from a different angle. The guy is Dan Fawkes, the journalist.”

“The cool bloke who filmed the tsunami,” said Nige. “Kept his bottle when the Big Wave came up the Leigh hill.”

“The woman is his wife, Mary,” said Genevieve. Triumph arcing across her face.

“So, I was having a coffee with them just before they left. Their kids are about the same age as me and Nige. Dan and Mary love what they are doing. They would have spent all day telling me about it. But they had promised to take a bunch of the park’s kids over to Marsh Farm, in South Woodham Ferrers. I actually made them late. And I watched them leave.”

Dawn was stunned. Genevieve had talked about the “sleight of hand” at the BBC and other media before, but she had paid no attention. She ventured a thought of her own. “Apart from anything else, the reporter ignores the real story. That these people are trying to get by without money. It sounds impossible. I want more details.”

The report concluded with the news that “financial experts have told the BBC that Southchurch Park is very likely a money laundering operation, with untraceable offshore accounts.” Straightening slightly, looking more serious, the female added: “One source close to MI6 has told us that Russian involvement is a distinct possibility.”

Genevieve sighed. “Is that what you want me to go to school for? To play my full part in this poxy adult charade. To be a businesswoman, accountant, lawyer, banker, or, God help me, a journalist. To be a liar and a pretender.”

She loved her mum and dad because they did, mostly, listen to her. “I’m sorry about my outburst. But here’s what I honestly think.”

“Can’t remember the last time you were honest,” teased Dawn.

“Very funny. I’m thinking about leaving school and living down at Southchurch when I turn 18, in November. Please….let me finish.”

Genevieve tapped her fingers in concentration. “I’m no expert. The BBC won’t be calling me for quotes. I’d tell them to fuck off if they did. But it’s as clear as day to me that the only reason our economy – all of the Western world – hasn’t collapsed is that all the central banks keep printing money. Keeping things afloat, while most people’s debt swells and their savings run down.”

She continued: “That finishes only two ways. One: a monster financial collapse, making 2008 look like a tea party, if the eco-systems don’t collapse first. If any of that happens, the guys at Southchurch will at least be self-sufficient. Or two: a rewriting of reality.”

“What does that mean?” said Dawn.

“It means tearing up the script, now, not conforming, making this life count so much that the old ways fade. Here’s the fantastic bit, where Southchurch comes in again”

“I can hardly bear the suspense,” said Steve.

“I don’t know how they’ve done it, but Gandhi is there, at the park. Gandhi. The Indian legend. I talked to him yesterday. He’s no spring chicken, and slight, but it’s him. I’ve looked at tons of old pictures. He’s reincarnated somehow, come to Southend.”

Dawn let out a puff of exasperation. “That’s not good enough, darling. Sounds like your perception, not a real fact.”

“Suit yourself – it gets weirder,” said her daughter. “The Buddha is here as well. In Old Leigh. They’re building him an ‘ashram’, Mary said.”

Steve raised his eyebrows. “Yeah, that’s it dad, keep your ostrich head wedged in the Racing Post. I’m telling you both, it’s like the fabric of space and time has been breached. It’s like we’re in a David Lynch movie.”

Her eyes flashed. “So, if you think I want to waste time at school, at this un-fucking-precedented moment in history, think again,” insisted the Queen of Southend.

“And here’s the kicker. If both of you joined me, you could stop worrying about money.”

6 thoughts on “232. The Queen of Southend

      1. He wrote straight out of his heart and his heart was a gun – firing bullets one after the other – I can imagine his keys hitting the keys of a typewriter – hard and very fast. Cigarette burning in the ashtray beside him. I love synchronicity too – when I feel it I’m in the zone – everything is effortless – like a magic circle – when it’s gone it’s all a bit hellish – no wonder us creative types go a little crazy sometimes 🙃

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