OUT OF ESSEX – Chapter 27 (rewrite)
The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety
Little Venice cheered wildly on 2 November, 2013, after word arrived that a second moneyless community was up and running in Hastings, on England’s south coast. Not mentioned anywhere in national news, the 70-strong Sussex Secessionists were said to be under the tutelage of a former member of an early 1970s anarchist group, the Angry Brigade.
Sitting quietly amid the hollering, Satan sensed bloodshed ahead. Challenges to the status quo were not tolerated. Outside the Bible, Goliath always slayed David.
He kept silent. He had taken to spending whole days in silence, driving the Ducati Diavel away from suburbia. He liked to head into the wilds of eastern Essex, exploring the Dengie Peninsula, bounded by the Rivers Crouch and Blackwater to the south and north, and the North Sea to the east. The open spaces, the flatness of the land, and the vastness of the sky gave new perspective. He passed through remote villages. Names such as Cold Norton, Latchingdon, Mayland and Steeple.
There were frictions over all manner of things in the park: fights for hot water each morning, the best seats in the café, squabbles over laptop access, occasional fisticuffs over straying sexual partners. Yet the bigger picture was astonishing, he regularly reminded himself. God’s Essex plan was bearing fruit. A society that had cohered within less than four months, and was continuing to attract newcomers, despite the negative publicity.
The latest, a lad named Howard, hailed from rural western Wales. Nicknamed Blondy, on account of his lustrous fair hair, Howard had told Sal his tale. His marriage had fallen apart on a £2,000 joint monthly income. “By the time we paid all the bills, like, we hardly had enough for clothes, and nothing to go out. We couldn’t afford to have kids, and then something like needing a new clutch for the car would come along, boyo. Couldn’t face another winter.” Then a mate told him about the Essex experiment.
Howard had something about him. Several women had already visited his tent. But like the rest of the park community, and most wider society, he was hurting, beneath the bluster.
Sal had mused on these and other topics in late October sunshine, cruising out to Bradwell-on-Sea, to visit St Peters Chapel, built in 645 AD. The 19th oldest building in Britain. The flat stone top of the altar made Sal think of the monolith in Kubrick’s film, 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Inside, alone, he read with surprise of a permanent Christian community based just 300 yards away. Othona, as it was called, had begun life as an experiment back in 1946, when the nearest water source was a standpipe two fields away. Accommodation now consisted of two separate buildings and five yurts. Community rules were basic: you stayed, you helped out. Everyone walked over to the chapel twice a day, after breakfast and evening washing up. It even had a football pitch, he saw, walking through the wood in which Othona was enclosed.
The Christians would never know that Satan had visited their sanctuary, which perched on the edge of the sea, away from the human eye. Southchurch Park had a different trajectory. Proselytising. Hurling stones at giants.
Back in the present, Sal watched Gandhi break into a slow smile, climb onto a bench and raise his fist aloft. “Momentum,” he shouted. “Momentum, momentum.” The chant rippled around and out from the café, scaring away seagulls arrayed along fences bordering the lake.
Satan had little time for Gandhi. He recalled the man’s extreme racism in younger days. While in South Africa he had insulted and disparaged black Africans, in attempts to show the merits of the country’s Indian community to British colonial rulers. Everyone made mistakes, and Gandhi had clearly evolved. Sal’s real aversion was the little Indian’s puritanical streak – and his propensity to see women as second-class citizens. Some of that had peeked through in his dislike of Maggie. In his last life, he had taken a vow of celibacy, without consulting his wife.
It was still visible. Gandhi showed hesitations around a new girl in the community, Genevieve. Just turned 18, she had slotted in from day one. Adaptable, unfazed by the new rituals, unconcerned by her smouldering beauty, and saying exactly what she thought, she was sleeping each night in Blondy’s tent. She had also struck up a deep friendship with another newcomer, Diana, who had been a shoplifter, dipping in and out of prison for theft and drug possession. Prevented from visiting her kids because of an abusive partner, Diana had descended to selling £5 blowjobs from street corners to fund her and her partner’s various addictions. Distaste criss-crossed Gandhi’s face, hearing these details.
For now, Sal shelved his many forebodings. The park was working. He wandered away from the café, alongside the lake, towards an orange tent outside which Johan van Hoyte could be seen playing chess with Dave Dawson. The captain waved Satan across, gesticulating with his clay pipe.
“Sal, you have fallen so luckily, with your nose into the butter,” he shouted. “Come play the great game with me. Dave here just conceded. Now he sits with a mouth full of teeth, speechless at my mastery.” Dave smiled, ruffled Van Hoyte’s dark Dutch sailor’s cap, and made his excuses. To cater for the park’s burgeoning numbers, he and Micky Gaze were sharpening a plan to bring into play the smaller, eastern section of the park that lay across Lifstan Way, comprising mainly open space, while maintaining its wildlife conservation area.
As they set up the pieces, Johan talked about the park. “Soon we will be like piglets in a barrel, yes? Piccadily Circus is us. Yet, like an angel peeing on my tongue, the taste is beautiful.” Sal pushed forward a pawn, and asked Johan if he had heard of Common Law. The sailor shook his head. “Maritime law was my guiding force.”
“Did you know that maritime law is also the underpinning of legal systems around the world, Johan?”
As they moved their black and white armies across the board, Sal explained to his companion that cutting out money had seen the park unobtrusively slide into a higher gear, almost unknowingly, under a classic set of guidelines required when many people lived together.
“These simple rules of cooperation have been acknowledged by common consent, over time, as Common or Natural Law. In essence, people honour each other’s boundaries.”
“Perfect description of this park. You ignore my queen.”
Sal sent his bishop deep into Van Hoyte’s defensive nest. He elaborated on Common Law principles. “The beauty is in the utter simplicity: you must not injure or kill anyone; you must not steal or damage things owned by others; and you must be honest with and respectful of others in your dealings.”
“Simple is best,” said Johan. “Four more moves and you are ‘brown bread’, to quote those ruddy cockneys.”
Sal enjoyed letting the Dutchman win, just to hear his evocative language tumble out. He explained further, that when Common Law was embraced, it usually dovetailed with an absence of the hierarchical structures that had been foisted, unnaturally, upon and across the entire world. There were thousands of examples, but he cited how Crown colonisers had forced the concept of a “chief” upon Native Americans who were not stratified socially.
“Holland’s colonising also ruined parts of the globe,” said Johan. “We talked of trade, but we were dicking from our necks. Look at the Dutch East India Company, stealing produce and profits from Indonesian natives. Compare that with here, where one individual can introduce a policy idea, and see it implemented with a 60% majority in the electronic show of hands.”
They agreed that one of the most fascinating by-products of the Southchurch experiment had been an upsurge in dreams, as imaginations had mushroomed in the absence of television, newspapers, traffic, and paid work. On any morning, you could hear residents recounting and comparing adventures in the ether. “I’ve been having my first positive dreams since Afghanistan,” Alex had said that morning, resplendent in pink jeans and bright green top.
Van Hoyte was crowing now. “Two more moves, Sal, and I hug the glory.” He asked if Sal had noted how the park’s women were increasingly influential. “A little cup of solace for us all.”
As the days grew colder and darker, the big work target was to make habitable the nearby houses bought by Micky Gaze. Floorboards ruined by the flood had been sanded, smoothed and deep varnished. Because the wiring was old, Ruth chose a selection of scented candles and ornate lamps to obviate using electric lights. Mary and Sheena scoured the town for second-hand furniture which gradually began to fill rooms that would be in huge demand in the months ahead. They found material that was shaped and finished in Gandhi’s textile centre, providing wraps, shawls and drapes in every room.
It sickened and saddened Sal that, for all their ingenuity and improvisation, these people would be helpless when the powers-that-be came for them. Nothing could prevent it. And when it happened, the park security that he ran with Mike and Alex would not begin to be enough. The sole way to avoid that fate was to stay quiet, out of the way. Like the Bradwell Christians.
“Checkmate”, grinned Johan.
Behind them, the cry rang around the park’s hub. “Momentum, momentum, momentum.”
Satan walked again, past the huge allotment area, skirting the lavatory blocks and the cricket pavilion where he slept, heading towards the caravans.
Those who bucked the system got crucified. Like Jesus, nailed to a cross between two thieves. It always terminated this way. 2,000 years or so later, the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ran into a similar end.
Down the years, Satan had visited Libya, quietly, on numerous occasions, to examine life under the ‘crazy dictator’. He transitioned through a portal ending in a Tripoli sewer. He had found little in the way of nightlife, certainly no single malts, after Gaddafi banned alcohol in 1969.
Nonetheless it was a quiet, safe country, suffused with traditional Islamic culture and values. Most people socialised by visiting each other’s houses in the evenings. What hit him the most was how Gaddafi had put in place an education system ranked by many judges as the best in the whole of Africa. This sat alongside the continent’s best health service, free and modelled on Britain’s NHS; the highest literacy levels; free electricity; and cheap petrol. Moreover, every newlywed couple received an apartment and a sizeable starting sum of money. Under a socialism that gave women equal rights, the mother of every child received a large sum of state money after its birth.
“What’s on your mind Sal? You’ve got that faraway look.” Dan Fawkes stood at the door of his caravan, taking off his coat.
Satan snapped from his reverie. “Mind if I join you Dan?”
“Come in, take a seat. I’ll get us some whisky and glasses.”
Dan saw Satan take in the untidiness in the caravan. Clothes and papers everywhere. “Mary is back in Chelmsford, seeing how the kids are. To honour you, we are going to sample a 50-year-old malt. Glen Mhor. The distillery closed decades ago. I’ve been saving it.”
“Thank you, Dan. I have been thinking hard about how Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi chose not to squander his oil money, like other African leaders. He spent it on Libyans.”
Dan was struck by Satan’s focus on a country over 2,000 miles away, amidst the celebrations from which he had just returned. He rolled with it, and the incomprehensible reality that he was conversing with a character that the New Testament described as having the power to enter and possess people. The malt tasted of leather and oak, a touch of almond, before citrus and mint usurped the palate.
“Libya. A controversial, fascinating place,” said Dan. “For me, the Great Manmade River was one of Gaddafi’s finest achievements.” It was the world’s largest irrigation project, taking water from ancient underground aquifers deep in the Sahara to the coast of Libya for domestic use, agriculture, and industry.
“NATO forces bombed it to fuck in 2011,” said Sal, gloomily. Dan studied Satan’s face, saw in it the dark, but not black Saharan African looks of the nomadic Tuaregs, many of whom were loyal to Gaddafi.
Dan listened as Sal described the ride out to Bradwell. “Unlike those Christians, secluded out at the edge of the world, Gaddafi had few reservations about attracting attention or upsetting outsiders. He had the balls in 2003 to say what no other world leader would, accusing Saudi Arabia of “bringing the Americans to occupy Iraq”.
Sal had immediately been fearful for the ‘Brother Leader’, as Libyans called him. Several times a year, he would sit at the back of cafes along the Libyan coastal highway, watching the cars roar past and listening to the old men talk as they drunk sweet coffee and tea, played cards and smoked their hookah water pipes. Inevitably they moaned about their leader, but with a grudging respect that he kept the country intact and wealthy. They had money in their pockets.
The whisky cheered his insides. A light cigar and sherry hint at the very end. “Do you remember when Gaddafi began to talk up the idea of introducing a single African currency linked to 140 tonnes of Libyan gold?” Dan nodded. It had fascinated the financial journalist in him when the Colonel touted the idea of an African Union in 2009, as some kind of equivalent to the European Union, using the new reserve currency to help bring the continent out of debt.
When French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a hint of what was to come, calling Libya a “threat” to the financial security of the world, Satan’s despair intensified. On his visits, in the cooling night air, he would look with renewed tenderness at the contentment of the café patrons as they played their board games, surrounded by old photos on the walls, copper trays and blaring television sets.
Dan remembered a 2010 phone call in which a French banker told him that Libya’s financial system was “antiquated” and “awkward to work with”. Sal shook his head and pursed his lips. “Fucking bankers,” he said. “That’s their code for ‘doesn’t charge interest’.”
When, like Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi had threatened to cease selling his country’s oil in dollars, Satan knew that Libya’s abundancy would be wiped from the face of the earth. The trillionaires would not be fucked with. Drenching his mouth with the Glen Mhor, he thought again about how the Othona community kept its head below the parapet.
Dan took up the story, and it’s obscene ending. “The people who run the world loathed what Gaddafi had done for Libya, and his visible middle finger to their financial and political control. In March 2011, they mobilised a NATO-led airforce, after peaceful protests against the regime were hijacked by violent protestors. The CIA quite shamelessly armed the Libyan rebels. The same now in Syria.”
Dan felt sick at his profession. He recalled how standard Western press tactics kicked in. The false narrative, endlessly repeated by captured, morally bankrupt media until its illogical drivel was no longer distinguishable from fact. That the airborne NATO interventions would implement a United Nations Security Council Resolution only to protect civilians. The line passed down to editors was that “mad-dog” Gaddafi was going to kill everyone in the city of Benghazi, if the West did not come to their rescue. To defend the people from violence, Libya had to be bombed, said the journalists.
Sal’s fist hit the table. It was the first time Dan had seen his unadulterated anger. “Three principal culprits stood behind the illegal warmongering: France, the UK and US.”
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch trotted out atrocity stories. Several months later the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague claimed that Viagra had been distributed to Libyan government troops as part of an “official policy” of rape. The story was amplified by media to Micky Mouse levels, so that black African mercenaries pumped full of sex drugs were raping their way from the Sahara to the Mediterranean. Westerners chewed mindlessly on these unsubstantiated, hollow fantasies as they ate their TV dinners.
In vain, Sal had asked God to spare Gaddafi. “No”, said God. “What will be, will be.”
After an extended military campaign with sustained Western support, rebel forces prevailed. The Colonel met a gruesome death in October 2011, preceded by his anus being bayoneted. “We came, we saw, he died,” said Hillary Clinton, apparently amused. There followed a period of cleansing of Gaddafi loyalists, finger-pointing, torture, disappearing and summary executions. African migrant workers found themselves lynched from lamp posts, as Libya gradually returned to medievalism. Old smuggling trails were reopened so that it became the major staging point for trafficking immigrants trying to reach Europe.
“There it is Dan. How the world works, in stark black and white,” croaked Sal. “Ignore the official narratives. Concentrate on the events and outcomes. The wanton rape and bulldozing of a country that was a stunning success for ordinary people. After its leader told the West to go fuck itself. There for all to see. Now in humanitarian crisis, ravaged by growing civil war and poverty, lacking in the basic services Gaddafi created, Islamic militants running amok. Did you know that a private Libyan central bank was set up incredibly quickly after the Colonel’s death? Libyan oil could again be sold only for dollars. And Libya’s lovely gold is somehow ‘lost’, unaccounted for.”
Sal paused. “Tell me if I’m wrong. Didn’t Nuremberg find the waging of aggressive war to be the supreme crime? Here we have events causing unfathomable levels of human suffering. But the victims were not white, so the perpetrators will never face justice at the Hague.”
Now Satan smiled. “I console myself with five puppet names. Cameron, Hague, Sarkozy, Clinton and Obama. None of them are immortal. Sooner or later, they will face me, on my territory. Then we will see about justice.”
He didn’t tell Dan his fears for the park’s residents. It was better to be practical. He had talked to Sid the previous evening, asking that his team find out as much information as possible about the two trillionaires in the UK. Anything to give the Firm an edge. They were already working on it, said Sid, rubbing Sal’s shoulders to ease the tensions.
Satan’s last sip of Dan’s Glen Mhor brought back his nagging need for money. The initial stacks of whisky he had shipped in for personal use during the halcyon summer days had been almost obliterated. Now, months on, the park’s budgeting was far tighter, as the aim of total self-sufficiency – with zero spend – inched nearer. He would have to defy Gandhi.