OUT OF ESSEX – Chapter 36
People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in; their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
Almost 24 hours after Dave’s death, on 22 December, Dan’s mobile rang. An unfamiliar, posh voice asked: “Would you like the solution to many of Britain’s economic woes?”
“Who is this?”
“Somebody who has read your bulletins. Rather well-intentioned, I thought.”
Dan waited for more. Rain drummed against the caravan roof. He was writing his fourth newsletter. Distribution had spread beyond the moneyless communities to alternative media websites. Through the window, he saw police cars outside the Dawson household in Kensington Road.
“This call will not be traceable.” Another pause. “My father worked for the Bank of England, so I am familiar with the topics you cover.”
“Am I on the right track?” asked Dan
“Broadly speaking, yes. However you require a strong historical precedent to support your arguments against the banks.”
Dan reflected. He told the caller that he had extensively cited the short-lived, interest-free currency issues under American Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, and more protracted examples set by Australia, Canada and Guernsey.
“People often need to see something from their own history. Investigate the Bradbury Pound. It worked almost 100 years ago in Britain, under trying circumstances.” The line went dead. “Who was that,” asked Mary.
“No idea. Can you google ‘Bradbury Pound’ on your tablet?” They read together, gladly distracted from tensions that had crept into their domestic life under the shared limit of just a few square metres of draughty floor space.
The Bradbury Pound was introduced by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George on 7 August 1914. With war’s uncertainties looming, and only £9 million of gold sitting in national vaults, the move was designed to pre-empt any run on UK banks. Within just two days, Lloyd George forced a hardly used emergency measure through Parliament, allowing for money creation to shift away from the Bank of England’s interest-bearing notes to an interest- and debt-free currency printed by the Treasury.
Named after Sir John Bradbury, the Treasury Secretary who signed the initial batch, some £300 million of Bradbury paper was issued in ten shilling and pound notes. These were successfully used in the economy, as units of exchange, with no sudden inflation.
Dan added it to his mental arsenal. It was another important precedent of a major nation exercising its sovereign right to issue debt-free currency. A rare but welcome length of cold steel thrust into the heart of a vampiric private banking system.
Christmas was a mournful affair. The police had asked questions for a week, concluding that the murderer was an outsider. No key DNA traces were available. A young man in a dark hoodie was the suspect, which left several thousand possibilities.
The rain paused seven nights after Dave’s death. 350 people gathered under the starlight, on 28 December, 2013, to cremate his body alongside ‘Dave’s field’, as Southchurch Park’s massive allotment had been renamed.
Dan wore his brightest jumper, a thick tapestry of colour mirrored in every direction by his fellow campers. Predominantly yellow, red and orange garments were on display, sported by a throng of humans packed in a semi-circle around a funeral pyre built of driftwood and two of the park’s weakest trees. Old newspapers peeked out, ready for lighting. On top, the coffin waited.
Dave’s daughter, Lauren, walked uncertainly to a small podium, and delicately adjusted the microphone to a comfortable height. She pulled out a piece of paper and started to read.
“I love my daddy. He taught me to read, swim and ride a bike. He used to make toilet paper with famous people’s faces on it.” Chuckles broke out. Mary gripped Dan’s hand.
“I think you all loved him,” said Lauren. “I wish he would come back.” She looked across at her mum, Sarah, who smiled through tears.
Sarah joined her daughter at the mike. “It’s difficult for me to know what to say tonight. Dave probably helped every one of you, in one way or another. He can’t do that anymore. But he does have a legacy. Everything that will come out of the ground this spring will be down to his store of seeds.” Her eyes were streaming. Lauren hugged her mum’s waist.
“Dave built it up over the years, painstakingly. He used to swear blind that we would need it one day. I thought he was mad, but I loved him enough to indulge his madness. Anyway, this is the song he wanted everyone to hear, if it ever came to this.”
Nick Cave’s voice cut the air, pouring majestically out of hidden speakers, accompanied by simple, plaintive piano notes.
Across the oceans, across the seas,
Over forests of blackened trees.
Through valleys so still we dare not breathe,
To be by your side.
Over the shifting desert plains,
Across mountains all in flames.
Through howling winds and driving rains,
To be by your side.
Dan felt the lump in his throat swelling, as he recalled his one drunken evening with Dave, who preferred a mug of tea to alcohol. “Play this at my funeral, if it happens and you’re still around,” he had insisted, bringing up the video on his laptop. “Sarah knows, but there’s no harm in a bit of back up. You be my mate and remember this.”
Into the night as the stars collide,
Across the borders that divide.
Forests of stone standing petrified,
To be by your side.
Dave had helped himself to a fifth whisky, explaining that the song could be about the journey of a soul. “See all these geese in the video, they are like…. souls undertaking huge flights, thousands of miles, with short stops in between. That’s us. Yeah? In this life. Then the long haul to the next.”
Every mile and every year,
For every one a single tear.
I cannot explain this, Dear,
I will not even try.
A cavalcade of gorgeous geese honks preceded the chorus.
For I know one thing, love comes on a wing.
For tonight I will be by your side, but tomorrow I will fly.
Dave from the grave. Violins entered deftly, building the song. Wet-eyed, the semi-circle was transfixed.
Across the endless wilderness,
Where all the beasts bow down their heads.
Darling I will never rest,
Till I am by your side.
For I know one thing, love comes on a wing.
And tonight I will be by your side, but tomorrow I will fly away.
“He’s with us tonight,” croaked Dan to Mary, as the song ended. “Rest in peace, my friend.” Minutes passed while a choir of sobs swelled, cascaded and faded into the night.
Sarah spoke up again, grimacing. “We know now about the people who did this. Enemies who have shown their hand. Sal will talk about that later. All I ask is that every one of you toasts my husband deeply tonight. I’m told by our resident expert that dead souls can look down.”
She gestured towards the Buddha, who bowed his head. “So let’s give Dave something to behold. He would have wanted you to smile, laugh, cheer and celebrate his life. Please try.”
She walked to the funeral pyre, kissed her right hand and reached up to the coffin, pressing her fingers lightly on its lid. “Bye bye my darling.”
Buddha followed behind. He placed his arm on her left shoulder. She turned and walked away, while he applied a lit candle to the protruding paper twists. He intoned the Great Compassion Mantra.
As the flames caught, the community’s band, Parklife, struck up Dave’s second request. ‘Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.’ Voices were raised. Buckets were passed around, containing homemade mead Dave had brewed over the winter. Glasses were dipped again and again. Some danced, some hollered, some watched, as the fire consumed the coffin.
Dan caught glimpses of Claire’s rainbow hair bobbing as Captain Van Hoyte showed her a Dutch folk dance. He saw Mike Burper and Sheena drunkenly moving their bodies in what resembled something between a skinhead football stomp and a choreographed Bollywood routine.
But of all the odd, mismatched images, nothing came close to the sight of Buddha, Gandhi and Satan talking, while nobody around them paid any attention. The little Indian was dominating the conversation, gesticulating, jiggling his eyebrows, waving his arms. Sid was listening hard, impassively. Satan’s disdain for Gandhi had nowhere to hide.
An iconic threesome, spanning time and culture. No painter or photographer would ever capture this moment. Any nobody cared, because Dave was dead.
An hour or so later, they quietened again, as Satan took the podium. He briefed them on his London visit, no detail spared, wincing visibly as he played back Eric’s threat: “If these communities continue to be a nuisance, expect worse.” A ripple ran around the residents. Fear mixed with anger.
Stamping his feet for warmth, Dan began thinking about a visit to Nigeria in 2005. He recalled the power outages in Lagos hotels, holes in the road, and traffic congestions where beggars surrounded his taxi. As the sun rose in Abuja, Nigerians walked the long road from the airport to the capital city, belongings on their heads, marching in daily servitude to tribal chieftains that divvied up the nation’s profits.
Corruption was endemic. Tribes and militants stole oil from pipelines criss-crossing the Niger Delta. Pirates stole oil from tankers. The national oil company stole over $1 billion of oil revenues each month, according to the Central Bank. Heads of banks had been stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from shareholders until caught in 2009. The government regularly stole the hundreds of millions of dollars pumped in by the World Bank and other multilateral lenders.
None of the London bankers, insurers and lawyers who talked about Nigeria’s mess to Dan ever acknowledged the irony, if indeed they had the brains to perceive it. Not just Chancellor Osborne announcing growth, employment and inflation figures that bore no relation to reality, like any jaunty Nigerian politician, but the daily plunder under their own noses. Less brazen than Nigeria’s corruption, but equally wide-reaching. Companies and individuals sending their wealth out through the labyrinthine offshore tentacles of the City, switching and dodging and obfuscating until audit trails were dense and tax was no longer payable.
While, for the ordinary man and woman, bailiffs were banging on doors, potholes littered roads and hospitals struggled to cope.
The journalist in Dan swiftly identified key themes as Satan related Eric’s crowing. Under the guise of a global spiritual centre, the Vatican was a city-state wielding enormous power, sitting on untold wealth. Its corruption had always been palpable: biblical edits; ignoring priests’ paedophilia; collaboration with the Nazis; and a hoarding of riches while hundreds of millions of Catholics struggled in poverty. Dan recalled his history teacher telling him how Pope Innocent III had rejected and annulled the Magna Carta. Annulled it.
The clans’ military centre was Washington DC. It appeared to have a remit to pursue wars that kept human spirituality in perpetual check, and maximised profits from huge armaments and security industry investments by banking families. He made a mental note to dig deeper into the DC (District of Columbia) status. Was it also ring-fenced, like the Vatican?
The third centre lay upriver from Southend. A ‘Dark Star’ that exerted untrammelled financial seduction, according to Tony Travers, a London School of Economics professor. “London is the dark star of the economy, inexorably sucking in resources, people and energy. Nobody knows how to control it,” Travers argued. London took 45% of all foreign direct investment into the UK in 2012. Eric had intimated that the City was beyond parliamentary control, possibly another city-state.
Whatever it was, it was serviced by money slaves, who would find the Southchurch project incomprehensible. At least Nigerians had some colour about them. The City’s uniforms and dull orthodoxy had developed, dangerously, into something approaching a global business standard. Children everywhere were encouraged to study hard and become just like these people. Dan remembered one, a banker who revealed after two bottles of wine that he had funded Hawk jets used to bombard East Timor.
Dan looked across to the pyre, where Dave’s body was gone now, evaporated and scattered. His spirit had somehow stayed behind, spreading itself through the soil beneath their feet.
Even Dan’s son, 20 miles away, was feeling the love. How excellent, how bloody wonderful, how stupendously marvellous that his lad Edward wanted nothing to do with the City debt machine, or its legal underpinning, as it sucked and sucked.
No desire to be one of its operatives, who learned to stigmatise or disregard anything that did not fit the profit- and asset-based ‘business model’. Humans with hearts and minds who trained themselves to walk blithely past the homeless on London’s streets, oblivious to the implosion of the NHS and the permanent underclass swelling away from the tall buildings.
While Satan described Eric’s degeneracy, Dan mentally stripped the City of Corruption down to its essence, ignoring the human ants filing in and out. His mind tore away the superimposed hologram: the restaurants, bars, theatres, museums, galleries, shops and tourist attractions such as the London Eye.
The remnant was a terrifying wall of money, miles high, sloshing back and forth. Unleashed by Maggie’s financial deregulation, it had sluiced away from the City, propelled by the breath of the gargoyles, dragons, lizards and serpents that adorned ancient walls. It crashed and splashed out across Britain, then the world, soaking humanity in the illusion that credit was endless, cheap and the answer to every prayer.
Hedge funds burgeoned. Foreign exchange, derivatives and bond markets exploded. The nimblest humans and businesses surfed the wave, did their clever interest rate deals, stashed their gains. The masses dived right in, borne along. Money was so inexpensive it was almost free, opening a land of luxury and trinkets.
Suddenly bigger houses were within reach, or multiple foreign holidays. Perhaps private schooling. For those preferring visceral excitement, the options involving drugs, booze, gambling and stock markets exploded. Cocaine entered recreational use in the City; cafes spilled onto pavements, as licensing laws relaxed; day traders sprang up like warts; online punting was there at the click of a mouse. Credit for these activities was inexhaustible. Second mortgages were taken out for cars and holidays.
National, state and local authorities began to see themselves as potential investors, sitting on pensions and other assets able to generate additional earnings. Governments continued to borrow as if tomorrow would never come, while even tramps sat around new mattresses, comparing their credit cards. In 2006, you could buy a house via a self-certified mortgage. “Yes, I’m a school janitor, working from home mainly, earning about £300,000 a year.”
Then the wave hit the beach, in 2007-2008. Almost certainly the controlling families at work, Dan now saw. Panic rose, then subsided as G20 governments were ordered to bail out the clans’ banks. All seemed well again, until the money wave began to reverse, sucking repayments, plus interest, or the equivalent collateral, back towards those who had created it from nothing.
The wave pulled back houses and pensions; bankrupted businesses and individuals; decimated the financial standing of cities; squeezed local government budgets past the bone, imbibing jobs and salaries; and left governments resorting to bedroom taxes and privatisations to repay debts. A generation left high and dry.
Satan finished by depicting Eric’s death. Dan was surprised at how few cheers this evoked. Barely six months old, the community seemed to have accelerated, painfully, into hard-won adulthood.
As Sal slipped away into the darkness, Dan noticed Genevieve climb onto the podium, hair flying in the breeze that had lifted, and grab the mike.
“I’m pissed as a parrot, but I know for a fact that none of us will ever hear anything like that from anybody, ever again. We’ve just had a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of how this world works.”
She was swaying. “I’ve heard some of you talking about leaving. Nobody would blame you, least of all me. It’s clearly fucking dangerous to go against these people.”
Diana wandered over, holding out her hand. “When I’m sober, I hope you’re still all here. I love all of you. Right now, my girlfriend needs me.”
Mary stayed with Sheena, Ruth and Claire. Sitting by the bonfire’s embers with Sarah and Lauren, saying a long goodbye to Dave.
Dan returned to the caravan, to pursue his growing obsession. He boiled the kettle, made a hot cup of drinking chocolate, and flipped open the laptop. He delved into the period just after the First World War’s outbreak, when markets were deemed to be calm enough to allow the reintroduction of traditional, privately-issued money. No more Bradbury Pound.
It seemed that Lloyd George had consulted his old adversary, the influential politician and banker Lord Nathan Mayer Rothschild, about what could be done to raise more money for the war effort.
Dan so wished he could have been a fly on that wall, eavesdropping on two titanic forces, bitterly opposed.
By war’s end, the usual narrative had resumed. The UK’s interest-bearing bond debt had grown hugely, from £650 million in 2014 to £7.5 billion. “The same old story: wars kill millions and enrich financiers,” muttered Dan.
He was encouraged to learn that a House of Commons Early Day Motion (EDM) had been signed just months ago, in November 2013, by Austin Mitchell, John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and two other Labour MPs, to launch the Bradbury Pound’s forthcoming centenary anniversary (1914-2014). The EDM urged the Treasury “to follow John Bradbury’s model and address social, economic and political issues across party lines in one fell swoop and avoid wholly unnecessary austerity cuts.”
Dan smiled crookedly. “Not a chance in the world. But well done for trying lads.”