OUT OF ESSEX – CHAPTER 43
In a human sacrifice to deity there might be at least a mistaken and terrible beauty; in the rites of the moneychangers, where greed, laziness, and envy were assumed to move all men’s acts, even the terrible became banal.
Ursula Le Guin
The tiring quartet turned south onto the A114, bisecting the green expanse of Wanstead Flats. Dominating the south-western skyline, London’s tallest buildings jutted up from Canary Wharf and the City’s eastern domain.
Gandhi saw a horizon of pomp and arrogance. Once asked by a journalist for his view of western civilisation, the Indian sage was reputed to have replied: “I think it would be a good idea”. A century or more on, he gave not a hoot that London was the world’s largest financial centre, generating the biggest city GDP in Europe. “God help them,” he said, told that people were paying an average of nearly £1.5 million for houses in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in west London.
Where Wanstead flats ended, and the Borough of Newham began, it was clear that the City’s wealth was no panacea for ordinary Londoners. In some streets everything looked like the back of something else. Satellite dishes hung limply. Rubbish was strewn carelessly. Shops had little regard to their appearance. The pavement was peppered with weary individuals. Outside Forest Gate station a street cleaner shuffled a broom, head down.
Outside a shop named ‘Herbal Island’, an elderly black lady in a sun hat and glasses was fiercely guarding a trolley. Cigarette protruding, she punched the air and shouted “Jesus Christ” as they neared. Yesh smiled, bowed and touched her outstretched arm. Her hacking laugh followed them for 100 yards, past two 99 pence shops.
The odd-looking travellers turned west onto the Stratford road, briefly glimpsing a tall mosque. Asian women looked from a balcony at a dishevelled white man, carrying a chair on his back. This, Gandhi mulled, was the Britain that its middle class preferred to ignore, as they kept things running for the soft-spoken psychopaths sitting behind the scenes.
During the historic negotiations to free India, Mahatma had glimpsed the unfeeling mentality polluting the City’s most opulent rooms, where the money system rested and recreated. The mild-mannered monsters who gave orders to Churchill invested effort in maintaining their public image of decency. Yet clues were left: correspondence unintended for his eye; words overheard. Inadvertent hints that these men would, without qualm, hunt an animal, bugger a child, privatise a cancer ward or profit from wholesale killing of other humans.
Inbred, conceited and cold, that cruelty had founded the British Empire, the greatest resources grab ever seen.
The City’s pirates were quite something, he mulled. They would unabashedly wear poppies while selling weapons to the world’s worst thugs, before selling more to western armies, to blast the initial buyers out of existence. Of 28 countries on the Foreign Office’s list “of concern”, 23 had deals to buy arms from the UK, Dan Fawkes had told him.
In their conversations in Southend, Dan insisted that the paedophile Savile had regularly rubbed shoulders with what he called the UK’s ‘shadow government’. Mahatma thought again about Satan’s December meeting with the white-haired man, in the City’s dark heart.
Jesus was urging them onwards towards Canary Wharf. Several miles back, Dawn had asked the Son of God to heal her blisters at a large roundabout opposite Redbridge tube station. Something like electricity had flowed from his hands. “I love you Yesh”, she had bubbled.
Gandhi pondered on her “ladders” idea, as he observed the faces in this part of Newham. A couple of miles ahead, they would encounter the so-called ‘world-class’ industry, serving the interests of a few. Unaccountable, predatory and oligarchic in nature, the financial sector had accumulated a power which no politician could control. Now it squeezed, via complex share ownership, on the entire global economy, remorselessly extracting marrow. Dawn told of the glares she received at supermarkets when she insisted on using manned tills. “When they ask me to use the self-service tills I turn around and tell them straight: I want to keep people in jobs.”
The powerful tribes which built the City skyline had also manufactured the ticking time-bomb beneath Britain: a national debt long past any conventional redemption, due to interest payable. Profits from this swindle were constantly reinvested in media to persuade the workforce that all was well. Gandhi recalled a banner held up in 2011 by the Occupy protesters at St Pauls Cathedral: “What would Jesus do?” it asked. They were about to find out.
They emerged from Stratford, heading for the Bow roundabout and flyover amid ranks of fluorescently-clad workmen drilling into concrete.
Jesus could see sky to the south-west engulfed by darkness. As they cut through graffitied streets, into Poplar, the blackness intensified. Swirling and folding its unseen algorithms into the high Canary Wharf towers, visible only to those who had eyes to see.
Mahatma began to recall words from 1899, when he was a 30-year-old, working in South Africa. Words from Marlow, Joseph Conrad’s independently-minded character, as he shared a boat with four companions, off the Essex marshes. “The air was dark above Gravesend,” wrote Conrad, “and further back still, seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless” over London. In his epic tale, ‘Heart of Darkness’, Conrad had taken less than 100 pages to forever nail the theft and degradation spawned by the “monstrous city” and rival European empires.
Depicting the Golden Hind, returning with “round flanks full of treasure”, Conrad was unambiguous. “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it”.
When the benevolent ninja squad finally slumped onto a long marble seat, in a modern square encompassing Canary Wharf tube station, suited hordes were pouring from tall buildings. Gandhi’s instincts flipped back to Marlow’s description of trading company officials, “with no learning or intelligence, who ……originated nothing, could only keep the routine going.”
The light which Mahatma had shone within the darkness of normal human existence, during his last life, found no connection here. No link with the advertisers’ dreams flashing through minds, nor the sheen escaping from garments, or the dull reflections from briefcases.
Canary Wharf, he decided, was a gleaming outpost in the new empire of the mind, a lustrous tribute to the digital economy that sat over quays and inlets of older barbarisms.
The Glenlivet which God kept for emergencies had proved irresistible, as screens showed her lad nearing the City. The 18-year old malt was classic Speyside: smooth and nicely sherried on the finish. She was flanked by Satan and Maggie. “Do you think it’s maybe a little too watery boss?” asked the Devil, after his second sip. God replied that it was a benchmark malt. “And Sal, it’s great to have you back. Looks as if you’ve caught the sun.”
Satan had cried with relief to be home. After deep indulgences with Morgana, he had pulled up a chair next to God as the four walking companions had made the southwards turn away from the A12, before Whipps Cross roundabout. His eye zoomed in on Canary Wharf, perceiving the three prongs. The trident, in which the Citi and HSBC towers flanked the larger building topped by a pyramid.
Maggie drank quickly, and without appreciation. Her pride was stung at being excluded from what might be the Firm’s finest hour, or possibly its curtain call. God’s advice that souls went through infinite learning curves offered little consolation. But she kept watching. She would see this through.
As they observed the square’s human traffic, Dawn realised her companion was talking to himself. “What is a good citizen? If you are not prepared to stand up for those who are less able than you then you are not a good citizen,” Gandhi muttered, despairingly. “Good citizens are kind, they help, they are dedicated to service; good citizens complain about wrongdoing, good citizens come together and show solidarity to their fellow citizens, to the poor and abandoned.”
He told her that in India he once undertook a 240-mile trek to protest a tax on salt. “For what cause have we walked 40 miles today? Certainly not for these people around us.”
Nearby, a well-dressed, older Japanese man entertained a pasty-faced white girl on his lap. It astonished Dawn how many men bestriding the square were fat. Others looked ridiculously arrogant. Most seemed relieved that another day was over. Wasted but over.
Gandhi remembered how Judas sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. Around $500 in modern money. He spoke again: “People who think it acceptable to make money from money, or to sell faulty financial products on an epic scale, without thought to the consequences for others. These people, most certainly, cannot be good citizens.”
She agreed, had often thought that bankers did nothing, made nothing; that their market was no more than a bunch of numbers, independent of physical reality. Her husband sometimes sang lines from Steve Tilston, a folk singer:
Behind their hedge, they don’t plant wheat,
They don’t cut corn, they don’t pick tea,
They don’t dig coal, they don’t forge steel.
They just push numbers all about,
They push too far we bail them out,
Keep their fingers firm on fortune’s wheel.
Gandhi was recorded as the inventor of ‘satyagraha’ – insistence on truth. He turned to Dawn, touching her arm gently. “The lack of insight in these people that you see – it makes them pushovers to persuade that their industry has only a cold. How shocked they would be to know it is already suffering a stage four cancer,” he told her. The Indian sank back into himself. Not really knowing what he was on about, she stayed silent, marvelling at how good her feet felt.
George ran extensive weapons checks on the four. Ballistic and imaging devices showed them to be clean. By the time they sat opposite the tube station, his live stream was incorporating alternating images from thousands of scanning devices. His dilemma was existential. Curiosity grinding against the compulsion to eradicate. “What is the threat?” he had asked the clans’ super-computer. “Unknowable”, it bleeped.
He had two hundred police and army operatives in and around the square, many in adjoining establishments: the Slug and Lettuce, All Bar One, Carluccio’s and Smollensky’s. Outside the Cat and Canary, several hundred yards away, off Wren Landing, another hundred darkly uniformed men blocked views of the North Dock.
George considered Gandhi’s capabilities. Assuaging pain, spreading love, making men brothers. Was he planning to lead a fast? His impression was of a subservient role in the group. He knew about the Buddha’s tricks, his siddhis. But these were always benevolent. The woman was a complete nobody. So what the bloody hell was Jesus up to? What made him think he would improve upon his previous effort?
And what would Eric have done, if he were still around?
Dawn liked the green hooded shape of the grass and trees wrapping the back of the tube station. She pulled out more gold bars, handed them around. Jesus and Buddha munched contentedly, watching the throng. Sid observed several males around the square acting more like policeman than financiers.
Gandhi was still talking, likening the derivatives market to a gigantic warehouse stuffed with explosives. Conrad’s words continued to be apt: “A grass shed full of calico, cotton prints, beads, and I don’t know what else, burst into a blaze so suddenly that you would have thought the earth had opened to let an avenging fire consume all that trash.”
He told Dawn how he used every spare evening at Southchurch to research the financial systems which so enraged God. Finally, she said: “I’m sure God understands, but can you try and explain it to me?” She wanted to try out one of the bicycles with Barclays logos, which were lined up in front of them, awaiting riders.
The reincarnated sage pursed his lips, stroking his moustache. “In essence, it is all loo-roll, Dawn. Endless toilet paper. Banks can churn it out endlessly because here in the UK, between 1988 and 2008, British politicians were persuaded to outsource critical aspects of banking regulation and supervision to the private sector, which allowed financiers to write their own rules.”
Dawn knew she would carry on cleaning windscreens, keeping life simple.
Gandhi fumed aloud. “Hence George Soros was able to profit by £1 billion on ‘Black Wednesday’, 16 September 1992, by selling sterling he did not own. Hence all of the collateralised and asset-backed debt obligations, the structured investment vehicles, and all the other derivative pulp and foolish betting that pole-axed the banking system in 2007 and 2008.”
His indignation was deepening. “At one stage, $400 trillion worth or more of paper scams froze up and would not sell or trade on the world markets, which, you will recall, ground to a halt through lack of liquidity. That number, that preposterous sum, was equivalent to the planet’s entire GDP for 11 years.” Dawn looked up at a building, where moving headlines told of severe US weather, and rising tensions in Ukraine.
Gandhi continued: “Eventually the financial U-bend was unblocked, letting out a disgusting belch, but only after governments stepped in, foolishly, to socialise some of the risks.”
“Do you mean they bailed them out?”
The wiry Indian nodded. “Even though this paper means nothing and was backed by nothing. Now six years later, today’s derivatives market is estimated at around 1.8 quadrillion dollars, $600 trillion more than in 2007, despite the globally collapsing physical production economy. The market is a runaway train that has to go faster in order not to crash.”
“OK, so will this speeding loo-roll come off the rails, sooner or later?” she asked, blissfully unaware of her mixed metaphors. Dawn saw no panic in faces heading towards shops, bars, restaurants and stations in the vicinity. A red DLR train was slowly exiting the elevated Heron Quays station visible across water.
“Probably only a super-computer with access to all of the endless data could answer that,” replied Gandhi. “It can never be written off, for sure, only refinanced, re-hypothecated and otherwise added to.”
Dawn remembered another of Steve’s sayings. “Capitalists always say that capitalism is the best system. There’s nothing profound about this – it’s like a bully saying that bullying people is best.”
Yeshua took little interest in economic numbers and financial statistics. He understood, simply, that financial systems drained resources from and destroyed the lives of millions.
He surveyed the square again. Hurrying people were using small electronic devices. Missing the beautiful place inside themselves, in favour of nothing.
Yesh looked across the Middle Dock, past the bicycles, at a bulky building sporting the JP Morgan name, next to a smaller, wider building carrying the Morgan Stanley moniker. Awnings flapped over restaurant tables behind them.
Some 48 years before the birth of Jesus, another JC, Julius Caesar, had taken on the financiers. By reducing the worst excesses of Rome’s loan sharking, minting public coins and establishing massive public works programmes.
77 years after Caesar was assassinated, Jesus kicked over the tables in the Jerusalem temple, where only the half-shekel was accepted for temple tax remittances. The money changers had cornered the market in the coins. They exploited that monopoly to extract wealth, totally violating the sanctity of God’s house.
He said to them: “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’, but you make it a den of robbers.”
Days later the Pharisees called for Jesus to be put to death. They talked using holy words. But acted differently when challenged. So what were they, those who walked not their talk?
Susan Grice was walking around the block to clear her head. Later that evening, the same road that circled Canary Wharf’s financial district would be closed to cars for a charity cycle race. Kerbside barriers were being assembled. She wanted to get drunk with her best friend, Celinda. A hangover might even help tomorrow’s task: to nominate her bank for awards.
Awards!! For doing what any half-competent fool could do, getting very well paid, yet without helping society. A journalist she knew, Dan Fawkes, reckoned you might as well laud grass for growing. Or praise people for not being shot in peacetime. She liked Dan’s cynicism.
Susan contrasted him with Pete, her husband. A hedge fund manager, his annoying habits included talking about art as if he knew much more than the price of the Hirst and Warhol paintings on their walls.
She let herself wander down steps to Reuters Plaza. Food vendors were selling ‘empire dogs’, organic chickpeas, and Indian street food, competing with restaurants opposite. She sat by quite an odd group, probably tourists.
“You OK love?” said a tiny woman next to her. A pretty face, empathic yet somehow pugnacious. Susan scowled. “Since you asked, I’m fed up with my job and my husband.” Dawn looked at the nicely matching red jacket, skirt and shoes. “Well it’s sometimes easier to talk to a stranger. I’m Dawn.”
“Susan. You and your friends – are you here for the first time?”
“Yep, all of us. Do you live in London?”
“Over in Hampstead, but I’m from Colchester originally.”
“Fellow Essex girl then,” said Dawn. “I’m from Southend. Will you leave him? Have you got kids?”
“Two. I can’t work out if he’s a good husband, or even a good person. He earns shed loads of money, but thinks mainly about earning more.”
“It’s only my opinion, Susan, but maybe you need to talk to Jesus.”
Susan groaned inside at how the most surprising people defaulted to religion to address their problems. It was within everybody’s power to work things out for themselves, with a bit of common sense and positivity. “He’s here with us now,” Dawn added.
Shoehorned into this conversation, via umpteen listening devices, George noted the lack of any wider interest in the quartet.
He reassured himself. His clans had won hearts and minds long ago. The scene in the East London plaza said it all. Hordes devoting their lives to paper carrying the faces of their slavers. They were patriotic and they voted. Their children took on the student debt that would shackle their later lives. All were lost without the gadgets and screens on which the Establishment’s tacit message was repeated remorselessly: “We are cute, cuddly, and you can buy things from us, so go back to sleep.”
A mass change in awareness that they were all being conned, culled and reaped would need more than a few oddballs congregating in a financial district. “We control everything”, he told himself again. Not arrogance, just reality. Shown by the trust that people still placed in banks to protect their money, despite new structures preventing large cash withdrawals. Soon, G20 officials would quietly decide that bank deposits were to be legally considered as investments in that bank, paving the way for ‘bail-ins’.
Other matters required his attention. His media were working overtime to scare Scots about independence. Another idea was a sharp increase in parking and speeding fines, to keep money rolling in. Could he tax food banks? To distract the herd, maybe a cringe-worthy challenge where they tipped buckets of water over each other.
US clans were hastening legislation that would make indefinite citizen detention a lawful reality. Guantanamo Bay was a mere starting point. Other priorities included selling more armaments and munitions to Boko Haram in Nigeria, and to Al-Qaeda in Mali, where the gold was there for the taking. Also arming both sides of the Sudanese and Syrian conflicts.
Fresh mayhem would strike Ukraine, where Nazi elements were being inserted into the political power structure. George smiled quietly at the knowledge that a new global bogeyman, entitled ISIS, was being funded by the Saudis and Qatar, and trained by the CIA. To reinforce the stereotyping, Hollywood had a film in the works, ‘American Sniper’.
How hugely satisfying if Jesus had to report back that they were facing a done deal, a slam dunk. Let God find another bloody planet to save.