192. ‘Out of Essex’

My best achievement has been to marry and bring up children. No contest. So many life lessons packed into that process. And four bedrock relationships here in the present day.

Outside that, I especially love that I wrote and published ‘Out of Essex’ during the years from 2013 to 2015. Sometimes I look at its orange spine up on the shelf and think: “That’s yours, you persevering, semi-talented bastard!”

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It came out of nowhere, then geminated at a surprising pace. It is not boasting to claim the book as unique. Is it any good? That may depend on your political stance.

Like most wannabe writers, I had droned on for decades about writing a book. I started one over a decade earlier, writing about 90 pages. Here’s how that one commenced:

East London, October 1999. Neil Finnegan streamed with the crowd up the stairs of the tube station, stomach knotted at the prospect of meeting Vince Bull in the flesh. Selling him the deal was another matter.

In late 2002, I wrote a mini-autobiography, six months before Maureen and I had our financial crash. After that, I had to work my nuts off to stay financially liquid.

Was still working like a dog in April 2013, when Margaret Thatcher died. I hadn’t thought about her for years. To my mind, she had one positive to her name: the first female to become British prime minister. You cannot knock that, given the deep patriarchy of her time in office. Credit where it’s due.

But that’s it. Britain won the Falklands War under Maggie, but our army and navy was so superior that there could only ever be one winner. After that, when you examine her record in office, it is a litany of moves that divided the country. Sending the UK’s mining industry into terminal decline, decimating workers’ rights, cutting benefits, kicking the mentally ill onto the streets. And, more than anything, opening the gates to private debt, and where that leads. It’s all been listed elsewhere. In short, she was not benevolent. That’s me being polite.

When a series of accolades began to pour out of the media, anger began to swell in me. A state funeral, for God’s sake, with dignitaries flying in from around the world. WTF?

Knowing her religious convictions, I imagined the passage of her soul. And began to write a vicious short story detailing her arrival at ‘The Place’, met by angels. But then steered onwards.

Maggie was ushered on, past two black cats sniffing her feet. The temperature had risen. The corridor was narrowing, sloping downwards. Images on each wall terrified the root of her soul. British and Argentinean sailors flailing and screaming in the Falklands waters, and then Pinochet’s torture rooms beneath the Chilean football stadium. Blood on the ceiling. Detached limbs and eyes on the floor.

Another image. Showing Maggie and her blue team howling in derision at the red team’s support for the “terrorist” Nelson Mandela and the ANC. Something inside of her died further as the wall beamed an image of a July 2002 article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Don’t Go Wobbly”. She read her own words. “It is clear to anyone willing to face reality that the only reason Saddam took the risk of refusing to submit his activities to UN inspectors was that he is exerting every muscle to build WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction)”.

This was fun, as she began to intuit her destination.

Well over seven foot, blackly-clad, he looked as formidable as she had often fantasised. For a fleeting second, fighting down fear, Maggie wondered whether he might be “somebody I can do business with”.

Satan provides her with the memorial tribute that half the country was thinking but none of the mainstream British press would print.

“You devolved British thinking back to grocers’ epithets and crude sums involving the value of their houses. It was – still is – medieval, you moron, and now it’s your legacy.”

When finished, with Maggie looking aghast at a torture rack, I sent it to some friends, some of whom seemed to enjoy it. The pleasure throb was irresistible. I needed to write more.

What soon became evident, the more I read about Maggie, was how the fruits of her campaigns to privatise major UK industries, and open the City of London to global banking, were mainly a widening chasm of nationwide poverty, umbilically linked to the further enrichment of the richest. By 2013, all of Britain’s major cities and towns were experiencing growing levels of homelessness, the welfare state was being hacked back, and debt had become the foundation of the British economy. Banks were untouchable, despite their catalytic role in the 2007-08 financial crisis.

The most eye-opening factor, which I had never found reason to look into, was that the interest attached to the money created by commercial banks (which is about 87% of all money) gradually pulls wealth away from the bottom rungs of society. In short, that debt stealthily and slowly impoverishes the less resourceful members of society.

So what would God do, to challenge Maggie’s legacy, and the egregious financial systems? As my first few chapters fell into place, it dawned on me that she (yep, she) might send down a ‘benevolent ninja squad’ to sort things out. How about dusting down the souls of Gandhi and Buddha. Satan could be their minder.

But where to send them? I had recently rekindled friendships with old school friends from Southend-on-Sea, and decided that the Essex town could be the home for a breakaway society that made an effort to live without money. Growing its own food, using barter. And creating the seeds of a new consciousness that would overcome the material illnesses afflicting much of the modern world. God decided, drunkenly, that Maggie could be reincarnated to act as a kind of PR voice for the community, located in Southchurch Park, a real place at the eastern end of the town.

And so it went. The joy of creating a River Thames tsunami engendered by Jesus was not to be under-estimated. Nor that of sending Satan on a fast, night-time motorbike ride along the A127 to confront and dine with the Puppet Master (the PM), who controls one of the main banking families. Also Maggie learning martial arts, from Satan’s sons Beelzebub and Belial.

I wrote things that made me crease with laughter (particularly Satan’s love of single malt whisky), and welded them to chunks of polemic explaining how the money system grips, and manipulates and fucks our world. And how paying attention to newspapers and TV is almost the equivalent of a self-lobotomy.

And I threw in a lot of real conspiracy facts, with enough detail to separate them from the theories that are casually chucked around.

The climax had Maggie murdering a death squad sent by the PM to the park, and then Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi and a female car windscreen cleaner walking from Southend to Canary Wharf in a day. Instead of loaves and fish, Jesus distributes Gold Bars, the type made by McVities, to the suits. And then it all kicks off. And the change comes, as ‘Yesh consciousness’ gradually permeates.

It took about 18 months to write. Standing back, I was so chuffed.

‘Well done Kev, that is an audacious achievement,’ I told myself. Of course there were many areas for improvement, but – even if nobody ever reads it -you have surpassed yourself in terms of the book’s ambition.

I tried various agents and publishers with a few chapters, but none wanted to know. So I re-edited it, and tried again, with similar results. So be it. Fittingly, I used some PPI money from a few banks to print 50 copies, for friends and family.

Should I e-publish ‘Out of Essex’? It seems like a lot of trouble for little reward.

I would like to write another book, and await the muse rushing in again.

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190. Welcome distractions, remote desires

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My very good and trusted friend Al Campbell messaged me last night, suggesting that the subject of Blog 190 could be a no-brainer after a week of soccer that will live long in the memory. He had a point.

Above all, the unparalleled achievement of four English clubs winning their semi-finals in the two major European tournaments, the Champions League and the Europa League, to provide two all-English finals.

The standout games were Liverpool vs Barcelona and Ajax vs Tottenham Hotspur. In both Champions League matches, the odds were that the English side would lose again, after defeat in the first leg. So to watch Liverpool win 4-0 on Tuesday against Lionel Messi’s team, reversing the 3-0 defeat in Spain, was incredible. The unremitting efforts and physical commitment of the Liverpool players, and the sheer noise of the Merseyside crowd, clearly unhinged Barcelona. 1-0 to Liverpool at half-time. In the second half, without three of their stars (Salah, Robertson and Firmino), Liverpool tapped into a blend of perspiration and self-belief to score three against a team that could arguably win a World Cup.

For my money though, the Spurs effort in Amsterdam on Wednesday eclipsed Liverpool. Tottenham were also without their star striker, Harry Kane, and his co-striker Son was out of form. Ajax’s youthful team pinged the ball around delightfully in the first half and took a two-goal lead, increasing their advantage over the two legs to 3-0 by half-time. At times they started to showboat their skills, which may have been an unwise tease.

Whatever the Spurs manager said at half-time, his team came out for the second half with a new attitude. ‘We can still do this. Let’s not go home without half-killing ourselves to try and salvage this.’

Without a home crowd behind them, Tottenham somehow started to win all of the 50:50 challenges they had been losing in the first half, and to retain possession. Lucas Moura nicked a delightful goal. I’m a lifelong Hammer, but was cheering on our arch-rivals due to the desire on display. Don’t think I have ever seen such a will to win in a Spurs team. Danny Rose was playing as if his life depended on it. Then Moura scored another in a goalmouth scramble.

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Ajax had lost their composure, but time was running out. Still 3-2 overall to the home side. But another Spurs goal would win it, as goals scored away count double in the event of a tie over the two legs.

Tottenham defender Jan Verthonhen (wearing a plastic face mask to protect a damaged nose) then headed what looked like Spurs’ last chance against the crossbar. There were five minutes of extra time, and Tottenham kept going. In the last few seconds Moura latched onto a flick-on into the penalty box and steered the ball into the corner of the net. I shouted with joy, like a lifelong supporter.

What with Arsenal and Chelsea winning their Europa League semi-finals last night, and a spectacular goal by Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany on Monday to keep his team at the head of the Premiership, it’s fair to say that I have never known such a week of gripping soccer entertainment.

In truth though, it’s all a distraction. A welcome one, but still something to make the evenings pass.

It is just over a week since the demise of NewsBase was announced (Blog 188). The shock has gone, to be replaced by a sense of being financially adrift, heading for a metaphorical Niagara Falls. Were money no object, it would have been a perfect route to semi-retirement. In the real world, if the income (around £1300/month) is not replaced, all of the options are traumatic, and set my stomach spinning with anxiety.

Rather than dwell there, I have tried to focus on what can be done. Here in Great Waltham, I have placed a message on our local ‘Next Door’ e-mail service advertising my writing skills, for any purpose, professional or otherwise.

Meanwhile an Essex jobs agency has my details and is pinging me potential openings every morning. So far, mainly as a security guard – my brother Neil’s occupation! 60 hour weeks at £10 an hour, but travelling to London. That would wipe out the time required to carry on with my remaining jobs.

A London agency has my CV and has started sending through jobs for journalists, editors, proof-readers etc. For example, the Daily Express lacks a features writer at its Canary Wharf offices.

Of course I could apply. I would have to reverse all of my political views and loathing of commuting, and be prepared to write lies and slander. Better to be destitute? I really feel too old and jaded to re-engage in the cub reporter stuff, even for topics of journalistic interest.

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Out on the bike on Tuesday, on my standard 25-mile countryside course, a voice in my head recommended that I try a different route. Was that a metaphor for the work challenge?

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I have certainly wondered if proof-reading or copy writing might be a way to claw back the NewsBase earnings, after Maureen suggested those yesterday morning. She has often been able to look beyond my trees and see the wood.

In contemplating any new employment, one limitation, filter or maybe line not to be crossed is that I enjoy working remotely. I crave it. My hours to suit me. Pyjamas often the work clothes of choice. Cats littered around the room.

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Garden to stroll around or sit in when boredom sets in. Bike to climb on, wife to chat to.  Music as background, perhaps via headphones.

And I adore the rural living situation. The growing appreciation of nature has changed my attitude to the business which I write about. The cows below graze on the rich grass at the country estate a few hundred yards away. I love standing quietly and watching them.

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I am very disinclined to give up any of these central pleasures. Given the salient role of business in our planet’s fragility, I am also increasingly uncertain whether I could churn out too much more of the PR which constitutes most business writing. Unfortunately, I have become too good at this over the years.

This is all thinking aloud. The most attractive but tenuous idea of all came from old friend Shaun Wilson, who suggested that Rory and I might combine to write a new British gangster movie script.

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My memories of my dad’s scrap metal business are there to be dipped into.  Rory’s interest in film dialogue and his insights from the Film Studies course down in Gloucestershire could be invaluable.

So it’s all up in the air. But I’m sleeping well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

189. Bluebell wood

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Any Essex dweller with a spare half-day at this time of year could do far worse than visiting Blake’s Wood, an eye-catching National Trust reserve in Danbury, mid-Essex. In late April and early May, the managed woodland is covered by a stunningly magnificent carpet of bluebells. Once seen, rarely forgotten.

Maureen and I used to take the kids there. I can still remember pushing Rory in his pushchair up and down the trails. We went back on May 1st, for an afternoon out in a spot which is beautifully quiet. The photos depict its magic far better than any words.

The one on the left below makes me think of certain David Hockney pictures.

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188. NewsBase

 

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My friend Martin called yesterday at about 6.30. The sun was shining, and I wondered if he fancied an impromptu bike ride.

Instead it was disastrous news. Catastrophic, to be honest. NewsBase, my second largest employer by turnover, had gone into liquidation. Just like that. Martin also works for the company – which covered a wide spectrum of the global energy market from its base in Edinburgh – but not as regularly as me.

I write/wrote for four of their publications each week, covering electricity plus oil and gas in Africa, liquefied natural gas globally and unconventional oil and gas extraction globally. I have been freelancing for NewsBase for 16 years. Now it is gone. Kaput. And with it our monthly rent money, and slightly more. Wham, bam, thank you mam.

Suddenly I have time on my hands and it is too wet to go outside. May as well write about the company, which has been a stalwart financial supporter of the Godier family in the years since our 2003 financial crash.

In many ways, NewsBase reports pre-figured the way that news increasingly works today. Which is that Reuters or Bloomberg or the Associated Press (AP) put out a story on their newswires, and the entire mainstream media follows behind with the same story, tweaking it here and there and adding some new quotes and facts. At the lower end of the spectrum, my dad was interviewed four years ago by his local paper in Brentwood, Essex, after his blue badge parking permit was taken away from him, at age 88. A few days later The Sun carried exactly the same story and quotes.

(https://www.thesun.co.uk/archives/news/1205134/my-legs-are-useless-but-they-said-i-didnt-qualify-88-year-old-royal-navy-veteran-claims-hes-housebound-after-council-took-his-blue-badge/)

So the principle is that plagiarism has replaced journalism. All over the world. It’s cheaper and quicker, and legal, so long as you cite the source. Fewer journalists are required, which cuts the wage bills, and is eroding the profession. NewsBase very much encouraged this style of journalism, which I was unfamiliar with, having been trained to seek exclusive content. The policy in Edinburgh was to pay the writer a low rate for second-hand information (£0.10 per word), and get him or her to write lots of it, so that they can earn quite well if they knock out enough plagiarised articles. It was easy money, and was also, unexpectedly, a great learning curve in teaching me to check facts, rather than just blind copying, which has huge perils.

As the years went by, NewsBase did improve its act. It asked for original quotes, and better quality. And introduced a template for writing features, which I found to be a useful and practical way to look at any form of written work. The guidelines was to split the feature into three parts. 1) What? What’s the story, what’s new? When and where? Who says so? 2) Why? What’s driving this story? Past or recent factors? Was this inevitable, or a surprise? 3) What next? Self-explanatory. The pleasant part of concluding with a forecast was that NewsBase encouraged its writers to give their own take on the future, backed by some kind of evidence.

That format developed me as a writer. For which I’m grateful. Also for the regular pay-checks. However these could sometimes be spaced out very haphazardly for freelancers, and the delays got so bad once that I threatened my editors with a writing strike. Which brought a bollocking from the company’s founding director Gavin Don (below), followed by the offer of a monthly retainer. Which made life so much better. Never be afraid to complain.

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As to the present shock, I cannot imagine how the NewsBase payments can be replaced. Or the money I am still owed. Not only will that probably be paid at pennies in the pound, but it could take a protracted amount of time.

No point whining. Shit happens in business.

The irony is that the monotony of much of the NewsBase work has been increasingly dragging down my moods in the past year. I have been itching to write something else, that mirrors my interests, and piques my curiosity. Or to try a different kind of job altogether.

Now I have the chance. And I’m bricking it. Scared on a number of fronts. What next?

I’m so unsure of how to deal with this that I’ve decided to let the shock die down gradually across the Bank Holiday.

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187. Pond life

Over the last couple of weeks, I have become less inclined to post new blogs. No mystery why: the brighter light and sunshine is pulling me outside into the garden, onto the bike or on foot into the vicinity. Or cajoling a drive to the coast. Sitting at the computer is much less tolerable, unless work calls.

The autumn and winter bring out my introvert. It is the ideal time to reflect upon and write about the past and present. Without doubt, the blogs have helped stave off the SAD I encounter from November to March. Major success, boxes ticked. It’s pleasing to have found this therapy. But it feels as if the need is dropping as the days lengthen. So – unless there are a glut of wet days – long gaps between posts is a possibility until the autumn equinox. Photographs now and again, perhaps. A field near sunset, or a church passed while cycling.

 

 

We’ll see. 365 blogs remains the aim. Maybe with a spring 2020 finish. Who knows.

There is a major near-term task to fill some of the time. Our fuse box began to trip every few minutes last weekend, and we identified the ‘outbuildings’ switch as the pointer to the fault. The electrics on the fish pond pump were the culprit. As my landlord pondered his options, I suggested the ‘win-win’ of finding a home for the fish, and disassembling what has become a dilapidated structure.

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Our electricity bill reduced, and his onus to supply the fish pellets and maintain the pond disappears. He went for it immediately (as we had hoped and planned for some time). “It’s one less thing I have to worry about,” he said.

More importantly, we get to redesign a garden feature that has become a bit of an eyesore. But before that can happen, there is some hard work ahead, in disposing of the various materials and finding uses for the 20 wooden sleepers that are the core of the structure. Some may be rotted beyond utility.

 

 

When it is reinvented, and Maureen has splashed her colours and imagination around the void to come, we should have an improved view and new seating area.

The surprise is that I miss the fish. Watching them come to the surface for the daily pellet ration. Or basking near the surface in the sunshine. It made me happy to look after them, and see them survive each winter. Never underestimate the (two-way) value of nurture.

There were originally about 30, but we must have removed about 70, mainly goldfish. There were some interesting hybrids of carp and goldfish. A couple of the carp were huge. The whole catch now moves with far more freedom and space in a much bigger pond over at Felsted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

186. Japan in mid-Essex

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Digging into the novels of Haruki Murukami – above all the ‘Wind-up Bird Chronicle’ and ‘1Q84’ – has been one of life’s great pleasures. But I would still like to see Japan for myself.

The tea ceremonies, the yakuzi, the high-speed trains. The discipline of a people able to live, commute and work in tight spaces. The Buddhist temples. Geisha girls and indigenous whiskies. Obedience. The political legacy of the emperors, and the permeation of US business culture. Obedience. The martial arts propensities. And above all the cherry blossom in spring.

The BBC’s Monty Don made a great documentary about Japan last year. He arrived in Kyoto for the first cherry blossoms in late March, and captured vivid shots from the limited number of days when the blossom adorns the trees.  It was like a gorgeously mad dream.

I may never be rich enough to witness it in person. So have come to treasure the road where I live. Cherry Garden Road, Great Waltham. It lives up to its name, by virtue of 10 or so full-sized cherry trees planted along the length of the road, and another 12 or so that are still growing.

Here are my photos of a nearby tree, over the 16 to 23 April period. It’s a good time to be here.