209. OUT OF ESSEX

CHAPTER SEVEN – Anyone for doubles?

  

“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”
Raymond Chandler

 

 

When Satan later returned to Leigh, Micky Gaze was waiting outside the Crooked Billet.

Satan handed across small change and the mobile phone as they surveyed the becalmed estuary and the easternmost tip of Canvey Island. “How do you do that thing in the loo?” asked Micky. They were drinking Balvenie, from the Speyside distillery.

Satan waited, enjoying the drink’s wood finish. “It’s not unlike Scotty beaming up Captain Kirk in Star Trek.” Micky wanted far more than that. “OK, when I’m here I vibrate at a lower frequency. Stop laughing. At The Place I vibrate at a higher rate. The bridge between the two, accessed from those toilets, is a kind of ‘wormhole’, translating one frequency to another. Make sense?”

Micky shrugged. “Do you mean a shithole? How far away is your home?”

“How far away are radio signals that your phone turns into digital messages and sound? They exist to the left of your elbow as you raise that glass, over there on Two-Tree Island where your cousin walks his dog, and above Sydney Bridge on the other side of this world.”

 

As they talked, Satan processed the last 24 hours. The Nick Cave song had launched a controlled drinking bout in a darkly intimate environment. It had brought back memories of 1930s Chicago, without the machine guns. The first tipple was Lagavulin single malt, from Islay. Wary of standing at bars, given his height, Satan poached a table and prepared to drink through the night.

He let the aromatic, plummy flavours work, listening into football discussions nearby. 1966 never stopped for the English.

Even Jesus and Buddha were hooked on the game. Their enlightenment included watching every North London derby on God’s screens, and engaging in ‘siddhi’, as Buddha called them. If Jesus began to chant “Glory, Glory Hallelujah”, Arsenal would be unable to get the ball from Tottenham. Buddha then fell into stone-deep meditations that coincided with intricate passing by Arsenal’s midfield, bringing the Spurs goal within range.

Sal snapped from his reverie. Soccer was part of the bread and circus routine distracting from a “perfect storm” brewing across Earth, according to God’s most recent briefing. Stony-faced, she had focused on the root of the current “austerity” drive, when Gordon Brown bailed out a potential half trillion pounds banking “hole” in 2008. This hole riddled many of God’s briefings.

A middle-aged woman seeking a table asked Sal if he minded her joining him. “Be my guest”, he nodded absent-mindedly.

Back to God, who had recapped how a temporary calm had returned to global capital markets when the rest of Europe, plus the US, followed suit. “It obscured the numbing reality that capitalism was bankrupt,” hissed the Creator. “Exit the idea of rising and falling on your merit. Enter the notion of too big to fail.”

Satan had rarely seen her so unhappy. “Citizens’ money was thrown at banks as if there was no tomorrow, which may be the case,” she groaned. “Iceland, God bless it, let the banks go bust. Corrupt politicians were physically removed from the Parliament building, and individuals arrested and tried for reckless decisions. The country is back on its financial feet.”

The woman introduced herself as Mary, asking if Sal wanted a refill. “Only if you promise to let me reciprocate,” he answered. “It’s the Lagavulin, but I’m an expensive partner. I drink doubles!”

He fell into contemplation again before Mary returned with the malts. “I’m Sal,” he purred. “To a very long life, Mary. Did you know that Britain is technically bankrupt?”

“Cheers Sal – and no!” she replied. He was pleasantly surprised that she looked interested.

“OK, stop me when I bore you.” He explained, as simply as he could, that if you added together the UK’s official public debt of almost £1.4 trillion, to Private Finance Initiative (PFI) debt, which the government guaranteed, and the lending which would be needed to plug massive gaps in the money required for state pensions, you had a potential debt that could never be repaid.

Relieved that she wasn’t yawning, he forged on. “Some economists say the UK’s debt liabilities, per person, are way higher than Greece, which is dying on its feet as the world watches.”

“Do you work in the City?” she asked. Naturally blond, she had a kind face. “Hardly,” he laughed. “But I have a boss who knows everything about everything. She insists I listen.”

“Well here’s a chance to educate myself. What else should I worry about Sal?”

“You may soon have to pay for cancer treatment and kids’ operations, because the NHS is massively cash-strapped, and demand for its services will rise as the population ages.”

“No! The NHS is our God-given right, paid for by taxes and national health contributions.” Mary was shaking her head, annoyed, as he continued.

“What your media – I call them the ‘Disney media’- under-publicise is how PFI debt repayments are killing hospitals. Now, before you snore, what’s your line of work?”

“It’s fascinating Sal. I’m a psychologist at a psychiatric hospital. By the way the Lagavulin is delicious. I decided to copy you.”

“If there was a heaven, they would drink this stuff!”

“Yes. So, I’ve been at a recent conference where Professor David Nutt gave two talks. He does have an unfortunate name, and a Bristolian accent which makes him sound like a farmer.”

She warmed to it. “But his thought processes are compelling. He has been lobbying the government for years to let him research psilocybin and other class-A drugs which might help various psychiatric disorders. But your ‘Disney media’ – I do like that nickname – portray him as an eccentric urging everyone to take drugs.”

Satan sighed. “The alliance of media, governments and Big Pharma is killing us all.” He flashed back to another of God’s briefings. Nutt had been fired as Britain’s most senior drugs adviser, having promoted evidence that a component of psilocybin can help repress parts of the brain associated with self-criticism. However, the mind-altering effects were similar to those of LSD, which not only scared Whitehall silly, but had led the USA to ban LSD in 1966, terrified that American youth would trip heavily and resist conscription to Vietnam.

Mary related how Nutt did a Channel 4 trial of ecstasy, to obtain research funding. Her eyes lit. “He has even suggested cocaine-sniffing bankers caused the financial crisis!” She smiled, self-conscious at her passion.

“Your enthusiasm is how we should all approach our work,” said Satan, remembering the effects of just one ecstasy tab when God let him attend a mid-Essex music festival. He ended up dancing to The Prodigy with his tail hanging out. A group of girls had become hysterical. When the band sang how they would “put on an iron shirt, and chase Satan out of earth” he had wept with laughter.

“Same again Mary?” he asked, standing. She nodded, tongue-tied at the uninterrupted view of his full height. Satan’s attention switched to the jukebox, where Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” was playing. He changed it with a flick of his mind, a practice God had warned against. Now it was “Stand Down Margaret” by The Beat. The amazing saxophone kicked in, the bass, the drums. His darkly-clad buttocks wiggled unstoppably.

Desiring feedback on Maggie, before tomorrow’s funeral, he web-surfed on the iphone provided by Micky. The first comment was harsh, with a glaring spelling mistake: “She was the woman who single handley robbed a generation of all hope and then laughed at them. I hope the fella with the big fork sticks it right up you.” Christ that’s me, thought Satan, taking the drinks back.

A second opinion provided more of the strong opinions Satan loved. “I think her stand against the unions as exactly what the country needed at a time when we were considered a hopeless basket case of a country,” said another woman. “I remember doing homework by candlelight in the 70s because of yet another strike. I remember Ford workers at Dagenham threatening to strike because management tried to stop them sleeping through the night shift. I remember the bullying of flying pickets and the arrogance of Arthur Scargill.”

Essex musician Billy Bragg was next up. He had argued, compassionately, against “raising a glass to the death of an infirm old lady”. He said: “The death of Margaret…. is nothing more than a salient reminder of how Britain got into the mess that we are in today. Of why ordinary working people are no longer able to earn enough from one job to support a family; of why there is a shortage of decent affordable housing; of why domestic growth is driven by credit, not by real incomes.”

Satan asked Mary for her line on Maggie. She talked of her father, a miner who had died in Nottingham without state help for his funeral after Thatcher had targeted the elimination of every single benefit for striking miners. “I hope the crowd tomorrow let rip with an explosion of contempt for her. I think most people remember what she destroyed.” Mary was trembling a little. Satan stretched out his hand, hoping she would not mention the gloves. “There are lots of ways to look back at Maggie,” he said, and flicked with his mind. The Who’s “Don’t Get Fooled Again” commenced.

A guy behind leaned over. “Very sorry to hear about your dad, but uncanny that you should mention Nottingham,” he said. “I picketed the Nottingham Evening Post in 1978/9. The police were brilliantly marshalled into what we called ‘The Wedge’. The biggest copper fronted the V shape they drove at us, and those behind wore a number 49 or 51 on the back of their helmets. They were Maggie’s Special Force,” he recalled.

Another mind flick, lining up The Clash’s ‘White Man in the Hammersmith Palais’. Nobody noticed. The whole place was in its cups. More single malts, and he was so far in the zone that he barely listened to one of Maggie’s defenders talking to Mary. Satan loved Joe Strummer’s line that if Hitler flew in today, a limousine would await. There could be no denying that the mass murderer Pinochet had received the ‘red carpet’ treatment when Maggie invited him to Britain.

Now the pro-Maggie guy spoke. “She made Britain punch above its weight.” Satan couldn’t help himself. “Think about your words,” he said. “Why does any country want to be punching? Fighting begets only more fighting.” That stopped the bloke in his tracks. Satan changed the sound again. Ghost Town, by The Specials, describing Coventry in 1981.

Half-listening, he stewed on one of God’s conclusions that morning: that the potential for a major war was widening, especially in the Middle East, Ukraine and Korea. “Wars revitalise munitions production, overshadow debt concerns and permit ruling regimes to censor their opponents,” the boss had observed.

Satan relayed all of this to Mary, plus God’s prognosis that an act of war or a natural disaster could tip financial markets over a cliff. Mary chipped in. “My husband was briefed by one insurance company last year that radiation leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant remain so bad they categorise it as a potential “extinction event”. He is a journalist, by the way.”

They needed another drink. “Shall we try some of the Oban?” asked Satan. “It’s an 18 year-old with a classic balance – not too smoky, not too sweet.”

When he came back, the glow surrounding Mary’s heart was obvious. “My husband and I are saving for an “ayahuasca” trip to Brazil or Peru, to experience shamanic healing ceremonies.” Satan raised an eyebrow. Jesus had enthused about these ancient tribal rituals which allowed people to heal themselves away from allopathic medicine.

He took up the baton. “Then you probably know that the core element in those ceremonies, DMT, or dimethyltryptomine, is stored in the tiny pineal gland, in the middle of your brain. Jesus told me that boosting DMT levels cures depression and heightens perceptions that most humans lost long ago.”

Her puzzled look by-passed Satan. “Once you replace missing DMT a natural joy returns and remains, often for years. We are convinced that would help humanity.”

Her smile was gone. “Who is we? Have you met Jesus?”

Shit! His big mouth when he was drinking. Could he risk the truth? God granted him licence to select a few reliable humans to help the Firm. Mary was ticking every box, but her husband was a journalist. Keeping that decision at bay, he carried on. “One of the reasons humans generally trudge through adult life with a low-functioning pineal gland is the fluoride in water.”

She was aware. “Not just water but toothpaste and mouthwash,” said Mary. “X-rays have shown the pineal gland lining becomes encrusted. That very possibly denies lucid dreams and diminishes creativity, from early teens to the grave. DMT starts to reverse that.” She hesitated. “Now, will you trust me and tell me about Jesus?”

“Tell me first what you think of X-Factor.” He loved asking this. Visibly exasperated, she considered it. “I’m certainly no fan. I’d compare X-Factor to fluoride. It depletes something inside you.” She carried on: “Was it designed that way? Deliberately?” Her thoughts raced. “You might have to strap Simon Cowell to a torture rack to know that.”

He exploded with laughter. “Yes, I might, I just might” he said.

208. OUT OF ESSEX

 

Chapter 6 – FROM ESSEX TO ROME

 

 

Essex is like a weather-vane for the whole of the UK.

Pam Cox, Colchester University lecturer.

 

 

 

Summoned by God, to discuss Maggie’s state funeral, Sal strode up the Highway to Hell. His eyes picked out enduring stains on the ground, from Jimmy Savile’s expiry and utter eradication.

In the central zone, a camel stood by the big needle. The man with the gold watch was trying to force his shoulder through the eye.

Sal opened the door marked ‘Heaven’. Inevitably, God was parked before the screens. “We need you on the ground, down at St Pauls, to gauge the mood,” she opened, no niceties.

God set the scene, summarising the key points. The number of UK citizens at the precipice of real poverty, or already over the cliff, she explained, was mushrooming as the government wielded its welfare spending axe. Yet millions of pounds were being spent on Maggie’s full military funeral, incensing her detractors. Other Brits, revering her memory, were intent on paying last respects.

Ramping up tensions, the Disney media was “indulging in censorship”, God said. Satan noticed bags under her eyes. The most ludicrous example, she underlined, was a BBC decision that its Official Chart Show would not play the 51-second Judy Garland song Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead in full.

An online campaign by Maggie’s opponents after her demise had propelled the old Wizard of Oz song to number two in the BBC pop charts.

Never a soccer fan, God noted next that English football authorities had decided not to observe a one-minute silence at forthcoming games. God asked Satan why. “That’s easy boss. They know full well a silence would not be observed.”

At Reading football club, numerous visiting Liverpool fans had danced in the stands at the Madejski Stadium, singing: “Let’s all do the conga, Maggie is no longer.” Others held out a banner which read: “You didn’t care when you lied; we didn’t care when you died.”

Satan liked the bluntness of soccer fans. You knew where you stood.

 

***

 

On Wednesday April 16, 2013, he stood somewhat unsteadily in the public toilet at the Crooked Billet pub, by the River Thames mud flats at Leigh-on-Sea, in southern Essex.

The Billet’s single malt menu was excellent. And its loos were the site of the permanent portal God had created for the Firm’s work in England. Satan clutched the wall to let the dimensional dizziness subside, as odours of ale and food drifted in from the pub.

Micky Gaze was sitting outside. Drinking amber beer in the spring sunshine, a friend either side.

Micky had helped the Firm on several occasions. Cheekily, Satan asked him for a treble Talisker, another peaty beauty, from the Isle of Skye’s sole distillery. Single malts offered extreme comfort after the frequency change, Satan liked to tell himself.

“Just a treble?” grinned Micky. He handed over the wad of notes requested by God.

Satan divined that Micky’s mates were gay. They were drinking in his beautiful dark hair, green eyes, chiselled face and tall physique. Nobody could see his tail, wrapped around his waist as a trouser belt, nor his hands. Gloves hid vast webs of hair.

“I’m spoken for, sorry guys,” he smiled. Turning to Micky, he thanked him for the £200 now lining his pocket. “Tell me, do you feel any lingering guilt about that swan?” he enquired.

Sal could see the golden light pour out from Micky’s heart, covering passers-by. The combination of the sea breeze, good company and fine whisky reminded Satan why souls enjoyed being wrapped in a human body. Or a “space-suit” as Jesus called it.

Soon after necking the malt, swift goodbyes and a short walk to Leigh station, Satan was on the London-bound train.

Punctuated by stops at Benfleet and Pitsea, he eavesdropped surrounding conversations riddled with the money, sex, food, cars, soccer, holidays, clothes and houses that preoccupied many southern Essex dwellers. A world where the young, especially, favoured a philosophy of bigger, faster and shinier, as if they were confirming Agent Smith’s view in The Matrix, that “we have started doing your thinking for you”.

He wanted to hear redeeming words about a book, or film. Even better, a trenchant Essex view on the political shenanigans unwinding around the funeral. Or a casual mention that governments lied like dogs pissed on lamp posts. He yearned for Essex curiosity about the thousands of children that went missing every year in the UK, or why the heads of enslavers were printed on paper money.

At Basildon – traditionally a great bellwether seat for the trends in parliamentary elections – five girls boarded and sat adjacent. They were drunk; obsessed by their phones. The blondest kept looking at him. She was chewing gum. “Oi mate, you’re well fit,” she said, smiling and slightly opening her legs.

“And?”

“You fancy going up the train, finding somewhere quiet?” She was oblivious to passengers’ turning heads.

“Thanks for asking. But I’ll pass this time.”

He wondered if this female had even the faintest idea that Essex had been a fertile breeding ground for all manner of collectivist, Utopian, socialistic and morally-improving experiments. Names including New Harmony, the Village Society, and the Redemption Society were among communities that flourished briefly during a period spanning the late 19th century to the eve of World War Two.

“You enarf speak posh,” said the blonde. “Why you wearin’ them gloves?”

“None of your business,” he smiled.

The Salvation Army’s founder William Booth had created a “land and industrial colony” at Hadleigh, near Leigh-on-Sea, to reform “broken men of bad habits”. And a teetotal retreat on Osea Island had been established by the Charrington brewing family. Satan found that idea appalling.

“Listen mate I can’t do you cos it’s my period. But I give a banging hand-job.”

“Offer appreciated. But I roll my own.”

She didn’t give up. “Wot about me n Steph” – she pointed to a redhead – “both sucking you off?”

“That kindness could take you a long way. Ah, here we are at my station, Laindon. Bye”. He got out and walked towards the ticket office. “You faakin queer or what?” came the shout, from the opened window.

He jumped back in the last, thankfully deserted, carriage. Mood at rock bottom. Every one of the souls on the train was infinite consciousness having one of countless experiences in a human body, yet many were insanely short-term in their outlook, or acted like branded livestock.

Shaking his head, Satan reverted to God’s briefing that morning. She had touched on lingering problems at Irish banks that had already received tens of billions of taxpayers’ bailout money. Then Cyprus, where global banking authorities had recently persuaded politicians that stealing depositors’ money was also a perfectly acceptable policy, through so-called ‘bail-ins’ at Cypriot banks. “Are the Irish banks about to get Cyprused?” asked Satan.

God was silent for a while. “You can only kick so many cans so far down a road,” she said, referring to the nickname given to the practice of recurrent bailout. While Satan had a vision of sharply-tailored bankers running down a high street in a tin-kicking race, God spoke again. “Like the last days of Rome, a poisoned seam runs through control structures.” Sounding exhausted, she added: “The time really has come to tackle the problem. Now or never.”

Satan thought of Iceland, where bankers had been tried and imprisoned. God had never sounded this disgruntled. As London’s outskirts shot by, Satan remembered an optional extra that evening. An event at the Policy Exchange in Westminster would ask whether Maggie was the ‘Mother of Modernisation’. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the three speakers on offer.

Number one, the silver-tongued Lord Mandelson, former First Secretary of State, and co-expeditor of the carnage in Iraq. So spiritually unaware that he was happy to label himself as a ‘spin doctor’. God and Satan had punched the air in delight when Mandelson was outed by media as a “friend” of billionaire financiers Nat and Jacob Rothschild. “Let us remember this is not a crime in itself,” said the Buddha. “Many people are innocent,” Jesus had added.

Speaker two, Charles Moore, Maggie’s authorised biographer. He had rewritten history, portraying her as an ally of Nelson Mandela. So another liar. Clown three, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, was suggesting various strategies to boost private investment into schools, and labelling opponents to his educational curriculum as ‘Marxist’. A complete fucking idiot.

Satan saw these labels – left, right, communist, fascist, Marxist, socialist – as insane. People should be categorised only by the love in their hearts. When the train stopped at Barking, he watched two French students in his carriage help an elderly man with his wheelchair.

Sal thought fleetingly of ATOS, an IT consultancy, which was rolling out a new disability test system to support the government’s ‘austerity drive’. Like Hitler’s Nazis, a Western government was slowly exterminating the infirm, in broad daylight, to help ‘reduce the deficit’. The numbers of seriously ill that had already been denied benefits via ATOS assessments, and then died, was so large that the death toll was now covered up. Government reaction to each fresh death was to stick fingers in ears and repeat ‘lah lah lah’ loudly.

Piling on the agony for the worst-off was the ‘bedroom tax’. This comprised a cut to government-funded support payments, in cases where a house occupant had a spare room. Estimates said that some over half a million people would lose, on average, over £700 per year, as a result. Satan foresaw surges of rent arrears and bailiffs’ visits. He imagined beadles roaming the streets, prodding the homeless into workhouses and soup kitchens. And new orphanages for the 3.5 million British kids who now lived in poverty

Prime Minister David Cameron and his Etonian tribe expected some of the least advantaged to live on £53 a week. The unelected Lord Freud, who dreamed up the bedroom tax, owned seven houses. Seven. Topping it all, the Queen – whose undisclosed personal fortune could end British poverty at the drop of a hat – had just been awarded a £5 million pay rise.

At the Policy Exchange, he could hear twaddle from hollow men, establishment intellectuals who were indifferent to whether children slept warmly, with full bellies. Or he could pass the time in an all-night bar near Spitalfields, well stocked with single malts. Micky Gaze’s cash would come in useful.

Alighting at Fenchurch Street, he desisted from kicking an empty can down the platform. Sal headed west, in the sunshine, towards Threadneedle Street, observing how every third or fourth human was using a mobile phone, talking or using the small screens. Few looked up to the planes flying at strange angles, leaving white trails that formed pyramids and crosses.

So much was hidden in plain sight. At his destination, he surveyed the Duke of Wellington, sitting calmly on his horse outside the entrance to the Royal Exchange. Satan liked to come here, to remind himself about 1815. The statue purportedly commemorated Wellington’s assistance to the City of London in ensuring a bill was passed to allow the rebuilding of London Bridge.

Tourists taking pictures spun around when Satan began to laugh out loud. He was looking across the road to the grim Bank of England building, thinking of the unspoken commemoration, to the battle of Waterloo, and the linked financial events. An elderly black lady walked past slowly, weighed by plastic bags on each arm, eyes fixed on the pavement.

Sal found it extremely interesting that the Bank of England had reportedly destroyed all of its Monetary Policy Committee records covering the critical years of 2007 and 2008, as global financial markets melted down. While new generations learned to instagram and tweet, big decisions were made quietly here in this part of the world.

He watched a couple head home, fixed on their phones. She. Long blonde hair, centre parting, blue-grey skirt suit, light tan tights, and dark court shoes. He. Spiky, short, gelled dark hair.  Dark, small pin-striped suit. White shirt, Red satin tie. High polished winkle pickers. They might as well be off a City worker production line.

Sal guessed at the evening ahead. More screens, of course. He would most likely gaze spellbound at sport, before focusing hard on images of women. She would probably look spellbound at TV, or Facebook. He would cheer, beer, jeer and ejaculate. She would survey steam mops, bonded leather sofa sets, spa weekends, laser nail fungus treatments, nests of tables, cast-iron kitchenware, teeth whitening, Scandinavian cooking experiences, cruises, make up master-classes, personalised house signs and weight management.

The Buddha had told them for aeons that nations, as well as humans, had karma. Britain’s was clearly paying out. The UK was embroiled in the painful ‘bardo’ of dying. A country that had invaded over two hundred other territories and run major slave, arms and drug trades had some serious shit to address. If his instincts were correct, a liberating move was still possible, when “dharmata” arrived.

When Satan finally reached the Spitalfields bar, Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’ was teeing up on the jukebox. Uncannily that first line rang out. “I don’t believe in an interventionist God”. Sal shook his head again, smiled, and ordered.

 

207. OUT OF ESSEX

CHAPTER FIVE – The mind of God

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

Soren Kierkegaard

 

 

Who can ever know the mind of God? On her first night’s sleep at The Place, Maggie fell into the most vivid dream.

Later, as her spiritual journey progressed, she was encouraged by angels to recall the dream, and contemplate its meaning. While Maggie described it, one angel touch-typed a transcription, tidying and sharpening the language into a record to be filed away.

 

 

Bob hopped up onto God’s lap. Satan’s male cat had a habit of nudging open the door to the inner sanctum whenever she was about to meditate.

          God smiled as he began to purr. Bob adored every being that he met on his rounds. No favourites.

          God settled again in her Chesterfield armchair, briefly observing how the mustard velvet covering had withstood the years. Satan had brought the chair back from one of his City of London forays.

          This and a flow of other thoughts appeared, and then disappeared. One of these being the notion that most sentient activity within her creation could be boiled down to observers peering into available fields of consciousness. Looking at the equivalent of multi-dimensional screens, whether awake or asleep. And holding the ability and will-power to lucidly influence events on the screens.

As her mind became stiller and quieter, she moved down to the well of consciousness, from whence sprang pure creativity.

          Here, where she had created the world. Beautiful and exquisite initially: elegant, cohesive and harmonious. She had dreamed it into existence, glorying as she witnessed the joy.

Then the first experiment. Inserting a man and woman, in her own image, and offering the choice. To stay contentedly in the paradise, or enter and steward a more complex world, where good and evil co-existed; sun, moon and stars shone in cycles; and all humans possessed free will. A world where entities would kill and eat each other, in lives that spanned never-ending pain, struggle and death.

          Bob rumbled away, spread happily across her tummy and upper thighs. A Rolls-Royce engine of a cat, idling in neutral.

          She knew she had designed the most incredible and magnificent challenge. One where her love was quiet but ever-present, generating an invitation to wisdom, truth-seeking, sharing and witnessing.

Later, at a moment when materialism and complacency were choking human abilities to live truthfully, she had upped the stakes. She had imagined an intimate shard of herself into the very fabric and texture of her dream, by implanting her son Jesus into the game.

The subsequent resurrection message could not have been any clearer: that you cannot perish if you live your truth. And that for those who managed to live well, using their free will to steer paths of love and benevolence amid the disavowing, better things awaited.

          An over-familiar thought entered her meditation. Had the challenge spiralled out of hand? Could humanity still change its course? Or was it too late.

The two World Wars had darkened her moods. After the 1945 decision by the United States military to detonate nuclear weapons in two Japanese cities, 150,000 mainly innocent human beings had been incinerated. The wounded were described by survivors as living pieces of charcoal, wandering aimlessly as their skin fell off, and vomiting out their insides until they collapsed and died. This was her creation.

          In the intervening seven or so decades, she had become increasingly hooked to The Place’s screens. Looking into a world where the most critical notions of God had been progressively excised in favour of misleading narratives spinning out from Rome, London, Washington and elsewhere.

 

 Bob stretched, yawned and jumped down.

When God opened her eyes, they alighted on a gleaming bottle that Satan had brought back from his excursions. A 50-year old Glenfiddich single malt that he had stolen from Selfridges. In earthly perceptions, worth tens of thousands of pounds, he suggested.

He was the best lieutenant available, as flawed as any human, but loyal as a dog. The star witness to the almost invisible nature of the centralised empire that crushed human spirit. The empire about which no school taught.

The first sip was very sweet, white water rafting her down a torrent of flavour, descending from upstream zesty marmalades and vanilla toffee towards a widening estuary of herbs and fruits. And hints of smoke.

Relaxing, her other hand reached for her King James version of the Bible. By intermediating, the churches had sullied and bastardised her Word. Contained in these 66 books. Deep layers of knowledge, encoded. A mystical, sanctified and potent system for living. Her fingers traced intricate patterns across the dark leather

206. OUT OF ESSEX

CHAPTER FOUR- Maggie

  

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Woody Allen

 

 

What is it like to die? Not for the first time, Maggie felt, she was finding out. Satan sat opposite, whistling softly. His tail was almost still, surely a good sign? The torture rack remained unused.

Buddhist masters teach that death comprises three key stages, or ‘bardos’. Firstly, the painful bardo of dying. Then a dawning of the true nature of mind, involving sound, colour and light. Known as “dharmata”, this stage offers the possibility of liberation from the life, death and rebirth cycle. Few, it is said, are enlightened or awake enough to comprehend or recall its nature.

On one occasion, God asked Buddha himself to describe “dharmata”. They sat in The Place’s top floor, sipping a deliciously peaty 18-year-old Bunnahabhain single malt from Islay. God’s massive brow wrinkled a little: “It all seems too easy from this vantage point. Remind me of the struggle,” she insisted.

Buddha gave his biggest smile. “Oh God, what a question,” he said, rocking back in mirth from his cross-legged posture. “Imagine death as the shock of coming home to see your house has been plundered, even the doors and windows stolen. Despite losing everything, you are so able to adapt that your mind immediately moves to a place of bliss, of pure, wordless surrender, where your primordial awareness rests in a silent abyss beyond all knowing.”

He continued, as God nodded. “Resting in that state of peace, you may start to glimpse the deathless nature of the enlightened mind. Training to become this aware can last thousands of lifetimes.”

Maggie had slipped well past this juncture. She was amid the karmic ‘bardo of becoming’, the next intermediate stage until a new birth. Her most recent life was now clear, although somehow accompanied by an inexplicable memory of a karate floor. What was that? A previous life?

Fragments of her composure were reassembling, helped by a reassuringly hot cup of tea. The Ming china reminded her of early mornings at number 10, preparing for briefings. At her happiest, helming the ship of state. Elatedly, she realised that her dementia had cleared.

So was reincarnation an option, as the Dalai Lama proclaimed? She hoped so, but suddenly remembered her refusal to meet Tibet’s leader-in-exile, due to political complexities.

The Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile nonetheless expressed sadness at her demise. She “was not only a great Briton but also one of the most towering leaders of the last century,” it wrote in a letter to David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister. “Those Tibetans know how to safeguard their karma,” Buddha later told God.

The Devil looked across from an ornate and exceedingly high-backed chair. A member of Babylon’s ruling class had stolen it from an Assyrian merchant. Satan chuckled silently at the manufactured smells and other mock elements used to soften her up. The whole Prince of Darkness thing had its uses.

She stayed silent, as he reached for a box of nail files. In his heart, Satan felt Maggie deserved far more than his brief chastisement. Her foreign policies alone – support for apartheid in South Africa, and the befriending of a murderous Chilean dictator – were worth her current discomfort.

But she had reaped the greatest whirlwind at home, tearing giant holes in the social fabric. Like a demented contract killer, she had presided over the virtual dismantling of Britain’s car, steel and shipbuilding industries; and had ground mining unions to submission, while deceiving the public over pit closure plans. She shuddered every time his tail rustled. Yet he saw little remorse, looking up now and again while he ground away at the black, horny nails extending from his hairy fingers.

Satan saw so many misdeeds. Regressive taxation policies that penalised millions of the poorest, while all British citizens were encouraged to value greed and see their fellows and neighbours as competitors. As financial services were liberalised, basic human services were privatised: every time a tap turned or an oven heated, a shareholder now made a profit. Divides between North and South and rich and poor were steadily exacerbated, culminating in massive rioting in 1990 after the infamous ‘poll tax’.

Satan always winced hardest at the paedophilia drenching her regime. Her party’s deputy chairman, Peter Morrison, was arrested for sexually molesting under-age boys in a public lavatory. No charges were brought. While multiple Cabinet ministers managed to elude being named and shamed, the rape and abuse perpetrated by her personal friend, one James Savile, said it all.

He had to get past these perceptions. “Apologies. I lost my temper there,” he said. “Truth is, Mags, you’ve stored up considerable merit. That’s why we’re sitting here now.”

He looked at the torture rack, tail twitching. “Jimmy Savile was on that thing a while ago. It’s fair to say I got somewhat “medieval on his ass”, to quote that line from Pulp Fiction. Have you seen that film, where the gimps run the secret basement?”

Maggie shook her head. Better a clean house and a balanced budget, than time wasted on a sofa. She really hated being called Mags.

“He was your mate, wasn’t he? Is there anything you want to confide about that relationship? Nice Christmas dinners? Much talking turkey?”

“We thought he was a good man,” she finally said. “A mistake.”

“Yeah, he told me quite a few of his as I was pulling his toenails out.” She listened, horror rising. “Certain figures at the very top of Britain’s establishment, for whom he was a child-catcher. All covered up with money, threats and even executions. You’ll understand that we had to exact a modicum of justice. Can you imagine what I did with those cigars of his?”

She held her breath: “Long story short, he ended up with his stomach opened and his long intestine tied to my pet minotaur. A couple of helpers sent Minnie charging back up the Highway to Hell, with the AC/DC song blasting on the speakers, and our seven cats giving chase and nibbling at his remains.”

She could hardly listen. “His guts measured about 300 yards. His screams were appalling, so we cut out his vocal chords. But there is a silver lining: we converted his long intestine into a firehose.” In the corner, Maggie noticed an odd-coloured pipe wound around a reel.

A sleek black cat bounded onto Satan’s lap. Maggie thought again about the company she had kept. As if Satan could mind-read, he asked: “And how about the very urbane Lord Victor Rothschild? Quite a friend and advisor, was he not?”

Memories of Victor’s persuasive manner came tumbling back. A confidante of earlier Prime Ministers Churchill, Heath and Wilson, Victor had glowed at each rolling back of regulation in the City. How humiliating to have been so easily charmed. She straightened her gown.

Time for some praise, Satan decided.

“Don’t be disheartened. Do you remember how you stood up in the London parliament to defend your policies? Time and time again, to catcalls and boos from the red team?”

“I will never forget,” she intoned, a tear welling in her eye.

“It was gutsy. And when you took on Arthur Scargill, and his miners, we could hardly look away from the screens upstairs.”

“I comprehensively outmanoeuvred him.”

“Oh yes. Letting him win the first round while your government stockpiled coal and came back with the counter punch. Damned impressive for any watching tactician.”

“But?”

“But indeed. An enormous amount of UK citizens on both sides of that chasm you widened lived on with hatred in their hearts. And that, Maggie, is not what a well-lived life is about”.

She asked, nervously. “Does that mean I could endure my next life as a lump of coal?”

“Oh Mags you’re a hoot! You kill me. And the answer is no. I believe you are going to incarnate again very usefully. Listen, in my very humble opinion you set a fantastic example for women in the UK. No matter how tough your job, you never played that gender card that many of the lovely ladies whip out so readily. Wow!”

She agreed. “Let’s big you up girl. Look at how you took on the IRA. Scoring points here, losing points there, but you squared up. That was brave, and it was noted upstairs.” Maggie recalled God’s stern face on her book of Sunday school catechisms.

Satan realised he had nearly exhausted her positive attributes. “You did what you thought was dutiful, but you let Britain’s divisions amplify.”

Had she?

Satan sighed: “We need to move on. The Falklands saw you feted as a national hero, but eventually you lost your key cabinet ministers with that madcap poll tax lark. Another of Victor’s ideas. Then seven years later Britain elected your ‘greatest creation’, Tony Blair.” Satan took several deep breaths.

He remained furious that the so-called “serious” media in the West failed to splash across their front pages that Blair and former US President George W. Bush had – for their actions in Iraq – been found guilty in absentia of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and genocide in a November 2011 trial brought by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission. The tacit gags on mainstream reporting of uncomfortable truths had spawned one of his favourite phrases, the “Disney media”.

Weary of this retrospect, Maggie cut to the chase. “What precisely do you want of me?”

“Top question sis. By the way call me Sal if you want. Now, to answer your question, I’ll tell the tale of a guy who took a shit on a swan.”

“I beg your pardon”. Maggie could hardly believe how the most astounding conversation she had ever experienced was descending to a gutter level nightmare. And sis? Sis!!!

“I know, I know, it seems irrelevant and horrific. Swans are beautiful, majestic creatures, in which Britain’s Queen takes an interest. But one drunken night, shortly before you came to power, this guy hung his backside off a bridge in south-east Essex, took aim, and besmirched the beast. We saw it live on the screens.”

“And ……..so what?”

“God frowned massively, I can tell you. We would normally mark that as very negative karma. Even now the Buddha shakes his head at that one”.

“But”.

“Again, very perceptive. You see that swan may have had it coming because it was involved in a dodgy cygnet ring.” Satan laughed so hard that he fell off his chair, and lay, clutching his stomach.

Maggie looked more annoyed than cowed now. After he sat back down, another cat hopped onto his lap.

“Seriously, this guy had one of the finest hearts. We could see it glow sometimes. He took a few wild rides but went on to spend his life as a fireman and family man”. Satan was beaming: “We picked him out early as someone to recruit.”

This was immensely frustrating. “Your point is?”

“Thought you would have twigged, Mags. We all make mistakes but there are endless chances to atone, through service to others. Always the ladder to higher and better lives.” So much to consider, but Satan was off again.

“Bottom line: you have a talent we can put to use, and we think it will liberate and enlighten you. Now, would you like to be of so much service that you will again change Britain, and perhaps the world?”

“I’m so tired Sal” she said, risking his abbreviated name. “I want to know everything. But can I rest please?”

“Fill your boots. Ask the angels for anything you need.” He stood, blew a kiss and pointed to a tray by the door. She smiled. Lincolnshire sausage pie, mash and gravy. Her father, Alderman Alfie Roberts, would have adored that.

205. OUT OF ESSEX

CHAPTER THREE – An Essex Dawn

Life is ‘trying things to see if they work’

Ray Bradbury

 

 

Around 40 miles east of London, God had big plans for a new experiment.

Humanity needed a giant kick up the backside. The initiative would start in Essex, within the town of Southend-on-Sea, once a thriving tourist resort.

Curiously enough, the town had a permanent memorial to Maggie, Margaret Thatcher House, a now-dilapidated three-floor building built back in the 1980s near to the courts and civic centre. Later, Maggie’s eyes had looked down on Southend shoppers in an advert placed across the north side of the bridge spanning the high street in autumn 2011, two years before her death.

Maggie’s biggest legacy to the wider area was of course the mythical ‘Essex Man’, an unsubtle, noisy creature who supposedly once lived in London and voted Labour, but had moved out and switched to the Tories, helping ensure her success.

 

 

One Southend dweller, Dawn Landais, was also preparing to seize the day. Dawn’s call-centre job fell so far short of her family’s money needs that she had circled eight pay-day lenders in the local paper. If she had bought their council house all those years ago it would probably be theirs by now, she kept telling herself.

Genevieve, her teenage daughter, was finishing some toast. The previous day, two of her rich friends at Westcliff High School for Girls said they felt ‘insecure’ because they hadn’t got a 30 grand deposit already lined up for a house.

“I told ‘em straight mum, they’re wankers.” The school had complained in writing, referencing other, similar remarks

Dawn made up her mind. She shooed Genevieve out the door, telling her to try and behave. Dawn was about to do something she’d always fancied, rather than faff about worrying. She just had to buy a few items.

Dawn had explained it to her mum on the phone. “Two minutes from home, cash in hand. I’ve always been a people’s person, mum. Here’s the plan. Hours to suit me, quid a time. I can do a car’s front and back screen in 40 seconds. Have to, or the rozzers will nick me for holding up traffic. Two months from now, I will know 400 drivers by their first names. And it’ll keep me fit.

As her mum asked about Steve, Dawn recalled her husband’s shining idea all those years ago. Sitting outside the Crooked Billet, pint in hand, on their first date, down in Leigh-on-Sea. “Just by being born, a human is entitled to a certain amount of money, shelter, water, electricity, and so on. People might be willing to put far more into the system than they took out under those conditions.”

None of the blokes in the clubs talked like that. Dawn knew straight away that he was the one.

204. OUT OF ESSEX

CHAPTER TWO – The city of corruption

 

“Here is a man whose life and actions the world has already condemned – yet whose enormous fortune…has already brought him acquittal!” 
Cicero

 

 

He awoke naked at about 7 pm, in the simply-furnished bedroom where he had slept for the past half century. A radiator gurgled softly. Stretching languorously, he switched on a lamp, threw back the white quilt and proceeded to the washbasin. Picking up the pint glass standing between the taps, he placed his glans penis over the rim, letting urine flow to its regular tidemark. Around seven eighths of a pint.

Inserting the plug in the sink, he emptied the glass. The colour was somewhere between yellow and clear: sufficient urea to be effective without excess odour. He dipped the flannel in the liquid, letting his hands sit in the warmth before squeezing the cloth. Dabbing each part of his face, head and neck. Unusually, his dream was perturbing him. His backbone had been crumbling. It was an extraordinary spine, vertebrae consisting of gold coins.

He walked to a nearby window, observing early Saturday evening humanity. This part of the City was bereft of shops. Under a cherry tree in raging pink blossom, a young woman waved an arm, tightly clad buttocks swaying as she chatted on her mobile. Good cheekbones beneath black hair. Italian?

She tilted his mind back to Oxbridge, decades ago. One Friday evening, after some execrable sludge in the communal dining room, he watched a dozen fellow undergraduates become shockingly drunk in his rooms. A small gas fire fought the January freeze. Two of the women suited his purposes, he decided, while taking tiny sips from the bottled stout and cheap French wine being rapidly passed around. He selected the more inebriated, wagering silently that she would be unable to walk home.

She vomited in his sink as the drinking games peaked. His later offer of a bed was accepted gratefully. Her snores shook the room. From the sleeping bag, he prodded her firmly with a finger. Zero reaction. Her head hung from the bed, dark hair falling almost to the floor. Her open mouth took the first ejaculation, eyelids motionless. If anything, his excitement mounted.

Following his father’s instructions, he crept into the bed’s other side, easing up the tee-shirt serving as her nightie. He pounded her shoulder several times. Dead to the world. Gently, with a smudge of vaseline, he slowly helped himself. Withdrawing at each explosion to eliminate evidence. Finally crawling out of bed on Sunday afternoon, she applauded him as “a true gentleman”, before puking again. Two weeks later, his papa slapped his back heartily. “Have we sired a veritable warrior of the bedroom? Then a bottle of 1929 Chateau Latour for you, my young hero!”

During the subsequent 60 years he continued to comprehensively screw humans without most of them having a clue.

His clan associates called him the PM, in recognition of his power. British Prime Ministers had joined in this protocol – rather uneasily, in some cases. The silver-haired leader had been his favourite, a sensible man who knew his limits, and enjoyed his time. Major had called him ‘clan man’, quite fearlessly.

The Puppet Master washed and dried his hands, drew together the curtains, and switched on the main light. In the mirror, his skin looked superb. He would read for an hour before dressing for dinner.

Perhaps one of the Huxleys.

203. OUT OF ESSEX

 

CHAPTER ONE – Shock and awe

 

Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.

Boris Pasternak

 

 

Adrift more than liberated, Maggie wanted hard facts. Where was she?

The exit, and the long tunnel, had felt like an entrance. Dreamily, walls wobbled in a worryingly un-British way. Once she had her bearings, socks would be pulled up, and knuckles rapped. Where was her handbag? Why no rings on her fingers?

Something caught her eye, high up. Two men swinging across a set of handholds, upper arms bulging, before abseiling down beside her. The oddest thing was their mining helmets, reminding her of the nonsense she had once straightened out. When was that? She hoped the men had repented.

“We know who you are,” said one, wearing a red shirt. “Aye, and back home we would have been less civil” said the second. Dark-haired, he flashed a smile. “Good luck – chances are you’ll need it.”

Confidently, they turned away. What were they referring to? Luck was for slackers. Where in God’s name was this?

Reassuringly, a beautiful woman, golden hair shining, appeared by her side. She took Maggie’s hand. “Come with me”, she said. Maggie could have sworn wings protruded from the female’s back. She recalled illustrated books from her childhood; began to wonder.

They arrived at a huge room, white walls stretching into the distance. Inside, a group of men, suited and tied, were drifting, aimlessly. Clearly, things needed sorting out. “You there, yes, you, what are you doing?” she asked the nearest chap.

“We have nowhere to go,” said the man. Again, he seemed to recognise her. His badge announced him as a ‘senior policy consultant, 1990, National Health Service’. Maggie thought him rather plain looking, and forlorn.

A klaxon rang. The group began to undress, and to don ragged clothes that made Maggie’s nostrils turn, reminding her of the dustbins piled up on Britain’s streets before she restored order. Some slumped to the floor, others were crying and soiling themselves.

“What on earth are they doing?” Maggie asked the golden one.

“Experiencing care in the community.”

“Now look, you seem like a nice girl. Is there some point to all this baloney?” Maggie asked. Less strident in her tone.

The angelic one looked hard at Maggie. “It’s about consequences. What goes out must come back.”

Mind flickers assailed her. The notions of personal accountability handed down by her father, the lay preacher. The Wesleyan Methodist.

More memory returned. Of how she had presided over the state’s closure of mental hospitals across Britain, raking in cash from the land sales and leaving thousands of patients homeless. How, every night up and down the land, shop doorways became bedrooms and bathrooms to former recipients of mental health services.

“But how long will they be here?” asked Maggie, suddenly wanting her mum. “How long is string?” replied the angel. “Might take a week. Could be a millennium. Until they understand, and can make informed choices.”

“What about me?”

“We’ll come to that” said Goldilocks. “First up, this is the ‘blue room’, where we try and rehabilitate the insane.” They entered, to be greeted by a man parroting the same phrase repeatedly. “To cure the British disease with socialism was like trying to cure leukemia with leeches,” he intoned, eyes blazing, spittle drooling onto a dark suit.

Now another raving nutter, screaming a mantra. “There is no such thing as society, there are just individual men and women, and their families,” he barked, snot plastered across his jaw. A third individual walked right up to Maggie: “I seem to smell the stench of appeasement in the air” he spat.

Looking down the room, Maggie’s vision sharpened. Chanting litanies of lunacy, zombies were punching the air, jumping and shouting. Blue rosettes bobbed like the waves off Brighton and Bournemouth, outside the annual party conferences.

Goldilocks spoke. “There is no bias here. We also have a ‘red room’ full of mad socialists. For the record though, why did you ham up that ridiculous role as ‘The Iron Lady’, as if it would solve Britain’s problems.”

“We created wealth and aspiration,” replied Maggie, effortlessly, jaw jutting. The golden angel stifled a yawn. She led Maggie into a corridor. “You might recall that homelessness more than doubled during your premiership.”

“Shirkers, shirkers, workshy shirkers,” screeched Maggie, receiving a harsh squeeze on her arm. On they proceeded, past a man wearing cufflinks and a gold watch. Half of his arm was forced through the eye of a tall needle, facing a door marked Heaven. “He’s been there awhile now”, said Goldilocks.

“What about 1966?” Maggie suddenly asked, apropos of nothing. Instinctively, she sensed it was a significant year. Goldilocks frowned. “Why is that relevant? You were never into flower power.”

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 shocked her. 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 slowly 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)”.

Then countless, unending images of Iraqi children blown to pieces, or dying of malnutrition and radiation and chemical poisoning. Of orphans and dead soldiers and weeping and starvation and hatred and suffering. No escape for the eyes.

“Interesting article,” observed the angel, wiping a dew of sweat from her brow. “You were a supporter of Saddam in the 80’s. Any thoughts on that?” She preferred to think of dining and dancing at Denis’ golf club.

A stench flowed towards them, from a glowingly red chamber entrance. “It was politics. It was sink or swim.”

“You always did know best.”

Traversing the last yards of the now broiling tunnel, Maggie saw images of her beloved son Mark shaking hands with the Saudi Royal family, transposed against pictures of UK-made jets bombing Yemeni women and children. She was shaking uncontrollably.

“This is where we part company – let’s see what you think about luck now,” remarked Goldilocks.

Well over seven foot in height, his blackly-clad frame looked as formidable as she had sometimes fantasised. For a fleeting second, fighting down her terror, Maggie wondered whether he might be “somebody I can do business with”. The Dark One looked at her, lingeringly, prodding her with a hairy, crooked index finger.

“Mmmmmm….I’ve been waiting for you, Margaret,” Satan said, circling her, tail swishing. He drank in her appearance, while she gagged on the sulphurous smell, reminiscent of undergraduate days.

Please let me wake up, she prayed.

“I don’t fuck around in my summaries,” he said. “You were not the brightest of cookies.” She disagreed, but dared not argue. “Few would blame you for marrying into money, but your views were shallow and abhorrent,” he continued. Brimstone and excrement assailed her nostrils.

“You turned Brit against Brit, almost caused a civil war,” he shouted. “God Almighty woman!”

His voice rose: “You had such a chance, such an opportunity to wipe the slate clean in Britain, heal the divisions and spiritually enrich the citizens. You could have encouraged the highest forms of compassion – meditation, contemplation, pacifism, vegetarianism – and pushed for world peace.”

Puzzlement stirred, nudging her dread.

His eyes narrowed. “But no, instead 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.”

“Will you keep me here?” she asked, with a gulp.

A pause. He joined his fingertips. “I won’t lie. My greatest pleasure is to probe and drill deep into those who were the nastiest, most powerful humans. Boiling them down to their core views is deeply satisfying – exciting actually, to be brutally honest – but I suspect we would find regurgitated fluff in your case”.

Satan’s tone regained measure. “In truth Margaret, you are not my highest priority. I am awaiting certain individuals that will provide – how to say – quite a party!” Did his genital area quiver? He carried on: “At one time I even believed these degenerates were after my job; and never let it be said that I would not be happy to kick back, watch the flowers wilt and smell the coffee enemas.”

Satan’s humour – and its timing – have been appreciated by too few. Gripping her hand suddenly, he half-led, half-pulled her around a corner, revealing a gruesome torture rack that Saddam and Pinochet would have salivated over. Merriment danced in his dark green irises.

“Now do tell me. Is the lady for turning?” he asked.