238. Countertrade in Essex

OUT OF ESSEX – Chapter 23

 

“I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.”

Bob Dylan

 

 

 

Glued to the screens, obsessively monitoring her Essex experiment, God was prey to reveries. Her favourite involved Gandhi flying through the air in Switzerland, accelerating across the River Rhine at Basel, and delivering a perfect karate kick to the headquarters of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS).

In her mind, she saw the jackboot shape of the ghastly edifice tumble and crumble. She knew her creative power was such that this was happening, now, in some parallel universe. Smashing asunder a secretive, private institution that regulated and controlled the world’s central banks and money systems, had no accountability and was extra-territorial, like the Vatican. According to information in the Akashic files, BIS assets could not be seized; and Swiss authorities required permission to enter the premises.

God badly missed Sal’s company. His willingness and his wit. More than once, the pair had rolled around helplessly with laughter around Heaven’s floor, at the ridiculous old chestnut that humans, somehow, had emerged and evolved from the atomic soup that once covered Earth. Then there was that other occasion, when they had taken a Turkish bath together. She remembered him gawking at her bare shoulders.

 

***

 

God found comfort in watching Dave Dawson. How he absorbed the joys and woes of each Southchurch Park resident as if they were the most important person in the world. How he lived and breathed collaboration. Like a warm sunbeam moving around the park, constantly enquiring after health and well-being. Cheering. Encouraging. Sharing himself.

Dave ensured the most fragile individuals received work tasks and other support that boosted their confidence. He was keeping an eye on Steph, an unemployed girl from Pitsea, who had drifted down to the park on a bus.

She told of her vague hope for something new, different, better. “There’s nothing for me at home except for piss-poor jobs and my drunken mum. I’ll go mad if I don’t try something else. The other thing – it’s a long shot – but I can’t get rid of the feeling I might bump into a Southend lad I met in Basildon. Ricky Ravenous-Glutton.”

“Is that seriously his name?” Dave grinned. “What a mouthful. Who knows, maybe he’ll turn up.”

Steph had been quietly shocked to see the tall, dark male, solicited unsuccessfully back in April by her friend on the train to London. When she heard him referred to as Satan, her disquiet grew. “Don’t worry, that’s just his nickname,” said Dave, after she confessed her worries. “Call him Sal. He protects us.” Steph was equally puzzled about Gandhi. “Is he, like, a fancy-dress character?” she asked, one sunny lunchtime.

Past her uncertainties, Dave saw reservoirs of compassion. She agreed to help at mealtimes in and around the kitchen. Dave knew her kindness around Little Venice would help the park’s more anxious residents.

He still worked, as a freelance IT specialist for a law firm. Based at home, able to juggle his hours, he met Micky Gaze most lunchtimes: to plan the menus, write shopping lists and create work schedules. One of the big physical tasks had been to construct a laundry area and water supply pipe behind the cafe to accommodate second-hand washing machines. The other had been to dig over the playing field. Cabbages, cauliflower, chard and lettuces had been planted out after Buddha’s purification of the ground. Broad beans, garlic, onions, peas and spinach had been sowed directly. Spinach and lettuces would be ready to lift in January.

Micky unstintingly took the piss at how Dave would stand on his Kensington Road balcony, looking across proprietorially at each new adjustment or improvement. “King Dave. Surveying his domain.”

 

***

 

On the other side of the park, on a table in the converted bowling club, Sheena was providing an ayurvedic massage to Raj Begum, one of her former patients at Southend hospital. Raj, a Bangladeshi, suffered from sciatica. He appraised his ‘payment’, looking down at two sacks of rice and multiple bags of lentils. Fresh okra, mangoes, sweet potatoes, spices, oranges and bananas. Raj and his Irish wife Mora had scoured Southend’s market and shops to bring fresh, cheap and varied produce.

Nearby, an arthritic elderly lady and a female resident plagued by headaches received hot stones and acupuncture.

Raj looked through the window. A small Asian man wearing only a loin cloth exited the former soccer changing rooms 50 yards away. He sat beneath a shady tree. “Look – Golum reincarnated”, Raj chuckled. He had watched Lord of the Rings relentlessly with his grandchildren. Sheena asked if he believed in reincarnation, massaging his knee forcefully.

“You hear stories. Very young South Asian children find villages where they led past lives. They identify and name previous families, who seem to recognise them in new incarnation. Difficult to explain.” Sheena turned Raj onto his back. She said the resting body on the grass was Mahatma Gandhi.

“And I am Martin Luther King in cunning body disguise,” laughed Raj. Sheena manipulated his sartorius. He grunted, recalling violence on the Bengal-Bangladesh border. “Need to free those nerves Raj.” She left him to dress, placing his offerings on a trolley that she pushed to the café, in the early September sunshine.

 

***

 

15 minutes later, over a coffee at Little Venice, Sheena told Raj that the park had now entirely pre-paid its utility services. Secure water and broadband agreements were in place for years ahead. She said their lawyer found it tougher than dealing with Southend Council. The private sector was less accommodating, and “better versed in legal nicety”.

Raj was hardly listening. Could the great saint, about whom his relatives talked with awe, really be here? Gandhi’s followers swore the Mahatma would one day return in spirit.

Some of Raj’s relatives had fled southern Bangladesh – then East Bengal – in late 1946 after communal riots between Muslims and Hindus broke out. Thousands were killed and hundreds of women raped as mobs rampaged in the remote Noakhali region. The brutality shocked Gandhi, who rushed to the area and went barefoot for four months preaching communal harmony before the clashes ended. The Noakhali Peace Mission that he set up still worked with poor Muslim and Hindu families.

Raj thanked Sheena for the drink and set off towards the Southend Manor changing rooms. By the path, a rainbow-haired woman was tending the ‘Stephanie Bottrill garden’, created to commemorate the Birmingham woman who killed herself over the bedroom tax.

Raj found the man, inspecting batches of tee-shirts and some new designs. Nervously, he noticed that the Gandhi-lookalike sported a scar on his right thigh, and a smaller scar below the left elbow, the size of a pea. How could it be him? Despite the face of a 70-year old, the man had a muscular chest, thin waist and long, thin firm legs, bared from his sandals to his short tight loincloth. Raj spoke up, suggesting he could help the park. “What help were you thinking of?” asked Gandhi, calmly. “Before I tell, can you tell of your birthplace?” replied Raj.

“Porbanar in Gujarat State”, said Gandhi, speaking as much with his gentle eyes, framed by gold-rimmed bifocals, as his voice. Excited now, Raj explained. He would buy the park 300 cheap mobile phones, each with pre-paid time. These could be handed out for voting in a more efficient way than the current show of hands Sheena had described to him. They would work in conjunction with an app installed on a cafe laptop to count the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ texts. To streamline further, a similar app would automate the residents’ credits and debits.

“And how do we pay you?” asked Gandhi. His bones looked wide and strong; his fingers big and firm. He listened respectfully.

“Little bits, month by month.” As Raj and Sheena had strolled to the café, around the lake, he had seen a bike repair shop and hairdressing service set up in what looked like a self-assembled container unit. “Through healing, haircuts, everything park offers. Services for grandchildren’s bikes; tee-shirts for family”.

And then a second idea. Raj’s textile trade contacts could provide a steady stream of good quality cloth. The Bangladeshi knew where well-made garments fetched good prices. If Gandhi’s embryonic factory could produce a consistent flow, Raj would let the park have the profit margin in food.

Gandhi nodded. “These are helpful ideas. Thank you.” He told Raj of his love of self-sufficiency. He talked of the spinning wheel, or charkha, a small, hand-cranked wheel he used in India for spinning thread from cotton or other fibres. “Using the charkha was like a sacrament Raj. Sitting, spinning for hours, lost in the rhythm, chanting God’s name. Now I listen to sewing machines. Different sounds, different times.”

 

***

Gandhi led Raj from the makeshift garment factory into the afternoon sunshine, donning a white cheesecloth cape. They sat by a tree. Gandhi told how he had come “to love and respect Britain, despite the tens of millions of Indians who starved under its empire”. Raj nodded. “Now the pendulum swings back. English men and women taking their turn to be subjugated.” The moral crusader pursed his lips. “We all hear talk about Greece. Riots in streets, due to desperation and hunger.”

Raj twigged. “How bad things going to get here?”

Gandhi hesitated. “Worst guess: look at Russia. Oligarchs looting assets which the public sector built over Soviet generations. Dirt-cheap privatisations behind closed doors as people starved.” Gandhi seethed at how UK assets were continually sold without consultation. “Royal Mail now gone; fire engines and ambulances sold to private companies; hospital services contracted out massively. Those with assets get richer. £7 billion of dividends paid by energy companies last year while Britain’s poorest learned to live without heat.”  Raj was quiet.

“Government indicating schools should be profit centres, a more subtle form of privatisation. All the time workers’ rights disappearing, legal aid and citizens’ advice shrinking, food banks faced with record demand.” Gandhi watched Raj, sensing fresh neural pathways break open.

“In hospitals, the hungry treated for malnutrition. In job centres, unemployed attend indoctrination classes to adjust to life as slaves in pitifully-paid jobs.” Gandhi waved to Alex, on his afternoon security round. “Yet your journalists headline celebrity and sport and royals as if everything is fine. May as well seek truth in comics.”

Gandhi tried to be positive. “Remember Raj, only that economy is good which conduces to the good of all. This park sees that, tries to embody that.”

 

***

 

To boost her morale, God constantly reminded herself how Gandhi’s determination and principles always left indelible marks, wherever he went. When Mahatma returned home from South Africa in 1914, after helping reverse discriminatory legislation against fellow Indians, Jan Christiaan Smuts – who was twice South Africa’s Prime Minister – said: “The saint has left our shores, I hope forever”.

Another mighty will, Winston Churchill, had demanded to know from Smuts why he had not assassinated Gandhi before the ‘half naked Fakir’ could threaten the British Empire in India. General Smuts replied: “How could I do this to a man who made sandals for me with his own hands when I imprisoned him”.

God knew. That Gandhi – and the kind of teamwork that Dave and the Southend initiative embodied – put the lie to the clever but fuzzy merging, by global elites, of Charles Darwin’s ‘natural selection’ concept with Herbert Spencer’s ‘survival of the fittest’ idea. The resultant philosophy had been trumpeted remorselessly to justify everything from colonialism and slavery to private central banking, monopoly capitalism and subjugation of the planet.

Cunningly, the ruling oligarchs had obscured Darwin’s central and very clear thesis – that the survival of a species was dependent on a high degree of cooperation. Gandhi would never destroy a building. He would talk and collaborate his way to victory, so that the central bankers at the BIS would one day leave the jackboot of their own accord, never to return.

237. Little Wing

 

Well she’s walking through the clouds
With a circus mind
That’s running wild
Butterflies and zebras and moonbeams
And fairy tales
That’s all she ever thinks about
Riding the wind

When I’m sad she comes to me
With a thousand smiles
She gives to me free
It’s alright, she says
It’s alright
Take anything you want from me
Anything
Fly on, little wing

 

 

11 January 1988 was a special day.

 

I was singing Little Wing (a Jimi Hendrix song) to myself, walking home from St John’s hospital, Chelmsford. Our daughter Lauren was just a few hours old.

Our firstborn. It was a hitherto-unknown feeling of elation. My feet hardly touched the ground. A strange space where nothing could ever be the same again, responsibility looming, yet I was bouncing along, carefree, heading home to feed the cat and grab some sleep before heading back to the maternity ward next morning.

Watching Lauren’s birth had been unforgettable. After a day when it became clear to my wife that the time had come, Maureen’s friend Jackie drove us to the hospital. We were made comfortable in a cosy room, with a calming picture of a forest walk hanging on the wall. The midwives were kind and helpful. Maureen seemed to take it all in her stride, walking up and down to assimilate the contractions, using the gas and air provided, holding my hand, asking for the occasional massage. She was a natural. No unbearable pains as the birth approached – although it’s easy for me to say that!

Lauren was born about three hours after we arrived. I can still vividly remember seeing her head emerge, and then the body. Suddenly she was there. Covered in green, alien-like vernix.

The word awesome is over-used, but awesome it was. Magical. Heart-stoppingly beautiful. Very quickly this gorgeous child was being held by her mum. It was startling how there were now three of us in the world. Just like that. Lauren weighed in at 8lb 5 oz.

Her and Maureen stayed in the maternity ward for a week, bonding amid the other mums and babies, so there must have been less pressure on the NHS back then. Lauren had a habit, very early on, of holding out her arms in front of her, fingers moving as she tried to touch whatever was in her limited gaze. One of her first noises was a kind of prolonged ‘laaa’. She was a demanding feeder; and showed signs of being a restless character. We loved her to bits. Still do. Maureen’s song that brings back that time at St John’s is Terence Trent D’Arby’s ‘Sign Your Name Across My Heart’.

Everything was new, transformed. But life went on. Mum and baby came home. I had to be a dad. Mentally scary, because I was a total novice in terms of childcare (although I was good with the cat). Luckily my wife was a nursery nurse and nanny. I listened hard to any instructions and complied. It seemed to work.

I had been a milkman for around 21 months; and would carry on delivering the pints for another five years or so. It was a great job in that I could be home early and take my share of the childcare. One of my best achievements, looking back.

In the intervening years, I’ve always tried to be a hands-off dad. Supportive, available, but listening and responding rather than steering.

It’s been such a pleasure and privilege to witness the Little Wing learn to fly. Here are some pics that show Lauren’s growth from baby to woman.

 

2019 No 4

 

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2019 Number two

 

2019 No 7

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2019 No 8

 

2019 Number 5

 

2019 No 6

 

2019 No 3

 

2019 No 9

 

20191120_1145592019 nop 11

 

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Wedding

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236. Lineage

OUT OF ESSEX  – CHAPTER 22

 

 

“All life should involve waking from a dream.”

Buddha

 

  

 

Leigh-on-Sea. Two o’ clock at night. Quietly shutting his front door, the Buddha walked down the small close, towards the recently reopened railway line. He wore two Arsenal shirts, away kit over home, to rebuff the breeze. Scruffy white track suit bottoms and red trainers completed Siddharta Gautama’s attire.

An important task lay ahead, but the cake in his stomach dominated the moment. The offering from Mrs Hudson, his neighbour, was laden with cherries.

He turned left, heading east. Reconstruction still everywhere in evidence. The road changed names continually during the next mile. Cars passed sporadically. Endless ‘For Sale’ boards littered the cliff-top road.

He had not expected his sojourn in Essex, nor its dense obsessions with property, money and sex. He maintained balance by pursuing the ‘middle way’ required of all situations. He mixed freely with the workmen who were amalgamating the six dwellings comprising his spiritual centre. He listened, showing compassion and generosity.

Further ballast lay in deep meditation, the steady intake of tea and cake, and Match of the Day, a television programme each Saturday and Sunday evening. Arsenal were leading the Premiership, but Buddha knew results were transient.

As he walked, a slivered moon lit the roadside topiary, much of it still twisted from the May 12 apocalypse.

His ‘ashram’ was nearing completion. It would unveil ways to explore and control the inner world; and teach healing techniques. He had asked Micky Gaze to install equipment to play music. Buddha collated his favourites, including Awake my Soul by Mumford & Sons. Another choice was Santana’s Put Your Lights On, in which an angel told people to discard fear. The sounds looped while the men worked. Including You Can’t Always Get What You Want, by the Rolling Stones, and All We Have is Now by the Flaming Lips.

He still knew so little about England’s oldest county, whose profile had become inextricably linked to a television show named ‘The Only Way is Essex’, Mrs Hudson said. Yet almost three quarters of Essex was rural, she told him. She insisted there was more to it than girls with fake eyelashes emerging from tanning salons.

The previous morning Siddharta listened to two local decorators malign a Polish plumber grafting tirelessly in the same building. He was “stealing our jobs”, they said. Talk turned proudly to the new royal baby, and Prince Harry’s military tour of Afghanistan. The Buddha had perspective, having descended from the Shakya dynasty. Buddhism stressed the merit in good lineage.

Reaching Chalkwell Avenue, Siddharta turned downhill. The tsunami’s imprint was evident as the seafront came into view. Many homeowners had been unable to make repairs without compensation. Mounting some steps by a closed vending hut, he found a bench, with a view of the Crow Stone in the foreground of the becalmed estuary. It was time to experiment.

Yesterday, astride his Ducatti, Satan had screeched into the close hosting Buddha’s new home, and almost hammered down the door. Leathered, from chin to toe, Sal was grim with anger. “Come in and talk,” said Buddha. He sat him in the kitchen and offered sweet tea, but Satan was beyond creature comforts.

On the bench, back in the present moment, Buddha lifted his physical awareness, lessening his habitually meditative state. His five senses were ready to see if his feelings approached Satan’s. He felt his slightly aching leg muscles, dryness in his throat, and stiffness in his shoulders. Through the jogging pants, the seat was unyielding.

What he had been told was ………..but even as he re-considered the information his smile broke through.

Satan had discovered that Britain’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, would be asking for another increase in her budget. The news would leak out in weeks ahead. Buddha regarded this information neutrally, but the punchline had made him excuse himself, to visit the bathroom. He wet a flannel, washed his ears, used a mirror to ensure their complete cleanliness, and returned downstairs.

“Tell me that last sentence again please Sal,” he requested. Satan had begun to see the impossible humour, green eyes twinkling again. “I said she reckons she is down to her last million pounds”.

Now Siddharta roared with unbridled laughter. Eyes streaming, arse farting as his body tried to expel air through every escape valve. His shoulders heaved. His belly began to hurt. In houses set back, he heard windows opening, and an exhortation to “let us get some bleedin’ sleep”. He waved in apology, noticing several houses still boarded up. The force of the laughter made him pull his Arsenal top across his mouth.

Satan’s incandescence had eventually transformed into cold logic. “Sid, the saddest thing is that her request is likely to be accepted without fuss by an acquiescent public, sold on the notion that the queen is running short on cash, and tightening her belt just like them.”

Karma always paid out for greed, Buddha knew. If you neglected, you would be neglected.

Satan grinned. “Maybe the guys at Southchurch Park can send her a second-hand tent.” He mulled awhile. “Maybe, just maybe, she does only hold a million in cash. But how many billions, or even trillions, does she hold in assets. If you hold assets and you need money, you cash in. End of.” He was boiling up again.

Buddha reminded himself that life taught the necessary lessons, if attention was paid.

“Do you know who acts as the queen’s financial adviser?” Buddha had no reply. “It’s Evelyn Rothschild”. Buddha wanted Sal to stick to the subject. “Has anyone tried to work out the queen’s financial worth?” he asked.

Satan said the lack of clarity in the akashic files had frustrated God. In 2012 Forbes cited £18.1 billion worth of royal assets including art collections, the Crown jewels and palaces. “It would be logical to guess that her majesty has at least a few things tucked out of sight,” said Satan. “You read reports that she owns a huge chunk of Colorado, particularly around Denver, much of Delaware, several Park Avenue blocks in New York, real estate in the heart of downtown Chicago, and land all over California. What she holds in precious metals, stocks and unit trusts can hardly be imagined.”

That’s better Sal, stay rational.

“This is forgetting the Crown Estates portfolio, valued at well over £10 trillion. Crown land in Canada, for example, contains huge mineral and timber resources, but there are indications that the City of London is the real owner of the Crown Estates. That’s another story.”

Greed is divisive, and always one’s undoing. 

Buddha stood up, brushed himself, and walked. Pier remnants poked up in the distance. Satan had let off more steam. “Every major UK office of state power – the armed forces, police and judiciary – swears allegiance to the royals. Not the people. Not the parliament.”

Any system of hierarchy is equivalent to acute spiritual blindness.

As he moved, he recalled how the ‘middle way’ had revealed itself in his last and final human life, in the sixth century BC, in what is now Nepal. Siddharta had been born to immense privilege. Aged 29, he had quit his cushioned existence for abstinence and asceticism. His goal, to transcend the five senses, was not unusual. Across Asia, individuals who chose poverty to explore their inner nature were highly respected.

As if it were yesterday, Siddharta recalled his burst of clarity beneath the Bodhi tree after meditating for 49 days: that efforts pivoting upon solitude and self-deprivation were insufficient to counter the cyclical miseries of birth, ageing, sickness and death. The rest was history.

The Buddhist philosophy he developed contained doctrines of karma and rebirth flowing from Siddharta’s Hindu background, although all practitioners were encouraged to question the ‘dharma’, or law. Most importantly, the practices could take adherents beyond the suffering caused by the external world’s temporary satisfactions and pains, and the ‘scientific’ notion that you only live once.

 On strode Siddharta, passing the restaurants where Mike Burper had first seen the Big Wave. Most remained closed. The smashed casino, further along, looked like an abandoned shipwreck in light bouncing from the river. Satan’s words echoed on: “Russia kicked out its royals, so did the French. The British were actually the first to depose them, in 1649, after a long and bloody civil war. 11 years later, they were re-established, along with the Church of England, to help squash unruly radicals, like the Quakers.”

Monarchy and church are artifices. Every human is sovereign, able to tune into the highest spiritual levels.

Sal had frothed and fulminated. “Since then Britain has experienced slave trade, industrial revolution built on the lives of poor labourers, empire, world wars, lies and more lies, and now new extremes of degradation and poverty that serve to protect a ruling elite. These degenerates just happen to own the media, which fawn endlessly over the trappings of their wealth. They might look colourful, but so does petrol in a pond.”

Buddha loved the vigour with which Sal trod the troubled path of a fallen angel.

Walking now, along the very mouth of the empire, Buddha considered the word ‘evil’. While not used by Buddhist practitioners, its nearest equivalent in the lexicon was ‘unwholesome’. He thought again of Satan’s view that “many of the landed gits are inbred, psychotic lunatics who are addicted to chasing and killing small creatures using a pack of dogs”.

He remembered God saying that the Queen Mother had placed two of her nieces, Katherine Bowes-Lyon and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon, into a psychiatric hospital because they were severely handicapped. On royal instruction, Burke’s Peerage listed the sisters as dead. This was nothing compared to a 1917 cover up, as World War One raged. Fearful of patriotic sentiment, George V changed the family surname to Windsor, disguising descent from Germany’s House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

By the time he stood opposite the destroyed pier, Siddharta decided to let emotion rise again. One of the decorators sat with him recently, sharing tea and lemon cake. The man normally talked about his football team, Southend United, but not this time. His daughter’s boyfriend, on an agency workbook, had prepared for a recent night shift.

“He gets a phone call saying ‘don’t bother turning up for work, there is none’. No notice,” the decorator said. “They have two young kids and a mortgage, and those calls are happening more and more.”

The decorator knew how business worked. “This is a company that made a £4.3 million profit last year. More and more of my daughter’s generation have to take work on very low pay, especially if they aren’t highly qualified. Shed loads of jobs are now temporary, part-time or so-called ‘zero hour contracts’. Is there any hope for ordinary people?”

Siddharta was encouraged by the man’s desire to perceive clearly. “I often wonder to meself if Southend will go bust after the Big Wave, so I started to read up. Detroit just went into bankruptcy, but not before Wall Street nicked half a billion in fees from rolling over the debts.”

These humans were generating hell worlds after their deaths, before they progressed to Satan’s quarters.

Siddharta inserted himself into the mind of the decorator, who was finishing off a room for a Buddhist shrine. A mind filled with dark and stressful worries: overdraft charges, inadequate pension, heating bills, his wife’s health, and his grandchildren’s education and job prospects.

Standing opposite Adventure Island, he looked at the deserted and still traumatised Golden Mile area, at the arcades, souvenir shops, night clubs and cafes eviscerated by the Big Wave.

Images came. From when the Firm had watched a documentary about Princess Diana, made by comedian Keith Allen. ‘The Unlawful Killing of Diana’ was unavailable in the UK due to legal clampdowns, but was freely available on The Place’s screens. It started by showing a letter from the Princess to her butler. “My husband is planning ‘an accident’ in my car. Brake failure & serious head injury.” Less than two years later she died, in a Paris road accident.

Amazingly, French CCTV cameras along the crash route failed to record anything. Before the medical examination was complete, the French press were stating the driver was “as drunk as a pig”. Yet the hotel bill showed he had ordered just two Ricards. “Disneyland is never far away,” was Satan’s first comment. It caught Siddharta’s eye how road sweepers were allowed by French police to clean the crash site – and accompanying evidence – within hours of the accident.

From whatever angle Siddharta viewed Britain’s royal family, its treatment of the unfortunate Diana Spencer spoke of untold darknesses. Now Buddha felt his abdomen shake. Bile tingled in his throat, heat spread through his head.

In the October 2007-April 2008 inquest, members of the royal family were prime suspects, but not one was called as a witness. God had rubbed her eyes in disbelief, and again, when Paul Condon, then Britain’s most senior policeman, admitted his refusal to hand French detectives a letter from Diana to her lawyer, explaining fears for her life. Condon was now a Knight and a Lord.

Concluding, the coroner instructed the jury to ignore eye-witness statements and forbad it to even consider the possibility of murder, Allen’s film recorded. The jury defied him, declaring an “unlawful killing”. The film’s last third underscored the monarchy’s huge cost to taxpayers, and included a clip showing Philip, aged 16, flanked by German relatives in SS and Brownshirt uniforms.

Buddha staggered to a bin. He emptied the contents of his stomach, his nose streaming acidic moisture. Innumerable lives had taught him that points were reached where ordinary conceptions of planet Earth were radically transformed. Resets, as happened with Atlantis and Lemuria, when Mother Earth shook off surface poisons.

Purged, he walked. New ideas were forming, about his work in the months ahead, and how to tackle tonight’s task. Opposite the Hope Hotel, looking through the open window of a red car, a young woman was transfixed on the battered pub. He approached, and spoke, gently. “You look a little upset. Did something happen?”

She looked him up and down. A fat Arsenal fan. Traces of puke on his white trousers.

“I could have died in there. Sometimes I wish I had,” she said. He knew to be quiet. Sally related how her married date had drowned. Her sprint along the front. Saving Chanelle’s kids. Still unemployed in a smashed-up town. “I can’t sleep, so I come here. Feels like the memories will never leave. My money continues to go, though. This car will have to be sold soon.”

You will build your own sacred path, of kindness and warmth. And show others how to hold to beauty at all times.

“Have you seen that movie, Elysium?” she asked. “Is that what’s in store, a nice paradise area hanging in space for the mega-rich, and a ghetto down here for the rest of us, with bloody drones and robots keeping us in check? Or the Hunger Games, where the rich watch the poor kill each other for sport?”

The meek always inherit the earth because Forces of Light head naturally to softness.

Siddharta pulled her from the blackness. “It is an impertinent request, but could you give me a lift. I have walked from Leigh, my legs are tired, and I must reach Southchurch Park.” He spoke oddly, but she trusted him. “Why are you going there in the middle of the night? Do you know people there?”

Her interest was pricked. “There were reports about that “community” in most of the national dailies, claiming people there have criminal records, addictions and mental health problems. How do they live without money? I could do with that knowledge.”

He answered her, clearly and truthfully, during the short drive. He told of Gandhi’s presence. She parked up in Kensington Road. Offered him a lift back, and waited.

Burper was manning the southern gate. “Allright Sid,” he greeted. Mike liked it that Siddharta hadn’t crowed after Arsenal’s 1-0 win over the Spurs.

Buddha walked to the bridge at Little Venice, crossed the small lake, and approached the still figure of Gandhi out on the field. They embraced. “Lord Buddha, it is so very good to see you,” smiled Gandhi. “And you Mahatma,” bowed Buddha. They exchanged small talk about their individual projects. Then Buddha explained the course of action ahead, asking to be left alone.

“As you wish. I will be in the textile centre, preparing for the day.” Gandhi retreated into the dark. Buddha cast his gaze at tents and caravans corralling the playing field. This had finally been completely dug over after the removal of its top layer. He walked to an approximate centre, envisaged the ground as a unity, and cast inside for pure awareness.

He chanted softly. “Ong ah hong, ong moni beni hong”. Gently, via a rocking motion, he envisaged a blue spherical object encompassing the unity. He squeezed the sphere with his mind. Back and forth the blue ball swayed, grey wafts of smoke exiting its edges, carrying away salinity. Buddha let the images clear, opened his eyes. He slowly walked back to the gate, dipping his trainers in the lake so Sally’s car floor would not muddy.

“All done Sid? See you soon then.”

“I do hope so Mike.”

Sally was bursting with more questions as they drove away. “I’ll suspend my complete disbelief about Gandhi living in there if you tell me what he’s doing. Is a new civil disobedience movement kicking off on my doorstep?”

Buddha said he could not predict. That Gandhi was overseeing the production of clothing, and the community aimed to grow all of its own food. “I can also say that if we assert our values, we become the change we want. You can do this yourself Sally. Be sovereign. Tomorrow’s benevolence is the fruit.”

Knowing the route by heart, she pondered on one of her psychology modules at university, which had examined benefits from community gardens in Manchester. “The art of agriculture is the first lever of wealth in any person or nation,” she said, remembering a quote. “Have you ever seen an allotment in full bloom?” she asked her new companion. “Flowers juxtaposed with cauliflowers and runner beans, with multi-coloured paths running in and out of structures made from old doors and corrugated iron.”

He told her of the Austrian, Rudolf Steiner, who founded a spiritual movement, anthroposophy in the early 20th century. “You would enjoy his fusion of science and mysticism.” Sally nodded. Her cousin had attended a Steiner school, before building an architect practice.

In 15 minutes they were back at the close, where he asked Sally if she meditated. “You have expressed yourself very passionately tonight. It would help you to know that the highest and most comprehensive teaching of the Buddha was the Lotus Sutra.”

“Oh my days, you know some stuff. I’ve heard of the Karma Sutra. What does the Lotus Sutra teach?”

“The existence of an innate and universal truth known as the Buddha nature, the manifestation of which brings absolute happiness and boundless compassion.”

“I could so do with some of that. How do I start?”

“Repeatedly chant the very simple phrase Nam Myoho Rengi Kyo. The sound and vibration will tap into your full potential as a human being, which leads, eventually, to Buddhahood.”

“Sounds awesome. So are you a Buddhist?”

“Yes, devoted for many years Sally. Please chant those four words. Aloud or inside your mind. You will enjoy the outcomes.”

“Can I see you again,” she blurted out. “Obviously not like that,” she added. “Well, no, not obviously! No offence meant.” She was becoming flustered. “Oh I’m sure you’re wise enough to know what I’m saying.”

“Yes, I would be honoured. Just visit when you wish, or call me on this number.” He handed her a card from the pile printed by Micky Gaze.

She read the name. Siddharta Gautama. “Can I call you Sid?”

 

235. Joe Pesci and me

 

index

 

I would never willingly offend. So, if you have reservations about profanity, go no further.

 

My old Norwich mate Jonny Price used to reckon this story was “the best thing you have ever done Kev”. That’s hardly likely, but when I met his mates three decades ago, they all knew the story. It was gratifying that they found it so funny.

While working as a milkman, back in the late 1980s, I served a customer who lived on the Westlands council estate, in western Chelmsford. I served about 350 of them, but this one stood out. He was a jack-the-lad, roll-of-the-shoulders geezer, who loved nothing better than banter. Can’t remember his name anymore, or any other details, except that he was about my age (30-ish), and had a touch of wit and confidence that made conversations fun.

I would knock on the door of his maisonette for the milk money, every Friday evening. We developed a singular repartee, where, at some stage of the conversation, one of us would say. “What are you?” But actually sounding something like “whoraya”. That last bit is important.

And the other would reply: “Cunt”.

Being Essex, the reply would have been much more like “caaaaant”, stretched out in the estuary delivery mode. That delivery was essential, the lynchpin of the humour and play-acting. Southern Essex man pulls back his lips and lets out that sound with a mighty disdain, apeing the contempt with which his Cockney peers wield this missile of a word.

It made us chuckle, grin and bond. Cathartic and poetic.

Down at the dairy, the word would bounce around liberally as the lads loaded their floats in the mornings. It was a bog-standard form of friendly verbal sparring for blokes around our way, however odd, rude, disrespectful or non-PC it might sound (or not) in the ever more polite and offendable climes of 2019. The foreman, Bernie, would often be on the end of the banter. He would unreservedly insist that “a cunt is a useful thing”.

Anyway, back to Westlands. I think this guy had been out for a few Friday evenings in a row, building up arrears for his red tops (homogenised milk). I knocked, and was about to go away, thinking he was out on the razzle again, when I heard him come down the stairs. He opened the door, with a towel around his lower torso.

“Whoaa, allright mate,” he said. He was swaying a bit. Alcohol had clearly been imbibed. “I got a bird upstairs, but I better pay you. I’ll nip back up, write you out a cheque.”

“Cheers.”

Reascending, he asked what he owed me. Really slurring the words. “Whorrriyowya?” So very similar to the joyful trigger of “whoraya”.

Eager for jousting, all I heard was the ritual question. “What are you?” (coming and trying to take my money when I’m getting my leg over).

Clearly, there was but one reply.

“Caaaant!”, I batted back.

He was halfway back up the stairs. He stopped, turned and frowned. “You what mate?”

I took a deep breath, leaned back, and really let him have it this time. “Caaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnt.”

He was really puzzled now. “What?” he hissed. I was more convinced than ever that he was prolonging our weekly exchange.

Letting my diaphragm use itself deeply, I repeated it joyfully, with utter glee. It took all my breath away. “Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnt”.

“What’s going on pal?” he said. “I’m asking you what I owe and you’re calling me a cunt!” I saw violence brewing in his eyes. My light bulb finally came on.

Parallels perhaps with the Goodfellas scene, where Joe Pesci menacingly asks: “Funny? How am I funny?” That excruciating, liminal space where perceived insult can beget belly-laugh or brawl.

Somehow, I explained the misunderstanding. Luckily, he was truly preoccupied with matters of the groin. Maybe the drink, or the awaiting pleasures, had erased our rite from his memory. It may have been fortunate that he was one swift move away from a falling towel.

Most importantly, I got his milk money.

The shame was that he moved a week or two after, and I never got the chance to make a proper apology for being such a caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaant.

Never saw him again. I hope his life rolled smoothly. He will never know the pleasure that he gave Jonny and his Norfolk mates. The story has an unexpected ending.

I e-mailed Jonny yesterday, who said this: “It’s one of our many catch phrases on birding trips. Often in the rain forest you’d hear someone mutter…cuuuuunnt.”

Love it.

 

 

 

 

234. Multi-tasking

 

Watching television, for me, is all about tunnel vision. Laser focus, completely drawn in. Paying undivided attention. Trying to ignore my phone for an hour or two.

Maureen has the gift of being able to simultaneously work with her hands and follow the narratives. In such mode, she has created these items over the past week or two.

 

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I am beguiled by the craft and artistry, in what has been labelled as slow stitch meditation. The contrasts in colour and texture, the imagination to dream so precisely in such a small space. She also manages to look at her phone, illustrating her multi-pronged mastery.

 

233. Cash and curry

OUT OF ESSEX – CHAPTER 21

 

 

“Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. We can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world.”
Fredric Jameson

 

 

 

It was Saturday night at The Place.

Chicken tikka masala had been ordered up from Hell’s Kitchen. God was washing it down with a bottle of 1980 Margaret River Chardonnay, that Satan had lifted from an off-licence in Belgravia. Beside her sat Maggie, cleansing her palate with raspberry sorbet.

God regularly invited Maggie to the inner sanctum. They watched Essex on the screens, and talked. With over half of her team missing, God was grateful for company.

Frustrated by her inactivity, Maggie had been learning aikido and karate. It provided catharsis for unresolved angers. But the real craving of Britain’s first female leader, now deceased, was for wisdom. To understand her soul’s journeying nature, and the purpose of incarnation.

God tended to lead conversations. “Free will is complex Maggie,” said God. “Mine and everybody’s. Complex. Things don’t turn out as envisaged. You hatch a plan – then watch it take on life of its own.”

Maggie kept quiet. The sorbet was good. But this was priceless.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The last thing humans ever needed was money,” moaned God. “Life is hard enough – for Christ’s sake, I made it that way. The trauma of birth into a meat sack; the parenting lottery; the indoctrination of most education. Friends and foes. Egos and shames. Laughter, love and tears. The mating game, and its genetic underpinnings. Hunger, disease and mortality.”

Maggie recalled three-dimensional life: “Yes, the pressures could be quite overwhelming. Bringing up little ones. Work and careers. Defeating trade unions. Boosting arms sales. ”

Wincing, God cut in. “It was a test, a brilliant, unparalleled poetic test, of me, the Creator, and you, my tiny shards, the souls experiencing life on Earth.”

God took a deep breath. “The only things you had to do, all along, were to tend the earth, populate the land and report back. Nothing more. Forget the nonsense about worship. Just communicate. Talk to me in prayer.” Maggie remembered her prayers, last thing at night.

God elaborated. “Or sing about how the dice rolled, and the rains fell. Write a diary, to make me giddy with happiness. Pen poems and perform plays. Mourn your dead. Muddle through your infirmities. Tell jokes. Shout out your orgasms. Cuddle then lament your addictions. Shine out your lights. Trumpet your pain and pleasure. Holler your hallucinations. Strum out the best and the worst. Talk to me. So that I could know the depth and breadth of my experiment. And maybe tweak it here and there”

God poured another glass, asking if Maggie would join her. “No? Well it’s good that your soul stays in shape. Where was I? Yes, the ever-elusive plan. You know I did figure that the strongest wills would prevail. But had no idea that some dark agent would invent money. The concept is not mine. It is, for want of a better word, alien. Shocking. A black swan.”

God asked: “Did you know that there are ten trillionaires on Earth? You met two of them in your last life. They have all deleted public records of their existence. Yet possess the power of ancient emperors.”

Maggie felt lucidity fly near, like an almost-understood dream.

“Money, money, money,” said God, “A curse and a pox that says we are here to compete, weaving a spell that some lives are more valuable than others. Taxes and loans. Bailiffs and bankers. Shoring up the notions of privilege and the under-privileged. Starvation amid opulence. Survival of the fittest.”

God burped. “Sorry. That smells revolting. Anyway, one especially upsetting result of money that infests my screens is the profligate consumer society. Have you ever looked at the zombies wandering shopping malls, fast asleep, paying their tithes?” There was deep sadness in her voice. “My Creation affects me. Whenever humans crash, I crash. When Satan fell, I fell. But that’s another story. He’s a loyal lieutenant now.”

Finally, Maggie spoke. “This is no more than an idea. How about if your plan has cunningly, stealthily survived, morphing and adapting?”

God experienced a surge. Her eyes focused. “Pray, do tell.”

“Well, thinking about those hierarchies, the trillionaires down to the have-nots.” Maggie struggled for simple words to bridge a huge complexity. “Did you build, no… did you insert into free will the possibility that humanity would need to get itself in a such a pickle, face such a make or break challenge, so that it could either discover its deepest, most spiritual nature, and break the invisible chains, or fail and die?”

She picked words carefully. “So that life could now be poised at a penultimate stage….. as a kind of medicinal poison for all souls.”

“Wouldn’t that be a thing Maggie? Humanity digging itself out of the shite and finally singing from the same hymn-sheet. As I said, plans change in ways that cannot be predicted.”

God felt better about Maggie. “Now, as regards your role here. Had the insurance market collapse proceeded as planned, you would now be cheer-leading a radical Essex putsch to abolish money. But circumstances continually change. I am fully aware of your limbo, while Buddha and Gandhi build the Southend experiment. Be patient. Your chance will come. Before it does, we need to talk about money Maggie. Properly. Another time.”

“But just look at this.” God pointed to the glow surrounding a house in Southend, fighting back the darkness. As Dawn Landais and her family slept, God switched the screen to Chelmsford, where similar luminosity wrapped the house where Rose and Edward Fawkes lay dreaming.

232. The Queen of Southend

OUT OF ESSEX – CHAPTER 20

 

“Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits—a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.”
Hunter S. Thompson

 

 

Dawn was crammed with melancholy.

She stowed her gear in the pub, crossed back over the A127 and peeled open a McVitie’s Gold biscuit bar to sweeten the walk home. The sun on her bare arms felt poised between mellow and spent. Tomorrow was the first of September.

Her takings were going down. £44 today, £49 yesterday. Just numbers, she told herself. She heard a voice in her head suggest she might be too familiar with her customers, breeding contempt. Another voice said weekend work might bridge the growing gap.

Looking up at the nearly full moon, she eked out the Gold bar. Why didn’t Steve worry like she did? His new job, in one of the reconstructed seafront cafes, paid less than IKEA had. Explaining that to the debt management company hadn’t been easy. He was so much happier, which she loved. But at this rate, there would be no cash for Christmas. She might have to borrow from her mum.

Steve greeted her with a huge hug. He had cooked jacket potatoes for tea, with a lentil sauce. For a man holding over 100k in debt, he was so bloody relaxed. At the table, Nigel was rabbiting on about a lad at school who reckoned the world had ended on the last day of 2012, as prophesied by the Mayan calendar.

Genevieve was smiling at his story, a rare event. She looked like the self-declared Queen of Southend, in her black skinny jeans and DMs, lurid red blazer to match her lipstick, sleeves rolled up. Jet black hair worn in an asymmetrical blunt bob. Three earrings on the left.

Dawn saw her daughter was reading a comic. She nudged her. “Oi genius, what’s that?” Genevieve flipped up the front page. ‘The Invisibles’, by Grant Morrison. Then head back down, sharp eyes missing nothing.

After tea, Dawn washed up, standing at the sink. Wondering if she should take on more part-time work. Or return to the call centre. In the adjoining room, Steve watched the news while the kids web-surfed.

Dawn’s reverie was shattered by the sound of plastic hitting glass. And Genevieve shouting.

“YOU LYING CUNTS. YOU FUCKING LYING BASTARDS!”

“What’s going on?” said Dawn, hurrying in. The remote control was in pieces on the floor. Steve looked scared.

“It’s the fucking BBC. The bastards have made up a report about Southchurch Park. They’ve invented it. Lie after lie.” Genevieve was spitting blood.

“What on earth?…….Why would the BBC lie? It’s a proper news channel.”

“Don’t make me laugh mum. It’s the channel that banged on about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. The organisation where the journalists knew about Jimmy Savile but did nothing.”

Dawn frowned. “OK, but how could you know? About this? Anyone can sit and accuse people of lying. Where’s your evidence?”

“I was there yesterday.”

“You missed school? Genevieve! Don’t you want your ‘A’ levels.”

“Mum, that’s like asking me if I want to be famous. I couldn’t care less. What matters is that the guys there voted not to let in news crews. They reckoned they’d get stitched up.”

 

***

 

Dawn made them all a hot drink. Nige reassembled the remote and Genevieve hit the playback switch. “Watch,” she commanded.

“Now we bring you a special report”, said the news anchor, “from Southend-on-Sea, in Essex, where an unusual social community has come together in the wake of the May 12 tsunami. There may be some disturbing images.”

A young female reporter stood outside the park, looking earnest. She told viewers of the rising use of illegal drugs in the new community. The first images were of multiple syringes strewn near dustbins.

Genevieve hit pause. “Right that’s rubbish, straight away. They vote on everything.”

“What’s that got to do with it?” said Steve.

“Alex – nice guy who runs the park security – was telling me that one of the first things they voted in was no drugs. Not because they’re prudes. They simply don’t want the Old Bill having any reason to raid the place. Plenty of weed users there, and others who enjoy mushrooms, but they always go outside, well away. Down by the sea wall at night is a favourite. Anyone caught buying, using or even stashing in the park is kicked out, within minutes. You’re looking at a picture from somewhere else.”

“How can you be so sure?” asked Steve.

“Because the building behind the dustbins you see – look, right there – is bright royal blue. There’s nothing in Southchurch Park that colour. I clocked the whole place. You know how good I am at that. I walked around the park with the bloke who organises most things, Dave Dawson. He was sweet – to be honest, they all are.”

Steve and Dawn knew to keep quiet. Their daughter’s intelligence was like a stream of molten lava, burning through all it touched.

The report continued with an interview. A middle-aged woman with dreadlocks was telling the camera that she had left the community after she suspected a plan to rape her, and then became uneasy that it was a hub for people trafficking. “A lot of kids were there one day, gone the next. Same with adults, particularly Asians. That wasn’t normal. It is a frightening place. People should stay away.”

Genevieve was calculating. “I can’t prove she wasn’t there, but I can find out. If she was, chances are she’s been bunged a big wedge to say that. One of the things Dave mentioned was how few people do leave. That it’s a remarkably calm and stable community, that is gradually growing.”

She shook her head. “This is the killer though.” She hit ‘play’ again.

A picture clearly shot through railings showed a child being chased into a minibus full of other children. A middle-aged man and a woman, both wearing shades, locked the doors, and hurried around to the front seats. The vehicle pulled out of the park’s southern entrance. The reporter referred to a “suspected incidence of child trafficking, captured live”.

“That’s definitely Southchurch Park,” said Steve.

Genevieve nodded. “Yeah, I stood and watched this ‘incident’ happen yesterday morning, from a different angle. The guy is Dan Fawkes, the journalist.”

“The cool bloke who filmed the tsunami,” said Nige. “Kept his bottle when the Big Wave came up the Leigh hill.”

“The woman is his wife, Mary,” said Genevieve. Triumph arcing across her face.

“So, I was having a coffee with them just before they left. Their kids are about the same age as me and Nige. Dan and Mary love what they are doing. They would have spent all day telling me about it. But they had promised to take a bunch of the park’s kids over to Marsh Farm, in South Woodham Ferrers. I actually made them late. And I watched them leave.”

Dawn was stunned. Genevieve had talked about the “sleight of hand” at the BBC and other media before, but she had paid no attention. She ventured a thought of her own. “Apart from anything else, the reporter ignores the real story. That these people are trying to get by without money. It sounds impossible. I want more details.”

The report concluded with the news that “financial experts have told the BBC that Southchurch Park is very likely a money laundering operation, with untraceable offshore accounts.” Straightening slightly, looking more serious, the female added: “One source close to MI6 has told us that Russian involvement is a distinct possibility.”

Genevieve sighed. “Is that what you want me to go to school for? To play my full part in this poxy adult charade. To be a businesswoman, accountant, lawyer, banker, or, God help me, a journalist. To be a liar and a pretender.”

She loved her mum and dad because they did, mostly, listen to her. “I’m sorry about my outburst. But here’s what I honestly think.”

“Can’t remember the last time you were honest,” teased Dawn.

“Very funny. I’m thinking about leaving school and living down at Southchurch when I turn 18, in November. Please….let me finish.”

Genevieve tapped her fingers in concentration. “I’m no expert. The BBC won’t be calling me for quotes. I’d tell them to fuck off if they did. But it’s as clear as day to me that the only reason our economy – all of the Western world – hasn’t collapsed is that all the central banks keep printing money. Keeping things afloat, while most people’s debt swells and their savings run down.”

She continued: “That finishes only two ways. One: a monster financial collapse, making 2008 look like a tea party, if the eco-systems don’t collapse first. If any of that happens, the guys at Southchurch will at least be self-sufficient. Or two: a rewriting of reality.”

“What does that mean?” said Dawn.

“It means tearing up the script, now, not conforming, making this life count so much that the old ways fade. Here’s the fantastic bit, where Southchurch comes in again”

“I can hardly bear the suspense,” said Steve.

“I don’t know how they’ve done it, but Gandhi is there, at the park. Gandhi. The Indian legend. I talked to him yesterday. He’s no spring chicken, and slight, but it’s him. I’ve looked at tons of old pictures. He’s reincarnated somehow, come to Southend.”

Dawn let out a puff of exasperation. “That’s not good enough, darling. Sounds like your perception, not a real fact.”

“Suit yourself – it gets weirder,” said her daughter. “The Buddha is here as well. In Old Leigh. They’re building him an ‘ashram’, Mary said.”

Steve raised his eyebrows. “Yeah, that’s it dad, keep your ostrich head wedged in the Racing Post. I’m telling you both, it’s like the fabric of space and time has been breached. It’s like we’re in a David Lynch movie.”

Her eyes flashed. “So, if you think I want to waste time at school, at this un-fucking-precedented moment in history, think again,” insisted the Queen of Southend.

“And here’s the kicker. If both of you joined me, you could stop worrying about money.”