OUT OF ESSEX – Chapter 23
“I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.”
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.