254. More questions than answers

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For most blogs, it isn’t too difficult to think of a handful of main themes and points, then sew them together with some carefully chosen words. But it’s proving different with my new, part-time carer’s job. These are early days. I’m swimming in so much uncertainty that no easy structure comes to mind. The idea popped up of asking myself some questions. Seemed as good as anything.

 

What is the point of Keith’s life?

I’ve changed his name. He is one of the clients. Probably in his mid-80s, Keith is terribly afflicted with COPD. Constantly linked to an oxygen pipe. His back gives him chronic pain. His leg is ulcerated. Keith’s sight is blurred, his hearing poor. He lives with his two sons, who have to work five days a week. He is seen 4 times a day by my new company, with 30 minutes officially designated for each slot. We got him out of bed yesterday morning, dragging him from peaceful, warm slumber into a house that was empty by the time we left.

Once washed, dressed and provided with an incontinence pad, Keith is left to sit on a sofa all day, hemmed in by cushions. The radio or TV is switched on to provide background noise. He drifts into reverie, and gradually becomes more uncomfortable, but lacks the strength to stand on his own. He can get too cold or excessively hot, with no recourse except to wait for help. His coughing depletes him. Urination or defecation is a protracted effort. Food sustains, rather than cheers him.

Each care rota checks his pad, adjusts his sitting position, feeds and hydrates him, and makes sure the medication is imbibed.

Keith wants to stay in bed. He asks me why he is left unattended. I have no answer, except that his family makes the decisions. I try to tease out his past. He went to school in Rayleigh, Essex. He likes an antique show on TV. I have no mental comfort for him. His care leads nowhere. It feeds a loop of eternal discomfort. We are shovelling snow in a wilderness.

How can Sheila tolerate her circumstances?

Sheila (name also changed) is a lovely lady, kind and gentle, eager to chat. Lost her husband many years ago. Very happy to detail her life, and to ask about mine. Her dog, Olly, is her best friend.

She lives with her son, who is “a coke-head”, according to fellow carers. They say he steals his mother’s money to feed his habit.

She was sexually abused last year. It is alleged that either her son or his friend were the perpetrators. No definitive proof, and so no charges brought. She sleeps downstairs, while the son sleeps upstairs.

What aspects of the job give pleasure?

When clients show their appreciation. It can be a bright, honest smile, or a genuine ‘thank you’. When I can take the initiative, suggesting something helpful, or can strike up a conversation that takes the client out of their head and their circumstances. When I have learned something of their routines; and can deploy that knowledge without prompting. When I learn stuff that I can use to help my dad, whose dementia is gradually increasing. Getting through a day, thinking ‘I did it’. Getting into bed, deliciously tired.

And to hear a guy who lost much mobility, via a recent stroke, call his far less mobile wife ‘sweetheart’. The love in his voice was inspiring.

Are there other positives?

I’m happier. I notice it at home, when with Maureen, and when I’m out and about. When I go to sleep and wake up. That’s huge. Priceless. There is more purpose to life. It feels like a clear message – that the old, stagnant ways of sitting at home and writing about business and finance have been mood depressants.

Do I gel with fellow carers?

Sometimes. They are mainly young girls in their 20s. All very helpful, given my raw novicehood, but regularly distracted by their phones. I try to pull my weight. But am at the foot of a learning curve in terms of intimate care and the technicalities of the hoists. So I need their teaching. Some of the gap is bridged by my listening skills, and ability to get people to talk. Maybe, in time, a single round would work better. So that I can spend time in quality talk with clients, running the show and giving them undivided attention.

How does it compare with looking after my father?

The key difference is quality time. I get to dad’s, make a cuppa, and sit down for a chat. Then get some shopping, put out his rubbish, sort out his week’s medication, and indulge in more chat. We look up obscure questions on Google; and dredge up his past in as much detail as his Stage 3 Alzheimers allows. We watch football. Chat some more. Maybe I cook something for him. Check his washing and his bedsheets. I try to spend three hours being of service.

The carer job tends to be split into half-hour allocations. There is electronic clocking in and out, with phone locations tracked centrally. If the time is exceeded, the next client can suffer. It can give a ‘factory’ feel to the whole process.

Is it for me?

There are drawbacks. Gaps between jobs, wear and tear on the car. Already, a feeling of over-familiarity with some clients. I’m easily bored, and fear that under-stimulation will kick in as routine surpasses novelty.

For clients like Keith, I leave in despair.

Also, the need to write a log at each visit. The pen on paper method will soon switch over to electronic (mobile) notes, which will add to existing reliance on mobile technology, to clock in and out and record medication given. Clients already watch us tap away at mobiles, while the time that they pay for ebbs away.

On the other hand, it is a welcome learning curve, and will fill the ‘finance gap’ I’ve banged on about since last May. Outside the job, I’m feeling lighter, better, more cheerful.

Long-term? The jury is feeling the breeze, copping a smoke and checking its phone.

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253. The kindness of strangers

 

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Back in 1989, when our daughter Lauren had still to reach her second birthday, Maureen and I were shown a glimpse of hell. The tiniest sliver.

We lived in an upstairs maisonette next to a busy main road in Chelmsford. It was August, or thereabouts. I did a good chunk of the childcare in those days, facilitated by my early rise and finish as a milkman. Maureen worked at Essex Cricket Club, on the catering side.

She prefaces the incident with the recollection that she brought home a spare punnet of strawberries; and went downstairs to ask whether it was wanted by Doris, our neighbour. “I’ll leave the front door open, Kev, to save taking a key – so keep an eye on Lauren,” she said. “No problem,” I replied.

I don’t recall what I was doing. The memory is that at some stage, I realised Lauren had gone from my sight. She would roam freely around the apartment, exploring and playing, so I checked every room, without panic.

That had changed, as I scrambled downstairs, and outside, to find Maureen chatting just inside Doris’s residence. “Have you got Lauren?” I said, more hopefully than I have ever spoken, before or since.

Maureen’s eyes widened. “No.”

Without stopping to discuss, we ran around to check the small garages and lawn area behind the flats, and then back to the road, scanning the pavements in each direction. Anxiety rocketing, we rushed through to the adjacent car park. Many of the cars had gone home, and I could see across to a quiet road that bordered a row of houses.

A woman stood 60 yards away, holding a child. It looked like our little girl.

We ran over, relief mushrooming as it became clear that Lauren was the child. Free as a bird, she had trotted happily along a route she would have known, towards a house where Maureen held another job, as a child-minder. Luckily for all, Lauren had kept to the pavement, and had encountered a kind human who had waited with her, talking.

Our gratitude could have filled a football ground. There were no recriminations, just joy at the outcome. Few dark thoughts about what could have transpired, as it had not.

Fair to say, though, that the future is never known.

 

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252. The Railway Hotel

OUT OF ESSEX – CHAPTER 30

 

 

Alcohol doesn’t console, it doesn’t fill up anyone’s psychological gaps, all it replaces is the lack of God.

Marguerite Duras

 

Settling comfortably by the screens once more, Maggie watched Satan slip away from the park, carrying a bulging sports bag. Cold November rain sheeted diagonally as he crossed Southend High Street into Clifftown Road. When Sal reached the battered doors of the Railway Hotel, his leathers and hair were soaked. Inside, he shook himself like a dog.

The central Southend pub promoted itself as an open house for music and arts. John Cooper Clarke, Wilko Johnson, and, more recently, Dunstan Bruce of the anarchist band Chumbawumba had visited its Victorian splendour. Heading for the bar, a Portishead tune regaled Satan’s ears. He craved new company and brighter lights less than a drink. A tap touted the award-winning Brewer’s Gold, produced at an Essex micro-brewery. That would require payment, so he unzipped his bag.

 

***

 

20 miles away, in Chelmsford, Edward Fawkes let a black cat through his bedroom window. Ed was home alone: his sister at work, parents at the Southend park. He had just steered Arsenal to an online victory.

“I’m out of here,” he called into the X-Box mike. Maths and German books sat accusingly on his desk. On his computer, a news item showed Afghanistan’s opium production at record levels, mocking a key argument for sending British troops in 2001.

He laughed at another headline, in which Boris Johnson suggested the very richest people should receive “automatic knighthoods”. Ed found Spotify and selected Radiohead’s ‘The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth of All Time’. He decided to read Orwell’s ‘1984’ once again.

Two months ago, wearied of school routines, the 14-year old had asked his history teacher if the class could engage in a contemporary project. He requested that 25 sets of fresh eyes might analyse the events of September 11, 2001. “Why 9/11?” asked Mr Cooper, intrigued.

Like many kids, Edward sucked up his parents’ opinions. His dad said repeatedly that 9/11 was the 21st century’s defining political event. That, as a result of one diabolical day where almost 3,000 deaths occurred, major wars had been launched, killing over a million Iraqis and Afghans and displacing at least another 5 million. That, over a decade later, babies in Fallujah were still commonly born with massive multiple systemic defects. And that Muslims were more vilified than ever in the West; while ordinary citizens globally were spied on as potential terrorist suspects.

Edward had kept a lazy eye on the story, smelling a rat in May 2011. It made no sense, to the then-12-year old, that Osama Bin Laden was summarily executed upon his discovery in Pakistan, after ten years of searching. Would the supposed criminal mastermind behind 9/11 not have provided critical information? Should he not have been tried? US Navy Seals had swiftly dumped his body at sea. Then perished themselves, in a helicopter crash. How unfortunate.

Hypnotically, Dan and Mary’s lad was drawn back to videos of the collapsing Twin Towers. It felt like his eyes and mind disagreed.

His history classes had touched on 1930s Germany. He had discovered Joseph Goebbels’ claim that, if you tell a lie and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it, however absurd.

“Somehow it doesn’t stack up, sir. I think it was different from how it was reported.” Mr Cooper humoured Ed. But the head insisted on adherence to the curriculum. Disappointed, Ed decided to do the work himself.

 

***

 

Billy the barman stood around six foot six in purple Doc Marten boots. Satan’s eyes travelled up his tartan bondage trousers, and across his black shirt, with its netting. Past his pierced lip, nose and ears to kind eyes and spiky dark hair. Billy surveyed the 20 tee-shirts Satan held out. He rifled through differing, vivid images of the Guy Fawkes mask popularised by the film V for Vendetta, juxtaposed against a smashed pier and other Southend landmarks. “Some cool stuff here man.”

“£400 worth of gear. Yours for £150.”

Billy calculated. Satan tried to think how he might handle Gandhi’s reaction at what was theft, however you dressed it. That worry was overridden by the exhaustion of his single malt stash. It didn’t help that Micky Gaze was moaning about finances.

“Give you £50. Good kit, but no guarantee I can sell it.”

“£125. You’ll get £20 a top when the punters are pissed. Sell seven and you’re in front.”

“£80. Final offer.”

Satan took Billy’s notes. Ordered the Brewers Gold. Looked at lovingly crafted paintings of Reed, Bowie and Steve Strange. Through the pub speakers, horns sizzled, sounding like The Beat in their heyday. Unrelenting guitars and drums, accompanying an indescribably welcome first sip. Bobby Gillespie was singing with urgency about “21st century slaves, a peasant underclass”. Satan listened, entranced, to the opening 2013 track of Primal Scream’s More Light album.

Subsequent songs covered domestic violence, the aftermath of a riot, and benefit-capped life below the breadline. Silently toasting the Southchurch experiment, Satan hardly noticed the bearded lad next to him.

He mused on how the park now had almost 400 residents; and on the huge potato crop being grown for 2014, surrounded by myriad other vegetables. How techniques lifted from Trussel Trust food banks were improving incoming food consignments. Lists were pinned on the park’s key buildings, listing ‘urgent’ requirements, followed by ‘low stock’ and ‘not required’ categories. With a third moneyless community up and running in Newcastle, joining the Southend and Hastings experiments, more secessionist communities were on the horizon, Satan intuited, already halfway down his pint.

Politicians were inadvertently encouraging the trend. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron had recently explained – standing at a gold lectern in London – that it was now Conservative policy to make the public spending squeeze permanent. Shadow welfare minister Rachel Reeves declared Labour would be even tougher on welfare.

“We need this sort of music,” said the bearded lad. “It’s an alarm call for the comatose. Most musicians ignore what’s going on.”

Running his hands through fuzzy hair, he complained that Rod Stewart and Coldplay were letting their music be used for TV adverts. Satan agreed about Primal Scream’s intentions but said that demonising people as comatose, or asleep, achieved little. “The majority are helpless in a world where a small percentage of psychopaths have created power structures that serve other psychopaths.”

 

***

 

Ed had been encouraged to trust his inner voice. Dan also urged him to log and reference everything when pursuing an idea. As a result, the lad had built meticulous records of a multitude of 9/11 events, and already saw the official narrative in terms of the slogan used in 1984, Orwell’s great book: “Two plus two equals five”. The storyline had more holes than the Swiss cheese his mum loved.

His science marks were average, but Ed knew the laws of physics did not collapse on 9/11. Before this day and since, he discovered, no steel-structured building in the world had collapsed due to fire, despite sustained infernos in several cases. Yet the official narrative said burning airplane fuel fatally weakened the steel structures of WTC 1 and 2, despite these being built to withstand multiple plane impacts.

Most mind-blowing of all was the unimpeded freefall of World Trade Center (WTC) Building 7, despite no plane hitting the building. 12 years later, many people were still unaware of WTC 7, as incessantly repeated shots of the WTC 1 and 2 demises set the perception of events in stone.

The collapse of Building 7 was officially attributed to “office fires”, despite its sprinkler systems. Ed’s notes cited a ‘smoking gun’.

With his parents away, and his sister preoccupied, Ed sifted the details endlessly, unlike the US government, which hastily shipped out the WTC rubble to China, disposing of evidence required for any trial, and had had speedily flown out its Bin Laden family business contacts in 9/11’s immediate aftermath.

After a cat woke him one night, Ed went online. He found that Barry Jennings, New York City’s Deputy Director of Emergency Services, claimed during two recorded interviews about WTC7 that he witnessed “bombs going off all over the building”. Jennings succumbed to an unexplained death two days before the release of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s ‘Final Report’ that cited the “office fires.”

A Dutch explosives expert, Danny Jowenko, claimed Building 7 was “for sure brought down by controlled demolition”. Heading to a television interview on the subject, Jowenko’s car lost its brakes, crashed into a tree and exploded into a fireball, killing him instantly.

On dreary days, looking out at the school’s high metal fence, Ed pondered the arguments presented by a group of over 1,900 architects and engineers, entitled AE911Truth. This was formed to demand a new investigation in the wake of the official 9-11 Commission Report, issued in July 2004, which had avoided mentioning the complete, symmetrical, freefall disintegration of WTC 7 in less than 10 seconds.

Ed was astounded to read the behaviour of key US officials topping the chain of command. Neither President George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Myers nor Montague Winfield seemed to assume their duties as decision-makers during a clear domestic attack on the United States. Even more incredible was that none of the four hijacked civilian planes were intercepted in what was touted as the world’s most heavily defended airspace.

So much of the narrative looked flimsy, even to a schoolboy. After the demise of the Twin Towers in Manhattan, Flight 77 attacked the Pentagon. The impact had apparently destroyed key evidence concerning the unaccountable US$2.3 trillion loss announced by Rumsfeld the previous day. Ed was flabbergasted that journalists had brushed this coincidence under the carpet – and had ignored the unbelievable skills demonstrated by Flight 77’s unidentified pilot.

The Boeing 757 had seemed locked into a suicide mission on the White House, before a pivot that reminded observers of a military manoeuvre. The plane circled 270 degrees at 800 kilometres per hour, then fell below radar level, vanishing from radar screens before the impact at its destination.

A group of commercial airline pilots, many of them Vietnam veterans, had stated publicly that planes – but not missiles – would break up if flying that low at that speed.

Ed found himself questioning the lack of wreckage at the Pentagon. Where did the plane wings and engines go? Where were the bodies, or body parts? Why did a 100-foot wide plane leave a 16-foot hole?  Why did the FBI confiscate all video footage of Flight 77?

Under Mr Cooper’s guidance, the class could have put together a brilliant project. When the FBI released a list of 19 suspects in the four plane hijackings, the only name that could possibly have flown Flight 77 was Hani Hanjour, who one month earlier had struggled to control a single-engine Cessna 172 during flying lessons at Freeway Airport in Maryland. Freeway declined to rent Hanjour a plane without more lessons.

Ed dreamed of maverick parents chipping in, creating an exciting, self-steered collaboration. Instead, school continued to serve up a diet of mainly received wisdom. At least school kids could not be sacked, whereas US government officials who questioned the authorised 9/11 story were fired. University professors were dismissed for merely discussing 9/11, while other experts in their fields – scientists, pilots, journalists, architects, engineers and hundreds of firemen – had been ignored or censured as unpatriotic.

When the volume of evidence overwhelmed him, Ed returned to the New York numbers. Two planes. But three buildings.

He dwelled often on O’Brien, created by Orwell as the Inner Party’s interrogator of thought criminals in 1984. Quizzed that 2 plus 2 could equal 5, O’Brien said that control over physical reality was utterly unimportant, as long as one controlled mass perceptions.

Ed wondered: If a vast majority is cajoled to believe something, does that eventually make it true?

 

***

 

Satan was hearing about the skewing of truth in Britain. His new drinking partner was also on Brewer’s Gold. “I’m Olly”, said the male. Long red shorts and an old cycling shirt covered a pear-shaped torso. Olly revealed that the Conservative Party had deleted from its website everything it had said for a decade before the last election, stopping checks on broken promises.

Anything but surprised, Sal introduced himself. He relayed how David Cameron had been a leading member of the Confederation of Conservative Students, which produced a ‘Hang Mandela’ poster in 1985.

The conversation segued into the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, which was being denied access to official records, including notes sent by Blair to Bush. A gust of rain smashing the windows halted all conversation.

Next up for discussion, after Satan bought another round, was a TV interview featuring Russell Brand and Jeremy Paxman. Brand, a TV celebrity, was in hot water for arguing that it made no difference which party one voted for, because any vote represented complicity in a system that always protected the rich and powerful.

Olly suggested a box be made available on the voting paper that said: “They are all shit”.

Billy laughed. “Russell’s got a point. Voting for anyone is a request for more of the same.”

A blonde woman nearby spoke. “It really annoys me the way Russell Brand plays to the young, idealistic audience,” she said. “It shows downright sloppy thinking to say that we must destroy the way of things without suggesting what should happen instead.”

She took a slug of gin and tonic. Satan heard the voice of England’s centre ground. Red scarf topped a black drape jacket, embossed dark brushed velvet trousers, elegantly pointed boots. He guessed she ran her own business. ‘This is a democracy – and you should be grateful’, her husky voice implied.

Nobody spoke. So she continued. “We’ve seen that communism doesn’t work without massive oppression of the people he claims to speak for. What would he actually do?”

Olly batted it back. “Russell’s message is that this pretend democracy is fucked up. That none of the parties deserve anyone’s vote, based on recent evidence.”

She didn’t blink. “He said, very clearly, that the political system caters to a rich elite who manipulate the public, mainly through the media.”

She wasn’t buying it. “That may all be true. But carping from the sidelines, and discarding your vote, solves nothing, however poor politicians are. What can change things?”

Sal looked in quietly. Despite its platitudes, the flow of the adversarial conversation stirred him. Another side coldly watched two slaves discuss the neo-feudalism they lived under, during a brief interlude from the plantation.

He hoped someone would buy more drinks. “The game is rigged, more than you will ever know or dream,” he offered. “Even sadder than that, for the whole human race, is how rare it has become to see someone like Russell Brand flying with all synapses blazing, because he is so passionate. Everything starts with a thought, a spark.”

They switched to Brand’s criticisms of banks. “The simple reality is that you pay them for access to money, like the peasants who used to rent land,” Sal stated.

He wished Brand were with them. Olly and the woman, Marie, would have to do.

Sal departed on a question. “Remember this winter will be the first time since World War Two that the Red Cross will hand out food parcels in Britain. Getting on for 50 million people across Continental Europe are not getting enough to eat. Might those two patterns be somehow linked to the continuous extraction of wealth by banks?”

Wandering through the pub, Sal noted that chairs were laid out in a nicely mismatched manner. A piano sat near a door to an upstairs area. The toilets offered condoms, cracked porcelain and no drying facility. Relieving himself, he remembered his theft. Gandhi would be livid.

When he returned Olly was in full swing, at Marie’s table. She had removed her coat, revealing a classic black rollneck jumper.

The kid never let his ideas settle. “Everybody is grabbing what they can before nothing is left. The world’s GDP is $70 trillion, but big banks have reportedly let their traders run up derivatives bets getting on for $1,400 trillion. It don’t take a genius to see the daisy chain will break. So, let’s take our money out of the banks and speed up the process!”

Marie had bought Sal a beer. He raised his glass in gratitude. Olly was getting more technical. “The funniest thing is that all debts involve money that did not, does not, and will never, exist, apart from in binary code. All banks do is change a field in the database of your account, which locks you into a digital cage. Nobody needs to repay this fiction.” Marie told him he would go to prison if he told that to a judge. Olly said he might soon have to.

She fingered her cigarettes. “Grow some balls and get outside for that fag,” teased Olly. “Balls are weak and sensitive”, she snapped back. “Only a vagina can take a real pounding.”

She turned rapidly to Satan, asking him to explain how banks rented out money. He had been through it endlessly at Southchurch Park. Dan Fawkes and a few others got it. Patiently, he explained that nearly all money was debt, so there could never be enough in circulation to make interest repayments, unless more debt was issued, which further compounded the situation. “The price of using their money system is their relentless extraction of borrowers’ wealth. As a generalisation, the cost of each 95 mortgages that are fully repaid is probably five other borrowers that lose their homes,” Satan suggested.

He was almost hissing as he spoke: “Money…debt is a cancer that eats across the whole economy, which is built on the foundation of so-called economic growth, but is really the need to continuously expand in order to service a tsunami of repayments. Which is why – on a planet of finite resources – governments and corporations are stripping the tar from the sand and fracking the earth into oblivion.”

Olly got the next round. Marie moved onto red wine. She was thoughtful. “Nobody is taught or encouraged to see it in those terms. And you should remember that banks pay tax, dividends and wages from some of that interest, which flows back into society,” she said. He liked the way she grasped the practical. The alcohol was amplifying her shape. “Same question as before – what’s the solution,” she asked.

He retorted: “Your government could start solving its financial woes overnight by introducing a debt-free currency, that it prints and controls. Canada did this from 1938, to escape the Great Depression.”

He sipped the Brewer’s Gold, still sober enough to recall God’s briefing that it was not until 1974 that Canada resorted back to borrowing using interest-bearing bonds. By 1977, in just three years, Canada’s national debt had risen from C$18 billion to C$588 billion.

Grinning, Satan revealed his residence at Southchurch Park, at which she also smiled, showing a soft throat. “Should you be here then, in this ‘monied environment’?” She revealed that she owned an estate agency, staying in business via excellent service and innovative marketing.

Olly had a vodka and orange with his beer. He was banging on about a recent TV programme, ‘Britain on the Fiddle’. Marie had watched it, recalling the implication that £20 billion annually was lost to benefit cheats. “It’s more like £1 billion,” countered Olly, emitting alcoholic spray with each sentence. Marie wiped her face and glass. Olly moaned about Vodaphone, Google, Starbucks, Amazon and Apple not paying corporation tax, and the lack of jailed bankers. Marie asked if he was playing devil’s advocate. “That’s not how the system works Olly,” she said.

Sal’s thoughts drifted. The pressure on most humans was unyielding. They were spiritual beings, trapped in a physical body, held tightly in a world where money ground people to dust and history was a narrative for manipulating. He understood intimately why they used alcohol, sex, drugs and gambling, reincarnating into similar situations until their souls mastered desire. He also understood Maggie’s unique path. But he needed more drink.

Head beginning to swirl, far from home, his thirst was hideous, like nothing on earth. Fallen again, he had stolen from his new community. He was bewitched by Marie’s hips. Maybe he needed a psychiatrist.

 

251. Cats in the library

OUT OF ESSEX – CHAPTER 29

 

 

Genevieve: Sex.

Blondy: Lovely.

Genevieve: Is that all you want from me?

Blondy: Right now? Yeah. More than anything.

Genevieve: Howard, you didn’t even zip up the bloody tent. Why are you here?

Blondy: I’ve told you that over and over. I travelled 265 miles so I could stop worrying about money. Stop feeling like there’s a hedgehog in my pocket.

Genevieve: You know what I’d like to hear you say?

Blondy: Welshmen are the best lovers?

Genevieve: That you’re sick of being herded. Sick of being a sheep.

Blondy: Sheep are beloved in Wales. Especially on cold nights.

Genevieve: Sick of the rubbish shoved down our throats by TV and Facebook. That you’re bucking the system. That you want truth.

Blondy: You try living in western Wales. Jobs are as rare as rocking horse crap. That’s the truth.

Genevieve: Jobs! For fuck’s sake. Jobs keep us in somebody else’s prison. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, isn’t it his duty to escape?

Blondy: I’m not a poxy soldier, darling. I mend bikes. Captain Van Hoyte was telling me that there are twice as many bikes as people in The Netherlands.

Genevieve: Jesus, I hate how you change subject. Don’t you ever think about whether there’s a God? Gandhi and Satan are here, a hundred yards away. How? Aren’t you interested?

Blondy: Now you’re being daft. Satan was a fallen angel in the Bible. You seen any wings? Dave and me cleared out his empty bottles this morning. No feathers anywhere. OK? And yeah, the Indian guy calls himself Gandhi, but that’s a common name in West India. I looked it up.

Genevieve: Have you seen how he looks at me?

Blondy: Babe, every man in this park ogles you. Wakey wakey.

Genevieve: Not lust. More like disgust.

Blondy: Funny you should say that. That was the look I see him give Steph over at the café. She keeps talking about this bloke Ravenous-Glutton. Reckons she’s waiting for him to come to the park. Why you packing up your stuff?

Genevieve: You ever come across the word ‘numinous’?

Blondy: Wouldn’t mind coming across you. Where you going?

Genevieve: It means mysterious, awe-inspiring, spiritual. That’s how I feel about this park. It’s shooting for utopia. No more normalcy. I’m going to Diana’s tent. She’s been through the wringer. She needs another human to talk to, to trust.

Blondy: Ah don’t do that. She’s next thing to an ex-junkie. Come on, let’s talk about your parents. About your mum becoming worn down and tired, washing the windscreens, and your dad’s gambling, because he’s isolated, and can’t bond, can’t find anything meaningful. I do listen.

Genevieve: I know. That’s one of the reasons you’ll get by, and other women will happily sleep here. You’re good company. With a kissable face.

Blondy: So stay. Please. You’re the best in bed.

Genevieve: I want to leave you with a different thought. There was a philosopher in America called William James.

Blondy: Come nearer and tell me.

Genevieve: He wondered if our relationship to the otherworld – the spirits and the dead – was like how our pets relate to our world. So, we may be in the universe in the same way that dogs and cats might be in our libraries. Seeing the books. Hearing the conversation. Without any idea of the meaning, or how it works.

Blondy: Be my pussy. One last time.

Genevieve: James said we are embedded in the otherworld. Not the other way around. Bye Howard.

 

 

250. The sex magic of Isis

 

OUT OF ESSEX – CHAPTER 28

 

 

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning to sail my ship

Louisa May Alcott

 

 

After the sparring, Maggie chose to return to her room. Her excitement bubbled. New worlds were opening.

“Akash?”

“At your service.”

“A question about a film, The Matrix.” She had watched it, on God’s advice. “The martial arts software programme that was front-loaded into Neo. Does that exist in reality?”

“Yes.” She had known it in her waters. She asked if it was available. “Indeed yes. Any software is available to souls in limbo.”

She clenched a fist in delight. The Place walked its talk. Now she moved again, tiptoeing across a dark landing and back. Bladder empty, ready for more.

 

***

 

Again, she found herself astride the Highway to Hell. Following Morgana’s guidance, she reached an area dominated by a round cylindrical tent, with a conic roof. Yurts had been deployed in Central Asia, by Genghis Khan’s hordes. Stepping inside, her vision was overwhelmed by repeating geometrical patterns. Morgana later explained how these were based around the five unchanging elements of the cosmos: fire, water, earth, metal, and wood. The patterns embraced the interior walls, also suffusing the furniture and embroidery, which looked Arabic to her untutored eye. Musky patchouli notes swam in the warm air.

Mid-yurt, a candle-lit table was draped with a purple and blue Moroccan tablecloth, emblazoned with more of the fractal configurations that characterised Islamic art. Bottles of wine loosely punctuated bowls of olives and flatbreads. Sporting pink pyjamas, Morgana arose from a deep leather sofa, smothered by a sable throw. She held out her arms. “Mags, you made it. Grab a glass and meet Mary. We’re having a girlie evening!”

Not for the first time, Maggie found being dead quite incredible. Pouring herself a large red wine, she looked at Mary Magdalene, perched, in vivid purple pyjamas, on a massive pouf. Lustrous auburn hair topped an olive-skinned, Levantine face, in which sat a fathomless smile. Music played softly: a zither and flute cocktail, flavoured by tambourine backbeats.

As the first glass settled, Maggie seized her opportunity to ask timeless questions. Mary responded in detail, beginning with the resurrection. While Morgana lit a spliff, Maggie listened, spellbound. Mary described her time as a disciple of Jesus, one of those deemed worthy of his gnosis, or secret knowledge.

She told of life with Jesus in South Asia. Their yogic and tantric practices. She emphasised how red hair often characterised their DNA line. Maggie pinched herself hard.

Once Jesus had left his human body, Mary taught and healed through the laying on of hands. “I passed on the essential teaching of Yeshua that the true divine mystery is love.” Her hair shone like a sun. “I also initiated women into the Sex Magic of Isis, and in using their life force to heal and elevate themselves.”

Maggie could think of nothing to say. She vaguely remembered Isis as an Egyptian goddess; Mary as a prostitute. She sensed they could both see through her.

Mary told how she had taught knowledge of herbs for healing, and the use of essential oils to alter consciousness, “to experience the spiritual worlds directly.” She had passed on the “inner teachings” of Jesus to smaller, more advanced groups. “I revealed that all persons are nothing less than the living mother/father god. Maggie, there is nothing separating you or anyone else from this numinous reality – except belief.”

Maggie was sad. Nobody had ever discussed this in Grantham, or in Parliament. Now the strange thing happened again. Morgana looked to have lost several of her toes. Mary carried on. “The core teaching was to use their powers as prime, supreme creators in their lives. I also taught this to men, but not the Sex Magic of Isis.” She paused, eyes flashing. “I let their wives teach them that.”

Grinning, Morgana commanded nearby minions to bring food. Maggie poured another glass to steady herself. The claret had a focused intensity: blackcurrants, coffee and chocolate.

Mary took a draw, offering the joint to Maggie, who tentatively accepted, taking a single puff. Mary spoke with horror of the Middle Ages, when the patriarchal Church reached rock bottom, and many women with her knowledge of healing and self-transcendence were labelled as witches and burned at the stake. “Ironically, this frontal attack was committed in the name of the Holy Mother Church, meaning of course the Church of Rome. To this day, the Church places females in subservient positions.”

Maggie glanced at the label on the bottle. 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild. That name again! Memories that seemed like future visions came flooding back. Or had she surged forward? After several more puffs, she perceived with total clarity that N. M. Rothschild & Sons would be hired to advise on the 1986 privatisation of British Gas. Or……had long ago been hired. Time had become meaningless. And that the same bank would advise – or had done – on most of the UK’s other privatisations of state-owned assets: British Steel; British Coal; all the British regional electricity boards; and all British regional water boards. It seemed odd. Why and how could that happen?

Spicy fish tagine and couscous arrived. As did another tangled thought. Some of her ministers had gone on to work for the bank, yet the time when she would have ministers still lay ahead. She yielded to the linear impossibility, enigma dissolving the binary.

Tucking in, Maggie suddenly heard an agonised scream. She almost dropped her bowl. Morgana’s reassuring hand reached across. “Nothing to worry about Mags. Beelzebub is ‘entertaining’ two senior ex-bankers from the IMF and JP Morgan.”

Mary touched Maggie’s shoulder, squeezing lightly. “Are you thinking about that name on the bottle?”

Maggie took more of the psychoactive smoke into her lungs, coughing loudly. She considered asking her companions’ view on interest-bearing loans; but forgot this when Morgana revealed that she and Sal still had a fabulous sex life after thousands of years together. She giggled, nervously, at the description of “mixed tails and tongues”. She changed subject to her period of limbo, and strange attraction towards martial arts.

Morgana replaced the music with the Byrds. Eight Miles High. Maggie revealed her favourite ‘pop song’ as Telstar, the first single by a British group to reach number one in America, in 1962. They smiled politely.

Mary and Morgana danced together, sinuously weaving in and out each other’s space, while walnut and almond baklava desert arrived. Chomping on the heavy, flavourful Greek pastry, Maggie was wistful. She struggled with simple, uninhibited pleasure.

It was time to leave. They all hugged. Morgana held out Maggie’s sports bag, flicking dirt off Satan’s nose.

***

Mary’s voice was suddenly a cleaver cutting the air. “OK, let’s lose this girly shit.”

Ten times sharper, massively less affable.

“We thought it might help you assimilate. But it’s time you spoke up. Can we help you? What has God said? My mother-in-law can be petty and vengeful, not to mention indecisive.”

Wanting more hashish, Maggie struggled for precision. A rabbit in their sudden headlamps. She was grateful for Mary’s summary; unprepared for its harshness.

“Let me start then. You fell out of alignment with benevolence, you and your fine friend Mr Reagan.” Maggie remained vulnerably silent. “Mr Raygun,” whispered Morgana.

A new Mary seemed to rise, then tower above Maggie. “I do not care about trying to pin labels on political philosophies. Those are just words. I do care – and so should you – that entire nations, such as Indonesia and Chile, were tied up, raped, and then used as economic guinea pigs for capital’s intrinsically plundering tendencies. The rich became richer, while the poorest continue to perish.”

Maggie’s vocals were paralysed.

“Let’s talk about Britain.” Mary’s face was contorted, almost wobbling. “As the captain, you steered that already tainted galleon into dreadful new waters. A shrunken welfare state; privatised public services; and rising inequality. Now, hundreds of thousands of British citizens cannot afford to live. Education, medical care, and infrastructure are eroding and crumbling. The country has sunk so low under those waters that many of its children are starving. Pupils go to school hungry. Was that your aim? Hungry children?”

Morgana was staring at her. Maggie could hear her eyes ask the question. (Is that what you wanted Maggie?). She shook her head.

Mary carried on: “Woefully, since your premiership, the very idea of neoliberalism – yes, I will name it – has steadily buried older British values and ideals. Replacing ethics and good daily conduct with a series of swindles, rackets and orgies. But no sex magic, oh no, none of that deep nourishment.”

Maggie drank in sound, noting Mary’s wet eyes. “No moral or spiritual response. Just greedy food orgies, worthless sports orgies, selfish property orgies, lustful pornography orgies, rubbish pop culture orgies, and empty travel orgies. But above all, to Britain’s eternal shame, the homeless, the starving children, have been incorporated into the country’s idea of what is and will be. Part of the fabric.”

An image came to Maggie. Of God’s ‘crapocracy’. All the financiers, oligarchs and sociopaths were represented by the lurid form of a sadistic teacher holding a ruler over the fingers of a petrified pupil, threatening more punishment unless there was complete compliance.

“So, come on, what in hell do you want here?” said Mary.

“To find Jesus. Where is he?” Maggie asked, desperation in her voice.

“Damned if I know,” said Mary. “He can be gone for days, weeks, months, so good luck with that. Anyway, you know where I am now. Don’t be a stranger.”

 

 

 

249. Turning tide

 

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A tide may have turned.

On Friday and Saturday, I shadowed two super-helpful care workers, on their Chelmsford round visiting elderly clients. The aim being to see how this job works, and if I might be suitable.

The shock to my system was immense. Thrown onto the front line, with no filters. The first client, visited at 7 a.m., lives alone. No family visit him. He takes a huge amount of medication. I didn’t know what to do with myself, or where to direct my eyes, while he was given a full body wash. I was an intruder. His hearing is poor. But made a cup of tea for him and coaxed from him that he is a Tottenham fan.

The second client was bed-bound, with sores on her hunched back. Doesn’t want to carry on living. She was stripped, washed, placed on the commode, fresh nappy attached. Moaning about the hot water not being scalding, so she cannot get her hands clean. I felt helpless, unskilled, so far out of my comfort zone. She had a Midlands accent, so I asked where she came from. Stratford-upon-Avon. Chanced my arm and told her I lived in Birmingham for 4 years. Bingo! We talked. As we departed, she said ‘Goodbye Kevin’.

The day proceeded thus. The next client’s husband suggested I was too old to be learning the job. By the time we left, he was telling me about his love of boxing and allotments. Nonetheless, I looked at the tender care accorded his wife with the feeling that I was hopelessly useless in her presence. She has almost lost her power of speech; and cannot move much of her body unaided.

We did about 7 hours of this steep learning curve before I clocked off. I came home depleted. Had to walk and meditate to decompress. It’s hard to witness such a raw range of human decline. The colossal indignity of ageing and losing control. Although I’ve witnessed my dad’s short-term memory disappear in recent years, he remains physically competent, as his 92nd birthday nears.

Saturday was easier though. I focused on the logistics of the job; the entry procedures, the logbook at each house, the box ticking of all the tasks using the phone apps, etc. And again my trump card – talking with people whose conversational spectrum can often be limited to a loop of the same people and subjects. I reckon listening and responding can be my shoe-in, if I can somehow master the range of tasks, and squeeze them all in within the strictly allotted time span.

I came home less depleted. Maureen’s reaction has helped. Her face has lit up and her mood has soared at how I’ve decided to plunge into something that will help the wider world, in its own small way. And the flexibility of a job where I can be hands-on with the hours, allowing me to maintain the journalism. Hopefully the £10/hour rate will fill the finance gap I have moaned about since May. It’s not great, but I’m grateful.

The post has been offered to me today. Starting in the new year, I can learn and knuckle down to the new occupation as the days fatten and the sunshine kicks back in. A tough ask, but the best challenges always look daunting.

Better, something else has happened in a few short days. The only way to describe it is the feeling of slowly starting to fill up my empty tank. Knowing that I’ll be involved in a network of carers and cared for is a big, big deal. I crave company.

26 years of writing about finance, oil and business had left me in a parlous condition, terribly bored and unstimulated. Hating most of what I do, and – over the past 5 years – withdrawing from the people that I used to interview and occasionally socialise with. I could no longer be false, pretending to be interested in what they do. And so I have operated alone, out at the margins (emails, and, decreasingly, phone calls), rather than letting my disdain show. My kindness has nowhere to go. A frustrating, dangerous rut to be in.

My choices, nobody else’s fault. But the clouds are lifting. Every part of me feels more optimistic.

Which tends to open doors. One of the ladies I shadowed needs occasional drivers to work cash-in-hand for her dog rescue centre. It’s a time in life to say yes, yes, yes.

 

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Happy Christmas to everyone who takes the time to read these blogs. Knowing that an audience is listening, however small, is one of the key things that keeps me going. Thank you.

248. Friction ahoy!

OUT OF ESSEX – Chapter 27 (rewrite)

 

 

The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety

Goethe

 

 

Little Venice cheered wildly on 2 November, 2013, after word arrived that a second moneyless community was up and running in Hastings, on England’s south coast. Not mentioned anywhere in national news, the 70-strong Sussex Secessionists were said to be under the tutelage of a former member of an early 1970s anarchist group, the Angry Brigade.

Sitting quietly amid the hollering, Satan sensed bloodshed ahead. Challenges to the status quo were not tolerated. Outside the Bible, Goliath always slayed David.

He kept silent. He had taken to spending whole days in silence, driving the Ducati Diavel away from suburbia. He liked to head into the wilds of eastern Essex, exploring the Dengie Peninsula, bounded by the Rivers Crouch and Blackwater to the south and north, and the North Sea to the east. The open spaces, the flatness of the land, and the vastness of the sky gave new perspective. He passed through remote villages. Names such as Cold Norton, Latchingdon, Mayland and Steeple.

There were frictions over all manner of things in the park: fights for hot water each morning, the best seats in the café, squabbles over laptop access, occasional fisticuffs over straying sexual partners. Yet the bigger picture was astonishing, he regularly reminded himself. God’s Essex plan was bearing fruit. A society that had cohered within less than four months, and was continuing to attract newcomers, despite the negative publicity.

The latest, a lad named Howard, hailed from rural western Wales. Nicknamed Blondy, on account of his lustrous fair hair, Howard had told Sal his tale. His marriage had fallen apart on a £2,000 joint monthly income. “By the time we paid all the bills, like, we hardly had enough for clothes, and nothing to go out. We couldn’t afford to have kids, and then something like needing a new clutch for the car would come along, boyo. Couldn’t face another winter.” Then a mate told him about the Essex experiment.

Howard had something about him. Several women had already visited his tent. But like the rest of the park community, and most wider society, he was hurting, beneath the bluster.

Sal had mused on these and other topics in late October sunshine, cruising out to Bradwell-on-Sea, to visit St Peters Chapel, built in 645 AD. The 19th oldest building in Britain. The flat stone top of the altar made Sal think of the monolith in Kubrick’s film, 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Inside, alone, he read with surprise of a permanent Christian community based just 300 yards away. Othona, as it was called, had begun life as an experiment back in 1946, when the nearest water source was a standpipe two fields away. Accommodation now consisted of two separate buildings and five yurts. Community rules were basic: you stayed, you helped out. Everyone walked over to the chapel twice a day, after breakfast and evening washing up. It even had a football pitch, he saw, walking through the wood in which Othona was enclosed.

The Christians would never know that Satan had visited their sanctuary, which perched on the edge of the sea, away from the human eye. Southchurch Park had a different trajectory. Proselytising. Hurling stones at giants.

Back in the present, Sal watched Gandhi break into a slow smile, climb onto a bench and raise his fist aloft. “Momentum,” he shouted. “Momentum, momentum.” The chant rippled around and out from the café, scaring away seagulls arrayed along fences bordering the lake.

Satan had little time for Gandhi. He recalled the man’s extreme racism in younger days. While in South Africa he had insulted and disparaged black Africans, in attempts to show the merits of the country’s Indian community to British colonial rulers. Everyone made mistakes, and Gandhi had clearly evolved. Sal’s real aversion was the little Indian’s puritanical streak – and his propensity to see women as second-class citizens. Some of that had peeked through in his dislike of Maggie. In his last life, he had taken a vow of celibacy, without consulting his wife.

It was still visible. Gandhi showed hesitations around a new girl in the community, Genevieve. Just turned 18, she had slotted in from day one. Adaptable, unfazed by the new rituals, unconcerned by her smouldering beauty, and saying exactly what she thought, she was sleeping each night in Blondy’s tent. She had also struck up a deep friendship with another newcomer, Diana, who had been a shoplifter, dipping in and out of prison for theft and drug possession. Prevented from visiting her kids because of an abusive partner, Diana had descended to selling £5 blowjobs from street corners to fund her and her partner’s various addictions. Distaste criss-crossed Gandhi’s face, hearing these details.

For now, Sal shelved his many forebodings. The park was working. He wandered away from the café, alongside the lake, towards an orange tent outside which Johan van Hoyte could be seen playing chess with Dave Dawson. The captain waved Satan across, gesticulating with his clay pipe.

“Sal, you have fallen so luckily, with your nose into the butter,” he shouted. “Come play the great game with me. Dave here just conceded. Now he sits with a mouth full of teeth, speechless at my mastery.” Dave smiled, ruffled Van Hoyte’s dark Dutch sailor’s cap, and made his excuses. To cater for the park’s burgeoning numbers, he and Micky Gaze were sharpening a plan to bring into play the smaller, eastern section of the park that lay across Lifstan Way, comprising mainly open space, while maintaining its wildlife conservation area.

As they set up the pieces, Johan talked about the park. “Soon we will be like piglets in a barrel, yes? Piccadily Circus is us. Yet, like an angel peeing on my tongue, the taste is beautiful.” Sal pushed forward a pawn, and asked Johan if he had heard of Common Law. The sailor shook his head. “Maritime law was my guiding force.”

“Did you know that maritime law is also the underpinning of legal systems around the world, Johan?”

As they moved their black and white armies across the board, Sal explained to his companion that cutting out money had seen the park unobtrusively slide into a higher gear, almost unknowingly, under a classic set of guidelines required when many people lived together.

“These simple rules of cooperation have been acknowledged by common consent, over time, as Common or Natural Law. In essence, people honour each other’s boundaries.”

“Perfect description of this park. You ignore my queen.”

Sal sent his bishop deep into Van Hoyte’s defensive nest. He elaborated on Common Law principles. “The beauty is in the utter simplicity: you must not injure or kill anyone; you must not steal or damage things owned by others; and you must be honest with and respectful of others in your dealings.”

“Simple is best,” said Johan. “Four more moves and you are ‘brown bread’, to quote those ruddy cockneys.”

Sal enjoyed letting the Dutchman win, just to hear his evocative language tumble out. He explained further, that when Common Law was embraced, it usually dovetailed with an absence of the hierarchical structures that had been foisted, unnaturally, upon and across the entire world. There were thousands of examples, but he cited how Crown colonisers had forced the concept of a “chief” upon Native Americans who were not stratified socially.

“Holland’s colonising also ruined parts of the globe,” said Johan. “We talked of trade, but we were dicking from our necks. Look at the Dutch East India Company, stealing produce and profits from Indonesian natives. Compare that with here, where one individual can introduce a policy idea, and see it implemented with a 60% majority in the electronic show of hands.”

They agreed that one of the most fascinating by-products of the Southchurch experiment had been an upsurge in dreams, as imaginations had mushroomed in the absence of television, newspapers, traffic, and paid work. On any morning, you could hear residents recounting and comparing adventures in the ether. “I’ve been having my first positive dreams since Afghanistan,” Alex had said that morning, resplendent in pink jeans and bright green top.

Van Hoyte was crowing now. “Two more moves, Sal, and I hug the glory.” He asked if Sal had noted how the park’s women were increasingly influential. “A little cup of solace for us all.”

As the days grew colder and darker, the big work target was to make habitable the nearby houses bought by Micky Gaze. Floorboards ruined by the flood had been sanded, smoothed and deep varnished. Because the wiring was old, Ruth chose a selection of scented candles and ornate lamps to obviate using electric lights. Mary and Sheena scoured the town for second-hand furniture which gradually began to fill rooms that would be in huge demand in the months ahead. They found material that was shaped and finished in Gandhi’s textile centre, providing wraps, shawls and drapes in every room.

It sickened and saddened Sal that, for all their ingenuity and improvisation, these people would be helpless when the powers-that-be came for them. Nothing could prevent it. And when it happened, the park security that he ran with Mike and Alex would not begin to be enough. The sole way to avoid that fate was to stay quiet, out of the way. Like the Bradwell Christians.

“Checkmate”, grinned Johan.

Behind them, the cry rang around the park’s hub. “Momentum, momentum, momentum.”

***

 

Satan walked again, past the huge allotment area, skirting the lavatory blocks and the cricket pavilion where he slept, heading towards the caravans.

Those who bucked the system got crucified. Like Jesus, nailed to a cross between two thieves. It always terminated this way. 2,000 years or so later, the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ran into a similar end.

Down the years, Satan had visited Libya, quietly, on numerous occasions, to examine life under the ‘crazy dictator’. He transitioned through a portal ending in a Tripoli sewer. He had found little in the way of nightlife, certainly no single malts, after Gaddafi banned alcohol in 1969.

Nonetheless it was a quiet, safe country, suffused with traditional Islamic culture and values. Most people socialised by visiting each other’s houses in the evenings. What hit him the most was how Gaddafi had put in place an education system ranked by many judges as the best in the whole of Africa. This sat alongside the continent’s best health service, free and modelled on Britain’s NHS; the highest literacy levels; free electricity; and cheap petrol. Moreover, every newlywed couple received an apartment and a sizeable starting sum of money. Under a socialism that gave women equal rights, the mother of every child received a large sum of state money after its birth.

“What’s on your mind Sal? You’ve got that faraway look.” Dan Fawkes stood at the door of his caravan, taking off his coat.

Satan snapped from his reverie. “Mind if I join you Dan?”

“Come in, take a seat. I’ll get us some whisky and glasses.”

Dan saw Satan take in the untidiness in the caravan. Clothes and papers everywhere. “Mary is back in Chelmsford, seeing how the kids are. To honour you, we are going to sample a 50-year-old malt. Glen Mhor. The distillery closed decades ago. I’ve been saving it.”

“Thank you, Dan. I have been thinking hard about how Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi chose not to squander his oil money, like other African leaders. He spent it on Libyans.”

Dan was struck by Satan’s focus on a country over 2,000 miles away, amidst the celebrations from which he had just returned. He rolled with it, and the incomprehensible reality that he was conversing with a character that the New Testament described as having the power to enter and possess people. The malt tasted of leather and oak, a touch of almond, before citrus and mint usurped the palate.

“Libya. A controversial, fascinating place,” said Dan. “For me, the Great Manmade River was one of Gaddafi’s finest achievements.” It was the world’s largest irrigation project, taking water from ancient underground aquifers deep in the Sahara to the coast of Libya for domestic use, agriculture, and industry.

“NATO forces bombed it to fuck in 2011,” said Sal, gloomily. Dan studied Satan’s face, saw in it the dark, but not black Saharan African looks of the nomadic Tuaregs, many of whom were loyal to Gaddafi.

Dan listened as Sal described the ride out to Bradwell. “Unlike those Christians, secluded out at the edge of the world, Gaddafi had few reservations about attracting attention or upsetting outsiders. He had the balls in 2003 to say what no other world leader would, accusing Saudi Arabia of “bringing the Americans to occupy Iraq”.

Sal had immediately been fearful for the ‘Brother Leader’, as Libyans called him. Several times a year, he would sit at the back of cafes along the Libyan coastal highway, watching the cars roar past and listening to the old men talk as they drunk sweet coffee and tea, played cards and smoked their hookah water pipes. Inevitably they moaned about their leader, but with a grudging respect that he kept the country intact and wealthy. They had money in their pockets.

The whisky cheered his insides. A light cigar and sherry hint at the very end. “Do you remember when Gaddafi began to talk up the idea of introducing a single African currency linked to 140 tonnes of Libyan gold?” Dan nodded. It had fascinated the financial journalist in him when the Colonel touted the idea of an African Union in 2009, as some kind of equivalent to the European Union, using the new reserve currency to help bring the continent out of debt.

When French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a hint of what was to come, calling Libya a “threat” to the financial security of the world, Satan’s despair intensified. On his visits, in the cooling night air, he would look with renewed tenderness at the contentment of the café patrons as they played their board games, surrounded by old photos on the walls, copper trays and blaring television sets.

Dan remembered a 2010 phone call in which a French banker told him that Libya’s financial system was “antiquated” and “awkward to work with”. Sal shook his head and pursed his lips. “Fucking bankers,” he said. “That’s their code for ‘doesn’t charge interest’.”

When, like Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi had threatened to cease selling his country’s oil in dollars, Satan knew that Libya’s abundancy would be wiped from the face of the earth. The trillionaires would not be fucked with. Drenching his mouth with the Glen Mhor, he thought again about how the Othona community kept its head below the parapet.

Dan took up the story, and it’s obscene ending. “The people who run the world loathed what Gaddafi had done for Libya, and his visible middle finger to their financial and political control. In March 2011, they mobilised a NATO-led airforce, after peaceful protests against the regime were hijacked by violent protestors. The CIA quite shamelessly armed the Libyan rebels. The same now in Syria.”

Dan felt sick at his profession. He recalled how standard Western press tactics kicked in. The false narrative, endlessly repeated by captured, morally bankrupt media until its illogical drivel was no longer distinguishable from fact. That the airborne NATO interventions would implement a United Nations Security Council Resolution only to protect civilians. The line passed down to editors was that “mad-dog” Gaddafi was going to kill everyone in the city of Benghazi, if the West did not come to their rescue. To defend the people from violence, Libya had to be bombed, said the journalists.

Sal’s fist hit the table. It was the first time Dan had seen his unadulterated anger. “Three principal culprits stood behind the illegal warmongering: France, the UK and US.”

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch trotted out atrocity stories. Several months later the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague claimed that Viagra had been distributed to Libyan government troops as part of an “official policy” of rape. The story was amplified by media to Micky Mouse levels, so that black African mercenaries pumped full of sex drugs were raping their way from the Sahara to the Mediterranean. Westerners chewed mindlessly on these unsubstantiated, hollow fantasies as they ate their TV dinners.

In vain, Sal had asked God to spare Gaddafi. “No”, said God. “What will be, will be.”

After an extended military campaign with sustained Western support, rebel forces prevailed. The Colonel met a gruesome death in October 2011, preceded by his anus being bayoneted. “We came, we saw, he died,” said Hillary Clinton, apparently amused. There followed a period of cleansing of Gaddafi loyalists, finger-pointing, torture, disappearing and summary executions. African migrant workers found themselves lynched from lamp posts, as Libya gradually returned to medievalism. Old smuggling trails were reopened so that it became the major staging point for trafficking immigrants trying to reach Europe.

“There it is Dan. How the world works, in stark black and white,” croaked Sal. “Ignore the official narratives. Concentrate on the events and outcomes. The wanton rape and bulldozing of a country that was a stunning success for ordinary people. After its leader told the West to go fuck itself. There for all to see. Now in humanitarian crisis, ravaged by growing civil war and poverty, lacking in the basic services Gaddafi created, Islamic militants running amok. Did you know that a private Libyan central bank was set up incredibly quickly after the Colonel’s death? Libyan oil could again be sold only for dollars. And Libya’s lovely gold is somehow ‘lost’, unaccounted for.”

Sal paused. “Tell me if I’m wrong. Didn’t Nuremberg find the waging of aggressive war to be the supreme crime? Here we have events causing unfathomable levels of human suffering. But the victims were not white, so the perpetrators will never face justice at the Hague.”

Now Satan smiled. “I console myself with five puppet names. Cameron, Hague, Sarkozy, Clinton and Obama. None of them are immortal. Sooner or later, they will face me, on my territory. Then we will see about justice.”

He didn’t tell Dan his fears for the park’s residents. It was better to be practical. He had talked to Sid the previous evening, asking that his team find out as much information as possible about the two trillionaires in the UK. Anything to give the Firm an edge. They were already working on it, said Sid, rubbing Sal’s shoulders to ease the tensions.

Satan’s last sip of Dan’s Glen Mhor brought back his nagging need for money. The initial stacks of whisky he had shipped in for personal use during the halcyon summer days had been almost obliterated. Now, months on, the park’s budgeting was far tighter, as the aim of total self-sufficiency – with zero spend – inched nearer. He would have to defy Gandhi.