Sir Greed banged his fist on the round table, “Bring me truffles!” he thundered, as the serving staff in BHS livery went scurrying. “’Tis treachery! The May Queen talks softly of helping the poor, yet it is the avowed intent of this fair kingdom to crush their will and keep them in grinding poverty, lest they get ideas and organise resistance!”
He rode out of Castle Green at the head of his personal escort and made his way to the commission of poor men to give evidence for his alleged misdeeds. His squire, a mean and indolent fellow called Chappell, rode beside him.
“Chappell, heed my words. These villains will ask why I favoured thee with half my lands, to which you must reply, ‘My Lord put me in charge of the upkeep of the serfs in good faith, but I lacked the knowledge of my wise master to manage the estates and provide for their welfare’. Got it?”
“Yes, my Lord. And I shall remain in your favour by not mentioning that you stripped the silver and gold from all the holy places to pay for your new royal yacht.” Sir Greed glared at his snivelling underling, knowing full well that his deviousness and avarice had bound him to the villain.
“Look, my Lord! The May Queen awaits you before the humble parliament shed.”
“Good day, my Queen, to what do I owe this pleasure?” The portly knight said, quivering in his saddle as he attempted an ungainly bow.
“It is no pleasure of mine, Sir Greed! I have come to warn you not to mock my councillors and give truthful evidence, for I intend to reform this kingdom and reverse the culture of theft and oppression that has become your hallmark.”
“My Queen, I will doff my cap and tell them what they want to hear, but we both know your kingdom is based on a wealthy elite exploiting the serfs for personal gain, aggrandisement and displays of riches. For every rich man, there must be hundreds of serfs to support him, working his fields for a pittance, fighting his battles, and being grateful for a rat-infested hovel to live in and a handful of grain to feed his lice-ridden family.”
The May Queen eyed him with a cold, well-practiced withering look, and answered in a low and threatening voice. “That may be how we want it, Sir Greed, but we must at least make a show of appearing to care for the welfare of the legions of poor, for without their labour, our kingdom would falter and we would not be able to continue our lavish lifestyles… beware the dangers of arrogance and cruelty! They have been the undoing of many Lords, and I will move swiftly to strip you of your titles if you do not play along with our mocking game of deception and false hope for our minions!”
Sir Greed, suitably chastised, went before the commission, and smiled like a devious crook as he rebuffed charges of dishonesty, avarice, and cruelty to his people. For in truth, the commission had no powers to strip away his lands or titles, merely the power to chastise and humbly request some coins for the alms box.
Sir Greed and Squire Chappell rode away, laughing at the powerless rage and frustration of the councillors, and dismissing the paltry amount paid into the alms box.
“We shall recover our outlay with higher taxes, my Lord,” the heartless squire quipped.
As they rode through a dark, foreboding forest, making their way slowly under overhanging trees, their path was suddenly blocked by a band of outlaws.
“Out of our way, vermin,” Sir Greed demanded.
The leader of the group, an ageing man with a grey scaggy beard, approached on a mangy nag. “My Lord, I am The Corbineer, leader of, well, one of a number of bands of outlaws in this forest, having been duly elected by my peers, and I must now ask you for your purse, as we have many mouths to feed.” He waved a short, bent sword, and encouraged his men to laugh at his boldness.
“Out of my way, scum!” Sir Greed replied, spurring his horse forward and brushing aside the dandy bandit. He rode away on his black charger, closely followed by his whimpering squire. They soon cleared the forest and turned back to see their entourage beaten and stripped of their clothing.
“Shall we ride back to aid our followers, my lord?” the panting Chappell enquired, feigning bravery.
“No need,” Sir Greed replied, “There are plenty more where they came from. I shall send a group of knights from the Order of The Exploiters to deal with this troublesome Corbineer. The poor are too divided with their village rivalries to come to his aid. We will not kill him but instead capture him and keep him in our Palace of Westminster as an example to others of how hope of advancement is in vain and they must accept their subservient position in our kingdom. As my Uncle Avarice once said, ‘It’s their hope that kills ‘em’.”
They laughed as they rode to Castle Green, oblivious to the cries and screams of their abandoned followers, safe in the knowledge that order had been upheld in the Kingdom of Fear.
To find out about the future of the Kingdom of Fear…
A report in the telegraph.co.uk on Friday 13th May posed the question, “Is Friday 13th a disaster for business?” Apparently, over the last five years the FTSE 100 has closed lower on eight of the ten Friday 13ths. Other financial disasters have happened in recent years on this fateful date, including a dramatic drop in China’s GDP growth, and the running aground with fatal consequences of the Italian cruise liner the Costa Concordia. Coincidence, or are some dark forces at work?
On ‘Black Friday’ 13th October 1989, a failed buyout of United Airlines sent the stock markets plunging and in January of the same year IBM stock plunged as a result of data loss from a computer virus. Just coincidence, or is the ghost of a hockey-keeper-masked, chainsaw-wielding Jason stalking the corridors of Wall Street? Either way, it represents an impediment to the smooth, onward march of International Capitalism, and as such there are plans afoot to remove it.
Now, US Presidential candidate, Donald Trumps, in a move aimed at protecting the wealth base of America’s elite, has declared he will ban Friday the 13th in the future if elected President of the USA. In a recent media briefing he said, “Research findings tell us that one in four believe Friday 13th brings bad luck, which can in itself become a self-fulfilling prophesy. One in ten refuse to fly and road accidents are higher than on any other Friday.
“I say, in the interests of maintaining commercial consistency and saving the lives of unlucky citizens, we need to remove this glitch, neutralise it with maximum prejudice, and ban this unlucky date once and for all. This can be achieved by skipping a day, and going from the 12th straight to the 14th, in such a month when it (crossing himself) is due to occur, and adding another number onto the end of the month, either a 31st or a 32nd.”
When asked, “What happens in a February in a leap year, Sir?”
He replied, “Hell, you do the math, boy!”
Read this far? Then you need to download and read the thrilling dystopian novel, Devil Gate Dawn, by UK indie author, Tim Walker, featuring President Donald Trump and his wall…
So, how much is enough when it comes to top executive’s pay? (‘earn’ doesn’t seem to come into it). Today’s news (15/04/2016) includes a story with the headline:
FATCAT BONUSES… ENOUGH’S ENOUGH!
The story concerns a shareholder’s revolt at oil giant BP’s plans to pay their Chief Executive a £14 million package, set against a background of a declining share price, £4.5 billion in losses and 7,000 jobs cut. It raises the questions, how much should a senior executive earn, and should it reflect company performance? A shareholder asked if it was ‘morally right’ to hand him huge bonuses to boost his £1.3 million wages.
59% of shareholders voted against the proposed bonuses for their big cheese CEO, with another shareholder saying, “While much of the population must accept austerity, it is not right to increase director’s remuneration.” Clearly he didn’t get the memo from Tory HQ. Shareholders are pissed-off because their dividend was less than expected, so their ire is more to do with, Surely we should ALL share the pain?
The Swiss started the debate on capping senior executive pay by putting a proposal to their citizens to limit the earnings of top executives to 12 times the wages of their lowest paid employee. Despite this 1:12 earnings ratio being rejected in a 2013 referendum, it has continued to fuel debate in Europe and North America on the thorny question, How much is enough?
The wealthy elite remain fireproof, despite recent offshore banking probes, showing how untouchable they are and unlikely to ever pay their fair share of tax on earnings. In the UK our Conservative Government shows no signs of easing up on their plans to protect them at all costs whilst bashing the poorest and most vulnerable members of society with their malicious austerity programme. To suggest a cap on earnings ‘in the interests of society’ is abhorrent in our age of capitalist greed and insane wealth hoarding.
I’ll leave you with the words of comedian Frankie Boyle, commenting on the offshore savings probe: “The Panama Papers show that rich people aren’t even rational: they send their money on holiday to the Caymans, and live in perpetual rain in Britain.” Surely they can afford to do it the other way around? Oh yes, but they would have to declare their pile to the tax man and contribute to the running of the country… We can’t have that!
A headline in this morning’s Mirror newspaper (11/04/16) caught my eye – Tories’ London ‘Now a Capital for Laundering’. Candidate for Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has finally come out and said what many have been thinking for some time: “We have people from around the world laundering money through London’s property market leading to hyper-inflation in property.”
It’s almost as if he has broken a taboo by speaking out about our run-away property market, particularly in London and the South-East that actively seeks foreign investment, at the expense of the ability of citizens to buy a roof over their heads. The insanely greedy buy-to-let spin off is causing much suffering amongst families and workers battling to survive in a divided city with a growing multicultural underclass of people forced into poverty by unaffordable mortgages and rents. Homelessness is rising, and residents are being forced out by social cleansing.
The piece is accompanied by a colourful graphic showing how money laundering works:
Placement. A criminal wants to hide sum of illegally obtained money, concealing the origin and ownership. The money is placed in an offshore account, usually in a British Overseas Territory.
Layering. A complex network of transactions is created through several offshore company names making the money difficult to trace back to its origin.
Enabling. UK professional services, such as lawyers, accountants and banks facilitate the transfer of the money into the UK.
Integrating. The criminal uses the funds to buy UK property, luxury goods or art to integrate laundered money into the UK.
Khan goes on to say, “What possible reason could there be to buy a property using an offshore company? What possible reason could there be to buy a property from a tax haven?”
The Mayor of London would not have the powers to force buyers to be named, unlike in New York City, where they are ahead of us in this game of money laundering posing as ‘foreign investment’. Khan has called on the Government, “to ensure transparency.”
Meanwhile, over in the Houses of Parliament today, a cornered Prime Minister, David Cameron, will attempt to explain to the country his hitherto carefully hidden personal finances. He has benefited from his father’s tax-free offshore investments, from inheritance money ‘gifted’ to him in a tax dodge, and conveniently forgotten about a second property his family owns that yields income. His estimated net worth is over £40 million, but we will never know the full truth, or gain a clear insight into his privileged world. Wriggling like a worm on a hook, he has already lost credibility as a trusted leader who can lecture us on what is right and wrong. He is at the centre of a system that encourages the wealthy to hide their money from the taxman, whilst hypocritically lecturing us on the importance of paying taxes and the need for cut backs in public spending. This is sounding more and more like an episode of Gotham, with its comic book characters, who seek to out do each other with their outrageous behaviour, whilst manically laughing all the way to the bank.
We can all understand the desire to pay as little tax as possible, and maximise on income. But here’s the thing. The majority of workers are employees who have tax and national insurance deducted from their earnings at source, and have no chance of wriggling out of payments for the running of the country (including MPs expenses). We are the cash cows of a rotten system. A system that encourages money laundering and welcomes ‘investment’ by murderous leaders of repressed countries with sham democracies; the world’s criminal elite. Picture a meeting of criminal gang leaders around a Gotham City bar room table.
We will all be made to regret the Thatcher legacy of the dismantling of the welfare state, the cheap sale of national assets, deregistration of the finance sector, and the whittling away of our personal rights and freedoms. Welcome to the New Gotham – where money can buy you anything, and no one asks where it came from. It is a society divided between rich and poor, where criminal gangs battle with a shrinking police force and fear is used as a political weapon to keep the citizens in check.
A Pandora’s Box of sleaze has been opened, and the Joker has escaped. Where is Batman when you need him?
So, I’m now touting myself as an indie author. The world is my lobster. I can write at my leisure, agonise, review, and get a second opinion from a copyeditor. I juggle my writing windows around essential life maintenance, medical appointments, and when I feel the vibe. Blogging, research, planning and writing together form a pleasurable, solitary home-based activity that suits me just fine at this stage of my life.
Amazon kindle is a gateway to low-cost independent self-publishing, and suits a whole raft of ‘amateur’ writers who are unwilling or unable to make a commitment of time and money to pursue the Holy Grail of a publishing contract. Why bother? You can put your work out there and let the World come to you. To date, about 100,000 authors have done so, and there are approximately 2 million titles in the English language floating around in cyber space.
Sales of my first e-book, Thames Valley Tales, have been flat-lining following the initial surge of downloads from family, friends and fellow writers. I don’t like the idea of giving my work away for free. It has a value – my time, thoughts, experiences and creative ability. That’s worth at least £1.99 of anyone’s money. I’m also finding out that most of my publicity efforts have been met with a wall of indifference. Most people don’t read books. Of those that do, only a small number have become e-book readers. Casual readers can find plenty of free e-books to download and read, and may even stumble on something that will engage them. This wall of low-level interest or just plain indifference can drive any writer insane.
Readers are heavily courted by e-book sellers who try to bully authors into discounting their titles in FREE promotions. A loss-leader with a high number of reads can help an author build up a following, the marketing guys tell you. Well, maybe, but it’s still a scam to sucker authors into giving their work away for free. It de-values the effort that has gone into it, and becomes a product of the internet’s insatiable appetite for free and cheap offers that are aimed at getting more visits to websites, in the hope that other products can be sold to the unsuspecting browser. Amazon are experts at this. We have been unwittingly sucked into this world of free online information and cheap cyber deals, a kind of sweat shop for star-struck authors.
My efforts to direct people to my e-book through social media – Twitter, WordPress and Face Book in my case – are like a mouse squeaking in the Albert Hall, a weedy noise lost amidst all the incessant chatter and sales pitches. Everyone’s talking and no one’s listening. So, why bother?
Well, to answer my own question, I bother because I’ve got something to say, whether anyone wants to hear it or not! I’m alive and kicking, and have amassed some interesting and varied life experience. I am participating in a number of ‘live’ social experiments, including the National Health Service, the Multicultural Society, Western consumerism, being a remote single parent and supporting a struggling football team (it’s the hope that kills you!); all of which provide me with a series of different coloured prisms through which to gaze on our insane world defined by the extremes of capitalist greed and crushing poverty.
I’m not discouraged and working on my next book… This mouse is still squeaking.
He woke up at the noise. The first plane flew over the house at 6am every day, including Sundays, like a Promethean punishment from the Establishment. Although his alarm was set for 7am, he rarely slept beyond the first low-flying aircraft heading for Heathrow Airport. “Please, don’t let them build another runway,” he moaned, as bleary-eyed and with an uncomfortably full bladder, he manoeuvred his swollen legs and numb feet over the edge of the bed and sat up.
Marge was still sleeping, ear plugs in and mask on. He looked at her with a mixture of love and envy. He couldn’t sleep with ear plugs in – what would happen if there was a break-in or explosion? Such things were not unheard of on the Runnymede Council estate. He managed a slow, painful shuffle to the bathroom and relieved himself. After a quick wash and shave he returned to the bedroom to get dressed. Not a straight forward procedure, as nerve damage to his hands and feet made routine tasks a trial. He sat on the bed and took his pills.
Johnny was downstairs having his cereal, ear phones in and eyes glued to flashing lights on his tablet. Thankfully, he was a self-sufficient teenager and could make his own way to school.
“What you got on today?”
He removed one ear plug. “Nuffin’ much.”
“Well, let’s hope your teachers can spark an interest; and stay out of trouble.”
The letterbox snapped and he robotically moved to the front door. His heart froze in shock. A brown envelope. He hated getting brown envelopes. It was not his fault he was unable to work anymore due to a chronic condition. These things happen. Now he was in The Welfare System.
He sat at the kitchen table, turning the envelope over in his tingling hands, sitting quite still with bowed head as the boy plonked a mug of tea in front of him and rushed out just as she rushed in, gulping a cup of coffee.
“What you got there?” she said.
“Letter from the sosh.”
She hovered behind him. He could sense her unease.
“I’ll open it when you’ve gone.”
“Oh, no you won’t. I want to know what it says before I go for work. You know our budget is on a shoestring. Any changes will leave us going to the Food Bank. Open it.”
He reluctantly thumbed it open, fearing the outcome. He read in brooding silence.
“Come on then, what does it say?” There was an uneasy tone in her voice.
“It says, ‘…you are required to attend a meeting to review your status as being medically unfit for work.’”
“Oh God!” she cried, as she slumped onto a chair. “Why can’t they leave you alone? Doctors have examined you and said you’re not well enough to return to work. Why are they doing this? I’ve got to go. We’ll talk later.” A kiss on the cheek and she was gone.
He took his time clearing up. Put warm water and washing up liquid in the sink. Pile the dishes in, then sit down. Wash up and leave on the drainer. Sit down. He moved slowly to the lounge and picked up his inhaler and welfare correspondence file. Sit down. He was breathing heavily and took a few seconds to recover. A squirt on the inhaler. His tired eyes wandered to family photos on the wall. One of him with team mates holding a trophy.
The warm sunlight and effect of the medication made him drowsy and afternoon naps were a part of his new routine. He woke to the sound of sobbing coming from the kitchen. Slowly pushing himself up from the armchair, on swollen feet he moved to the kitchen. She was sitting at the table, head in arms, body shaking with deep sobs. He put his arm around her.
“Don’t worry, love. Things will be alright. I’ll get another letter from the doctors. I’ve already made an appointment.”
“Oh no it won’t!” She sat up, red eyed. “Look what’s in today’s paper!”
He read out loud: “‘Sick Dad Killed Himself After Benefits Axed’. Hmm… a Coroner has ruled that a man committed suicide as a result of a government-approved assessor telling him to get a job against doctors’ advice.”
He looked at a photo of the Minister responsible, clearly selected to make him look sinister. She sat up and looked at him miserably, mascara running down her cheeks.
“What are we going to do? You can’t win against these people. They’re on a mission to cut welfare payments at all cost, even killing people! It says in there that 2,500 sick and disabled people have died within two weeks of their benefits payments being stopped after being declared fit for work. It’s not fair!”
“Come on, love. There’s no way they’ll find me fit for work. Look at me! Still in my dressing gown in the afternoon. I’m a wreck, and that’s how they’ll see me. Let’s have a cup of tea.” They sipped their teas and munched on biscuits in miserable silence. How can I tell her that I’ve already been sanctioned for missing a meeting?
He persuaded her to go upstairs and have a lie down. His mind was numb. There was nothing else to be done. They’ll probably be better off without me – the Union will pay-out. He took a roll of washing line and a foot stool and walked out into the back yard. Blinked up at the late afternoon sun, he scowled as the shadow of a ‘plane flashed over. Placing the stool under a tree he stood on it and threw the washing line over an overhanging branch.
Madge woke from her nap when the front door slammed.
“Mum! I’m home!” Johnny shouted.
She got up and made her way to the bedroom window, looking down to their tiny patch of garden. She froze in horror at the sight of her husband’s legs standing on a stool under the tree. With a scream she rushed downstairs, past the startled boy, and out into the garden. His head and torso were obscured by the leaves of the tree as she rushed up to him, throwing her arms around his legs and squeezing as tight as she could.
“Hey! What’s going on, you silly mare!”
“Don’t do it!” she sobbed, “We’ll manage!”
“What are you on about? I’m just fixing the washing line!”
‘Freedom!’ – The battle cry of William Wallace, the blue-faced Scottish army leader played so memorably by Mel Gibson in the Hollywood blockbuster, Brave Heart. What is this elusive state, ‘Freedom’? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, ‘The state or fact of being free from servitude, constraint, inhibition’ and is closely related to Liberty, defined as: ‘Exemption or release from slavery or imprisonment.’ In fact, for as long as humans have lived in organised society, with hierarchical structures, there has been conflict between leaders and those who do not want to be led, or have other ideas.
The struggle for freedom is as old as systems of governance and organised religion. The Scots, under Wallace, fought for their freedom from the hated English who had conquered them and subjugated them to demeaning conditions, leading to their collective rebellion. Rebellion is a common theme in history, and events leading up to 1215 in England were to prove to be pivotal in the creation of laws to protect the individual from the unchecked tyranny of powerful leaders. The influence of the ‘Great Charter of Freedom’ or Magna Carta, sealed 800 years ago in 1215 by a reluctant King John, has spread across western civilization and formed the basis for the definition of human rights and individual freedoms under the Law, such as the right to a fair trial. As Winston Churchill put it, “Magna Carta was…the foundation of principles and systems of government of which neither King John nor his nobles dream’d.” It may have been a slow burner, but the influence of Magna Carta started to form the basis of English Law and Governance about a century later.
It was not the first time that an English king had made a contract with his nobles to get them off his back. In 1014 Anglo-Saxon king Ethelred II gave similar promises, and so a precedent had been set. Magna Carta was therefore not a unique one-off, but part of an ongoing process whereby nobles sought to clip the wings of an all-powerful monarch. By 1215 the nobles had simply had enough of the greedy, cruel and unpredictable rule of Plantagenet kings, and pushed for a firm set of rules to which the king must adhere. Heavy stuff for a Christian Nation with a King by Divine Right. The true authors of Magna Carta are not known – it was probably drafted by a group of Nobles and Churchmen, and contained a whopping 97 clauses. King John may have put his seal to it, but he had no intention of honoring it, and spent the next few years making war on the 15 rebel barons who were set up as a sort of steering committee to ensure the king complied with the charter.
Magna Carta has been described as a mixed bunch of ideas and demands, some timeless and others odd, petty or malicious. There are clauses on standardising weights and measures, firing French officials, the unrestricted movement of merchants, and the supply and control of corn. There is even a clause on the removal of fish-weirs on the river Thames. These perhaps petty clauses rub shoulders with a few inspired ones that have stood the test of time and influenced a number of republican constitutions, law books and the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
However, the terms of the document are set out at the beginning, with the ground-breaking assurance that “…we have granted to all the freemen of our realm for ourselves and our heirs forever all the liberties written below…” For a king to grant such rights to ‘freemen’ in perpetuity was a momentous step. Clause 39 contains perhaps the most important sentence in legal history: “No freeman shall be arrested or imprisoned or dispossessed or outlawed or banished or in any way molested… except by the lawful judgement of his peers and the law of the land.” Clause 40 states that “to no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice.” These last two clauses are still in the law of England, and form the basis of the principle that no one could be detained without trial. These ideas of due legal process and equality under the law have spread across the western world, to the extent that they are almost seen as universal rights. The implications for our times are that most developed countries have advanced to having democratic systems of government and high levels of personal freedoms for its citizens, under the Rule of Law. However, some still see it as restrictive that all must comply with the Law (a set of guidelines or rules evolved over generations that define the boundaries of acceptable behaviour). Some may seek to live outside of organised society to avoid complying, and thus assert their personal freedom to live how they want. We have an elected Parliament of regional representatives who ensure that citizens have a say how the country is run and follow debates in Parliament concerning issues and laws through a free and fair media (in theory!).
Of course, there will always be debates, discussions and disagreements concerning what is the right course of action in any instance, but this process is ‘out in the open’ and all can contribute to it through freedom of speech. Some say the ‘freedom’ agenda has been hijacked by the rich and powerful, who twist it to serve their own purpose (see my short story, Runnymede Rebellion, in Thames Valley Tales for my take on this… http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B011PQHJUQ). Unscrupulous political leaders, with extreme agendas, will always try to subvert or constrain our rights and freedoms. However, the onus is on us, as individuals, or by mobilising civil society, to resist such actions and re-affirm the hard-fought freedoms others before us have battled to win, and defend them with vigour. We no longer have to fight for our basic human rights as a society (although sometimes we may have to fight to assert our individual rights, usually through the law courts). Now we are the custodians of our rights, and must defend them to the hilt!
Aside…Ronald Reagan must have had inspired speech writers…Will never forget the ‘dissidents are disagreeable’ blunder…’err… no Mr President, the dissidents are fighting for freedom…we’re supporting them.’