Derek Gross is not a nice man as we know the word “nice”. He is the son of a German refugee (Grosz) who settled in West Ham in the 1940s and made his way trading bathroom furniture until a London bus fulfilled its proverbial role. Mrs Gross changed her name subtly and entertained city gentlemen, leaving Derek to his own devices: a tough childhood spells success for the lucky ones.
He is not nice but he understands what makes people tick. And this understanding has made him a symbiotic ally of Onan Hash’s government.
He was laying out his vision to Stumpy Regenkurt in the Crusty Stag. It was a different occasion from the curtailed meeting about meat porn. This time they were in the back garden, which had been made very pleasant with apple trees and nut trees. Osborne, the disgraced, elderly, growthist, who now worked as waiter and general dogsbody at the Crusty Stag, had surprised everyone by taking the initiative to plant them, and the regulars had praised him greatly for this.
“Look ‘ere,” began Gross. “It’s like the ‘uman condishn. Man is contradiction. Apples ‘n pears. Chalk ‘n cheese. Apple pie and muff on the side. You see one part of us wants one thing and the other part of us wants exactly the opposite. We like our home and our little duties but we want freedom too. We want regular, but we like a change. We want to be healthy but sometimes we’ll be a bit cheeky and eat a bit o’ chicken. Look at travel, for instance.
“Each person has a bit of stay at home and has a bit of wanderlust. Part of you is sittin’ in the garden with your beer and you says: I can ‘ack this. What do I want wiv France and Spain and the bleeding Bahamas for, when I can sit ‘ere at home wi’ mi ‘ome brew and mi missus. Who wants to be gallivanting around to Bali and Rio with all those foreigners and what ‘ave you?
“Then the next moment it’s all but I ‘ave to see that place before I die. I mean what a daft idea: gotta see it before I die. If I’m going to die what do I need to see if for? Is it going to ‘elp me through the pearly gates? Not on your nelly it won’t. But still I ‘ave to see it before I die. That’s just ‘ow it is.”
Just then there was a crashing of plates and cutlery and Derek Gross’ sleeve was splatted with gravy. Poor old Osborne had tripped on an apple core which someone had placed in his path. Gross mopped at this sleeve with a bit of boiled potato and shooed away Osborne’s pathetic apology. All eyes in the pub were turned to the old man: “Poor old, Osborne,” they all thought. “He shouldn’t have been so obsessed with economic growth, should he,” thought those eyes. “He should have thought a bit longer. He really had it coming…” Heads shook and tongues tutted and eyebrows sagged in pity.
“’ere, Georgie, “ said Gross kindly. “You all right, old pecker? Fetch us a couple more pints, will you.”
Osborne picked himself up from the mess of broken plates and potatoes and chunks of soya stew and gravy … and he hobbled away to the bar, one tear in his eye at his humiliation another at the pity that Gross had shown him.
“Look, at your travel plans. Rationing air transport, ordering planes to be impounded. The renny sanse of sail? You must be effing joking, Stumpy. Air balloons? See you next effing century, Stumpy. It just won’t work.”
He slurped down his pint and burped, satisfied. “It just won’t work,” he repeated and wiped the foam from his mouth with his sleeve.
While Gross understood everyone, Stumpy couldn’t understand Gross at all. Here’s a man worth millions, his business empire sprawled into the living room of every English family, sneaked up to the bedroom laptops of England’s adolescents and oozed like a sickly uncture through the corridors of scruffy hotels to succour lonely truck drivers and balding salesmen. And yet, despite his power, his beard was threadbare and his clothes were flecked with food and the dried remains of wipings and bodily excretions.
“Don’t judge a book, Stumpy. Don’t judge a book,” smiled Gross.
Stumpy sipped at his pint. “Come on, Derek, tell me what’s on your mind.”
“Look. You don’t want people travelling, do you? We ain’t got the energy for it. Oil’s too precious. Europe’s drying out. Crops are curling up. But your sun-powered aircraft are twenty years off, and the air balloons don’t ‘ave the speed. So let me tempt you wiv a little travel porn. I can make the content, I just need the rights.”
Stumpy was a veteran mediator between the government and business. The impeccable timing of his investments, the inspired shorting of companies only he realised to be doomed, his knack at selecting the technologies which would thrive on legislation as yet undrafted … hallmarks of Stumpy’s influence. He looked poker-faced at Gross. Was this enough?
Then Gross continued… “And once they’re addicted and glued to their sofas at home, we’ll buy up their passport quotas cheap and make a nice little turn there, too.”
“And their driving licences,” added Gross. “You know, my old pecker, something tells me that you and me can make a very tidy business out of this.”
This was enough, thought Stumpy. And as he sipped at his pint, he sensed the old excitement inside his stomach, here another deal in the making and another few million in his offshore bank account in Scotland. Oh, what a wonderful world!