Debt, Duffing Up and Despair

Many years ago, in a lifetime that seemed to run on celluloid around me, I lived in a particularly grim Inner London area for a couple of years. It was at the zenith of the 1st Thatcherite Empire and appalling pre war estates existed alongside Georgian terraced streets occupied by the extremely wealthy professional set during the working week. The contrast in poverty and affluence was stark. This wasn’t My Fair Lady and there were no cheery ‘poor but honest’ cockney stereotypes still waving their defiant clenched fists at that Mr Hitler and his Doodlebugs. It was an exercise in grinding poverty and deprivation. Pale, wasted complexions, weak chins and spotty faces bought on by bad diet or glue sniffing. You could still leave your front door unlocked but there would be nothing left apart from a wet turd on your living room rug.The elderly and the infirm sat in cold darkness because the electricity had been cut off, young babies slept in soaking damp rooms and nobody had a pot, never mind a pot to piss in. Within this toxic, desperate environment, the old fashioned money lender was a key figure. The parasite in this area was a classic example of his kind. He inherited the position from his father who had inherited his own career from his own father.

He was never alone,there was always an elite guard of thickset brutes in badly fitting, cheap bomber jackets. They shared broken faces as a badge of honour and emitted menace the way that kittens are cute.He knew everybody and he knew everybody’s business.He had ‘offices’ throughout the district and could be found in cafes or in a particular pub which he had a money laundering interest in. A handsome, well groomed man, he wore expensive suits and his wrists were weighted down with thick gold bracelets. On first appearance, he had a kind, inviting face until you got close enough to look into his eyes. They were dead, cold and merciless. He would sit at the bar, surrounded by his minders, fogged in cigar smoke which never quite masked the stench of cheap after shave and stale sweat.Locals knew that if they let on to him, passed him information or helped him to feel legitimate, he would buy them a drink and allow them to reflect in his dubious celebrity. He would walk around smiling, bleeding false bonhomie and keeping his profile raised. ‘Hows the kids Derek’, ‘Good luck with the new baby luv’, ‘pass my regards to your dear old dad’, anybody might think he was an urban saint. He wasn’t, he was an evil, anti-social, sadistic pig.

Desperate people will pay desperate amounts of interest to get through the next few days. They will also promise to do so when they have no idea how they will pay the debt.That is were the real bucks come in. He would lend a young mother £100 to feed the kids and pay the rent knowing that she couldn’t. Shortly after he would visit her and offer to let her pay over a longer period at twice the interest and it would go on. A month later she was looking at a debt of £300 and with very few options as to how to pay it. She would ‘work for him’ to pay off the debt, turn to crime or take her chances and try to do a runner.He knew the gamblers, addicts and drinkers and he knew when they were ripe. He was a very wealthy man and he spread fear like a plague. If you didn’t pay, he did not resort to the legal option. Early one morning he would be sitting in your flat, flicking through the channels on your television, talking quietly about his kids education. In the meantime, his ‘staff’ would be breaking your fingers or kicking you in the bollocks until you passed out. I have seen his victims walking bowlegged, faces cut to ribbons trawling the streets in a terrified search for fast income.I also known them to disappear or end up dead through some tragic ‘accident’.

Karma is indeed a dick crushing bitch. He died in his early forties of a massive heart attack bought on through being fellated by an underage girl with severe educational needs who did it for the price of a packet of cigarettes. Nobody shed a tear and somebody else moved into the vacuum within a week.His brothers attempted to collect pre mortem debts but they didn’t carry the fear that he did and they had their heads kicked in.

My point is that, though long rotted and in Hell, he still exists but now he has gone legitimate.He is called Wonga, Pounds to Pocket or Payday Loans and he pays for daytime advertising. He still preys on the dirt poor but he has expanded into the general population because that’s where poverty has blossomed. He pays large sums to the Tory party for protection and he sits at the top table handing out favours and enveloped stuffed with cash. His interest rates are even more obscene and the courts have learned to break fingers for him. Voracious, free market capitalism has dropped the veil and strapped on the beast. It bleeds from the worthy and it turns the immoral into a cash cow franchise.

Twenty five years ago, he lived in a grubby detached house on the edge of his empire. His wife collected porcelain dogs and he had a season ticket at Millwall. Today, he lives in leafy Surrey, drives a hundred grand car and his boardroom is filled with mahogany and expensive leather. It isn’t the wet bar of a run down local. Robbery with violence has turned legitimate.

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