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Chapter 42: The Earth is Flat
A woman with short blonde hair held court at the bar. She swung round on her stool and took me through the beers on tap. She worked in the pub but it was her day off. She was on the fun side that afternoon.
“I’ll give you five pounds if you call our dear Bob, Bobilicious,” she chimed with a look that said mischief. The punters in her orbit stifled laughs.
“All right,” I said, as Bob hobbled over to take my order.
“No don’t actually, you’ll get kicked out!.” A volley of laughter followed.
I sat down with a pint nearby and she resumed her story. The crowd hung on her every word. She finished with a flurry, “…Because no good story starts with a salad!” The crowd erupted and the raconteur leant back proudly surveying her fans as they slapped their legs and bent double, “No good story starts with a salad…! Genius!”
I left the pub after a few more cliches had been successfully appropriated.
There was a fierce wind and a fragmented sky. A white van nearly took its wheel off as it clunked and scraped into a pothole to pick me up. I jumped up into the cab and shouted a hello over a loud bass. The driver was tall and thin and had dreadlocks down to the seat. There was an unlit joint wedged in his knuckle. He turned the stereo down, gave me a fist bump, and we set off to Luton.
Tonderai was Zimbabwean and a courier. He’d been in Luton 32 years though he didn’t like it much. He was hoping to move back home soon. There was an element of urgency to it.
“How’s business?” I asked.
He shrugged, “It’s slowing down. People are buying less now.” Perhaps it’s just a lull I suggested, but Tonderai disagreed, waving his free hand illustratively, “The economy,” he replied, “the Western economy, is very close to collapse.”
“Yes, I think there’s a recession on its way.”
“No. More than a recession. It will be an unimaginable situation,” his hand fell still and he fixed me with stern eyes, “There is a monster coming.”
I was captivated by his conviction, “Maybe you’re right. With climate change and…”
“No, no. The issue is financial.”
“In what sense?” I was curious.
“Our economy is based on banks and systems of credit. You borrow money from the banks and use it to buy a house…the banks borrow money from other banks and governments borrow money from…etc etc,” Tonderai’s waving hand was back, “If everyone takes their money from the banks, the system collapses.”
He looked at me to see if I followed. I did. Then he explained how a run on the banks was imminent.
Just a week before, Silicon Valley Bank had collapsed and some feared the issue was deep, possibly a rerun of 2008. I said all this. Again Tonderai disagreed. It was nothing to do with that.
“This is about the collapse of the West. As I said, the Western economy runs on credit. The BRICS are changing their economies now. They’re basing their currencies on commodities. Gold.”
“That’s Brazil, Russia, India and China right?”
“And South Africa.”
Tonderai elaborated on his complicated theory. “…That’s why the central banks are now creating cryptocurrencies because they can’t keep printing money. Our currency was once based on gold. But that is gone now. The Americans… theirs is based on oil. Saudi oil haha! And now the Saudis are moving to the BRICS system. America and the West are in big trouble.”
I couldn’t make much sense of his reasoning but it sounded relatively plausible. It’s always interesting hearing different perspectives. Besides, I didn’t know enough about the global financial system to have much of a counterargument and I’d seen the headlines about countries like Brazil getting frustrated with the dollar’s global rule. Maybe there was something to it.
Nevertheless, I rebutted casually whenever something relevant popped into my mind. I didn’t really know what I was talking about.
“Doesn’t China hold trillions of dollars of federal reserve currency though?”
“Yes, but China doesn’t mind, because China has also bought up property.”
“Ahh I see,” I said following his logic, “Like the British colonials did.”
“Exactly, the whole thing has flipped on its head. The Chinese don’t mind if the currency is worthless because they say we’ll keep that!” He picked an imaginary flower with his hand, “And then they’ll own the West.”
“If the Western economy is about to collapse, where do you keep your money?”
“Land. In Zimbabwe. Our system will never fall because when you buy land that side, you own it, not the banks.”
Tonderai wanted to move back home soon. He thought the crash was coming any minute and when it came, a flight home would cost two or three years’ salary. He might get stuck here forever.
“The BBC doesn’t tell you any of this though because they want to keep your money. They want your taxes. Everyone pays taxes and it’s the rich who get them.”
I agreed that I’d certainly never heard any of this from the BBC. I asked Tonderai where he got his information.
“All over!” He replied expressively, “Everywhere. The internet. The internet is an amazing thing, my friend.”
I’d heard those words before, word for word. The person who’d said them had thought 9/11 was a hoax.
“Even what they call ‘conspiracy theories’, they have a lot of truth in them! And when you see something that 200 other people believe, you know it’s true!” He bobbed his fist in my direction, “Do you believe the earth is round?”
“Err…” I tried to think why. Nothing came to mind.
“Actually,” I remembered, “I’ve flown round it.”
There was a moment’s pause. Tonderai thought for a second.
“Yes… you flew around it but you didn’t fly over it. You didn’t fly north to south did you?”
“No I guess I didn’t.”
“That’s because you can’t. If you fly over the north pole where do you think you’ll end up?”
“Well, Russia probably.”
“No! You can’t fly over the north pole! No one has done that. It’s impossible.”
“There is a big ice wall there!”
By now we had come into Luton. Tonderai had pulled over and put his flashers on but neither of us moved.
He told me that in the 50s there was a British explorer who’d seen the ice wall. In fact, he’d actually gone through it to the other side and found a sea with over fifty thousand islands. Somehow, Tonderai told me, this coincided with China recently discovering 16,000 islands. He’d had seen a video about the whole thing that very morning.
“But!” He held up his hand like a priest making a blessing, “They don’t want you to know about it.”
“Because humans are inquisitive. Naturally, they would want to go up there and take the land.”
“Are you going to go?”
“Pfff, fuck off!”
I still wasn’t entirely convinced so Tonderai persisted. He asked if I’d ever seen those clips from the edge of the atmosphere. I had, and I could see the curvature of the earth in them. “Exactly! Nasa wants you to believe the world is round so they put very, very wide-angle lenses on their rockets.”
He said he was a photographer and knew the trick of using a fish-eyed lens to make something look curved. He’d seen videos from rockets taken by normal cameras and sure enough, the world had looked flat.
This back-and-forth went on for a while. Tonderai’s next proof was in the stars. “That’s another thing,” he said confidently, “the sky never changes.”
Astronomy’s not my strong point but I knew enough to disagree with that.
“It changes literally all the time.”
“No it doesn’t!”
“Yes it does!”
“No it doesn’t! Not during the seasons.”
“What..? Yes… No, I’m pretty sure it does change! The stars move across the sky.”
“Not year on year.”
“What about comets?”
It was clear neither of us knew what we were talking about so he tried another angle.
“Ok if the earth’s round, why when you go on a flight can you not feel the plane shifting to go around the curve?”
“Err…” Again I didn’t have a definitive answer. “Well…”
“If it’s round you’d feel the plane bumping down with the curve,” he demonstrated, his hand playing the plane, “The only time you feel it go down is when it lands. I live in Africa my friend, 10 hours away! Never once on a flight have I felt it shifting. The earth is flat.”
He was almost shouting, nailing the point home, “If planes went straight,” he ran his hand in a straight line, “they’d end up in space! But no! You don’t see any commercial planes anywhere near space!”
Time was getting on and I thought this climax was a good place to leave it. It was over 2 miles into the centre of Luton and I'd have to walk. I was enjoying chatting to Tonderai and was sad to go. We shook hands warmly and I waved him off.
I like meeting conspiracy theorists. They make you wonder what things we all think that in 300 years people will look back on and say how the hell did they ever think that?
As I walked into Luton down a long, flat road I wondered what it could be. Capitalism? Eating meat? Marriage?
Or maybe they’ll say, “I can’t believe they used to think the earth was round.”
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