Top 5 Kicks in the teeth to inequality

I’m tired of listening to the same old institutionalised, paternalistic rhetoric about sustainable development and global inequality. I’ve heard it all before.

But what IS encouraging and refreshing are the citizen-led initiatives, which put pressure on businesses, governments and institutions to change unethical practices or provide opportunities for ordinary people to help reduce economic exploitation for themselves… So today I’m counting down my top 5 favourite initiatives which have emerged or grown in popularity over the last 10-20 years, where people have not waited for top-down solutions and have instead taken matters into their own hands.

 

No. 5 – Fair Trade Products

The concept of fair trade isn’t recent and has been in practice since the 1940’s. For several decades fair trade was mostly limited to hand-made goods purchased directly from poor communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America where they were sold to a niche market of ethical consumers in ‘Fair Trade Shops’.

The success of this business and the economic benefits it brought to producers led to the development of global fair trade networks in the late 1980’s. As awareness of fair trade grew so did the demand for fair trade products. Fair Trade soon became recognised as a mark of decency adding ‘feel good’ value to imported goods which customers were willing to pay for.

Over the last 20 years the range of fair trade products has diversified as more companies invest in fair trade, not just because it’s ethical, but because it makes business sense to. Consumers are now familiar with the concept of fair trade and leading manufacturers of coffee, tea, cocoa, nuts, wine and other commodity products can’t afford to miss the opportunity to satisfy the ethical portion of their customers by offering fair trade products. The diverse range of fair trade products available in all mainstream supermarkets today is evidence of the success of this simple business initiative which offers ordinary consumers a convenient way to contribute to global fair trade.

 

No. 4 – Campaigning for fairer wage ratios

Both Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron have proposed an enforced wage ratio of 20:1 in the public sector and for government contract projects.  The UK Green Party have adopted a 10:1 maximum wage ratio as part of their official party policy, and  Switzerland held a referendum on the proposal for a 12:1 wage ratio in 2013, which was unsuccessful.

While it’s great that there has been political debate on the subject, it hasn’t actually produced much in the way of results, which is why I’m more interested in initiatives that tackle the issue of CEO wages, the establishment of wage standard certifications, and companies that lead by example with equitable internal wage ratios.

What organisations like Oxfam and The Equality Trust did when they published their reports in 2014 and 2017 exposing the extravagant inequalities in wage ratios amongst FTSE 100 CEO’s, was to create a public outrage.  The shocking extent to which wage inequality thrives right under our noses is hard to ignore once seen. In cases like this the simple act of public awareness is a powerful strategy in changing public opinion and speeding up the call for greater transparency.

In tandem with this approach initiatives like Canada’s Wagemark Foundation are working to grow the international certification known as the Wagemark Standard. Forward thinking companies achieving Wagemark Certification must maintain a wage ratio of 8:1 or less, to be listed on the Wagemark Global Registry.  The benefits to these businesses are once again based on the growing consumer demand for ethical practices.

Some shining examples of companies with wage ratios maximums of 5:1 are the Mondragon Corporation, a federation of manufacturing worker’s co-operatives based in Spain’s Basque region, American ice cream makers  Ben and Jerry’s, investment company Shaftesbury, Challenger Bank Shawbrook and real estate investment trust (REIT) Londonmetric Property.

 

No. 3 – Divestment

I think it’s fair to say that consumer confidence in the banking and finance sector has taken a nose dive since the 2008 financial crisis and as a result educated investors have been forced to cast a more cautious eye over how their investments and retirement funds are managed. Combine this with the scientific consensus indicating that human created C02 emissions are leading to climate change.  All of a sudden, the fossil fuel industry along with banks and finance, are the Big Bad Wolves dressed up as grandma, while the ethical consumer is left with the sinking feeling of Little Red Riding Hood holding the basket of goodies for the wolf to feast on.

Fortunately not all banks and pension funds are as unethical as each other and consumers have a choice.

The last 10 – 20 years have seen the emergence of the “Good Money” sector which allows consumers to invest in their values. Tools such as the FTSE4Good UK Index allow pension funds to manage investments based on a range of ethical criteria which can be tailored to the individual consumers’ values. While the ethical objectives of the Good Money sector are not necessarily aimed directly at making the economy serve people, the existence of ethical pension funds offer consumers the chance to take back their economic rights and invest them more ethically.

 

No. 2 – The Fair Tax Mark

Launched in 2014 the Fair Tax Mark hits tax-avoiding companies where it hurts. Put simply the Fair Tax Mark is a badge of honour that companies can wear proudly when they pay the right amount of corporation tax at the right time in the right place.

According to a Trades Union Council estimation of the UK’s Tax Gap, around 12 billion is lost each year through corporate tax avoidance.  The Fair Tax Mark has shown us that many businesses are happy to pay their fair share of tax and with 34% of British consumers wanting to boycott tax avoiders it makes sense for these businesses to let their customers know who they can trust when it comes to paying their fair share of tax. Once again businesses are able to get an ethical edge over less scrupulous tax payers, leaving them exposed as the tax dodgers that they are.

 And that brings me to my final and favourite initiative of all…

 No. 1 – Introducing pluralism into economics teaching

There’s nothing like straight forward direct action, so when a group of economics students were disillusioned and unsatisfied with the explanations offered by their economic courses following the 2008 financial crisis, they decided to take matters into their own hands and make up for the deficiencies in their existing curriculum by organising their own lectures.

Good education is key for combating economic inequality in the long term. So much of politics is economy-driven. It’s essential that we have well-equipped, skilled drivers at the wheel. Current economics teaching, which is dominated by neoclassical economics, does little to help this. Neoclassical economics remains anchored in its liberal individualist origins devoid of many critical social considerations and hasn’t really changed much over the past 100 years. When taught in isolation, neoclassical economics leaves graduates ill-equipped for the challenges and applications that exist in our rapidly changing modern world. We wouldn’t send our junior doctors out to practice medicine today with bleeding dishes and surgical saws, so why do we let economists practice with primitive tools?

Groups such as Manchester University’s Post Crash Economics Society are campaigning to introduce pluralism into the mainstream economics teaching. Pluralism calls for the inclusion of a variety of economic principles and perspectives which go beyond the standard economics curricula. This campaign is run principally through monitoring and reporting on the failings of the university’s department, as well as organising regular events. These events include lectures, workshops and panels and seek to connect with like-minded groups (and those who are unfamiliar with the movement) by creating an outward looking and inclusive environment that is sceptical of the deeply entrenched status quo.

The initiatives I’ve listed here my personal favourites and by no means conclusive. Do you agree with my list? What are your favourites?

 

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The Inklings: Chapter 98

To read the story from the start go to: https://the-inkling.com/catch-up-with-the-inklings/

D’arby was feeling really excited at 3pm when everyone gathered at the library to share what they’d found out. Rudnika had just hung up her phone after speaking to her friend at the police station and D’arby could tell that she’d received some enlightening information. Leopold also looked excited and Rudnika must have noticed because she asked Leopold to report first.

“Here is the rental application and ID that our spy used when he applied for the lease” said Leopold as he placed a pile of papers on the table. “He calls himself Lawrence Long. I tried calling the phone numbers listed but both the home phone and mobile numbers have been disconnected so I went to the address he listed as his residential address, which was a flat not far from here. It was empty. The neighbours said that they hadn’t seen anyone living there since the previous resident moved out, which was months ago and she definitely wasn’t Lawrence. The best thing is that I have a picture of Lawrence because his rental application included a copy of his Drivers License.”

“Great work!” said Rudnika.

D’arby was also very impressed but also very curious. “How did you get that file?” D’arby asked.

“It is probably better if you don’t ask” said Leopold.

Leopold’s answer made D’arby a bit cross because he really wanted to know how Leopold had got the file, but D’arby tried to hide is annoyance and looked at Rudnika to see what she would do next.

“What about you two” Rudnika asked Carol and Valentine.

“We decided to ask around all the nearby photo printing places and discovered that the photos were printed at the place closest to our office. The person who printed them called himself Lawrence and he printed them on Friday. He paid by cash, unfortunately, so that’s all we could find out from the photo place” said Valentine.

“Then we thought we should have a look through the bins at the back of the building Lawrence was spying on us from” said Carol. “And we found some things that might be useful”

As Carol was was speaking Valentine placed a plastic bag on the table and started taking things out of it.

“Ten identical disposable coffee cups suggests that Lawrence drinks two coffees a day. From inspecting the inside of the cups we’re pretty sure he drinks black coffee. We couldn’t help noticing that there are five brown corrugated coffee cups and five black ones so we checked out what kind of cups all the cafes around here use. We found the café that uses the black cups and it isn’t far from here but there are no cafes within two kilometres that use the brown corrugated coffee cups. We reckon that Lawrence must have bought himself a coffee on his way to work each day and that he must have travelled at least two kilometres to get here” said Valentine.

D’arby was very impressed, but there was still more rubbish in Valentine’s bag.

“These scraps of paper have notes written on them, which might be useful. We haven’t had time to have a good look at them yet, but we did notice that the word ‘Syaf’ is written on a few of them” said Carol.

Valentine then showed everyone some other pieces of rubbish and explained their significance, but D’arby had stopped listening because he realised the word ‘Syaf’ might be short for ‘Syafika’.

Finally Rudnika explained what she and D’arby had discovered at the building where they’d been spied on from, but by then everyone already knew that the spy called himself Lawrence. Then Rudnika told everyone what her friend at the police station had told her: The real name of the person who had spied on them was Anthony Lawrence and last year he’d spent a five months in gaol for forgery.


The Inklings: Chapter 97

To read the story from the start go to: https://the-inkling.com/catch-up-with-the-inklings/

John was feeling pretty tired by the time Fanta and her sisters were up but he made toast, tea and hot chocolates for breakfast anyway, and tried to be cheerful as he did it.

“What’s wrong?” said Fanta as soon as she saw John. “You look so tired”

“I couldn’t sleep so I went for an early morning run” said John. “It was fun at the time, but now I just want to go to sleep”

“Too bad your family is coming for lunch then. What are you going to cook?” said Fanta.

John looked at Fanta blankly for a second before he remembered that he’d organized to have lunch with Emily and Tim that day and he hadn’t even thought about what they were going to eat.

“I don’t know” was all John could say.

“Doesn’t matter, as long as you make some of your lovely bread” said Fanta.

“Yes! Good idea!” said John and he quickly looked in the cupboard to see if there was any flour and while he was doing that the toast burnt.

It was fortunate that Fanta, Ruby and Nancy were in good moods and just laughed at the smoke that was coming out of the toaster because it helped John control his anxiety. John managed to finish making breakfast and they all had a nice conversation as they ate it. After Fanta and her sisters left John made bread dough then investigated what was in the fridge and pantry as he tried to work out what to make for lunch.

By the time John had made pumpkin soup and bread for lunch, a cake for dessert and had washed the dishes it was almost lunchtime.John was glad that he’d kept busy all morning because it stopped him from worrying about what he and his brother and sister would talk about.

When everything was ready John waited out the front for Emily and Tim to arrive and he actually felt quite happy when he saw Emily’s car park out the front. John even stayed happy when he saw Tim get out of the car and he realised that he was hoping that he and his brother and sister could be close again.

During lunch John could tell that Tim and Emily approved of where he was living and of the food he’d made for them.

“When will we get to meet Fanta?” asked Emily.

John had no answer to that question and tried to change the topic but Emily insisted that Fanta and John come to visit her soon.

“That won’t work” said John and he explained that his only day off was Monday and Fanta had to work on Mondays.

“Surely you can get someone else to look after the restaurant one Saturday or Sunday! You work that out and let me know a date that suits – soon!” said Emily.

John pretended to agree but wasn’t intending to do as Emily had suggested.

John thought Tim was being a bit quiet.

“Are you ok?” John asked Tim.

Tim smiled, remembering how John had always been able to read his mind when they were kids.

“Maybe Emily already told you that while I was here at Christmas my business lost a lot of money and I had to sell it? For a while I told myself that I didn’t care and tried to enjoy being here, pretending I was just on a long holiday, but really I’ve lost my direction. I enojoyed running my factory so much that I can’t find anything else interesting. I have no idea what I should be doing with myself”.

Emily hadn’t told John about Tim losing his business. John’s first feeling at hearing this news was relief that Tim was capable of failure too, but John also felt sorry for Tim. “What does Dad think?” said John, and as he asked the question John felt guilty because he realised he hadn’t spoken to his father since Christmas. John had hated Christmas Day. He’d felt so left-out at the family Christmas and ever since he’d been trying to forget that it happened.

“Dad wants me to take over one of his restaurants. He says it is only fair – because he gave you a restaurant for Christmas. I guess that’s what I should do, at least while I work out what else I should be doing, but if I’m honest I’m a bit scared that if I can lose one business I can lose another” said Tim.

John looked hard at Tim and wondered if it was possible that he really believed what he was saying. John had always thought that he was the only one in the family who thought like that.

“I’m capable of losing anything but I haven’t lost Dad’s restaurant… not yet anyway. You will be fine!” said John.

Tim seemed a little bit more cheerful but John could tell he wasn’t convinced. John was a little bit worried at the idea of Tim also having a restaurant because it could become a competition to see who ran their restaurant best and John didn’t want that kind of stress. John knew his Dad had accumulated a few restaurants but didn’t know how many or what they were. He wanted to ask about the restaurant Tim was going to be given but he didn’t want to risk sounding jealous. Then John had a great idea.

“Why don’t you have a go running my restaurant this weekend while I go to dinner at Emily’s? Then you won’t be so scared when Dad gives you your own restaurant” said John.

Emily had been thinking of inviting Tim to dinner at the same time but was happy to accept this arrangement if it meant she got to meet Fanta sooner and so it was arranged that during the week John would teach Tim all about the restaurant and then on the weekend Tim would run it on his own while John had some time off.

As soon as Emily and Tim left John realised how exhausted he was. He sat down in a comfy chair and desperately wanted to have a sleep but knew there was a terrible mess that he should clean up before Fanta and her sisters got home. So John struggled out of the chair and to wake himself up he did a silly dance where he shook his arms and legs.


The Inklings: Chapter 96

To read the story from the start go to: https://the-inkling.com/catch-up-with-the-inklings/

When D’arby was about halfway to work he sat down on a brick wall, took the parcel out of his backpack and examined it. It was in one of the carboard boxes that they sold at the post office and it had stamps on it, but D’arby couldn’t see a postmark.

D’arby rattled the box but it didn’t make any sound. D’arby sniffed the parcel, but it only smelt like cardboard.

D’arby wondered for a minute whether he should take the parcel to Sonia and get her to open it, but decided against it. Although he was a little bit worried that it might explode or contain a listening device, D’arby thought it most likely was that the parcel was meant to be seen by him on his own.

There was stickytape holding the box closed so D’arby cut it using a key. Then D’arby gently opened the box. Inside there was a white envelope and inside the envelope were photos. The photos were of people entering and leaving the secret RenewBank office plus some photos of D’arby at his desk and of everyone having lunch in the rooftop garden. D’arby could easily see the significance of these photos – they meant that someone knew where the real RenewBank work was being done, and who was doing it, and if they knew that they could know more. What D’arby didn’t understand was what the motivation was for sending him the photos, and then it occurred to him that there might still be a note hiding somewhere in the box or envelope. D’arby shook the envelope and out came a folded-up piece of paper. The note said:

“I was commissioned to find out what RenewBank is really up to, and I did. What will RenewBank pay me to keep this quiet? I will contact you tomorrow with payment details”

D’arby put the note and photos back into his backpack and continued walking to the official office. The sense of urgency D’arby felt made him want to run but he knew there was no point getting to the office before 7:30am so he walked, and tried to calm himself down by concentrating on his breathing.

At the official office D’arby calmly followed the usual security procedures and Sonia didn’t notice that anything was wrong, but as soon as D’arby was on the way to the secret office he rode his bike as fast as he could, and managed to arrive at the secret office just before 8am.

Nobody else had arrived yet so D’arby had to wait. He went to his desk and looked at the photos and tried to work out where they’d been taken from. Some were taken from above and some were on street level so D’arby guessed they must have been taken from different levels of a building across the street. D’arby looked out the window and saw that there was a ‘For Lease’ sign in the building directly opposite. Then he looked down and noticed that Rudnika and Leopold were both approaching the office. D’arby ran downstairs to meet. He showed them the photos and told them how they’d been left for him by a mysterious man early that morning.

When Carol and Valentine arrived Rudnika gathered everyone together around the meeting table. After D’arby explained what had happened and everyone had looked at the photos it was time to decide what to do.

“I think we need to move the office today” said Leopold. “If we do it before whoever took the photos shares them with whoever commissioned them then things might be ok.”

“Yes, we should move today, but we also need to find out who took these photos and who they were taken for” said Rudnika.

“Can’t we just see how much money they want? It might be cheaper to pay than to move” said Valentine.

“We could pay, but how do we know that will be the end of it?” said Rudnika. “And how do we know they won’t tell anyone else about us?”

“Why would someone try to sell us photos they had taken for someone else?” asked Carol.

“This is why we need to find out who did this” said Rudnika. “Then we will know what we are up against. But first we need to move and we need to make sure nobody manages to follow us.”

Rudnika packed the photos and the note back into the envelope and postbox and put it into her bag.

About an hour later a moving van arrived and everyone had to help load all the RenewBank stuff into it. Then the van drove away and Rudnika took everyone to a café down the street to discuss what was going to happen next. Rudnika had organized for the van to disappear into a busy industrial area, where their stuff would be moved to a different van and taken to the new office. The new office wasn’t far away. Rudnika told them the address and made everyone memorise it because she didn’t wany anyone to write it down. Nobody was going there today though. For the rest of the day they were going to investigate how someone had managed to find out where the secret office was, who had found out and why they’d done it. They brainstormed for ways to find answers and then divided the tasks up and set off. D’arby and Rudnika were going to work together, Carol and Valentine were another team and Leopold was going to work on his own. D’arby was pleased with this because he wanted to get to know Rudnika better and because the first thing they were going to do was investigate the empty building across the road. Rudnika was sure that the ‘For Lease’ sign hadn’t been there on Friday.

D’arby was expecting that Rudnika would pick the lock so they could sneak into the building and have a secret look around but instead she lead the way to the Real Estate agent that was managing the property and pretended that she was interested in leasing it.

The agent was a man called Ross who tried to get them to come back at 3pm because that’s when he’d organized to show another potential tenant around. D’arby had suspected that something like that might happen and turned to Rudnika to see how she would deal with it.

“That’s unfortunate” said Rudnika. “We have a tight deadline and need to decide on an office space by 2pm today. If you think that showing us the office before 3pm is a waste of your time then you must not be very confident that we will want to lease it, which is fine because my colleagues are looking at other places this morning so we will just take one of those instead.” Then Rudnika paused for a couple of seconds before handing her mobile phone to D’arby and saying “Can you please call Valentine and let him know that if the Bourke Street office is ok that we will go with it”

D’arby didn’t really know how to use the phone and he definitely didn’t know how to call Valentine so instead he called the number of his old flat and wondered how many times he should let it ring before pretending that Valentine had answered.

“If you do that you will miss out on a great office space” said Ross, who was trying to sound calm but gave away his anxiety by speaking too fast. “It feels unfair to show it to you before the person booked in for 3pm, but it is my duty to get the best tenant for the place so I will get the keys and take you there now”

When Ross turned away to go and get the keys Rudnika winked at D’arby. D’arby gave Rudnika back her phone and smiled. He was glad he hadn’t had to deal with Ross on his own.

As they walked down the street towards the vacant building Ross pretended to be friendly and asked lots of questions but even D’arby could tell that Ross was just trying to find out what sort of tenants they’d be. Rudnika gave polite answers but soon took control of the direction of the conversation by asking Ross about the previous tenant and why they’d left.

D’arby could tell that Ross was trying to think of how to put a good spin on his answer. “Lawrence ran a successful investment business and I was going to enjoy having him as a tenant” said Ross. “But his mother became sick on Friday and he had to leave in a hurry to go and look after her in Perth”

“The owner must be in a hurry to lease the property then, after the sudden loss of rental income” said D’arby. He was hoping the question would annoy Ross.

“Well, actually Lawrence paid the rent in advance for the whole 5 years so there is no pressure to fill the building for another 4 years and 11 months” said Ross, sounding a bit smug.

D’arby was feeling pretty clever for having tricked Ross into giving away how long Lawrence had been in the building.

Ross unlocked the front door and while he was disarming the alarm Rudnika watched but D’arby started looking around. D’arby took note of the view from the downstairs windows and was sure that this was the building where the photos of people entering the RenewBank office had been taken from. He was keen to see the view from upstairs and so didn’t pay much attention when Ross started explaining the facilities downstairs. Rudnika was more interested. There was a bathroom and kitchen downstairs and she wanted to see them both.

D’arby watched Ross and Rudnika walk into the kitchen and then he rushed upstairs. There were two windows that faced towards the Renewbank Office. D’arby noticed that one had a dusty window sill and the other didn’t so he looked out the window with the clean sill. He could see into the office where he, Valentine and Carol had been working and there was also a clear view of the roof garden.

“It is a nice view, isn’t it?” said Ross.

D’arby got a bit of a fright but tried to pretend he hadn’t.

“There is a lot of dust” said D’arby and he ran his finger along the dusty window sill.

“I haven’t actually been in here since Lawrence left but I will forgive him for not having taken time to clean when he was so worried about his mother. If it is an issue I can organize for a cleaner to come through before you move in” said Ross.

“Ok” said D’arby and he looked towards the stairs, wondering where Rudnika was.

Ross noticed and said “She’s using the bathroom”.

D’arby doubted that Rudnika was really using the bathroom and realised that he should try to keep Ross busy.

“Do you know how old the building is?” asked D’arby.

“Not sure exactly” said Ross. “More than 100 years old though. But the owner had the wiring and plumbing redone a couple of years ago and there aren’t any leaks”.

D’arby asked a few more questions and Ross dutifully answered before Rudnika came upstairs.

“Thank you Ross. This is a very nice space” said Rudnika. “I need to talk to my colleagues to find out about the places they have looked at before I can apply for this place. I will get back to you in 30 minutes. Will you be back at your office then?” asked Rudnika.

Ross looked at his watch and said “Yes. Don’t waste any time though. 2pm is approaching fast.”

Rudnika smiled then turned and hurried downstairs. D’arby said goodbye to Ross and then followed Rudnika.

When they got outside Rudnika put her arm out to attract a taxi and she and D’arby hopped in. D’arby was surprised when Rudnika asked the driver to take them to the police station, but he didn’t want to ask what was going on infront on the taxi driver.

When they got out of the taxi infront of the police station Rudnika said “I have a friend here who is going to help us. You wait outside and I’ll be back in 10 minutes”.

D’arby didn’t like standing out the front of the police station because the people who came and went tended to glare at him. Fortunately Rudnika returned as quickly as she’d said she would.

“What’s going on?” asked D’arby.

“I lifted some fingerprints and a friend is going to check them” said Rudnika.

“How did you do that?” asked D’arby. “And won’t your friend get into trouble?”

“Make-up and stickytape, and no he won’t get into trouble because he is investigating identity crime, and I bet the person spying on us didn’t use their real identity” said Rudnika.


The Inklings: Chapter 95

To read the story from the start go to: https://the-inkling.com/catch-up-with-the-inklings/

Aminata paced up and down along the sill of the front window for 15 minutes after Ousman left for school. Binta wondered whether Aminata hoped Ousman would sneak back home and she suspected that Ousman would have liked to. Ousman had seemed disappointed that he was going to miss out on going to the hospital that day.

Mamadou came inside carrying a roll of drawings of the garden he’d designed for Gina and Penny. Binta didn’t think that Penny or Gina would be very interested in building a garden when they didn’t have a house anymore but Mamadou was confident that once they saw his design they would want to start straight away.

There was another barrier to Mamadou starting his gardening business though. Binta had discovered that not only was Mamadou’s visa temporary, but it also didn’t allow him to work. Binta thought that was very mean and hoped that they could get the conditions changed.

Mamadou wasn’t as upset as Binta. He didn’t mind there being a barrier to him earning money and he was determined that it wasn’t going to stop him from building gardens. He could see that Binta was upset though and realised that she’d been looking forward to running his business.

At the hospital Mamadou and Binta found Gina sitting next to Penny’s bed. Gina and Penny were happy to see Binta and Mamadou, and Penny was extra pleased when she noticed that Mamadou was carrying a roll of drawings.

“They discharged me this morning” said Gina. “But I don’t really want to go… I can’t go home and I don’t want to leave Penny”

“Tell her not to worry about me” said Penny. “I’m going to be out of here soon too… in a few days”

Mamadou was very pleased with this news. He’d been really worried about Penny. Mamadou wanted to show his drawings but thought it was too early in the conversation.

“India has been working hard to create a kind of home for you at her place” said Binta.

“Yes, I should show appreciation for what India is doing for us” said Gina. “What if you take me there when you leave? If I return to our street with company it won’t be as painful”

Mamadou and Binta were happy with this suggestion, and Penny tried to look happy too, but inside she was sad that she had to stay behind in hospital. To take her mind off this she asked Mamadou to show her his drawings.

Gina looked over Penny’s shoulder as she unrolled the drawings. There were ten pages. The first page was a garden plan and the next 8 pages were views from different angles and drawings of some of the details, including the outdoor shower. Penny and Gina made approving noises as they looked at these pages, but it was the final page that they found really exceptional. It was of a cute little house that was almost completely hidden in the garden.  The door and some windows were visible but the roof was covered in garden.

“You’ve designed us a new house too!” said Penny.

“Yes. I hope it isn’t too soon to start thinking about what you might build. I hope I haven’t gone too far. This is what the house of a real garden lover should look like”.

“I would love to live in that house” said Gina.

“So would I” said Penny. “I would hate to move to a normal house now that we have nothing to put in it. It would feel so empty. But this little house would be so cosy and comfortable.

Mamadou looked at Binta and was happy to see that she was smiling.


The Inklings: chapter 94

To read the story from the start go to: https://the-inkling.com/catch-up-with-the-inklings/

John had a hellish Sunday night. His body seemed restless and it ached if he tried to lie still. He moved about so much in bed that the bottom sheet came off and became twisted around him. John must have fallen asleep a couple of times because he managed to have some bad dreams. In his dreams John was trying to get away from something or someone and was feeling extremely guilty. Sometimes he was driving a car, sometimes riding a bicycle and sometimes walking, but always along a quiet country road with the sun setting on his left.

John desperately wanted to get outside and stretch his legs but waited until 5am because he thought that was about as early as you could go out without raising suspicion. John was careful not to make any noise as he got dressed, and he closed the front door very gently. It was still dark outside but there were a few people around, mostly runners. John remembered how much fun Syafika seemed to be having now that she’d become a runner and he decided he should run too so he dashed down the street. The pavements in the area were old and unpredictable and so John had to pay attention to where he was putting his feet. To add to the challenge, there were spaces between street lights were it was completely dark. John took short, quick steps and concentrated on how his feet were moving. John had so much fun that for a little while he wondered why he didn’t run everywhere, but then he became puffed and sweaty and had to stop running.

John wondered what to do next. He didn’t want to go home until it was time for Fanta to get up. John decided that the university grounds would be fun to explore at this time of day so he headed that way, but when he realised he was on the street of the flat he and D’arby used to live in John instead decided to go and see it first. D’arby had told John how a fence had been put up around the block of flats and that he expected it would be knocked down soon. When John arrived there he saw the fence but the building was still standing. Attached to the fence was a large, friendly-looking sign. The sign was just close enough to a street light for John to have a go at reading it. It said something about a housing cooperative and that the building was going to be renovated. There were contact details on the sign so John tried to memorise them. He couldn’ wait to tell D’arby that the block of flats wasn’t going to be knocked down, but it was still too early for anyone to be up at home so to kill some more time John ran into the university. John noticed that the paving of the university was much more predictable so he started running as fast as he could and then stopped to walk and catch his breath. He did this quite a few times before he noticed that the sky was starting to lighten. Then John started walking back home. As John walked along he realised that while he’d been out running he’d forgotten all his worries.

John was glad to turn into Fanta’s street because his legs had started to feel heavy, but he was startled to see a man coming out of the gate of Fanta’s house. In the half-light of early sunrise John thought it might be D’arby leaving early for work, but when he got closer he realised that it wasn’t. The man hurried across the road, got into a car and quickly drove away. John tried to memorise the numberplate but only got the first half of it.

When John got to the doorstep he found a small parcel on it addressed to D’arby so he picked it up and took it inside.

D’arby was putting on his shoes, which meant he was about to leave for work. Nobody else was up yet so John had to be quiet, even though he was very excited.

“A man left this parcel for you. I saw him leaving as I came up the street” whispered John. “Do you think it might be a bomb?”

It took D’arby two seconds to comprehend what John had just said, before he looked at the parcel and shrugged.

“What was it about the man who delivered the parcel that makes you suspicious?” asked D’arby.

“Well, it was so early and he drove a car not a van. He wasn’t wearing a uniform either” said John.

D’arby wondered what he should do. If he hadn’t been working for RenewBank he probably would have just opened the parcel, but because of the top secret work he’d been doing, and the deception he had to keep up everyday about what he was working on and where his office was, D’arby had become suspicious. He didn’t think it likely that the parcel was a bomb but he did think it likely that the parcel was meant to cause some kind of mischief. D’arby thought about the timing and wondered whether whoever left the parcel was hoping that he would take it with him to work so he considered leaving it at home and opening it that night. However, he didn’t want to risk leaving a parcel that might be dangerous at home in case it harmed someone there. D’arby was annoyed at being delayed by this conundrum and decided to compromise. He put the parcel in his backpack and set out. He planned to stop and open the parcel when he was halfway to work.


The Inklings: Chapter 93

To read the story from the start go to: https://the-inkling.com/catch-up-with-the-inklings/

When Rose went outside on Sunday morning she discovered that a crowd had gathered to inspect what was left of the building next door. Rose noticed that amongst the crowd were Victoria and Graham, who owned the larger part of the building. Rose could hear Graham telling the crowd that they’d been underinsured and wouldn’t be able to afford to rebuild. Rose hadn’t had much to do with Victoria and Graham but she felt sorry for them. However, Rose was more concerned about how Gina and Penny were.

When Gina woke up on Sunday morning she wondered how she’d managed to get to sleep at all because her leg was hurting, and she was scared to move it in case it made the pain worse. Gina wanted to go and see Penny, who she knew was on a different floor of the same hospital, but Gina didn’t think she’d be able to walk.

Gina had the urge to brush her hair and wished that someone would bring in her hairbrush and some clothes. She would have been pleased to know that Rose was already at the hospital. Rose was downstairs with Penny, who was in intensive care. Penny wasn’t saying much, but she kept asking for Gina. It was as if Penny didn’t believe it when people told her that Gina was ok and wanted to see it for herself. Rose wondered whether she’d be able to bring Gina down to see Penny and went to ask someone.

When Rose appeared in the doorway of Gina’s room she was accompanied by a man with an empty wheelchair. His job was to take patients where they needed to go.

Gina forgot about her leg being sore and plopped herself into the wheelchair. She felt like telling the man pushing her wheel chair to hurry but thought that might be a bit rude, so instead she just leant forward.

Penny was waiting in anticipation when Rose and Gina arrived. The man pushing Gina in her wheel chair delivered her to the room and then left. When Rose saw Penny and Gina holding hands she thought she should leave too, so she offered to get some tea. Neither Penny nor Gina wanted tea but they insisted Rose get herself some. Rose said she’d be back later and wandered off, looking for stairs or lifts.

It didn’t take Gina long to work out that Penny was in a worse condition than her. Penny had broken bones and lost lots of blood, and had been operated on. Penny and Gina swapped versions of what had happened but still had lots of questions. Nobobdy had told them how much of their house had been damaged and they wondered where they would go when they were discharged from hospital. By the time Rose got back Penny and Gina had so many questions that they were glad to see her.

“How bad is the house?” asked Gina.

Rose had been expecting that question and decided to not to drag out the bad news.

“The whole building was destroyed, not just your part. So you will have to decide what to do next. Everyone hopes you will rebuild because we don’t want you to move away. I’ll help you sort out the insurance and India wants you to stay with her when you get out of hospital” answered Rose.

Gina and Penny were both very disappointed to hear that news. Penny moaned and started to remember all the treasures she’d had that were now lost.

“But the fire was only in the kitchen” said Gina.

“Yes, but it had spread everywhere before it was put out” said Rose.

“I am the worst neighbour in the world” said Gina. “Graham and Victoria will hate me. The fire didn’t damage your house too, did it?”

“No, our place is fine” said Rose. Rose decided that she wouldn’t mention that Graham and Victoria were underinsured.

As Rose was leaving the hospital she bumped into India. India had been busy making plans for Gina and Penny and had brought them some clothes and a big basket of other things they might need. Rose felt bad that she hadn’t thought to bring anything like that. India promised to visit Rose that afternoon and then rushed off to Penny’s room.


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