So, anyway, one night last year, by a combination of coincidence, bad judgement and misfortune, I ended up on my own in a pub in Soho. It was a Friday night, but for some reason the place was quiet. I was standing at the bar, just about to order a drink, when this guy comes bumbling up to me. He was a bloke in his fifties (at a guess.) He had a florid, greasy complexion and, though he was skinny, he had a strangely swollen belly. To me, he looked (and smelt) like a down-on-his-luck alcoholic.
Facially, he had a bizarre and remarkable resemblance to Ming the Merciless from “Flash Gordon.”
Ming turns to look at me, peering at me with bloodshot, tired eyes he says “tell you what. mate -buy me a drink and I’ll tell you a story, a true story, one like you’ve never ‘eard before.”
Now, me, I’m a sucker for a story so I’m intrigued, “what sort of story would that be then?” I ask.
“Well, I used to be a cab driver, din’t and one day I ‘ad that Satan in the back of me cab..”
“Satan? You mean as in the Devil…!?”
“Yeh, that’s right, Old Nick ‘imself, from The City to ‘eathrow, that’s what the fare were and ‘e talked the ‘ole way, ‘e told me stuff, terrible stuff, things I wished I’d never ‘eard, stuff that ruined my life.”
Okay, I’m hooked. This guy could just be a random, alcoholic nutjob but the concept of the Devil riding in the back of a black cab and spilling his heart out to the driver is one that is just too good to not delve further into. So, I buy the guy a drink.
And he tells me a story of the Devil.
First off, it’s important to note that our Ming was, before meeting his Satanic customer, just an ordinary black cab driver. Tendency to talk too much, wife, kids, house. After his meeting with Satan, it all fell apart. Wife, kids, house, job, all gone. Too much knowledge is dangerous. For this reason, Ming explained he couldn’t tell me everything the Devil told him, or my life would be destroyed too. He said that, instead, he’d just tell me about things the Devil had invented.
You see Satan has walked with us since we took our first faltering steps on this planet. He has whispered into the ears of Pol Pot, Genghis Khan, Torquemada, Adolf Hitler and Tony Blair. He wielded a machete in Rwanda, dropped napalm in Vietnam, tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib and hung “witches” in New England: he has marched with every marauding army that has ever left its blood-stained footprints across countries and continents, he has picked up babies by their legs and dashed their brains out, he has herded women and children into barns, thrown in a phosphorus grenade behind them and bolted shut the doors.
In short, the Devil’s a bad sort. But he has one redeeming feature. He loves us. In fact he loves us passionately. He loves us because he is fascinated by us, by our capacity for seemingly endless evil. The Devil is amazed that we can sometimes give even him a good run for the money in the evil stakes. We are constantly delighting him because, just as he thinks we can’t possibly get any worse, we go and do something even nastier. Humans, he has come to believe, have an infinite capacity to do the wrong thing, there is no floor to how low they can go. They are true and fitting disciples for the Swallower of Shadows, the Eater of Souls.
Given that fascination with us, the Devil spends a lot of time down here, wandering around in human form, getting up to all sorts of mischief and generally spreading chaos, suffering and misery.
And that’s what was occurring the day our unfortunate cabby picked up Old Nick in The City (The City of London is, according to the cabby, the Devil-inspired world centre, nay, ground zero, of all financial evil). The Devil had just been doing a quick bit of commodities trading, speculating massively in food futures, pushing up the price of basic foodstuffs high enough to ensure that, not many months down the road, children somewhere in the world would be starving to death.
So, that roguishly handsome, smartly dressed City type that Ming the cabby picked up that day was not, in fact, a smartly dressed city type but Satan. And in the course of the journey to Heathrow he would, being in a particularly good mood that day and feeling particularly loquacious (having just sentenced thousands of children to death by starving), tell our unfortunate cabby a tale about how the world works that would unhinge the guy’s mind forever and leave him a ruined and broken man.
Okay, at this point I have to stop myself. An editor would say that I’m rambling, straying from the point. Let’s get back to the Devil and his inventions.
In our cabby’s tale, one of the things Satan enjoys doing on this Earth, besides causing as much grief as possible, is inventing things. Ideally, it should be something that could be used for good or evil. So, the Devil comes up with something new, exciting and useful, whispers it into somebody’s ear so that humanity believes the invention is their own and then sits back and has a little bet with himself as to whether we’ll use his neat little idea for good or for ill. Betting, of course, that we’ll use it for the bad.
And the Devil’s not lost one of these little personal bets for thousands of years.
Take the internet, for example. The cabby told me that this is one of Lucifer’s proudest inventions, he calls it “a gateway to Hell in every home.” Because, of course, the Devil knew how we’d use the internet. It could be (and is, to be fair) used as an incredible means to spread ideas and information, a way to educate and inform the world. But mostly? Mostly it’s a sewer. It’s a forum that gives a voice to those who should not have a voice, a means for government to spy on its citizens, a distribution channel for the vilest filth of ideas and images imaginable, a refuge for the impolite, the ignorant and the downright nasty, a tool for the huckster, a blessing to the criminal and a means to impose Fakebook, Twatter and Idiotgram group think on the population, advancing the cruel and evil agenda of the Oligarchy by normalising idiocy and marginalising dissent and critical thought . It desensitises and stupifies us all. It reduces all human communication to short, intolerant and angry sentences. It destroys independence, diversity and decency. Eventually it will control and consume us. Just as the Devil planned.
If you liked this story you’ll also like my book of short stories ‘A Curious Book’ (Kindle and paperback):