A gold bar is deceptively heavy. Four hundred troy ounces, about 12.5 kg, of ultra-high-purity gold formed into an ingot – a sort of slender brick crossed with a pyramid. Holding one such bar on a chilly September evening last year, thirty-year-old Jake marvelled at its density; how the unyielding sides and edges felt awkward, yet somehow natural, in his hands. Behind him, from the main building of a Queensbury farm, music and coloured lights throbbed against the night sky – a so-called illegal rave, roughly one hundred youngsters partying in defiance of the UK government’s lockdown restrictions. Jake didn’t look back towards the noise pumping from the farmhouse where he’d spent most of his fraught 2020. He wasn’t even looking at the gold, not really.
The bar in Jake’s possession was a ‘London Good Delivery’ – literally the gold standard of gold bullion – worth over half a million dollars. An obscene concept; Jake couldn’t quite believe it was possible to hold so much ‘value’ within his two hands. Let alone to wield it. Again and again. Again. Until his target had finally stopped moving. But it had happened, hadn’t it? Yes, it had happened. He couldn’t stop himself from staring at the proof. The motionless body lying at his feet.
At some point that night, or perhaps as daylight crept in at the edge of the horizon, Jake managed to stop looking and start thinking.
He decided to run.
In the weeks following Jake’s disappearance, the Queensbury and Bradford local papers reported on the events of that night: an illegal rave, the resulting three hospitalisations, significant property damage and an ongoing police investigation. The story was soon forgotten, however, and national focus remained on the Covid-19 pandemic and the government’s strategy heading into the challenging winter months. Yet unravelling the events leading to this strange and unsettling night is well worth the trouble; a modern parable lies beneath, exposing the fraying fabric of British society, worn thin by late capitalism’s relentless abrasion. The missing gold bar is a connecting node – between an amoral banker, an iconoclastic columnist and a radical anarchist movement.
‘Of course I want it back – it’s my gold.’
Richard Spencer has not forgotten the events of that night. Indeed as the legal owner of the farm, he thinks of little else. ‘I want my life back!’ he complains, bitterly. The first time I meet Spencer, he sits across from me, his elbows propped against the dull aluminium top of our outdoor dining table. He chose the place – an earnestly ironic American-style diner in Covent Garden. The menu lists an £11.50 avo ’n’ cream cheese bagel. Spencer wears a deep blue Ted Baker shirt, starchy but unironed, with the sleeves rolled to mid-forearm, lending a disembodied, theatrical effect to his expressive hands and wrists. He’s garrulous, keen to detail the many ways his life has been turned into ‘an absolute shitshow’.
An overly indulgent, even selfish, comment, perhaps. After all, since the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the globe in 2020, many people have suffered badly, losing their lives and loved ones. Spencer is alive and well. His loved ones are safe – though possibly not reciprocally loving, at this moment. But Spencer has lost something significant: his status. Back in 2019, all the excessive fruits of late capitalism were his. He owned multiple homes, farming land, investments and cars; he had a household staff, a pretty wife, plus a much younger girlfriend. As a high-powered stockbroker at a major investment bank, he enjoyed obscene power, influence and wealth. He had everything. Now, stripped of all that, he has become the man across from me: a grounded giant, cut off from his castle in the sky.
Spencer’s gold-thieving, beanstalk-chopping ‘Jack’ is Jake from the farm, whom Spencer suspects of running off with the gold after allegedly committing the assault. ‘Of course he bloody took it with him,’ Spencer says, certain of his own version of events, despite having never met Jake.
In fact, Spencer knows virtually nothing about the man he blames for his ruin. Spencer invited Jake to the farm as ‘a favour to Lenny’, a woman he’d met in the building. ‘Her friend needed a place to quarantine for a few days,’ he says simply. Spencer doesn’t know much about Lenny either. She was a neighbour of his – one of the few to remain in their Kensington apartment block during the lockdown, a time when most residents retreated to secondary homes. Does he know her surname? ‘No.’ Age? ‘Um, mature.’ What did he actually know about this woman, when he decided to hand her the keys to his farm? ‘Well,’ he hesitates. ‘I knew her pretty well, in a sense . . .’ he trails off.
Reluctantly, Spencer will admit to his philandering. He is separated from his wife, Claire, who remains in the family home raising their three-year-old daughter Rosie alone. ‘Not exactly alone,’ he’s keen to point out. ‘They have the nanny four days a week. And it’s not like Claire has a job.’ Claire and Spencer split in 2019 over his tryst with a colleague fifteen years his junior.
‘Typical. He would say that.’ Claire opens the large front door to her Cobham home one-handed when I stop by days later – her left arm is wrapped around a shyly curious toddler. We sit down at the kitchen breakfast bar with a pot of filter coffee between us. Little Rosie lies on the soft-play mat in the corner, kitted out in stripy leggings, a builder’s hard hat and a glittery tutu, mumbling as she forces plastic trucks to collide. ‘I’m a designer,’ Claire says. Since Rosie’s birth in 2018, Claire has taken on part-time freelance work for a handful of clients. Before that, she worked at a boutique branding agency, after reading Art History at Oxford, where she met Spencer. The pair married soon after graduation, living in London apartments until deciding to move to the suburbs and start a family.
Claire is sanguine about their separation, ‘People change, don’t they?’ Their suburban house had never really felt like Spencer’s home – ‘He stayed in the city most nights. His hours were so long, it made sense.’ Spencer had spent weeknights in his Kensington pied-à-terre until after Rosie’s birth when, increasingly, he began to spend weekends away from his family, too. ‘I’m not stupid,’ Claire says of the unspoken affairs, ‘I know what goes on.’
A few years earlier, in 2015, Spencer’s father had died after a prolonged illness. ‘That was the beginning of his farm obsession,’ according to Claire. Every weekend Spencer would attend auctions or travel to remote towns to view land plots and properties. A late effort, perhaps triggered by grief, to emulate his father – a ‘man’s man’ who had built a successful construction company from the ground up. ‘His dad never quite understood him,’ Claire says. ‘But Rich idolised the guy.’ Eventually, Spencer bought an old hilltop farm in Queensbury, a quiet West Yorkshire village. Claire didn’t think much of the property. ‘It’s a complete wreck,’ she doesn’t mince her words, ‘a rubbish heap on a big hill in an awful little town. No one with any sense would touch it.’
Claire’s dismissal of the farm hit personally. I grew up in Queensbury, a stone’s throw from the Alderton farm. I walked past it almost daily as a child; occasional summer afternoons spent ‘mucking in’ with the Alderton family as a teenager were a part of my upbringing. Fresh produce was a staple at our dinner table. Nothing at the supermarket can beat the warm, frothy taste of unpasteurised cow’s milk, ladled fresh from the milker’s bucket. Though economically disadvantaged, and unapologetically working class, the town provided a wonderful backdrop for my childhood. It has value. But somehow, our country’s towns and industries have become the playthings of London’s elite. The Alderton farm fell into hard times in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when the government subsidies that had buoyed the farm’s modest revenues dried up. The remaining livestock was sold off and the family boarded up the outbuildings. But living in the main house, without income from an operational farm, proved untenable. ‘We lost everything,’ Mrs Alderton says. ‘It had been in our family for generations.’ The Aldertons searched for new owners who would continue to run it as a community-minded farm, but there was little interest. ‘We ended up selling to property developers, we had no choice.’ No investment or redevelopment in the area took place, however, though the farm changed hands a few more times. The abandoned plot became a familiar pockmark atop the town’s hill. Until, in 2016, Richard Spencer snapped up the property at auction.
‘He has a weird “prepper” fantasy. He thinks he can survive the end of the world there or something.’ Claire is doubtful, ‘I’ve never seen him do so much as water the garden.’ Spencer went on to renovate the farm’s main building, fashioning a safe refuge for when society inevitably collapsed – possibly galvanised by his part in the ’08 crash, and the societal fragility each subsequent economic shockwave revealed. When a global catastrophe finally did arrive by way of a novel coronavirus, however, Spencer clung to London’s familiar comforts: restaurants, his housekeeper, and same-day deliveries from Mr Porter. He remained in his Kensington apartment, and the renovated farm stood empty.
Until Jake arrived.
There are currently no suspects in the police investigation. On the night of the rave, local police issued over thirty fixed-penalty notices for lockdown breaches. As the venue owner, Spencer also received a £10,000 fine. Most attendees fled before police arrived, and interviews with the few arrested proved fruitless – the majority lived outside Queensbury and knew little of the farm. One unidentified person of interest was found unconscious and admitted to a local hospital, having suffered a blunt force trauma to his head. Initial news reports noted ‘evidence of squatters at the property’, along with an apparent ‘small-scale marijuana growing effort’. Spencer has been questioned, though police declined to provide details of his statement, citing an ongoing investigation. There is presently no search, however, for a missing gold bar – or Jake, for that matter. A police spokesperson gave a terse dismissal: ‘Primarily this is a drugs offence, as well as a serious lockdown breach. Not a wild goose chase for a pot of gold.’
Mixed metaphors aside, the investigation appears to have petered out. Until the hospitalised John Doe regains full consciousness, much of the goings-on at the farm will likely remain unknown. Today, the boundaries of the farm are still cordoned off by police tape, a striking reminder to the town’s residents.
‘I hate to see it come to this,’ Mrs Alderton tells me via a telephone call. ‘Drugs, violence and who knows what else? That was our home.’ The Aldertons believe the farm’s new owner Richard Spencer had an active role in the criminality. ‘It’s big business,’ says Mr Alderton, a comment his wife relays to me enthusiastically. Spencer’s months-long renovation of the farm’s main house, which then stood empty, had already sparked speculation among local residents. ‘Something’s not right there,’ Mrs Alderton surmised. ‘Men like that don’t spend their money for nothing.’
‘I’m making a stock,’ says historian and lecturer Rodger Walters, an explanation of sorts for the kitchen chaos surrounding him. A chicken carcass is splayed open on a Pyrex dish beside a large, propped-up cookbook, and surrounded by an impressive amount of root vegetables, some half chopped, others caked in mud. He directs me through the conservatory to a garden where his partner, columnist Miriam Leonard, sits with a tumbler of whisky, in spite of the biting cold.
It would not be unfair to say that Leonard, who goes by Lenny, exists in spite of pretty much everything. ‘A rare dissenting voice in this perplexing time of media polarisation and moral orthodoxy, Leonard is one of the few souls brave enough to say the unsayable,’ proclaimed the introduction to her 2018 book No Mo’ Woke, a lightly edited selection of her newspaper columns spanning a twenty-plus-year career. Publishers, it seemed, had noticed that what Lenny said was actually quite sayable, and suspected it would also be rather profitable to print in book form. Lenny accepted a ‘sizeable’ advance in 2016 for a two-book deal, and began the work of repackaging her various columns into a single cohesive volume, her magnum opus, framed with an impassioned polemic detailing the imminent threat of ‘woke culture and anti-white sentiment’.
‘Problem is,’ Lenny reflects, ‘the book just didn’t sell.’ Apparently, the people who weren’t embarrassed to place No Mo’ Woke on their shelves didn’t, by and large, actually have bookcases. Early indicators had been positive, the book garnered rave, collegial reviews from across the papers – The Times hailed it ‘a breath of fresh air’ and even the firmly left-wing Guardian newspaper managed cautious praise, albeit with a passing swipe at the ‘unfortunate’ title. ‘Actually, the title was genius,’ Lenny grins. She has a point. The title maximised upset and grievance, but was impossible to criticise without coming off as, well, woke. Even now, two years post publication, #NoMoWoke remains a popular hashtag on social media.
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