MARK FRANKLAND

I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

TWO VILLAGES AND WAY TOO MANY GHOSTS.

Yesterday I was driving back to Dumfries having collected some donated food when......

Actually, that really isn't enough. Well, is it? No it isn't. Try again Frankland.

Yesterday I was driving back to Dumfries having picked up seventy packs of delicious sliced ham which are donated to us each and every week by the good folk at Brown Brothers in Kelloholm.

Much better. Any half decent foodbank must never neglect the hand that feeds.

Anyway. A few miles out of Thornhill I hit the tail end of a wagon convoy and I just couldn't be bothered with it. So I turned right onto a back road based alternative route which I knew full well would take ten minutes longer, wagons or no wagons. It would just feel like less. With better views. And I am lucky enough not to be beholden to one of the new digital delivery outfits which expect you never waste so much as a nano second of time or else.

So it was over the swollen river Nith and straight west through a curtain of rain to the village of Penpont. Somewhere either side were the hills of the Southern Uplands, but a settled grey mist put paid to my chances of getting a look at them. Wet cattle sulked on the other side of wet hedges. And the temperature readout on the dashboard said it was a mere 8 degrees. At ten thirty. As in batten down the hatches because the long winter is a coming.

As I entered the quietness of Penpont, I once again celebrated not working for a slave driving outfit as I was able to something I have been meaning to do for a while. I drew up by the war memorial. You can see it at the top of the page. Yeah? So I guess you can see why I drew up. It is a truly beautiful thing to commemorate something truly awful. I didn't want to merely take a moment to look at it. I also wanted to count the names.

There are forty.

Does that seem a lot? In some ways, maybe it doesn't. Forty souls of Penpont in the midst of a carnage which did for more than ten million. But to look at the number forty in that way would be entirely the wrong context. Well I think it would be, and I'm the one who's writing the blog.

I found the right context a hour or so later.

Google. 'Penpont;

Wikipedia. A village in the Southern Uplands. Some co-ordinates.

Population 400.

Would the population have been much higher in 1914? Maybe, but I doubt if it would have been much. So 40 dead men represented 10% of the village's population. Or 20% of the village's male population. Or nearly 50% of the working age male population.

But that is only half the story, for there will have been many names which never made it onto the memorial. The wounded ones. The broken ones. The amputated and the blinded. The ones who were driven into madness. More Google told me that for every dead British soldier in the Great War there were two and a half who were seriously injured.

Christ.

A hundred wounded guys to go with the forty dead guys.

So a hundred and forty dead or wounded men from a small Scottish village in the Southern Uplands that was probably home to not many more than 400 souls.

35%.

And yet Google also told me the percentage of dead and wounded in the United Kingdom as a whole was 7%. A mere fifth of what happened to the men of Penpont.

I cannot begin to get my head around what such a vast loss must have felt like in such a small community. I have witnessed at first hand the gaping hole the 96 victims of Hillsborough tore in the community of Liverpool. Those 96 dead people represent the greatest tragedy suffered by the UK in many, many years. And yet they make up less than 0.001% of the population of the city they hailed from. Penpont had to deal with 35% of its population not coming home or coming home all broken up.

Penpont is unusual only in the beauty of its memorial. The same story is told by memorials the length and breadth of Scotland. I guess I notice this because I was born and bred south of the border where the memorials can be every bit as beautiful, and yet they only ever hold a fraction of the names.

In the light of this, is it really all that surprising Scotland has struggled at times over the last century. Considering how many Scots were fed into the mincing machine of the Western Front it is a wonder the country managed to function at all. The fact that a nation which was home to 8% of the population of the UK contributed 25% of the 1914/18 death toll really should still be an open wound. But it isn't of course. Instead it is just another of those quiet, hushed up facts of the British State.

I have no doubt London will have a hundred an one explanations as to how this thing happened. And I have no doubt they will have a whole bunch of professors with lots of letters after their names who will come up with lots of reasons as to why such a disproportionate number of Scots met their maker in the killing fields of France. And I guess we will probably buy what they are selling us. We usually do.

In 1967 it emerged that the exact same two numbers had come together in America. Black people made up 8% of the population of the United States. However black soldiers made up 25% of the death toll in Vietnam. When the stats leaked out, black people were not best amused. They were pretty convinced young black soldiers were being used as cannon fodder from the Mekong Delta in the south to the DMZ in the north.

They kicked off. Big style. And Detroit burned for a whole long, hot summertime week.

I guess it is good we are better at taking it on the chin. When all is said and done, setting cities alight is seldom a good look. What really gets my goat are the smug, cocky voices from studios in Westminster who gleefully explain why Scotland is far too pathetic to manage on its own. I guess it is what you get in return for shedding oceans of blood in the sacred name of King, country and Empire. With so many laid to rest under the fields of France and Belgium, the fact Scotland is where it is at today it is a bloody miracle. Maybe such an achievement could be seen as proof positive we are a nation who can get up and dust ourselves down no matter how hard we fall. Not capable of being independent? Oh really?

I turned left in the centre of the village and turned south. After couple of a miles and I drew up alongside a rather derelict looking building. Peeling paint and a plaque on the wall commemorating the fact that in 1840 a guy called Kirkpatrick McMillan only went and invented the bicycle. Right there. In this old blacksmiths shop. In Kiermill. In the Southern Uplands. In Scotland.

I mean, for Christ's sake. I guess there are a few bigger inventions than the bike, but not very many. Just think of the hundreds and hundreds of millions who have used a bike to get from A to B in the 176 years worth of human history since Kirkpatrick McMillan came up with the idea.

Thought of in Scotland. Invented in Scotland. Made in Scotland. This small wet and wild place in the grey north of the world. The place which is deemed to be so pathetic that we can't even think of managing on our own. Because we are all fat and sick and idle and communist and drunk and violent and addicted to fried everything. Subsidy junkies. Schemies.

OK. We might have invented the bike. OK. We might have offered up a third of our young men to the slaughter. But never mind all that. Let's forget all about all that. Instead let's take the piss on the front pages of the Express and the Mail. Let's mock and deride like we once mocked and derided inferior blacks and Irish. Let's hang onto our last scrap of significant Empire like a spoilt child clinging to a stolen toy.


So.

Yesterday was two villages on a rainy morning on the very cusp of Autumn. Two villages and way too many ghosts and seventy packs of ham all boxed up in the back of the van.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A QUICK LOOK AT SOME BASIC MATHS TELLS ME 'INDYREF' TWO IS OURS FOR THE TAKING

Over recent weeks I have had an uneasy feeling in my bones. It seems like elements of the YES side of the Indy argument are showing signs of loosing our bottle when it comes to IndyRef 2. There is a growing prevailing mood of maybe this isn't the right time after all. Maybe the best thing might be to wait a while....

Fair enough, I get it. The lesson of Quebec is that we are only likely to get two shots at the thing and if we blow the next one we will have to wait for ever and a day for another go.

There is a real problem with this kind of mindset once it starts to take root. It tends to make you put off the moment of truth. And we really, really don't want to do that. Right?

So I figure it might be time to take a quick jog around the basic maths of the thing in order to get a bit of our Mojo back.

So. 

September 18, 2014. 

Roundish figures.

NO – 2,000,000
YES – 1,620,000

They beat us by 380,000 votes. As in 55 to 45 in terms of percentages.

The maths? Well, even for a lad who struggled like buggery to get my Maths O Level, this particular sum is easy enough to do. Assuming a similar turnout next time, those of us on the 'YES' side need to win an extra 200,000 votes or so and the day will be ours.

So how is such a prospect looking? Pretty damn good actually. The maths are well and truly on our side. Here's how.

Let's start with looking at old people and young people.

Let's assume the next referendum rolls around in 2019, OK. Between 2014 and 2019, about 250,000 old people in Scotland are going to shuffle off this mortal coil and die. Sure, it's sad but it is very much life. Death and taxes, right? Last time around the these golden oldies gave Better Together 200,000 votes whilst the YES side got a lousy 50,000. They won't be with us next time around which means the NO side will have to find an extra 200,000 votes to stand still. We on the Yes side on the other hand only need 50,000.

By 2019 the sadly departed oldies will have been replaced a quarter of a million youngies. Last time around the 16 to 20's voted Yes by the bus load. As in 200,000 YES to 50,000 NO.

So if things play out much the same in terms of how the the young and the old vote, things are going to change in a pretty big way. 150,000 more for us and 150,000 less for them.

As in....

NO – 1,850,000
YES – 1,770,000

Getting closer, right?

Then we come to all the EU people.

Last time around Better Together did one hell of a job when it came to lying to the EU nationals living in Scotland. All kinds of dodgy outfits were paid to call up people from Poland and Latvia to warn them they would be deported on 19 September if the YES side won the day. It was the very purest of bullshit of course, but there is nothing new in that. Black propaganda is almost always the very purest of bullshit but it doesn't mean it doesn't work.

How many EU nationals do we have in Scotland? Google doesn't come up with a definitive answer. 300,000 seems about right. Last time these guys fell about 70/30 for NO.

210,000 NO
90 YES

A big win for the bad guys, right? So what about next time around? Well it ain't too hard to guess. The UK isn't exactly about to be the most accommodating place for an EU national over the coming years. Can you imagine a single EU national voting for the NO side next time? Why on earth would they? It is basically inconceivable.

OK. I'm liking the look of this. An extra 210,000 votes for us. A 210,00 loss for them.

Check it out now

NO – 1,640,000
YES – 1,980,000

Bloody hell. 

Everything is turned on its head. A bunch of NO voting oldies make their way into the next world whilst a bunch of YES voting young guys replace them on the electoral roll and at the same time 300,000 EU nationals do what smart turkeys should do and vote against Christmas..

Other things to think about? Yeah, well there are a couple actually.

Have you met anyone who voted YES last time who has gone on to change their mind. You know, like, I really fancied the idea of living in an independent Scotland back in 2014 but since them I have really come to love being ruled from London. Well maybe there are a few of these guys around but I haven't met any. On the flip side there seem to be more than a few who have taken the journey in the other direction from NO to YES in the wake of the broken 'Vow', all the exposed lies and Brexit.

Then there is the prospect of the campaign. Last time around the rolling carnival of the YES campaign took a start point of 28% and swung the dial all the way to 45%. Basically we won the campaign and we won it hands down. In the end we didn't quite win big enough, but we absolutely won. Will there be any less energy next time around? I can't see it. Every YES supporter I meet is fired up and raring to get it on. I find it absolutely inconceivable to imagine YES losing the next campaign. Of course we'll win it. Last time we needed to swing the dial by 21%. This time 3% will be plenty thank you very much.

And now we need to talk about the good old chaps who went by the name of Better Together. Or Project Fear. Or lying bastards. By the time we reached the beginning of September 2014, people who were arranging debates were finding it all but impossible to sign anyone up to speak up for the 'NO' side. They had all run for the hills with their tails between their legs. Who on earth is going to be willing to step up and fly the flag of NO next time? It kind of looks it will be down to Ruth Davidson doing her best to be some kind of Tory Joan of Arc. Things have changed and they have changed about as utterly as things could have changed.

There will be no embarrassing train load of Labour MPs exiting Glasgow Central next time. There will be no national newspaper willing to be duped into giving over a front page to a dodgy 'Vow'. There will be no supermarkets willing to sacrifice the affection of the their customers and their turnover in return for a few scraps from the Downing St table. Labour are a busted flush. The LibDems are a busted flush and the beloved Tories will have much bigger Brexit fish to fry. The good folk arranging the debates of IndyRef 2 will have a task on their hands when it comes to digging out anyone to argue for Westminster rule.

And they know this. Of course they do. It is why they are sabre rattling right now with everything they have. And when it comes down to it, they only have one thing. The media. The MSM. The propaganda machine. Those endless ridiculous Mail and Express front pages. They have no boots on the ground any more. Only bluster.

Do you remember the interview Saddam's PR guy gave in Baghdad as the 2003 war was all but done. He was giving a piece to the cameras and telling the world the Americans were about to be thrown back over the border when a Bradley fighting vehicle suddenly appeared over his shoulder about 400 yards behind him. His bullshit couldn't have been exposed more completely. Well, it will be the same for Better Together next time. They don't really have any biological weapons to stop us in their tracks. There is no Republican Guard. Their tanks are rusted up and lack parts. All they have is the same old propaganda and the same old lies and it won't be anything like enough.

The maths are on our side. So is history. The door is wide open and we should be gearing up to knock it off its hinges. So come on guys, let's stop buying into the tired old bullshit in the Westminster papers. We need to wake up and get our game face on.



Sunday, September 18, 2016

A HOMAGE TO ANATOLIA

Sometimes the brain needs a spring clean. A bit like an old dusty rug being yanked outside into the fresh air for a good old fashioned walloping. Disc clean up for grey matter. Finally getting round to emptying the old shed at the bottom of the garden so stuffed with junk you can't open the bloody door.

Every day life means clutter and then more clutter again.

Piles of growling unpaid bills.

Digital bank statements giving all the wrong answers.

More leaks needing more buckets on the floor.

A mechanic shaking his head and doing the serious face and saying sorry pal but that's going to need a new one....

And day after day of broken people with broken lives and broken eyes coming in through the door for the limited salvation of a bag of food.

And it can be all too easy to forget entirely there is a huge great world out beyond the clutter where things are different. Sometimes better. Most of the time worse. But different.

My brain was de-cluttered the other day care of an eight hour drive across the Anatolian plain. From Antalya hanging on the cliff tops over the sparkling Mediterranean to Ankara crouched in its vast dusty valley like a brooding giant.

340 miles of completely different. Apart. A whole world away.

As a boy, Anatolia was one of those names which caught at my imagination. It sat alongside the Mekong delta and Bohemia and the Mountains of the Moon. It was always on my list of place to go. To see. To breathe in.

I first visited way back in the early 80's. There were four of us crammed into my venerable VW Beetle, a car which won fame far an wide for its heroic exploits and going by the name of Fatmo.

Turkey was different back then. The country was just a few months into its latest military coup and there were tanks on every junction. An infant tourist industry had been pretty well strangled at birth by the world wide success of the film 'Midnight Express' which painted a vivid picture of a brutal and cruel country you wouldn't want to visit in a million years.

It took about ten minutes to see through the nasty, despicable poison of 'Midnight Express'. In the movie, the ill treated American hero at one point blows his top with the evil judge who is sending him down for years for 
drug trafficking.

'For a nation of pigs it is odd that you don't eat them.'

Cue Oscars and worldwide critical acclaim. Which of course would be fair enough apart from the fact it was wall to wall bullshit. The fictional American hero was painted as a decent sort of chap who was daft enough to try and smuggle cannabis. The real life version was well and truly rooted in the heroin trade, but never mind such annoying detail.

Ten minutes after parking up Fatmo on the crazy streets of Istanbul we found out the Turks are some of the most welcoming and hospitable people on planet earth. Fair enough the soldiers were all armed to the teeth but they couldn't do enough for you. If we asked for directions we would get a full military escort to our destination. I still treasure fond memories of one to great drunken nights of my life when a larger than life full army colonel took us under his wing in Konya. There were an awful lot of toasts, most of which were on the lines celebrating Kenny Dalglish and nuking the bastard Russians. The whole regiment was gathered in a vast hall to get collectively ratted under a giant screen where Amy Stewart hammered out 'Knock on wood.' The huge man with the great dome of a bald head and the enormous appetite for life has appeared in a number of my books in slightly altered guises.

And of course Anatolia didn't disappoint. How could it?

A quarter of a century later, and I was back in Turkey for a two day visit. 

Oh if Carlsberg did two day visits.......

25 May 2005. Ataturk Stadium, Istanbul. Liverpool 3 – AC Milan 3 and the rest is history. Oh and how the citizens of Istanbul took to the 40,000 Scousers who descended on their ancient city. It was a marriage made in heaven. At a time when Blair and Bush were spreading their Islamophobic poison, every one of us who were present for the 'Miracle of  Istanbul' that night were able to see at first hand what crap it all was.

And now I am here again. Back in the vastness of the Anatolian plain and my brain feels all the better for it.

Snapshots.

Like the flags. There are flags everywhere you look where man has a tenuous toehold in the wilderness. Bright red with a star and a crescent. The government flags are enormous and they seem to flap in a kind of graceful slow motion, like the cartoon flags in a Presidential campaign ad. And if they were the only flags to be seen, then you would get suspicious. But they are nowhere close to being alone. There are flags everywhere on shacks and stalls and the balconies on block after block of gleaming new flats.

In the towns you see a country in a hurry. A country where people feel good about themselves. Every square inch of public space is given over to lovingly tended greenery. Every pavement is cleaned within an inch of its life. It is so easy to forget not all countries are made up of beleaguered small towns filled with boarded up shops and beaten faces. There is a purpose here. A collective optimism. It's how we are going to look in Scotland when we finally shake ourselves free.

Then a few miles out of the towns, time suddenly stands still. Everything is vast and then some. Horizons which seem almost impossible to take in. It could be Texas or Mongolia or the plains of Argentina.

Lonely farmers on vintage tractors fight their epic battle against the elements. Faces like leather. Men and women for all seasons. Burning, unmerciful heat in summer and twenty below in winter.

They bring their produce to the roadside and lay it our with loving attention. Melons and onions and potatoes and seeds. Young boys wait in deck chairs for the next truck to pull over to haggle for the harvest.

Service areas are an exotic mix of crumbling concrete and the kind of customer service you can only dream of at home. Salads made up of tomatoes that taste like tomatoes and cucumbers that taste like cucumbers. Charnock Richard and its rapacious soulless American franchised junk food seems a world away.

The sun burns down and every horizon just keeps on getting bigger. It isn't hard to imagine the hordes of Genghis Khan sweeping over the ridgeline. Or Tammerlane. Or Marco Polo.

At one point the sky darkened and three separate storms threw down lightening onto the bare hills.

Anatolia is a place to remember how life can be simpler and bigger and cleaner and harder. A place where a life needs to be carved out. There are no hand outs here. Nobody wants them.


And after 350 miles of Anatolia my brain felt refreshed. De-cluttered. Ready to roll.

Friday, September 9, 2016

IT SEEMS BREXIT MEANS RUBBISH PASTA

Brexit means....

I don't know about you but I am already sick to the back teeth of politicians and pundits telling me what Brexit means. Or what it might mean. Or what it is going to mean.

Yesterday our new Prime Minister decided to 'take the fifth' and make like a hard faced Gangsta on the floor of the mother of all Parliaments. The lady was saying nuffink about nuffink, innit. It seems what Brexit is and what it might be and what she hopes it will be is yet another of those British secrets the great unwashed are best off not knowing about.

Instead we need to button our lips and leave everything in the more than capable hands of good old boys from schools costing thirty grand a year. They are bred for it you know. The diplomacy thing. Empires don't just happen you know. It takes time. Experience. The right touch. So stop worrying yourselves about what Brexit might or might not mean, OK? Good. Remember your place. You've had your vote and you've buggered everything up so now just go back to your reality TV and your crisps.

Well, I have feeling I might have accidentally blundered onto something the other day. A hint. An inkling. A clue. A fleeting glimpse of what Brexit might be.

OK. Now I am no kind of picky eater, but I have a few red lines when it comes to cooking the evening meal. I hate and despise lousy pasta. It annoys me. Pisses me off. It just seems so unnecessary to peddle crap pasta when superb Italian pasta can be had for a few pence a packet more. Of course this has become an all too familiar story in the buccaneering, free wheeling Britain Maggie unleashed all those years ago. We head out over the water to Europe and sigh in wonder at just about everything we eat or drink. How can it be that everything tastes so much better that it does at home? The wine, the fruit, the pasta....? Why on earth can you buy super sweet apples and pears for pennies on a market in Riga when at home the supermarkets charge twice the price for stuff that looks like fruit but tastes like water?

Why oh why? Because we get ripped off all the time and we are too polite and too gullible and too dumb to moan about it. Oh, and the fact that the big supermarkets control 80% of the grocery market just like Robert Mugabe controls Zimbabwe. I once watched an interview with a French guy who ran a large vineyard. He talked the camera through the process. You harvest the grapes. You put them in a massive vat and you squeeze out the juice. Then you put the juice in huge wooden barrels and you wait for the juice to become wine. Next he talked us through the various different qualities. The top half of the horizontal barrel becomes the year's vintage and it is labelled up accordingly. The next 20% goes into plastic bottles to be sold in French supermarkets for a couple of Euros a litre. You know the stuff. The stuff we Brits buy and marvel at and reckon tastes better than the stuff we get at home. The next 10% goes to wine vinegar. And the bottom 30%? The dregs? Oh that is sold off for pennies to the British supermarkets who bung on their own label and knock it out for a fiver a bottle. So. In a nutshell the reason why wine tastes great in France, Spain and Italy and rubbish here was explained.

Back to pasta. A few years ago I discovered De Cecco. It is the real deal. Genuine Italian pasta made properly by genuine Italians who have been doing their thing in a genuine Italian factory since 1886. You can see them at the top of the page. Check them out. They look like the kind of guys who know a thing or two about decent pasta, right?

So. I was in Tesco and spaghetti was on my list. I looked and then I looked again. And again. Not a single yellow and blue De Cecco packet was to be seen. They had vanished. All of them. Leaving not so much of a trace. Now the shelves were wall to wall own brand rubbish.

I wasn't particularly surprised. This seems to happen all the time with Tesco. When a company digs in its heels and demands a fair price for its product, Tesco simply turf them out and fill the space left with their own labels. The answer is to start buying whatever it is you want to buy in a different supermarket until Tesco finish their latest game of chicken and put the stuff back on sale. So Morrisons then. But the Morrisons shelves told the same story. Lots and lots of own brand rubbish. Not so much as a single pack of De Cecco. Online to Asda who haven't colonised our town yet. Nope. De Cecco? Never heard of him mate. Who is he anyway? Sounds like he plays on the wing for West Brom....

In the end I found a kilo pack in Bookers. But for how long will that remain the case? Who knows. And why?

Could it Brexit? Surely not, but there again......

Let's assume for a moment that Tesco double the wholesale price when they put their packs of De Cecco on the shelves. I doubt if such an assumption will be too far from the mark.

22 June 2016.

Sale Price - £3.10 per kg

Purchase Price - £1.55p per kg

But of course the De Cecco family want paying in Euros because Italy is very much in the Eurozone.

The purchase price for Tesco in Euros on 22 June was 2.10 euros per kilo. As in £1.55. And then? Then can the big 52/48 vote to become Little Britain and the value of the pound crashed.

So on 24 June 2016 there was a new price for the De Cecco pasta. It was still 2.10 Euros of course. But now it was going to cost Tesco £1.89 to buy 2.10 euros instead of £1.55. So unless they whacked up their prices they would need to sell at a mark up of £1.29 instead of £1.55. Unthinkable!

No doubt they were straight on the phone to the guys at De Cecco demanding an immediate 20% price cut and no doubt the guys at De Cecco told them to go jump in the lake because a 20% price cut would have meant the Italians selling for a loss.

So the supermarket boys faced a hideous decision. They could do the right thing for their treasured customers and offer them the chance to buy De Cecco pasta at a mere 60% mark up or they could take the stuff off the shelves and knock out their own brand junk instead.

A no brainer, right?


Because it seems like Brexit means rubbish pasta. Oh the joys of living in the northern province of an inward looking little island where the bottom line is new God. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

AN UPDATE ON THE FIRST BASE FUNDING DRIVE

You know what, a big public fundraising drive can be a bloody scary ride. Think about it. You have to open up your doors, reveal all your problems to the public and basically beg for help. It isn't a very good look when you think about it. The only option available is to tell it like it is. This is how much cash we have right now. And this is how much we need over the coming months. And if we don't get it? Well, I guess we'll go the way of Woolworths.

Once upon a time a charity like ours would hold out the begging bowl and hope to fill it up with cash and cheques. Nobody would actually see the begging bowl, so even if it remained tragically empty the charity could put on a brave face for the world. Now things have changed with the advent of crowd funding sites. Now we charities bare our souls and all the world can see whether anyone cares or not.

I don't mind admitting there was a sick feeling in my stomach when I put together our Just Giving page. Which is here by the by. Right here. Right underneath these words. Hint, hint!


There was no way of sugar coating the basic message. We are running out of cash. Fast. We are £20,000 short of making it through to 31 March 2017. And we think we are worth supporting. And we hope you also think we are worth supporting. So please support us.

Click. 

'Publish'. 

A bared soul is revealed to the world. And something else is revealed to the world.

Oh yeah. The dreaded 'amount raised' column. The 'percentage raised against the target' column. And here is where the real sick feeling settles in the gut. What if we only get £50? What if nobody gives a damn if we survive or not? Where the hell do we go next if this idea bombs out?

Of course First Base is in a better position than most when it comes to knowing we enjoy the support of our local community. £45,000's worth of donated food every year offers pretty compelling proof. But there is always doubt. Always doubt.

Well it has been a week now and there is no doubt. Yet again our local community has proved itself to be bloody fantastic. As I write this, the total raised funds on our JustGiving page are just shy of £11,000 when the Gift Aid is lumped in. Over the course of seven days First Base's immediate future has been secured. Yet another crisis has been averted. 

It is impossible to overstate what a morale boost this has been for everyone. Because of course this is yet another of the downsides to going public with a funding crisis – you have to find a way to persuade your staff and volunteers not to worry too much. As if!

I won't bore you to death with a long list of thank you's to all of the people who need thanking, though I really should. However thanks are due. Big time.

Let me start with the guys who have spent half a week living off one of our food parcels and raising funds with JustGiving pages of their own. First there is Neil who is a Minister from one of the churches in the town who is very much a fellow veteran of the emergency food game. Here he is.


Then there is Gary who has been a food parcel client of ours in the past. If you click your way to his site, I hope you can spare a couple of minutes to read what he has to say. You can maybe guess how his words make us all feel about what we do. He also helped out by going in front of the TV cameras to talk about the time when his life was down the tubes and he needed to come to us for his daily bread. Not many are willing to do this. So thanks Gary. Big time.


Our local media have been great. You can see from my woefully amateurish scan at the top of the page how our local paper, the Standard, gave the campaign a boost. West Sound Radio gave us a slot on the news. Border TV gave us a full five minutes, BBC Radio Scotland nearer ten. I was particularly pleased with the BBC interview. If you like, you can hear it by following the link below.


As I write this, over a hundred people have supported the three JustGiving pages.

So thank you. All of you.

One donation stands out of course. £5000 from Mark Jardine. Unbelievable generosity. I am pretty sure Mark won't want me to write much about this. He's not that kind of guy. Well, tough.

Mark is a funeral director and all too often over the last thirteen years he has buried clients of ours. Young clients of ours. Painfully young. In my mobile phone I have the numbers for almost fifty dead people. Fifty dead clients. I should delete them, but I don't. Average age? Maybe thirty. How? The usual. Drug overdoses. Or the gradual physical disintegration Class A's bring to the party. Or the slow inexorable drip, drip poisoning that is alcoholism. Or suicide when life has just gotten way too dark. Or the sharp end of the violence that stalks to streets of addiction.

How many in all? In thirteen years? In a small town in the South West corner of Scotland? Maybe 80? Maybe 100? Maybe 200? Too many. Way, way too many.

When young people die from drink, drugs, violence or despair it is an unimaginably terrible time for their families. These are very worst of funerals. And sadly over the years Mark has had far too much practice when it comes to finding the right words. The right tone. A way to help families to say goodbye to a loved one to fell on the wrong side of the tracks.

Well he does it and he does it superbly. We have shared this desperate place for 13 years. At First Base, we try to stop the worst thing in the world from happening. If it happens, then Mark tries to find a way to make the unbearable a little more bearable for the families who are left behind.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we share the sharp end of things with Mark. The darkest of the dark places where things get so broken they will never, ever be fixed. So to receive such an unbelievable vote of confidence from Mark means one hell of a lot, believe me.

Thanks Mark.

I guess that is about it for now. What was a mountain to climb has become a relatively small hill over the course of a week. We still need another £9000 so please continue to help us out if you can. I am pretty sure there are a few more folk in the pipeline who are going to spend half a week eating one of our food parcels and raising some cash. Fancy having a go? If you do, give me a bell on 01387 279680 or 07770 443483. Or you can e mail me at markglenmill@aol.com.


And once again. Thanks guys. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

OUR FOODBANK IS RIGHT ON THE FUNDING CLIFF EDGE AND WE REALLY, REALLY NEED YOUR HELP.

Right now everything seems pretty much all well with the world. I'm sat out in the garden and the sky above is of the wall to wall blue variety. The dogs are panting, the cats are basking and the birds are auditioning for a Disney film. It has to be said sunshine and rural Scotland make a great fit. If only they got the chance to spend more quality time together.

Will it last? Of course it won't. Maybe we'll get another day or two. Maybe even a week. But there is no getting away from the fact it is all but dark by half past nine. In a few short weeks all of this late summer idyll stuff will be a distant memory. In a few short weeks the Atlantic storms will bring forth their bone chilling damp greyness and another winter will anounce itself.

Over the years I have become accustomed to the day when winter smashes in the front door like an anti-terror SWAT team. The temperature dives a few degrees and everyone digs into the back of the wardrobe for winter coats. Hey guys, I'm here. Glad to see me? Sure you are.

It is the day when hundreds of thousands of people have to face up to feeding their power meter for the first time in months. It is the day when the cold hard fact of a summer's worth of standing charges smacks them in the face like the cold wind off the Atlantic. A long summer's worth of sneaky standing charges mean a rude awakening. It means putting a tenner in and only being granted a couple of quid's worth of heating. It means at least another tenner is required to feed the beast.

It means a familiar moment of choice has arrived. It's the heating or eating moment. And the house is bloody cold and damp and idea of not being able to warm the place up is hard to get the head around. And the kids are already layered up and still they look pinched and miserable as sin. It is the day when meters all over the land swallow up every penny of disposable income. It is the day when heating is invariably chosen over eating as the chosen home for the last tenner in the purse.

And then? Then it is Citizens Advice or the social or a support worker. A piece of paper issued. A referral made. A walk to number six Buccleuch St and the bell over our front door goes dingaling. Then it is few days worth of emergency food because the meter has eaten up the last tenner in the purse.

For all of us at First Base it is the day when we see thirty people for the first time in months. It is the day when e mails land in the box from our satellite collection points reporting an urgent need for stock replenishment. It is the day when winter bites. It is the start of a long few months. A desperate kind of showtime. The shape of the time to come. Tales of woe counted out in their thousands. Beaten eyes and kids with pinched faces. Tragic feelings of guilt and shame you can't persuade away. The dismal, weary reality of Great Britain in the post Lehman Brothers, post Brexit world.

All of this can seem a long way away on a sunny morning in August. But it isn't a long way away. It is a couple of months away. Maybe three months with an Indian summer and a following wind. It is time to plan. It is time for the dreaded speadsheet. So yesterday I opened up the dreaded spreadsheet and of course it told the story it always tells in August – a story which might be given the working title of 'Oh Christ, here we go again....'

Ah the spreadsheet. Numbers shuffled and added and combined care of Microsoft Excel. A numeric projection of what a cash starved little front line charity needs to make it through its year end at the end of March. It offers a chance to try spot every saving that might be found. A hundred pounds here and fifty pounds there. Oh it all adds up of course, but it never adds up enough to change the big picture.

And the big picture stinks to high heaven, just like it always stinks to high heaven on a sunny day in August. The spreadsheet tells me what I already know. First Base needs just over £40,000 to make it through to the year end. First Base has just over £20,000 to achieve this. Which means that First Base just about has the cash to make it through to Christmas. And then? Then a blank sheet of paper. A bloody nightmare. Twenty five people a day needing emergency food from people who haven't found a way to pay the rent or keep the lights on.

We've been here before of course. Lots of times. But it doesn't make it any easier. Every year it seems the pot of cash charities like First Base aim at gets smaller and smaller for a hundred and one different reasons. You will be all too familiar with many of these reasons. In the post Lehman Brothers world, austerity has ruled the roost. Cutting lifeblood cash to frontline charities is a pretty easy cut for Governments and Councils to make. It's a damned sight easier than making their own people redundant. We have been the low hanging fruit for nearly a decade. This means charities who have been council funded for years are all of a sudden council funded no more. They have yawning gaps to fill. And so they frantically apply to the same shrinking pots of cash as the rest of us. The grant donating Trusts are being swamped like never before as more charities chase less available cash. Believe me, it isn't pretty. The giant super charities with chief execs on £150,000 a year try mightily to use their muscle and size to squeeze smaller outfits like ours into oblivion. Other charities change what they do as they seek a new gravy train to jump on. Application forms become documents of little more than far fetched fantasy.

It's a seriously ugly business, believe me. And in the end it is little more than a lottery. Every filled in application form is little more than a wing and a prayer. A one in five chance of a few quid. Maybe one in ten. And all the while it is impossible not to think of the front door being closed and locked on a cold January day when twenty five people turn up looking for something to eat.

So. It's time to think out of the box. It's time for a big new idea. It's time to ask for every bit of help we can lay our hands on. We have gone all the way back to basics. To brass tacks. And here is what we have come up with.

We need cash. £20,000 of cash. Which means we need to ask people to help us to raise cash for us. How? Well, more often than not people say 'please sponsor me for doing this thing'. It might be parachuting or climbing Kilimanjaro. We prefer something much more straight forward. So back to basics. What do we do? We hand out emergency food. How long can a person feed themselves with one of our emergency food parcels? Half a week.

So the solution seems pretty obvious. It's a back to basics solution.

'Please sponsor me for living off a First Base emergency food parcel for half a week.'

It's a whole lot less complicated than jumping out of a plane.

So how does this idea work? Pretty easily. If you are willing to help us out, just give me a call on either 07770 443483 or 01387 279680. Or you can e mail me at markglenmill@aol.com. I will then arrange a time to call round with a box full of emergency food. I will also bring a signed set of my books by way of a thank you. Then there are a couple of options. If you want to go old school, I will bring some sponsorship forms. If you want to go digital, you can set up a page on JustGiving. To be honest we prefer the Just Giving option as it means that almost all of the donations will attract an extra 20% worth of Gift Aid. Let's face it, most of us find the idea of clawing 20% of our tax money back from the clutches of the right honourable Philip Hammond MP pretty appealing.

I am doing it myself. If you want to check out what a JustGiving page looks like then click on the link below.

 

As you can see from the food in the picture, living off one of our emergency food parcels for half a week really isn't any great hardship. We try hard to make our fod parcels as good as they can be and thanks to the monumental generosity of our local community we are able to offer much more than beans and value porridge.

Are we a worthy cause? Worth the effort? Well, I hope we are. Not only do we find a way to provide food to 4000 people who cannot afford to buy food, we also find ways to help to tell their stories. By and large those who come to us for help are the forgotten people. Nobody much wants to hear their dismal stories. Their suffering is swept under the carpet. We do our best to give them a voice. We nag the hell out of local politicians to come along to serve food parcels themselves. To get an up close and personal look at what austerity looks like in the flesh. And we name and shame the ones who never reply to our invitation. We nag the hell out of newspapers and radio and the TV to help tell the stories we hear at the front desk. And then of course there is this blog of mine which over the last few years has attracted the thick end of 400,000 visitors.

For a very small charity in a very small Scottish town, we reckon we have managed to find a surprisingly loud voice on behalf of those who have none. We don't claim to solve the problems of the world. Instead we do what we can. Over the last year or two we have managed to halve our costs. Now there are no cuts left to make, not so long as we plan to open up our doors for five days a week.

So I guess that is about that for my sob story. If you can help, please help. We need it. Maybe you might be willing to bung a donation onto my JustGiving page here.

 


Even better, maybe you will order in a box of emergency food and open up a page of your own. If you do, then we will be meeting up soon. I hope the kettle is on. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

THERE'S A GAPING HOLE IN THE MIDST OF THE ENDLESS XENOPHOBIC GOUGH SPOUTED BY TRUMP AND FARAGE.


One night last week I was watching a Channel Four news piece from the Donald Trump inauguration in Ohio. There was much that seemed familiar. The Trump acolytes had the same look and feel of many of those who took to the streets a month ago to celebrate Brexit. They were old and white and angry and overweight and most of time mad as a bag of frogs.

Sure they were a little more crazy than their counterparts on this side of the pond, but that’s America right? When it comes to doing crazy they are in a league of their own. Ever since Brexit we have shuddered at the steep rise in racist abuse and hate crime. But at least our hate tends to mean slagging off the lad behind the counter of the corner shop for being a nasty, smelly Paki. At least we don’t shoot him through the head. Well. Not yet.

The news piece was taking a ten minute dig into the lives of the people who see voting Trump as a ticket to a future of milk and honey. Not surprisingly this involved a journey to the heart of trailer park America. All the usual iconic images of 21st Century post industrial misery rolled across the screen. Rusted up steel mills in the process of being re-absorbed into nature. Boarded up shop fronts. Soulless fast food joints. Miserable faces. Lots and lots of seriously fat people.

And then we were whisked away to the fields of California where gangs of Mexicans were picking the fruit under a blazing sun.

And three things struck me.

Number one was the sight of so many very, very fat black people. This was something which came as a pretty major culture shock when I was in America a few years ago. Think about it. How often do you ever see a fat black person on our side of the pond? Not often. Most of our younger generation of Black Britons look like they are ready to throw on an pair of boxing trunks and fight for a light heavyweight title. When we were in Brooklyn the average weight of the local gang bangers was north of eighteen stones.

Then there were all the disability scooters. I recalled an article in the run up to Brexit from the doomed streets of the Welsh Valleys. The reporter was chasing up and down the blighted post industrial areas of Britain to try and get a handle on the reasons why the forgotten people in the forgotten towns were so hell bent on blaming foreigners for all of their ills. The reporter picked up on the fact that town centres which were home to lots of disability scooters tended to be the town centres where xenophobia was at its highest.

Finally was the extraordinary comparison between the xenophobes in the trailer parks and the Mexicans in the fields. The ones who were doing all of the hating and gearing up to vote for the Donald seemed to be in dreadful physical shape. The Mexicans on the other hand were as lean as whippets and had the look of Roberto Duran in his prime.

The comparison was of the night and day variety.

Back in the trailer park the message was the same as the one that was to be heard from Rotherham to Walsall to Clacton in the run up to Brexit.

I’m not a racist, but….

There are too many of them....

They are taking all the jobs…

There is no work for us…

They are dragging down wages….

Which of course nicely sets up the Trump/Farage solution.

Built a wall and lock the gates.

Get shut of all these nasty immigrants and there will be great jobs for all and everyone will have a 50 inch 3D tele and three weeks in the Canary Isles.

Then I remembered another Channel Four piece from a ceramics factory in the Brexit heartland of Stoke. First we heard from a few of the middle aged white female workers who were throwing and glazing pots.

Too many of them. They’re taking all the work and filling up the hospitals and schools and getting all the houses and being paid £500 a week by the social…….

All the same old same old.

Next came an interview with the guy who owned the factory. He had the Stafford accect of someone who was clearly born and bred Stoke. He explained how he had tried everything he could think of to recruit local Stoke people to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors to become pot throwers.

No chance. Nothing worked. Why? He had no idea. So what was he supposed to do? Close the doors and give up? Without the East Europeans he would have had to shut down years ago. He had no explanation. He merely told it as it was.

It is a story we here over and over again from those who run factories or farms. They can’t recruit local people to do the job. So they load up on Lithuanians and Poles. What the hell else are they going to do?

What indeed.

And then it hit me that there as more to the pictures from America. The Trump brigade from the trailer park were in no kind of shape to even think of doing what the Mexicans were doing. Twelve house straight bent almost double picking fruit? No chance. They wouldn’t make the mid morning break. How long would it take for them to get themselves into the same kind of shape as the Mexicans? Months and months at best. More probably never.

For decades those at the very bottom of the pile in Britain and America have lived the most unhealthy lives imaginable. Most of the blame for this has to be shouldered by the food industry which has found a million different ways to mask vast amounts of reconstituted fat with sugar and fancy packaging. When all is said and done, 24 frozen sausages in a box for 99p just can’t be right. Throw in all the cheap booze and all the nasty pound shop recreational drugs and it is hardly surprising so many people are in such permanently lousy nick.

A hundred and fifty years ago the poor were hammered by TB and dysentery and rickets. Now it is obesity and anxiety and depression and addiction.

So what happens if there are no Mexicans or Poles to come in and do the jobs which require ten hours straight of hard physical graft? The jobs just won’t get done. And these jobs are kind of important, especially when it comes to food production.

Nobody likes to own up to this dismal fact, most of all politicians. It is so easy to peddle the Farage/Trump line. Get the foreigners out and everything will be hunky dory. The problem is that such infantile logic is complete and utter gough. We see this every single day at First Base as we hand out food parcels. Fair enough our clients are unable to get themselves anything to eat, but they don’t look like the victims of a Sub Saharan famine. The majority are in lousy shape, physically and mentally. Most are being propped up by different breeds of happy pills from their GP and their local dealer. They have very little energy or self confidence. Give them a job starting at half past seven tomorrow morning and they wouldn’t last until noon.

I’m not getting preachy here. Back in 2003 when the Foot and Mouth crisis was all over Dumfries and Galloway I got myself onto one of the clean up teams as part of my research for my book ‘The Cull’. I was in my early forties and carrying way to much timber and it was the first time I had done manual work for years. The job entailed twelve hours a day with a power washer and it all but wrote me off. I did if for six weeks. It felt like six years.

Despite being overweight I have always been reasonably fit. My diet is OK. I am well enough used to getting up early. Fair enough, I smoke like a chimney. Despite all this, that six weeks all but killed me.

Was it that hard? Not really. Not when compared to pulling potatoes or standing on a packing line. I remembered the time when we had a mill in Lancaster. Back then the main thing Robert and Harold did to decide if a likely lad was really a likely lad was to check out their hands. Anyone with rough calloused hands had a chance of getting a start. Anyone with hands like mine was told thanks but no thanks. I told them they were Dickensian. They told me I was na├»ve. I have no doubt if the mill was still running today Robert and Harold would have selected a workforce made up entirely of lads from Poznan or Vilnius.

The problem is for thirty years we have swept millions of poor people under the carpet and pretended they aren’t actually there. We have signed them off sick and given them just about enough money to shop in Farmfoods and drown their sorrows with Frosty Jacks and to plane off the sharp edges with street valium at a£1 a pill. Many are barely literate and most are in woeful physical nick. It sounds awful, but it is dismally true. There is no point being in denial and signing up for the Trump/Farage Walt Disney view of the world. The reality is a bleak one. We simply do not produce people who are capable of doing the nuts and bolts jobs which keep the show on the road. Well. Not nearly enough of them. To make up the shortfall we import fit, ambitious young people who have lived lives which make them more than capapble to doing twelve hours worth of hard graft.
 
To make thinks worse, we have told our young people a pack of lies. We have conned 50% of them into getting themselves into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt to earn a university degree barely worth the paper it is written on. We don’t have an economy remotely capable of giving 50% of young people well paid graduate jobs. Maybe 20%? Maybe. And is it really so surprising the ones who have worked so hard for their piece of expensive paper are not overly keen on picking spuds for minimum wage?

The fact that not a single front line politician seems willing to own up to this grim set of facts speaks volumes. Of course people need to do their best to talk the country up. I get that. It’s part of the job description. But constantly indulging in complete denial does none of us any favours. Even if we started now to better prepare the generations to come, it would take years and years before we might be remotely capable of managing without importing huge numbers of immigrants to make sure everything doesn’t go to hell in a handcart.

We should count ourselves lucky there are so many immigrants willing to come and do all the work we can’t manage ourselves.

Fat chance.

Instead the towns where mobility scooters fill the pavements will continue to hate foreigners and to live in the Trump/Farage dream world.