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.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

DO YOU LIVE IN NITHSDALE? IF YOU DO, FIRST BASE NEEDS YOUR HELP. PLEASE CAST AN ONLINE VOTE TO HELP US SECURE THE FUNDING TO HELP OUT 1500 PEOPLE WITH EMERGENCY FOOD.


In these times of untrammelled mayhem and spectacular ineptitude, it is kind of hard to make a blog about small charity bidding for some Council funding stand out from the crowd.

And you know what? I reckon such a challenge is nigh on impossible. So I guess the best approach is to crack on and tell it like it is.

THE MONEY ON THE TABLE

Dumfries and Galloway Council have allocated £200,000 for charities who do their best to help out people who are lost in poverty. Charities like First Base.

So how do we make a pitch for a share of the spoils? It is straight forward enough. Step one is a pretty simple application form. Who are we? What do we do? How do we help alleviate poverty?

So far, so good. We are the First Base Agency. We're a small independent charity. We been doing our thing since 2003. We help out 5000 people a year with emergency food parcels.

The Council wallahs duly signed off and sent our bid forward to the next stage. Basically, the cash is divied up, and each of Dumfries and Galloway's four regions have a pot of their own. We have bid for funding in Nithsdale and Annandale and Eskdale. This week Nithsdale makes its choice as to who gets the cash.

At this point the decision as to who gets the money and who doesn't is passed over to the public. Yeah. As in me. As in you. As in us. We're talking democracy in the raw. The fancy term is 'Participatory Budgeting'. Aye. I know. Quite a mouthful. In layman's terms it means we the community get to participate in how the Council spends it's budget. In even plainer layman's terms, we get the chance to vote for who we want to get the cash.

HOW DOES THE PUBLIC VOTE?

Two ways.

If you live in Nithsdale and you are over the age of 12, you have the right to have your say. You can either vote on line or you can vote in person.

If you prefer the online option, then follow the link below


It should take you no more than five minutes. You'll get asked for your name, e mail address, date of birth and postcode and then you make your pick.

And hopefully First Base will be your first choice.

SO WHAT WILL WE SPEND THE MONEY ON IF ENOUGH PEOPLE VOTE FOR US?

Well that is a question which is easily enough answered. We have bid for £9500. We'll spend the money on making emergency food parcels available from a total of 12 collection points right the way across Nithsdale. From Kirkconnel to Dalbeatie and all points in between.

The money will enable us to help out about 1500 people at the moment their lives pretty much hit rock bottom.

About half of these people will come into our main base on Buccleuch St in Dumfries. Others will use our various collection points. Libraries. Social Work offices. The Homeless Department. Housing Associations. Even an animal sanctuary on the edge of Sanquhar.

Each parcel contains enough food for half a week's worth of eating. The ingredients are not Fortnum and Mason. Instead they are filling and easy to prepare. Breakfast, lunch and dinner with a few snacks thrown in.

Our job is to give people a lift at the moment their life hits a very low point.

What else should you know? Well this is pretty key. When anyone finds the courage to come forward to ask for our help, they are never, ever judged. We don't meet them with a clipboard's worth of innappropriate and intrusive questions. We don't subject them to Dickensian means testing. We don't look to separate the so called 'deserving poor' from the so called 'undeserving poor'.

Instead we simply help them out with half a week's worth of food. And then we never, ever gossip about it.

We are well aware that foodbanks have become the last outpost of a Welfare State which is withering on the vine. Sadly, we live in a time when there are more and more desperate people in our midst. We all know all about the reasons for this. There is no need to go over old ground.

Let's just say things certainly ain't getting any better. We are going to have to help out an awful lot of people in the next year and £9500 is a big deal for us.

If you live in Nithsdale and you are reading this blog, then there is a better than even chance you've heard something about First Base and what we do. If this is the case, I hope you will reckon we are worth 5 minutes of your online time. That is what it takes for you to cast a vote for us. Like I said before, just follow the link below.


Alternatively you can come along to Wallace Hall School in Thornhill between 11 am and 3 pm on Saturday afternoon. We will be there touting for votes and it would be good to see you.

So. I reckon that is about it. Thanks for giving this a read and even bigger thanks if you have taken the trouble to give us your vote.

Over to you guys. Just follow the link below. Please. And please share this blog with your friends.



Tuesday, January 29, 2019

ARE YOU SICK OF HEARING ABOUT WHAT BRENDA FROM BLOODY BRISTOL THINKS? I CERTAINLY AM.

I don't know about you, but every time I hear the words 'Brenda from Bristol' I feel a near overwhelming urge to put a brick through the tele. As soon as anyone utters words like 'election' or 'referendum', news reporters make like they have been thoroughly brain washed in some North Korean re-education camp.

The very second they hear the word 'election', they hit auto pilot and start prattling on about Brenda from bloody Bristol. "Ohhhhh! Well Brenda from Bristol won't be happy!"

Every sodding time.

I often wonder if things might have been rather different had the sainted Brenda not spoken her words of wisdom in a mildly comical West Country accent. What if she had been bog standard Surrey? I don't suppose the news room editors would have shown a shred of interest in her. What got their attention were dulcet tones which hinted at pasties and scrumpy and 'Ahha Jim lad!'

'I've got a brand new combine harvester and I'll give you the key...'

This is a new favourite when the news covers issues like Brexit or Indyref 2. Send some frantic wannabe reporter out onto the streets of some dismal back water where most of the shops are boarded up and get them to breathlessly interview a bunch of the usual suspects. Not surprisingly, if you pitch up on a high street in Barnsley or Clacton at two in the afternoon on a weekday, well you're not likely to catch hold of anyone who is actually in work. Instead, if a following wind is in your sails, you'll hook some miserable septugenarian racist who is on the brink of having a rant about too many nig nogs before a flustered wife gives him a sharp elbow in his dessicated ribs. Another favourite vox pop is the wild eyed, rattling heroin user who is hoping to extract a tenner in exchange for an in depth opinion on Brexit and the prospect of a free trade deal with Gabon.

Any normal human being doing a normal job is avoided like the plague. They are deemed to be far too boring. Every news editor in the land is frantically searching for the next Brenda.

Of course, most pieces will have a short clip from a business owner who is granted a few seconds to explain why bankrupcy is waiting around the corner. But thirty seconds is more than enough. Balance, right? At the end of the day, businessmen who actually know a bit about what they are talking about are just too boring. I mean, come on. It's the kind of thing which gets people to reach for the remote control and switch channels. No. We can't be having any of that rubbish. So instead we are provided with a constant diet of spitting mad racists on mobility scooters.

I am waiting in vain for some pundit to erupt in righteous rage at being told Brenda from Bristol won't be happy. It would be nice if they just let all the social niceties drop to the floor and scream at the top of their voice 'WHO GIVES A SHIT ABOUT BRENDA FROM BASTARDING BRISTOL!!!!'

Well. OK. Not so very likely. Not the kind of behaviour the BBC would tolerate.

They could maybe point out that Brenda from Bristol lives in a country where she has plenty of choices. If she feels there is too much politics in the air, then she is more than free to switch channels or do some knitting or read a boody book. Bristol is not living in Pol Pot's Cambodia where she might have been required to spend ten hours a day listening to political instruction and getting the soles of her feet smacked about with bamboo canes should she show so much as trace of boredom.

They could point out the simple truth that if Brenda doesn't want to take twenty minutes out of her busy schedule to go and caste her vote then she doesn't have to take twenty minutes out of her frantic schedule to go and cast her vote. It is up to her. She is more than welcome to join the 30% of her fellow citizens who don't bother. Free country, right?

The news could spend a few minutes digging out some archive footage to put Brenda's words into some kind of perspective. Like millions of South Africans queuing up for two days to cast their first vote, a vote Nelson Mandela paid for with thrity years of his life. They could show queues at polling stations in Poland and Hungary and Latvia and Romania in the years after the Berlin Wall came down. They could show the Alabama police beating the living daylights out of any black man or woman bold enough to try and cast a vote.

Last month they had a so called election in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It seems like lots of bad stuff went down as the Kabila regime cracked down hard on the people to make sure the result came out right. All the usual stuff. Murders. Beatings. Torture. We don't really know because the government in Kinshasa blacked everything out. No landlines. No mobile phones. No internet. No Facebook. No Twitter. No nothing. A vast curtain of blackness was thrown all the way from the Congo Delta in the west to the Mountains of the Moon in the east. A thousand miles worth of clampdown.

We're more than happy to wax lyrical about the wonders of democracy when we drop that very same democracy from 30,000 feet on Fallujah or Tripoli. But when it comes to democracy at home, it seems like things are rather different. All of a sudden the most important fact to consider is how Brenda from Bristol will feel about having an open polling station in the primary school at the bottom of her street.

It's beyond pathetic. It took us hundreds of years to reach the point when everyone over the age of 18 has the right to vote. A lot of people got themselves beaten to a pulp before this was the case. Do we ever hear the politicians who are supposed to work for us point this out? Not a chance. Instead they go along with the Brenda from Bristol nonsense and make out that giving people the chance to spend twenty minutes casting a vote is akin to asking them to do a twelve hour shift down a Colombian coal mine.

Once the pundits have run through their Brenda from Bristol speel, they will then move on to worried faces and warning about just how divisive allowing the great unwashed a chance to vote is going to be. My God, there will be marauding gangs of neo Nazis on every High St! And then they will go all pale and horrified at the memory of the near civil war that broke out all across Scotland in September 2014. Oh my God, the sheer horror of it. Burning cars and gun battles on Princes Street and Molotov cocktails in Aidrie.

Well. Jim Murphy was hit by an egg and........

For Christ's sake.

Is it too much to ask for a news reporter to utter a few simple words. Like these simple words.

'Let's face it. Asking people to vote is no big deal. It doesn't cost anything. It takes 20 minutes. The streets will not be set on fire. Oh, and by the way. Millions of people all over the world would give their eye teeth to get the chance. Sorry? What was that ...... Brenda? ... Brenda from Bristol? ... well she's just one grumpy old woman, right? I dare say she spends her days droning about more or less everything from never winning when she spends a fiver on scratch cards to the last episode of Coronation St.....'

Yup.

That would be good.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

MILLIONS OF ENGLISH LEMMINGS ARE STARTING TO JUMP AND JIVE ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF. WHICH MEANS IT'S HIGH TIME FOR US SCOTS TO LEAVE THEM TO IT.

OK

So here's a small selection of recently released facts which are worth scrutiny. You know. Sit back. Light up a cigarette if that is your thing. Allow a bigger picture to take shape. To emerge.

First up, this week's super rich stuff. Here are the bare, gold plated bones. As of last week, the curtain has been drawn back. 26 multi billionaires now own the same share of the world's wealth as the poorest four billion. Planet earth is now home to 2200 billionaires and their collective treasure trove goes up by $2.5 billion a day.

Yeah. I know. Regular readers will know this is familiar enough turf. A couple of years ago the same stats showed 85 individuals owned more than half the world. Now it's 26. I guess in a couple of years time it will be less than ten.

And sure, it sucks. Unless mankind finds a way to discover some collective sanity, the only outcome will be revolutions all the way from New York to Newport. And it won't be pretty. It never is.

But the stinking pile of rotting fish nature of these statistics hides a more subtle point. Think about it. If the super rich of the world are shovelling in $2.5 billion a day's worth of extra treasure, where are they going to stash their troves. Surely this must be boom time for London, the long preferred bolt hole for the world's bent politicians and organised crime bosses. Surely the cost of those mansions in Belgravia must be rising as fast as the cost of a box of value range corn flakes?

Well. Actually.....

Well actually, no it isn't. Over the last year, property prices in Belgravia, Mayfair and Kensington have fallen by 25%. It seems like the 0.1% are stashing their cash elsewhere. Ouch. I mean that's got to hurt. Maybe after all these years, London's three card trick ain't working any more. And if the dirty money of the world suddenly stops beating a path to London's door, then what is actually left?

When Britain lost 90% of its Empire in the twenty years after the end of the war, those cunning boys of the City of London were quick on their well shod feed. They replaced a hard Empire with a new virtual Empire which needed neither soldiers nor gunboats to achieve it's ends. They created a place called 'Off Shore'. An archipeligo of treasure islands dotted around the world. 

Once upon a time to reap the benefits of an oil field in Nigeria, we would have boots on the ground and gunships in the bay to oversee the looting. In the virtual reality of the offshore world, such costly unpleasantness was no longer required. Instead all that was required was the right kind of good old boy from the right kind of school to pay a nice fat bribe to some local type, an lo and behold, all the profits came to us anyway. To the City. To Jersey. To the British Virgin Isles. And the local type in question would be shown a red carpeted road all the way to a nice multi million pound pad in Hampstead or Chelsea and never mind the nicities of the immigration paper work. A few billion quid earns you the absolute right not to have to do the paperwork.

Well, obviously.

And it has worked very nicely thank you for a good six decades. Until all of a sudden it seems to have stopped working. And the gilded mansions are dropping in price as quickly as a twenty four tonne load of fresh prawns stuck in a sixty mile traffic jam in Kent.

Attracting the dirty money of the world was enough to keep England afloat for over half a century. When you have all those tens of billions beating a path to your door, well, why bother with vulgar things like factories and coal mines and ship yards. The idea of industry was deemed to be so last century, no line of work for good chaps from good schools looking to make a quick buck.

But there's a pretty big problem with all this malarky. Basically the English economy is little more than a huge Ponzi scheme. So long as the cash pours in, all is tickety boo. No need for factories and all the boring stuff. Who needs to make money when you can provide a home for money other people have stolen? 

So long as they keep on bringing their cash..

What happens when they move on to pastures new? A 25% drop in house prices at the top end of the market, that's what happens.

In the post colonial era, the UK has relied on two areas of the country to raise the cash to pay all the bills. London and the South East of Enland have surfed the dirty money wave for all it's worth and imported millions of wide eyed Europeans to do the jobs any self respecting south easterner wouldn't go near. You know. Teaching and road sweeing and bin collecting and coffee serving and nursing.

And the other area? Us, of course. Scotland. The oldest cash cow of them all, and no matter how hard London has tried, it has never managed to do an India and rob us right down to the light sockets. We still generate lots of cash by doing real stuff. You know. Whisky and wind power and timber and beef and oil and prawns. We actually still do the exporting thing. Which probably explains why house prices in Edinburgh have gone up by 10% while Kensington has hit the bricks.

More to the point, we haven't gone down the road of blaming immigrants for everything. People with different languages and skin colours kind of like bringing their talents to Scotland. They find themselves welcome and appreciated as opposed to being told to fuck off home.

All of which brings me to fact number two. A Channel 4 news piece from a food distribution centre in the South East somewhere. An Indian owner with the world on his shoulders. He points to a forty foot container. Two years ago it would cost him £400 to ship the container from A to B. Now? Now it is £800. And why? Because nobody can find enough people to make it happen. Fork lift drivers and HGV guys and clerks in the office. He has a bunch of vacancies and no applicants. Why? Many of his European workers have heeded the word on the street and duly 'fucked off home'. Leaving no bugger willing to do the work.

Both of these completely unrelated facts tell the same kind of tale. The London con trick is unravelling by the day. The super rich are parking their money elsewhere whilst the aspiring poor are doing much the same with their ambition and energy. Net result? Violent crime up 20%. Prisons turning into Mad Max and A&E looking like something out of Vietnam. And every piece of bad evening news is prefaced with the words '....in England and Wales.'

So what of the man on the street? What is his or her reaction to this grinding deline into Christ knows what?

Well we see it on the news every night. Blame it all on Brussels and immigrants and treacherous bastards guilty of the crime of being young and smart. Across great swathes of England, the Brexit lemmings are starting jump and jive on the top of the cliff. When in doubt, scream 'Fuck you' at the top of your voice. All of sudden we seem to be hearing a lot about the good old days when we came out on the winning side of world wars. Who gives a shit if things get bad? Bring it on. Eating whale meat is a price worth paying so long as it wipes the smiles of the faces of all those young people with their fancy coffees and their Nig Nog friends.

And Germany is the bad guy again. Retro, or what!

The polls are telling a story which is impossible to ignore. The English are losing the plot and starting to yearn for a return to Spitfires in the sky and white faces in the corner shop. And if that means burning everything down, then fuck it, let it burn......

The English are starting to look a lot like the mate who always gets into a scrap once they get pissed. You know the type. We all know someone like that. And eventually you have to start ignoring their Friday night calls. Not worth the hassle. Oh, they are right as rain where they're sober... But once they get a few pints down their neck..... Nah. Not worth it. Best avoided.

Thankfully the rest of the world can see the difference. They can see clearly enough we Scots are not going down the road of Spitfires and hating Germans and brown people. We have their sympathy. And they wonder why on earth we don't just cut the cord and get ourselves as far from the demented cliff edge lemmings as we can.

And you know what? They're absolutely right.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

JOHN AND HIS FAMILY HAVE AT LAST MADE IT THE END OF THE BEGINNING OF THEIR LONG JOURNEY TO BECOMING SCOTTISH

Right now, at this very minute, as my cold fingers produce these words, thousands of desperate souls are setting out on a journey most of us cannot begin to comprehend.

They are gathered in dusty courtyards in the desert city of Agadez in Niger. I was there in 1980 when the world was unrecognisable from the world today. I remember a place of one storey buildings and the first trees I had seen in weeks. We had crossed the Sahara from north to south and Agadez was the town when mankind finally was able to find a toehold. There were bored soldiers and the relics of the French Empire. A dilapidated old colonial club with no electricity, beer as warm as tea and a swimming pool filled with thousands of tiny frogs. In the morning the cries from the minarets were haunting in the oven warm air of the dawn. By the mid afternoon, it was too hot to walk fifty yards.

And my lasting memory? The crumbling toilets in the old colonial club. My eyes catching sight of something dangerous. A shaven head and a fierce pair of eyes. Burned brown skin and raggedy clothes. My half pissed brain started to sober up fast. Fight of flight........

And then I was suddenly frozen to the spot. The danger wasn't danger after all. The danger was a mirror. My first mirror in six weeks. The eyes staring back at me were none other than my own. Different eyes in a different me.

Agadez was the end of our journey across the burning vastness of the desert. Today it is the beginning of the journey north for the thousands who are willing to cash in their every chip to put their lives on the line for the chance of a life worth living.

Agadez means a place in the back of a Toyota 4x4 to dodge the soldiers and head out into the oven baked Saharan emptiness. And then, if a slow death of thirst is avoided? Then it is the lawless anarchy of the failed state which goes by the name of Libya. Warlords and people traffickers and the Italian Mafia. A spot on a dingy and a desperate bid for the shores of Southern Europe.

And then? Maybe weeks and months and years in an internment camp. Maybe the long slog north all the way to a tented village in the woods outside Calais or Dunkirk.

And then? A place in the back of a truck. A dingy on the cold, black waves of the Channel.

And then? A life off the grid. A sweat shop and a pound an hour. If that. Or worse.

We aren't all that happy at the the moment with the way things are going on these cold, rainy islands of ours. We're sick of the austerity and the inequality and the complete and utter lack of any kind of acceptable government. We're sick of the potholes in the roads and the boarded up shops on the high street. We're sick of hearing how many of us are eating care of foodbanks.

It is hard for us to imagine the kind of abject misery which drives all of those who are waiting in the heat and dust of Agadez to buy a place on the back of a Toyota 4x4 and the chance to play a desert version of Russian Roulette. It is hard to imagine our rainy islands as the promised land.

Not many make it. So many hurdles. The desert. The criminal gangs. The sea. Fortress Europe. Fortress Britain. The walls are high and mighty, no matter what the Trump-light hate mongers say

All of which maybe goes a little way to explaining the absolute joy which broke out in First Base two days ago. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with struggle of the Samuel family. We have been helping them to keep body and soul together in the cold, dark reality of Teresa May's much vaunted Hostile Environment for over three years now.

For many years they have been hanging on by their fingernails. They didn't cross the desert and the sea to come here. They spent every last penny they had on plane tickets and a work visa. And for many years they worked and paid their taxes. John started school and Dami finished school. They assumed they would be allowed to stay and work. They were wrong. After six years, the Home Office said thanks but no thanks. No more work visa. No more right to stay here. No more nothing. Time to pack your bags. Time to leave. We don't want the likes of you any more.

Then they made the smartest move of their lives. A bus ticket to the sanctuary of Scotland, a place where the BNP and Tommy Robinson don't even bother to try. They came to Dumfries and spent the last of their cash on a deposit and a month's worth of rent. And then all they had left was a wing and a prayer and a referral to a place called First Base who provide food to people who had no food. A place where the rules of Theresa May's hostile envionment don't apply.

Soon the town of Dumfries took the family to its heart, especially when their story hit the TV screens in the form of a BBC documentary called 'Breadline Kids'. No doubt thousands tuned in when the show was played live. More than a million have watched them on YouTube.

Soon the Scottish media were telling their story and hundreds of Scots were moved to donate money to the JustGiving page we had set up to keep the family afloat. The months flowed by and the Home Office hardened its approach. Every official letter threatened a return to mean streets of Lagos. Without family. Without funds. Without any kind of hope.

The Brexit vote empowered the newly minted Prime Minister to harden the Home Office into new depths of cruelty. Open racism spread through the streets of post-industrial England.

And to be honest, things looked pretty bleak. But thankfully the good folk of Dumfries never wavered. By hook or by crook, the community kept the family afloat. One by one, local politicians of every colour took up their cause. The Home Office disdainfully swatted away every entreaty from SNP and Labour MSP's. But when the newly elected Tory MP took up the family's torch, it made life a little more complicated for the hostile envronment merchants.

They overplayed their hand. They rejected the family's application for 'leave to remain' on bogus reasoning. They broke the law in black and white. On paper. In writing. They opened up a crack in the wall for the family's solicitors to ram a crow bar into.

I drove the family to Glasgow for a meeting with the solicitors fearing the worst. Instead they exuded genuine optimism. The Home Office had played arrogant hardball and set themselves up. And one thing hit me. The solicitor pointed out how lucky the family was to be in Scotland. To expose the mistakes of the Home Office required getting on for £2000 worth of legal fees. For a family living on fresh air, £2000 might as well have been £2 million. Had they been in England, they would have been doomed to a detention centre and a one way ticket to Lagos. Scotland provided legal aid and the keys to justice. Scotland offered the chance to fight the lawlessness of the Hostile Environment. Scotland had their backs.

And two days ago the news came through. They were granted to 'leave to remain in the United Kingdom'. They had finally arrived at the journey's end all the thousands of desperate souls in Agadez spend their every waking hour dreaming of.

They have made it. No detention centre. No return to the streets of Lagos where none of the local gangs would have believed in their being utterly penniless. Where the danger of John being kidnapped for ransom would have been of the 'clear and present' variety.

We have lots of bad days in First Base, but this was a good day. A day when for once we got the chance to enjoy a happy ending. The effort it has required to keep the family out of the clutches of the Home Office has been extraordinary. First Base has had to raise over £10,000 to pay their rent. Multiple Scottish newspaapers have fought their corner. Multiple MP's and MSP's have fought their corner. And the local community has never wavered. Not for a day. Not for a minute.

And now? Well the road ahead is still a long one. The family has made it to the end of the beginning. Their 'Leave to remain' is good for the next thirty months and then it must be renewed. Renewing will cost them £8000. After 5 years they will to find another £8000. And another £8000 after seven and a half years. And another £8000 after ten years. For ten years they will be eligible for no benefits other than access to the NHS. 'Leave to remain' means the right to work and pay taxes for the services everyone else uses. I guess over the coming decade they will send somewhere in the region of £50000 to the Treasury in the form of income tax and NI and VAT. Christiana will be a carer and Dami will become a midwife and John, well John might become more or less anything.

And then? Well after fifteen years and £80,000 worth of contributions, the family will finally arrive at their journey's end and be awarded their citizenship.

Hopefully when that day at last comes, the citizenship they will be awarded will be Scottish. For that is what they very much are now. Scottish and proud to be so. Proud and grateful and blessed to have become a part of the community which took them in and made them welcome.

And we should all be proud to. We should be proud of the road we Scots have chosen to travel. Proud to have resoundingly rejected the Farage poison.

Proud to be on the right side.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A TWENTIETH ANNIVERSAY BASH FOR A POST BREXIT PARCEL OF ROGUES.



Edward Bartholemew took a moment. A long moment.

He allowed himself a moment to sit back and take in the scene before him. It was certainly familiar enough. The panelled dining room had been familiar to him as far back as he could remember.

Lined up either side in front of him were his guests for the night. His comrades in arms. His partners in crime. His fellow travellers.

Two hours earlier, they had all been gleaming in their white tie and tails. Suited and booted. Dressed to kill. Now? Well, not so much. Ties were hanging loose and tailored jackets were carelessly tossed. The six white faces were brick red and shining. The four black faces were black and shining. The table was strewn with empty bottles. 

They were men in their prime and gone to seed at the same time. Their adbsurd collective wealth shouted itself from the rooftops in the form of ridiculously expensive formal wear and stretched waistbands.

He had travelled the longest road with three of them. All the way back to fourteen years old and the public school which had prepared them to lord it over an Empire which no longer existed. They had started out as the bullied and the buggered before completing a centuries old rite of passage to become bullies and buggerers themselves. Two more of the faces had joined his life at Oxford. Days of blind drunk vandalism in evening wear and the joys of designer dumb girls from the backwoods served up by the secretarial colleges. 

Five true blue Englishmen cut from the finest of cloth.

One Russian.

And four coal black men of the Dark Continent.

Christ. So many moons ago there were too many to count. And now they were all right here, right now. Red faced and loud in the midst of the ancient bricks and timbers of Bartholemew Hall.

Outside the window, the last gasp of the June sun was turning the rolling hills of Gloucestershire all kinds of crimsons and purples. Darkness was quietly swallowing his 1200 acres of fields and hedgerows.

Just like it had every night for nearly five hundred years.

And slowly his gaze came to rest on the portrait straight in front of him. Just like always. Just like when he was four and ten and twenty five and forty eight.

The founder of everything. The man who had first forged the silver spoon which had been passed from mouth to mouth over the rolling centuries.

He wasn't distracted by the frilly collar or the flowing wig. He was past that. Instead he stared deep into the long dead eyes of Issac Bartholemew.

For after all, here was the men who had changed everything. Issac had been a farmer of modest acreage and modest wealth. Comfortable enough, but a country mile from any kind of fast lane. Just about worthy of being called a squire.

And then the time had come when Issac had no otion but to choose a horse. Where should he hang his modest flag? With the King? Or with the upstart?

He chose Cromwell and the rest was history. His side won and he was duly rewarded with a tripling of his estate and bag of cash. And then he made his big move. The move which sent the Bartholemews of Gloucestershire all the way to the fast lane. He took his bag of cash and bet the whole lot on a quarter share in a slave ship headed out from Bristol to the Gold Coast.

His ship didn't succumb to either tropical storms or pirates. Instead it made it all the way to Barbados and back, and Issac duly doubled his pot of gold and he went on doubling it and doubling it again for the rest of his life. And so the train was set in motion.

Issac's son built Bartholemew Hall and aquired another 400 acres whilst at the same time riding the money making wave of the slave trade for all it was worth.

Issac's great grandson took a hundred years worth of accumulated wealth and used it to start up a bank under the family name. And for 250 years Bartholemews had plied a discreet trade from modest accommodation in the heart of the gilded square mile of the City of London.

Edward had taken up the seat of power at the age of 45 having learned the tricks of the family trade with all due diligence. 2003. Boom time. The New Labour love in with the City was running on full.

It was two years later when he had the chance to make like Issac and take his very own great leap forward.

One February morning. Grey outside. A thin rain. And a ten o'clock appointment vouched for by Digger Hyde-Barnes.

Nicky. Nicky short for Nicolai. Nicky, all dandied up by big bucks spent on Saville Row and exuding bucketloads of easy Russian charm. Nicky who had been a rising star of the KGB before the rotton roof of the Soviet Union had come crashing down. Nicky who had become the acceptable face of those who were pillaging Russia all the way down to the light sockets. Nicky who took a 1% commission to move the dark money into places of safety. Nicky who offered Bartholemews the key of the riches of the Wild East. Nicky who had done his homework on Edward Bartholemew who went by 'Fast Eddie' in the corridors and the boardrooms of the City.

It had been love at first sight. And the millions had rolled through Bartholemews to Jersey and the Isle of Man and all the way to the old slave islands of the Caribbean where Issac had built his fortune all the way back in the day.

Russian money enabled Bartholemews to glide easily through the Great Crash of 2007. And Nicky moved his gaze south to the dirty money of Africa.

By 2016, Fast Eddie Bartholemew was 56 and rich enough as to have no idea what he would ever spend his money on. And yet there was still an itch inside him. An itch for one last big move. One last big play.

And like a one, two from Mohammad Ali, it came to him. One. A conspiratorial Alex bursting with news hot off the Moscow presses. A tale so bizarre it was hard to believe. Contacts in the Kremlin. Polls from under the radar which made a 'Leave' vote look more than likely. The heft and  weight of the St Petersberg cyber kings thrown behind Farage and Johnson and their motley crew.

Why?

"For fuck's sake, Eddie. You ask me why? How can you ask me why? Your silly little country has 72 Trident missiles pointed at our cities. You think we like that? You think we're happy about that? Come on. Brexit will break Britain in half. Of course it will. What's there not to like? So why wouldn't we mobilise our army of unwashed, acne ridden geeks to nudge the Brexiters across the finish line"

Alex laid out the Kremlin's view of the long game. The UK was a fast aging country which had come to rely on cheap, free moving labour to keep the wheels turning. Could London even function without all those minimum wage cleaners and bin men and teachers and nurses living three to a room and sleeping in shifts? Could it fuck. And the Kremlin always played the long game better than anyone else.

So Fast Eddie bet 20% of the bank's net worth on shorting the pound in June 2016 and once again he won big. He won huge.

But that wasn't the thing. The thing came a few weeks later as the early Autumn sum made the ripening fields of Gloucestershire wheat a rolling sea of gold.

He was cracking a boiled egg when his eyes were caught by the stare of Issac Bartholemew from his place on the wall. And all of a sudden the pieces had fallen into place for his big play.

His huge play.

His very own long game. 

The biggest play any Bartholemew had made since Issac had hitched his wagon onto Cromwell's runnaway train.

Fast Eddie started making his plans to re-enter the old family business. A few days later, he punted his plans to Alex and all but popped the Muscovite's eyes out. And the Muscovite liked the plans. The Muscovite loved the plans.

In early 2017, a new company was quietly registered in the Brietish Virgin Isles and the ball was duly set rolling. A network of off shore connections umbically hooked the BVI mother to it's respectable offspring.

Dexter and Barnes London Plc.

Middle of the road. Unassuming. Reliable. Trustworthy. Laden with Directors of unimpeachable credentials. A balance sheet to make any accountant drool. MBE's and knighthoods littering the letterhead.

The best lobbying money could buy was duly engaged and ten years worth of patient drip, drip was delivered into the ears of Ministers of the Crown. And as the 2020's rolled by, Fast Eddie and Alex were proved right as almost every British institution started to fall apart due to lack of enough young people to make anything happen.

Not enough of anyone. Teachers and nurses and prison officers and bin men and fruit pickers and cleaners and coffee servers. The pound crashed, the economy fell into a permanant recession and Dexter and Barnes London Plc bided its time.

In 2031 the moment arrived. The House of Coomons voted by a majority of 234 to allow the importation of agency workers from all corners of the earth to clean the streets and pick the fruit for £2 per hour so long as they were housed in appropriate compounds and stayed for no longer than three years.

For years, Dexter and Barnes London Plc had been quietly buying up large, seemingly worthless post industrial properties at the rock bottom of the market. And now all the patient investment paid off as they exploded into life. They were first through the gates and then some.

Within two years, they had over a million Nigerians on tens of thousands of payrolls. Ten hours a day for £20 to send back home plus a dormitory bed and three meals per.

50p per hour commission for Dexter and Barnes London Plc. Half a million an hour. Five million a day. Clean and clear.

Within eighteen months the United States, Canada and Australia had followed London into the new, era and Dexter and Barnes London Plc was the market leader in every one. The EU fought to stay aloof until German pressure forced them into the club, and soon Dexter and Barnes London Plc ruled the roost all the way from the Med to the Baltic.

20 million Nigerians earning Dexter and Barnes London Plc £10 million an hour gross. Over £100 million a day.

More and more every day. And still they had a pool of 350 million Nigerians with an average age of 16 to fish in. 40 million souls? Piece of cake. 60 million? My dear chap, there's a queue at our door and the queue is a thousand miles long.

Fast Eddie and his guests had become the richest men in the world. They were the new masters of a new universe which had reverted back to old school rules.

Fast Eddie Bartholemew slowly rose to his feet wearing a trademark smile. He brought the old room to silence with a tapped spoon on a crystal glass.

"Gentlemen. Friends. It has been twenty years. The ride of our lives, don't you think? And here we all are. Older. Wiser. And a fucking site richer. So I would like you raise your glasses. A toast to my inspiration and my mentor. A toast to the man on the wall who set the ball rolling. Gentlemen, I give you our trailblazer. Issac Bartholemew. Gentlemen, I give you 'what goes around, comes around'."

Monday, December 24, 2018

IT IS TIME FOR ME TO SAY A WHOLE BUNCH OF THANKYOUS.


You know when you're at some kind of function and it is time for the speeches. And then it becomes clear the time has arrived for some poor sap to run through a list of thankyous. Yeah? The speaker knows only too well the audience is switching off like the British power supply circa 1974. Everyone appreciates the fact the thankyous need to be said. Of course they do. The problem is the process always involves copious amounts of boredom for all concerned.

So the speaker and the audience grit their collective teeth and find a way to get through it. Even the ones who are being thanked wish there was a way not to have to sit through being thanked.

Well, this is the situation I find myself here right now. Outside the field is shrink wrapped in frost and the sky is gleaming blue. Dog walking looks like a whole lot better Christmas Eve pastime thann blogging. However certain facts are unavoidable which means the key board needs to be hammered for the next hour or so.

Bare bone facts. On December 1, the First Base storage basement had the look and feel of a post Brexit supermarket. Swinging a cat would not have presented any kind of challenge. We could have happily swung Top Cat and the whole of his crew. I was slamming in daily online orders to Tesco and receiving dribs and drabs in return. Filling the required number of food parcels for any given day meant trawling round the shelves of Lidl and Aldi and Bookers to gather up the neccessary items.

And now? Well let's just say cat swinging has become a significant challenge. Our basement has gone from dismally thin to wall to wall packed.

In cold, hard numbers about £6000 worth of donated food has made its way to us over the last three weeks. Time and again I have pulled up with yet another stuffed van load and been met with rueful grins from Iain and Jason. Will it go in? Nae bother. And one way or another, they have found a way to stow away every tin and packet. The lads certainly need to be the recipients of the first vote of thanks. Believe me, the First Base basement is hardly the most cushty place of work, especially in the damp depths of December. The heating arrangements are similar to a Siberian labour camp and if I am honest, the space is ideal for any filmmaker looking to shoot a dark dungeon scene. Dami and Anne also need an honourable mention for the time they have spent in our in house fridge.

Rather than a tedious list, I think it might be better to throw you a few snapshots. But first, maybe a short overview.

When the Christmas period arrives, all kinds of familiar images and traditions are dusted off and stuck out on display. Peaople spend fortunes to stick illuminated reindeer shaped lights out on the lawn. When exactly did these Northern animals find their way into Christmas tradition? I guess it must have been at about the same time as the Santa myth fleshed out into a big guy in a red suit with a flying sleigh who could defy the laws of time and physics to make his way up and down endless millions of chinmeys without once getting any soot in his beard.

I am always pleased by the sudden appearances of lots of donkey images as the festive period arrives. As as donkey owner myself, I am more than happy to see lots of big ears on seasonal cards and wrapping paper. This is a busy time of year for donkeys. I Googled the bible coverage of Christ's birth to track this down a bit. It seems Mary made her way to Bethlehem on a donkey and it joined her in the stables for the big moment. I guess things would have been different if Christ had been born a couple of thousand years later and Mary had made her way through the Israeli army check points of the Occupied Territories on the bus. Would the cards have been adorned with images of a battered Palestinian bus rather than cuddly looking donkeys? Maybe not.

So where am I going with this? Well it seems to me this has been the year where foodbanks have joined the Christmas narrative along with donkeys, holly, robins, reindeer, snowmen, Slade, Bing Crosby, miseltoe and Myrrh.

We have become part of the story along with the sales figures from Marks and Spencers and the evening news taking notice of tents in doorways. We are the modern day version of the the Christmas Carol. People look at the their own abundant Christmases and spare a thought for those who dread the thin pickings they are about to offer their kids. Thirty years ago Bob Geldof steered the nation's instincts to millions of starving Ethiopians. This year the sympathy is headed closer to home. To us. To the foodbanks.

And believe you me, we are well and truly thankful. Long may it continue.

So. Snapshots.

I'll start with Daisy. 


Six years ago a five year old Daisy came in to see us with her mum. She had saved all her pocket money for several months and used it to buy advent calenders for kids less lucky than her. Well this year Daisy was back. For the sixth year in a row. How about that?


A young lad working in the storeroom of the Dumfries Tesco. Eleven cages of food to load into my long wheelbase hire van as the grey rain lashed the tarmac. Not a great gig, but the smile never left his face. He was chuffed to bits there was so much. He couldn't get over how generous people had been. One lad of nine had filled a whole trolley. Not one of the small ones, one of the big yins..... 



An evening training session for the young players of Greystone Rovers Football Club. Under tens I guess. The coach had shelled out on thirty of so selection boxes for his squad. Before he got the chance to hand them out, the players held an inpromptu Parliament and voted unanimously for a different narrative. They asked him if he would mind taking the selection boxes into the foodbank. They would be getting lots of stuff. Other kids were in greater need.

A call with Sharon, the journalist on the Dumfries Standard who every year co-ordinates the collection of toys for kids in Dumfries and Galloway who otherwise would not be marked down for a visit from Santa. She gets lists of names from the social work department and a number of charities. And this year the list had soared to over 800.

Over 800.

In a region of 150,000 people 800 is a scary number. And these are the ones where the poverty has become public. How many more will go presentless behind closed doors of embarrasment and shame? She shuddered to think. And she did what she could. Again.

A £100 cheque accompanied by a brief note. A mother's donation in memory of a lost daughter.

Standing with the staff of Tescos Annan and trying to work out if all the food could be carried in one trip. Not a prayer. Not with so much. How come so much?

The travelling community. The 'foodbank nomination challenge'. A phenomenon which started in England and spread north. One traveller would fill up a trolley for the foodbank and then nominate a fellow traveller to do the same. And so on and so on until a hired long wheelbase tranny van was not enough to haul it all in a single trip.



Iain coming up the stairs and dropping a handful of envelpes on the table along with a bemused smile.

"People just keep giving me these."

A young lad from the India Palms takeaway on Glasgow Road. What could he do to help? How's about some curries? Nae bother pal. I'll bring in fifteen chicken curries and fifteen portions of pilau rice. And he did.

The supporters of Queen of the South. Two full van loads....

I could go on and on but I won't.

Instead I will cut to the chase. Millions of people will have a pretty lousy day tomorrow. There will be no piles of presents under beautifully decorated trees. There will be no steaming turkeys lifted from the oven. Instead there will be barely any heat and fridges filled with nothing much. Thankfully the community gets this and the community has come through with flying colours and then some.

What a contrast to the school yard bickering we have had to witness in the House of Commons.

Like night and day. Like a fifteen pound turkey and a microwaved tin of beans.

So thanks to absolutely everyone who has taken a moment to spare a thought fro the people we do our best to help. Each and every one of you.

Have a good one.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

SNAPSHOTS OF BREXIT ENGLAND

For some months now our wonderful leaders in London have been ordering us all to make preparations for a hard Brexit on 29 March 2019. Like an obedient Scottish subject, I did as I was told and took a look at how our little foodbank might feed the 50,000 citizens of Dumfries in the days and weeks after the Tesco shelves being stripped bare.

Aye right. We like to think we are a pretty good foodbank, but we're not geared up to plug the hunger holes once the streets are filled with tear gas and marauding mobs. Our basement would be stripped bare in half an hour flat.

Once I had done my duty as a foodbank manager in London's last colony, I turned my attention closer to home. For well over ten years I have made full use of my rights as a citizen of the European Union to tap into the single market where free movement of goods, services, money and people is very much allowed. This has meant me moving freely from Dumfries to the French/Belgian border to load up on tobacco at a third of the price it goes for in Tesco.

Basic maths make the trip a no brainer. Last week I bought 250 50g packs of tobacco for £1750. Had I bought the same here in Dumfries, it would have set me back £5750. As in a saving of £4000. The costs of my free movement? Fuel £70 and a Christmas Special Offer Channel Tunnel ticket at £25.

My long term plan? Well I guess from a Hard Brexit to an Indpendent Scotland will take five or six years, so a couple of trips will be required, hopefully before the House of Commns squabbling strips another 10% off the value of the pound.

Fair enough, it's a long drive. 900 miles in all. But it has its upsides. It provides some time to allow the brain to drift as the slow hours of the night roll by. A talking book. Playlists. A steady stream of coffee.

And a few snap shots of Brexit England.

My route took me over the Pennines from Penrith to Scotch Corner and then all the way down through the eastern heartlands of Brexit. Farage country bathed in the the light of a near full moon.

When I fled Blackburn's cancerous racism and headed north nearly thirty years ago, I never would have guessed how the signs at Gretna would come to affect me. Now when I see 'Welcome to England' I feel like I am entering a foreign land. A land I used to know once upon a time. A land I grew up in and was a part of. But not any more. Have I left England or has England left me? Who knows? I certainly don't. This feeling is nothing new when it comes to London and the south. As a born and bred Lancastrian, I never had much time for the Thatcherite heartlands of the Home Counties. As I lived out my formative years in the 70's and 80's, it was all about us and them. Us the north, them the south. And we were branded 'the enemy within'.

Back then I would never have believed I would lose my instinctive affinity for the mill towns of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Well, how wrong I would have been. Now as a New Scot, I watch the motorway exit signs with a sense of detachment. Blackburn, Burnley, Accrington, Halifax, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Wakefield, Wigan, Bolton. They are like a bunch of pals I was once a part of when we were in the third form at school and making a misery out of the lives of our teachers. And then? And then they went one way and I went another. I went north to become a New Scot and they stayed put and signed on the dotted line for the EDL. I chose the world according to Tommy Sheridan. They opted for Tommy Robinson. And if an invitation to a school reunion ever dropped through the letterbox, I would bin it like Troy election leaflet.

Ironically my moonlit glide through the Brexit heartlands had a soundtrack from those heady days of the 80's when the North had been loud and proud in an ultimately doomed fight against the forces of raging Thatcherism. There had been a genuine unity for a while. But her victory poisoned the well. Northerners grew weary of blaming their ills on Eton dominated boardrooms. Instead they turned on the strangers in their midst. The Pakistanis and the Poles. The others. And nobody wanted to hear what the likes of Tony Benn had to say any more. Instead they dumbed all the eay down to Tommy Robinson. And when Jo Cox was murdered in broad daylight on a West Yorkshire steet, it wasn't even surprising any more.

I crossed the Thames just after midnight and the lights of London glittered all the way to the horizon and beyond from towering heights of the Queen Elizabeth bridge. And now all the road signs led to the pin up towns of Brexit England. Thurrock and Clacton and Southend on Sea. Places where lads at the bar still wear their leave vote as a badge of some kind of bizarre honour. And what if 29 March brings chaos and empty shelves? Who gives a shit. Just so long as the bastard Poles go home. And the Pakis. And the Ragheads.

The M25 became the M20 and the tunnel was less than fifty miles away. And I entered the longest stretch of road works I have ever seen. Forty long miles of flashing '50' signs and tens of thousands of plastic bollards. The on the ground reality of building the biggest lorry park in the world in readiness for the mayhem of 29 March 2019. Making Operation Stack an every day thing.

One in the morning.

Maidstone Services. Time for a coffee and a couple of hours kip before checking in for the 6.15 crossing.

The car park was overflowing with white vans and guys in Hi Viz jackets. These were the guys tasked with getting the world's greatest lorry park ready to roll for 29 March 2019. And in the silver light of the November moon, they presented a perfect snapshot of the puffed up bullshit of Brexit England. Why? Becausre there was barely an English voice to be heard. Instead the service area echoed with the sound of voices from the plains of Central Europe. And there it was. The truly pitiful truth of the cretins in the Palace of Westminster. The reality of their Brexit dream meant borrowing money from the Chinese to pay thousands of Polish workers to build the greatest lorry park in the world. Would they be able to build their lorry park with born and bred English workmen? Not in a million years.

Pathetic.

Fifteen or so hours later. Under the Channel and back again. A catch up with and old pal from university in a small Essex town. A storm was building. The bare trees bent in the growing gale. The high street was deserted and the gutters were on time and a half. A timbered pub with a blazing log fire. Not so many drinkers had ventured out.

My round. I tried to settle up with a Scottish twenty only to be met with a blank look from the bar maid.

"Can't take that. No Scottish money."

My mate asked why such a thing should be and she simply shrigged and said her boss had told her no Scottish.

Innit.

I pulled out my TSB debit card and asked if she was OK with it, what with TSB's head office being in Edinburgh and all? This provoked a moody shrug. The card reader said yes. My pal was surprised to hear that Scottish money is getting ever harder to spend in Brexit England. Slowly but surely we are joining the ranks of the others. The Poles and the Pakistanis and the Muslims and the Refugees and the Romanians.

And the Scots.

A little after five in the afternoon the next day, I drove past the 'Welcome to Scotland' sign as the now fully fledged storm threatened to flip over high sided wagons. When I got home I switched on my computer to check messages. The day's viral video demanded my attention like a screaming child in a supermarket. A fifteen year old Syrian refugee in the playground of a Huddersfield school. Knocked to the ground and subjected to a mock waterboarding. Mocking laughter and a backdrop of grey skies. A snap shot of Brexit England. Pond life empowered by Farage's 'Breaking Point' fantasies.

Was the cold, ugly brutality of the bullying a surprise? Not in the least. It was the kind of thing which had driven us from Blackburn thirty years ago. Was it a surprise to hear Tommy Robinson had jumped all over the thing to dream up some fake news where the bullied lad was in fact a sexual predator? No. Not in the least.

Instead I was saddened to hear the city of Oxford had offered the family a place of sanctuary. I wasn't sad for the family of course. And I was delighted by Oxford's offer. It was the old Lancastrian in me which was saddened. The old Northerner. Saddened by the way the North has become a place of danger for anyone with the wrong colour of skin. A place where those at risk need to run from. A place of thickening darkness.

The dark heart of Brexit England.