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.

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.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

TWO DAYS IN A SCOTTISH FOODBANK. THE GOOD AND THE BAD. THE INSPIRATION AND THE DESPAIR.

First Base. A foodbank in the small town of Dumfries in the South West of Scotland. I guess we are pretty far from the madding crowd. At night, the winter skies sparkle with stars. When we breathe, the air hits our lungs like it's come straight out of an oxgyen tank. We barely have traffic lights. The hills which look down on us give off an air of seen it all before.

Nothing much happens here to trouble the evening news. Does this mean we are one of those 'left behind' places? Not really. We were never really anywhere much in the first place. Like Paul Newman once said in 'Cool Hand Luke', "Ah you know... small towns... nothing much happens in the evenings ... I guess mainly we're just settling old scores."

Yet a food bank in a small town can be a place where you can see the world we live in every bit as clearly as we can see the vast unpoluted night skies above us. The good and the bad. The hopeful and the hopeless. The reasons for cheer and the reasons for weary despair. All of it. The full spectrum.

All of it played out over the course of two days in a food bank in a small Scottish town.

Our peeling walls provide a back drop for hundreds of micro dramas. Mini tragedies. Unnoticed lives tossed onto an ever growing refuse heap. And yet every now and then the very same peeling walls witness spectacular generosity. Moments of inspiration. Moments of genuine hope.

So I'll start with the upside. The picture at the top of the page.

Daisy

You know what, if this world of ours was filled with people like Daisy it would be a better place. A million times better. We first met Daisy five years ago. I guess she must have been six at the time. She came in with her mum on a cold day in November. She had watched the news one night and been moved by stories about people with nowhere to live and nothing to eat. She wanted to do something. To make things better. Especially for children whose lives were so much harder than her life.

But what can you do when you are six years old? When you live in a quiet Scottish town far away from the evening news? Simple. You do what you can. And Daisy did what she could. She did everything in her power. Every week she put away her pocket money and when the time was right, she bought advent calendars. For children who wouldn't be getting an advent calendar. For children who wouldn't be getting much at all. The children she had seen on the news.

And she brought the advent calendars into First Base.

Yesterday she came in to us again. For the fifth year in a row. And our peeling walls smiled down at the latest version of Daisy. And when you see someone with a heart the size of Daisy's heart, it is impossible not to imagine pictures of how the world could be if everyone had a heart the size of Daisy's heart.

It would be quite a place. A different place. A better place. A place where everyone looks at the problems of our world and makes a simple, straight forward decision. I want to make things better. How? I will do what I can. Like Daisy.

I think the word is inspirational, don't you?

But for every shaft of sunlight there are vast banks of clouds. Not particularly stormy and dramatic. Just grey. Just soul draining.

There has been an easily recognised common thread over the last couple of days. In the food bank. In front of the back drop of peeling walls. Muffled figures with pale faces. Troubled eyes. Insecurity. Fear. Broken minds.

Let's go back a bit. Our first seven years. The world before the so called Welfare Reforms. Pre austerity times. It suddenly seems a long time ago.

There was a prevailing pragmatism which nobody actually admitted to, but everyone signed up to. It went something like this. There is always a percentage of the population who lack the mental tools to make it. Once upon a time we found places for them. The lad on the factory floor who swept up. The lad on the farm who helped out. The girl in the hair dressers who made the tea and did the odds and sods. And when there was an annual outing, they would be a part of it. And when there was a Christmas Party, they would be there with everyone else. And of course they had no need of benefits. They were on the payroll. They were a part of things. They had their place.

Once. And then the world moved on and productivity targets meant no more passengers. High paid fat trimmers made such roles redundant. Mechanisation rendered them obselete. And one by one, they were nudged out of things. By accident rather than design, the State got it. Figured it out. Saw the need to be pragmatic. And so it was those whose brains were not quite right for the modern world were quietly signed onto the sick. Fair enough, they didn't exactly live high on the hog. But at least they could just about get by. It wasn't great. But it kind of worked. Kind of.

Until it stopped. Until the decision was taken to completely ignore the opinions of GP's and psychologists. Until new assessments were created to deem everyone to be fit for work. Until complicated new online forms became the only road to having a penny to your name.

The cruelty of the new order is as cold as cruelty gets. It takes people who are already a bit broken and it breaks them some more. It makes demands they haven't a hope in hell of meeting. If you can barely read and write, how on earth can you nail a Universal Credit form in one go? How can you make your online case for help when you don't even know how to switch a computer on? How can you spend thirty hours a week filling in online applications for jobs you cannot possibly do when you can't even use a keyboard?

You can't. Of course you can't. And suddenly there are no more payments. And suddenly you were getting letters talking about eviction. And suddenly there is no money on the meter and the cupboards are empty. And the stress in your head morphs and spreads and grows. And the only solution to each new problem is yet another form which needs filling in with words you do not own.

And broken people become shattered people. And they come to us. To our peeling walls.

And what can we do? We can give them a bag of food. We can do our bit to keep body and soul together. We can do our best to help them to find a brave face. We do what we can, but let's be honest, it barely scratches the surface. And there are so many of these guys.

Here's a handful from the last few days. There's the lad we've been seeing for fifteen years now. Never the sharpest tool in the box. Once upon a time, the neighbours might have deemed him to be a bit slow. Perfect fodder for the playground bullies. No chance of keeping up in the classroom. He drifted into the arms of those who can smell vulnerabilty from a mile away. Heroin. A downward spiral. Until one day he was beaten all the way to gates of death. And his already struggling brain was rendered all but obselete.

He's never had a job. Could he actually do a job? It is hard to think of one. But maybe that is just me. Because the the powers that be have decided he's tip top. Locked and loaded. Ready and raring for work. Expected to abide by the demands of job seeking. And of course the powers that be know better than his GP and his psychologist. They have decided he needs a short, sharp shock. A kick up the backside. So they have taken everything away. Every penny. All of it. They have decided to break him for good.

Is this deliberate? Of course not. It is a crazy game which looks good on paper and falls apart in the cold reality of the real world. It is a pipe dream concocted by people living easy lives who choose to believe everyone is shirking. Pretenting. Fabricating. Cheating.

There was the lady with eyes layered with trauma. Unable to stand still. Unable to make any kind of eye contact. Unable to to say yes to the offer of coffee. Or tea. A back story to chill the bones. Hints of the very darkest of dark corners. Half finished sentences. But never whole sentences. Because to complete the sentence would mean going all the way back to the nightmare. Of being locked in a room and injected with heroin. Of visitors to the room. Male visitors. So many....

Sentences never finished, but her eyes tell the story. Her GP tries to cover the nightmares with thick blankets of medication. And she can read and write and count. She just can't do people. She just can't force herself to leave her flat for days on end. She just can't get on top of the fear which has sunk right down into the marrow of her bones.

There is the lady who was raped a few months ago. Suddenly unable to face a world which has changed forever. There are no sections in the forms she has filled in which cover the terrors. Can you walk up stairs? Can you get out of the bath on your own? Can you lift your arms above the level of your shoulders? Well there we are then. You're fine. You're good to go. Stiff upper lip old girl. Crack on.

So many broken people. And a system hell bent on breaking them some more. So called tough love. Aye right. Policies knocked together by idiots to meet promises made by idiots. And in the long run, breaking already broken people will cost us all countless billions but who gives a shit when all is said and done. Just so long as the Daily Mail is happy, right?

And in the mean time hundreds of thousands of people are being quietly tossed onto an ever growing scrapheap.

It is the world on the other side of the mirror to Daisy's world. A cold world. A brutal world. A world of forms. A world where quiet cruelty is doled out far from the public view. A world where hurting the vulnerable might just net a few votes in some marginal seat in the West Midlands.

And at times it is hard not to feel overwhelmed by it all. What will happen if things carry on like this? When the real winter sets in?

Time to go back to Monday morning. Still dark outside. A coffee and the online news. Check the e mails.

Bloody hell.

'Hi Mark

I'd like to make a gift to First Base to help you over the winter. Reason? Easy really, I'm not struggling but I know lots of people are and it breaks my heart.

I will be donating £10,000 to you but will have to ask my bank to do the transfer so would need an account number and sort code.'

Like I said. Bloody hell. By the end of the day the money was in our account. And the next day saw the arrival of a completed Gift Aid form which will turn into another £2500.

There was an Edinburgh phone number. I e mailed her and asked how it was someone in Edinbugh had decided to show such spectacular generosity of a small little charity in Dumfries.

'Hi Mark

I think I first read about your work when somebody on Twitter retweeted a link to your blog. The sheer scale of need seems overwhelming but the individual stories that you tell...well they kind of put in perspective the stark difficulties that people are having to deal with. I know all the other charities are helping folk in the same circumstances, but your words make a difference - you're not just shouting into the void!

You and your team are doing a great service, as are all the others. Wish it wasn't necessary and my hope is that in an independent Scotland we would be able to restore the safety net that is so desperately needed.'

Spoken like a grown up Daisy. And suddenly the peeling walls don't seem to matter so much.

What do you do when the world seems filled with overwhelming problems? Simple. You do what you can. And you keep on doing it.

Like Daisy.

Like our Edinburgh benefactor.

If you would like to give us a hand in doing what we do, you can find our Just Giving page by following the link below.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

HAVE WE JUST WITNESSED A NEAR PERFECT POLITICAL TAKEDOWN?


OK. Here we go again. Frankland, the John Grisham wannabe takes a look at the world through the lens of pulp fiction. Well, what the hell? Free country and all that.

So. Time to set the scene. We're somewhere deep in 'deep state' Washington. Pannelled walls and very old scotch. Maybe even a disregard for any smoking regulations. Low lighting. Probably lots of old leather. A group of old men, long accustomed to being the quiet power in the land.

They have all been watching the results from the US Midterm elections roll in. They have all breathed a sigh of relief. The people of America have turned their nose up at the 'in the face' racism. The orange monstrosity in the White House has received a resounding kick in the balls and now he's smashing up the furniture.

And he's weak. Oh yeah. Is he ever weak.

The guys on the old leather have made fine careers out of sensing vulnerability. Kicking men when they are down. Deploying flesh shredding force. They are the purveyors of extreme prejudice.

Is it time to put the jumped up baffoon on his back? Yup. Sure is. High time. Long, long overdue.

Quiet chuckles. Relished mouthfuls of old, old scotch.

But they can't be obvious about it. Were they to emerge out of their shadows, the narrative could turn in the blink of an eye. The orange monstrosity has a feral sense of emerging threats. Being obvious would mean him leaping aboard Airforce One and flying out into the sticks to rail about the machinations of the Deep State. And the morons in the Make America Great Again hats would probably buy it. Hook, line and Goddam sinker.

So no. Being obvious isn't any kind of option. This thing needs to be covert. Quiet. No finger prints. No traces of DNA. A stiletto eased into soft flesh at the back of the ear. And straight into the brain.

Leaving barely a mark.

So they take a run through the weaknesses of the orange monstrosity. There are plenty to go at. Corruption. Dumbness. Isolation. Creeping dementia. It's a hell of a list.

And lies. Of course lies.

Lots and lots of lies. So many lies. His lies have lost any kind of novelty. Constant lying means nobody believes a word he speaks. Even when it's the truth.

Suddenly the debate is stopped in its tracks by a low chuckle from the corner of the room. A gaunt face and a body well into the last knockings. Eighty six years on the clock. Sixty five years of time served in the darkest of the dark corners. Vietnam and Laos and El Salvador and Nigaragua and Panama and Kosovo and Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

"You know what guys, the dumb motherfucker's been crying wolf. And we all know what happened to the boy who cried wolf, right?"

They do know. And in a matter of minutes the plot is flesh on the bones. Just so long as the forecasted weather plays ball.

A hotel in Paris. The orange monstrosity is catching some last TV before being choppered to the US Military cemetery at Belieu Wood where a hundred years earlier the Dough Boys learned all about the realities of the Great War.

Everyone is giving him a wide berth. He's like an unexploded bomb, cursing the faces on the TV. Cursing the election results. Cursing the day he won the race everyone promised him he would lose. Cursing everything and everyone he can think of to curse.

He's suddenly aware of the suited man at his side. Two hundred pounds of toned muscle. Death in a nice suit. Cropped hair and square features.

Mr President, we have a problem. The weather is too bad for Marine One to fly. Too much rain. Too much fog. And if we drive...... Well. It's 55 miles and we cannot guarantee your security. Not at such short notice...

The orange monstrosity doesn't take a lot of convincing. He hates going any where near heavy rain. Heavy rain threatens the hold of his hair spray and that would be a nightmare beyond all others.

So, fine. Fuck it. If that's the way it is, that's the way it is. He snaps open another can of Diet Coke and resumes his tirade at the motherfuckers on the TV.

Two days pass and the motherfuckers on the TV start to take him apart with a thousand cuts. They talk about true colours. They jog the nation's memory of his draft dodging. They revel in the memory of him using his wealth and connections to stay clear of the jungles of Vietnam. They play clips of him attacking kneeling NFL superstars for disrespecting the veterans. They play clips of him going on and on and on and on about how much he loves and respects the men and women who have fought to keep America safe.

And now? Well now the draft dodging coward can't be bothered to stand and respect the Marines who a hundred years earlier had fought and died in the hell of Belieu Wood. He prefered to stay in his room and watch TV. 

Why? Because it was raining! 

All over America guys in their MAGA hats feel suddenly confused. Why is their guy suddenly making like such an asshole? They're all good with the racism and the women hating. I mean, duh? Corruption? Who gives a shit. Russia? Who gives a shit.

But this? Staying home and disrespecting veterans because of a bit of rain? 

No way.

And in the bars in the towns where there used to be coal mines and steel mills, the talk starts to turn ugly for the orange monstrosity. Talk of him making like a pussy assed sonofabitch. Talk of him making like some rich kid motherfucker from Queens. 

And of course the orange monstrosity jumps out in front of the cameras to explain what had actually happened. It wasn't the rain! It was the secret service guys! They insisted! They couldn't guarantee security....

He cries wolf. And the harder he tries to say this time he isn't lying, the more everyone assumes that is exactly what he is doing.

And the wolf bares its yellow teeth at the boy. And the boy wets himself in terror. Because nobody is coming. Not this time.

And in a fine old town house deep somewhere in Vermont, a face with 86 long years on the clock cracks into a satisified smile.

"Why are you smiling Grandpa?"

"Oh, I was just thinking a story my mother used to tell me. Have you ever heard about the little boy who cried wolf....."

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES................ WATCHING THE MIDTERMS COULD BE A LONG, LONG NIGHT.

The night we made our night drive to the worst place in the world, it was February cold. Ryan Air from Prestwick to Frankfurt Hahn. A fiver a head. And the airport was like being in a weird arthouse movie. Canned music and no people. An old Cold war US airbase made over German style for budget travellors. Like us.

We were the only punters at the line of car rental offices. And the sense of the surreal just kept rolling along. Wanna upgrade to a Jag for an extra ten Euros? Sure. Why not?

And then we were gliding east under a sky of glittering stars. The dashboard said it was minus 10 outside. Ever east in light traffic. An autobahn I had travelled in a another lifetime. In another world. Once upon a time I had driven the super smooth German tarmac all the way to the ark lights and razor fences of Eisenach. Smiling West German border guards. Unsmiling East German border guards. Through the Iron Curtain to a world of pot holes and chugging Trabants.

Now Eisenach was a gleaming service station and the smooth tarmac stretched all the way beyond Erfurt and Jena and Leipzig. And Gorlitz. And Chemnitz. Back in the day, Chemnitz had been Karl Marx Stadt. A crumbling, concrete manifestation of the slowly crumbling Bolshevik dream. Little did we know in a matter years Chemnitz would become the pin up town for a whole new generation of strutting Nazis. What goes around, comes around.

The autobahn went single carriageway for the last handful of miles to the Polish border. The road signs promised a hundred kilometres or so to Breslau. Which was a lie really. For there was no Breslau. Not any more. Not since 1945 when Hitler's last 'Fortress City' succumbed to the guns of the Red Army and mass rape. The Soviets were having none of Breslau. They renamed the place Wroclow and populated it with grey high rise blocks and Poles from the East.

The three in the morning border was kind enough for us. No fences or Alsation dogs. No watch towers or ark lights. And then a ten mile parked up queue of waiting wagons. Maybe it was sneak preview of what awaits us on 29 March 2019.

Potholes and no salt on the road. Odd cabin like bars gleaming puddles of light into the icy air. Glimpses of hard drinking HGV guys. Throat stripping vodka and trafficked girls from Moldova. Not a place to break down.

By four, my eyes didn't want to stay open any longer. A lay by and a couple of hours of sleep in the the Jaguar's cocoon of warmth. I opened my eyes onto a steel grey dawn and silver birches and a world of flat nothing.

An hour to the belching smoke stacks of Katowice. And then more surreal. A McDonalds gleamed in the wall to wall grey. And we were from Mars. A mixed race family in a Jag.

And suddenly were into the last few miles to the worst place in the world. There was no fanfare. No signs to speak of.

Just a small turn off. 'Osweicim'.

Auschwitz.

Light traffic in the grey early morning light. A pedestrian here and a pedestrian there. Crumbling apartment blocks and vast industrial estates and no clue as to the whereabouts of the worst place in the world. And it's not the kind of place you stop a well wrapped pedestrian to ask for directions. Not when you're in a Jag. Not when you own not a word of Polish.

A sign at last. Small. Unloved. 'Holocaust Museum'

Only a kilometre. Hidden away amidst all the factories.

We parked up and wrapped up and walked through the most famous gates in history.

'Arbeit Macht Frei'

We stood it for two hours. A gas chamber. A crematorium. Vast piles of suitcases and spectacles. The wall where 20,000 were executed. The railway siding in Birkenau where life and death was chosen for thousands a day.

Fences and watch towers and accommodation blocks and a bone chilling wind from the East. Well of course it was from the East. Where the hell else was it going to come from?

I have a memory of just standing there on the ground were so many had walked their last. I smoked and tried to absorb a brutal truth. We would have been on one of those trains. A mixed race family. An abhomination to the Nazi goons. An affront. I would have been guilty of committing a heinous crime against the purity of my race. And Carol would have been classified as a subhuman. And Dyonne and Courtney would have been deemed to be mongrels.

And for our sins we would have been stripped and gassed and incinerated. Four more souls in the midst of five million.

Four more statistics in the place where racism morphed into genocide. The place where Coon and Nigger and Wog and Spade and Darkie and Paki and Yid and Rag Head and Haji mutated into Zyclon B and carefully curated statistics of the day's kill: the day's industrial kill. Flesh to ash.

And in case you're wondering, no, the birds didn't sing. Not a note. Not a cheep.

The worst place in the world left me infected. Contaminated. A monster in the cupboard. A creak on the stair in the dead of night. A bottomless terror waiting around a distant corner.

Waiting. Always waiting. Never dead. Always patient and ready and waiting for the next moment. The next manifestation. The next infestation.

It is the lesson of the worst place in the world. Never say never. Not ever. We have found cures for TB and Yellow Fever and Cholera and Typhoid and Aids. And one day will no doubt crack Cancer. But Racism? The dark cloud in the soul of humanity?

No chance.

And for the fifteen years since we drove away from the worst place in the world, the lights have been going out one by one. In the Philippines. In India. In Brazil. In Sweden. In Denmark. In Italy. In Poland and Hungary and France and Spain. In Holland and Belgium and Russia and Greece and Ukraine.

And in America.

And right here.

So called strogmen popping out of the ground like poisonous weeds. Duterte and Mohdi and Erdovan and Putin and Urban and Bolsonaro and Farage and Tommy fucking Robinson. Hate for breakfast. Dog whistles and death squads. Lackeys for the 1%.

And of course the daddy of them all. Trump.

So laughable. So pathetic in all his preening stupidity. The butt of a million jokes a day. An orange monstrosity, but surely too much of a clown to do any real harm? Surely?

But the men who built the worst place in the world were once jokes themselves as they goose stepped and preened in their silly clothes.

Trump is their mutated spawn. The puffed up, pathetic strutting vanity of Mussolini. The venal, sweating, bottomless corruption of Goering. And Hitler's Satanic ability to turn pond life into a cult following. Whilst the world laughed, the 1% bankrolled these joke figures all the way to fifty million dead. Hilter had Krupps and BMW and Mercedes to sign the cheques. Trump has Lockheed and the Koch brothers. Hitler had his very own poisonous elf called Josef Goebbels. Trump has Bannon.

Everything has been road tested. When a handful of oligarchs are hell bent on stealing the wealth of the world, they need a useful idiot to distract the masses with a tsunami of hate. And if people can be induced to spend their every waking hour hating the Niggers and the Spades and the Coons and the Wogs and the Pakis and the Yids and the Rag Heads, they won't notice the fact that sixty people now own more than half of the world. Of course they wont't. They never do.

All of which brings me to tonight. Another agonising sit through the small hours before the dawn. The Midterms. Maybe the last chance to turn the tide. Maybe the last chance for enough people to remember the better angels of their nature. Maybe the last chance to stop a the poisonous tide which is rising all over the world.

And I'm dreading it. There have been far to many desperate nights over the last few years. IndyRef. Brexit. Trump. Triumphant, fist pumping racists wrapped in the wrong flags. And so called experts wondering how such a thing could have happened. And dawn breaking on a darker world. A world a few miles closer to the worst place in the world.

Will tomorrow bring yet another dark dawn? More memories of a smoked Camel on a railway siding where once some were allocated life and others allocated death?

Will my skin once again crawl with a gnawing feeling of coming doom? The feeling of being a mixed race family in the midst of a world turning to the dark side. A family deemed to be wrong and impure and sinful and abbhorant. A family to be blamed and hated and spat at. My two sons classified as mongrels. Sub humans. Responsible for every problem in the lives of millions.

And of course everyone will put on brave smiles and say of course it can't happen again. Of course they will. I wonder if they have ever smoked a Camel on the cracked stones of that Birkenau railway siding? I wonder if they have ever stared through the ice cold air to bare trees and mute birds?

Tonight could be the tipping point. It could be the moment when evil is stopped in it's tracks. Or it could be the night when the world slides quietly into a new dark age.

In the bleak grey of tomorrow's dawn, our small mixed race family might well be pinning our futures on a sanctuary called Scotland. The Switzerland for the twenty first century.

But right now the only voices in my head belong to the witches of Macbeth.

'By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.....'