MARK FRANKLAND

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

EGGS, TATTIES AND TEARS: POSTCARDS FROM THE FOODBANK FRONT LINE.

Postcards. Images on cardboard. Costing how much? It's ages since I bought a postcard. 40P maybe? I guess the shops who sell postcards are all closed amyway. Which makes how much they cost rather academic.

A postcard sends a clear message. This is where I am. This is what it looks like. Not bad, eh?

The views out of my van window over the last couple of weeks have been absolutley postcard ready. The sun has shone and the land has finally dried out. Spring is round the corner and the vast emptiness of South West Scotland is quietly exploding into its springtime beauty.

Just like it has for Christ alone knows how many millions of years.

Except this year the beauty is a different beauty. A strange beauty. A kind of post nuclear beauty of empty streets. Ghost villages. Wrap around silence. Nature everywhere and barely a person to be seen.

As someone who is spending his days out on the road in my shiny hired Ford tranny van from Arnold Clark, I can certainly report the lockdown is being observed by the good folk of Dumfries and Galloway. The world is emptied out. The world is like I have never seen it before.

The world is strange.

And these are the pictures which will stay with me in the years to come. Assuming there are years to come! As a sixty year old guy with forty years worth of chain smoking under my belt, assuming years to come might just be a tad over confident.

As WB Yeats once upon a time said, everything has changed: changed utterly.

A mere three weeks ago I could log onto the Tesco page and order up £500 worth of food which would duly be delivered the next day. A mere three weeks ago a convoy of cars from local churches would land up at our back door on a Monday morning bearing carrier bags of food donations.

Those were the days, right? The days when buying a pack of toilet rolls wasn't a thing to be celebrated on Facebook.

Last week I got hold of a local egg producer on the phone. Could First Base buy 100 dozen eggs a week? I nearly fell off my chair when he said yes, nae bother pal. If I was a punching the air kind of guy, I would have punched the air. A sign of the times. Downright giddy to have secured a weekly supply of eggs.

A day later I got a call from a local business man. A family business with a showroom. He has been supporting us with a monthly standing order for years. Now the business is on lockdown and he is climbing the walls with boredom. Come on Mark, there must be something I can do. I'm a man with a van and an itch to get pitched in.

I gave him an unexpected project to crack on with. Hit the phonelines and find a local potato wholesaler and buy a tonne of spuds on out behalf. Have you got any storage at your place? Yeah, we have storage. Could you pick up the tatties, store them and wheel them into us as and when we need them? Nae bother.

Sixteen hours later he was back. Mission accomplished. Once tonne of Scottish spuds for £280. Collected, bagged and stored. Mission accomplished by a man in search of a mission. And yet again I was assailed by the unfamiliar urge to punch the air.

Things don't tend to get emotional at First Base. Iain and Kevin fill the hours with blacker than black humour learnt from long years in the British Army. Jason looks on with his trademark wry grin. They are guys who are well used to getting things done with minimum fuss. Kevin has morphed into Mr Deliveroo as he dodges around town dropping off parcels.

And let's face it, I'm not exactly a touchy feely guy myself. But sometimes the lump hits the throat no matter how I try to be hard bitten. Like when I picked up a call from Manchester with a frantic voice on the other end. A daughter with elderly parents living in isolation amidst the emptiness of Galloway. No supermarket deliveries available and cupboards starting to empty out. They were frightened at the idea of being forced to venture out, but it looked more and more like they would have to. I told her not to worry. I told her we would deliver later in the day. I told her there was no need to worry any more. I promised her First Base had their backs. We would make sure they were alright. This news propmted an explosion of tears. Tears of relief. Tears of drained out tension. Tears of spring 2020.

I took the food in the midst of a late afternoon of watery sunshine and light breeze. Once upon a time it would have been a perfect day for a nest scratching lapwing. But we don't seem to do lapwings any more. Maybe they sensed the strange world which was coming and exited stage left.

The house took a bit of finding and view was jaw dropping. A figure at the door. How much do we owe? Unwilling to accept nothing was owed. Bewildered by the new empty world. Off the scales grateful. And just a little bit tearful. She promised to call if more food was needed. And I am fairly confident she will.

I drove away down the hill and into the late afternoon emptiness. Empty road. Empty hills. Empty sky.

Covid19 Scotland, where people are as hard to spot as lapwings.

Postcards to be filed away. Postcards of a time of strangeness. Postcards of a time when a puchase of a hundred dozen eggs a week left me feeling like punching the air.

Not that I actually DID punch the air. 

Obviously.

If this rambling jumble of ungrammatical words by any chance leaves you in the mood to support what First Base are trying to do, you can find our online fundraising page via the link below.


Stay safe.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

THE FIRST BASE FOODBANK HAS BEEN ABLE TO MAKE HUGE PROGRESS OVER THE LAST WEEK THANKS TO UNBELIEVABLE COMMUNITY SUPPORT.

A week ago I posted a blog to lay out the tentative plans First Base was putting together to meet the challenges of the time we all now live in. Once the words were all down and ready to be thrown out into the ether, it was hard not to wonder whether or not we were being a bit over optimistic.

Well, things have moved a long way and thankfully it seems our optimism wasn't misplaced.

I guess some straight forward clarity is a good idea, especially for local readers.

Here is where we will be at by lunchtime on Friday.

We will have food in place and ready to be delivered from six locations across Dumfries and Galloway. Here they are

THE FIRST BASE AGENCY on Buccleuch St in Dumfries – from here we can help people out in and around the town.

THE VISITOR CENTRE in Castle Douglas – Frome here we can help people out in Castle Douglas, Dalbeattie and Kirkdudbright and surrounding villages.

KELLOHOLM LIBRARY – From here we can help people out in Kelloholm, Kirkconnel and the villages of Upper Nithsdale.

THE ABERLOUR PREMISES in Annan – From here we we can help people out in Annan, Eastriggs, Gretna and the surrounding villages.

A VOLUNTEER'S GARAGE in Lockerbie – From here we can help people out in Lockerbie, Lochmaban and the surrounding villages.

MOFFAT TOWN HALL – From here we can help people out in Moffat, Langholm and the surrounding villages.

Each of these locations is already linked up with groups of volunteers who have come together over the last few days.

We have been able to stock each of these sites with food thanks to lots of brilliant people stepping up to the plate and helping us out.

The volunteers at the Summerhill Community Centre have produced almost a thousand portions of Scotch Broth.

The Little Bakery in Dumfries has provided eight hundred pies and a similar number of bread rolls.

Irvings Bakery in Castle Douglas are selling us hundreds of packets of biscuits at cost price and the tab is being picked up by the Castle Douglas Development Forum.

We have had some frought moments getting all this together. Our system obviously relies heavily on freezers and they have very much become a part of the panic buying madness which has swept through the country over the last couple of weeks. Our first two big freezers were easily enough bought and delivered. The next two were rather more touch and go. By the time I called Kevin Farish to ask for two more, everything had changed – he had sold 70 freezers over the weekend. Luckily two new big freezers had just arrived in the yard and I gleefully put our name on them and arranged delivery. So. All in place. Well, actually, no. The Prime Minister pitched up on the TV to close the country down and things were back up in the air.

Yesterday morning turned into a race against the clock. I just managed to pick up a hired van from Arnold clark as they were in the process of shutting down. We then were able to grab our two freezers and hour or so before Farish's did the same.

So what next?

We have been in constant discussion with the Council. There is no way we will be able to get anything in place to field phone calls. Our systems wouldn't stand a chance. So they have promised to run with this particular ball. With luck, by the end of this week they will have a hotline in place for anyone to call up if their cupboards are starting to look uncomfortably bare. This line will be available to both members of the public and a wide variety of support workers – social work, homeless, health visitors, home carers, cops... anyone really. At 4pm each day, all the names and addresses will be broken down into the six areas described above and e mailed to us. We will then send the lists out to each area and the food will be delivered the next day.

We have also been nagging the council to death to do what we can't do and let people know how and where help is available. I guess I might as well repeat this nag once again here! Sorry guys, but being a pain in the neck is a tough habit to break.

Please use your Council Tax mailing list to send every household in the region a simple sheet of A4 which basically says 'Need help? Call this number'. Then spend a few hundred quid to buy adverts on Border News and West Sound to fire out the same message.

So how has demand been over the last week? Spookily quiet. Weirdly quiet. Weird is very much the word. Driving around yeaterday was off the scales weird. The sun was out and the countryside was ready to be turned into a range of postcards. High Streets were film sets waiting for tumbleweed. Would the police stop us? I had a copy of the Dumfries Standard ready to show them – a picture of yours truly with a bunch of food. Honestly lads, we're the foodbank guys. Essential, right?

As it turned out, the makeshift ID wasn't required.

Everything about yesterday reminded me of stuff I have read about 1938 – the months before Neveille Chaimberlain's doomed visit to Munich. Every man and his dog was convinced war was a mere matter of days away. All over Britain frantic preparations were being made at break neck speed. Every child was issued with a gas mask. Trenches were dug. Sandbags filled the city centres. People were constantly looking nervously up into the skies expecting at any moment to see a vast armada of German bombers to appear.

But nothing happened. For months. For two years. And then five years worth of hell was let loose.

Is this week our very own 'Phony War'? Only time will tell. Our plan in this regard is crystal clear. Maybe in six months people might say to me 'bloody hell Mark, First Base went a bit over the top. You acted like the end of the world was on it's way....'

If I ever have this conversation, then halle-bloody- lujah! If we are left with hundreds or portions of frozen Broth on our hands, then that will do us just fine. It is far better to over prepare. Playing catch up when people have nothing to eat is the worst of nightmares.

Maybe our new system will be quite incapable of dealing with the coming demand. I hope not. As the weeks go by, I am confident we will get better and better at meeting whatever is headed our way.

I have been hugely impressed by the attitude of both the Scottish Government and our local council. They are not trying to take control of everything and get involved in things they are not used to doing. Instead they have accepted from the get go that the voluntary sector has more expertise and experience in doing this stuff. They are working with us and offering help as and when we need it.

Our next task is to add to the basic food parcel we currantly have on offer. Right now, we are able to provide two portions of Broth, two pies, three rolls and a pack of biscuits. Basic, sure, but pretty damned tasty. Not enough though.

Government is piling pressure onto the supermarkets to ring fence supplies for food banks. This is going to take a while, but hopefully in a week or two we will be able to buy in extra items – tinned stuff, cereal, milk. With a following wind, the parcels we hand out in three weeks time will be much more like our normal parcels.

When the time comes when we can once again buy in food, we are obviously going need to have the cash to buy it so if you can help us out a bit it we will be massively grateful. You find our online fundraising page via the link below.


Before I wind this up, I really need to take a moment to give a few examples of how individuals and communities are stepping up to the plate to help out. There have been loads and loads of examples and I feel a little bad having to boil these down to just a few, but to go on and on isn't really an option. So here are a few. A few out of many.

The two ladies in the village of Sanquhar who put togther a list of fifty volunteers over the course of a weekend who are willing to deliver food or prescriptions or to call up those who are isolated and quarantined for a chat. In two days flat they managed to put a letter through every letter box in the village with phone numbers and offers of help. Two days. Impressive.

Neil at the Mad Hatter Cafe in Castle Douglas. Like millions of cafes across the world, Neil had no choice but to close his doors. Soul destroying. Frightening. He could have gone home to sulk at the unfairness of life. But he didn't. Instead he called us up. Hey guys. Once upon a time I was an army chef. If you want someone to knock out Broth porions by the 500, then I've been there and done that. Just let me know and it will be done. How sound is that?

I will finish up with Sharon. This is the message she sent to me via Facebook

'Hey Mark. I'm a fitness instructor or should I say I was a fitness instructor till all this shit hit the fan. I will be doing online classes and folk have been wanting to pay me for these classes. I would like to donate any money taken to yourself at 1st Base. What is the best way to do this...many thanks Sharon x'

Over the last couple of days lots of donations have appeared on our JustGiving page from Sharon's clients. Once again, Covid 19 must have been an absolute body blow for Sharon. She could have thrown in the towel and howled at the moon. But she didn't.

Thankfully it is clear there are a whole bunch of great people like Sharon who are ready and willing to do what it takes to get us all through this bloody nightmare.

Proud to be Scottish? Or New Scottish in my case? You bet I am.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

FOODBANKS ALL OVER THE UK ARE CLOSING THEIR DOORS. NOT FIRST BASE. WE ARE GEARING FOR A 500% INCREASE. YOU CAN HELP OUT IN SEVERAL AREAS. PLEASE READ AND PLEASE SHARE.

So First Base faced some pretty daunting challenges on Monday morning. The wall to wall rolling news was as grim as the weather. Here is how things looked in a nutshell.

Food donations were falling off a cliff – we rely on receiving £45,000 a year's of packets and tins.

Buying food in was not a viable option. At 11 a.m. The Tesco van pulled up at the back door. £500 worth of stuff ordered. £18 worth of stuff delivered.

And demand? Well, we didn't need a crystal ball to see demand was about to take off.

Money? Yeah. Right. We are not one of those animal charities with ten years of reseves in the bank.

So. Decision time. We could follow the majority of the country's foodbanks and close our doors. Pen a note for the door. "Due to the Coronavirus......"

No way. To close the doors would have been against everything The First Base Agency has tried to stand for. Since 2003. 

OK then. Decision made. We weren't going to close. Time for the big question. How on earth could we go from 120 emergency food parcels a week to at least 600 emergency food parcels a week with no virtually no food donations? And no ability to buy food in? And not enough money to buy the food in even if we were able to buy it?

Well it is Wednesday morning now and I am pleased to be able to tell you we are pretty confident we have found a way.

Here is what we have been able to put in place.

Getting hold of enough of the packets and tins we usually rely on is clearly impossible. They won't be donated. They can't be bought. And even if they could be bought, we couldn't afford to buy enough of them.

So we have come up with a basic emergency parcel using stuff we will be able to lay our hands on.

First up. Broth. A go to favourite for Scotland in times of hardship. I checked out the supermarket shelves and with no great surprise I discovered the broth mix shelves had been stripped bare. So I called up the sales department at Whitworths, the company who make 'Great Scot' broth mix. Could they sell us some? They were kind of surprised, but they promised to do what they could. A couple of hours later they e mailed me. They had about a tonne of broth mix in stock and they were willing to sell it to us at a 20% discount. And deliver it for free. They could have profiteered. They didn't.

Respect.

My next step was to meet up with Anne Marie at Summerhill Community Centre. If Carlsberg were run a community centre...…! They are a great outfit. Every day of the week the place is buzzing with groups for young and old alike. Sadly all of these groups were closed down on Monday morning. Just like all groups. Everywhere.

Over the years Summerhill have invested heavily in their kitchen facilities. Now it is gleaming and state of the art. Crucially, they have a superbly motivated and competant team of volunteers who are well skilled in cooking large batches of food.

I asked if they might be able to start cooking up industrial quantities of broth for us. And they said yes. Why don't we start with 400 portions a week?

Progress, right? We had a tonne of broth mix and good people ready and willing to turn it into soup. Logistics? Plastic containers which are microwave ready and on the Bookers shelves for 9p a go. Tick. Procedure? Cook soup. Fill containers. Cool down and make ready for us to collect and take to the First Base freezers the next day. By hook or by crook, we are confident we will be able to buy the sacks of spuds, carrots, neeps and onions we will need to add to the the broth mix.

Next question. Did we have the required freezer capacity? No we didn't have the the required freezer capacity. So I called up Kevin Farish. Kevin has a Rolls Royce of a business selling electrical appliances right across Dumfries and Galloway. His man Murray told me they had been selling freezers like hot cakes all weekend. Well if people want to panic buy, they need somewhere to stow their panic purchases.

Did they have a couple of large chest freezers to sell us? They did. Huge ones. 430 litres each. They should have sold for £400 each. Kevin said the best he could do was £300 each. He could have profiteered. He didn't.

Respect.

They are due to be delivered at one this afternoon.

Another box ticked.

Next. Kerr at The Little Bakery in Dumfries. For years Kerr has been building his bakery business up on uncomplicated quality. His pies win all kinds of awards. If you are ever lucky enough to eat one, you will see why. We sat in his office. I laid our problems down on the table. I told him where we were up to on the soup front. I said it would be great if we could add two of his pies and three of his rolls to the two cartons of soup. And then we argued for the bast part of half an hour. I explained how we already spend £2000 a month on buying in food and some of this would need to head his way. He kept on telling me to piss off and asked me why he would even think of invoicing First Base in a time of crisis. In the end we agreed to disagree. This is the kind of guy Kerr is. He knows a bit about what a crisis looks like by the way – he was a volunteer fireman during the Lockerbie disaster.

After half an hour he promised us as many pies and rolls as we needed.

Respect

Tuesday morning and we had things in place to make a basic emergency parcel based on items manufactured locally out of simple, buyable ingredients.

Capacity. About 600 parcels a week's worth of capacity.

Promising.

Next up. How to get the food to the people who need the food? Right now, 50% of our parcels are collected from libraries across the 3400 square miles of territory we try to support. Do they have any freezers? No, they don't have any freezers. OK. Amazon. How much for a counter top freezer? About a hundred quid. I called up two councillors who picked up the phone straight away. If First Base buys up freezers and delivers them to libraries, could you guys guarantee to repay us at some stage? An answer is promised this morning. I am pretty sure the answer will be yes.

Which brings we to the part where First Base is asking for some help. We have already been contacted by lots of people who want to make themselves available. Now we want to start taking people up on these offers.

There are four ways you can help us out.

1. This one takes about five minutes. The Council is making money available to local charities who do anti poverty work. We are bidding for £12,000. The public makes the decision about who gets funded. The voting process is online. If you follow the link below, you can vote for us. Everyone who has voted for us tells me the process is quick and easy

CLICK HERE TO CAST YOUR VOTE FOR FIRST BASE

2. Money. Of course money. As demand for emergency food sky rockets over the coming weeks, there will be any number of unforeseen expenses. Having some cash reserves available can mean the difference between saying 'yes' and saying 'no'. Modest reserves meant we were able to buy in £1300 worth of broth mix and £600 worth of freezer capacity without having to waste vital time trying to raise funds. If you follow the link below, you will arrive at our online fundraising page. I hate to go all Tesco, but every bit really does help.

THE FIRST BASE ONLINE FUNDRAISING PAGE

3. Deliveries. As demand grows, we are going to need lots of help with getting our emergency parcels to the people who need them. We can make sure this is done safely for all concerned. Here is how it will work? A volunteer parks up outside our back door and opens the boot. We fill them up with parcels and hand them a list of addresses. Nobody gets within two meters of each other. Once the volunteer arrives at an address, they call the client and tell them their parcel will be left on the doorstep. Again, nobody needs to be within two metres of each other. If you are willing to offer your services to help get the parcels out, please either e mail me on markglenmill@aol.com or call me on 07770 443483. We cover an area from Kirkconnel to Dalbeattie and Castle Douglas to Langholm

4. Cooking. The volunteers at Summerhill have committed to make soup 2 days a week. There are three days available for more soup to be prepared should we need to help more than 200 people a week. And I am pretty sure we will need to help more than 200 people a week. Lots more. If you are a dab hand in the kitchen and minded to help out, then either e mail me on markglenmill@aol.com or call me on 07770 443483.

So. That pretty much does it. It is Wednesday morning and we are well on the way to having everything in place. The new regime goes live on Monday. With what we have in place already, we can already help a lot of people. If more and more people are willing to step up, either with money or with time, we will be able to help a whole bunch more people.

Can we manage 1000 emergency parcels a week? You know what, I reckon we possible can. With help. Your help. Here are the links again.

To vote for us, click below.



To donate to us, click here.


We are all about to live through a truly horrible time. We can either hide away and look to our Governent for everything. Or we can rally around and get stuck in. In my book, 'bottom up' is always more effective and efficient than 'top down'. 'Bottom up' means people like Anne Marie and Kerr and Kevin and the good folks at Whitworths. People who say 'sure, glad to help'. Decisions made quickly mean stuff can get done quickly.

So it's over to you. Please share this and help us out if you can.


Sunday, March 8, 2020

FIRST BASE NEEDS YOUR VOTE TO HELP SECURE £12,000 OF ANTI-POVERTY FUNDING. PLEASE, PLEASE TAKE 5 MINUTES TO VOTE AND SHARE.

The last blog I posted was read by just over 100,000 people. Something tells me this one won't attract quite the same amount of attention! Unfortunately this one is rather more important. Well. It is for us. For First Base.

So. It's probably best keep things short and snappy I guess.

Here goes.

First Base is the largest foodbank in South West of Scotland.

This year we are on track to help out over 6000 people with emergency food.

The area we cover by the way is home to 100,000 people and it stretches out across 3.4 million acres of Scottish soil. Our emergency parcels can be collected from a network of 25 collection points.

6000 hungry people is a lot, right? And that is before we factor in the likes of Brexit and Coronavirus.

You won't be surprised to learn that all of this costs money. Quite a lot of money. Luckily, the local community are absolutely brilliant. Every year we receive over £40,000's worth of donated food.

But it ain't nearly enough. Each and every week we spent over £500 on deliveries from Tesco and Asda to make up the shortfall.

Then of course there is rent and wages and phone bills and electricity and delivery costs....

And on and on it goes.

So we need cash to do what we do. It is our lifeblood.

And basically we could really use your help in securing £12,000's worth of life blood.

We are not looking for your money here. How's about that! Instead we are looking for about 5 minutes or so of your time.

So here's how it works.

Dumfries and Galloway Council hace received a chunk of money from the Governement in Edinburgh to allocate to projects which are involved in Anti-Poverty work. As in us. Giving 6000 people a year something to eat when their cupboards are bare obviously ticks the box.

The Council have decided to pass on the decision as to who gets the cash to the public. As in you. Whoever gets enough votes, gets a share of the cash.

We are on the ballot in three Council areas – Nithsdale - £5000, Annandale and Eskdale - £5000 and Stewartry - £2000.

The process of casting a vote is actually really straight forward. I've just done it and it genuinely only took 5 minutes.

I'll put in the link in couple of minutes. Before I do, I'll sketch out what you need to do once you've got there.

First up, as far as I can tell there is no requirement for you to live in Dumfries in Galloway to cast a vote. So basically absolutely anyone reading this can play a part.

So this is how things play out.

You go to the Participatory Budgeting page.

Click 'Register to Vote'

User name – your name or whatever you fancy.

E mail

Confirm e mail

Then they sent you and e mail and you hit 'confirm'.

Once you're registered, you can choose to vote in any of the three areas.

My gut feeling tells me we will be looking hardest for votes in Annandale and Eskdale and Stewartry.

Once you get to the page, you will find a list of charities looking for support. You have three votes and hopefully one of them will be for us.

Again, it takes a couple of minutes.

And then you're done. Just like that.

So here's the link.


OK. If you have done the deed then thank you and thank you again. Your support is hugely appreciated. Really.

Which leaves one last thing. It would be absolutely great if you could expend another few seconds of your life and give this a share. If you do, then once again – thanks!

So I guess that's me pretty much done. £12,000 is a big deal for First Base. Like I said – life blood.

And we need all the help we can get.


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

STRUGGLING TO SHAKE OFF THE POST DECEMBER 12 BLUES? MAYBE THIS WILL HELP. HOPEFULLY!


If you are like me, you might well have completely tuned out of the news in the weeks that have passed since December 12. I cannot stand to watch even ten seconds of the appalling Johnson or his equally appalling cronies.

There was obviously an instruction sent out from Downing St to the DWP during the time of the election. Make nice. Ease off on the sanctions. Let the sick be sick. Put the attack dogs in their cages for a while. Because nobody wanted the story of some poor, desperate soul in Bacup or Dewsbury topping themselves having opened a letter to find out every last penny of their income was sanctioned for three long cold winter months. No. That kind of unpleasantness wouldn't have been in line with the promised post Brexit golden era which awaits us all. Allegedly.

So for a few short weeks, things were relatively calm in our food bank. Like in one of those old westerns when the square jawed hero frowns at the vast horizon and says 'It's quiet. Too quiet.......' at which point, hordes of yowling Apaches sweep down from the hills with murder in their hearts.

Well the DWP attack dogs are off their leashes again. And how.

And how.

And we've got five more years of this. Maybe ten. Maybe forever. Oh whose haunting words of George Orwell from the greyness of 1948.

"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever"

Agggh. Enough already. Enough Johnson and enough Trump and enough of all of it.


So here's something else entirely. Something straight forward and simple. A snap shot of ..... of what? Of a lost innocence, maybe? Of our lost innocence? As in 'us' being the West. The First World. The masters of a universe on fire.

Maybe you have read some of my blogs about our new African Charity, 'The Kupata Project'. You can check out the link below to find out more if you are interested. We provide sanitary pads to school girls in Uganda which means they don't have to miss a week's worth of their education once a month.


This is a massive problem but also a simple problem with a very simple solution. Raise cash. Buy pads. Hand out pads. Personally. One by one.

We're getting there. On our last trip to Uganda in Novemeber we were able to give out a year's worth of pads to over 1000 girls in five schools.

And every one of the girls received a postcard with a picture of Edinburgh in the snow on the front and a simple message on the back.

'To you from the people of Scotland'

Anyway. We decided to fund two scholarships. Some basic background is probably required here. High school education isn't free in Uganda. Families have to fund their kids once they are done with primary school and it is invariably very much by hook or by crook. Less than half manage it.

There are two options – day scholars and boarders. The boarding option is a far cry from Eton or Marlborough. Boarding means a dormitory with no electricity and a clay floor. You need to provide your own mattress and a plastic bucket for washing. Boarding also means breakfast and supper included, which is a mighty big deal in a place where most of the population is a couple of weeks away from the onset of malnutrition. 

The cost of boarding is about £200 a year. Day scholars pay about half of this and only lunch is included. And if your parents can't come up with the fees....? well, you don't eat.

To choose our scholars we asked for the pupils to write a short essay. 'A day in my life'. We wanted to get a picture of what an average day looked like. From dawn till dusk in the green hills of Africa. The nuts and the bolts. The rhythm of their lives.

One essay jumped out of the pile. Saviour's essay. Saviour's account of one of Saviour's days.

Here it is.

'I wake up early in the morning, but before I go to school I first make sure that I fetch water, clean the house, prepare breakfast for my mother because she is suffering from diabetes which sometimes makes her blind. After doing all these, I reach school at 8.30 on foot when others have already started morning prayers. I join classes and wait for the teachers and then after they come they teach us up to lunch time. During lunch break, if I have cleared fees, I take lunch seated in the tree shade. If I have not cleared school fees, I hide and do some revision when others are eating.

After lunch at 2pm, I go to class again and wait for teachers. At 4.40pm I participate in general cleaning and sports. Sometimes netball and volleyball up to 5pm. When I set off on my walk home, I always take around one and a half hours walking home. On arrival at home I find the water is not there so I have to first go to fetch water. I then wash my only one uniform so that I can go to school the following day looking smart.

After washing I have to prepare supper which usually gets ready around 9pm if I have dry firewood.

Sometimes I use the candle light after supper to do some revision, but most of the time I am too tired so I go to bed immediately.

In last term, I got '14' points but I think if I were a boarder I would have got '17' points or above because I don't have enough time to read my books at home. I always hope to become a boarder but that was always refused.

My hobbies at school are reading novels and singing.

In conclusion, my day is always tiring but interesting since every single hour is programmed.'

So there you go. A life light years away from the lives we lead. The kind of life we used to lead. Once upon a time. Rooted to the land. To family. To responsibility. To diligence. To hope. A mile and a half there and a mile and a half home. Water carried up and down the steep slopes of the green hills of Africa. Revision by candle light.

Well, now some of these problems are about to go away for Saviour. No more an hour and a half there and an hour and a half back. No more revision by candle light. No more hiding through lunch hour when her fees aren't paid. No more having to miss a week's worth of school every month due to a lack of sanitary pads.

Now the way is cleared for her to get her points total up from 14 to 17. And then? Who knows? Maybe a job and the chance to go to a pharmacy to buy some insulin for her mum. Maybe all sorts of newly opened doors. Just a better chance.

I hope the picture of Saviour starting out on her new term as a boarder helps clear some of the post 12 December gloom! It works for me.

If you are maybe minded to help the Kupata Project with our work, you can find our online funding page via the link below. 

THE KUPATA PROJECT ONLINE FUNDRAISING PAGE


Saturday, January 18, 2020

AN OPEN LETTER TO LISA NANDY MP



Dear Lisa

I have just watched your interview with Andrew Neil and I am absolutely furious: furious enough to slam a few words down on paper in the form of this open letter.

Some background. I was born and raised a few miles up the road from the constituency you now represent – Blackburn. In 1989 I became the white half of a mixed race couple. Soon we had two brown boys and by the mid 90's it was abundantly clear Blackburn was no place to raise two mixed race boys. A septic tide of racism was starting to seep into every brick of the town and the BNP were strutting their stuff. So we ran. We fled a hundred miles north up the M6 and found ourselves a new future in Scotland.

I never felt English, but after twenty five years I feel very Scottish. They call us New Scots up here. And being a New Scot has meant my two boys have had the chance to grow up in a country where racism barely exists. The BNP never managed more than 1% up here. UKIP and the Brexit Party never made it past 4%.

How dare you make up fairytales about "narrow, divisive Nationalism."? And how dare you criticise the Scottish Government for a record which you describe as "frankly appalling."? I think it is time for a few home truths. We still regularly visit my wife's family who live in Lancaster. When they need to see the GP they have to wait over a month for an appointment. We get one in no more than two days. When they pick up their prescriptions, they pay through the nose. Ours are free. When they park up at the hospital, they pay through the nose. When we park it is free. When my nieces and nephews look to university, they have to get their heads around the idea of living with a minimum of £30,000 of debt. If they lived up here, it would be free. English prisons are overcrowded to boiling point, Dumfries Prison is seldom more than 70% full. At eight o'clock in the morning in Lancaster almost every shop doorway is home to a homeless person. In Dumfries there is not a single one.

And I know about this stuff by the way – I manage the region's largest food bank. A few months back I handed out a food parcel to a young lad who had been made homeless in Manchester. After a few weeks on the streets, he decided to make use of his last worthwhile possession – his bike. He hit the road and headed north. He stopped at town after town to apply for a bed for the night and he was turned away every time – Wigan, Blackburn, Preston, Lancaster, Kendal, Penrith, Carlisle.... until he crossed the border. Into Scotland. And when he applied for homeless accommodation in Dumfries, he was given a room for the night straight away. So how dare you take to the airwaves to accuse my Government of a "frankly appalling record."

However, that statement pales into insignificance in comparison to what you had to say about our demands for a second Independence referendum. You actually suggested the UK should look to other countries for some clues on how to deal with "narrow, divisive" nationalism. And you actually cited Spain's handling of Catalonia as a shining example. 

As a New Scot, I have come to be a fervent supporter of the dream of independence. In the 2014 referendum I took the 'Yes' side in many debates. Over the years, I have written lots of blogs on the subject and nearly a million readers have read them. I guess it is fair to say I wear my heart on my sleeve. I am allowed to do this because I still live in a country where free speech is still allowed and tolerated. And every time I post a blog, I feel lucky and take a moment to remember all those who paid a heavy price for fighting to free their nations from the rule of London. 

In Ireland. In India. In Aden. In Israel. In Kenya. In Ghana. 

It's a long, long list. A shameful litany of imprisonment and beatings for those who dared to defy their London masters.

You seem impressed by the Spanish Government's handling of the Catalonian Independence movement. Well, I'm not. If I was posting my blog in Catalonia, I would be in prison by now. And if I had joined a march for independence, I would have been beaten within an inch of my life by Spanish riot police. And by now, my leaders would either be living in exile or imprisoned for years. And this is how you think the likes of me should be treated? This is the shining example of good practice you feel the Westminster Government should aspire to? Well, shame on you Lisa Nandy.

No wonder your party is down to one MP in Scotland.

Mark Frankland
New Scot
January 2020

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

UNEXPECTED SIGNPOSTS ON OUR ROAD TO OUR INDEPENDENCE.



Our road to Independence is going to take many unpredictable twists and turns over the coming years. Will we get there in the end? Of course we will. Will we get there in the way we think? Almost certainly not.

From time to time I have heard commentators make what seems to me a pretty interesting point. They reckon the day when our Independence finally gets over the line, the final push will come from south of the border.

As in a shove into the future from our fifty million English neighbours.

Obviously as 'New Scot' who was born and raised in England, this theory has always got my attention. And the more I have thought about it, the more I agree with the premise.

So how will this work in practice? Well here are a couple of random things which have happened in my life over the last few weeks which give a small clue.

Random thing number one. 

A blog of mine. I wrote the blog in question several months ago. it told the story of one of our cleints at the food bank, a young guy who had cycled all the way from Manchester to Dumfries, asking for homeless accommodation in every town along the way. The answer was a firm 'No' in Wigan, Blackburn, Preston, Lancaster, Kendal, Penristh and Carlisle. Then he cycled by the 'Welcome to Scotland' sign and he was given a room on his first night. Right here. In Dumfries.

The blog was read over 60,000 times. If you didn't see it, you find it via the link below.

MY BLOG FROM A FEW MONTHS AGO


So what? So something strange has happened over the last few days. Well. Strange for me. As a rule of thumb, a blog runs its course over the first few days and then it is read no more. Blogs have a short shelf life before they are parked up in an internet version of a dusty archive.

Well, for some reason this particular blog flickered back into life last week and for no explainable reason it attracted 5000 readers. This is a lot for me. I am no kind of celebrity. I only merit 1000 followers on Twitter and I did nothing whatsoever to promote the blog.

So where did all of these unexpected visitors come from? All Google can say is they were from the UK. My gut feeling tells me they are from England. I am not any kind of Facebook guy, but even I have noticed more and more online conversations between people living in England and people living in Scotland. Strangers in a virtual land. And it is the people living in England who are asking all the questions. Will I be welcome if I up sticks and move? Emigrate? Flee? And do I need a passport? And what are the schools like? And if my daughter decides to go to Scottish university will this mean she can get a Scottish passport once you guys are independent?

Millions of people living in England are in a state of shock right now. They no longer recognise the country they live in. They take a look around and feel appalled. A sense of dread. Those with the wrong skin colour feel a gnawing sense of fear. As do those whose surnames end in 'ovic'. All over England people are beginning to consider the option of finding a lifeboat to jump into. Those with sought after skills and fat bank accounts are starting to Google Canada and Australia and New Zealand. Others without ready cash and the right certificates are looking north. Up the M6. To Scotland. To us.

Last week Dami called in for a chat. Dami is the daughter of one of the Nigerian families we helped through the nightmares of the 'Hostile Environment'. I asked her if she had noticed the appearance of lots of new black faces in the town. Absolutely she had. She has only been here for three years, but already the difference is unbeliveable. As the white half of a mixed race family, I am pretty hard wired when it comes to noticing new black faces on the high street. Or in Tesco. Dumfries isn't anyone's idea of a cosmopolitan town. When we arrived twenty five years ago, Carol was always the only black face. And my lads were invariably the only two brown faces. Not that this was ever any kind of problem. Not like Blackburn. Well those days are well and truly gone. So where have all these new faces come from? They certainly haven't availed themselves of Westminster's warm and friendly immigration policies. Instead they have come up the M6. Internal migration. Sick of the rising tide of racism. Sick of the xenophobia. Sick of the strutting nastiness. Sick of Little England and the Little Englanders.

The new black and brown faces are easily noticed. But what of the new white faces? Like mine was twenty five years ago? How many are crossing the border every single day? Selling up idiotically over priced houses in the cities and towns of England to finance a new start in Scotland?

Is it thousands? Tens of thousands? Maybe? And who are these people who are so disgusted and appalled at the world around them? A few words spring to mind. Educated. Liberal. Tolerant.

Was it five thousand of these people who found their way to my old blog? And were they looking to put some flesh on the bones? They are hearing stories of a shining city on the hill. A sanctuary. Like Sweden in 1938. But is it real? Or is it an urban myth? Can I really get an appointment with a GP in less than six weeks? Can my son really walk home from school without being spat at and called a Paki? Will my daughter really be able get a free University course? Will our new baby really get the chance to breath actual fresh air?

Is it real? Should we go?

Well I get the feeling they are coming. Maybe it is trickle which might soon become a flood. And most will come with skills, energy and ambition. The same kind of immigrants who turbo charged America in the nineteenth century. A boon to us and brain drain to England. And which way will they vote when Indyref 2 comes around?

No prizes for guessing. For most, I have no doubt it will be the same way as it was me. Is for me. Throughout history, new immigrants who have fled oppressive home countries always become the most fervent of patriots in their new country. Their sanctuary. Their shining city on the hill.

These guys will be no different. When you arrive at a place where your kids don't have to suffer being spat at called Paki, you really appreciate it. You sign on the dotted line. You don't take it for granted. You take a side.

OK. Random thing number two.

It's a cold, windy night. It's the first Anfield game of a new decade. Liverpool are away and clear at the top of the Premier League. Sheffield United are newly promoted and basking in one of the best away records in the division. 3000 of South Yorkshire's finest have made the trip over the Pennines to roar on their boys. Loud and proud.

'You fill up my senses,
Like a gallon of Magnet,
Like a packet of Woodbines,
Like a good pinch of snuff,
Like a night out in Sheffield,
Like a greasy chip butty,
Like Sheffield United,
Come fill me again
Na na na na na...Ooooohh!'

None of their fire and fury bothers the Mighty Reds in the slightest. Liverpool keep the ball and make a mockery. It's so conclusive it's almost boring. With twenty minutes to go, the Reds are 2-0 ahead and cruising. Time for some substitutions to rest legs weary from the hectic Christmas programme.

The board goes up. 26. Andy Robertson. Our Glaswegian left back. New rules dictate he must leave the field at the nearest point. To avoid time wasting. So Andy exits on the Sir Kenny Dalglish side of the ground and makes his way around the touchline towards the dug out. At first his progress is met by thunderous applause for the home fans. Then he reaches the away end and all of a sudden South Yorkshire's finest explode into howling rage. Twisted faces and pointing fingers. A sea of V signs. And one word slammed out into the cold January air.

'ENG – ER – LAND !!!! ENG – ER – LAND!!!!!
ENG – ER – LAND!!!!!!'

So there it is. Andy is a Scot. The new enemy within. The new 'other'. The last time I saw a similar reaction from away fans to one of our players was way back when in the late eighties. Then the player in question was Johnny Barnes. Who of course was black. And for the avoidance of any doubt, they threw bananas at him.

Well it seems being Scottish is the new black. Maybe we should be flattered.

The UK will be leaving the EU in a couple of weeks. The deed will be done and all those who worshipped at the alter of Johnson and Farage will be eager for another enemy to aim their bile at. Of course anyone with the wrong skin colour will continue to be front and centre of their xenophobic ire. But it seems like we Scots are being lined up to play the part of the new Enemy Within. Traitors. Trouble. Perfect to play the same villianous role as the Irish, the people of Liverpool and the miners played in the 1980's for those who like nothing better than to sing 'two world wars and one world cup' on the back of a few pints.

And how will we Scots feel about this? No prizes for guessing. We'll be Seriously pissed off. We're not exactly known for going all meek and mild in the face of adversity. There are lots of died in the wool unionists who aren't about to change their minds no matter what yessers like me have to say. But once the spitting venom of those 3000 South Yorkshiremen reaches the mainstream and the red top tabloids, well I reckon we'll soon see a different story start to emerge.

So there you have it. Two random things. Two signposts on the road. And with every passing day, journey's end is starting to take shape.