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.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How we have all been taught to hate the poor.


So what do you get when you shell out $50,000 for a bite of lunch? Well, after last week we all know the answer to that one. You get Mitt Romney. And it really is very, very hard to get your head around the idea of shelling out fifty grand to watch a human version of a fence post drone out his nasty vision of how the world should really be. I very much doubt if many of the diners that day coughed up with any great enthusiasm. Romney would struggle to get enthusiastic about himself!
 
There is an accepted wisdom that we live in an era where enough cash in an offshore account makes absolutely anything possible. As in anything. You can have a yacht the size of a navy frigate complete with a troupe of top end hookers, hire by the hour celebs at your parties and hire by the favour politicians at your beck and call. You want to win the Champion’s League? Sure. Why not? It might take you ten years, but you’ll have it in the end. We are all the playthings of the super rich. We dance to their tune. We do as they bid. We are the new serfs.

And yet Mitt Romney has gone a long way to questioning this perceived wisdom. Over the last few years he has shelled out fifty million bucks of his own cash to try and make people like him. And nobody likes him. And when we all got the chance to listen in on the sage words that were only supposed to be heard by those who had stumped up for their $50,000 lunch, it is easy to see why nobody likes him.

This was Mitt without the airbrushing. This was Mitt the chosen one of the 1% laying out his credentials. I’m your guy. I will maintain the new status quo. Never mind what I say when I talk with all those plebs out there. That’s just bullshit. You know that’s all bullshit. Don’t for Christ’s sake let it put you off. You see guys, I need to tell them what they want to hear else they won’t vote for me. It's not rocket science. But don’t get alarmed. Now we are safely behind closed doors, you can pay up your fifty large and get it from the horse’s mouth. I mean these people! Look at them. 47% of our fellow citizens are nothing more than scroungers who have no interest in doing a day’s work. Oh no sireee! They want to get their grubby hands on your money… my money .. our money! Well that ain’t about to happen on my watch. No way Hose.

And the truly sickening thing is that these guys, despite seeming like the worst of twats, basically run rings around us. They now have north of $13 trillion stashed away in their off shore accounts, every penny of it blissfully tax free. They meet up at their $50,000 lunches and compare notes. They mutually appreciate each other and rubber stamp the fact that they are the new supermen. And why should a superman have to pay any tax? Well of course he shouldn’t. Poxy things like roads and cops and schools and hospitals are not for them to worry about. And why should they be? Philip Green and Lewis Hamilton and Bono and Roman Abramovich shouldn’t have to worry themselves over paying for the nuts and bolts of the places where they live. They are after all the special ones. It is for us, the plebs, to cough up and pay all the boring bills. They are mutually convinced of their divine right to stuff their offshore accounts until they can be stuffed no more.

Lat week Mitt smiled his all American smile and told us what a great guy he is because last year he gave up 14% of the 13 million bucks he had earned in the form of tax. I mean, who could fail to warm to the guy. 14%! What a complete and utter dude. It is the kind of public spirited generosity that makes Mother Theresa look like the worst kind of Scrooge. And of course we have had some of this stuff on this side of the pond. A few years ago Prince Charles marshalled his people and with great ceremony told us that he had also paid 14% tax on an income of 15 million. You could just tell from the way the message was delivered that he really expected all of us to doff our caps and swear our eternal allegiance to the Crown. Of course the PR types never actually said the figure 14% out loud. Well obviously not. No, they shouted from the rooftops that the gallant Prince had forked out £2,100,000 in tax and only in the smallest of small print did they mention the fact that he had earned £15,000,0000. It was left to us to get out our calculators to do the maths. It would be nice if our newspapers took some time to consider this. We pay our tax and the Government hands over £15,000,000 to Prince Charles to fly the flag and be an all round good egg. Now, were he to be on the payroll and subject to PAYE, then about £7,000,000 would come straight back in the form of income tax. But that wouldn’t be on at all. How on earth could the poor lad get by on a mere eight million a year? Ridiculous. And how could he possibly hold his head up high at the polo? Well he couldn’t. Obviously he couldn’t. Only plebs pay PAYE and we couldn’t have the heir to the throne going round looking like a pleb, could we? God forbid.

The extra-ordinary thing is that we seem more than happy to allow the 1% to rob us blind and keep every penny with barely a murmour. Every year we earn less and find life harder and harder. Every year the 1% at the top earn more and more and salt their treasure away in havens from Monaco to Grand Cayman via the shiny towers of the City of London. Do we riot? Do we take to the streets? Do we down tools and say sod off the lot of you, enough is enough? Of course we don’t. We just go along with it. We do as we’re told. We doff our caps. We get ripped blind every day of our lives and shrug our shoulders.

They have a nice description of how this remarkable feat is achieved in America. For two hundred years Republican politicians have mastered the art of getting very, very poor people to get very, very mad; mad enough to take to the streets and riot to enshrine the right of very, very rich people to pay no tax.

Yeah, it’s mind boggling. And good old Mitt is merely the latest chosen one to keep the road to the gleaming vaults of Grand Cayman open for traffic.

Are we any better? Of course we’re not. It only takes a glance at the front pages from any day to see where the land lies. Do we get to hear about the £50 billion a year of dodged tax? A little. A very little. Do we get to hear about the £1 billion a year of dodgy benefits paid out? Oh yeah. Day after day after day. Is it really too big a stretch to wonder whether we are being brainwashed to blame it all on the poor? The undeserving poor? The single mums on forty a day with widescreen TVs and fridges filled with Blue Wicked and freezers full of pizza. The work shy youth who spend their days on the Xbox in a fug of dope. The scheming immigrants hell bent on taking the country for all they can get.

It has become tried and trusted. The 1% have perfected the art of making complete and utter mugs of us all. They buy up the media and plaster the front page with tales work shy scroungers. Mitt had the lower orders very carefully measured. 47%. Almost half. People on the take. The spongers. The worthless.

And you really have to take your hat of to them. How many times do we hear the $13 trillion they have stashed away discussed at the pub or the works canteen or at the counter of the Spar shop. Almost never. Instead we rage about the story of the single mum of seven who goes to Benidorm twice a year. No wonder Mitt was so comfortable in laying out his plans to keep half of his fellow citizens very firmly in their place.

Last week I had a pretty good example of how this all pervading hate the poor mentality plays out on the ground. A young lad came in for a food parcel. He was very much one of the mouse-like. I guess he must have been about twenty. Maybe twenty one. He was so nervous he could hardly speak. There was something very broken about him as he passed over the slip of paper that entitled him to a carrier bag containing three days worth of grub. We see more and more of this. Embarrassed. Ashamed. Confused. Unerringly polite. Uncomprehending. Shattered.

Could possibly advise him? I said I could try. And in a quiet, quiet voice he told his story. When he left school at eighteen he got himself a job and a flat. And for a while everything had been fine. But he had obviously been too shy and too quiet. He wasn’t made for the laddish culture of the workplace and soon he was an easy mark for the in-house bullies. In the end the bullies had their way and drove him out. He was sure that his employer had explained this to in the letter he took to the Job Centre. And maybe the employer had indeed put it down in black and white. But nobody at Job Centre Plus was interested in the fine print. They are hard wired to assume that every person through their door is a wannabe scrounger. And so they marked up his case as ‘intentionally unemployed’. As in worthless, work-shy, scrounger. As in a classic example of Mitt’s 47%. As in every day’s Daily Express front page. They didn’t bother to explain that this decision meant that his Housing Benefit was stopped straight away. The first he knew of this was a letter from his landlord giving him his notice of eviction. By the time he got his day in court, the Job Centre had grudgingly admitted that they had got it wrong and put him on Jobseeker’s Allowance and that had triggered a resumption of his Housing Benefit. Not that they backdated anything. Which meant that he found himself £600 in arrears with his landlord.

So here was what the Sheriff was presented with. The lad had been in his flat for three years and never had he once been late with his rent. Then he was forced to leave his job due to systematic bullying. Then the Job Centre screwed up and stopped all his claims. Then they admitted their mistake and re-instated all his benefits, but not before their mistake had racked up £600 of rent arrears.

Basically the facts are pretty open and shut. The lad had done nothing wrong. In fact all the way through the sorry tale he had been wronged himself. He had offered to pay of the arrears at a fiver a week. Oh the Daily Express would love that figure. A fiver a week! Why the worthless, scrounging swine! They would certainly not consider the fact that a fiver a week for my man is the equivalent to £50 a week for someone earning £25,000 a year. Well, the Sheriff was clearly a Daily Express man. A Mitt Romney man. He was having none of it. Evict the worthless swine! Who cares that none of it was his fault. Who cares that his rent is now being paid in full. None of that matters. We are all hard wired to distrust anyone who is poor. The Sheriff certainly was. He ignored the facts in front of him and decided to smell a rat instead. The Express would no doubt wonder why such a lad should have his rent paid at all. At least the tax payer has now been relieved of that burden by the Sheriff playing hardball.

Well sorry guys, it doesn’t work like that. Sure we have all saved £240 a month of housing benefit. But if the lad fails in his appeal, he will have no choice but to present himself to the local Homeless Department. And a room will indeed be found for him. And this will cost us all £900 a month. And this particularly vulnerable lad will be parachuted into the company of a variety of drug addicts and alcoholics and petty criminals. And in all likelihood he will have some sort of a nervous breakdown at which point the NHS will spend thousands on trying to fix him.

The whole thing is complete and utter stupidity which will cost us all a fortune and probably fracture yet another young life for good. This is the place where the 1% who call the shots have delivered us all to. A state of mind where we are taught to instinctively distrust anyone who is unlucky enough to not have much. We are told that the way to a brighter future is to come down on them like a tonne of bricks. To play hardball. To let them know their place.

And the more time we devote to hating and distrusting the poor, the less time we will spend wondering how less than 100,000 people have managed to rob us blind and stash away £13 trillion in their off shore accounts. No wonder they consider $50,000 to listen to Mitt Romney droning on to be a worthwhile investment.

What utter mugs we all are.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Can I rationalise the way I feel about Man United?


 
There’s been all sorts of fallout in the hours and days following Wednesday’s staggering Hillsborough revelations. Quite rightly, most attention has been focused on the sheer depth of the Establishment cover up that was put in place and kept in place for twenty three years.

A second element of the fallout has been a pleasingly general mood that this might be a time for football fans to put a stop to some of the hate. Well, three cheers to that. Any half way decent human being must surely be disgusted when the Chelsea fans hiss out the sound of the Auschwitz gas chambers as a way of getting under the skin of their Tottenham rivals. When Millwall played Leeds last year, a few Millwall fans actually went to the effort of shopping around to buy a large Turkish flag. Because two Leeds fans were stabbed to death in Istanbul. Can you even begin to imagine how that must have made the families of the lads who were murdered feel?

We nearly got the Walt Disney ending we all hoped for yesterday. Gerry Marsden was once again number one in the charts with ‘You’ll never walk alone” after a gap of fifty years. How did that happen? It happened because football fans from all clubs all over planet earth logged on and shelled out 79p to show solidarity with Liverpool. Not a small thing.  And yet a few morons at Old Trafford couldn’t resist having a go. They sang out a new ditty of theirs that was born out of last year’s Evra/Suarez affair. ‘It’s never your fault…you’re always victims  … it’s never your fault…” On the surface it took the Mick out of the way we circled the wagons when our number 7 behaved like a complete and utter spoilt pratt. But underneath was an unmistakeable reference to our long campaign for the truth about 1989 to be revealed once and for all. A simple truth. We didn’t kill each other. We were killed by the authorities. And even when that truth was presented in the ultimate black and white, it wasn’t enough for a few nutters who chose to ignore it as an inconvenient truth. They opted to ape the actions of the Holocaust Deniers who to this day claim Auschwitz was little more that a detention centre.

To his credit Sir Alex Ferguson did his best to urge us all to use this historic week for football to wind back the loathing. And it is really hard to argue with those sentiments. And yet it isn’t at all easy to follow the advice.

Not for the first time I have found myself trying to find a proper, logical explanation for the way I feel about Manchester United Football Club. I like to think I am a pretty easy going sort of guy. I manage a charity, I abide by the law, I have a poster of Martin Luther King on the wall. And yet for ninety minutes when United come to Anfield, I do a complete Jekyll to Hyde. For those ninety minutes I hate those eleven players and their fans in the Annie Road End more than I have ever hated anything else in my life.

I will never forget the first time I took my oldest son to a Liverpool/United game. He was five at the time and at the very start of his career as a Red. He was at the posters on the wall and sticker book stage, more than happy to lap up every ritzy Sky TV bit of superstar hype. Of course he supported Liverpool, because his dad and granddad supported Liverpool. And he loved the noise and passion of Anfield in the days of Barnes, Rush and Fowler. But the United game was different. He was quieter. Almost scared by everything he saw around him. I remember looking down at him a few seconds after Steve Bruce had tried to cut Rushy in half with a scything tackle. I had just gone mental. My dad had just gone mental. Absolutely everyone in the stand had just gone mental. We were all more or less frothing at the mouth. My son’s face was a picture of confusion. What was happening here? Why were his dad and granddad behaving this way? Why was everything so very different to every other game he had ever attended? And how do you explain the nature of sheer tribal hatred to one so young? Well there was no need to explain. It seeped into his bones that afternoon. It was his rite of passage. And a year later he had fully joined the tribe and was screaming along with the rest of us.

It is something I have always felt uncomfortable with. It makes me feel a kind of shame and guilt when watching news items from places where this kind of mindless tribalism turns into rivers of blood. In Belfast. In Bosnia. In Rwanda. In Chechyna. In the Sunni triangle. In South Africa. We shrink back in horror at the cruelties committed when two tribes settle their age old scores. But are we really all that very different?

This deep seated hatred makes you do and feel things that you are not all that proud of. I remember this lad from school who switched from supporting Burnley to United back in 77. He was seduced by Tommy Doc’s team of Greenhoff, Coppell, Mcilroy and Gordon Hill. He had been a mate before making his switch. But once he became a typical gloating, crowing Manc he became insufferable. I remember the day of the O Levels results when he was fighting back the tears because he had blown it completely. I really should have felt some sympathy. I didn’t. Not one jot. And I ain’t proud of that.

When my son was just short of five he started primary school in Blackburn. Not surprisingly, well over half of his class were United fans, even though King Kenny was building his Rovers side that eventually won the league at Anfield. At the end of his first week Dyonne came home and announced with great seriousness that he had decided that he was going to support Man United. As in every father’s nightmare. I sat him down and said that such a decision was of course his choice entirely and that we are are lucky to live in a free country where we are free to say what we like and support who we like. Then I said it had been nice knowing him and wished him all the best for the rest of his life. I suggested he might as well go up to his bedroom and pack his stuff. This obviously induced a look of sheer panic as I explained further that he was more than welcome to become a Manc, but he couldn’t possibly live under my roof. Well obviously not. He decided there and then to stick with Liverpool and to this day the story makes him shudder. How very easy it can be for a young child to be drawn to the dark side! We have always laughed at the memory, but is this really any way to behave to a five year old? Not really. And yet in my heart of hearts I can never quiet bring myself to believe I did anything wrong.

When Dyonne was twelve we got tickets for the 4th round of the FA Cup and a visit to Old Trafford. This was a huge deal for Dyonne. And for 89 minutes all was on course for it to be one of the best afternoons of his life. Owen scored after five minutes and for the next 85 minutes we passed them to death and would have been four up but for wasteful finishing. The Stretford End was as quiet as a library and we were louder than loud. Three minutes stoppage time. Andy Cole. 1-1. Dwight Yorke 2-1. And all of a sudden there seemed to be about a million crowing, dancing Mancs all over us like a swarm of ants. It was like a nightmare. The sheer weight of the pent up waves of hatred seemed to suck the air out of the lungs. And I will never forget until my dying day the unholy thought that wriggled into my brain like a rabies-ridden rat. As I stared at the rank after rank of ugly, leering, jeering faces pressed up against the police line, I thought the following. If someone were to hand me a grenade right now I would gladly pull the pin and throw it.

And it was like opening a door onto something you never want to see. For I had been introduced to that most ugly of all our animal instincts. The instinct that made Hutus slice up Tutsis with machetes. The one that made Srebrinica. Necklaceings in Soweto. The darkest place of them all.

Thankfully the thought faded as quickly as it had arrived leaving me feeling ugly and crap.

A few months later, that same United side had their own Istanbul moment in the Nou Camp when Sheringham and Solskjaar scored injury time goals to snatch victory from Bayern Munich. I watched the game with a mate who is a big Chelsea fan in a pub near Warrington. The room was wall to wall Mancs and we had to take care not to so much as smile when the Germans took the lead. The injury time drama was something of a test. When all was said and done, an English side had just managed a miracle to overcome a German side. Surely there had to have been 1% of me that was glad. Not a chance. Not a millionth of a percent. Interestingly my Chelsea mate felt exactly the same. We both left our pints and left the pub. Neither of us could stand the sight of those bastards lifting the trophy.

The big question is why? Why such hatred? Is it all completely irrational or can I at least put some reason to it? Maybe it is best to go through things one by one.

Well it can’t be a North/South thing. Our two cities share than same latitude and despite what the redrawn lines on the civic map say, we are all basically Lancastrians. Do I hate the city? Not at all. I lived there for two years in the eighties in a terraced house in shadow of the Kippax St stand at the old Maine Road ground. It was great.

Managers? No. Not managers. Who could even begin to hate Sir Matt Busby? He was a titan, spawned from the same Ayrshire coalfields that gave us Jock Stein and our very own Bill Shankly. Tommy Doc was a star. And I could never really dislike Big Ron Atkinson with his sheepskin coats, cigars and bling. Then we have Sir Alex. Maybe I am in a minority, but I have always been a massive fan. It seems to me that if you like Bill Shankly and King Kenny, you cannot hate Sir Alex. He comes from the same set of no nonsense old school Scottish socialist values. I was delighted that the press highlighted the fact that he was the first to call Kenny after Hillsborough to offer 100% shoulder to shoulder support. He was also the first manager through the door to visit Gerard Houlier after his heart attack.

So no, it isn’t a manager thing.

Players? Well of course you hate them in the heat of battle, but let’s face it, there have been any number of United players I would have loved to see in a Liverpool shirt: who would have graced a Liverpool shirt. Charlton, Best, Law, Stiles, Crerand, Coppell, Greenhoff, Robson, Wilkins, Whiteside, Cantona, Giggs, Keane, Vidic. It has always seemed such a crying bloody shame that Rooney was born into a family of deluded Evertonians and never managed to see the light like Jamie Carragher and Robbie Fowler. I have always liked Gary Neville because he has never made any effort to hide his loathing for all things Liverpool. Why should he? He’s a Manc. It is how it should be. Fair play to him. When it comes down to it, there are only a handful of United players I have really hated over the years. Beckham, Ronaldo, Nani, not many. So it’s not a player thing either.

Which leaves the fans.

Ah, the fans.

Anyone who enjoyed the dubious pleasure of being packed into the infamous Scoreboard Paddock in the 70’s and 80’s as a Liverpool fan will have very few fond memories of the experience. I recall one particularly horrendous afternoon when we went down to a Jimmy Greenhoff goal. They had a new song and it seemed like the whole of Manchester was throwing it into our faces at full volume.

“He’s only a poor little Scouser, his face is all tattered and torn, he made me feel sick, so I hit him with a brick, and now he won’t sing any more….”

Nice. But they never get much of a picnic when they come to Anfield and we can match them point for point when it comes to frothing hatred. At the FA Cup game a couple of years ago when Kenny made his comeback, we were surrounded by a spectacularly Neanderthal bunch. One lad in particular had worked himself into a huge fury at the sight of two Mancs the other side of the police lines whose main crime in his eyes was to be wearing Mexican style Sombrero hats. The fact that the lad in question was wearing a bizarre Sherlock Holmes deerstalking number himself was neither here nor there. For the whole game he was throwing himself around doing a version of a five year old being an aeroplane. At one point it seemed as if every blood vessel in his face was about to burst as he yelled.

“FUCK OFF YOU FUCKING PLANE-CRASHING TWATS!!”

Charming.

And yet I have always felt that there is something that sets the United fans apart. After all, it isn’t just Liverpool fans who can’t stand them. It is everyone. And it isn’t just because they win everything. Nobody could stand them in those wonderful years when they won nothing.

Why?

Well, to state the screamingly obvious, there is no difference at all between any of us on an individual, human being basis. Obviously there isn't. But groups of very similar individuals can behave completely differently once they are forged into a group. This is where it comes down to the prevailing culture that drives the group. Most of us agree that we share many similarities as people with the Germans. Yet just look how differently we both behaved in the 30's and 40's. I reckon the reason why a majority of football fans hate United fans it is down to their insufferable sense of entitlement and their complete inability to show any sense of sportsmanship and class. This has always come from the top down. United was the first uber-commercial club. The first ‘brand’. They were selling duvet covers, wallpaper and lampshades long before anyone else even dreamt of it. Old Trafford has always been seemed like a place of capitalist smugness, purpose built for Johnny-come-lately day trippers.
 
We have never been like that, in fact now we are paying the price because we are always broke. We never learned to turn on pitch success into increased lampshade and wallpaper sales.

So are we all that different? Well. Yes actually. We are. I don't think I have a rose tinted memory when I recall most of the country being pretty pleased when we won the European Cup all those times in the 70's and 80's. And in Istanbul. Just like I was more than happy to cheer on Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest.

The Kop has always prided itself on its sportsmanship. We take time out to clap the opposition goalie when he takes up his position between the sticks. And they clap back, appreciative of the gesture. Unless it is a United keeper. They make a point of not clapping back which has always seemed so small as to be pathetic. You soon learned that a failure to abide by the rules of the Kop would prove costly. In the late 70’s some moron threw a coin at the City keeper Joe Corrigan. It hit him on the head and drew blood. You could almost feel the Kop growl. Soon a chant grew and grew. ‘Get the bastard out! Get the bastard out!....’ The guy who had chucked the coin was picked up and rolled over thousands of heads and literally thrown onto the gravel behind the goal for the cops to arrest. Would that have happened at the Stretford End? I doubt it.

I remember a European Cup night in 1982 when we played a completely unknown Polish team, Widzew Lodz. We were the holders. The undisputed Kings of Europe. It had been an unbelievable shock when they had beaten us 2-0 on an icy night in Poland thanks to two howlers from Bruce Grobbelaar. We needed to win at least 2-0 and it was to be one of those epic Anfield European nights. But we didn’t win 2-0. We won 3-2 and got knocked out. The Poles played out of their skins and at the final whistle they didn’t really know what to do with themselves. They had no fans in the ground. They were just about to make their way off the pitch when they realised that a packed Kop was applauding them. And they made their way to the penalty box to applaud back. It was a hell of a blow to get knocked out by an East European team we had never heard of. But it didn’t stop us from clapping them.

Then there was that epic night when Arsenal stole the title with the last kick of the season a few weeks after Hillsborough. They had plenty of fans in the ground and the fans went completely mental. Of course they did. Nobody left the stadium when Tony Adams collected the trophy. And Arsenal did a lap of honour all the way round the ground. I had a seat at the front of the Kemlyn Rd stand at the time. I remember shaking Tony Adams hand as they made their way round the pitch. We were all completely and utterly gutted, but we still knew how to lose.

So what about United? A couple of years ago I watched their Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley with my brother in law who is a huge Manc. He was staying with us so I was determined not to crow too much if Barca took them apart. With some difficulty I persuaded my two sons to do the same and all three of us managed not to jig with delight as the Catalans took them apart piece by piece. But after 70 minutes I could stand it no more.

“You know what. If Liverpool were playing this lot tonight it might have been 6-1 to them instead of 3-1. But there is one thing I know for certain. They wouldn’t be out-singing us. Not a chance.”

There were two United fans in Wembley that night for every Barca fan. And yet as Messi, Xavi and Co weaved their magic, you couldn’t hear a peep from the United End. They stood and sulked and long before the final whistle they had left and skulked off into the night. That old sense of entitlement. That old inability to behave with any class whatsoever. And then there was the truly pathetic picture of Scholes and Van De Saar who had both announced their retirement standing in front of 40,000 empty seats. Those Mancs had just had the privilege of watching a complete master class from Lionel Messi and they were incapable of acknowledging it. When Kaka took us apart in the first half in Istanbul, we responded by filling the Turkish night with the sound of ‘You’ll never walk alone.” And if things had turned out differently and Milan had gone on to stuff us 6-0, we would have kept singing to the bitter end and given Kaka the ovation he deserved.

Why? Because we are hard wired to be that way. We always have been.

So what of the Liverpool/United gamenext week? Will I be able to take heed of Sir Alex and find a place in my heart to not hate United as they take the field? Well, I certainly will not be singing any Munich songs. I never have. Most of us never have. Just like most of them have never sung the Hillsborough songs. That has always been for a minority of idiots both sides of the line. But will I still hate them? I’m afraid I will. And is it completely irrational? Well, maybe not completely. But I would say that, wouldn’t I!    

            

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Twenty three long, long years but we got there in the end.






 
How did I feel as I watched Cameron make a speech none of us really believed we would ever hear? Shock of course. I think all of us were shocked. But here’s the thing. I very much doubt if any of us who were there at Hillsborough twenty three years ago were shocked at any of the contents of the speech. Why would we be? Almost everything that was revealed was something we knew already. Fair enough, we didn’t know the precise details, but we saw what happened in real time. It was played out in front of our eyes.

One of my abiding memories of the disaster was the reaction of the Nottingham Forest fans. They were packed into the Kop, a good 120 yards from where the life was being crushed out of 96 souls on the Leppings Lane. It took them only a matter of minutes to suss out that something catastrophic was going down at the other end of the ground. What did they do? Like all the fans that day, they did the right thing and climbed the fences to rip off advertising hoardings and leg it across the grass to help out their fellow fans as volunteer stretcher bearers. So what did the cops do? They formed a line across the pitch complete with snarling dogs to stop the Forest lads getting to where help was needed. They formed a cordon.

Why? Was every one of those coppers intrinsically evil? I very much doubt it. They did it because they were told to do it. Whoever was calling the shots ordered them to form a line and hold a line. And cops like soldiers are hard wired to follow orders. It always seemed only logical that many of these cops would have had a lot to say about the orders they were given once the dust had settled and the debriefings got under way. But we never got to hear how they felt because they had obviously been gagged. All Cameron did was put a number on it – 168 – and reveal how these guys had indeed made their opinions known only for those opinions to be deleted from the official version of the day.

It was the same with the ambulance issue. I can clearly remember thinking why in the name of Christ is there only one ambulance on the pitch? There was no logic to it. Hillsborough is close to the centre of the fourth largest city in Britain. It has to be close to a hospital. It’s a Saturday afternoon so the roads will be quiet. And let’s face it, British ambulance drivers are generally pretty shit hot when it comes to getting from A to B in a hurry. So if one had made it from ambulance station to stadium, then why not more? It made no sense. What did make sense was the fact that there was a line of thirty or forty cops complete with dogs trying to contain the dying from those trying to keep them breathing.

The drunkenness thing? That was always sickeningly obvious. Football fans back then were just viewed as caricatures. Thatcher was hell bent on the idea of making it a legal requirement that we should only be allowed to travel to and from games on the condition that we carried an ID card. There were no other groups in late 80’s Britain who were deemed so bad as to deserve such special treatment. Released prisoners? Nope. Known IRA members? Nope. Those convicted of public order offenses and assault? Nope. Any Tom, Dick or Harry who was deluded enough to want to get in their car and go to watch their team? Absolutely. That is how bad the State was sure we were. We were rabid, uneducated, violent, drunken hooligans who needed to be treated differently to everyone else. That’s why we were locked into cages. That’s why we herded round town by Alsatian dogs and police horses.

So it came as no surprise when they played the stereotype drunken mob card as their trump. Of course they said we were all pissed out of our heads and hell bent on wreaking havoc. That is how we had been portrayed for years. It was an effective lie to tell because it was a lie that the country had been spun for years and years. Of course the thing was down to us. How could it not be? I mean look at who we were. We were football fans. We were by and large young and male. We were from the North. I doubt if one in twenty of us would have ever have voted for Thatcher. And we were from Liverpool, that endlessly pesky city by the sea that had been sticking two fingers up at the establishment from John Lennon to Derek Hatton to ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ We knew only too well what the press would say. We were Yosser Hughes. It was always going to be our fault. Blame it on out of control, drunken Scousers. Christ they must have been so pissed off when the autopsies failed to reveal the expected sky high levels of blood alcohol in the bodies of the victims. No wonder they covered that bit up. My experience of being a young man following Liverpool through the 1980’s has always made be feel a kinship for anyone unlucky enough to be a young Asian male in the years after 9/11

So, no. I wasn’t shocked by the revelations. I doubt if any single person who was in the ground that day was shocked by any of the detail. Except of course for the unforgivable fact that 41 may have lived if given medical care in time. That really was a shock.

What was truly and utterly shocking was the fact that the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was actually saying it. That was quiet frankly unbelievable and almost unprecedented. And to give the guy his due, he pulled no punches. He just laid it all out. The families and fans were right. The Establishment was wrong. What was done was an utter disgrace and we are truly sorry.

Wow.

I can never remember that happening before.

We threw tens of millions at an Enquiry to look into Bloody Sunday and never even came close to digging out the truth. From time spent in Ireland researching various books as well as talking to a number of Ex Paras, I am pretty sure I have a decent handle on what went down that day. And I’m bloody certain that everyone in Derry knows as well, but despite everything the cover up managed to hold. There was an apology of sorts. It kind of ran ‘we might have done something wrong but we’re not really sure. If we did, then we might have crossed the line a bit, but they were difficult times.’

Many of the revelations got me to thinking about stuff from the dim and distant days of my History A level. Christ. Long, long time ago. In the various discussion forums there was a feeling that this kind of long term cover up was unprecedented in its duration and magnitude. What a load of crap. Cover up is one of the areas where Britain has always been a world leader. Look at the wall to wall hammering the Germans get for World War 2 and the Yanks get for Vietnam. You only need to take a glance at the schedule for the Documentary Channel on any given night to bear out this particular blindingly obvious truth. We managed to commit a horrendously long list of crimes against humanity during 300 years of our Empire, and yet we barely get slagged off at all. Ah but surely we weren’t as bad as the Germans and the Yanks and Al Queda. Oh no? 15 million men, women and kids chained up and shipped into slavery to be worked to death in the West Indies? The average lifespan of a slave starting work in on a sugar plantation in Barbados in 1642 was shorter than that of a Jew getting of the train at Aushwitz Birkenau in 1942. Not a well known fact. Of course it’s not. Because we’ve covered it up. It’s what we do.

My drift back to A Level History took me to the Amritsar Massacre of 1919. Those were the days of India being our ‘Jewel in the Crown’. Not for the first time, the Indians were pretty pissed off with being British subjects. Five years earlier we had proposed a deal. Tell you what guys, if you will come over to France and help us fight the Germans, then we will take a long hard look at a spot of Independence for you once we’ve seen off the Hun. So they came on board, died in their thousands in the trenches, and when the survivors went back home they took Spanish Flu with them. And 17 million died. All of which made it kind of understandable that the Indians were somewhat agitated when they asked us to hold up our end of the Independence promise only to be told that it was out of the question. Did we really say that old chap? I really don’t think so. Surely not! I think you must have got your wires crossed you dear old thing.

So was time to demonstrate. To get a few mass rallies on the go. I suppose some subconscious part of my brain must have registered the date when 15,000 of so Punjabis gathered in a garden in Amritsar on a sunny afternoon to demonstrate their hopes for Independence. It was 14th April 1919. Almost seventy years to the day before we gathered to watch an FA Cup semi final in Sheffield.

Our man in charge was Brigadier Reginald Edward Henry Dyer and he had had quite enough of the jumped up antics of the residents of the city he had control of. It was time they learned a lesson: the hard way. He made his way across town to the garden where the rally was in full swing. The garden was well enough known. It was contained by high walls with only two narrow gates allowing people to get in or out. A little like the Leppings Lane End, only easier on the eye. The narrow gates caused Dyer some frustration for they were not wide enough for him to deploy the two armoured cars he had brought along for luck. Undeterred, he lined up his fifty Ghurkas and told them to start shooting.

Later he was asked if it might have been possible to disperse the crowd without resorting to gunfire. Here’s what he said.

"I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself."

Well there you go then. An officer and a gentleman cannot be making a fool of himself. At first, the Ghurkas took it as written that when Dyer gave the order to ‘fire’ he really meant ‘fire over their heads and give them a warning.’ So they started firing over the heads of a rapidly panicking throng. Well you really can’t get the staff can you? How frustrating it must have been for Reggie. How simple does an order need to be? He soon put that spot of nonsense right.

"Fire low. What have you been brought here for?"

So they fired low. They fired 1650 rounds of ammunition. In fact they fired until they had not a single bullet left. 97 years later and the cover up is still holding nicely. The official number of dead was put at 379. 1650 bullets fired at point blank range into a crowd of 15,000? 379 seems on the low side, especially when it became clear that more were crushed to death in the ensuing panic that were actually killed by gunshots. The Indians have always been adamant that the real death toll was between 1000 and 1500, but they have never been able to get hold of the paperwork to prove it.

The British authorities in Dehli were able to shove the whole event under the carpet so successfully that the British press never got a whisper until four months had passed. However, once the cat was out of the bag an enquiry was unavoidable. The equivalent rag to ‘The Sun’ back then was ‘The Morning Post’. Was it shock and horror and how could we do such a thing? Was it buggery. The Post painted Dyer as a hero of Empire and granted him the title of ‘Saviour of India’. When he retired a year later and came back home, the paper organised a whip round from its readers and raised £26,000 for the old boy to retire on. He was given one or two uncomfortable moments at the Enquiry, but he managed to pretty well play a straight bat. At one point he was asked if he had made any efforts to help the wounded and dying.

"Certainly not. It was not my job. Hospitals were open and they could have gone there.”

Sound familiar?

He was also quizzed on the issue of his armoured cars and those annoyingly narrow gates.

"Supposing the passage was sufficient to allow the armoured cars to go in, would you have opened fire with the machine guns?"

"I think probably, yes."

"In that case, the casualties would have been much higher?"

"Yes."        

Much like those who commanded the South Yorkshire Police at Hillsborough, Dyer was able to retire in peace. No doubt his £26,000 from the Post ensured he never had to worry about being able to afford the price of a stiff gin or two in the club.

The cover up was easy enough to put in place. The dead Indians were stereotyped as violent terrorists who threatened to tear down the very fabric of society. Much like football fans all those years later. They needed to be treated with a heavy hand, not kid gloves. At the enquiry Dyer confirmed that his orders had clearly demanded that he "was not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience."[

A bit like the orders passed down to the Paras in the lead up to Bloody Sunday. And the South Yorkshire Police? No doubt they were told in no uncertain terms to stand no nonsense from 20,000 visiting Scousers, all hell bent on causing havoc.

In 1997 the Queen visited the park where Dyer had delivered his own particular version of hell on earth. Surely some sort of apology was in order. After all, things are different now. The Indians are a vital export market. Well, they did get an apology? Of sorts.

“It is no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past – Jallianwala Bagh, which I shall visit tomorrow, is a distressing example. But history cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes wish otherwise. It has its moments of sadness, as well as gladness. We must learn from the sadness and build on the gladness.”

Not much of an apology is it?

Which is why I was so profoundly shocked when we were given such a profound and absolute apology on Wednesday afternoon. And for that, every one of us who was there that afternoon needs to take our hats off to the families who have fought long and hard to make it happen. And all those who stuck by the families. And the Kop. And the Evertonians. And Kenny and Marina Dalglish. And yes, Sir Alex Fergusson. And all the journalists who refused to allow the news to become old news. And Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham. And most of all, the endlessly proud and awkward people of Liverpool.

The city that never, ever backs down.

It takes one hell of a lot to make the British Establishment back down, give up its secrets and say sorry. Properly.

Well we did it. All of us. We never forgot the 96. It took us 23 years, but we got there in the end.

    

 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Watching last night's ITV documentary on Hillsborough was like getting run over by a truck.



These days I manage a charity. We work a lot with veterans. I spend much of my time just sitting quietly and listening. The lads tell me about how their brains have got all screwed up by the things they have witnessed. The things they have done. They go back to the places from their past which I once watched on the news. Ireland and the Falklands and Bosnia and Iraq and Afghanistan. Bad, bad days. Times when their lives arrived at the ultimate dark place where nothing makes any kind of sense. Only the horror. And night after night their fractured brains drag them back to those fleeting moments when the horror enveloped everything else. A horror that sticks to the memory cells like glue. Dogged. Relentless. Memories summoned by a certain smell, a certain shift in the wind, a certain kind of light, a certain type of noise.

And I never, ever say that I understand. Because I don’t. Like most of my generation, I am blessed for I have never been sent to a war. The primordial desperation of the battlefield is alien to me. I’ve never seen a mate blown to bits. I’ve never had to digest the damage a short burst of my SA80 has inflicted on a fellow human being. I’ve never seen people reduced to pieces.

But today I realised that maybe I understand I little better than I realised.
 
This morning various Twitter messages recommended last night’s ITV documentary on Hillsborough. So I used a spare hour to call it up online and watch. It isn’t the first such documentary. Over the years there have been lots. And Docu-Dramas. And articles in the press and discussions in the studios. And a couple of years ago thirty thousand of us turned out at Anfield because twenty years had slipped by.

I’ve always been reasonably OK before. Well, the 20th Anniversary hit me pretty hard to be honest. The fact that I am writing this is proof that I lived to tell the tale. I lost no family that day. No close mates either. It was of course the worst day of my life by a country mile and I fervently hope it will remain that way. I got by. In the days that followed I was consumed by a raging anger more than anything else. We all were. Anyone who followed their team through those dark days of the Eighties was well enough used to the antics of the police. We were treated like sub human pond life. We were herded about by snapping Alsatian dogs and police horses. We were penned in. I worked in the animal feed business back then and it always struck me that the animal rights activists would have a duck fit if cows were ever treated in the way that football fans were treated. Almost every cattle shed I ever stood in was an upgrade from the terraces we visited on Saturday afternoons.

Hillsborough was the culmination. 20,000 of us were placed in the care of a police force that had taken itself beyond the law. They were the ones who built conservatories on the back of their Miner’s Strike overtime. They had been granted years of knocking people around whilst a blind eye was always turned. They were the masters of their South Yorkshire universe and seemingly convinced that everyone else’s rules were for everyone else. Not them. On that day I asked a copper if my dad could take a short cut through the barriers to the stand where he was sitting. Dad was on his crutches at the time. Sixty years old and riddled with arthritis. And the response of South Yorkshire's finest to my polite request?

“Fuck off you Scouse bastard.”

I made to argue the case and his big hands hovered over his truncheon. Dad eased me away.  He knew the score. Everyone did. This is South Yorkshire. These bastards are a law unto themselves. Maggie’s shock troops with the memory of their triumph at Orgreave fresh upon them.

20,000 of us were to be fed through four useless, rusting turnstiles. Outside the turnstiles was a walled in yard. Like the kind of place you gather cattle outside an abattoir. The police were supposed to make it safe but they didn’t. The South Yorkshire police weren’t about keeping their fellow citizens safe. They were more into beating them black and blue. Doing their very own version of the Charge of the Light Brigade against massed striking miners in T Shirts and trainers. Hammering their riot shields with batons and howling out “Zooooloooo!” Waving their twenty quid notes and laughing at those who wanted no more than to save their jobs and communities.

So they didn’t bother with the health and safety bit.

They blew it. They cocked it up. Because in the end they didn't give a shit. We were nothing to them. Scouse Scum.

Once everything started to go to hell the bosses panicked and opened up the gate and duly delivered 2000 fans into the tunnel of death. Into the cages. Into hell. Into the next world.

Then they lied about it and carried on lying for 23 years.

Last night’s programme was different to the others I have watched. There was all sorts of CCTV I have never seen before. I kept expecting to see a fleeting glimpse of a much younger me. Frozen in a moment of time. Shocked. Confused. Scared. Horrified.

Watching it made me shake. Lost pictures flickered back to life. Lost memories came up and out of the swamp. A return to the unimaginable horror of six minutes past three on a sunny, sunny spring afternoon in Sheffield. In South Yorkshire. In times gone by.

In the days that followed I was really British about it. I wrote letters. And for the one and only time in my life I used the letters after my name. I signed off Mark Frankland BA Cantab. As in this guy was at Cambridge University so maybe you might take time out to listen to what he is saying. Because nobody was interested in listening to a word we had to say in those desperate days after six minutes past three on that sunny, sunny afternoon in South Yorkshire.

And the response was very British too. I got a call from Paddy Barclay who was brilliant. I got a personal letter from Michael Hesseltine who vowed to do all he could. I got a secretary’s one liner from Kinnock and Thatcher. Then on the Wednesday, me and dad went along to a lunch thing that our local MP put on every month for local businesses. The guest speaker was David Waddington who was the Home Secretary. I guess there must have been over a hundred of us in the room and from what I can remember his speech was as dull as ditchwater. I wasn’t much in the mood for his self satisfied waffle. No doubt he crowed a lot about how many the Tories were locking up and how far they were flinging away the key.

At last he sat down and coffee was served. I have a memory of me and dad ordering in scotches. And then all of a sudden the Right Honourable David Waddington, Her Majesty’s Home Secretary for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, marched across the room to our table and sat down. No doubt he wanted to schmooze some party donor or something.

But no. Not that. He fixed me with a stare from his small, nasty eyes.

“You were at Hillsborough weren’t you?”

“Excuse me?”

A hint of anger. A ‘do you know who you are talking to?’ sort of look. And then how the hell did he know anyway? But he did know of course. Because those were still the days of the IRA who would have liked nothing better than to blow Maggie’s Home Secretary into a million pieces. So they had security checked the guest list. And something had red flagged my name. I wonder what it had flagged? Cambridge Man causing trouble over the Hillsborough thing? He was certainly not in tea and sympathy mode. Soon he was wagging a fat, angry finger in my face and lecturing me about how everything was down to drunken Scouse fans. Christ it made me mad. I’m not any kind of violent guy but I felt like planting the smug bastard. A couple of bland faced types in tight suits seemed to stiffen. For the second time in four days Dad put a hand on my shoulder. Then it was the South Yorkshire police. Now it was the bloody Home Secretary. And the message was the same bloody message. We are us. You are them. The Enemy Within. So watch it. We don’t like your type. Your type should know your place..

In the end I asked him a very simple question. I asked where he had been at six minutes past three on a sunny, sunny Saturday afternoon in South Yorkshire. And with anger written through every line of his face he confirmed that he had not in fact been in the killer cages of the Leppings Lane end. And with that I suggested that he might refrain from lecturing me about what had happened. And grudgingly he stood up and stomped away. Back South. Back to London.

It was my first experience of the secret side of the British State where the dark stuff goes down. I felt a sort of chill run down my spine. Already the cover up was being quietly snapped into place. The Establishment was gearing up to look after its own. Just like always. Like Peterloo and Amritsar and Bloody Sunday. We were to be added to a long, long list.

It’s gone on for twenty three long years. We have sung out ‘Justice for the 96’ and ‘Stand up for the 96’ and we have boycotted the Sun. And nobody has ever gone to jail or been held to account. Pensions have been paid in full and that worthless piece of pondlife shite Kelvin McKenzie gets to strut his stuff on Question Time.

The documentary finished and I stared at the screen for a while. Part angry. Part rattled. Mostly completely haunted. Because those grainy CCTV images had lifted me up and taken me all the way back to that sunny, sunny afternoon in South Yorkshire.

The day the sky fell in.     

Sunday, September 9, 2012

When we starve people to death to pander to the Green Agenda it is time to get seriously, bloody angry.



In 1996 we lost a family business. Thanks to scientists. Those men in their white lab coats and tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows who loved every minute of their time on the tele. It was the great BSE crisis.

Remember it? Here’s a potted history. Dairy cows started dying of a new illness which the scientists called BSE and the press called Mad Cow disease. Well, of course they did. Who’s going to get excited by the new disease called BSE! There was some archive footage of one particular cow thrashing around the byre looking as mad as Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ which got played over and over and over again.

So it was new and it had a tabloid friendly name. All good stuff. So what utter wickedness could have caused such a thing? Well conclusions were jumped to and it was quickly decided that it had to be meat and bone meal in cow feed. Meat and bone meal in case you don’t know is what remains of a carcass when all of the edible meat is cut away. What is left is all dried up and ground to powder. You might well have used it on your roses. Anyway. Feeding such stuff to cows was deemed to be wicked and unnatural and generally dreadful. To be honest we made a point of never using the stuff in our mill, but that was by the by. All of a sudden the animal feed industry was squarely in the cross hairs of the media and every night the news showed that same old cow in its death throws. It was the moment for scientists to emerge from obscurity and have their time in the spotlight and they loved every minute.

The problem was that the media would only be interested in a weird cow disease for so long and the public were getting a bit fed up of seeing that same old dying cow. And so it was that the scientists came up with a new theory. Mad cow disease was becoming mad human disease - CJD. Eat a burger and your brain would fester and rot. And now things got really exciting. The media got itself all revved up and the scientists were the new rock stars. Wow, did the thing ever escalate. Before you could blink, the French had banned British Beef and a Sunday roast was deemed to be more deadly that an anthrax sandwich. Unsurprisingly amidst all the frenzy the facts were left for dead. The fact that we had fed meat and bone meal to animals for hundreds of years was ignored. The fact that twenty people a year had died of CJD since it had been discovered a century or so earlier and that number was not rising in the slightest was deemed irrelevant. In case you are interested, 20 people a year still die from CJD. The figure has never gone up or down. But who cared about such boring stuff. The scientists carefully cleaned their glasses and straightened their knitted ties and took to the screens to warn us of a coming pandemic. We were all about to die a truly horrible death of rotting brains. Soon we would all be as mad as Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’. The non vegetarian world was about to become real life zombie movie.

For a while the government tried to hold the line. Who can ever forget the epic sight of John Selwyn Gummer force feeding a burger to his rather bemused son?

Then of course the politicians panicked. Well of course they did. They always do when scientists warn of impending doom. British beef was deemed little better than poison. The French loved every minute. Meat and bone meal was deemed to be absolute poison and banned fro feed, not only for cows and sheep, but pigs and chickens as well. Since when were pigs vegetarian? Since 1996. Old aircraft hangers from the Second World War were stuffed with hundreds of thousands and tonnes of meat and bone meal and to the best of my knowledge those mighty heaps are still feeding rats by the million to this day. It certainly was a hell of a good time to have an empty aircraft hanger.

Before BSE our business had grown strongly. By 1996 we employed 80 people and had a turnover of £18 million a year. Unfortunately 40% of that turnover came from making muesli style feed for young bull calves. And a well and truly panicked government decided to appease the scientists and the media and the French by doing a King Herod and ordering that all bull calves should be slaughtered before they were a week old. Ouch. You can’t sell feed for a calf when it has been topped and ground up and added to the pile in an aircraft hanger. So sales fell off a cliff and the bank manager called us in and we were basically all but bankrupt. Just like hundreds of other businesses that had done absolutely nothing wrong. We were luckier than most and we managed to sell the business for a quid and mum and dad got to keep their house. I wound up writing a book called ‘One Man’s Meat’ and discovered with some surprised that quite a lot of people were willing to shell out £5.99 to read it.

So what happened to the pandemic? Nothing of course. 20 people a year continued to die of CJD. The scientists shuffled off back to their labs. Billions of quid were flushed down the toilet. And very, very quietly the government banned the use of a very, very nasty chemical that they had made it a legal requirement for farmers to pour onto the backs of their cattle to protect them from warble flies. The organo-phospates zapped the flies. And they also zapped many of the farmers who handled the poison. Not that anyone ever admitted to that. You see this horribly toxic stuff was manufactured by a big corporation hailing from Arkansas, USA. And for many years this particular corporation had poured their dollars into a young, handsome local boy made good politician from their home state. And those dollars took Prince Charming all the way to a large White House in the capital of the Land of the Free and Home of Brave. And once he had the top job, it was payback time. He made a hell of a salesman and he threw his weight around to make sure the chemical in question was used all over the world. We of course did as we were told, and passed a law insisting that our farmers use the chemical in question. Or else. And when they started getting ill and cows started going mad, we shoved the whole thing as far under the carpet as we could get it. And surprise, surprise – once the chemical was quietly removed from the market, cows stopped going mad and BSE was consigned to the history books.

Ever since that time I have developed a complete distrust in scientists who seem a tad over keen on getting themselves on the tele. They have come up with a succession of doomsday threats over the last 15 years. We’ve had the Millenium Bug and Bird Flu and cancer warnings on everything we have eaten and drunk for ever and a day.

And then came the big one: Global Warming. Climate Change. The end of civilisation as we know it; unless we change our ways. And instead of that same old mad cow, we now get the same old melting iceberg.

The world is warming up and it is our fault. The fact that the world has warmed up and cooled down for millions and trillions of years is neither her nor there. Man’s endless vanity deems that it has to be down us. What an absolute field day the scientists have had. And the media of course. Nothing like a ‘We’re doomed!’ story to sell a paper or two. Al Gore managed to transform himself from one of the most wooden and boring people on planet earth to a superhero. And once again it didn’t take very long for the politicians to get into a panic. David Cameron headed north to ride a husky sledge. The Tories decided to adopt a tree as their new logo. For goodness sake!

Saner voices were greeted with the same kind of scathing condemnation that was once directed at the heretics who suggested that world might not be flat after all. I have found it interesting to see how Nigel Lawson has been condemned as being unspeakably wicked and evil for daring to suggest that the whole thing is a load of old tosh. If we still burnt those who disagree with the dogma of the day at the stake, then Nigel would have been turned to ash and added to those piles in the aircraft hangers. Here are a couple of examples of the wicked evil he is spouting.
 
He is more than happy to agree that the world is warming up. Just like it has warmed up many times before. What is deemed wicked and evil is that he has the audacity to suggest that this might actually be quite a good thing. How on earth could he ay such a terrible thing? Easy, actually. Let’s say that Europe has a serious heat wave. And 2000 old people die of heat related stuff. The media will be right on it. Global Warming kills 2000! Horror, horror. Fair enough. But then the following winter it is nowhere near as cold as usual. And because it is warmer, 20,000 less old folk die of cold related stuff than would normally die. So do the maths. 20,000 – 2000 = 18,000 less deaths thanks to Global Warming. Now what’s so bad about that?

If the temperature goes up by 3 degrees over the next hundred years, then it will be all but impossible to grow any sort crop in places like Chad and Niger and Somalia. Fair enough. The thing is that these places have never been capable of growing much. That is why people tend to starve to death in those regions. On the flip side, a three degree warm up will mean that countless millions of acres of rich, black soiled ground across northern Canada and Russia will all of a sudden be capable of turning out millions upon millions of extra tonnes of wheat. Overall, Global Warming will mean much, much more food. Which means that those going hungry in Sub Saharan Africa are not a global warming problem. They are a political problem. The world will be in a much better position to produce food enough for all. The problem is that those in the greatest need always have the emptiest pockets. The real trick is to find a way for food grown by the rich to be given away to the poor. But that of course would going way too far. We really couldn’t be having any of that. That would be the end of capitalism as we know it.

Similarly if rising sea levels mean that areas of Bangladesh become uninhabitable, the best answer is to allow the victims to up sticks and move to areas of the warmer world where there is space enough for everyone. But such a thing would be inconceivable. The main reason why over a hundred million doomed souls are crammed into such a tiny space is down to the lines hastily drawn on the map by Lord Mountbatton in 1948 when we decided that we had pretty well completely taken everything there was to take from the Indian Subcontinent. When we turned up in the eighteenth century, India accounted for 20% of the world’s GDP. When we left 200 hundred years later that figure had fallen to about 1%. I wonder where all the cash went? We robbed them blind and when we got out of Dodge as quick as we could, we drew ridiculous lines on the map and created the disaster that is now called Bangladesh. In a hundred years time the empty spaces of Northern Scotland might well be capable of growing all kinds of crops. Maybe we might be willing to allow a few million flooded out Bangladeshis to come across to do some farming. After all, we do kind of owe them….. As if!

Like Nigel says, it’s a political problem.

And so the madness goes on and on. We are sitting on top of 300 years worth of coal. If we were to get on and mine it, we could create thousands of well paid jobs and stop draining what is left of our national wealth into the Swiss bank accounts of a bunch of tyrants from the Middle East. What’s stopping us is meeting our Global Warming targets. Anyone lucky enough to own a hill can now earn a quarter of a million a year from renting it out to wind farmers. And does the cash come from selling electricity to the national grid? Does it hell. It comes from the tax payer. The electric would be barely worth a tenth of that figure. But what the hell. We are doing our bit. So long as windmills mean votes, our politicians will continue to chuck our money at it.

All of this is annoying. Really, really annoying. Just like the BSE nonsense was annoying. And the scientists are also annoying, especially those best experts in the world characters from the University of East Anglia. When their research suggested that the world wasn’t warming up fast enough for the tabloid press, they simply made stuff up to made the story better. Lying bastards.  

But over the last couple of months annoying has become evil. Here is what should be the biggest story in the world right now. You might have seen some stuff on the news about the drought in America. The corn crop is an absolute disaster. The wheat crop in Russia isn’t a lot better. Food prices are about to go through the roof. Now that isn’t going to be great for the likes of ourselves. A loaf of bread might go up from £1 to £1.30. But let’s face it, we can live with that. We spend about 10% of our disposable income on food. A 50% rise in the price of corn might put that figure up to 12%. Some of us might have to cancel our Sky subscription. It is a much different story for the four billion of our fellow human beings who live on a dollar a day. They spend 60% of their disposable income on food. And they don’t buy microwavable ready meals where more of the cost goes into advertising and packaging than the actual contents. No. They buy corn and wheat and yams and rice. Basic starch that is generally made into a simple porridge or tortilla or chapatti that just about keeps body and soul together. They have no more to spend on food. They have no notches on their belts to tighten. And when food prices go through the roof over the coming months, they are going to start to starve to death.

Things have got so bad that the United Nations has pleaded and begged the US Government to stop using corn to make fuel for cars. They have begged that all corn should be used to feed human beings who otherwise will starve to death. And at the time of writing, the US Government has told them to take a hike. Why is this? Is it because ethanol produced from corn is so very much cheaper than petrol refined from oil? Like hell it is, especially when the corn price itself has gone through the roof. No. They are refusing to listen to the UN because they are determined to show the world that they are serious about meeting their emission targets. Because the scientists say they have to. Because the media says they have to. And when all is said and done, it is an election year and anyone who suggests that the world is not flat after all gets burned at the stake.

And the scientists will still get their TV time. And the Queen is about to get a quarter of a million a year of tax payers’ dosh for installing a silly water turbine at Windsor Castle that will hardly produce any electricity at all. And millions of tonnes of US corn will get turned into ethanol regardless of the pleadings of the UN.

And a whole lot of people are about to starve to death.

And it makes you want to scream with rage. But nobody would listen. Because the men with the leather patches on the elbows of their tweed jackets are sending us all to hell in a handcart.

Again. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

It's like watching a slow motion train crash


 
She first came through the door about six weeks ago. Sometimes our front door is opened with considerable drama. It literally crashes open and rattles the wall. Usually the violence of the opening is down to several hours on the Special Brew or handfuls of blue Valium or both. A crumpled food parcel slip is brandished like a winning lottery ticket and the whole reception area is awash with the all pervasive reek of cheap booze.

She wasn’t like that. She couldn’t have been less like that. The only evidence of the door opening was a hint of breeze from the world outside. A gentle lift in the volume of the sounds of the street. A hiss of a passing bus splashing puddles. Distant yells of school kids out and about on their lunch break.

She eased the door closed as quietly as she had opened it. The lightest of careful steps and there she was at the counter. Tiny. Terrified. Bemused. Like a mouse.

She had her food parcel slip and held it out hopefully. I said no problem and clocked fact that the address at the top of the slip was from a local hostel. ‘Supported’ Accommodation. In theory a safe place where the team at the Homeless Department could send those who were vulnerable.

Yeah well that’s the theory. Lots of things look nice in theory. The practice is all too different. The practice means that on any given day there are almost always more homeless people needing a roof than there are available roofs to put them under. So it is a case of any bed, anywhere, anyhow. And the hostel in question has plenty of beds which means that there is invariably a rainbow range of humanity housed there. There is always a fair selection of the vulnerable. The ones cut off from their families with various mental health issues or learning difficulties. And the young ones. The ones not really able to get the hang of the requirements of life.
 
Then at the other end of the scale there are always the ones who are world class experts at preying on the vulnerable. And my word, what consummate experts they are. Within ten minutes they will have managed to extract all the information they need from their target of the day. So when do you get paid? That of course is the all important date. The moment in time when a bank card goes live as benefits are electronically transferred from the tax payer to the person couched in the much vaunted safety net of the Welfare State. And on that day the vulnerable one will have some company. There will be no need for them to walk through the streets to the cashpoint on their own. Absolutely not. They will have an attentive escort all the way. And the escort will be charm itself. A new best pal. Interested in everything. Making plans. Mapping out the hours ahead.

Some go from Jekyll to Hyde the very second the machine spits out requested cash. They will simply snatch it away and take off for the nearest Smack dealer or cheap booze promotion. But to be honest, these are the rank amateurs. For you will only pull that particular trick once. Sure, it is highly unlikely that the victim will beat a path to the nearest police station to cry foul. That would be too big an ask. For of course the robber is staying under the same roof, just a few short paces down the corridor. So the victim will scuttle back to their desperate, dismal room to switch on the TV and watch mindless game shows through eyes filled with tears of despair. But the next time the cash machine day comes around, they will make sure to stay well clear of the new friend who has proved to be so false.

This is why the real experts avoid such a blunt strategy. Instead they patiently work on a more subtle approach. Why don’t we get a couple of cans and go sit by the river? And then more new friends will appear to share in the bounty. And such a good time is had by all. When the carrier bag is empty of cans and bottles, the owner of the newly drawn benefits will eagerly return to the shop to get some more. In many cases this will be the first time in years that they have ever been anywhere close to the centre of attention. They are a king or queen for the day. All of a sudden people are interested in what they have to say. People laugh at their jokes. People want to know them. More, they are suddenly part of a group. Not alone any more. Not passing the utterly endless hours of the day channel hopping from dross to dross.

And of course by the end of the day there isn’t a penny left and the dismal reality of thirteen days of no money whatsoever sts in. But the experts know better than to leave their prey hanging out to dry. They keep them under their wing. They take them on a guided tour of the places where free soup and toasties are served. And they introduce them to kindred spirits. They make them feel a part of a new and exciting world. And when the thirteen days have at last passed into the greyness of history, the victim is a willing victim. The cash is drawn and spent. And for a few magical hours it is party time and all is well. And with time come new experiences. Take a couple of these pal, they’ll chill you right out. Yeah? Couple more? Oh and by the way, you could help me out a bit, I need a wee score like, just this once, you ken how it is…

The slippery slope. The slide. The well trodden road to rock bottom. The heroin zone. An a few months later the victim really cannot remember how it had all started. It just had. It was just down to being lonely and not fitting in and being scared of their own shadow.

Which is why my heart sank when I saw the address at the top of the page. My heart has been sinking at the sight of that address for nine long years. The gateway to all the bad places. That all together too well discovered bourn from whence very few travellers return in one piece. The place where broken people go to be smashed up into tiny little bits.

At first I hardly heard her. A truly tiny voice. Almost a gasp. She said that she had seen me at her school. Just a year earlier when we had visited to describe the bad places waiting for youngsters sucked into a vortex of drink and drugs.

I asked if she had enjoyed the presentation. She nodded. She said that she had read the book we had handed out at the end of the presentation. And had she enjoyed the book? A nod. A small voice. She said that she had found it scary.

When she had read ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, it had given her a glimpse of a world she never expected to live in. She had grown up well clear of that place. She had been at the top of the class and university was always the final destination on the itinerary mapping her ordered life.

But everything had suddenly gone to hell in a handcart. There had been an explosion at home. Bad things had been happening for years. Behind closed doors. Just like always. And she had indicated that she was no longer willing to keep the secret. And so she was thrown out. Like a refuse sack. With extreme prejudice.

So it was the Homeless Department and all the forms filled in. Eighteen and completely vulnerable. In need of 'Supported' accommodation. And so it was.

I asked her how she was getting on in the hostel. She shrugged and said she found it scary. She was just staying in her room. She didn’t dare do anything else. But it was hard. She had no money at all and the Job Centre couldn’t really understand what was wrong with her benefits claim, but it was going to be a few weeks yet. Hence the need for a food parcel.

I told her to come in if she needed any help with anything and she said she would. Then she left. Quietly. With a shine of helpless tears in her eyes.

She was back a few days later. The Job Centre had worked out where the problem lay. Her mum and dad were still cashing the Child Benefit cheques. And the DHSS won’t pay out dole to anyone whose mum and dad are cashing Child Benefit cheques. Oh the idiocy of the state. One department had signed off on the fact that she was cut adrift and homeless. They had committed the tax payer to £40 a night of 'Supported, accommodation. They had spoken with the parents on the phone and had the story confirmed. However another department continued to cough up £20 a week for Child Benefit for the very same parents to feed, clothe and cherish their daughter. Which meant that a third department was shaking a sorrowful head and saying no benefits would be possible. Could the three departments possibly talk to each other? Fat chance.

I asked her if life in the hostel was getting any better. She nodded and said it was. Just a bit. She said she was sleeping better. And was she seeing any of her friends? No. They didn’t want to know her any more. Not now she was in a hostel. Not now she had dropped off the map.

A week later I saw her from across the street and she was no longer alone. She had company now. New pals. Two lads I know well enough from food parcels issued over a number of years. Not bad guys. Long term heroin users of the better kind. Polite and somewhat confused as to how their life has come to such a full stop. But they are both in their forties and she is eighteen. They have managed to completely trash their futures whilst hers should theoretically still lie ahead of her. And of course they were leading and she was following. They were headed to the place by the river where the town’s alcoholics gather to pass the time of day and work their way through whichever bottle happens to be the cheapest.

A week later I spotted her again. This time the group was bigger. There were seven of them and two were long term heroin users of the poorer kind. Experts in the exploitation of the weak. Not averse to some low level intimidation. Pondlife really. She stood slightly apart from the group in a damp anorak. A slimy rain was easing down from a leaden sky and the streets were quiet. No doubt her benefits are in place now; she certainly hasn’t required a food parcel for a while. Were those benefits her ticket to her new group of pals? Probably.

Maybe the sad ending isn’t predetermined. Maybe she will stay on the edge of the group like a tourist. And when she is granted a tenancy of her own, maybe it will be a little job and slowly but surely, a new group of friends. Friends of her own age whose life does not revolve around the next bottle or fix. It would be nice to be optimistic. But that would be rather na├»ve and foolish, because those are not the kind of endings that don't happen very often when the vulnerable are dispatched into hostel-land.

More likely we shall be seeing more of her over the years. And her face will grow harder and her voice will grow harsher. And sometimes she will no doubt crash the door and stomp up to the counter completely off her head and hold a conversation at full volume.   

It’s like watching a slow motion train crash.