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, February 24, 2013


Yesterday Moody’s finally decided that enough was enough and they pulled the plug on our triple A credit score. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to see why on earth it has taken them so long. When you look around it is hard to see many causes for optimism when it comes to the immediate future of Great Britain Plc.

Every day there are more potholes in the roads and the cracks in the wall get that little bit wider. We get a look at the big cracks in the papers and on the TV. They come complete with a picture of George Osborne and sharp suited analysts from the City who talk in economy-speak that makes no sense to the rest of us. All we get is an impression that things aren’t great and they’re more than likely going to get a whole lot worse.

At First Base we don’t get the big picture. Instead ours is the small screen. A front seat in the theatre of the bottom end of things where things are very quietly falling apart.

Here’s an incident from Friday. What does it represent? A sign? An indicator? The shape of things to come? The way things already are?

I was in the bank paying in a few donations. By the way, before going any further I simply must point out that one of these donations was a £100 from the staff at local JobCentrePlus. They do a Christmas collection every year and they choose a local charity. This year it was us - how's about that then! Thanks guys.

Anyway. I got my paying in book back and turned to leave when I clocked one of my clients pacing up and down and rubbing his head. And one glance was enough for me to see that he had that look in his eye. Now, when this particular lad has that look in his eye, things can get pretty damned hairy pretty damned quickly. New speak would term it ‘anger management issues’. It means that when he goes off on one, he goes off on one in a very big way indeed and God help anyone or anything that gets in the way.

I flagged him over and asked him what was up.

His eyes were blazing and finding the words was not an easy task.

His mum had died a week earlier and the funeral will be coming up soon. The funeral is far from Dumfries – three hundred miles and then some - and the fare for him and his brother to make it down was two hundred quid plus. His bereavement hadn’t come out of the blue. It had been imminent for some weeks and he had been trying to make some plans. He had filled in an application for a Community Care Grant, but it had been a wing and a prayer thing.

You see, my man is one of those who never seems to get a break. He has been failing to catch a break for thirty something years and after a while you just get to thinking that you’re doomed to get bad breaks on an permanent basis. A few weeks ago the local NHS Drugs Services cocked up and forgot to send his Methadone prescription to the pharmacy. He called in on Friday afternoon only to be told that things had been screwed up which meant he would have to wait until Monday for it to get sorted out. No Methadone till Monday meant being throwing up ill all day Sunday and not surprisingly he was pretty pissed off about it. So he had a moan. Just like we all have a moan when paperwork cock ups mess us about. But he is a lad whose reputation always goes before him like an air raid siren.

A quivering counter girl summoned her manager and the manager dialled 999. The cops piled in minutes later and my man had the joys of a holding cell for the weekend until on Monday morning he was charged with committing a Breach of the Peace. For having a moan. For saying that it wasn’t really fair that he should have to throw up all day because someone had failed to send his script to the Chemist.

He’ll probably get jailed for it at some stage. And them we’ll all shell out £5000 a month to punish him for standing at the counter in a chemist shop and having a moan. Like I said. He never seems to get a break. Last time he was in jail he was promised that a Rehab would be sorted out once he was liberated. When he got out he rang and rang and rang but nobody ever answered the phone. He finally got to see a psychiatrist when he was locked up and the medication he was prescribed helped to keep the anger under wraps. Guess what happened when he was lifted for his chemist shop moan? The Mental Health services played the health and safety card and said the psychiatrist couldn't see him any more because it wouldn't be safe to have him in the building. Because of his anger issues. So they couldn't see him until he took steps to deal with his anger issues. But they refused to help him with his anger issues because he had anger issues.....

Ever read Catch 22?  

Anyway. I digress. Back to Lloyds Bank on a cold, grey morning in February. Against all odds he had in fact been awarded a £250 Community Care Loan and he had turned up at the ATM to draw the cash and buy his tickets. He had made sure to spend as little as possible of his Monday dole money and he had done his sums. His account would show just over £300 in available funds and that was enough for him to do what he needed to do.

But it didn’t show just over £300.

Instead it showed £241 of which £72 was available. Somehow £229 had disappeared in the hours following the Department of Work and Pensions transferring the brass. And his brain was making like Reactor No 3 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant back in 86.

Like all good Koppites I did my ‘calm down, calm down’ thing and the mercury slowly stopped rising and then stabilised just short of the complete explosion mark on the dial.

We went to the desk and asked for a print out which was duly produced. And slowly the facts started to be teased out. The day before £70 had been claimed off his debit card by some online loans outfit.

What loan!!! I haven’t had….

More calm down routine.

Next up.

A further £159 had been requested via his debit card from someone else but the lady on the desk wasn’t able to see who it was.


Calm down.

You need to ring the debit card people at the bank…


Calm down.

I eased him out of the building and almost shoved a cigarette into his mouth. Let’s go to the Agency and make a few calls.

First up we logged onto the mysterious loan company and by now he had given me a few clues. Like I said, he had held out no hope of success when he had applied for his Community Care Loan. So he and a mate had spent an online hour in the library hitting the loans companies on the Net. He had drawn a big fat zero which of course was exactly what he had expected to draw.

So where had the £70 come from? I made the call and tried to tune out the canned music whilst my man muttered a succession of dark threats. At last I got through and having been passed from pillar to post for a while, the dismal facts emerged. When my man had ticked the online box asking if he accepted the terms and conditions, he had agreed to become a member of their scheme. This meant he had agreed for his debit card to give up a membership fee of £70 a month. And what did he get for his £70 a month? They would look around to see if they could find him a loan. Well they’d had a look. Well at least they said they had. And they hadn’t found one. Instead they had raided his account and lifted £70.

He all but blew a gasket and I force fed him another fag. Next stop, the bank. Oh yes, the lady knew all about the new ‘Membership’ scams that apparently are all the rage at the moment. She explained that Trading Standards have issued an edict that requires a refund of any so called membership fees. We needed to call them up and demand a refund. So we did and after another half an hour we were instructed to write to their Head Office with a formal request for the £70 back. Would an e mail do? Nope. Was it a Freepost address? Nope.

Basically they steal £70 and you have to write a polite letter to get your money back. Charming. Every step of the way there were barriers to clamber over and hoops to jump through and there wouldn’t have been a snowball in hell’s chance of my man keeping his temper for long enough to complete the course.

So next was the issue of the £159 that was about to be lifted. Could the lady from the debit card department of the bank shed any light? Yes she could. The claimant was the Money Shop. And straight away the red mist was descending again. My man explained that he had been into the bank only three days earlier to beg them not to give any more of his money to the Money Shop. And the manager had promised to what he could. Obviously he hadn’t been able to do enough, for here were the good folk from the Money Shop getting a hold of the lion’s share of his funeral travel money.

I was put on hold for some more music and I made an attempt to explain it all. Trust me, it isn’t an easy task to go through the niceties of compound interest to someone who looks like they are about to smash a train up. He had borrowed £180 in December and he had already paid them back more than that. So how could they take another £158 and stop making it to his mum’s funeral? How indeed? Thankfully the bank took his side and promised that the very moment the Money Shop claimed the £158 they would claim it straight back again and put back into the account from whence it came. She explained that Money Shop and the like have well trained computers that stalk the wee small hours of the night. Any cash doled out by the DWP goes live at 4.00 am. Their computers wait in the shadows like slavering hyenas until exactly 4.29 am and then they pounce to grab anything they can get. The message is don’t even think of giving out your debit card details to these people.

The advice was to get onto Money Shop and cut a deal. More canned music. More near eruptions. More force fed fags and in the end they agreed to cap the account at £277. And to add no more interest. And they also agreed to call off their hyena computer. We put to together an income and expenditure report and duly e mailed it to the relevant department with a proposal to pay off the £277 at a fiver a week: in cash: at the local office.

We’ll get their answer next week. And come Monday most of the cash will have been returned and my man will be able to buy his ticket south to bury his mum. The whole thing took just over three hours.

I don’t think that I am exaggerating in saying that had I not happened to be in the bank at the time, something dreadful could and probably would have happened. Somebody might well have got hurt and hurt quite badly. By now my man would have been in a remand cell and staring down the line of spending his next few years in jail. We the tax payer would have been hit with a bill for £200,000 and more to pay for locking him up and he would have had to come to terms with missing his mum’s funeral.

And why?

Because in our tawdry, shoddy country we allow financial shysters to con and rob those who are desperate and vulnerable. In Germany any financial institution who charges more than 9% interest is breaking the law and they will be prosecuted. In France the figure is 16%. In Britain, Wonga takes out prime time adverts to persuade people to get a payday loan at 4200%.

And why? Because smooth talking lobbyists from Eton and Harrow and Marlborough whisper in the ears of MP’s and promise non executive directorships and all manner of goodies so long as they sign on the right dotted line. How else can 4200% be deemed to be OK in the UK when the Germans set a limit of 9%?

It is corrupt as hell and it stinks to high heaven.

It is what we have become.

It is just another crack in the wall.            


  1. Tragic, infuriating story. I am glad you were there to help him, but this has to stop. Thank you for the information regarding loan interest caps in France and Germany - proves something can be done.

  2. Good on ye to help your man there! Infuriating situation for him I'm sure.

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