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.

Monday, June 17, 2013


I have spent the last few days in a strange kind of limbo-land. Work has meant the now accustomed procession of beaten down characters bearing a slip of paper to exchange for a bag of food. Outside of work, I have been outside in the warmth of a surprisingly sunny Scottish spring and working my way through Anthony Beevor’s almost epic 900 page account of the Second World War. As we all come to terms with the permanent erosion of our standard of living, it is tempting to succumb to the idea that things are becoming really bad. It certainly feels that way. It certainly looks that way on the TV. It certainly can be seen in the uncomprehending eyes of those who come into First Base for a bag of food.

Two or three hours spend in the Anthony Beevor Tardis is more than enough to dispel any such thinking.

For years I was as conned as everyone else in my generation when it came to the memories of what went down right across the globe in the 1940’s. I grew up with action men. Some were plastic figures with chiselled chins and all kinds of gear to collect and swap. Others were the heroic characters from the big screen. The Americans had John Wayne, Rob Mitchum and Burt Lancaster. We had Leslie Howard, David Niven and John Mills. Heroes and warriors and when the baddy Germans died, they died well; quickly and almost peacefully as a burst from a machine gun seemed almost like a kindness. The young lads of the Sixties were never subjected to any of the realities of the mechanised butchery that swept the world in the middle of the 20th Century leaving far too many millions of dead people to accurately count. We were reared on the Boys Own heroics of The Battle of Britain and the Dambusters and the Great Escape and Colditz and D Day. We were steered clear of vast visions of Hell that played out in the East.

Over recent years, having visited a few of those places where for a while Hell came alive on earth, I have developed something of an unhealthy fascination with the biblical savagery that took a hold of so many millions of people for those darkest of all years.

In my opinion, Beevor has no peers. He tells it like it was, warts and all. He gives the view from the top and the view from the bottom. He gives the context of how normal every day postmen and farmers were transformed into utter psychopaths. For a while in the late Seventies, we were all held transfixed as the Yorkshire Ripper story played out and the extent of his butchery was revealed. Well, obviously we were. Yet what Peter Sutcliffe did was no more than the day to day bread and butter of what both sides did to each other in the lunatic asylum of the Eastern Front.

Taking a time to trip back to the very darkest hour of humankind soon dispels any foolish thoughts that things are a particularly bad right now. Sure, life ain’t great and it doesn’t look much like it will get any better in the near future. But once you get a handle on what it must have been like for civilian and soldier alike in places like Stalingrad or Smolensk of Leningrad, then it is impossible not to feel truly blessed.

Having established that the scope for things to be worse is almost absolute, there is some worth in wondering if there are any similarities to be found between now and then.

Maybe there are.

Germany 1933 and Britain 2013. Two outwardly civilised and wealthy western countries, eighty years apart. Is there anything in common? Bits and bats. Both shared some similar problems, mainly economic. In both cases, a massive implosion of the Wall St banks had completely screwed up just about everything. Unemployment up, wages down and factories and shops closed down and boarded up. Did it lead to mass demonstration on the streets against a small minority of capitalists who had robbed us all blind and stuffed their tax haven bank accounts to bursting point? Not really. Not at all in fact.

By 1933 the Nazi propaganda machine was purring like a brand new Jag. They could get millions of Germans to dance to more or less any tunes they pleased. Had Goebbels chosen to urge his brown shirted minions to march their way into Charlottenberg to ransack the mansions of the bankers at the top of the pile, they would have done so without a second thought. He didn’t of course. None of the Nazis did. They were much more interested in cosying up to the super rich and sweet talking their way into a piece of the action.

Sound familiar? Look at the utter misery that is being heaped onto so many hundreds of thousands of people at the moment in the shape of the Bedroom Tax. We are told that times are really hard for the country and hard decisions need to be made to balance the books. The Bedroom Tax will save the country £400 million and every single penny counts. The fact that in the first two months of the financial year 70% of Bedroom Tax is not being paid is brushed under the carpet. It is the principle that counts surely. Everybody is having a tough time they tell us at every opportunity.

But that isn’t entirely true. In fact that isn’t even remotely true. Last year the richest 1000 individuals in Britain saw their collective wealth increase by £40 billion. Big numbers. As in 100 times more than the theoretical savings made by the Bedroom tax. A thousand people saw their wealth go up by an average of £40 million each. It doesn’t seem like the recession is hitting those lads particularly hard. So do we hear about it? Surely we must. Surely such news should dominate the front pages of the papers every day. After all, £40 billion represents more than half of the much talked about structural deficit. Well you know the answer to that one already. Of course we don’t hear about it.

Instead the best selling tabloid newspapers focus on the wickedness of the idle, scrounging poor. The bankers screwed everything up we all picked up the tab. They soon resumed business as usual and the small number of people who own almost everything now use their in-house media to tell us all that the blame for everything is to be found at the doors of the poor. It is ridiculous and illogical and it is hard to get your head around the fact that people are daft enough to take it on board. But they do take it on board. All of it. Hook, line and sinker.

So what template did Hitler and his fellow gangsters leave for the super-rich of today to follow? Not a bad one actually. Get a hold of just about all the media and bribe politicians with promises of a seat at the high table and them distract everyone by blaming the whole mess on someone the people don’t like much anyway.

The Nazis blamed it all on the Jews.

Our lot are blaming it all on the scrounging poor.

And let’s face it, we are lapping it all up just as willingly as the Germans lapped it up in the early 30’s.

This is a golden era for tax haven banks from Grand Cayman to Monaco to Jersey. Just like the 30’s and 40’s represented the greatest ever golden era for those wing collared bankers of Zurich and Geneva.

Last week I sensed a stranger echo with those distant times when Hell and earth became inseparable for a while. Beevor dwells for a while on the sense of astonishment that many young German soldiers experienced once they were surrounded and doomed in the frozen wreckage of Stalingrad. Their childhood years had been completely formed and shaped by Hitler. They were the product of one of the greatest brain washing machines in history; the Hitler Youth. Between 1939 and 1945 the Hitler Youth delivered 8 million soldiers to the Wehrmacht. These young men and women were a thousand percent convinced of their racial superiority and the inevitability of their eventual victory over the sub human Slavs, Bolsheviks and Jews. They were a thousand percent convinced that their beloved Fuhrer was more God than man.

As the Red Army slowly tightened its murderous grip on the half frozen, half staved men of the doomed 6th Army, many of the young soldiers remained convinced that their beloved Fuhrer would magic up a mighty army of shiny new Panzers to roar across the frozen Russian steppes to save them and smash the Reds into tiny pieces.

When it at last became clear that no such thing was going to happen, they were left confused. Bemused. Uncomprehending. How could it be so?

In some ways, many of those who come in for food parcels carry a similar incomprehension. For years they have assumed that things will just carry on for ever. Every fortnight they will be given some money. They will be given a flat to live in. They will be exempted from most bills. Nobody has seriously ever expected them to get a job. Not really. Both sides have played the game. The person at the Job Centre asks if they have looked for work and they have said yes I have. A comfortable fiction played out by both sides. You get your flat and sixty quid a week and we pretend you don’t actually exist. It all ran a bit like that favourite joke from Soviet Russia where workers said ‘They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.’

And now of course everything has changed utterly, over the course of a few short months. Last week we handed out 80 food parcels and over half went to people who had been sanctioned out of their benefits. All of a sudden the fortnightly money that was supposed to be there for ever wasn’t there any more. All of a sudden the people at the Job Centre seriously seem to expect people to actually look for jobs and not just pretend to. All of a sudden landlords don’t just threaten eviction, but actually start proceedings.

How? Why? It was never supposed to be like this? Things were supposed to stay the same. Promises were made. What has happened? How can this be happening to me?

What a strange echo. In a way the confusion of the sanctioned souls coming in for their food parcels mirrors the confusion of the doomed young soldiers facing their bad deaths in the frozen Hell that was Stalingrad in January 1943.

Like I said.

Strange echoes.             


  1. another terrific piece, mark. but how do i share it on facebook? i seem to have lost the facility

  2. Sorry Jan - such a technical feat is well beyond my compass!