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

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Sometimes hard times can help the emergence of great people and great ideas. Out of the Great Depression of the 30’s came Roosevelt and the New Deal. The wretched wrecked cities of post war Europe were rebuilt and re-energised by the Marshall Plan. The vicious race hate of Sixties America brought forward Martin Luther King in much the same way as the worst of Apartheid South Africa brought forth the very best of humankind in the shape of Nelson Mandela.

Sadly the worst of times also have a habit of spawning the worst of men and ideas. The murderous mayhem of the Russian Civil War provided a platform for Stalin to rise to the top. Our very own Civil War gave us our very own version of Uncle Joe Stalin in the shape of Oliver Cromwell. The Great Depression of the 30’s persuaded the Germans to choose Hitler.

Right now the UK seems to be neither one thing nor the other. Even his fiercest critics would find it hard to equate the easy going, hard smoking Nigel Farage with Hitler. Likewise, even the Daily Mail would find it hard to make a case that Ed Milliband represents the heir to Vladimir Illyich Lenin.

Instead we have nasty, mediocre leaders who are being egged on by a nasty, mediocre media. And there seems to be a veritable army of hundreds of thousands nasty, mediocre beaurocrats ready and eager to their bidding. These denizens of hideous grey people with their Ford Mondeos and fondue sets and lovingly treasured pension plans are always at the very heart of state sponsored nastiness.

They were the ones who ran the timetables of the trains that carried millions to the gas chambers of Poland. They were the ones who processed Stalin’s kill lists in 1937. They were the ones who help make sure that Saddam Hussein always kept Abu Graib prison full to bursting point.

It is a tragic human fact that the work of despots is always made easy by the complicity and willingness of these nasty, grey people who will do almost anything for a pension pot and the chance of a bungalow in Bournemouth.

Regular readers of this blog will have become very familiar with this kind of thing over the last year or so. Almost all of the hardship we see at First Base is caused by nasty, spiteful decisions made by nasty, spiteful people who are getting a real kick out of doing the dirty work for old Etonians in the Ivory Towers of Westminster.

It has now become common knowledge that all the staff at Job Centre Plus have to meet the target of sanctioning three clients a week. And in our very British way, we simply take it as written that the beaurocrats we pay for through our taxes will always do exactly as instructed.

Like sheep.

Like the grey pen pushers who ran the well oiled machine that funnelled five million doomed souls into the gas chambers in the 40’s. The kind of genocide that Hitler oversaw doesn’t just happen. To make sure a daily quota of 10,000 warm bodies arrive on time at the Birkenau railway sidings all the way from Budapest, you need a huge team of dedicated and capable beurocrats. Hitler knew he had such a team. And he knew they would do exactly as they were told, no matter how primordially horrific the results of their typing and filing turned out to be.

Well, George Osborne and his cronies in the civil service and the tabloid media also have an army of servile beaurocrats at their beck and call as they wage their nasty war on the poor.

Every day we see the results of this nasty mean spirited war. Every day we hand out food parcel after food parcel to poor sods who have turned up a few minutes late for an appointment or failed to tick an on screen box. Yesterday I spent some time chatting with a lad who had just been sanctioned for six months. Six months for Christ’s sake! It was his third offence. Ten minutes late for two appointments and a box left un-ticked on his personalised online Jobseekers account page.

The Job Centre person had a choice. They could have simply said oops the daisy…. looks like you forgot to tick the box here …look  .. this one…, hang on a sec…. we can sort that out here and now… there you go… all ticked… all done…

But they didn’t.

Instead they gleefully took advantage of the opportunity the small print presented them. Ah ha!!! You haven’t ticked the box! And subsection 5.21 demands that the box is ticked. By not ticking the box you are in contravention of the terms of subsection 5.21 and I have no choice but to sanction you for the next six months. Next! …Now young man… If you use that tone of voice with me I will call security and make sure an additional six months sanction is added on…….

Over the last few weeks we have been wrapped up a bit of small print tyranny ourselves which has finally wound me up to the stage of penning this ranting blog. The next paragraph promises to be bit on the dull side but it is essential if I am to paint the background picture.

Part of our First Base Veterans Project is helping guys to go self employed to make a living. We try our best to generate contracts with local agencies to give them paid work. Our main contract is with the region’s largest social landlord, DGHP, and a part of this work involves the lads undertaking tasks for tenants who are struggling or vulnerable. In March I received an e mail from a veteran in his eighties. He told me that the time had come when he couldn’t manage on his own any more and he was being moved into supported accommodation. His problem was that he had no way of shifting his stuff and no money to pay anyone to shift it. So I called up DGHP to ask if they would engage the services of the lads to the job and they said they would.

So all went well and the stuff was duly shifted and all three guys shared a morning of squaddie banter that crossed the generations.

At the supported accommodation was one of those automatic doors which made it hard to shift stuff in an out. There was a hook on the door and a catch on the wall. So the lads slotted the hook into the catch and duly shifted the stuff from van to room. Then they unhooked the door and the door worked as normal.

Then they made a second trip.

When they got back the cleaner was standing on a chair and faffing around with the opening mechanism at the top of the door. They thought nothing of it and shifted the rest of the stuff. From van to room. Job done and the old boy was delighted, though a little daunted at the cold, off hand reception he had received from everyone at his new home. Our lads were quite upset about it.

So that was that.

Except it wasn’t.

A couple of weeks later I received a frantic e mail from the old boy. He had received a letter from Hanover Housing, the warm and caring charity to whom he had signed up to spend the rest of his life.

In the letter was a bill for £184 for damage done to the door to the property by workmen in his employ.

I replied and told him not to worry and that I would look into it. So I rang the property and spoke with the cleaner and she was as stroppy as it is possible for a cleaner to be. She posted me a copy of the bill and a copy of the report of the engineer who had been called out to fix the door. The report said that when the engineer had arrived at the job he had discovered that the arms of the automatic door had been disengaged. This came as no surprise to us as the lads had seen the cleaner up on a chair faffing around with the disengaged mechanism. The engineer connected it all back up and the door was up and running again. The call out charge was £184 including VAT.

So I told her that we were not responsible and she said that we were.

So I called Hanover Housing’s head office in Edinburgh.

About 15 times.

And every time I called I seemed to get a different woman on the phone and all of them were as stroppy as stroppy can be,

At last I got through to someone senior and she told me that their position was carved in stone. Our lads had busted the door. Their cleaner was the most morally upright person in the whole of South West Scotland. Our lads were obviously lying through their teeth.

And so it became very clear that we were poles apart. Our guys were adamant that the cleaner was lying and their cleaner was adamant that our lads were lying.

All of this is absolutely fair enough. It happens all the time. I said as much to the senior person on the phone. What I also pointed out was that none of it had anything whatsoever to do with the old veteran whose stuff we had shifted.

I made what I felt was a perfectly reasonable request. I suggested that the argument was clearly between First Base and Hanover Housing. Neither of us were about to change our minds. It was clear that we had reached a peace in the Middle East situation where neither side was about to budge and lines had been drawn in the sand.

So here’s what I proposed.

Take the old boy out of the equation. Stop causing him misery and stress by hounding him with letter after letter demanding £184 which he hasn’t got.

Invoice us direct. And we will refuse to pay. And them Hanover Housing can crack on and take The First Base Agency to the small claims court for £184. And then the court will have the chance to decide which side was lying and which side is liable for the £184 damage done to the door.

But that was too much like hard work. It became clear that Hanover Housing didn’t much fancy putting their cleaner on the stand to argue the toss against our two guys. Instead they decided to hide behind the small print of the old boy’s tenancy agreement which stated that he was liable for any damage done by contractors under his employ.

Basically they took the option of hounding and bullying a very vulnerable old guy who had once upon a time served his country with distinction.

So I kept getting frantic e mails for the old guy. And I kept replying and telling him not to pay the bill under any circumstances. And in the end I took the thing to Alex Fergusson MSP who is one of the absolute good guys. Surely a call from a Member of the Scottish Parliament who for several years had been the Convenor would persuade Hanover Housing to do the decent thing and leave the old lad be.

Fat chance.

They evaded his calls.

And they continued to hide behind their poxy small print and put a vulnerable old fellow under continued stress. You can Google them and check out their mission statement in the ‘About Us’ section. It is all very warm and cuddly and politically correct.

If only.

And no doubt there are many people at Hanover Housing who indeed put the care and well being of their vulnerable tenants before a lousy £184. But there are obviously many others who see the world in a very different way to the soft words of their Mission Statement. There are others who are more than happy to make an old guy’s life a misery because the small print allows them to.


Bullies who should be ashamed of themselves.

Small print tyrants in every sense.  

Can you here the quiet, ghostly sound of train wheels clanking their way along the rail tracks of Upper Silesia.

Journeys scheduled and logged and accounted for by the grey ones.

By small print tyrants.

By small print cockroaches.

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