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.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Inequality tends to get a lot of air time these days. Quite right too. But it isn’t very often that you get the chance to see the grotesque extent of global inequality laid out in the back of an Arnold Clark hire van. Well that is exactly what I saw yesterday. You see, I was the white van man in question.
I guess this all sounds a little bizarre. Let me explain.
From time to time my eldest son Dyonne does some work for a mate of his from London. Adam is a good lad, a Luton boy working his socks off to carve himself a niche. His company – Holy Water – do the drinks at the events where the world’s 1% gather to show off their bling and discuss how many noughts they have in the currant balance columns of their off shore accounts. The 1% like a spot of wide boy charm and Dyonne and Adam both have wide boy charm by the wagon load.
This week Holy Water have taken on the task of watering 60 guests who are attending a wedding in Scotland. It would appear these 60 gilded individuals can expect to be watered rather well. The budget for the wedding is $2.16 million. Unless I have got my maths wildly wrong, that looks a lot like a budget of $36,000 per head. Now you need to work hard to physically spend this kind of wedge. The wedding is in Scotland and most of the guests are American, so of course whisky is always going to have more than a walk on role in the unfolding drama. There is a very particular whisky required and of course Holy Water have secured its services. £700 a bottle. £144 a shot. I guess the same kind of telephone number barcodes will also to be found on the Champagne, fine wines and brandies.
The venue for the great event is a bizarre Victorian pile set in the midst of 300 acres of drop dead gorgeous Scottishness on the Isle of Bute. I didn’t see inside, but I took a look at a leaflet for the place which I picked up on the ferry. Mount Stuart was the work of the 3rd Marquis of Bute who went to town on spending his ill gotten gains during the dying years of the nineteenth century. It looks like the kind of place Edgar Alan Poe might have dreamed up on the back of a particularly bad acid trip. King Ludvig who was doing a similar thing back then might have been barking mad, but his Bavarian fairytale castles certainly have the edge as far as I am concerned.
I am digressing all over the place here.
Adam decided to break the long journey north with a Sunday night in Dumfries. He was in his car whilst two of his lads were driving a hire van filled to the gunnels with all those fine beverages. The two lads stayed in town and at ten o clock on Sunday morning they set out to complete their journey to the Firth of Clyde.
They didn’t make it very far. 
Two of Dumfries’s finest didn’t much like the look of the axles on the van and duly pulled them over for a wee chat. Then it was a wee drive up to a weighbridge outside of Lockebie.
And then…
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear….
Not just a bit over loaded. One point three bloody tonnes over loaded!
It has to be said that Adam’s face was a picture when his mobile rang with the news.
Problems, problems, problems.
By now the van was very much impounded on the car park of Lockerbie police station and by hook or by crook Adam and the lads needed on Bute that night to start doing their stuff. We learned that there is no way that a van of any description can be hired in Dumfries on a Sunday.
But problems are there to be sorted. Dyonne and I drove up and transferred half a tonne of stuff into my van and drove it up in to the hills to enjoy a night on a pallet in the yard of a disillusioned Man City fan called Paul who still finds it impossible to get his head around all the petro dollars swilling around his club.
Then we re-filled my van with enough weight for the boys in blue to give their assent for the Holy Water lads to resume their trek north.
I volunteered to hire a van the next morning and drive the left behind bottles up the next morning. And so it was.
I duly signed on the dotted line for a Mercedes Sprinter from Arnold Clark and loaded on board the troublesome 1.3 tonnes with the help of my youngest son Courtney.
Then we went to First Base to add a second cargo to the consignment. Ten food parcels for Action for Children.
In Kelloholm.
Regular readers of this blog will have become familiar with Kelloholm and all that sail in her. Once upon a very different time, Kelloholm was a coal mining village. Maybe in its Victorian heyday, the 3rd Marquis of Bute might have owned a piece of the action. Maybe profits from Kelloholm coal helped to fill the coffers that he tapped to build his Neo Gothic island fantasy.
But the glory days such as they were are now long gone. Kelloholm is a place of unemployment and mould on the walls. Pebble dash and too much rain. People get sanctioned and generally screwed. All too often cupboards are rendered bare and an emergency First Base food parcel is required for body and soul to be kept together. Buying one of those fancy bottles of Scotch would require two and a half months worth of gross income from most of the residents of Kelloholm.
And yet on the floor of my rented Arnold Clark van, the ten boxes of emergency Kelloholm food sat snugly next to all of those boxes of fine wine.
Different contents. Different end users. Different worlds.
I gather the wedding is an American affair. The groom is a one of those American Dreams come true in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley. It seems he has dug out some Scottish roots. Maybe the Third Marquis of Bute evicted a relative of his back in the day in order to farm a few more sheep.
The word is that he is a big time billionaire. The word is that the $2.16 million he is laying out to get himself through the hoop is little more than loose change as far as he is concerned.
Well good for him.
As I drove north past Kilmarnock and out into the staggering beauty of the Clyde Basin, I started working a few sums through my mind.
I have recently started what will probably be an ultimately doomed campaign to persuade the Scottish Government to offer some meaningful and permanent support to the nation’s foodbanks. My argument goes something like this.
It is now abundantly clear that foodbanks have become a part of the Welfare State. We are the new safety net. We are the destination of last resort. If we do our thing well, it has become clear that the community is more than willing to support what we do. So long as we spread the word, most of the tins and packets that make up our emergency food parcels will be donated.
But that of course is not the whole story.
There are elements of running a foodbank which are not covered by donated tins and packets. Rent needs to be paid. And wages. And the phone bill and the electric bill. And all of those many niggling costs which cannot be avoided.
I would like to see the Government hire one person and give them a car. Their job will be to tour the land to check out the foodbanks. It would only take them a couple of hours to make sure that any foodbank is kosher. Once the foodbank in question is added to the official register, they are thereby allowed to raise an invoice once a month to the Government in Edinburgh for £5 per parcel issued.
For First Base, this would mean £30,000 a year to make sure we can cover all the nuts and bolts bills and focus all of our efforts of helping the poor buggers who come through the door rather than scratching about to keep the door open.
There are 60 main food banks in Scotland which hand out an average of 3000 parcels per annum. 180,000 in total.
180,000 parcels at £5 each comes to £900,000.
Surely this is hardly a King’s ransom for the provision of the safety net of last resort. And of course if things look up, there will be less people needing emergency food and less invoices sent to the Government.
I like to think it is a reasonably good idea but I doubt if anyone in Holyrood will see it that way. You can but try, right?
But here’s the thing.
Google has just told me that at today’s exchange rate £1 will buy $1.58.
It means that $2.16 million is worth £1.36 million.
See where I am going here?
The money spent on the Silicon Valley wedding on the Isle of Bute would be enough to pay the overheads of every single foodbank in the whole of Scotland for a year and a half.
For a year and a half.
Like the Kinks said – it’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world. And at times it is a world that stinks like a pile of rotting fish. And for a few miles up the A76 yesterday, the grotesque inequality of our world was laid out in the form of cardboard boxes on the floor of a Mercedes Sprinter van hired for £75 a day from Arnold Clark.      

If you have enjoyed this blog then you might well enjoy one of my books. There are twenty of them waiting for you in the Kindle store from £1 to £2 each. Here's the link.

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