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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


 Yesterday’s number at First Base was £15,000.
On the one hand, I am pretty sure that we managed to save the tax payer £15,000.
On the other hand an hour spent in the soul destroying world of an XL spreadsheet revealed that we have a gaping £15,000 hole to fill if we are to make ends meet this year.
Symmetry of a kind. I guess. If only the £15,000 on one side of the ledger could somehow be used to fill the £15,000 pothole on the other side. But of course life is never so simple.
So how did First Base manage to offer a £15,000 helping hand to the beleaguered tax payers of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Tabitha. That’s how. Not that her real name bears any remote resemblance to Tabitha. It doesn’t, so I suggest it is a futile waste of time to try and guess her true identity. Does anyone ever call their little treasures Tabitha any more?
When she was a bright eyed teenager, nobody in Tabitha’s circle could have had any inkling of what a car crash her life was about to become. A smart, popular kid from a good family with the rest of her life spread out before her like a well kept garden. Sure she had a mischievous streak, but no harm in that, right? And sure she had a mildly alarming taste in lads who hailed from the other side of the tracks. Lads who carried the thrill of trouble. But, hey. That’s the way the world works, right?
But small mischief became bigger mischief and the bad boys just kept on getting badder. For a while there was a solid career with incomings enough for a flat and a veneer to be kept in place, But under the surface everything was party time and all the good things in Tabitha’s life seemed to be down to the drugs that consumed every penny of her disposable income.
And so it was that one by one the wheels on her wagon fell by the wayside. No more job and ever badder boys who her family despised and hated. The drugs ate away at what was already a fragile mind like a plague of maggots. Moods swings and tantrums and troughs of despair. Boyfriends stealing from the family home. Every last drop of family patience drained away into the sands.
Until at last the front door to the security of family was slammed in Tabitha’s face and it has stayed slammed shut ever since.
Wilderness years. And every minute of every day those voracious maggots went about their business. Depression. Anxiety. Heroin and methadone and anti depressents. Uppers and downers. Clarity and oblivion.
Memories of times gone by and terror of the now and what is to come. Aching, yawning emptiness and such regrets.
Such regrets.
Every now and then she comes into First Base to persuade herself that it is still possible to turn everything around. To hit the brakes and do a U turn and drive back down the road to the place where her life used to be. Once upon a time. When it used to be sunny. A time of picnics and having a place where she belonged. A safe place.
Not that the resolution ever lasts long. Something always happens and she runs as fast as she can to find a rabbit hole to dive down into. The rabbit hole comes in the form of street valium, available to one and all for the princely price of £1 a pill. £40 will carry Tabitha into a fuzzy world that feels better than the real world.
For a while.
And once she is in the all embracing fuzz of Mr Benzodiazepam she is subject to an altered reality. The blues convince Tabitha that she is invisible. She believes in new and cartoon like powers. She can walk into any shop and take what she wants and walk out without anyone seeing her. The problem is that they can see her. And they do see her. Every single time.
Just a moment love.
Could you come with me please.
Time spent in the back room where the staff get a brew on their break. Time killed until the cops land to take her away. The crazy thing is that she only ever nicks trinkets. Like a monged out magpie. Shiny things. Pretty things. Things with a recommended retail price of £0.99.
Processed and booked and questioned and bailed.
Up in front of the Sheriff to answer to the charge of stealing £3.17’s worth of Chinese tat from a shop soon to have its front windows boarded up.
Along with all the others.
None of the Sheriffs ever really know what to do with her. How could they? So it has been community service and probation and drug treatment and testing orders. And sometimes everything seems to go well for a few weeks and months until something goes wrong and she runs headlong into the oblivion of thirty blue valium pills.
Or forty.
Or fifty.
Until in the end she finally ran out of rope and spent a month at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
Never again she said.
Never, ever, ever, ever again she said.
And she meant it. Like she always means it. Because next time it will be at least six months sentenced and three months served.
And she hated it.
Really hated it.    
But we all know how resolutions tend to turn out. Friday morning brought dreadful news from the family she yearns to be a part of. And dreadful news is not a thing that Tabitha’s fragile mind is able to cope with. Dreadful news draws the wicked genie from the bottle to whisper in her ear.
You deserve it, you deserve it, you deserve it.
Release. A comfort zone. A sanctuary. A haven.
So Tabitha took to the streets and bought and swallowed sixty blue valium pills. And on she went into the familiar darkness. Familiar fog.
Into a sprawling store at an out of town shopping centre.
Tabitha the indestructible. Tabitha the invisible. Tabitha in a world of her own where she can help herself to what she wants and drift away like a cloud in a perfect summer sky.
Except she wasn’t invisible.
A security guard grabbed at her as she drifted through the doors. She shook herself loose. She ran. And against all sensible odds, she made it clear.
But for how long? There will be CCTV footage of course. Only a matter of time until cops came a calling. Go to jail. Do not pass ‘Go’. Do not collect £200.
A weekend of staring at the walls. A weekend of the walls creeping in ever closer. A weekend of waiting for the knock at the door. Waiting. Unraveling. Imagining. Regretting. Self hating. Self loathing. Self blaming.
An essentially good human being completely unable to come to terms with doing bad things in a bad, bad world.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Valium, valium, valium.
A line from Apocalypse Now.
“And then there was Chef. Chef was wrapped too tight for Vietnam. Probably wrapped too tight for New Orleans….”
In the wrong place and the wrong time. Forever.
Monday morning comes and she ventures out and crosses the town to First Base. Sheepish and all broken up.
“I’ve been realty stupid again…..”
A story told and advice sought.
Has she still got all the stuff?
Yes, she still has all the stuff.
Is the stuff still in saleable condition?
Yes, the stuff is still in saleable condition. Labels and price tags and security tags all present and correct.
OK. So why not try this. Write an letter of apology and take it all back.
And she is immediately tempted. But will they still take her to the back room where the staff have a brew during their break time? Will the cops be summoned to attend? A ride in the squad car? Remand? Go to jail. Do not pass ‘Go’. Do not collect £200.
In the end we strike a deal.
She’ll come back tomorrow. With all the stuff. And she will write her letter of apology. And then I will take it back to the shop and pass the bag over.
To be honest, we are kind of surprised when she shows. But she does show. A few less worry lines. A conscience more at ease with itself. She writes her letter and her letter is quite magnificent in its way. Her English teacher should be properly proud.
I drive to the bleakness of the out of town shopping centre. The security system goes beep, beep, beep as I walk through the door. Is there about to be trouble? No.
Can I see the manager please? Something private. Yes I can wait.
Canned music and half stolen glances for the staff behind the counter.
The manager arrives and I tell my tale. I give her one of our annual reports. So she knows who I am. Who we are. What we do. Why I am all present and correct in her store with a carrier bag of stolen goods. And a 9 out of 10 for spelling, grammar and expression letter of apology.
There is no judgement in the manager’s eyes. Only sympathy and sadness for all of the Tabitha’s in this grey and unforgiving world. She wasn't in herself. On Friday. But she has heard about the incident of course. And they have sent all the CCTV images over to the cops of course.
Of course.
I offer her the bag and she takes it. A little surprised. A little taken aback. But mainly just plain sad.
No doubt the police will come a calling at some stage. And no doubt Tabitha will have another day in court. But maybe she will have provided the Sheriff with some new tools for the job. Her defence lawyer will read out the letter of apology that her English teacher should be proud of and the store will confirm that all goods have been returned in full and in tact.
And then I very much hope the Sheriff will take the opportunity not to send Tabitha to jail. For what would be the point? Three months of jail time will drain the public purse to the tune of £15,000. Will it fix Tabitha’s fragile mind? Or will it break it further. Will it be like taking a crystal champagne flute with a chip and hurling hard into a concrete wall?
So I don’t think the Sheriff with send Tabitha to jail. Not this time. And if he doesn’t, we will have done our bit to save the tax payers of Great Britain and Northern Ireland £15,000.
I get back to the office and finish work on a budget spreadsheet for 2005/2016. And there is a wide, gaping black hole staring hard into my eyes. A £15,000 hole. A run out of cash in the middle of January hole. A hole to be filled or there will be no door on Buccleuch St for the likes of Tabitha to walk through.
It would be nice if £15,000 saved could be used as aggregate to fill our £15,000 hole.
But life is never like that.   

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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