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.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


One night last week I was watching a Channel Four news piece from the Donald Trump inauguration in Ohio. There was much that seemed familiar. The Trump acolytes had the same look and feel of many of those who took to the streets a month ago to celebrate Brexit. They were old and white and angry and overweight and most of time mad as a bag of frogs.

Sure they were a little more crazy than their counterparts on this side of the pond, but that’s America right? When it comes to doing crazy they are in a league of their own. Ever since Brexit we have shuddered at the steep rise in racist abuse and hate crime. But at least our hate tends to mean slagging off the lad behind the counter of the corner shop for being a nasty, smelly Paki. At least we don’t shoot him through the head. Well. Not yet.

The news piece was taking a ten minute dig into the lives of the people who see voting Trump as a ticket to a future of milk and honey. Not surprisingly this involved a journey to the heart of trailer park America. All the usual iconic images of 21st Century post industrial misery rolled across the screen. Rusted up steel mills in the process of being re-absorbed into nature. Boarded up shop fronts. Soulless fast food joints. Miserable faces. Lots and lots of seriously fat people.

And then we were whisked away to the fields of California where gangs of Mexicans were picking the fruit under a blazing sun.

And three things struck me.

Number one was the sight of so many very, very fat black people. This was something which came as a pretty major culture shock when I was in America a few years ago. Think about it. How often do you ever see a fat black person on our side of the pond? Not often. Most of our younger generation of Black Britons look like they are ready to throw on an pair of boxing trunks and fight for a light heavyweight title. When we were in Brooklyn the average weight of the local gang bangers was north of eighteen stones.

Then there were all the disability scooters. I recalled an article in the run up to Brexit from the doomed streets of the Welsh Valleys. The reporter was chasing up and down the blighted post industrial areas of Britain to try and get a handle on the reasons why the forgotten people in the forgotten towns were so hell bent on blaming foreigners for all of their ills. The reporter picked up on the fact that town centres which were home to lots of disability scooters tended to be the town centres where xenophobia was at its highest.

Finally was the extraordinary comparison between the xenophobes in the trailer parks and the Mexicans in the fields. The ones who were doing all of the hating and gearing up to vote for the Donald seemed to be in dreadful physical shape. The Mexicans on the other hand were as lean as whippets and had the look of Roberto Duran in his prime.

The comparison was of the night and day variety.

Back in the trailer park the message was the same as the one that was to be heard from Rotherham to Walsall to Clacton in the run up to Brexit.

I’m not a racist, but….

There are too many of them....

They are taking all the jobs…

There is no work for us…

They are dragging down wages….

Which of course nicely sets up the Trump/Farage solution.

Built a wall and lock the gates.

Get shut of all these nasty immigrants and there will be great jobs for all and everyone will have a 50 inch 3D tele and three weeks in the Canary Isles.

Then I remembered another Channel Four piece from a ceramics factory in the Brexit heartland of Stoke. First we heard from a few of the middle aged white female workers who were throwing and glazing pots.

Too many of them. They’re taking all the work and filling up the hospitals and schools and getting all the houses and being paid £500 a week by the social…….

All the same old same old.

Next came an interview with the guy who owned the factory. He had the Stafford accect of someone who was clearly born and bred Stoke. He explained how he had tried everything he could think of to recruit local Stoke people to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors to become pot throwers.

No chance. Nothing worked. Why? He had no idea. So what was he supposed to do? Close the doors and give up? Without the East Europeans he would have had to shut down years ago. He had no explanation. He merely told it as it was.

It is a story we here over and over again from those who run factories or farms. They can’t recruit local people to do the job. So they load up on Lithuanians and Poles. What the hell else are they going to do?

What indeed.

And then it hit me that there as more to the pictures from America. The Trump brigade from the trailer park were in no kind of shape to even think of doing what the Mexicans were doing. Twelve house straight bent almost double picking fruit? No chance. They wouldn’t make the mid morning break. How long would it take for them to get themselves into the same kind of shape as the Mexicans? Months and months at best. More probably never.

For decades those at the very bottom of the pile in Britain and America have lived the most unhealthy lives imaginable. Most of the blame for this has to be shouldered by the food industry which has found a million different ways to mask vast amounts of reconstituted fat with sugar and fancy packaging. When all is said and done, 24 frozen sausages in a box for 99p just can’t be right. Throw in all the cheap booze and all the nasty pound shop recreational drugs and it is hardly surprising so many people are in such permanently lousy nick.

A hundred and fifty years ago the poor were hammered by TB and dysentery and rickets. Now it is obesity and anxiety and depression and addiction.

So what happens if there are no Mexicans or Poles to come in and do the jobs which require ten hours straight of hard physical graft? The jobs just won’t get done. And these jobs are kind of important, especially when it comes to food production.

Nobody likes to own up to this dismal fact, most of all politicians. It is so easy to peddle the Farage/Trump line. Get the foreigners out and everything will be hunky dory. The problem is that such infantile logic is complete and utter gough. We see this every single day at First Base as we hand out food parcels. Fair enough our clients are unable to get themselves anything to eat, but they don’t look like the victims of a Sub Saharan famine. The majority are in lousy shape, physically and mentally. Most are being propped up by different breeds of happy pills from their GP and their local dealer. They have very little energy or self confidence. Give them a job starting at half past seven tomorrow morning and they wouldn’t last until noon.

I’m not getting preachy here. Back in 2003 when the Foot and Mouth crisis was all over Dumfries and Galloway I got myself onto one of the clean up teams as part of my research for my book ‘The Cull’. I was in my early forties and carrying way to much timber and it was the first time I had done manual work for years. The job entailed twelve hours a day with a power washer and it all but wrote me off. I did if for six weeks. It felt like six years.

Despite being overweight I have always been reasonably fit. My diet is OK. I am well enough used to getting up early. Fair enough, I smoke like a chimney. Despite all this, that six weeks all but killed me.

Was it that hard? Not really. Not when compared to pulling potatoes or standing on a packing line. I remembered the time when we had a mill in Lancaster. Back then the main thing Robert and Harold did to decide if a likely lad was really a likely lad was to check out their hands. Anyone with rough calloused hands had a chance of getting a start. Anyone with hands like mine was told thanks but no thanks. I told them they were Dickensian. They told me I was na├»ve. I have no doubt if the mill was still running today Robert and Harold would have selected a workforce made up entirely of lads from Poznan or Vilnius.

The problem is for thirty years we have swept millions of poor people under the carpet and pretended they aren’t actually there. We have signed them off sick and given them just about enough money to shop in Farmfoods and drown their sorrows with Frosty Jacks and to plane off the sharp edges with street valium at a£1 a pill. Many are barely literate and most are in woeful physical nick. It sounds awful, but it is dismally true. There is no point being in denial and signing up for the Trump/Farage Walt Disney view of the world. The reality is a bleak one. We simply do not produce people who are capable of doing the nuts and bolts jobs which keep the show on the road. Well. Not nearly enough of them. To make up the shortfall we import fit, ambitious young people who have lived lives which make them more than capapble to doing twelve hours worth of hard graft.
To make thinks worse, we have told our young people a pack of lies. We have conned 50% of them into getting themselves into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt to earn a university degree barely worth the paper it is written on. We don’t have an economy remotely capable of giving 50% of young people well paid graduate jobs. Maybe 20%? Maybe. And is it really so surprising the ones who have worked so hard for their piece of expensive paper are not overly keen on picking spuds for minimum wage?

The fact that not a single front line politician seems willing to own up to this grim set of facts speaks volumes. Of course people need to do their best to talk the country up. I get that. It’s part of the job description. But constantly indulging in complete denial does none of us any favours. Even if we started now to better prepare the generations to come, it would take years and years before we might be remotely capable of managing without importing huge numbers of immigrants to make sure everything doesn’t go to hell in a handcart.

We should count ourselves lucky there are so many immigrants willing to come and do all the work we can’t manage ourselves.

Fat chance.

Instead the towns where mobility scooters fill the pavements will continue to hate foreigners and to live in the Trump/Farage dream world.


  1. The reality is, when you know it's your own fault, but you can't or won't do anything about it, it's easier to blame Johnnie Foreigner. In certain company it goes down well too!

    Some years ago I was running "back-to-work" courses for folk who were Long Term Unemployed.

    Almost to a man (despite them having drink or drugs problems, or police records that would scare the shit out of you, depression, being grossly over-weight, or illiterate), they blamed everything on foreigners.

    The thing was that at the time (1997) there were almost no foreigners in Dundee. Some sub continent people who either ran restaurants or corner shops, and who virtually never took other jobs.

    Of course, when the opinion you WANT to have, the one that suits your lazy purpose, is daily reinforced by the Sun, Mail, Star, Express, you are quite likely to believe that you are absolutely right.

  2. This has been going on for decades now, and folk will always blame anyone but themselves. The fact is that immigrants have underpinned our economy for so long it would collapse without them.

  3. We need to rebuild that wall and the Italians aren't available anymore.
    Here's how

  4. The Capitalist system has always and always will rely on a large pool of unemployed, and the easiest way to justify this is to train people through compulsory education to be unemployable. this truth applies equally to the non-certificated and the non-practical degrees. A change will only happen when the resources and wealth of a country are valued and shared as a community asset rather than an exploitable commodity for the benefit of a selective few.

  5. This is a really thought-provoking article. Physical labour seems to have become marginalised in our society.

  6. Keep writing Mark.....feed for thought! Sue

  7. Keep writing Mark.....feed for thought! Sue