It wasn't supposed to be like this this year!
This was supposed to be the year when we didn't have to look at the coming winter with a gnawing feeling of dread. This was supposed to be the year when we had all the funding we need for the cold months to come secured and squared away. This was supposed to be the year when all we needed to focus on was feeding the 4000 hungry folk who will be arriving at our door once the clocks change and the cold starts to bite.
Well, it hasn't turned out that way. So here I am again yet again with a begging bowl in my hand and a rather desperate look in my eyes. It seems the only way we will get through the winter in one piece is if you gusy are willing to pick us up and carry us through.
So, what has happened? Small print mainly. Why do well paid beaurocrats always seem to want to use the small print to completely screw front line charities like Firth Base? Search me. I actually think we do a pretty good job, but I am kind of biased when all is said and done.
Let's go back a few months. One day I received a call from a local journalist who was interested to hear what I though about the discovery of all the 'Anti Poverty' money.
“What Anti Poverty Money?” I asked him, proving just how far my finger is from the pulse of our local council.
The journalist gave me the bones of a rather remarkable emerging story. Dumfries and Galloway Council had discovered over two million pound's worth of Anti Pverty money down the back of the sofa. It had been gathering for three years and now someone had pulled off the cushions and there it was.
Well obviously there wasn't an actual sofa. Instead there was a nosy young Councilor who used a Public Information Request to prize out the truth. Initially the Council leadership met the allegation with vehement denials but soon the truth became impossible to deny.
Urm. Well. You see....
So there it was. A whopping £2 million, every penny of which was aimed at helping out poor folk in Dumfries and Galloway.
So how did I feel about it? Pretty pissed off, that's how I felt about it. During the three years the council had been stashing away the cash Forst Base at almost run out of cash three times. All that stress and heartache and all the while there was a whole bunch of cash being squirrraled away for no good reason.
So I made calls and people started making all kinds of promises and assurances. Of course the money will be available for First Base to apply for. Of course it will! It is Anti Poverty funding when all is said and done and we all know that is exactly what you guys do. You help out poor people!
But of course getting everything in place to distribute £2 million to the front line charities who help those in most pressing need takes time. Protocaols need to be put in place. Application forms need to be created. Criterea need to be listed. But we were told not to worry ourselves. A happy ending was on the way. And for the forst time ever First Base could go into a winter without wondering just how the hell we will get through to spring.
So. Hunky dory. It seemed there would be no need to bother you guys with a begging bowl for once.
In the mean time I filled in an application for Scottish Government funding which was forty pages long and might as well have been in Mandarin for all the sense it made to me. It was called 'The Equality and Cohesion Fund'. It seemed to me we should be eligible. Equality and Cohesion? Yeah. We do that. I like to think I have a reasonable vocabulary. I've written 25 books and I have an English A level. However my list of words didn't come close to equiping me for this beauty. I reackon I got about one word in three. Seriously, you've never seen jargo like it. Chris from the Council was my guide and translator and we managed to fill in the mighty form and send it off. Chris reckoned we had a decent chnace of success. I wasn't so sure.
The rejection letter duly arrived a couple of months later and an explanatory phone call was promised. When I took the call the guy on the other end of the line said we had fallen foul of the small print. Some minion in the Government had decided only charities who were Limited Companies could be trusted with government funds.
As in the big ones like Barnados and Shelter and McMillan and the Trussel Trust
Small fry like First Base were deemed to be too dodgy. Thanks guys. I guess the minion who came up with this new bit of small print doesn't much rate all the small, community based front line charities who have done the heavy lifting for the last ten years of austerity.
For First Base to tear up our constitution and become a Limided Company would cost us £5000 a year. Would it make us a safer bet for the pubic pound? Of course it wouldn't. Last year Kids Company proved beyond all reasonable doubt that size is no guarantee of security.
Anyway. Not to worry. There was still the back of the sofa two million to be bid for. Just wait until the autumn.....
Well it is Autumn. The leaves are on the turn and the nights are drawing in. And I have no doubt you will guess what is coming next. Oh yeah. Of course you can.
Mark …. hi... look we're really sorry. I mean we are really, really, truly sorry....
There's small print, you see. We hadn't realised before. You know, when we told you not to worry. When we tasked you to be patient and bear with us....
You see, the small print says only the Council is allowed to spend the £2 million. We're not allowed to give it to any charities......
And how very convenient in a time of cuts. I made abunch of calls and ran into familiar brick walls. Elected councilors were pretty outraged. Council officials explained the small print was the small print and when all is said and done, the small print is God.
And the small print declared not a penny of the back of the sofa treasure trove would be finding its way to the small, front line charities of Dumfries and Galloway who do the donkey work of helping people in dire need.
One thing in particular really got my goat. We were hoping to apply for £15,000. This is the cash we need to make it through to the end of the winter. This is the cash we are now asking you to help us with. And of course the small print says we have to look elesewhere for the £15,000
Here is what the small print said was absolutely fine and dandy. The Council is spending £15,000 on delivering training sessions to Councillors and officials which will help then to understand why people get poor. Seriously. £15,000. They must think our local councillors have been living in some kind of Tibetan monastary for the last ten years where there is no TV.
I asked who was going to be doing the training. I pointed out we would have been more than happy to tell our Councilors all they need to know about local poverty. After all, this is what we do. Every single day. And we would have do it free of charge because that is also what we do.
Well guess what. The money is being paid to a charity. Not a tow bit outfit like First Base with our peeling wall paper and freezing basement. A proper charity. A big charity. A limited company charity from from the big city with central heating set to a cosy 75 degrees.
Not that I mean to sound bitter or anything!
On the day I received the news about the latest small print I answered a call from the Social Services in Annan.
“We're going through your food parcels really quickly. I mean, really really quickly. We can barely keep up. Could you send us another forty five please?”
Of course we could. And of course we did. Because the social workers are excellent and they only hand out our food parcels to people who really need them. To people experiencing serious poverty.
The Annan Social Work Department is a part of the Council of course. It seems there is no small print to stop them picking up the phone and asking us to send along £500 worth of goods. This winter the Council's homeless department and social work department will hand out well over £6000 worth of our food parcels. And by hook or by crook we will make sure the food is there for them to give out. Of course we will. It is what we do. We won't create small print to stop this happening. It would be totally unfair to the people who need emergency food and the excellent homeless officers and social workers who are doing their best to help them out.
But it sucks.
And so here we are again. Groundhog Day. I have set up a JustGiving page and this year's target is £15,000. Last year I said I would live off one of our food parcels for four days. It was ridiculous really. We actually pride ourselves on the food parcels we give out and living off one for four days was no kind of hardship. Whatever. It didn't stop you guys from being unbelievably generous.
So this year I have done something rather more demanding than eating more tinned food than usual. I am way to old for climbing Kilimanjaro or jumping out of a plane.
So have written a book. My twenty fifth. And all proceeds will go to filling our £15,000 hole.
The book is called 'The Last Colonial War'. That's it up at the top of the page. I will be publishing a chapter a day right here over the next thirty days or so. And of course atb the end of each Chapter will be a link to our latest Just Giving page. Hopefully if people enjoy the story they will be minded to bung us a couple of quid. Alternatively, if you want to read the whole thing straight away you can buy it in the Amazon Kindle store for £4 by following this link.
So what is 'The Last Colonial War' all about. This is the blurb from the back cover. This is a digital back cover by the way: First Base certainly can't run to turning the book into a paperback!
Countries across the world are reeling with the effects of accelerating climate change. Failed harvests, raging bush fires, and widespread water rationing are bringing many nations to boiling point.
Scotland and England are headed in very different directions.
After six years of independence, Scotland has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. As global temperatures rise, the Scots are suddenly blessed with an abundance of scarce resources.
South of the border things are very different. England has been in steep decline in the years since Brexit. Banks have fled the City of London and the Government is finding it hard to secure buyers for new issues of Government Bonds.
By 2030 things in England are becoming dire. Constant riots, failing services, and a collapsing currency have brought the country to the brink of collapse.
The English Prime Minister is backed into a corner. England is on the brink of becoming a failed State. He has to find something to turn things around before his Government is engulfed by the growing anarchy.
He needs to do something to win back the support of his people and to halt England's descent....
He looks north to England's booming neighbour and decides on a final throw of the dice....
The Last Colonial War.
This is the story of men and women in high office who call the shots. It is also the story of the men and women on the ground whose actions decide the course of the war.
“It is tempting to simply treat 'The Last Colonial War' as an enjoyable page turner and say, oh but of course it couldn't actually happen... But then again.....”
I guess about half of the people of Scotland will really like it. The other half? Maybe not so much! It was an interesting story to write. To picture the world in 2030 I worked on three basic premises. One, Brexit will be a complete car crash. Two, once this becomes clear, Scotland will see sense and jump the sinking UK ship. Three, in thirteen years time the impact of climate change will be really serious.
The story first started to germinate when I watched the film 'The Big Short'. Maybe you have seen it? It tells the story of the guys who saw the 2007 financial crash coming and bet the farm on their gut feeling. The main guy was called Michael Burry. Christian Bale played him in the movie. Burry bet $1.3 billion and won. Everyone said he was barking mad. What got my attention was a line right at the ned of the movie. Once he banked his winnings Michael left Scion Capital and the world's money markets. Ever since he has only invested in one thing.
He is convinced water will soon becone the new oil. I reckon he is absolutely right. And guess what, Scotland has to be just about the best placed country on earth to collect water. When we ad water to all of our other natural resources, the future of an Independent Scotland promises to be bright indeed. Things aren't nearly so bright southn of the border where the whole system relies on the average London house continuing to be worth £500,000. Is this possible when the average London salary is £40,000? Of course it isn't. And when the vast housing bubble bursts the whole house of cards will come down.
How will the people of England feel about their leaders when they are told to cough up £50 to see a doctor in order to balance the books? And what is the favourite ploy of desperately unpopular politicians when all else is failing.....?
1982? A jolly good war....... ?
And let's face it, London has plenty of previous when it comes to marching armies into Scotland .
I hope you give it a read and I hope you enjoy it. You can go stright to chapter one by following the link below.
If you like the book please share it with everyone you can think of
To help us out with our £15,000 hole please follow this link here.
And that's it. It is time for crossed fingers. All I can do now is watch this space and hope you guys come through for us.