MARK FRANKLAND

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, April 12, 2022

SHAFTS OF SUNLIGHT IN A DARKENING WORLD - PEOPLE FROM DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY TRANSFORM THE LIVES OF HUNDREDS OF GIRLS IN AFRICA.






It has to be said, we are living through very dark times. Every night the news is filled with images of genocide we all hoped would be forever consigned to the History Channel. 

Victorian levels of poverty are starting to stalk the land and before we know we'll all be spending a tenner to boil a kettle.

Finding a reason to be cheerful isn't an easy task.

Anyway.

Enough already.

The purpose of this missive is to inject a shaft of light into the gathering darkness.

When things are universally bleak, it is all too easy to feel helpless. Overwhelmed.

To batten down the hatches.

Fair enough.

And yet many of us feel the need to find a way to do something tangible. Something which makes things better, even if only in a small way.

Thankfully every day sees millions of people do exactly this when they put a tin into the foodbank collection box in their local supermarket.

A tin of beans makes a small difference. A million tins of beans makes a huge difference.

Which brings me to the photographs at the top of this blog.

Bullet points.

The Kupata Project is a small charity based in Dumfries and Galloway.

We raise money here in Scotland and we spend it in Uganda where the Covid 19 pandemic has taken abject poverty and turned it into desperate poverty.

What we do is really simple.

We provide sanitary pads to school girls. In a place where the average wage is £1 a day, sanitary pads are an unaffordable luxury for the vast majority of families.

Without sanitary pads, Ugandan girls miss up to 25% of their time in school.

Which basically makes their already limited life chances 25% worse.

We don't act like 'know it all' Westerners.

There's been more than enough of that kind of thing in Africa over the last few centuries.

We don't pretend to know better. Instead we solve a simple but significant problem.

The photos tell what we hope is an uplifting story. They paint a picture of a few people in Dumfries and Galloway making a direct and life changing difference to the lives of hundreds of girls in the heart of Africa.

The sums of money are not from the Bill Gates playbook.

£20 a month, £34 a month, £300 and £1000.

A school full of girls each.

A direct connection.

A vast difference made to many, many young lives.

And fair enough, in the midst of all the gathering darkness, it is only a small difference.

But when enough people put a tin of beans into a collection box it can soon add up to a million.

Anne and Bob and Maggie and Fiona and Richard and Suzie and Michelle and Shona and the members of Dalbeattie Rotary Club are separated from the girls in the photos by many thousands of miles. From rain swept Dumfries and Galloway to the green hills of Africa.

And yet the photos tell a story of a distance rendered obsolete. Instead there is a connection. An umbilical cord. Four schools adopted. A thousand lives changed.

A bright shaft of sunlight breaking through all the dark clouds.

If you would like to help out, you can find the link to the Kupata Project's online fundraising page via the link below. And if you would like to adopt a school for £20 a month, give me a call on 07770443483.

And by the way, putting the flags of Scotland and Uganda together on the posters wasn't our idea. It came from our young volunteers in Uganda.

What's not to like about that?

THE KUPATA PROJECT ONLINE FUNDRAISING PAGE


















Saturday, March 12, 2022

AND SO IT STARTS. THE CATASTROPHE OF 2022 ARRIVES AT OUR FOODBANK

 


It's March and it is already crystal clear. History will recall 2022 as a year of catastrophe. We don't yet know just how great the catastrophe might be. God forbid, it might still end in mushroom clouds.

Let's all pray otherwise.

Right now, all eyes are all on the pictures of 1942 in HD which fill our TV screens. How could our eyes not be?

But soon our attention will inevitably be drawn to disasters closer to home.

The cold hard economic facts are unlike anything we have seen since 1973.

Petrol is about to hit £10 a gallon and the price of a loaf of bread will double in the next couple of months.

A sixty mile round trip is about to cost £20.

The consequences are beyond comprehension and as the manager of an already over stretched foodbank the near future has become a thing of utter dread.

And in a way it started yesterday. The first clap of thunder from the approaching storm.

I parked up the van and clicked off a podcast describing how hell had come to earth in a city on the shores of the Black Sea.

Check messages.

A quiet voice on the very verge of tears.

I don't how how I am supposed to do this. Do I need to register? Do I need to bring in some documents?”

She wasn't a Ukrainian refugee facing the UK's wall of bureaucracy.

She was a lady living in abject rural poverty twenty or so miles from First Base.

Our near abroad.

Choking back the ever present tears, she ran through her story. Her tragedy. Her small, unnoticed tragedy in a world of vast tragedy.

A tragedy of various parts which had suddenly come together to make her life impossible.

The bare bones I will lay out are anonymised.

She has a serious long term disease which is getting steadily and inevitably worse.

But she can still work. And she has worked. She has worked for the same employer for all but 20 years.

Steady. Reliable. A part of the furniture. A model employee.

But over the course of a few days, everything has fallen apart.

Driving to and from her place of work involves five round trips of 50 miles per week. 350 miles in all.

And all of of a sudden the cost of travelling to and from work has gone up by £25 a week.

A straw to break the back of a camel.

Already going to work was costing her money. Staying at home in perpetual isolation on Universal Credit would put a few more pounds coins in her purse.

And already her incomings were incapable to filling the oil tank and thereby allowing her to heat her damp abode.

A real terms pay cut of £25 a week might as well have been £1000 a week.

She had arrived at the gates of impossibility.

And now she really has to fight her way through the tears.

Because her place of work was behind the till in a garage.

She laid out her tragedy to her boss. Piece by piece.

Maybe he could help make the impossible possible with a weekly splash of petrol?

Surely twenty years of reliable service had to be worth something?

In a perfect world it would be.

But this is anything but a perfect world.

This is planet earth in the year of Our Lord 2022.

Her boss gave her the same answer Putin has given to the people of Mariupol.

Niet.

Not a litre, not a pound, not a penny.

Not my problem.

Plenty more fish in the sea.

So she resigned.

What other choice was there?

A dictator invades a neighbour and an ill lady in Dumfries and Galloway has to give up her job of twenty years in favour of a life of endless cold and utter isolation.

Dominos, right?

In their own way, basic sums can be as life ruining as cluster bombs.

The catastrophe of 2022 will come in many different forms.

For the people of Mariupol it is beyond every nightmare.

For the countries of the Middle East and Africa who rely on affordable wheat from Russia and Ukraine, it will mean famine.

And for us it will mean a vast rolling tragedy for those who could barely manage in the days before petrol hit £10 a gallon and the price of a loaf of bread doubled.

She came in to us yesterday. She is in town once a week for unmissable doctors appointments.

She came to us with the tears still flowing.

And of course we gave her a week's worth of food for herself and her dog and her cats.

And of course we assured her we would help her for as long as she needed our help.

And of course we told her there would be no documents required to enable her to keep her body and soul together.

First Base is not the UK Home Office.

First Base does not make people prove the extent of their desperation.

First Base does what it can and to be frank, it isn't going to be remotely enough.

Yes, we can keep food on the table. But we can't keep the heating on. Or the lights. And we can't pay the rent. Or buy clothes. Or drive bailiffs from the door.

And there is no parcel to drive away fear and despair.

I put the phone down after half an hour or so and couldn't escape a growing feeling of dread.

And so it starts.

Our part in the catastrophe of 2022.

Our resources are desperately limited. We do a pretty good job of distributing 16,000 emergency food parcels across and area which spans 3400 square miles. And our parcels are decent. Varied and reasonably nutritious. Three days worth of eating.

Not Fortnum and Mason. But not bad.

I wonder what one of our parcels will look like in six months time? Milk and a bag of porridge oats?

In the year when petrol is about to hit £10 a gallon and the price of a loaf of bread is about to double, how many emergency parcels will we be required to hand out in the 3400 square miles we cover?

I have no idea.

Nobody has any idea.

And so it starts.

THE FIRST BASE ONLINE FUNDRAISING PAGE

Thursday, February 17, 2022

IN THESE DIRE TIMES, DO YOU EVER LOOK BACK TO THE 2014 INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM AND THINK 'IF ONLY?....' I DO!

 



I did an interview for 'Scotland Tonight' yesterday evening. It was actually rather a bizarre experience - High tech and low tech all rolled into one.

The high tech part involved a mind boggling link which enabled my ugly mug to appear on a large screen in the STV studio in Glasgow via my Iphone. The low tech part was setting the aforesaid Iphone up on a dusty old paperback and the shut down screen of my laptop whilst all the while storm Dudley rattled away at the windows.

My role was to state the blindingly obvious. The party line for every front line charity trying to mitigate the endless nightmare of London rule.

Since 2008, real wages have gone down.

Slowly but surely, millions of families have been sliding down into a kind of grinding survival mode. A place where the incomings are never quite able to square up to the outgoings. A place where the end of the month gap keeps on getting that little bit wider, only made bridgeable by money borrowed from family or squeezed into the last remaining space on the plastic.

Like slowly boiled frogs.

There is new economic name for the people who are stuck in this slow moving nightmare.

The Precariat.

So let's take a precariat family in 2019.

Incomings - £20,000

Outgoings - £21,000

How did they bridge the gap? Let's say £500 from mum and dad and £500 onto Barclaycard.

Not great.

In June of the year in question, the annual MOT had rolled in at £543 including VAT – an eye watering £342 over their rather optimistic budget of £200.

This meant three months of frantic belt tightening and multiple visits to the foodbank.

So how are things looking now?

Aye right.

A couple of modest pay rises have lifted the family incomings up to £20,500.

And the outgoings?

Oh my god the bloody outgoings.....

What is 7% of £21,000?

It's £1470.

Which brings the pot to the boil and duly completes the long term task of killing the frog

£22,470 - £20,500 = £1970

As in two thousand quid bar the shouting.

And mum and dad are broke as well.

And the Barclaycard is all maxxed out.

And so the foodbank is the only show in town and it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

Working in a foodbank in February 2022 feels a bit like living on some island in the path of a coming hurricane.

You know it is coming and there isn't a damned thing you can do about it.

Only two questions await answers.

When will it arrive? And how bad is it going to be? Will the roof stay in place or will it be blown clean off?

So in a nutshell, I stated the obvious.

And once the director up in the studio bid me a good evening, I couldn't help but wish I had been able talk about a far bigger picture.

Well this isn't an STV interview and I don't have to wear my sensible foodbank manager's hat. Instead I can don my 'YES' hat and let off some steam.

Imagine, as the man once said.

Imagine 'YES' had won in September 2014. We would have been fully independent now and the world would look like a very different place. We could all be watching the antics of the pound shop Fascists in Westminster and thinking 'there but for the grace of God....'

It would be very easy to go on and on and on about how much better things would be, but I haven't got the time and neither have you.

So I will contain my rant to a couple of things.

Fair enough?

OK.

As we all know only too well, right now there are 130,000 Russian soldiers on the Ukrainian border. Only one person on God's green earth knows the answer to the big 'will he/won't he' question and that person of course is Vladimir Putin.

What does or does not happen in Ukraine isn't really our business and even if it was, there isn't a whole lot we can do about it.

And yet it is our business in a very big way.

Right now, somewhere under the world's oceans, a Trident submarine is gliding silently through the dark waters. On board are multiple nuclear warheads, each and every one targeted at a Russian city. On board is the capability to wipe out tens of millions of Russians should the word be passed down the line to the captain.

This inescapable fact leads to another inescapable fact. Right now, one of the first targets on the Russian nuclear hit list will be the nuclear sub base at Faslane. And should Faslane be vapourised, then Glasgow will become collateral damage.

So all of a sudden, any sudden escalation in Ukraine is very much our business.

Had we voted 'Yes' in 2014, the nukes would have been away by now. Would any town or city in an Independent Scotland be worthy of being high up on a Russian nuclear hit list? It seems highly doubtful.

Of course a large majority of Scots don't want to play host to Britain's last vengeful vestige of Imperial power. But we have no choice in the matter. The word from our lords and masters in London is to put up and shut up. Defense of the Realm is and always will be a reserved matter and Big Dog is the duly anointed great leader with the authority to kill off all those tens of millions of Russians. 

It is for us to learn to stay quiet and deal with it.

And if Glasgow gets wiped clean off the map? Well, them's are the breaks I guess. It's all part and parcel of being a colony.

We voted for it, right?

Anyway. Here's a bunch of facts. I will leave it for you to piece them all together.

How would these facts have come together had we voted YES back in 2014?

OK. Here goes.

In France, the Government has control over EDF, it's main energy provider.

This means President Macron has cracked the whip and told EDF it can only put up its prices by 4%

Unlike the 50% increase we are about to suffer.

Oh and by the way, French electric prices were a whole lot lower than ours before this bloody nightmare started.

Next.

In 2020, Scotland's wind farms produced 97.5% of Scotland's power needs.

Where this power goes is a reserved power. Every last kilowatt of electricity we produce belongs to London. Lock, stock and barrel. We are required stick it into the National Grid and we are charged top dollar to buy our own renewable power back.

Between 2020 and 2022, the price of Scottish wind has not risen by so much as a penny.

In 2020 the cost of Scottish wind was £0.

In 2022 the cost of Scottish wind is still £0. There has been zero inflation when it comes to the price of Scottish wind.

Vladimir Putin has no ability to lift the price of Scottish wind, no matter how many nukes he has.

In fact, Scotland is one of the very few countries on earth with the ability to be able to withstand a huge spike in global gas and oil prices.

Had we voted Yes back in 2014, our First Minister would now be in an even better position than President Macron.

How many companies would be eyeing up a move to Scotland right now?

How many people would be eyeing up a move to Scotland right now.

We would be vibrant newly independent country powered by a source of energy free at the point of use...... forever.

And ever.

But we didn't vote 'YES'.

We voted 'NO'.

We voted to be 'Better Together'.

We voted for the right to go down with the London ship.

We voted for the right to think 'if only.....'

Surely we couldn't possibly be so utterly brain washed and stupid when we get the chance to vote again?

Could we?

If you're interested on my efforts on STV you can get there via the link below. The piece arrives after 14 minutes but the adverts are non negotiable. Check out the state of the First Base ceiling!

STV - 'Scotland Tonight'

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

SAVE BIG DOG? OH PLEASE, PLEASE DO!




A few months ago I found myself in what I guess might be called a double pinch myself moment. You know the kind of moment, right? As in this is all so utterly extraordinary I really must be dreaming.
Some context.
Liverpool were in the midst of their annual journey into the beating heart of the Evil Empire.
As in Old Trafford, that great crumbling, boxy monstrosity squatting like a malevolent Soviet era eyesore in the heart of Salford.
As in Mordor.
Complete with a full complement of 76,000 baying Orcs.
Sixty minutes on the clock and there were words and letters on the TV screen I never thought possible.
Manchester United 0 - Liverpool 5.
Yup.
Not a fever dream on the back of a tab of acid.
Cold, hard, actual, really happening reality.
Manchester United 0 - Liverpool 5
Pinch, pinch, pinch.
I pinched until my flesh was bruised and still I didn't wake up to a world more familiar.
Not only was it it five nil, it looked like at any second it would be six. Then seven. Then eight. Nine?
The forces of darkness were imploding in front of my disbelieving eyes.
A result for the ages was in the making. Half a century's worth of bragging rights.
My mind wandered back a couple of years to one of my more bizarre experiences of watching the lads taking the East Lancs road to Mordor.
I was in front of a big TV in the bar of a somewhat threadbare lodge in Queen Elizabeth Game Park in South West Uganda. 
Rift Valley. Ruwenzori Mountains. Eighty degrees of heat undeterred by the lazy rusty fans on the paint cracked ceiling.
People had driven in from far and wide to take advantage of the rare satellite signal. Sky Sports in the heart of Africa.
The much vaunted global tribes of two clubs followed by hundreds of millions.
The two guys beside me soon revealed themselves as Mancs as Marcus Rashford opened the scoring and sent the Orcs in the stadium into overdrive.
Both were well fed and watered and they wore the clothes of the Ugandan one percent. Maybe politicians? Maybe policemen? Definitely well heeled Government.
At one point, the guy next to me cocked an ear to the screen and picked out the song the Orcs in the stadium were belting out.
Our song with their words.
He grinned and lent in to me to spell out the words in his rich African voice.
"Sign on, Sign on with hope in your heart and you'll never get a job...."
Seriously.
Half an hour or so later Adam Lallana equalised and Liverpool grabbed an undeserved draw.
We went on to win the league.
They didn't.
Just for the record.
Anyway.
Back to my pinch myself moment of a few months ago. 0 - 5 with thirty opportunity rich minutes left on the clock.
It was at this moment I arrived at pinch myself moment number two as the cameras zoomed in on the ashen face of the United manager.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The one time 'Bay Faced Assassin'.
Three years into the role and doing the kind of job for Mordor Robert Mugabe once upon a time did for Zimbabwe.
Every day he hung on meant more long term damage.
Every day he hung on to his job was a day of joy for us.
Every day he hung on to his job was a lingering nightmare for the Orcs.
Would he survive 0 - 5? 
Doubtful, but there was a sliver of a chance.
Would he survive 0 - 8?
Not a prayer. Not in a million years.
So what to hope for? Settle for 0 - 5 and the chance of a few more catastrophic weeks in Mordor?
Or go for the utter blissful nemesis option?
Short term gratification or long term damage?
A actually surprised myself by choosing the long term strategic option and had no complaints when the lads played quiet disdainful keep ball for the last thirty minutes and allowed the scoreboard to be frozen at 0 - 5.
For all of history.
And now in the grey cold of January it seems a kind of Groundhog Day has arrived.
Another Mordor is under siege. A different Mordor. A Mordor sited two hundred miles south of Old Trafford.
A Mordor at the heart of another vindictive, shrunken dark empire.
The Mordor of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and all his hideous cronies.
My utter contempt for Johnson is as absolute as contempt can get. I knew plenty like him at college. Preening, entitled Etonian twats. But he is next level. 
This is an article he signed off on when he was Editor at the Spectator.

"The extreme reaction to Mr Bigley's murder is fed by the fact that he was a Liverpudlian. Liverpool is a handsome city with a tribal sense of community. A combination of economic misfortune — its docks were, fundamentally, on the wrong side of England when Britain entered what is now the European Union — and an excessive predilection for welfarism have created a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche among many Liverpudlians.

They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it. Part of this flawed psychological state is that they cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, there by deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance against the rest of society.

The deaths of more than 50 Liverpool football supporters at Hillsborough in 1989 was undeniably a greater tragedy than the single death, however horrible, of Mr Bigley; but that is no excuse for Liverpool's failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon. The police became a convenient scapegoat, and the Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident."

Yeah.
Over fifty? It was ninety six in case you're remotely interested. Ninety seven now.
I was one of those fans at the back of the crowd. Not drunk by the way. Just there. Alive by the roll of a dice.
There are no words.
I have never truly hated a politician before. But believe me, I truly hate Johnson. I have reached the stage where I can't even stand to look at him any more.
The good people of Liverpool are not alone when it comes to being the butt of a pathetic Johnson joke.
Here are some more words the bastard signed of on during his days at the helm of the Spectator. This time the good folk of Scotland are in his pig eyed sight.

"The Scotch – what a verminous race!

Canny, pushy, chippy, they’re all over the place,

Battening off us with false bonhomie,

Polluting our stock, undermining our economy.

Down with sandy hair and knobbly knees!

Suppress the tartan dwarves and the Wee Frees!

Ban the kilt, the skean-dhu and the sporran

As provocatively, offensively foreign!

It’s time Hadrian’s Wall was refortified

To pen them in a ghetto on the other side.

I would go further. The nation

Deserves not merely isolation

But comprehensive extermination.

We must not flinch from a solution."

Yeah. He actually thought this vicious drivel was funny. Fit for publication. "The nation deserves not merely isolation but comprehensive extermination. We must not flinch from a solution."

I think I should repeat the last line 

"We must not flinch from a solution."

Is it a bit too Adolf Eichmann 1942 for your taste? It is for mine.

So believe you me I am enjoying every second of watching his slow and dismal demise. I am relishing the sight of every knife being eased into his flailing carcass.

But do I want to see him yanked out of 10 Downing Street and tossed unceremoniously onto the street?

Well, no, actually.

I'm back to a 0 - 5 shaped dilemma. I keep telling myself to look beyond short term gratification and to focus on the bigger picture.

The 'Yes' campaign will never have a greater asset than Johnson. Every day he clings to power sees a few thousand more make the move from 'No' to 'Yes'. 

Every day.

A few more months of Johnson might well be enough to seal the deal. 

Forever.

So 'Operation Save Big Dog'?

Absolutely! Bring it on. And please let it succeed in spades because a few more months of this uniquely hideous human being will surely be enough to make an Independent Scotland a nailed on certainty.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

STATUE THOUGHTS

 


On the day the Colston Four were found not guilty by a jury of their peers, I was delivering a week's worth of food to a guy in Gretna. It has become part of my routine. A couple months ago I returned a call to his support worker to pick up the referral. She explained how ill he was. Just out of hospital and barely capable of anything. I duly read between the carefully drawn lines. It wasn't just any kind of ill. It was ill of the terminal variety.

It certainly seems that way.

Every week it takes my man a little longer to come to the door.

Every week he is a few pounds lighter.

Every week the stretched skin of his face is a lighter shade of grey.

Britain 2022, right?

But I am digressing here.

As per usual.

Back to the Colston Four. Back to statues.

In case you have been residing in a cave for the last couple of years, the Colston Four were the guys picked out from a crowd of 3000 and put on trial for pulling down the statue of a bang to rights slave trader and tossing it into Bristol harbour.

Priti Patel and her fellow culture warriors were quick to demand the very harshest of punishment for this wicked crime against our glorious imperial past. Unsurprisingly I didn't see it that way. My two sons are descendants of the desperate souls Colston and his ilk bought and sold. The government in Westminster has come up with a new way of describing the whole slave trading thing. They now call it the 'Carribbean Experience'.

Seriously.

Like surviving the Middle Passage was akin to flying across the Atlantic with Virgin and dancing to Eddie Grant in beach front night club.

It seems worth giving a serious shout out to the lawyers who came up with a defense case good enough to ensure the Colston Four are now able to enjoy their liberty.

They didn't have an easy task. The might of the Establishment was baying for blood and the right wing press was with them every step of the way. 

Seriously adversaries.

Their clients openly admitted their obvious guilt to the crime of pulling down the statue and tossing it in the drink.

So how do you come up with a defense good enough to persuade the jury to let them off and allow them to go back to living their lives?

Well, here's how it was done.

They called up a witness with expertise in the valuation of historical artifacts.

It went something like this.

In your judgement, how much was the statue worth when it was sitting on a plinth in the city centre? How much cash could Bristol City Council have raised had they decided it was an asset they wanted to cash in to help pay for more bin men?

A few thousand. Maybe £10,000. No more than that.

OK. Noted.

Now. Once the statue had been duly sprayed with graffiti, pulled down, rolled along the street, tossed into the water and then dragged out by a crane and sent into a museum, surely it can't have been worth much more than the scrap metal price?

Well. No, actually.

Before the Colston Four and their fellow travellers did what they did, the Colston statue was basically unheard of outside Bristol. Taking a dive into the harbour in such spectacular fashion turned the statue into something of a worldwide superstar. For a week or two, it's celebrity status was right up there with the Statue of Liberty.

So what kind of cash would Bristol City Council raise were they to cash in today?

Oh loads. A least half a million. Maybe even a million. There would be an awful lot of potential buyers with seriously deep pockets.

So. Let's just put things into proper perspective. The Colston Four are accused of committing criminal damage causing a material loss to Bristol City Council. And yet the result of their actions is a million pound boost to the balance sheet of the aforesaid Council.

I mean, come on guys! The public purse is the big winner here.

Well this gave the jury all the wriggle room they needed to allow the Colston Four to walk free and thereby sticking two fingers up to Patel and the right wing press.

It's nice when the good guys win for once.

On this day of statues, my attention was drawn to the one at the top of the page.

A Gretna statue. I guess you could call it a statue to the unknown munitions worker.

Unlike the Edward Colston statue, this was not erected in Victorian times. It is only five years old. I guess it was the hundredth anniversary of the Somme which lay behind the commissioning decision.

Before tens of thousands of soldiers obeyed the sound of the whistle and jumped out of their trenches into a hail of machine gun fire, the Brits had landed the greatest artillery barrage in history on the German trenches. It went on for a week and involved one and a half million shells.

A lot of bang and a lot of buck.

A large percentage of these shells were filled and primed in the vast armaments factories which were built along the Solway Coast. Tens of thousands of young women manned the assembly lines to fill the shell cases with what they nicknamed 'The Devil's Porridge'.

It was grim, dangerous work and there were industrial accidents a plenty.

The High Command had high hopes for the million and a half shells the lasses filled and primed. They were supposed to herald a march all the way to Berlin.

They didn't of course.

Instead they heralded 20,000 dead on the British Army's darkest day.

Did the Generals learn the lesson?

Not a chance. For the next two years the factories on the Solway Coast continued to send millions of shells to the Western Front and the German machine gun nests continued to make No Man's Land a place of biblical carnage.

In the spring of 1917 the High Command turned up in Downing Street with plans for more of the same. In their judgement, a million and half shells hadn't been enough. Not nearly enough. In order to smash through the German lines they would need more. A whole lot more. Enough to keep the lasses on the Solway running for twenty four hours a day for weeks on end.

But there was a problem. A big one.

The main reason tens of thousands of young Scottish women had flocked down to the coast to pull twelve hour shifts working the Devil's Porridge was the money the Government was paying in wages. Munitions work offered the equivalent of four or five times the going rate. And a chance to get away from mum and dad and lives of utter drudgery.

Which of course was all well and good so long as the Government had the wherewithal to keep meeting the payroll.

By the spring of 1917 this was no longer the case. Britain was pretty much bankrupt. The coffers were bare and nobody was interested in lending us any more money. All the credit cards were maxed out.

So the Generals were given the bad news. Six million shells for the third battle of Ypres? In your dreams lads.

No more overtime on the Solway.

Until a certain Mr Balfour came up with a cunning plan which was duly adopted.

He caught a boat across the Atlantic and sailed past the Statue of Liberty into New York harbour. He did the rounds of the big Jewish banks on Wall St and peddled what has to be one of the dirtiest deals in history.

His pitch was pretty straight forward.

If you guys lend us the cash we need to pay the lasses on the Solway to fill enough shells for the Third Battle of Ypres, we will promise to make Palestine a homeland for the Jewish people.

The dirty deal was duly shaken on.

And the shells were duly dropped on the German lines. They churned the ground into a sea of mud where over a million men perished in what became known as the battle of Paschendaele.

And the overtime on the Solway was paid in full.

And thirty years later the Palestinians were issued with an eviction notice.

You could say the rest is history.

So what to make of the statue?

I don't know really. The young women who worked the Devil's Porridge certainly played a big part in us eventually winning the most pointless war in mankind's dismal history.

I guess we should wonder how we would feel if the boot was on the other foot. I wonder what the Daily Mail would have had to say if the Germans had unveiled a similar statue somewhere in the Ruhr to celebrate the munitions workers who filled the bombs the Luffewaffe dropped on London in the Blitz?

Something tells me the Mail would have filled the front page with spitting outrage.

A heavy price was paid for all those millions of shells. By the poor sods they landed on and the poor sods who died in the sea of mud they created and by the people of Palestine who were driven from their land.

Is such epic misery worth celebrating with a statue?

Maybe not.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

FIRST BASE HAS RECEIVED A CHRISTMAS CARD FROM THE VICEROY! BUT WILL ALISTER BE THE LAST VICEROY?

 




Once upon a time First Base used to get lots and lots of Christmas cards. My, how dim and distant this particular past suddenly looks. The salad days of New Labour when there was a quango for everything from the Methadone programme to anti social behaviour. I could easily have attended two meetings every single day, each and every one complete with a £20 a head budget for a finger buffet fit for Royalty.

Bloody hell. Asbos! The quango wallahs loved nothing more than to call a meeting to chew over the Asbo fat. Surely never in history have so many Vol -Au-Vents been consumed whilst fat has has been chewed to such pathetically little effect.

Anyway.

The point.

The civil servants tasked with heading up all those New Labour quangos were always furnished with a generous budget for Christmas cards and did they ever use it!

So we received stacks of cards and bugger all funding. Those who spent their days trying to starve us out for the crime of exposing inconvenient truths in the press were more than happy to use up a bit of their budget on wishing us a Happy Christmas.

Well, those days are very much a thing of the very distant past and the age austerity means barely a card lands on our mat any more.

I dare say it won't come as any surprise to hear we ain't exactly shedding bucket loads of tears.

So far this December, First Base has received a grand total of four cards.

Which is absolutely fine by us because we have received an overwhelming number of food and cash donations.

But one card was a very special card.

Oh yes.

First Base received a card from the Viceroy.

The Right Honourable Alister Jack MP, the Secretary of State for Scotland and our very own Colonial Master.

Now.

A spot of reality checking is very much in order here.

Has First Base received a card from the Viceroy as an official recognition from our lords and masters in the Imperial capital? Have these particular seasons greetings come from the very beating heart of the heart of the Empire!

Well, no, actually.

Instead all of my dealings with Alister have been entirely local. And they were particularly productive. Alister and his local team went out of their way to help two families First Base was supporting who were in imminent danger of feeling the full force of the Hostile Environment. One family was from Nigeria, one from Tunisia. Both were destitute and both faced the prospect of deportation to a fate worse than death.

Well Alister went out to bat for them and he saved their bacon and for that we will be forever grateful to him.

But things have changed somewhat. Moved on.

When our modern day version of Mad King George was installed on the throne in 2019, he appointed Alister as his Viceroy to rule over the five million pesky and disruptive subjects north of Hadrian's Wall.

And this is the context in which Alister's card dropped onto our mat.

And it duly got me thinking.

Because in a way it says a lot about where Imperial rule is sitting right now.

Imagine First Base was a wee charity in India in 1925.

Let's say in Nagpur.

A small charity managed by a very public follower of Mahatma Gandhi who was forever penning leaflets extolling the virtues of Indian Independence?

Would the aforesaid manager have received a Christmas Card from the Viceroy?

Not a chance. Instead he would have been beaten black and blue and imprisoned without trial.

It would have been the same story for a hypothetical charity manager in Nakuru in 1954 who was publicly backing the Mau Mau.

But add a few years onto each scenario and the story might have been rather different.

Lets say India 1946 and Kenya 1963.

By then, a very different picture had emerged and it was clear to every man and his dog Independence was only a matter of months away.

At this point I have no doubt the two Viceroys would have been frantically sending Christmas cards out to all an sundry in a desperate bid to curry a bit of favour for the future relationship between the soon to be ex Imperial power and it's soon to be ex subjects.

When John Mclean was packed off to Peterhead Prison to be ground into the dust for the crime of railing against tens of thousands of Scottish soldiers being fed into the meat grinder of the Western Front in the cause of defending the Empire, there would have been no chance of one of his supporters receiving a Christmas card from the Viceroy.

Instead, any supporter of John Mclean was more likely to join him up in Peterhead.

Well.

Things have changed.

Scottish Independence suddenly feels a lot more like 'when' than 'if'.

The last significant colony is slowly but surely slipping from London's grasp.

And a hard reality must be settling in. A hard reality which shines a light on a future world where this particular ex colony is home to the UK's nukes and the source of 20% of England's electricity.

Ouch.

Which means it is time to start making nice.

Just like it was in India in 1946. Just like it was in Kenya in 1963.

It's a time for Christmas cards rather than a rat infested cell in Peterhead jail of a bunk bed in a concentration camp in the shadow of Mount Kenya.

Am I reading rather too much into a single Christmas card from the Viceroy?

Probably. When all is said and done, I am a purveyor of pulp fiction so maybe you can embrace the festive spirit and give me a break.

The bigger question I guess is this.

Is Alister about to make like Lord Louis Mountbatton and Malcolm McDonald?

Not just the Viceroy, but the last Viceroy?

Maybe one day our Christmas card might just become something of a collector's item!

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

THE JOY OF PEOPLE POWER IN THE MIDST OF A SEA OF TROUBLES

 


I can't say there will be much structure to this blog. You are not about to be taken on a careful, well structured journey from A to B to C. Instead it's going to be a bunch of random observations of a pandemic drenched world where the lunatics are running the asylum into the ground.

Every day brings forth facts which a couple of years ago would have been utterly inconceivable. Unthinkable.

I guess it is what Britain 2021 has become.

Unthinkable. All of it. The stuff on the news. The stuff in day to day life.

I was chatting with Kerr the other day. He owns the Little Bakery in Dumfries and he supplies us with two and a half thousand of his award winning pies a month at a price which is quite frankly ridiculous.

Anyway.

He was talking bills. Right now, as 2021 draws its final few breaths, he is paying 14p a unit for his electricity. Then 1 January 2022 will land on the mat. And does it ever.

The brave new year will see Kerr's electric costs go up from 14p per unit all the way to 33p per unit.

Just like that. Over night.

And he uses plenty electric. It's a factory when all is said and done. His flour supplier has been round to slap a non negotiable 20% rise on the table. His insurance provider is wanting a 100% increase.

It's not so much death by a thousand cuts as death by a thousand machete slashes.

And of course there are only two outcomes. Kerr can keep his prices where they are and slowly but surely fade away into bankruptcy. Of he can pass on all the increases to you and me.

This isn't just a hint of inflation. This is a complete nightmare. Right there in black and white. Across the board.

And yet even at these ever rising prices, ordering in fifty tins of tinned spaghetti generally doesn't go well. Some days we are lucky to receive half a dozen. And this has somehow become normal.

Where will it all end up is the $64,000 question.

Christ knows.

Lets take a ride up the A76 to the village of Thornhill. Is it a village? I'm not entirely sure. Population of 2000 or thereabouts with a Co-op and a high school. Does this make it a small town?

Maybe.

Whatever. For those of you who don't know Thornhill, it is a postcard kind of a place. The high street is still home to well appointed expensive shops for well appointed customers who park up their gleaming 4x4's cheek by jowl. The venerable red stone buildings sit in front of a glorious backdrop of Scottish hills. Add in a seasonal sprinkling of snow, and the place positively gleams.

Our food parcels have been available for collection from the small library for many years. Once upon a time, a busy month would see three parcels picked up. A quiet month would mean a big fat zero. From time to time, I would get a call asking me to pick up parcels containing items which had slipped by their sell by date.

Well that was then.

I think it is fair to say things have changed somewhat.

The pandemic closed the library for book business but Dumfries and Galloway Council gave us a set of keys and allowed us to use the space for emergency food. I am truly chuffed to be able to report this arrangement is now permanent.

We are open once a week. On a Sunday. From 10 am to Noon. A brilliant team of volunteers runs the show from top to bottom. I turn up once a week with a van load of top up food to supplement what the local community donates. Which is lots by the way.

All of which brings me to last Sunday morning.

Our volunteers provided emergency food for 55 people.

In two hours.

In Thornhill.

In an affluent village/town of 2000 souls.

Yeah.

I know.

If this is a canary in the coal mine, we are about to be absolutely swamped when the biting cold reality of January arrives like a bunch of Russian mercenaries.

In balaclavas.

Happily other unexpected 2021 things are rather more encouraging. We are now nearly two years into the era of Covid and still the local community never ceases to be completely amazing. Every day sees food and cash donations pour in. Every week I turn up at Morrisons to pack my van to bursting point. I would like nothing more than to ramble on for page after page thanking all the people to are helping us to do what we do.

But that would be really, really boring.

And you would stop reading.

So the thank you will have to be scatter gun and general, but completely heartfelt all the same.

But I think three cases do warrant a spotlight.

Let's face it, power companies are not exactly flavour of the month right now. We see them as giant, faceless corporations who are draining our bank accounts and wrecking the climate.

As in bad guys. Wall to wall bad guys.

Well I am going to buck the trend here and give a shout out for three local purveyors of power who aren't such bad guys after all.

In truth, nobody in their right mind would ever call the Wood Fuel Co-Op in Dumfries bad guys. They sell a wide variety of eco friendly, re-cycled products designed to make open fires and wood burners environmentally acceptable. You know the kind of thing. You see these kinds of products stacked high in petrol stations where they are sold at double the prices the guys at the Wood Fuel Co-Op charge.

Their name of course gives the game away.

They are a Co-Op and here is how things work. When you pitch up, they will ask if you would like to become a member and thereby be eligible for a discount on the fuel you purchase. You don't have to say yes, but the member's discount makes it kind of hard to say no.

So. How much?

Well it's as much or as little as you like.

And where does the money go?

Well, that would be to us, actually. To First Base. To the local food bank.

And every month members are encouraged to give a donation when they stop by for their fuel.

And every month the proceeds are sent our way via our JustGiving page.

£710 this month.

How good is that?

If Heineken did green fuel businesses........

Next.

An e mail. Not asked for. Not solicited. Not begging lettered.

An email from out of the clear blue of cyber space.

It was from E'on. From their Steven's Croft Biomass power station in Lockerbie. The company had made funds available for the staff to give to charity and the staff had chosen First Base.

Could I furnish our bank details?

I could. I did. And £995 duly landed in our account,

Next.

Another email. Not asked for. Not solicited. Not begging lettered.

This time from Scottish Power.

Every year the company provides the staff with a fund for Christmas parties. By the way, this particular email landed before Christmas parties became quite such a thing as they are as I pen these words.

Well this year the staff got their collective heads together and decided the money would better going to hard stretched front line charities rather than cakes and ale. They decided to allow staff from across all regions vote to identify their chosen charity.

The email was happy to inform me that hundreds and hundreds of staff working in the South West of Scotland had voted for First Base.

Which meant some cash would be headed our way once I filled in a couple of boxes and provided our bank details.

So could I call to talk things through?

Of course I could. And I did and within a minute or so I damn nearly fell off my chair.

£10,000.

Seriously. Ten thousand bloody pounds.

I was completely speechless.

This is the kind of thing which counts double for us. Treble. When I fill in an application and get a 'yes' letter in response, it is good. Obviously.

But this is different. Hundreds of people have voted for First Base on the back of what we have been trying to do for the last twenty years.

I guess you can imagine how it makes us feel.

Humbled. Honoured. Motivated to keep on doing what we do.

It is worth remembering how behind the smug corporate logos lie millions of real living and breathing human beings. People power. The optimistic Ying to the scary corporate Yang.

I heard the CEO of some massive global investment fund interviewed a while ago. His outfit was managing tens of billions of pension fund cash and they were announcing to the world that from here on in the money was heading into renewables. Of course he made a long term economic case and warned of stranded money lost in the untapped oil wells of the future.

But then he went personal. He talked of his teenage kids. And he explained how he really didn't want his teenage kids to hate his guts.

He explained how this was one of the main reasons why his fund was sticking two fingers up to the likes of Trump and Bolsonaro and piling tens of billions into a better future for our grand kids.

People power, right?

Long may it last.

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