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.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL... ONE ...TWO ..THREE...

 



This blog of mine can be a gloomy affair at times. Guilty as charged! There's no point trying to argue otherwise.

Well. Not today. Today it is all sunshine and light for a change.

As the late Ian Dury said back in the day, 'reasons to be cheerful...one...two...three...'

I started out on yesterday feeling upbeat, still basking in the glow of Man Utd 2 – Liverpool 4. This is a very special kind of glow and one which lasts for a while.

A headline in the Guardian took me to a story from Glasgow which set me up for the day.

In a nutshell, a Home Office 'Immigration Enforcement' van pitched up on a street in Pollocksheilds to detain two Indian guys. Both were entirely harmless individuals who have been living and working in Scotland for over ten years. No criminal records. No terrorist links. Both had very much become a part of their local community and they well liked.

As opposed to Priti Patel's Home Office.

The immigration goons did their thing. They crashed into the flat and cuffed and 'perpwalked' their prey out to the van. Priti Patel is obviously keen the British public should be in no doubt about her determination to spend tens of thousands of pounds from the public purse on putting blameless people on eye wateringly expensive deportation flights. This must be why these guys like to drive around in vans proudly branded with the words 'Immigration Enforcement'. 

Big and bold and brash

I guess this kind of thing goes down a treat in Hartlepool and Basildon.

Pollocksheilds?

Aye right. Not so much.

One local lad clocked onto what was going down and immediately got himself under the van and onto his phone. Social Media did it's thing and within a matter of a couple of hours the street was filled to overflowing with thousands of Glaswegians who were not about to let the van move so much as an inch.

Stand off time.

The hours rolled by and every party bar the Tories slagged off the Home Office in the Scottish Parliament.

The message was clear as clear can get.

This isn't Little England.

This is Scotland.

This is Glasgow.

An it ain't happening. Not on our streets. Not on our watch.

So Home Secretary. Why don't you go and stick your 'Immigration Enforcement' van where the sun doesn't shine?

Oh how she must have hated it. I mean, just picture her. Sitting in her Home Office lair watching the pictures. Desperate to get somebody to order the cops to don their riot gear and break a few heads. Except she couldn't because these were not her police. These were our police. Scottish Police. Scottish Police who can only be issued their orders by the Scottish Government.

So all Priti Patel could do was watch. And fume. And dream of sending a company of 1 Para up to Glasgow do shoot a few of the uppity natives who so clearly did not know their place.

Instead she had to fold.

The back doors of the van were opened up and the two lads were let back out into the light.

Forces of good 1 – Forces of evil 0

Scottish Parliament 1 – Home Office 0

Scotland 1 – Little England 0

People Power 1 – Arrogant, nasty, hateful Home Secretary 0

Was Priti Patel's smug face anywhere to be seen? Not a chance. No doubt she took the time to lay into some trembling intern who just happened to be in the corridor as made her way to the Ladies to cream 'I HATE FUCKING SCOTLAND!!!!!' at the top of her voice.

Except she would never say 'I hate fucking Scotland' because her Essex upbringing renders her incapable of speaking the letter 'g'.

So it would be 'I hate fuckin' Scotland.'

Just to be accurate.

Check out the video. It's a pure belter.

PRITI'S SCOTTISH NIGHTMARE

A podcast took me to my reason to be cheerful part two.

Tales from America and the sulking orange monstrosity who is no doubt a source of great inspiration to our Home Secretary.

Poor old Donald.

Banned from Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and every social media platform any of us has ever heard of.

So Donald. What can a sulking seventy something year old man-child do?

Well. The Donald has made his great entrance into my world. The Blogosphere.

I could say welcome Donny, but I don't think so.

He's been quite busy with his spleen venting.

Surely the world of blogging is about to be taken to a whole new level. I mean this new entrant is a man with more reach that anyone on God's green earth. An ex President of America. A reality TV star. Ninety three million followers on Twitter......

Surely....

Well. Apparently not. The Donald's first few efforts at blogging have attracted 200,000 page views each.

Hang on a minute here. Have I got this right?

In the blue corner we have the orange one. An ex President beaming out his bile to a nation of 330 million, 70 million of whom voted for him a mere matter of months ago.

In the blue corner we have the food bank manager from Dumfries punting out blogs to a nation of 5 million Scots.

No contest, surely?

Numbers

The Orange One – Highest number of page views for a blog – 200,000

The Food Bank Guy – Highest number of page views for a blog – 120,00

So fair enough Donny, you're winning. But it ain't exactly by a county mile, is it? It seems like the food bank guy might just be breathing down your neck. In fact, it seems like you are every bit as much of a busted flush as those poor saps driving the 'Immigration Enforcement Van' in Glasgow.

And just in case you don't believe me, here's a snap shot of my Stats page.



Reasons to be cheerful, part three.

Peace, our chief volunteer down in Uganda sent me a bunch of photos. Last week the Kupata Project distributed sanitary pads to 2000 school girls. Enough to make sure they will not have to take days off from their education for the next year.

Smiling faces on a sunny day under the green hills of Africa.

Check it out.

How can I be anything other than cheerful?

Oh, and by the way. Just in case you hadn't heard. Liverpool beat Man Utd 4 – 2 last week.......











Wednesday, April 28, 2021

I HAVE JUST DONE THE SUMS. FIRST BASE HELPED OUT 22500 PEOPLE WITH EMERGENCY FOOD IN THE YEAR OF COVID. MY GOD.

 


The Stats page tells me this will be my 428th blog. Christ. Enough to make a man feel tired in his bones. Over the years I have written about all kinds of stuff.

But never shop windows.

Well it seems the time has come to put that right!

I was driving down Buccleuch St a few weeks ago. Everything was lockdown quiet. 'To Let' signs. 'For Sale' signs. Shuttered offices and pubs.

All the trappings of our 'new normal' laid out right there.

The lights turned red when I was twenty yards shy of being let through.

I looked left and stared the front window of First Base squarely in the face.

Not great.

In fact, worse than not great. Bloody awful.

It was hardly the first time I had come to such a conclusion.

I had been coming to the same conclusion for months.

Now, when all is said and done, we're a Foodbank. We don't have to project an image of secure prosperity. We're not accountants or architects. We are not required to offer up a vision of quiet, efficient affluence.

We don't have to show off all the letters at the end of our names. In fact we don't need to show our names at all.

We just need to make sure our doors are open when we say they will be open. And we need to make sure when people come us in need of food we always have food to give them.

But even so.

There was no hiding from the fact our front window was a complete disgrace.

Ragged looking blinds. Tired paintwork. Cobwebs.

And a couple of faded, dog eared posters which all of a sudden had become outrageously out of date.

Posters bearing information from times long gone.

Tired old posters in a tired old window in a tired old street.

Old information.

Old news.

Old normal.

The weary, creased paper was still telling anyone who cared to look First Base were helping out 450 people a month with emergency food.

450 a month had seemed like such a lot when we first taped the posters up for the passing world to see.

Over 5000 a year.

So many hungry mouths to feed thanks to the years of austerity. And in the years following the hanging of the posters, the figure of 5000 per annum became the norm. Demand sometimes edged up and demand sometimes edged down. Cold weather caused spikes. Summer sun the opposite.

It seemed like 5000 parcels per annum would be the foreseeable future.

Predictable.

Settled.

Regulation.

Until it wasn't.

Until we were all told to stay home and save lives.

Until the end of March 2020 when the world we had known was turned clean on its head.

So it wasn't just the tired scruffiness of our front window which rattled my cage as I waited on the lights tuning to green.

It was also the utter redundancy of the information we were offering up.

It hit me then. The first anniversary of the first lockdown was a mere matter of days away.

52 weeks of our new normal.

Maybe it was high time for some new posters. Some new information. Some new normal.

I parked up, locked up and headed inside.

What actually is the new normal? Time for some sums.

Coffee. A piece of A4 paper. Twelve sets of figures spanning a year's worth of our new normal.

Holy Christ.

22,500

And all of a sudden the posters in the front window seemed almost quaint. Like pictures of garden parties in the long hot summer of 1914.

22,500.

How many people live in the area we support? 

About 100,000.

Wow.

We have helped out the equivalent of almost 25% of the population in the twelve months of Covid 19.

So.

New posters. Some new information for anyone stuck at the lights. Not 450 parcels per month. Not any more. Instead its 400 a week now.

22,500 in the year of Covid.

And it doesn't seem like we are returning to anything remotely resembling the old normal any time soon.

Demand peaked at 2600 parcels in August.

Now? Now things seem to have settled to a steady 1700 a month. Or thereabouts.

Still pretty much 400% more than it was once upon a time.

Will things change any time soon? Well of course this is the question on everyone's lips.

From where I sit, basic maths make any easing in demand look pretty unlikely.

We buy in a whole bunch of food. Every week.

Yeah, I know. Duh!

And when buying a whole bunch of food, it seems pretty clear to me inflation in the cost of food is at least 10%. Maybe even 15%

The cheapest tin of old normal spaghetti was 13p.

The cheapest tin of new normal spaghetti is 38p.

3% inflation? Aye right.

A couple of weeks ago I sorted out our latest electricity contract. In a time when the oil price had crashed all the way down to zero, I harboured some hopes we might see prices being held steady.

Aye right.

Old normal price 11.5p per unit.

New normal price 15.0p per unit

If my maths are anything like right, we're talking a 30% increase.

So let's be conservative here. Let's say food and power are up 10%

And then let's say wages stay the same.

And then let's say Rishi Sunak gets his way in the autumn and yanks back the £20 a week he added to benefits.

Well, you don't need to be Einstein do you?

Food and power costs up, wages flat and benefits down.

That doesn't look to me like a ticket back to the days of the old normal. It looks to me like more of the same.

It looks to me like we won't be changing our new posters any time soon.

It looks to me like the vast need for emergency food will continue on and on and on even if when we are all able to wake up from the Covid 19 nightmare.

And First Base are going to continue to need all the help we can get. If you are minded to help us out the link to our online funding page can be found below.

Because the New Normal looks like its going to be a pretty tough place for an awful lot of people.

THE FIRST BASE ONLINE FUNDRAISING PAGE

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

RAY, THE INSPIRATIONAL SIX YEAR OLD SUPERSTAR IS RAISING FUNDS FOR THE KUPATA PROJECT. BE INSPIRED. IN FACT, BE VERY INSPIRED!


Charities often look to stars from the worlds of sport and show business to help to raise funds.

Well, the Kupata Project has been lucky enough to win the support of an absolute superstar.

Ray

I guess before telling you about Ray, I need to tell you about the Kupata Project. We are a small Scottish charity and we raise money to provide Ugandan school girls with free sanitary wear. Why is this important? Easy. Access to sanitary wear means up to 25% more time in school.

Which is life changing.

Of course it is life changing in a country where the average wage is barely a dollar a day.

The Kupata Project has no offices, no paid staff, and no fat expense accounts.

What we do have is a magnificent team of committed young Ugandan volunteers whose dedication makes everything we manage to achieve possible.

Every penny we raise goes to buying 'SoSure' re-usable sanitary pads which are made by a non profit organisation with a factory in Uganda.

Each pack of two pads costs £1.50 and we give the girls two packs each – enough to meet their needs for a year.

£3

£3 per girl per year.

It is a life changer which is very affordable.

So

It's time to tell you about Ray.



Full name – Ray Tumuhimbise.

And of course you have never heard of him, even though he must be one of the world's greatest athletes for his age.

Which is 6.

Yes.

6

At six years old Ray is smashing records right, left and centre. At six years old, it is already clear Ray has already joined an African hall of athletic fame which is home to the likes of Kip Kano and Gabriel Haile Selassie.

Over the last year, Ray has become the young king of the Mountains of the Moon, a string of towering volcanic peaks which straddle the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These are true life Hollywood mountains, wrapped in impenetrable rain forests and rising through the clouds to jagged peaks. They are home to gorillas and a myriad of wild life. They climb over 15,000 feet into the blue African skies. They offer movie backdrops billions of years in the making. Picture King Kong. Picture Jurassic Park. OK? You get the picture.



These are the mountains Ray has taken on.

And conquered.

Vanquished.

Earlier this month 2021 he took on Mount Muhabura. 4127 metres. That's 13540 feet in old money. A few hundred feet shy of the Matterhorn.

Ray went up and down Muhabura in under nine hours. Yes. You read it right.

Under nine hours.

At six years old.



Now you can see why Ray has to be one of planet earth's greatest athletes for his age.

He must have the legs of a mountain goat and a pair of lungs the size of the Congo rain forest.

He's a pocket size force of nature.

Maybe the next African athletic superstar.

But that is all in the future.

Right now Ray has offered to help his sisters by raising funds for the Kupata Project.

And his next quest is Mount Sabinyo.

Here it is.



3645 metres. 12,000 feet.

Sabinyo is a long extinct volcano which stares out over the land where we human beings took our first tentative steps on this earth.

The borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic republic of the Congo meet on the summit.

Sabinyo's sheer slopes are jealously guarded by ancient forest. The route to the top means climbing hundreds and hundreds of precipitous feet of the kind of rickety ladder you only tend to find in the movies.

It is a ladder which requires both courage and raw strength, both of which Ray has in spades.




His goal is to ascend and descend Sabinyo in a handful of hours.

I know.

Crazy, right?

Six years old!

We will show you how he gets on in future blogs. Now we really hope lots of you might be willing to place a donation to offer the encouragement he deserves. For such a young boy to be willing to do this to raise money to help his sisters really is very special.

Ray really is very special.

If you are of a mind to support him, the link below takes to to the fundraising page we have set up for him. And please, please share this link. We hope as many people as possible can be inspired by Ray. We have all lived through many dark and depressing weeks and months. Here is something to inject some optimism and hope.

Something to be inspired by.

RAY'S ONLINE FUNDRAISING PAGE





Friday, February 19, 2021

BORIS THE CLOWN KING AND THE MOST PATHETIC ATTEMPTED BRIBE EVER!

 

A few hundred years ago, a gang of fiendishly clever engineers in Shropshire came up with an invention which turned the course of history. Basically everything that could line up, lined up.

Their new creation was a new amalgam of metals which changed the game in a big way. Using the new metallic mix, they were able to manufacture extra large cooking pots which wouldn't break apart when subjected to intense heat. These pots made it suddenly possible to knock up a bubbling stew for fifty plus diners on a roaring camp fire.

OK. Does't seem like such a big deal, right? I mean a cooking pot is hardly Apollo 11 or the Iphone.

Patience dear reader, patience.

So here's what everything lining up looked like.

In the years before the Shropshire boys made their metallic breakthrough, a couple of big things had happened.

Number one. The European nations had discovered a bunch of islands in the sun in the 'New World' which were perfectly suited to growing sugar cane. Sugar was right up there with gold as a way to get seriously rich. Europe was collectively developing a sweet tooth and we couldn't get enough of the sweet stuff.

But there were all kinds of problems to overcome. The islands in the sun were pretty much uninhabited. So there was no labour force and growing, harvesting and processing sugar cane was seriously labour intensive. To start with, the wannabe sugar barons reached for an old play book. They lobbied the King and said come on Jimmy, help us out here. We need a bunch of slaves to harvest sugar and we'll cut you in with a nice fat slice of the action if you can provide us with some warm bodies in shackles. 

Unsurprisingly England was at war with Ireland and Scotland at the time and England was winning. Victory in battle meant claiming a bunch of the defeated army's soldiers as spoils of war. Lots of these Scottish and Irish soldiers were duly sold off into slavery and stuck on ships bound for the Caribbean. A new word was coined.

Transportation was called 'being Barbadoed'.

So. Sorted then.

Well, actually no.

The Scots and the Irish found working out in the burning sun to be a tad problematic. They started dropping like flies. Shirking bastards. No work in them. A lousy return on investment.

So the sugar boys started looking around for a plan B. 

And they found one.

The Europeans at this time had made another game changing discovery. A new place called West Africa where tribal chiefs were more than happy to trade slaves in return for the kind of European goodies they couldn't buy at home. Early trials in the sugar fields were more than encouraging. These black fellas couldn't half put in a shift under the burning sun. In fact they worked like niggers. They offered a hell of a return on capital.

But filling a ship with slaves wasn't easy. In the early days, a few shiny beads were enough to light up the eyes of a chief with a bunch of slaves to trade. But this honeymoon period soon passed and the bar kept on getting higher.

And in the these early days, the English mainly came second best to the French, Spanish and Portuguese when it came to closing the deal. They really didn't anything much to offer.

Until the Shropshire engineers did their thing.

And absolutely everything changed.

The new cooking bowls were forged in Ironbridge.

Which is on the River Severn.

Which meant it was easy to sail the pots down to Bristol.

Which was a busy port ready and capable of loading up those pots and shipping them down to West Africa.

And the chiefs couldn't get enough of the new cooking pots. I mean they REALLY couldn't get enough of them. All of a sudden the French, Spanish and Portuguese had nothing to compete with the indestructible Ironbridge pots which were soon an absolutely must have item for any self respecting West African chief.

And within a few short years England became the top dog in the slavery game.

Millions of Africans were shipped across the Atlantic. Vast fortunes were made. Great oceans of cash were desperate to find a home. I mean, come on. There are only so many National Trust ready country piles you can build. So the oceans of cash enabled the creation of a banking sector which over the years morphed into the City of London. And the spare cash became venture capital which poured into a whole bunch of new inventions like spinning wheels and steam trains.

As in the first Industrial Revolution, which in turn provided the ships and artillery pieces and bayonets to enable plucky little Britain to go forth and conquer a quarter of the world.

So. Like I said. Those 'must have' metal pots were one hell of a game changer and countless millions of people paid a heavy price for three hundred long years.

And the memory of how it all started wasn't lost on the Lords and Masters in London. If you can find the right trinket, you can get the natives to do pretty much anything you want them to do. They will dance to any tune you play them.

Three hundred years of Empire saw endless variations on this particular theme. Probably the most successful was the 'opium for tea' scam we pulled on the Chinese. It was pretty simple really. You grow a bunch of poppies in India and turn them into smokeable opium. Then you punt it out to the Chinese. Cheap as chips. Affordable to one and all. Then, once you have got tens of millions of them well and truly hooked, you jack the price up a few hundred percent and of course like any group of hopeless addicts, they will do literally anything for their next fix. Like selling tea for less than cost. Like granting a 150 year lease on the island of Hong Kong.

But all good things come to an end.

The twentieth century saw the end of the time of trinkets. Most of the one time suckers found they were more than capable of making their own trinkets. They decided enough was enough and the British Empire imploded.

And now here we are. London is down to a miserable handful of colonies. Dreams of Empire might still be strong, but the ability to go forth and conquer has completely disappeared.

To make matter s worse, the natives in the London's money spinning colony are getting increasingly uppity. The people of Scotland are preparing to join the club of sixty countries who have freed themselves from London Rule. It is a club upon which the sun never sets.

The membership form is all filled in and sponsors have been found.

And the lords and masters in London are scrambling to find a way to stop it.

The days when London new exactly the right trinkets and baubles to settle uppity natives are long gone.

But old habits die hard.

And so it was last week when London's Clown King took to the airwaves to offer us something shiny as a bribe to stay in the shrunken Empire.

As shiny baubles go it was pretty crap. A tunnel from Stranraer to Northern Ireland.

Aye right.

I mean, come on.

Does anyone seriously think it will ever happen?

And does anyone actually want it?

Does the Clown King seriously think we are so tragically gullible? Maybe he actually does? Or maybe it is just yet another desperate ploy to dodge the bullets of a bad news day?

But here's the thing which makes this possibly the worst bauble the Empire has ever tried to peddle.

Talk of a tunnel means some engineering realities. As in what are the conditions on the bed of the Irish Sea like?

And these pesky questions shine a light on some pretty ugly secrets which London would do well to keep hidden as far as possible from the public view.

You see at the end of both of the twentieth century's world wars, Britain was left with a whole bunch of nasty munitions to deal with.

We're talking the worst of stuff here. Volatile high explosive. Shells stuffed with chemical weapons. The sort of stuff you want well away from where you live. I mean seriously, not the kind of tackle you would want anywhere near the Cotswolds.

Well this is the reason you have colonies, right? 

They offer the perfect place to get rid of your toxic waste. And a few miles off the Galloway coast is a geological feature which goes by the name Beaufort's Dyke.

Thirty miles long, two miles wide and 1000 feet deep. The perfect place to dump all your toxic, poisonous shit. Out of sight and out of mind, right?

Colonies have their uses and thousands of tonnes of nastiness was duly tipped into Beaufort's Dyke.

And in the 50's they tossed in a bunch of cement wrapped nuclear waste. Just for luck I guess.

And now the Clown King is proposing digging a tunnel through this particular Devil's brew.

Aye right.

As baubles go, this has to be the least shiny ever presented as a hopeful bribe. As baubles go, this is utterly pathetic.

As is the Clown King.

As is the shriveled excuse of an Empire he rules.

Enough already!

Saturday, February 6, 2021

A TWICH UPON THE THREAD

 


It's all too easy to get lost in the constant gloom. Every day tends to be much like all the days gone by. Well. Not all. Just the two hundred and some days since the pandemic arrived to turn our lives upside down.

Lockdown three lacks the adrenaline of the first edition. Gone are the sparkling spring days and empty roads. Now there is a merciless, spirit crushing greyness. All pervading. The roads are no longer empty. Instead the emptiness is found on the faces of socially distant pedestrians. Eyes down.

Everyone seems to be huddled. All the time. Heads bowed into the endless rain. Roads make like rivers. Bedraggled buzzards peck half heartedly at run over rabbits.

Nobody talks about the new normal any more. It's just normal. What is coming next is anyone's guess, but few seem to find much optimism in the months and years to come.

So much damage. I see it all day, every day in the eyes which peer out from dark flats. Barely heated flats. The doomed troglodytes of 2021.

In the beginning the news was ever present. Not any more. Now we all kind of know the end of the story. This is going to end T.S. Eliot style, not with a bang but a whimper. The death toll will fade into memory and the toll on the living with slowly emerge from the shadows.

And then we will have to get our heads around all kinds of painful new realities. I wonder if Covid will be the full stop at the end of the five hundred year story of the West ruling the roost. Suddenly we will have to accept the hard truth of Eastern power. And all the while we will continue to scratch each others eyes out on Facebook and vote cardboard clowns into power as the rest of our planet will collectively sigh with relief. The long nightmare of our voracious, brutal greed will finally be a thing of the past.

And when our ability to print money comes to a close, we will have to get our heads round living within our ever shrinking means. It's hard to imagine it being a pretty sight. It never is when old, fading Empires run out of time and cash.

We think our foodbank is busy now. And it is busy. Really busy. How many parcels will be needed in a year's time? Five years time? Once the sheer extent of the Covid wreckage comes into view? When we all arrive into our new reality.

So we need to find flickers of light wherever we can, even though they are few and far between.

So here are a couple for a Saturday morning.

A couple of weeks ago I took some food out to a man living in the middle of nowhere with his dog. The day before he had eaten the last item in his cupboard – half a jar of cranberry sauce. The dog had gone without. So no food and no power and barely a flicker of hope. I wrote up the tale of woe in a blog and yet again the community rallied. Donations of food and cash and a brand new calor gas stove with a full bottle.

I duly delivered everything a couple of days ago and yesterday and grateful text landed. Thanks for the food and the power and everything. A picture from a cottage on top of a hill. A snap shot of a lounge heated for the first time in weeks. A curled up, fully fed dog in front of a calor gas fire. A picture of a dog who hadn't moved from the heat in hours.

A difference made. The basics of life back in place. For a while at least. A dog with a fire to lie in front of in a world of bone chilling grey. Hard damp grey.

An e mail from the mother of a family of seven. The man of the house had lost his job thanks to Covid. Every word spoke of someone trying to find some understanding in a strange world. Here was a family unfamiliar with the bitter realities of being unemployed and poor in Britain 2021. She had assumed there would be a degree of humanity in our much fabled Welfare State. She was learning the hard way. The ghost of Clement Attlee exited stage left many years ago.

Seven mouths to feed. Which we took care of. And we rustled up some cash for emergency power.

On my second visit, the oldest son told me his dad had an interview. And he told me this with a voice filled with conviction. Because for him, the idea of his dad not being chosen was utterly inconceivable. I nodded along, even though I had never met his dad. Of course I did. What else was I going to do? And as I climbed back into the van, my heart sank a notch. There seemed no room for such ferocious love and optimism in the midst of such unrelenting grey.

Well how wrong I was. And how right the oldest son was. Dad got the job and he starts on Monday. And in a fortnight the family will once again be back on their feet.

A chink of light. A flicker. A slight easing in the endless rain. A defiant snowdrop finding a way to bloom despite everything.

A twitch upon the thread.

PIXIE : A RENAISSANCE WOMAN IN LOCHSIDE

 


Over the course of the months of the pandemic, I have worked with lots of remarkable people doing remarkable things to help their community through the Covid nightmare. Pixie is very much a member of this particular club. She spends her days cooking meals for those around her who are struggling to eat. To say meals is something of an understatement. Pixie's meals are made up of the kind of dishes you would normally eat in the kind of place where you pay £25 for a starters. Yeah. Seriously gourmet.

Pixie is something of a Renaissance Woman. You know. She's one of those annoying people who are good at all kinds of different stuff. So as well as being an outstanding chef with a heart as big as the Galloway forest, she's also a pretty damn fine poet. She has kindly provided me with a couple of her pieces for this blog.

Enjoy.



ACCEPTANCE IS A RIGHT NOT A VIRTUE

Light without dark is eternal and shapeless,

It is akin to sleep walking through life wrapped in bubble wrap

To avoid being awoken by the bumps and jolts of reality.

Choose to be porcelain

Know you can piece yourself back together,

Bones are stronger once broken.


You are not your ancestors, parents, siblings, friends or foes.

And never 'stand and deliver'!

You are you

The one, and the only.

If you cannae man up and be you,

Who else is gonnae?


Others are your beacons

Of the just, and the unjust,

Of progression and regression,

Of poor choices and slightly better ones.

Their eyes are the keys to your soul.


Choose to learn from them,

Grant them the permission to teach.

Trust them, wholeheartedly, but from a position of self respect.

You are only a previous decision away from walking in their shoes.

Hindsight will forever be a euphemism

For experienced wisdom.


SELF AWARENESS AND PERSONAL LIMITATIONS


I do not know what is expected of me

Other than to be something that I am not.

To change the saving grace that would preserve me,

In a place of 'love', a place of sorrow

Where worlds collide and hardships follow

I cannot be the stranger that anyone wants.


The rules are laid bare before me,

A conformist's dream.

Knowing their minds remains elusive to them as they dare not think or breathe inherently,

I will never bow down before them.


Roots are deep in a past of fear and violence

A control it fought for and must defend.

To relinquish its refuge would be to leave me helpless.

I could never permit such conditions


A conflict ensues,

A raindrop in an ocean, a flutter of a butterfly's wings.

As it consumes me, my defenses rise.

The water deepens, yet the fire burns.

Only words seem to permeate the barrier.

Expressions of cruelty and accusation.

Insecurities of self, my torturer's chosen weapon.


The fire turns from red to black,

A guilt laden cloud above me.

I am too tired to fight and too cocooned for consolation.

They were my beliefs

Of course I found truth in every aspersion.


Blame casts its pursuit upon me,

There is nowhere I can run.

I hide within my quilt of persecution,

Each patch I crafted myself.

It is familiar, even if it never brings safety.

Unpredictable methods, what is today's quickest release?


The blade brings silence,

Food, its seeming sense of control.

To relent and retire in times of exhaustion,

Is not showing weakness but re-energising the soul.

Isolation fosters mindful clarity.

The battle can then resume at dawn.


Thursday, January 21, 2021

FOOD FOR JOE


When we get a referral to deliver a food parcel it tends to be a bare bones kind of affair. 

A name. An address. A phone number. How many people live in the house. Mouths to feed. Bellies to fill.

Sometimes there are a couple of sentences sketching out a back story. Tales of woe written in haste. Mere glimpses of some hard realities.

So I write out my lists and shuffle the names and addresses into a geographic order. As the crow flies, right?

Villages and towns. Sometimes the middle of Scottish nowhere. Schemes and leafy crescents. High rise and low rise. Ivy clad and pebble dash. Manicured and litter strewn. Cars in the driveways and old rotting sofas in the yard.

Google maps and not much by the way of traffic.

An it is amazing how many houses don't have numbers on the door.

Sometimes I find myself getting wound up and I have to give myself a wake up call. Grow up Frankland and count your lucky stars. An Amazon driver is expected to manage 10 deliveries an hour.

Which basically puts me squarely on easy street.

When I load up a hefty bag's worth of food for a family of six or seven or eight, I cross my fingers and hope to hell they're not up on the third floor.

But they usually are.

And nothing is designed to make a chain smoking sixty year old food bank guy feel old than a family of eight on the third floor.

So, anyway, I knock the door and sometimes it opens and sometimes it doesn't. When doors open, nine out of ten are in dressing gowns. More often than not they are wrapped up in a blanket or a duvet because when you can't afford to eat, you can't afford to heat either.

We exchange brief words.

They say thanks. I say say nae bother.

Next.

Other times the door is unanswered. So it's back to the van to make a call. But hardly anyone ever answers the phone to a stranger number. Not when they can't afford to buy food. Because stranger numbers mean people chasing cash. Let it ring out. Shove it under the carpet. Kick the can down the road.

So it is time to send a text.

Hi there. Mark from the food bank here. Your food parcel is at the front door.

And this time the reply is back in seconds.

Thanks.

And sometimes my number is discreetly saved for a coming rainy day. And a week or so later it reappears in my inbox. You brought me a food parcel last week. Is there any chance I could get another please? Because life is still hard to deal with. Because.

And one delivery is followed by another. A pandemic measured first in weeks and then months and now years.

So many pinched faces peering from half open doors.

First hundreds. Then thousands. Now tens of thousands.

And every now and then, one will stand out.

Like yesterday.

I'm going to call my man Joe because yesterday was very much Joe's day. As I drew up outside my Joe's block, another Joe on the other side of the Atlantic was being anointed as the most powerful man on the planet.

You'll have guessed my man isn't really called Joe. He is called something else.

A parcel for a single person.

I gained access to the block via the trade button. 

Like an Amazon guy. Like the white van man I very much am these days.

Result

Ground floor.

Knock, knock. Who's there?

Nobody.

Echoes in an empty flat. Fair enough.

Van. Phone. Ring.

And to my surprise my call is met by an actual voice on the other end of the line.

A little confused. A little flustered. A jumble of words which take me a while to unpick.

Joe had been worrying. The social had moved him you see. To another place. Another address. On the other side of town. And he knew there is a food parcel coming. But he didn't know what to do. He wanted to ring the social but he had no credit. And with no credit, he didn't know what to do. Which had been worrying him.

And there was plenty in the voice at the other end of the line to tell me he really HAD been worrying about it. Worrying more that he he really should have been worrying.

We get there in the end.

I tap in his new address and Google maps tells me it is 4 miles across town.

Nae bother.

A few minutes later I chap the door and Joe appears in seconds.

No dressing gown.

Jeans and a T shirt.

And nervous darting eyes. Look left, look right, look down.

More jumbled words jostle with each other. And again it takes a while but we get there in the end.

He has no money.

And he won't have any money for a while.

About another month in fact.

And what does he have to do to get another parcel? And another parcel after that. Enough to eat for a month until he gets some money.

Is it even possible? Is it actually allowed?

And inside every word I can hear the rising panic in his voice.

Look right, look left, look down.

Joe. It's fine. It's absolutely nae bother. I will bring you two parcels a week until you get your money.

I know where you are, right? I've got your number. We can do this because it's what we do. Seriously.

But can you do me one favour please, Joe?

Aye. Go on.

Can you text me to make sure I don't forget? Is that OK? Just to make sure.

And all of a sudden the panic in his eyes dials up to full volume.

Look right, look left, look down

Foot tapping now. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

Fast. Urgent. Frantic.

And he's clutching for some words. The right words. The words he needs.

Look right, look left, look down.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

And now the words are here. There right words. The words he's looking for.

"Can't. Can't read. Can't write. Can't text."

Done. Said. Out on the table.

Joe, it's fine. I'll use the calendar on my phone. An alarm, right? For Friday afternoon. My phone will keep me right. You don't need to worry about it, OK?

OK.

So Friday then?

Aye. Friday. Thank you. Because I have no money for a month.

I know Joe. And we've got your back, OK?

OK.

The door closes.

I get in my van and put Joe's details into my phone for Friday afternoon.

And I pick up my bit of paper and check out the next address.