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.

Monday, April 29, 2013

What are these bloody people doing to Liverpool Football Club?

I was going to write this blog two days ago and I am glad I didn’t. Why? Because two days ago was Saturday morning and that was before Newcastle 0 – Liverpool 6. Getting a few things off my chest before such a great result would no doubt have set me up as being just yet another whinging Scouser.


Six nil is great, but it doesn’t even begin to cover up the fact that the people in charge of Liverpool FC seem hell bent on turning us into a complete joke. Once upon a time we had Peter Robinson in the boardroom, Bob Paisley in the dugout and King Kenny leading the line. Now we have Ian Ayre, Brendan Rodgers and Luis Suarez. You know what, having written those two sentences I could well stop right there. It kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

No doubt younger fans get heartily sick of old bastards like me harking back to the good old days of the 70’s and 80’s when we used to win stuff: all the time. Well you all best get used to it coz we ain’t shutting up any time soon.

I have got sick to the stomach over the last few years with the sight of one of the greatest football clubs on planet earth being turned into a laughing stock by a succession of fools and twats.

What an absolutely glorious time to be a Manc. As we all know, all Mancs are genetically engineered to crow and we just keep on giving them open goals. It seems almost incredible, but over these last few years we have actually managed to make the Glazers look good.

The list of miserable cock ups is all but too desperate to commit to paper. Maybe the most painless way to do it is a series of bullet points.

David Moores sells up to a loud mouthed pair of complete chancers for a few extra quid and an honorary life Presidency.

They promise a spade in the ground in six weeks.

They release stadium plans straight off a Star Trek set.

They sell players to pay bills.

They sack Rafa and give us Roy Hodgson.

Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulson.

More Americans.

Those bloody T shirts at Wigan.

A jumped up Uruguayan dickhead who gave his word to Kenny Dalglish that he would shake a hand.

A jumped up Uruguayan dickhead who was so full of himself that he broke that promise and make Kenny look like a mug.

As in the guy who attended each and every one of the 96 Hillsborough funerals.

And the only way that the club was belatedly forced into behaving with a bit of dignity was when an Asian Bank got on the phone and had a moan about spending £25 million a year on an outfit that seemed to be condoning racism.


We get to Wembley three times and Big Andy all but turns things around in the FA Cup Final – which by the way we lose to the European Champions.

One trophy and European football, fifteen months after King Kenny took on the team when they were fifth bottom.

So what do our gallant American owners do? They click their Ivy league fingers and order Kenny Dalglish onto a plane to Boston.

And they fire him.

I think I need to write that down again, don’t you?

They order Kenny Dalglish onto a plane to Boston and they fire him.

As in the guy who attended each and every one of the 96 Hillsborough funerals.

A few months later I hear Kenny’s son Paul on the Anfield Wrap saying that his dad doesn’t feel comfortable going to the match any more. How dare they?


Some marketing type must have figured that we needed a bit of positive PR in the wake of all the shite that had gone down.

So what did they do?

They did ‘Being Liverpool’.

For Christ’s sake.

They focused on a reality TV show instead of making sure we entered a season with more than one striker.

Then we were treated to week after week of David Brent speak bollocks from Brendan as he droned on and on about the magnificent progress the bloody 'group' was making. Once upon a time we had a ‘team’ and we won the league. Now we have a sodding ‘group’ and we finish seventh. And Rodgers and Ayre think we are all stupid enough to swallow their endless management speak about a ‘Project’.

And then our 'in house' Uruguayan dickhead decides that it is a good idea to try and bite a chunk out of a Serbian arm. Time for the great Liverpool PR machine to do its stuff again.

Ian Ayre tried the Machiavellian approach and suggested that we would not argue against a three game ban for violent conduct. Well that worked well, didn’t it Ian? I mean, they were really going to fall for that one weren’t they?

Did we get on the front foot and ban Suarez until the end of a season which is basically meaningless anyway? Did we hell.

Instead we seemed to be acting arrogantly and the FA chucked the book at us.

At which point Suraez’s people started to leak out the word that the great man was feeling all bullied and victimised and maybe it might be time for him to move on. At which point the Ivy League boys spit out their clam chowder big time. Holy Cow! Our £40 million balance sheet asset all of a sudden has the look of being a £20 million balance sheet asset!


So what do we do? We pander to the dickhead who decided to bite an opponent in full view of the Kop and about 20 HD TV cameras.

Mr Management Speak is duly wheeled out to announce to the world that Luis Suarez hasn’t let him down - not one little teeny weeny bit.

And the howls of laughter from Old Trafford get so loud that any self respecting Scouser needs plugs to go in the ears. And there is more. With Brendan, there always is. He goes on to say that he wishes all his squad had the Uruguayan’s mentality. I have been to every home game this season and seen some pretty ropey stuff. What I have not seen even for five minutes is a lack of effort. The players have given it their best shot, it just hasn’t been good enough. So basically Rodgers is saying that as well as 100% physical effort the players need to adopt the Suarez mentality and start diving, cheating and when all else fails, attempted cannibalism.

So Brendan. He hasn’t let you down? Well he has certainly let us down. The word is that modern day footballers insist that their contracts are based on what they get paid after tax. Suarez earns £6 million a year. Which means that the gross cost to the club for having him on the payroll is £10 million a year. What do we realistically expect for this? Let’s say 40 games a season. Which means that the club coughs up £250,000 every time he takes the pitch.

So now he is going to miss 10 games and the club will still shell out £2.5 million whilst he buggers off home to Uruguay or whatever. Let’s not forget what £2.5 million means. It is the amount the club will bank from 3000 of us season ticket holders. At a time when living standards are falling fast, the club has chosen to hike the prices of our tickets. Well, there’s nothing new in that. Since when did they give a shit about us? So they take £2.5 million of our money and give it to a clown who gets himself banned for ten matches for biting someone.

I’m glad you don’t feel let down Brendan because I most certainly do.

Here’s how things might have played out had the club decided for once to show a bit of genuine class.

Suarez bites Ivanovic.

The club come out and basically say that enough is enough and this is the final straw. They say that he will never again wear the red shirt of Liverpool and stick him straight on the transfer list. They don’t just say that the club is bigger than any player. They actually do it.

Then they say that they understand that many fans will be upset and concerned about the future without our arm chewing Latino.

OK they say. We hear you. So here’s what we’re going to do. We were planning on shelling out £10 million a year to keep Mr Suarez in the style he is accustomed to, but we’re not doing that any more. We could of course spend the £10 million on another mercenary.

But we’ve decided not to.

Here’s the thing. We have a whole bunch of great prospects who have just broken through from the Academy and we’re going to give them all a go next season. We’ll get Big Andy back and that means we will have three strikers for the new season instead of the one we started this season with. We’ll mix and match and make sure that Stirling, Shelvey and Suso get plenty of game time. Oh and by the way, we’ve also got this new kid on the block called Coutinho.


The big question.

What shall we do with the £10 million a year we have just saved by showing Suarez the door? Well, we’ve been giving this some thought. We’re getting an extra 35 million quid’s worth of TV money next year so things are looking pretty good.

So instead of investing £10 million in yet another jumped up mercenary, we have decided to invest it in you lot. Our 12th Man. The ones who are getting kicked in the teeth by the recession. The ones who are there through thick and thin. The ones who Bill Shankly once upon a time turned into a force of nature.

So what does that mean?

Good news guys. We’ll be sending each and every one of you who has a season ticket at Anfield a refund of £300.

That would get a bit of atmosphere back into the stadium.

That would set the kind of example to the football world that we used to set.

That would shut up the crowing laughter from Old Trafford.

And of course hell will freeze over before anything like this would ever happen because in the eyes of the Ivy leaguers we are just a bunch of mugs who exist to be ripped off.

Once upon a time we had Peter Robinson, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish.

And we won stuff.

Now we have Ian Ayre, Brendan Rodgers and Luis Suarez.

And come we seventh.

If any of this rings a bell with you, I guess you might enjoy my book ‘King Kenny’s Revolution’ which is available in the Kindle Store by following the link below.

Why not check it out.

Friday, April 26, 2013


For a few days coverage of the Marathon Bomb in Boston dominated all of our news channels almost completely. We saw hour after hour of rapidly despatched reporters bringing us all up to speed from street corners across the city. We heard all about the greatest manhunt America has seen in years in graphic, minute-by-minute detail. When I went along to Anfield on Sunday afternoon, we all added the people of Boston in with our deceased local hero, Anne Williams, in a roof lifting minute’s applause

And not one of us was in the least bit surprised. Of course we weren’t. This was without a huge news story. Massive. It would have seemed completely weird had every TV and radio station not given the whole thing wall to wall coverage.

Maybe it is worth stopping for a moment and asking ourselves why this was the case.


Is Boston close to home? Not really. It is 3200 across the grey waters of the world’s second largest ocean.

America of course was once upon a time a colony of ours until they got fed up with us and spat the dummy out. Funnily enough the place where the dummy spitting started in earnest was in fact Boston when the city hosted the world’s most historic Tea Party.

For a while, we had no truck with the jumped up aspirations for independence displayed by these uncouth and unwashed Colonials. Then of course George Washington made mugs of us all and we had to get out of Dodge quick.

Our legacy? The English language and a democracy that doesn’t work all that well any more.

Despite falling out big time in the 18th Century, we managed to bury the hatchet and kiss and make up. In the last century we established our Special Relationship. The Americans helped to finish two world wars which we started. In the first war they lost 116,000 men and in the second war they lost 418,000 men. Since then we have stood shoulder to shoulder in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan and seen off the threat of the Soviet Empire.

So we’re mates. Good mates. The old master/servant thing has been long forgotten. And when one mate suffers, the other mate is both interested and concerned. Fair enough.

Next reason.

The event was utterly, utterly horrible. Thousands of completely innocent turned out to run and watch a marathon and two misguided maniacs decided to kill as many as they could.

And did they ever.

3 dead and over 170 wounded, many of them horrendously. Obviously when something as horrible as this happens to a friend and ally, we are going to give the event wall to wall coverage.

Or do we?

3900 miles away lies another of our old colonies. Like with America, our legacy to this particular piece of our lost Empire is the English language and a democracy that doesn’t work all that well any more. They also got fed up with us and we had to get out of Dodge quick. Like the Americans, these ex subjects managed to put the bad old days behind then and come through in spades in the two world wars which we started and they helped us to finish. In the first war they lost 74,000 men and the second war they lost 116,000.

Since then, they have stood shoulder to shoulder with us in seeing off the threat of the Soviet Empire and they are our allies in the so called War on Terror.

It might come as a surprise to hear that they have also had a rough time on the terrorist front this week. Between Monday and Thursday of this week 17 bombs rocked the cities of this friend of ours leaving 29 dead and 93 severely wounded. These were also utterly horrible crimes committed by cold hearted, craven murderers.
However these events have received no media coverage whatsoever, let alone the wall to wall, minute-by-minute stuff.

So it is that suddenly things look a little less clear cut.

In one ex colony 3 are killed and 170 are injured in an appalling terrorist attack.

In another ex colony 29 are killed and 93 are injured in 17 appalling terrorist attacks.

The first incident receives wall to wall coverage and I am stone cold certain that the statistics I have quoted are correct.

The 17 incidents have received no noticeable coverage whatsoever. The stats I have quoted are a result of ten minutes of Google research which I very much doubt is comprehensive. There were probably several more bombs and deaths which would have taken rather more research to dig out.

So here’s the bottom line.

Ex Colony number one is America and the unfolding story of the Marathon Bombers felt like a real time episode of '24' or 'Homeland'. The dead people seemed to be people like us. People who had done nothing wrong only to be snuffed out by a couple of random maniacs. Getting the reporters in place was no bother. There are plenty of flights to Boston and when you arrive the city offers plenty of clean hotels with room service and great broadband connection.      

Ex Colony number two is Pakistan. We don’t tend to see prime time TV dramas about the efforts of the Pakistani authorities to overcome the wacko bad guys. I dare say that Pakistani TV has a Jack Bauer equivalent, but we never see him. There are not as many flights to Pakistan and when you get there most of the hotels are a tad rough and ready and the broadband is lousy.

More to the point, dead Pakistanis are simply not box office enough. This week’s deaths in Pakistan are nothing unusual. They are just the same as they are every week. The same will happen next week and of course we will barely report it. When a particularly large bomb rubs out an unusually high number of civilians, then we will grudgingly give it a couple of minutes on the news. How many is enough? That is hard to say. Over fifty certainly. A mere three wouldn’t cut it in a million years.

Many of the wannabe terrorists who crave the chance to bomb us are raging mad about the fact that they believe we see Muslims as being inferior. They claim that we stop at nothing to attack them, steal their stuff and keep them in their place. And we react with moral indignation to these claims. What complete and utter rot. Don’t even think of listening to the ravings of these people. They are maniacs and nutcases. We are better than that. Better than them.

I wonder at times if they maybe have a point after all.

3 dead white, western people care of a terrorist outrage warrants hundreds of hours of appalled news coverage.

29 dead brown, eastern people doesn’t even warrant a mention.

Can anyone possibly argue that this isn’t rather conclusive proof that some lives are deemed to be of more worth that others? I can’t see how they can.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Between 1930 and 1933 Christopher Isherwood wrote a series of short stories. They hauntingly caught a mood of storm clouds gathering on the horizon of a sunny summer’s day. As a footloose young guy, he plugged himself enthusiastically to the hedonistic mayhem of Weimar Berlin. Those last gasp years turned out to be a final party before the apocalypse. In 1939 he joined his stories together and called the resulting novel ‘Goodbye to Berlin’. His story is best remembered now by the film ‘Cabaret’ which won Liza Minnelli an Oscar for best actress in 1972.

I mention all this because of a truly fantastic line that appears in the first chapter of the book. Isherwood bridges his fictional self with his author self and describes how he felt as he sat with his typewriter and gazed out of the window on a Berlin waiting for the sky to fall in.

"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”

I guess this rings a bell with anyone writing about stuff that is actually happening as opposed to stuff that is completely made up. Over the last few months Isherwood’s words have come to me more and more as I have done my best to describe the growing wretchedness of those who come into First Base for a food parcel.

I definitely go with the camera idea and I guess in a perfect world, the ‘quite passive, recording, not thinking’ part would be a pretty good idea too. It’s not so easy in practice. Looking sheer injustice in the eye seldom is easy.

The latest raft of benefit changes make it inevitable that there will be more and more ground down individuals coming through our door for a bag of food. Bearing this in mind, I have decided to give this particular blog the title, ‘I am a camera. One’. This of course means that there is more than likely to be ‘I am a camera. Two.’ And three and four and five and so on.


Moments in time.

Dismal case studies from a country trying to live with a new reality where politicians hammer the poor for the sake of a couple of congratulatory paragraphs in the Daily Mail.

In a way, these blogs are exhibits in a growing gallery of misery. As of now, they are merely written down photos of small lives. In the years to come? Who knows? It is hard not to shudder a little at the thought. When Isherwood touched on the growing noise of the Nazis, he did so in a way where their voices were those of drunken louts shouting into the night from a few streets away. A distant and yet palpable threat. Only with the benefit of three quarters of a century worth of hindsight can we see that the seeds of Auschwitz were quietly being sown in the days when he penned ‘Goodbye to Berlin.’


My snapshot.

The first impression I got when he enthusiastically rang the bell on the counter was his smile. It was a big smile. An instinctive smile. We all know people like this. Always a smile on the face. Always a bright side to look on. Always a glass half full. He gave me his referral slip and his story.

He told me about his dyslexia. It was a bad dose. When he sat his exams at school he had been put in a private room and he was given the use of a ‘scribe’ to do his writing. He had no problems with the words in his head and no problem in using them to demonstrate that he was anything but stupid. The problem was getting a hold of those words and finding a way to get them onto paper in the right order. No matter how many times he screwed his eyes shut, those pesky words just downright refused to stay in any kind of manageable order. Numbers were every bit as delinquent.

But my man wasn’t the kind of guy to allow this kind of thing to hold him back. No chance. He decided to dump the need for words in any career and chose to become a chef. Food was much better behaved than words. Food did as it was told and he became a good chef. So it was that he was never out of work for fifteen years from the age of 16 to 31. And he was at pains to point out that he had paid all his taxes and been a model citizen in every way. He never broke a law and became a diligent dad of two, though his relationship with his partner didn’t work out.

Then a bunch of bankers tore down the house of cards and he got made redundant. Not that he was particularly concerned at first. He had always got jobs before. He had a great CV and lots of references. He signed on, but did not expect that state of affairs to last for very long. The dyslexia thing came up in his interview at the Job Centre and no doubt the interviewer dusted off a caring smile and told him not to worry about it. Of course he shouldn’t. This is 2013. We understand these things now. We are a caring, modern post-industrial society and we know how to do the right thing for those among us who are disadvantaged. So when my man explained that dates were always a major problem because those sneaky numbers had a habit of reversing themselves, they promised that he should not worry himself for so much as a moment. They were on it. All over it. They would ring him three days before his every appointment to give him a verbal heads up of the time and place.

So all was tickety boo.

Except that it wasn’t.

He got an appointment for the tenth of September and those devious numbers did their naughty dance and reversed themselves to the ninth of October. There was no reminder call. He missed the appointment. They suspended him for a month.


For the next few weeks the numbers fell kindly. There is no way that 23 January can sensibly reverse itself to the first of the twenty third. But the fourth of March was to be his nemesis. For the umpteenth time in his life, the numbers traded places and whilst he was waiting for an appointment on the third of April he received news that he had missed an appointment on the fourth of March and was duly suspended again.

For twelve weeks.

Oh, and there had been no reminder call again.

Like so many in this situation, he genuinely couldn’t believe he could be treated like this. Not in Britain. Not in 2013. Not after paying all those taxes. He pleaded his case with the Job Centre and they told him there was nothing they could do. It was out of their hands. He would need to call Kilmarnock. These are words we hear just about every day. 'They told me to call Kilmarnock'. It means endless waiting and canned music. The result tends to always be much the same. Sorry, but that is how it is. You can appeal if you like. Not much point though. Nobody ever wins an appeal.

The next stop was the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and after another long wait they were sympathetic and confirmed the fact that he had a right to appeal. Not that there was much point. Nobody ever wins an appeal.

All he got for his efforts to undo what he was convinced had to be an honest mistake was a slip for a food parcel and confirmation that his life was officially down the pan.

Even before losing his dole for three months, his relationship with the State had been slipping. The courts had deemed that his share in the upbringing of his two kids was to be every Friday to Sunday. Which was OK. But there was a complication. Once he lost his job, he moved in with his brother. They now share a two bedroom flat in a small town where they once upon a time did coal mining and now do nothing much at all. The court was not happy with this. It breached the way things have to be. Two adults, two kids, two bedrooms ….. sorry, but we’re not having that. We’re not having that at all. If you want to have your kids for the weekend, you need to get a two bedroom flat of your own. OK. Fair enough. He explained his situation to the local housing association and got himself on the list. Right now he sits at number one on that list and a two bed flat is his for the taking. But there is a problem. The court is insistent that he must have a two bed flat to have his kids, but the DWP say that as he is not the main carer he will have to stump up for the bedroom tax. And the maths don’t make for happy reading. Here is how the monthly numbers play out should he take on a flat.

Incomings – Dole - £240

Outgoings – Cost of getting kids to and from once a week - £80

Cost of travelling to Dumfries to sign on twice a month - £20

Bedroom Tax - £45

Amount left? £75.

£19 a week. That’s for food, heating, and looking after two kids for three days a week.

Basically there is only one feasible way out of this hellish situation – get a job! You could travel far and wide and never meet anyone as motivated to get a job as my man is. He is absolutely busting a gut. We are told that the new tough sanctions regime is all about giving the shirkers a vigorous prod. No it isn’t. Not in this case anyway. It is nasty and shoddy. And to make sure that the staff at the Job Centre all play by the new rules and don’t allow any moral scruples to get in the way of deficit reduction, they are all set hard targets to meet. Sanction three people a week or else. It is utterly unfair to pin any of the blame for this kind of thing on the people working in the JobCentrePlus. When all is said and done they are just people. Like the rest of us, they have mortgages to pay and families to feed and clothe. We can all be holier than thou and say that our consciences would never allow us to manipulate a decent guy’s chronic dyslexia to meet a sanction target. Well it’s easy to say that. Not so easy to do it when the threat of redundancy is hanging over your head and covering the mortgage is already hard enough.

All of the fault as per usual lies with the State which seems hell bent of acting with a petty, callous brutality and all but no logic. The State seems happy enough to shell out big bucks to pay court costs to make sure that my man cannot let his kids have his room for the weekend when they come to stay whilst he kips down on the couch. How much has that cost? Lots I would guess. The State pays its lawyers to harangue the Sheriff into demanding that hell will freeze over before my man is allowed to have his kids for the weekend in anything other than a two bedroom abode. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds splashed out on laying down the law. But when it comes to helping a guy who has paid sixteen years of tax and hit hard times, it is a very different story. An extra £11 a week to help pay for that required extra room is deemed to be out of the question. Suddenly there is a budget deficit to deal with.       

Once again the way a single individual has been manipulated, tricked and shafted to meet some tawdry target set by faceless civil servants is evidence of a system that is beginning to stink like a pile of rotten fish.

I am but an insignificant camera in an insignificant small town that hardly registers. All I do is take the photo and post it on a wall.

Along with all the others.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


It would appear that the world has somehow turned on its head this week because an old lady finally succumbed to her final stroke. Predictably enough, the floodgates opened up wide and all sorts of pent up stuff came a pouring out. Let’s face it, Maggie Thatcher dying was hardly a surprise. Within hours of her breathing her last, every TV channel slotted a ready made tribute show into their re-jigged schedules.

Her death has given people from both sides of our fractured land the chance to say what they have been dying to say for years and years. By and large, the South seems sad to see her go. Nouveau riche football Chairmen seriously seem to have considered giving her a minute’s silence. In the North, nobody in their right mind would even think of it. The word is that the Reading Chairman John Madejski is really pissed off. He of course is a big Thatcher success story. He made his millions, bought his trophy football club and no doubt he is chuffed to bits to see the Welfare State being dismantled piece by piece. He is itching to demand silence in the football stadium that bears his name to pay proper homage to the greegrocer’s daughter from Grantham who created a free for all playground for him to make himself filthy rich. There is only one problem. A ticklish problem. 5000 pesky unwashed types from the northern wasteland of Liverpool who would only respect a minute’s silence in homage of the Iron lady if they were mown down by a machine gun.

Those who love her for cutting the ropes and allowing the rich to become super rich have relished the chance to tell the rest of us all about it. Those who were shafted the hardest have painted a rather different picture. We have seen celebratory rallies and all manner of jokes and the old Wizard on Oz number ‘Ding, dong the Witch is Dead’ has been dusted down and propelled up the charts.

What a pitiful spectacle this has been. When all is said and done, the online campaign to get the song up the charts is little more that a pathetic student joke. Is it funny? Not really. Will it make any difference to anything whatsoever? Obviously not. What would have Maggie herself have made of it? She would have dismissed it with her usual contempt. She was many things and not many of them good, but the woman who dusted herself down and fronted up within minutes of the IRA coming within a few feet of rubbing her out would hardly have bothered herself with a bit of puerile student humour. Not so the breed of puffed up new rich bastards she created, probably without really wanting to. They instinctively took the opportunity to throw their weight around and managed to bully the BBC into making a big deal about it. Who won? The usual suspects won of course. The ones who own all the newspapers and more or less everything else.

Banning a song from a movie made in 1939 is the kind of thing they used to do in the repressed countries behind the Iron Curtain. It is the kind of thing that would be done today in North Korea. It is the kind of thing that always gets done in any country where a very few self important people manage to get a hold of way too much power. Like Hitler’s Germany. Like Stalin’s Russia. Like Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Like Apartheid South Africa. Like the Britain Maggie helped to make.

This fact of course would drive The Lady absolutely crazy. Call her what your like, but few would argue that she had a deep and instinctive loathing from this kind of mediocre totalitarian crap. It is hard to argue with the very clear fact that she was instrumental in winning the Cold War. History of course gives the dismal regimes that ruled Eastern Europe for 45 years after the war a more benign look than was the case at the time. Anyone under the age of 24 has little conception of what those wretched countries were really like. I took several trips to the other side of the line and the memory is still sharp. They were repressed, grey and brutal places where horribly pampered beaurocrats kept millions in line with the fear of the secret police coming to call at three in the morning. Anyone who has watched a line of shivering Soviet pensioners queuing for three hours in minus 20 degree temperatures for the chance to buy a rotten cabbage will have no fond memories of Bolshevik Communism. The hard faced bastards who would stand on the balcony and watch their treasured nuclear weapon trundle by in the May Day Parade would definitely have banned the BBC from playing ‘Ding, dong the Witch is dead’. And Maggie would have given them absolute hell for doing so. How ridiculous that a new and different breed of jumped up oligarchs have been able arrange such a petty ban in the supposedly free Britain of 2013.

A few days before Maggie died, I followed a strand on Twitter to a story that was in its way even more momentous that her passing. In January, the last American tank was quietly shipped out of Germany.

What a quite extraordinary moment. The American tanks arrived in Germany in the winter of 1945 and stayed for 68 long years. In the years of my youth, they were part of the thin line that fronted up the might of the Red Army. Back then, there seemed only one possible ending to the Cold War and it wasn’t a good one. I spent my teenage years with a dull resignation that one day I would be snuffed out care on an intercontinental ballistic missile fired of from some buried silo east of Novisibirsk.

The Cold War was something that was set in stone. It was a thing that would be forever. A cold shadow of death that would always quietly chill our bones.

But it wasn’t of course. History makes a mockery of that kind of certainty. In the Spring of 1941, Hitler’s promise of a Thousand Year Reich didn’t look so far fetched at all. Then he had a go at invading Russia without giving his stormtroopers any winter clothing. When Saddam Hussein promised us the ‘Mother of all Battles’ it didn’t seem all that far fetched. But when the Marine Corps rampaged into Iraq, the much feared Republican Guard melted away like an ice cube in a Qatari Footabll Stadium.

I firmly believe that the same will apply to the ‘no such thing as society’ guff we have been hearing a lot about this week. Apparently Maggie never actually said ‘there is no such thing as society’, but it was always easy enough to believe that she had. She certainly did a pretty good job of smashing up many of the institutions that held our society together. She seemed hell bent of breaking up anything that gave the chance of people coming together and making their voices heard: coal mines, factories, trade unions or football grounds, she had a go at all of them.

The perceived wisdom of this week from both sides of the divide is that she was completely successful in this aim. Here is something that Polly Toynbee and Rupert Murdoch can agree on. Society is broken and will remain so for ever and ever. What a load of tosh. We have seen plenty of times throughout the span of human history where a few individuals manage to grab all the money and power and duly manage to convince everyone that this state of affairs will go on forever. It doesn’t. It didn’t in ancient Rome or Napoleonic France or Nazi Germany or Tsarist Russia or Bolshevik Russia. And it won’t last here either. A time will come when the dismally mediocre era of the likes of Sir Philip Green and Fred Goodwin and Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch the bloody Beckhams will come crashing to a close.

Times are already a changing. In Spain, the banks are no longer able to throw a pensioner out of their house when the mortgage is not paid. Every time they send in a couple of cars full of bailiffs to turf out a grandmother, they are met by a mob of a thousand teenagers. The process is simple. Grandma rings her grandson or granddaughter to let them know that the bad guys are on their way. Grandson or granddaughter gets onto Facebook and Twitter and they do their stuff and by the time the bailiffs arrive, the mob is waiting and ready. In the beginning the bailiffs called the cops and demanded backup. But the cops told then to take a hike. No way were they about to launch a mega riot to help some bank evict a pensioner who had had their pension slashed to help to pay for the losses made by the very same bank. And so the Spanish banks have given up trying to evict pensioners from their homes. It has become impossible. It has become a thing of the past.

I have no doubt that the next few years will bring more of the same. There will be many more Starbucks moments and very soon the likes of Philip Green will have to hide themselves in Monaco along with their money. They will become unacceptable. Just like the Berlin Wall became unacceptable in November 1989.

The Spanish teenagers offer conclusive proof that contrary to popular opinion, society is very much alive and kicking. And it is capable of kicking harder and harder. The super rich oligarchs will make sure that the politicians pass laws that say it is fine and dandy to evict pensioners from their homes. But society in the end won’t see it that way. And when a thousand youngsters stand in the street and say get stuffed, the laws and the tantrums of the super rich mean bugger all. Just like in November 1989, the Berlin Wall turned out to be nothing more than a pile of crumbling breeze blocks.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend an hour of my life that offered proof positive that society is very much alive and kicking. Last year I was invited to go to church and give a talk about our food parcel service to the congregation of St Johns, Dumfries. Church is always a bit strange for me. I am not remotely religious and I never have been. They listened to what I had to say as I gave what has become almost a stump speech for me. My message was that the days when we can look to the government to fix everything are all but gone. A new era is upon us. If someone in the community has hit the bricks, then the onus is now on the rest of the community to give them a lift up. After all, that’s what we managed to do for hundreds of years before the Welfare State was created. The congregation listened to what I had to say and decided to do something. To act together. To be society.

Now they come to church on Sunday mornings with carrier bags filled with baked beans and rice pudding and jars of jam. And yesterday they started up a new initiative. They put together a team of volunteers to make soup and bake cakes and advertised a lunch for £3 a head. Over fifty people came along and almost £200 was raised for our food parcel service. That is enough for 800 tins of beans. 800 packets of savoury rice. 1400 tins of tinned custard. £200 enables us to feed 70 people for three days. Their goal is to meet a target of 100 people attending a monthly lunch. £300 a month. £3600 a year. Enough for us to feed 1200 people for three days.

It’s called society stupid. It’s here, it’s now and it is alive and kicking. Hitler was quite convinced that the sight of skies full of his bombers would make us bow and scrape to him. No chance. We stuck together and we sorted it out. We sorted him out. And in time, we will sort out to puffed up, tawdry oligarchs who bred like cockroaches from the dung heap of Maggie’s brave new Britain.

David Cameron stood up last week and eulogised his beloved mentor who had made Britain ‘Great’ again. Great! For Christ’s sake. When she walked into Downing Street in 1979, financial services made up 4% of our economy. 34 years on and that figure has become 40%. What is so great about that? Not a lot. Of course it was great for stockbrokers like David Cameron’s dad, but for the rest of us it has been anything but great. If you want to look for greatness, check out St John’s yesterday lunchtime. We are more than capable of being great on our own, thank you very much. Just like those who marched with Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery. Just like the ones who took a hammer to the obscenity that was the Berlin Wall. Just like the Spanish kids facing down the bailiffs. Just like the volunteers to cooked soup and baked cakes yesterday.

No such thing as society?

Dream on guys. All mediocre oligarchs have a shelf life. And you guys have as much chance of getting a thousand years as Hitler did.

In the end the tanks will be quietly loaded on board a ship and sailed back home. In the end society always prevails.             

A Thousand Year Reich ...... Aye Right

You're never going to get a seat on our bus ..... Aye Right 

This wall ain't never going to come tumblin' down ..... Aye Right

You Scousers will all do as you're told and respect my minute's silence for Maggie.... Aye Right


Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Once upon a time I spent many hours and days on board Indian trains. Rail journeys on the Subcontinent were a far cry from anything here in the UK. Getting from one mega city to another generally involves 30 hours of heat and dust and not much in the way of personal space. Most of it was brilliant; endless conversations about cricket, shared food, the unique magical feel of a station in the depths of a baking hot night where hundreds sleep out on the platform and the only sound was the haunting cry of the Chai seller.

There was however one real stand out horror – the deformed beggars. Almost every station would bring on board versions of the Elephant Man. Men and women, boys and girls, all vying with each other for the most gut wrenching deformity. The worse the mutation, the more successful the begging. This horrific freak show had nothing to do with accidents of birth. If only it had. Instead these desperate souls had been deliberately broken and twisted by their own family members within days of their birth. In their first few days on earth, the family determined what their bread winning role would be. They would live out a life of hopping on board trains with evocative names like the ‘Frontier Mail’ or the ‘Pink City Express’ to ply their hellish trade. Look at me. If you can. If you dare. And reflect my deformity with generosity.

It’s a hell of a way to feed the family.

How does this nightmare plug into the miserable story of Mick Philpot? I guess it just goes to show that there are always those among us who look to cash in on misery.

When I was on the road south to Anfield on Sunday morning, I listened to several podcasts which picked over the bones of the Philpot affair and the reaction of public and politicians alike to its dismal horror. On the Spectator’s ‘View from 22’, Owen Jones took a right wing adversary to the cleaners in every aspect of the debate. He conclusively won the argument by revealing that of the 1.3 million families in receipt of benefits, only 110 or so had more than 10 kids.

Philpot of course is the absolute exception, not any kind of rule.

A Shipman. A Suttcliffe. A random nightmare.

A rather more chilling point was made by Tom Clark on the Guardian’s ‘Politics Weekly’. Tom was more interested in examining the extraordinary headlines which blazed out of several of the tabloids in the wake of Philpot’s life sentence. He wondered if millions of benefits claimants were being demonised as a result of the behaviour of a single, appalling individual. Were the tabloids eagerly jumping on the case as an excuse to turn the majority against an increasingly loathed minority? And then he made my blood run cold when he compared this red top rabble rousing to Kristalnacht.

So what happened back then? It was November 1938 and Nazis had been cranking up public loathing of the Jews for many years. They needed something to take their hatred to the next level. That something came along when an exiled German Jew living in Paris called Herschel Grynszpan assassinated a Nazi diplomat called Ernst Vom Rath. Grynszpan acted completely alone, but many millions paid a heavy price for his action. Goebbels grabbed the moment and sent the media into overdrive. On the night of 9th November 1938, millions of Nazi supporters took to the streets and exacted their revenge for the killing of Vom Rath. 91 Jews were murdered. 30,000 were arrested and shipped out to Dachau and Belsen and Buchenwald. 1000 synagogues were burnt to the ground. 7000 Jewish businesses were smashed up. On the morning of November 10th, Germany awoke to pavements glittering with the broken glass of Jewish shop windows.

The actions of one man were taken on by an angry media and twisted to create a seething hatred among the majority towards an already despised minority.


So yes, Tom. It has the ring of familiarity.

So does this simply prove that George Osborne is a gobshite of the first order for linking the abhorrent Mick Philpot to the welfare system?

I would say yes and no. I don’t have much faith in Osborne’s motives, but sadly there is a point to be had in his sentiments.

At First Base we have been witness to vile nastiness rooted in the welfare system for many years. Of course it doesn’t begin to compare with what Philpot did, but there are similarities. I heard one Osborne apologist make the point that the basic motive for Philpot accidentally burning his kids to death was that he had hatched a half baked scheme to get more of his kids back under his roof which would have thereby re-united him with their benefit dividend.

£1000 a month, most of which he seemingly had earmarked to spend on drink and drugs.

This motive for evil is all too familiar. We see it every day. Here’s how it plays out in the shadowy corners of our sad and fading country. In many ways the benefit system works a little like the begging pecking order on the Indian trains. The bigger the list of problems a person has, then the more cash we give them by way of compensation. And that of course is exactly as it should be. A person who is seriously ill or disabled needs the biggest safety net. It’s a no brainer.

But there are all too many dismal grey areas.

Take the young guy with low level mental health problems. Something has gone badly wrong with his upbringing and he has lived out his childhood in the care system. Learning difficulties mean that he has never learnt to read and write. He was the one who everyone took the piss out of at school. He was the one who was always the butt of the bullies. The one with the wrong clothes. The one who never made any friends. The one in care. The one who was always alone in the playground. At 18 he was declared to be an adult and therefore deemed OK to look after things on his own. So we duly gave him a flat and about £300 every fortnight.

What does his life look like now? Achingly lonely. Empty. The modern world is a place he can’t even begin to manage. Work is out of the question for he lacks the skills to work. Can’t read. Can’t write. Can’t count. Can’t switch on a computer. Can barely hold a conversation without getting tongue tied.

He’s the bloke who is always on his own, who looks like he has forgotten to wash himself. We look away when we pass him on the pavement. Once upon a time he would have got a job sweeping up in a factory and maybe, just maybe, the workforce would have adopted him and invited him along to things. The pub of a Friday night. Trips to Blackpool. Football on a Saturday.

But we don’t have factories anymore.

However, the fact that £300 a fortnight magics its way into his account makes him of great interest to a certain Philpottish breed of predators. The pondlife. The amoral. The low life, low level addicts who have learnt the art of feeding their habits by befriending and shaking down the very most vulnerable. The pondlife know exactly when the £300 will drop into the account of their prey. They appear out of thin air, all smiles and bonhomie and promises of a laddish day to remember. Come on mate. Let’s party. I’m you best pal. And the aching loneliness can be left behind for a few hours as the pondlife ply him with a bottle of Frosty Jacks and a handful of blue valium pills. Once they get him completely off his face, they get a hold of his debit card and empty his account.

A day or two later he winds up walking through our door with a letter from support worker explaining he has no money for the next twelve days until his money is due again. Can we feed him please? Keep his body and soul together? Course we can. And we try to sit him down and suggest ways he can keep his money safe from his once a fortnight best mates. But it hardly ever works because the loneliness is just too all consuming.

The Welfare State does what it does with the very best of intentions and most of the time it works as Beveridge wrote on the tin all those years ago. But not all the time. Some of the time it creates a market out of misery. It puts a high monetary value on deprivation and vulnerability and inadequacy. And when you put money on any table, there will always be a Philpot sniffing around and licking their lips.


So George, you are actually more right that you probably realise. The truth of what you said is found in the grime filled cracks at the very bottom of our world. You won’t get a glimpse of the petty day to day nastiness to be found in these cracks from you lofty perch in the House of Commons. To get the chance to take a look, you probably need to spend a day or two in a place in First Base. But I don’t think that is really what you want to do, is it George? No. Of course not. Sadly I feel that Tom Clark has it pretty well correct. Your words are more Goebbels and Kristalnacht that any kind of genuine concern.

You really should be ashamed of that. I don’t suppose you will be.           

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Regular readers of this blog will be more than aware that I am an inveterate smoker. I’ve been chewing through two packs a day for thirty years and more and I see no prospect of this state of affairs changing any time soon. Various head doctors have explained that it is no accident that so many writers are such mighty smokers. Apparently the dreaded nicotine rings a few creative bells in the brain that other drugs fail to reach. That certainly seems to be the case with me. Without a fag at my side, I find the keyboard an alien thing indeed.


My last two days have involved a 1400 mile drive to outflank the idiotic British tax system. If I pay a visit to the baccy counter in the supermarket, a packet of 20 Camels sets me back £8.10. For Christ’s sake! £17.10 a day. £6241.50 a year. It is indeed a very expensive way to slowly kill myself.

Thankfully there is an alternative which is to jump in the car and drive 700 miles south to the Duchy of Luxembourg where a pack of 20 Camels can be had for £3.40: £6.80 a day: £2482 a year.

So here’s the maths from my long, long drive.

Fuel, £180. Tunnel charge, £50. Travel costs - £230. 32 cartons of Camel, each with a saving of £47. Total saving on fags - £1500. Travel costs - £230. Net saving - £1270. Time on the road – 36 hours. What’s that worth per hour? £35.30! It is the one and only time in my sad and sorry life that I can ever make a such an hourly return and that is all down to the beloved British tax system. I haven’t paid a penny of tax to HM Treasury for my nicotine addiction for years now and I haven’t broken the law thanks to the rules and regulations of the EU which deem it to be OK for any EU citizen to visit any EU country and buy stuff for themselves.

Our holier than thou politicians preach on endlessly about this. They boast that slamming £7 a pack’s worth of tax onto addicts like me is their way of showing us tough love. If they charge us enough we’ll all give it up. Aye right. If they had their way, I would be getting drop kicked to the tune of £5100 a year. Well, dream on George.

I guess there will be many out there who will get all morally outraged at my tax dodging. They will get hot under the collar and tell me that it is my duty to cough up my tax dues so that the NHS is properly funded to sort me out when I start to cough up blood. I don’t buy into that theory. Once we make it past seventy we start to become seriously expensive overheads for the NHS and the older we get, the more expensive we get. By the time we hit our nineties, we cost a living fortune. Not only do we draw our pensions but we need more and more new hips and emergency care. Well the likes of me are making it much less likely that we will ever become such an expensive burden on the fast emptying coffers of the public purse. 40 a day men don’t make it into the nervous nineties. As a rule of thumb we are long gone before that particular cake full of candles is wheeled out. Maybe we should be viewed as model citizens who are voluntarily killing ourselves off early to save the tax payer the eye watering cost of keeping us living and breathing through our dotage.

The last time I looked, about 30% of Brits are still smokers. A high percentage of us come from the poorer side of town. It is rare indeed for First Base to give out a food parcel to a non smoker whilst those who shop in Waitrose tend to have given up what many now see as something of a filthy, plebbish habit.

So our paternalist rulers are still following rules that are hundreds of years old and taxing the living daylights out of the nation’s poor. Well there’s nowt fresh it that.

Of course I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a credit card that can stand the cost of my long drive to the Duchy of Luxembourg. The majority of my fellow addicts are not in such a fortunate position. Their only option to avoid being hammered by £7 a pack’s worth of tax is to buy their tabs from some bloke down the pub. He offers beautifully forged packets that look just like the real thing which are supplied care of the Russian Mafia. Gangsters will always thrive in any environment when Nanny States tax people into poverty in the name of looking after their health and morals. Prohibition in the States gave birth to Al Capone and the Mafia. Our lunatic taxes on fags have offered up an open goal to the charming chaps of the Russian Mafia. Rumour has it that their factories in Kaliningrad are running 24 hours a day. The going wholesale rate for Mafia-tabs is 50p a pack so long as you buy a container load. Once they work their way down the chain, they’ll sell to the end user for £4 or so – a big, fat profit for the gangsters and sweet FA for HM Treasury. And our friends from the East are truly generous guys, for if you buy a pack of their fags you get a whole load of lead and heavy metals included as a freebie. Last year tests on some Mafia-tabs showed they had 400 times more lead in them than the licensed fags on sale at Tesco. When you see the lengths that people will go to strip the lead out of derelict buildings, it is hard not to be impressed by the generosity of our Russian friends.

This is what makes the whole thing so bloody ridiculous. The Government preaches that by hammering smokers with £7 a pack’s worth of tax they are saving the NHS and looking after the nation’s health. The reality is that they are driving millions into the arms of the gangsters and storing up a huge time-bomb for the NHS. Christ knows what kind of hellish cancers the heavy metal filled fags from Kaliningrad will bring forth in the decades to come.

A few years ago the Customs ran an experiment at Man City’s old ground at Maine Rd after a home game. They drew a circle around the stadium with a diameter of about half a mile. Within the circle they scoured the pavements and bins and collected up every empty cigarette packet they could find. Shock, horror. It turned out that 70% were counterfeit. That was 10 years ago. I bet if they repeated the exercise now the figure would be nearer 80%.

So what should our gallant leaders do? Well were they to adopt the Luxembourg policy, the likes of me would have no need to take the long drive south and instead of getting bugger all they would get £1825 a year’s worth of tax off me. And hell, I’m still going to die young, so surely that would be a win/win situation. Were I buying my fags from some bloke down the pub, the situation would be even more win/win. HM Treasury would trouser an extra £1825 and Putin’s finest would lose the thick end of three grand a year. What’s not to like about that? More to the point, loads of smokers from France and Holland and Germany would jump in their cars and come through the tunnel for weekend breaks in Britain to buy their fags. Lots of lovely free spending tourists to boost the economy and less fag tax for Paris and Berlin.
Win, win and win again! 

But of course such practical common sense will never play out in the Westminster village. They will always choose the option of playing the holier than thou card and if millions of stone broke British smokers are pushed into the arms of the Russian mafia, then who gives a shit.

Which all brings me to the History Road. When I drive for many hours through the night, I find my mind wanders far and wide. This is always the case when I emerge through the Channel Tunnel into the empty hours before the dawn. Those wee small hours of the morning when the whole wide world is fast asleep…

History has always been a thing of mine and the road from Calais to Brussels is nothing if not historic for a Brit. The road signs of the night say it all; 600 bloody years’ worth of it. Six hundred years of dirt poor working class lads being sent across the grey waters of the Channel to wage the wars of the their betters: of the great and the good.

Soldiers of the Great War took a brief detour before being sent along the History Road. They were marched a few miles south from Calais to the ‘Bullring’ of Etaples where they were completely brutalised for a few weeks. They volunteered by the million to fight for their King and Country. Once they arrived into France, they were subjected to a savage regime designed to turn them into murderous killing machines. Check out Alan Bleasdale’s ‘The Monocled Mutineer’. Etaples was a disgrace.

A few miles down the History Road you arrive at Dunkirk where the hollow eyed lads of the British Army endured the churning desperation of the beaches for days on end before being shipped back home.

A few miles further, and the small village of Azincourt remembers St Crispin’s day 1415 when 7000 half starved Brits defied all sensible odds and wiped the floor with an army of 20,000 plus French knights. These were the days when lions led lions. When the armies came together, Henry the Fifth was right there in the middle of the front line. He wore the distinctive armour of the King which marked him out to every single French soldier on the field of battle. In the words of the football hooligan – come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough. The man must have been an absolute nutter, but you can’t help but admire his guts. Would Bush and Blair have decided to invade Iraq had they known they would be riding on top of the first tank over the border? I don’t think so.

Next come signs that point to the sites of the primordial hell that was the Western Front. Mons, where the British Expeditionary force stopped the rampaging army of the Kaiser for two crucial days in August 1914. Ypres, where the Germans all but broke through by deploying gas on the battlefield for the first in history in the summer of 1915. Loos, where we decided that if you can’t beat then you best join them, and on 26 September 1915 we sent our own poison gas into their trenches. Except we cocked it up. None of the officers twigged on to the fact that the wind was in their faces. So we sent gas over No Man’s Land and the breeze sent it straight back. The lads in the trenches came up with a way of describing this kind of thing – ‘Lions led by Donkeys’.

A few miles to the south of the History Road, flat grain fields lie on top of the bones of the hundreds of thousands of guys who perished in the hell on earth that was Passendaele.

Fifty miles down the History Road from Loos, and the signs remember another day when for once a lion stepped forward to lead the pride. His name was Wellington and the place was Waterloo.

Past Brussels and the History Rd swings south through the rolling hills of the Ardennes. Here is where we Brits fade from the picture somewhat. To the left is Bastogne where the Paratroopers of the 101st Airbourne stopped Hitler’s last Panzer rampage in the Battle of the Bulge. Metz, where in 1870 the Prussians learnt the art of using efficient railways as a weapon of war to stunning effect. They got all their soldiers onto the battlefield on time. The French trains were late and their disorganised army got completely marmalised. For the next 75 years the world paid a high price indeed for the Germans ability to run a railroad. Next comes Sedan where Rommel’s Panzers smashed through the French lines with a similarly devastating effect under the blue skies of June 1940.

Every time I ride the History Road, similar thoughts wander around my head. I feel unbelievably lucky to have been born in 1960 and to have had the chance to live 52 and a bit years without being shipped across the Channel. To never have been marched down the History Road to the killing fields that have chewed up so many millions of Europeans over the last few hundred years.

After driving by so many sites of historic carnage, it is hard not to arrive at the outskirts of Brussels without some feelings of warmth and affection for the EU. Not only does the EU make it so much harder for the Donkeys of Europe to hoodwink the Lions of Europe into killing each other by the million, but it also gives the chance for hopeless addicts like me to stick two fingers up to HM Treasury and buy our fags from the good folk of Luxembourg.

1400 miles. 36 hours. £5110 tax dodged.

And the silent graves of those half remembered millions who travelled the History Road and never got the chance to make the return trip.