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.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013





Over recent days my blog describing the desperate plight of the ex coal mining village of Kirkconnel has received a huge number of hits. In the blog I wondered if the only hope for those in Scotland who have been forced into such deprivation is a 'Yes' vote in next year's referendum. Three years ago I wrote a book called 'Mere Anarchy'. Every day since its release the fiction in the story seems to have become more and more like the fact of the world we live in. I cannot help but wonder if it might be painting a bleak picture of a Scotland after a 'No' vote. It is a chilling thought.

The idea at the heart of 'Mere Anarchy' was pretty simple. In a fictional Britain in 2016, the moneylenders finally call time on us and say enough is enough. No more guys. We don’t reckon you’re a good bet anymore. In fact we reckon you’re a busted flush. So it’s back to the 1970’s and time to go cap in hand to the IMF. The book kicks off with a delegation of Chief Execs from the Multinationals summoning the Prime Minister to a secret meeting where they lay it on the line. They tell him that they know all about his secret conflabs with the IMF. They tell him that they know all about the fact that he has been ordered to implement an immediate 25% adjustment in the nation’s budgeting. And they tell him that they know all about his plans to achieve this by a mixture of savage cuts and equally savage tax hits on the super rich and the big corporations. Then they hit him with an ultimatum. Don’t even think about taxing us because if you do we will up sticks and get out of Dodge.
So my fictional Prime Minister is left with no choice whatsoever. He has just a few weeks to slash the country’s expenditure by a quarter. Once I came up with the idea, it was time to do some research and get a handle on what our Government spends £700 billion a year on. It didn’t take very long to discover that the vast majority of this cash goes on the big three – Welfare, Education and the NHS. At this point I set myself a second parameter for the story – Britain would by hook or by crook remain a democracy. So how on earth can a politician find a way to slash costs by 25% and still stand a chance of getting re-elected? This seemed suddenly very clear. Cut the NHS to pieces? No chance. Make all schools fee paying? Be serious. Dump the old age pension? Not a chance in hell since the ‘Grey Vote’ determines every election. Which of course left the vast and endless billions spent on our huge list of benefits that have mushroomed since the sunny optimism of the introduction of our safety net in 1948.
Phase two of the research involved digging into the crazy world of our benefit system and it didn’t take so long for the story to start to come together. Even back then, there was a clear agenda in the media to make the working majority of the population loathe, despise and detest the scrounging poor.

The trouble is that getting the majority to loathe the scrounging poor isn’t all that hard to do. It isn’t difficult to find alarming echoes of the job the Nazis did on the Jews back in the early 30’s. Goebbels found Anti-Semitism was an open door to push at. Take an average German family in the early 20’s. Dad works for the Council and for the whole of his adult life he has done the German thing and saved for his old age. Then over the course of a few desperate weeks, his savings became worthless as the Great Inflation swept through the land like a fire storm. All of a sudden thirty years worth of savings are only worth enough to buy a day’s worth of groceries. At this point he is forced to look around the house for things to pawn. Sound familiar? In the lounge there is a grand piano which his prodigiously talented teenage daughter uses every single day to practice to become a concert pianist. But needs must. They heave the piano out of the front door and wheel it down to the Pawn Shop on the corner where Mr Rubenstein offers them enough cash for two loaves of bread. And as the family trudges home, the Rubenstein family drive past in their shiny new Mercedes. Not surprisingly, it was the hard grafting middle classes who saw their savings and pensions stripped away who made up the majority of the millions who voted Hitler into power in 1933.

Everywhere I looked I found ample evidence of the uncontrolled idiocy of the benefit system. I rang an expert I know and ran a hypothetical scenario by him. A 30 year old single mum with four kids who is signed off sick with depression. What would she get? To cut a long story short, she would get £20,000 a year in cash and a free five bedroom house. In these parts such a house costs about £150,000 and requires a mortgage of about £15,000 a year as well as £1200 council tax.
So. The maths.
How much would my fictional depressed mum of four have to earn to stand still financially if she decided to come off benefits and get a job? What gross pay is required to leave £36,000 after tax? I am no great tax expert, but it didn’t take all that long to work out that she would need about £60,000 a year to stand still. And that didn’t factor in the free childcare and free dentistry. It’s crazy isn’t it? £60,000 a year jobs are as rare as hen’s teeth in these parts. In reality, my fictional mum might get lucky and get a checkout job in Tesco for a sixth of that. Is it her fault? Is she intrinsically evil because she has worked out that having four kids and playing the sick card will get her a six times better living than forty hours a week on the check out?
No wonder persuading the majority to hate the poor represents the same kind of open door to push at as Goebbels discovered all those years ago.

So my fictional Prime Minister in ‘Mere Anarchy’ bites the bullet and announces the end of all benefits other than the old age pension. He goes the whole nine yards. No more Jobseekers, no more tax credits, no more sick pay, no more housing benefit, no more Council Tax benefit, no more disability allowance. No more nothing. Instead, every town will have dormitories and feeding stations. He promises that nobody will have to sleep in a doorway or root in a dustbin for food.

The bones of the story are all about whether a government would be able to keep the lid on in the wake of such a massive change. Or would the country descend into anarchy?
At the time it seemed to be a work of the very purest of fiction. People who read it shuddered at the thought and then consoled themselves with the fact that like Orwell’s '1984', it was never going to happen.

And I wholeheartedly agreed.
But for three years now the bloody thing seems to have been coming true little by little. My how we are being taught to hate the poor. And little by little, we are making the poor ever poorer. The Bedroom Tax is the latest and most brutal brick in this particularly vicious wall. And how do the majority feel about it? They like it. It makes them feel better as they work all hours God sends but still can’t cover all the bills.

Then there is the new and fiercely denied policy of driving workers at the Job Centre to 'sanction' three clients every week. Regular readers of this blog will be more than aware that 'sanction' is Government speak for take away; suspend; render completely penniless. A first offence means a month. The second offence is three months and the third offence is six months. Stop for a second and imagine that. As I write this, a cold and frosty dawn is breaking across Scotland. For the first time the fields are white over. Imagine if you had been sanctioned yesterday for being late for an appointment for the third time. The next time you would have a penny to your name would be May of next year. In front of you would be the prospect of six months of living in the dark and eating food from charities. No wonder an increasing number of people in this desperate boat are opting to get themselves locked up. At least jail means a cell complete with heat and light and three square meals a day. It's a no brainer really. At least my fictional Prime Minister in 'Mere Anarchy' has the decency to go on the tele and tell it like it is. As it stands, the policy to remove people from the Welfare State is a secret and denied policy.  

‘Mere Anarchy’ was supposed to be a story about the unthinkable. It certainly isn’t that any more. The unthinkable has become the new normal. Not very long ago it would have seemed utterly unthinkable for a government to raid people’s savings accounts to the tune of 40% on the orders of Berlin. It ain’t unthinkable any more. It was done in Cyprus. It would have seemed unthinkable that a government would take a quarter of the disposable income from the very poorest people in the land as punishment for them having an empty box room in their flat. Again. It ain’t unthinkable any more.
And still every minute or every day the country is borrowing £8500 from Arabs and Chinamen to cover the bills. And every day we see and hear about the damage caused by the austerity cuts.
Hang on a minute.
What austerity cuts? The problem is that the Government is spending more than it was in 2010 and we are borrowing ever more. It’s a nightmare scenario and if our lenders decide that enough is enough, the dilemma of my fictional Prime Minister will become the dilemma of a real Prime Minister.

How far away is such a real life scenario? Who knows? And if the Government has to chop 25% of expenditure in a big hurry, then how will they do it? Will it be the NHS? Or Education? Or the old age pension?

Or will it be benefits?
No prizes for guessing the answer.

If you would like to have a read of ‘Mere Anarchy’, you can download a free copy by clicking this link.

If you are not into Kindle and you want a paperback, then drop me an e mail with your name and address and I will send you a copy out in the post. When the book arrives it will come with an invoice for £6 and you can send me a cheque.

You can e mail me at 

Before clocking off, I really should pay proper homage to the guy who gave me the title. It was WB Yeats the Irish poet and his great poem. ‘The Second Coming’.

‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’

I am in good company in raiding this verse for a title. Fifty years ago the great Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe named his finest work ‘Things Fall Apart.’ Sadly Chinua passed away recently but not before ‘Things Fall Apart’ had sold 4 million copies all over the world. I am still going, but I have one hell of a way to go to catch up Chinua in the bestsellers’ chart!


Sunday, October 27, 2013


One of the problems we purveyors of pulp fiction have to deal with is the problem of churning out stuff that readers see as being way too far fetched. Oh aye, Mark. As if…

You do your research and you dig out something that actually happened and you try to work out how it might find its way into a story. Then you get inside the reader’s head and it soon becomes clear there is no way they will buy in to it. Oh aye, Mark. As if…

The last couple of weeks have seen a story play out in the papers and on the tele which is very much a case in point. Dear reader, let’s take a whistle-stop tour through the Grangemouth drama as seen through the eyes of a pulp fiction writer.

The story kicks off way back in the days of flared trousers, kipper ties and platform shoes. We can paint a back drop of Thin Lizzy and endless strikes and nightly news pieces on Vietnam. We have Idi Amin and Ted Heath and 'Tricky Dickie' Nixon. Oh yes folks, it's the gaudy garish days of the early 70’s when Union bosses and big collars ruled the roost.

Enter our main character. He’s a geeky sort of lad from the poorer side of Manchester. Does he go for kipper ties and a big perm? Somehow I doubt it. He has emerged blinking into the light after hour after endless hour doing his homework in a super tidy little bedroom in a Mancunian two up and two down. Teenage years of ten out of ten in science and getting bullied in the playground. A side parting and a pair of those black plastic NHS specs. Well shined sensible shoes and a tweed jacket for his first day at Birmingham University.

It is 1974 and the lights are going out all over Britain. As our man attends his first lecture, Arthur Scargill and his flying pickets are tearing things up at Saltley Gate and bringing the whiff of Moscow to the streets of the Black Country.

The story rolls quietly through the tumultuous days of the 70’s and 80’s as our Mr Quiet lives a life that is far removed from the wildness of the outside world. Our man keeps to his sensible M&S tweeds and brogues as the Sex Pistols use the ‘F’ word on prime time TV. He gets a top degree and a top PHD and he’s cherry picked by the blue chip end of the private sector. It’s ICI as a graduate entrant and for the very first time he sees money beyond science.

Ah the money. Seductive and impossible not to hanker after. The lad from the terraces of Manchester is fascinated by it. Obsessed. He wants to understand it like he understands chemical equations and the mathematic formulae. Our man is no wide boy. Not for him the Thatcherite wine bar yuppy route to piles of cash. Instead he returns to the front row of the classroom and hoovers up the dark arts of accountancy whilst maintaining an unspectacular rise up the corporate chain.

And still he is unnoticed. A grey man. Nothing big and brash. Chemist and accountant and still the tweed jacket and the sensible brogues.

Into the 90’s we go, and he becomes fascinated by the so called Wild East of Russia. And here he sees similarly geeky beaurocratic types who are stepping out of the shadows and into the blazing light. One minute they are the unnoticed middle managers of a crumbling Bolshevik Empire. The next minute they are super rich oligarchs with staggering fortunes and the Chanel suited women on their arms with cheekbones you could cut bread with.

It is his template.

The road from the front desk in the class to the yacht in the Monaco Marina.

OK. Find a huge ugly industrial asset that a fast fading Industrial giant wants rid of so badly that they are more than happy to sell it off quicker than quick. So quick in fact that they completely fail to get a proper handle on how much it is really worth. Here is where all that homework comes to the table. It is where the chemistry and accountancy geek emerges as the top dog. For he knows exactly what these big ugly assets are worth. All he needs to do now is to deploy his knowledge to find two sets of suckers.
First up, he needs a cumbersome industrial giant that is suddenly run by super cool exec types in $5000 dollar suits who all want to be Michael Douglas in Wall St. Well that’s no problem – he works for just such a place. ICI.

Next up, he needs a set of super cool banking types in $5000 suits who all want to be Michael Douglas in ‘Wall St’ to lend him $9 billion. Well in the 90’s these kind of  go, go guys were not exactly hard to come across. He came across them and they lent him money by the ship load.

And in the blink of an eye, the boy from the Mancunian terraces is suddenly the proud owner of massive industrial sites all over the place.

Oh it’s a bit far fetched, but never mind. I mean it might be hard to persuade the reader that a lad from Manchester could borrow $9 billion just like that, but what the hell, let’s press on.

Next comes the high life section. It’s all about a shining multi million lifestyle. Yachts and a move to Switzerland. The whole super rich nine yards. Well if you’ve got it, you might as well flaunt it.

But then…..

Well there has to be a ‘but then…..’ section. No pulp fiction would be worth its name without it. ‘But then……’  the world economic system all but collapses and anyone owing billions of dollars to the cocaine fuelled wide boys of the City is in a world of trouble. Any my oh my, is our boy ever in trouble. But he is no public school type born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has come from the tough streets of Manchester. Street fighting is in his DNA and he hangs on to the mast whilst the hurricane rages around him.

He makes it.

He keeps his yachts.

He finds calm water.

And then he goes again.

Even bigger fortunes are to be had out in China and over the Atlantic in the booming shale gas fields of America.

But before he can saddle up and head for these new Klondikes, he has some unfinished business to attend to.

It’s called Grangemouth.

For years his sprawling plant at Grangemouth has been good to him. But now it is a problem. Now it is losing money and his new business partner ain’t a happy bunny. To survive the hurricane of the economic crash, he has hopped into bed with the Chinese Government and they now expect him to do what he said he would do. Losing millions a month at Grangemouth isn’t what the lads from Beijing had in mind when they wrote out a cheque.

Our hero retires to his yacht and turns on his Cray computer of a mind. So. The problem. Grangemouth is no longer viable because all the equipment is geared up for the 70’s and not now. To get back into profit, the wretched place needs north of $300 million sinking in to it and the boys from Beijing have made it clear that there will be no more cheques. Worse still, the days of coke snorting City boys are gone as well. So. Who is there who might stump up hundreds of millions of dollars on easy terms?

Of course.

The Government. Who else?

But here’s the rub. Ever since he shifted all his operations out to Switzerland the Government have not liked him much. They see him as a tax dodger and there is no way in a million years they are about to write him the kind of fat cheque he needs.

So he orders up another cocktail and stares out across the shimmering blue waters of the Mediterranean and seeks a cunning plan.

Where is the key thing? The crack in the wall? The Achilles heel?

And lo and behold, the answer starts to take shape.

The answer is Autumn 2014 when the good folk of Scotland will be given the chance to vote for Independence. Of course! For this means that the Government in Westminster will go to almost any lengths to prove that they care about Scotland. And it means that the Government in Edinburgh will go to just about any lengths to prove they can run Scotland.

Now all he needs is a way to put them to the test.

And once again the answer emerges.

To be honest, here is where he gets something of a lucky break.

The MP for Falkirk gets drunk out of his skull and head butts a Tory MP in the House of Commons bar. I know. Rather far fetched, but what the hell. The bar brawling MP is sent off to jail and a by election is called. The Labour Party needs a new candidate and a mighty row soon breaks out. The London brigade want an Oxbridge type who knows how to hold their knife and fork properly and can be trusted never to allow the word ‘Socialist’ to pass their lips. The local Union want someone with fire in the belly who will sing along to ‘Working Class hero’ by John Lennon. Loudly.

So the Union persuades its members to join the Falkirk Labour Party so that they can get a majority in the selection vote.

In the blink of an eye the thing goes nuclear and the press are all over it. The tabloids scream that a return to the bad old days of the 70’s is nigh. It is a hell of a bun fight and a few hundred miles to the south on his gleaming yacht, a lad from Manchester sniffs an opportunity and places a call to the hard faced lads in Beijing.

He tells them of his cunning plan and they like it. They like it a lot. It is right up their street.

So here’s the thing.

The main union guy who has been given the job of getting the lads to join the Falkirk Labour Party works at Grangemouth. And most of the lads that join up also work at Grangemouth. For a while there is some doubt about whether or not the Union has broken the law. So the cops take a look at it and then give the Union a clean bill of health. And then the Labour Party look into it, and with extreme reluctance they also give the Union a clean bill of health.

And then, just as the dust threatens to start settling, our man steps out of the shadows and starts to play his cards.

Card One. He announces his own investigation. As the main players in the drama are his employees, it is only right and proper that as a responsible employer he checks out that no wicked, communist naughtiness has gone down on company time.

And the Union hate it.

Just like he knew they would hate it.

And the Union hate him.

Just like he knew they would hate him.

It’s called pulling the tiger’s tale and they really like that kind of thing out in Beijing.

Once he has the Union well and truly fired up and hungry for payback, he plays Card Two.

Accept less pay and longer hours and no more final salary pension or else. It is like telling a Koppite to wear a Man Utd shirt with ‘Beckham’ on the back. He knows exactly what they will do next. He has riled them up and got them so blazing mad that they have lost their sense of reason. They duly go thermonuclear.


And he smiles contentedly and takes a sip at a cocktail. His mobile rings and the hard boys from Beijing are positively purring.

Time for Card Three.

OK lads. If that’s the way it is, then I’m closing the place. Like right now. Because you can take the boy out of Manchester but you can’t take Manchester out of the boy….

Or the Beijing.....

Mayhem. Wailing and gnashing of teeth. Press filled with stories about how Grangemouth makes up 10% of Scottish GNP. It means 3500 jobs! It is unthinkable!! Terrible!!! Awful. Oh my God!!!!!!!

And in Westminster there are crisis meetings. If we are seen to let this happen, everyone will say we don’t give a shit about Scotland and that jumped up bastard will never shut up about it….

And in Edinburgh there are crisis meetings. If we let this happen the people will think we are incapable of organising a piss up in a brewery and there is no chance in hell that they will vote for independence….

And in the Unite Union HQ there are crisis meetings. If he calls our bluff and 3500 guys lose their jobs, we will look like absolute tossers and members will start leaving in droves…

Well good things come to he who waits. So our man waits. And he sips his cocktail. And he gazes out to sea. And he knows that in time the phone will ring.

It rings.

Westminster calls to say a cheque for $100 million is in the post.

Edinburgh calls to say a cheque for $9 million is in the post.

Unite call to say that they have changed their minds and they will agree to every last one of the new terms.

One, two, three.

And the boys from Beijing call and chuckle in delight, for they like nothing better than winning a high stakes game of poker.

One, two, three.

And the boy from the poor side of Manchester smiles quietly to himself and raises a silent toast.

To himself.

To the lad from the front of the class with the tweed jacket and the sensible shoes.

To the lad who had played bankers and politicians and big businesses and big unions for complete and utter mugs.

You couldn’t make it up.

The whole thing is so far fetched as to be ridiculous.

Aye right, Mark.

As if……..           

Thursday, October 24, 2013


When I first posted this blog a week ago, my main intention was to try and shine a light on the utterly desperate plight so many will face over the coming months in the most deprived corners of Scotland. My focus is on the old coal mining village of Kirkconnel, but I have no doubt the dismal same stories will be played out in all of the crumbling towns and villages that once upon a time hosted the Industrial Revolution. These places are not just about to be affected by Whitehall's vicious Welfare Reforms: they about to be hammered. Thousands of people are about to experience the kind of hardships that we naively thought had been left behind long ago. No heat and no light and no food.

The blog was widely read and many readers asked what possible answers there might be to the growing poverty that now grips forgotten little places like Kirkconnel: places that are so obviously beneath the notice of those with offices far away in London.

Only when I was asked did it become so crystal clear that the only foreseeable hope for Kirkconnel and places like Kirkconnel is a 'Yes' vote next year. I find it impossible to believe that any Edinburgh based politician would carry on with the Bedroom Tax or order Job Centre Plus staff to 'sanction' three clients a week for such heinous crimes as being 10 minutes late for an appointment. They wouldn't dare. And they would be right not to dare. Such beaurocratic cruelty is almost always ordered by people sitting in offices hundreds of miles away from their victims.

The coming winter is about to be a savage one for many, many people. Only a 'Yes' vote offers any hope of a return to compassion and decency. Here's the blog. 

Yesterday I took a ride up the Nith valley to deliver a first consignment of food parcels to our latest satellite outlet. My destination was Kirkconnel in name and ‘Post Industrial’ in nature. ‘Post Industrial’ is one of those new phrases that has crept in to the way we speak over the last few years. Detroit of course is the ‘Post Industrial’ pin up. Post Industrial describes all the places that the world has left behind. The old engine rooms that once drove and fuelled the Empires and World Wars of the West. The towns and cities where once upon a time coal was mined and ships were built and cars assembled. Places which don’t do much of anything any more. Places which nobody has the faintest clue what to do with.

The American way is to leave them be and let nature run its course. The driven apple pie baking housewives of the Tea Party will fight like demented cats to stop any tax dollars being squandered on keeping post industrial basket cases like Detroit on life support. In the years after the war, Detroit was the shining symbol of a bright future where shift workers would join the Middle Class. It was cars and TVs for all. Nobody could have guessed that the end was a mere 50 years in future. The crash has been almost biblical. A house which would have cost some poor sod $100,000 in 2005 can now be had for $10.

On this side of the pond, we tend to be less brutal in allowing the consequences of red raw capitalism to run their course. Ever since 1948 we have broken the bank to pay for feather-bedding to soften the blow of a lost Empire and a lost industrial heritage. To compensate for all the mines and mills and shipyards being shut down, we parked up millions on the sick and gave them the wherewithal to pay their Sky TV subs with Family Tax Credit.

But nobody has ever found the energy to even start to look to answer the Kirkconnel question. There are places like Kirkconnel to be found in all the forgotten corners of the fading West. Small blighted places where once there was mine or factory that employed the whole town. Small blighted places where the mine or factory was closed down leaving nothing. What remains is what we now call Post Industrial. Clusters of people stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time with no chance whatsoever of finding a way to make a living.

Some of these post industrial places offer a sliver of a chance. Old coal villages or mill towns within a bus ride of a city where there are still chances to be had. Coal villages in County Durham and South Lanarkshire offer the chance of a commute to and from work in Newcastle or Glasgow.

Then there are the post industrial places in the middle of nowhere where an hour on the bus in every direction only takes you to similarly doomed towns.

Post industrial places like Kirkconnel.

An October drive up the A76 from Dumfries to Kirkconnel is a dream come true for any wannabe postcard designer. Visit Scotland could easily fill a whole online platform with images of the valley. Autumn treescapes to match anything from New England. Craggy moors set in front of hurtling clouds. Soaring buzzards and a Walt Disney river crashing down to the sea.

In the middle of the nineteenth century Kirkconnel was just a hamlet surrounded by sheep farms. Then they built a railway from Carlisle to Glasgow. And steam trains needed coal, so a small pit was dug in the village to fuel them up and send them on their way. And them a bigger pit was sunk to fuel the factories and ships of the Empire. People were sucked in from the countryside to earn a regular wage. The population shot up to over 4000. World Wars came and went and many of the young men marched away to be slaughtered.

The brave new 1948 world of the Welfare State came to town and changed everything. The miserable hovels were bulldozed and a bright new village on a hill was thrown up. On paper it must have all looked like a dream. Airy streets gazing out over the brooding hills. Shops and schools and a church and lots of recreational space to be had for young and old. Playing fields and wide boulevards. A trillion cubic metres of bracing fresh air for men who spent their working lives hundreds of feet down in the belly of the earth.

Then they closed the pit and everything and everyone was suddenly redundant. On the scrap heap. Post industrial.

Now Kelloholm is Detroit light. It hasn’t been allowed to fall to pieces. It has been kept on life support. The population is down to just over 2000 and thankfully a food processing factory still provides jobs for quite a few. But not nearly enough. For years the rest were parked up and given just about enough to get by on. Sick pay and dole and housing benefit and child benefit and tax credits. Those with the right number of kids and issues did pretty well on their maxed up benefits. Others merely kept body and soul together. Hard drugs came to the valley in the 90s and soon heroin was the new coal. Shops closed and were boarded up and slowly but surely the place crumbled. Those who could leave, left. Those who couldn’t were beached.

And then of course a bunch of bankers in London and New York took everything down and we all entered the era of austerity. The agenda changed and changed utterly. All of a sudden the poor were people to be mocked and belittled and despised. The poor were deemed to be responsible for the sudden end of the West being the biggest kid in the playground. The answer to our faded position in the world was to beat the poor with as big a stick as we could lay our hands on.

Of course the new ‘hate the poor agenda’ was always going to hit the likes of Kirkconnel the hardest, and my has it ever. Over the last few months we have seem more and more folk from the valley calling in for food parcels and it has become clear that the situation is becoming increasingly desperate. All of those cosmetically stretched Tea Party ladies from the Corn Belt would thoroughly approve.

Westminster has sent a wrecking ball up the valley and things are falling apart at an alarming rate.

You see, the problem is that the fabric of Kelloholm and Kirkconnel is hardly robust. These are places built without foundations. These are places that were only viable for a few brief years of history when the countries of the West discovered how to do an Industrial Revolution. Places like Kirkconnel are fragile houses of cards held together with string.

For years they have been nothing more than an inconvenience. Annoying accidents of history. Embarrassing places to be quietly swept under an ever fading carpet. Well, as Dave and George never tire of telling us, those days are gone. It is time for the Kirkconnels of our green and pleasant land to get a dose of the Detroit.

And everything has changed.

People who were told they were too sick for work for years and years are now deemed to be fit as fleas and suitable for any kind of job. No longer are they kept out of sight and out of mind by being asked to sign on the dotted sick-pay line once a month. Now they are expected to stick to the new hard regime of the Job Centre Plus.

Hard times have meant that the Government says it can’t afford to run a Job Centre in the Upper Nith Valley. The unemployed of Kirkconnel have to take the bus 30 miles down the valley to Dumfries. Sometimes once a month. Sometimes twice. I had a lad in Monday who had been told to come three times. Three times at a tenner a trip. £30 out of a gross income of £240.

I was told yesterday that there are now about 300 unemployed men and women in the village. I guess a few years back that figure would have been about 50 or 60 with all the rest signed off sick. The 300 are now expected to log onto their online Job Centre Account every day and they are expected to leave digital evidence of 17 job searches each and every week. I guess that must look a pretty good idea in the gilded corridors of the Department of Work and Pensions HQ in London. It doesn’t look like such a good idea in a rain swept post industrial valley. Not many can afford £30 a month to rent a landline and a broadband connection. Not many can run to a laptop. The vast majority of the 300 will have to get time on a public computer to hit the Job Centre targets. And here is where the logistics of the thing get tricky. There are a mere 15 publically available computers in the village. It needs a pretty slick operation to find a way to get 300 people onto 15 computers every day. Once they get there, they are expected to fill in umpteen applications and send off their CVs far and wide.

But where do you apply when there is a whole lot of post industrial nothing all around you? And what of the ones who can’t type? Or the ones who can barely read? Not surprisingly, many stand less than a snowball in hell’s chance of meeting the demands of the new regime. They have been parked up and forgotten for years and years and completely lack the wherewithal to do what they have to do to be allowed to stay on the life support system of the Welfare State.

And so they are being sanctioned. One by one. First a month. Then three months. Then six months. And nobody seems to be remotely interested. Kirkconnel is out of sight and out of mind. What exactly is going to happen in February when an icy wind rips through the valley? How many will be sitting in tired houses devoid of heat and light and food?  Will anyone notice then?

Yesterday morning I dropped off 20 food parcels at the Action for Children charity at just after ten in the morning. By the time I logged onto my e mail account at 3pm there were only eight left. Tomorrow, I will have to take another trip up the postcard valley to replenish the stocks. How many food parcels are going to be required in the cold months that are all of a sudden just around the corner? Suddenly the idea of getting food parcels up the valley feels uncomfortably like it might turn into some kind of a relief effort. As someone born and bred in Britain, the logical part of me sees such a thought as ridiculous. I mean, surely not. That sort of thing doesn’t happen here. That sort of thing happens to places on the news. But the feeling in my gut hints at a different story. An hour in Kelloholm was more than enough to see that decisions made hundreds of miles down the road are about to wreak absolute havoc in places like Kirkconnel. Apparently there is a road up at the top end of Kelloholm where there are now 13 empty houses, all in a row. Only a few months ago all of them were occupied. Then the Bedroom Tax made them economically unviable and the tenants were driven out to private sector bedsits.

How long will it take for them to be broken into and stripped bare? Just like all the doomed and redundant houses in Detroit and Cleveland. A year ago those 13 houses were providing an income of £50,000 a year for the Housing Association that owns them. Now they will become a drain on the coffers as tradesmen are paid to board them up and board them up again and eventually knock them down. Had those 13 houses been in London there would have been a queue at every door. There will be no such queue in Kelloholm. Just a dismal empty wind whistling through a dismal empty street.

When I got the e mail yesterday afternoon, a cold feeling ran through me. I had just driven up the valley and promised that First Base could come up with the food that the people of Kirkconnel would need to get through a long hard winter. When I said it, I meant it. Because surely things couldn’t get that bad. Not here. Not in Britain. But by the time I drove back down the valley I didn’t feel quite as confident. And when the news landed that 12 food parcels had shot out of the door in less than half a day, I didn’t feel any confidence at all.

To get enough food up the valley to see people through is going to be one hell of a task. If we are going to manage it, we are going to have chase in a stack of food donations and a stack of cash. To do this we are going to have to get people interested enough to help us out. Will they be interested? Or will they buy the tabloid ‘hate the poor’ agenda hook, line and sinker? All of a sudden things feel more than a bit scary. I don’t mind admitting that I feel pretty bloody daunted. We all fail at things all the time. And most of the time it is no big deal. But failing at this suddenly seems like a very, very unacceptable option.


Is anyone about to seriously look at the Kirkconnel question? I hope so, but I doubt it. Speaking up for places like Kirkconnel has become politically poisonous. Politicians of all colours are now locked onto the General Election in two years time. And that election will be decided in forty or so constituencies in the Midlands and South of England. It will be decided in leafy towns where house prices are rocketing. Places where the Poles clean the drains and serve the coffee in Starbucks. It will be decided by people who have bought into tabloid propaganda that has taught them to hate the poor. And to hate places like Kirkconnel. And to pledge their votes to parties who promise to beat the poor with big sticks. So no politician is about to ruin their chances by looking at the Kirkconnel question. The most convenient answer to the Kirkconnel question will be to simply pretend the place doesn’t exist. The problem is that this time it looks like the only life support system will be down to stone broke little charities like First Base.   


Saturday, October 19, 2013


I guess old age is maybe creeping up rather more quickly that I thought. I wrote ‘Target One’ ten years ago which really isn’t all that long. Well. It shouldn’t be. Yet when I re-read it a few days ago, it was like reading a book written by someone else altogether. Obviously I could remember the main bones of the story, but about 70% or so was completely fresh to me.

Bloody hell.

For some reason I feel mildly embarrassed to say that I actually quite enjoyed it. Saying that doesn’t seem right somehow. Un-British and all that. It put me in mind of one of my very favourite authors, Grahame Greene, who was just about as British as they come. Greene labelled every one of his books as being either a ‘novel’ or an ‘entertainment’. A word of warning here. If you are feeling a bit down in the mouth, don’t even think of going anywhere near one of Graham Greene’s ‘novels’. Before you know it you’ll be reaching for a bottle of pills or standing on top of the railings of a very high bridge. ‘A Burnt Out Case’ has to be one of the bleakest and most soul shredding books ever penned.

Anyway. As usual, I digress. I bring up the legendary Mr Greene because as I rattled through ‘Target One’ it occurred to me that it is very much of an entertainment. Anyone who has read a few of my books will maybe agree that they can also be divided into novels and entertainments. The novels tend to stray into the gloomier edges of this aging Lancastrian’s mind. Take a lad from the rainy valleys of the north, age him through the eighties, and as often as not you get a dark view of life. Guilty as charged. Ten years of working at First Base hasn’t helped much in this regard. Any place were the heroin tide washes in will always be home to more hard stories that it is really healthy to hear.

‘Target One’ is happily none of the above. ‘Target One’ is very much an entertainment and it gladdened by heart somewhat to remember I am capable of this sort of thing!

So where did it come from? I guess most authors tend to draw on a variety of feelings and emotions and loves and hates when they concoct a tale. Sometimes it is something going on in the world around. Something in the news or in front of your nose. A theme. An injustice. Poison from History. A mood abroad.

All sorts.

‘Target One’ started with a place and the place was the Turnberry Golf Course on the wild west coast of Scotland. My son Dyonne flew the nest and got a job up there when he was 17. It was one of those big days in any parent’s life. Bags packed and thrown in the boot and a hug from mum. Sixty miles passing through the sad, broken towns of the Upper Nithsdale valley where all the coal mines are long dead and gone. Sanquhar, Kirkconnel, New Cumnock. It is our Upper Silesia. Our West Virginia. Places which once were something and now are broken. The Upper Nithsdale valley exudes sadness and melancholy like a dusty diary under a heap of attic junk.
I vaguely recall my mind wandering back through Dyonne’s young life. First steps and first words and first time at Anfield. Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and Spiderman and Stanley Collymore. When the kids fly the nest, adults get a sinking sense of their own mortality. An era has passed and it will never return.

Maybe as a valley Lancastrian, other post-industrial valleys will always bring out a maudlin view of the world.

Anyway. We landed up at the car park and took in the gleaming white walls of the hotel which it has to be said is a pretty spectacular place. The last time I had been there was back in the long hot summer of 1977 when Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson fought out one of the greatest head to heads in sporting history. I had the privilege of watching Jack twice during the baking days of that distant summer and it has left a deeply imprinted memory of utter greatness. The likes of Jack are few and far between. I have been lucky to see a few in my time. Live. Real time. In the flesh. In the moment. Viv Richards, King Kenny, Johan Cruyff and Seve Ballesteros are probably the only ones who were in Jack’s league.

Nowhere could have provided a more perfect setting for the generation crossing majesty of Jack Nicklaus that week. I have always loved everything about Scottish links courses. I love the way that over hundreds of windswept years they have become re-embedded into the landscape to such an extent that it is hard to see where nature ends and man begins. These are the places where sport gives mankind the opportunity to fight a battle against nature without worrying over much about losing. If you decide to climb a Himalayan mountain or trek across the Sahara, then there is a pretty big risk factor. Sure you get the chance to slug it out with nature, but if nature wins you’re deader than dead.

Finding a way round eighteen holes of a great Scottish links course offers a chance to pit yourself against the elements without having to worry about those same elements wiping you out. If you try to take on a links course swept by a gale carrying horizontal rain, there is no point trying to use brute force. If you do, the elements with laugh their socks off at you. The only way you stand a chance is if you use your brain and your guile. A links course in a gale is a place for craft and artistry and imagination. Planning and percentages and nerveless execution. It is the canvas where only the true greats can paint their pictures. Surely there can be no sight in any sport to compare with watching a genius like Seve Ballesteros playing through a gale.

Once I had left Dyonne to start out on his years of adulthood, I parked up and took a walk over the manicured fairways and between the dunes. It was a wet day and evening was coming on early. Nobody was about. Just a clutch of seagulls and oystercatchers. Out at sea, the rocky island of Ailsa Craig was just about visible across the roll of the waves.

When you walk across the Ailsa Course at Turnberry, there really can only be one destination: the ninth tee. Nowhere on earth can there be a golfing place where man meets nature to such an extent. The tee is perched on a rocky outcrop surrounded by the sea. God alone know how old the rock is. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of years and then some. The golfer has to stand in the teeth of the wind and hold the nerve. It is about 200 yards to a ribbon thin strip of fairway that runs up by a lighthouse. The two hundred yards is made up of sea and rocks and beach and seagulls and tussocky grass. No wonder it has inspired hundreds of postcards and paintings and photos. If you Google it you aren’t spoiled for choice.

I felt like the last guy on the planet as I stood on the tee and felt the wind and the rain in my hair and remembered watching Jack crash a one iron up the right hand side of the fairway all those years ago. I had been 17 and the Berlin Wall still had 12 years to stand and Liverpool had just won the European Cup for the very first time. In the midst of such absolute eternity, it was hard not to feel all the years that had passed since I had last been on the ninth at Turnberry.

I must have stood there a while watching the gulls flap around in the gale. A dad who had just delivered his son into the big world of adulthood. A man looking back at the boy who had once followed Jack through the dunes in a heart of a barely remembered a heatwave summer.

Pieces started falling into place one by one. Suddenly a story started the process of forming in my head. The blighted old coal towns of Upper Nithsdale would be in it. And a terrorist plot. And a man’s fight against addiction. And in the end everything would come down to a few hours where two men would fight it out in the wind and the rain on the Ailsa course.

And the key to the whole tale would lie with the tee on the ninth hole.

A couple of months later the story was written and printed and done. Most people seem to like and enjoy it. Lots have told me that it kept them turning the pages deep into the wee small hours of the morning.

It is an entertainment that seems to have entertained, and right now you can download yourself a copy absolutely free of charge from the Kindle Store. Just follow the link below.

Having just read it as a stranger with a fading memory I feel quite happy to recommend it!  

Sunday, October 13, 2013


So welcome to the Voluntary Sector. Here are a few minutes of my life which played out one morning last week. I unlocked, picked the post from the mat and switched on the lights. The air was autumn cold for the first time. I switched on our 8p an hour wall heater. There were three envelopes, all of them brown. Just like always.

I took the envelopes to an ‘in tray’ which was full of a whole heap more brown envelopes. Maybe I should open a few of them up.


Computer on and the ether dialled up. Online banking. Passwords. Go to accounts.

Oh, for Christ’s sake.

The already opened up brown envelopes added up to a whole lot more that eight hundred and thirty three lousy quid.

So welcome to the Voluntary Sector. I sorted the wheat from the chaff and worked the phone and begged a few favours. Twenty minutes later a couple of favours had been granted and a couple of payments had been promised earlier that they were due.

Another week taken care of. And next week? Don’t even go there.

Switch screens to Tesco Online Groceries. 852 items for £156 and it was primed to arrive at the back door for noon the next day.

Another three days worth of emergency food parcels taken care of. Was the wolf kept from the door? No chance. The wolf was merely sitting down in the snow and waiting for his mates to arrive.

It ain’t easy to run a charity on fresh air. We’ve been doing it for ten years and the seat of our pants has many, many hours of flying time. And all that flying time is no guarantee of anything whatsoever. No doubt the last Luftwaffe pilots to fly out of Tempelhof airport whilst the Red Army tanks rumbled into the Berlin suburbs in April 1945 had plenty of flying hours under their belts as well.

Whatever. Put it to the back of the mind. Open up the doors and feed the hungry. Just like every day. Except that these days there are a whole lot more hungry to feed.

During the afternoon I spent some time with a client who we are well and truly pleased with. As ever some of the facts have been changed about a bit to ensure anonymity.

She is a young woman who was a complete and utter lost soul when she first arrived at our reception counter a few months ago. Her story is a familiar story. Well, familiar enough to all of us at First Base. Life wasn’t supposed to be like this. She had come from a good and loving home and for the first twenty something years of her life, all had been pretty rosy in the garden. Things were good at home and good at school and then good in the workplace. A regulation, ordinary and happy life. A clear blue sky in May.

And then the wrong guy walked into her life in within a couple of years everything had crashed and burned. First cocaine, then heroin, then endless abuse. She was put to work. She was told in no uncertain terms that it was on her to feed two habits. She never learnt the art of injecting herself. He always did the honours until her body was well and truly manacled to a daily requirement of opiates that cost north of £100 a day to keep up with. Every morning brought along the same Devil’s option. Rob your family or rob the shops or take a beating and then curl up in a ball and deal with the cold turkey.

By the time she washed up in First Base tearfully presenting a food parcel form, just about everything had gone. Family. Friends. Self respect. Confidence. Almost the ability to speak. And her liberty looked like it would be the next thing to go. A litany of stupid, petty offenses were about to catch up with her and the prospect of prison was on the horizon. She came in and told her dismal tale with her head down as far down as a head can go. Never has the term ‘quiet as a mouse’ been so apt.

The thought of prison terrified her. The thought of prison was a bridge too far. The thought of prison was filling her head with thoughts of just ending it all. Switching off the lights. Checking out.

Thankfully the boyfriend from Hell was also gone. He was away behind bars and would be so for the foreseeable future. Which meant that there was hope.

We focussed on the offenses which turned out to be ridiculous. The only way she could summon up the courage to leave the house was by taking blue valium. But blue valium made her do idiotic things. Blue valium made her feel invisible. Her last offense had been to steal worthless tat from three different shops. The three crimes added up to a princely sum of just over £7. But that lousy £7 looked like being the straw to finally break the camel’s back. Crimes committed whilst out on bail. Crimes committed whilst on probation. Crimes committed after she had faithfully promised the Sheriff that she would definitely behave herself in future.  

We encouraged her to call in again and spend time with Leslie who only a couple of years ago had come into the reception the grip of the very same despair. I promised her that Leslie could take her hand and show her the way out of the dark tunnel and into the light. I promised her that Leslie knew the path because she had walked the path and now she had been out in the sunlight for well over a year.

Then I rang her probation worker and found it hard to feel much optimism. There had been too many idiotic petty offenses. She had missed too many appointments when the terror of the outside world had kept her hiding away behind the locked doors of her flat. She had failed to pay fines and messed up community service and missed appointments with her drug workers. She was all but out of rope.

I said that First Base would do what we could. I said that Leslie would try and make her believe that there really was a path into the light. And the probation worker said OK then, let’s see.

Because First Base is pretty good at persuading people that there is a way out of the dark and into the light. Even if I say it myself.

Well that was 3 months ago. Since then she has kept every appointment and her probation officer is all but certain that the Sheriff will grant her some more slack. Will she manage to follow Leslie and many others all the way into the light and stay there? Who knows? Let’s hope so.

So here’s the thing. If she hadn’t come in that day the odds are that she would now be spending a few months at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Maybe 4 months. And once she had hit that very particular rock bottom of jail time, she would probably have ended going back.

Time and time again.

Most people do.

Over the next five years she would probably have spent at least two of them behind bars. And the poor old beleaguered tax payer would have shelled out about £80,000 to make it happen. What of the other three years? Dole and housing benefit and council tax benefit and legal aid and methadone and A&E? Maybe £15,000 a year? All in all she would have been a rather expensive lost soul. £110,000 in five years.

And she still might be. But at least it looks somewhat less likely that it did three months ago.

Right now, there about 40 individuals getting on with living normal, law abiding lives who might otherwise be banged up in Scotland’s jails had they not come into First Base. Had they failed to turn things around, each and every one of them would have been costing the tax payer at least £20,000 a year.

Do the maths.

£800,000 a year. This is the legacy of ten years of painstaking work. And for every success, there are at least six or seven failures. And the list of those clients who we have worked with who are now overdosed and dead and gone is sadly much higher than 40.

But this is an area of work where there are no miracle cures. No magic buttons. No wonder pills.

All you can do is treat people with respect and never, ever judge them. Listen and find the person who once was. Help them to rediscover their lost souls. And their self belief. And of course hope. And once there is self belief and hope, it is amazing what people can achieve.

It would be nice if the fact that the decade long efforts of everyone at First Base means the tax payer is almost a million a year better off was in any way recognised.

But it isn’t.

Not even nearly.

That is why on a cold morning last week we had £833 in the bank and a whole lot of mouths to feed.

Despite all the frantic media coverage the issue of Welfare now attracts, it is very rare to see any journalist shining a much needed light on the really expensive people. Our twenty grand a year guys are in fact way off the top of the league in this regard. Here are a couple of examples of where the public purse takes a real hammering.

A couple of years ago I heard that Dumfries and Galloway had 13 teenagers who were so out of control that they needed the very top bracket of residential care. Take a deep breath and read on. It costs £1000 a day. £30,000 a month. A third of a million a year. Those 13 kids were hitting the local council coffers to the tune of over £4 million a year. 13 kids! You can pay for well over a hundred teachers and coppers with that kind of cash.

Here’s a case from London. A thirty something year old crack addicted woman gave birth to her thirteenth child which was duly removed from her care by the social work. Just like the previous 12 kids had been removed. The bill for achieving this was £3.5 million and counting. The woman told the reporters that she would keep on having kids until they let her keep one. And no doubt we will keep on paying all the court costs and lawyers to make sure that such an outcome never happens. And no doubt in a few years time her tab will have glided through the five million mark.

Look at it this way.

If a City banker earns a million a year and doesn’t succumb to the temptation to evade his tax, he will send about half of his income to HM Treasury. And half a million is an awful lot of money. But half a million isn’t enough to pick up the tab for two wild, wild kids who need a £1000 a day’s worth of residential care.

It would be nice to think that there is someone, somewhere who checks out the places which have a track record of helping some of these ultra expensive citizens to turn corners and stop being such a spectacular drain on the public purse. And it would be nice to think that they would make sure that such organisations had the wherewithal to pay the rent and keep the lights on.

But they don’t.

It never crosses their minds.

And when you have a pile of brown envelopes and £833 in the bank this can be pretty bloody frustrating.

So welcome to the Voluntary Sector.       

Thursday, October 3, 2013


‘Darkness at Noon’ by Arthur Koestler was published way back in 1940. I have never read it, but how can you not be grabbed by the title? In theory the book was a fiction. In practice it was a searing view of Uncle Joe Stalin’s brutal purges when millions were carted off to the gulags or simply dispatched by a bullet to the back of the head. When Koestler wrote the book, there were still many who bought into the propaganda from Moscow pretty well hook, line and sinker. Stalin had by and large kept the jaw dropping truth of his decade long genocide well and truly under wraps. This was the time when student idealists like Burgess, Philby, McLean and Blunt happily signed on the dotted line to betray their country in favour of the bright and shiny future promised by the men from Moscow.

Koestler was one of the first to pull the curtain aside and shine a light on a murder spree that even Hitler could never quite manage to match.

I got to thinking about it yesterday whilst walking the dogs and listening to a podcast of Peinaar’s Politics. There were interviews with William Hague and George Osborne. Both made a reasonable sounding and eloquently expressed case as to why hammering the poor is vital to the future of the Realm. Yeah, yeah. Politician speak. What was a whole lot more scary was an interview with an equally eloquent 19 year old Manchester University student from Chorley. She sounded a nice enough lass and yet her words were poisonous. She reported that the Tories were attracting more and more members at her university branch. Why? Because she and her friends were borrowing tens of thousand of pounds to get a degree which would open up a path to a well paid career and there was no way that they wanted their future taxes to fund the indolent lifestyles of the nation’s shirkers with their widescreen TV’s and drawn curtains. When asked what she considered the best bits of the Tory message to be, she replied without a nano-second of hesitation: immigration and welfare. She wanted a party that would be harder than hard on both. She spoke enthusiastically about her weekends knocking on doors in Chorley, hardly a Tory heartland. And she was delighted to report that many of the good folk of Chorley agreed whole heartedly with the poison she was peddling.

Hammer the immigrants.

Hammer the shirkers.

The only cloud on her horizon was the fact that many of the good folk of Chorley felt that UKIP would hammer them even harder.

The girl was clearly pretty smart and I guess the fact that she is willing to be fully engaged in street level democracy should be commended. Chorley is just a few miles from Blackburn where I spent my formative years. Believe me, you need to have a bit of bottle to knock doors in that neck of the woods wearing a blue rosette. As I listened to her, it hit me that Burgess, Philby, Mclean and Blunt were pretty smart as well. And yet they allowed themselves to be completely conned by the bare faced lies from Moscow.

David Cameron took to the stage yesterday with a consummately smug performance. He spat out the party line in the secure knowledge that his cronies in the redtop media would hail him as the man with the right plan. How utterly tragic that the likes of the Mail and the Sun and the Express now do the same job for the Tories as Pravda once did for Uncle Joe Stalin and Lavrenty Beria.

Buying into 24/7 propaganda doesn’t make people into bad people. The Russians were not bad people when they bought into Lenin’s Bolshevik dream. And the Germans were not bad people for buying Hitler’s honeyed, nationalist poison. And the Brits are not bad people for being duped by the brazen lies of Cameron and Osborne and the Daily Mail and the Sun.    

So many lies. Lies told with such convincing conviction. And they are the same old tired lies that people who are having a really tough time are always inclined to believe.

1928. A hard working Russian family from a town in the middle of nowhere where the tractor factory dominates everything. Mum and dad are working 50 hours a week and yet they can only afford cabbage soup. Sometimes. History has given us the reason for this. Russia was ruled by a paranoid psychopath whose incompetent cronies only cared for lining their pockets rather than putting food on the table. But that wasn’t what the media of the day said. Instead they towed the party line and blamed the Kulaks – small farmers. The papers were filled with stories about how the wicked Kulaks from the Ukraine were hoarding all the grain and eating steak every night and washing it down with litres of vodka. Soon enough just about everyone hated the Kulaks and nobody batted an eyelid when Uncle Joe killed them in their droves. To this day nobody really knows how many. Solzhenitsyn reckoned it was 6 million. But, hey. Like Uncle Joe so famously said, when one person dies it’s a tragedy. When a million die it’s a statistic.

1934. A hard working family from a town near Dortmund. Mum and Dad are working 50 hours a week in the locomotive factory but they can barely afford to put a dish of cabbage soup on the table. History again has clear reasons as to why this was the case. Germany was being run by a paranoid psychopath with a bunch of bloated gangsters who cared only for their bank accounts in Geneva. But that wasn’t what the German media said. They spent all day, explaining that hard working families couldn’t put cabbage soup on the table because the wicked, scheming, money grubbing Jews were salting away the nation’s wealth. And of course nobody seemed to notice when Hitler sent five million Jews up the chimney.

And so we arrive at today and our bubbly young student from Chorley so eagerly urging us all to vote Tory and enable Dave and George to beat the immigrants and the poor with a big shiny stick. For of course the reason why millions of hard working families can barely put food on the table has nothing to do with the fact that wealth of the nation is being drained off into the very same Swiss Bank accounts that Hitler’s henchmen used all those years ago. Oh no. Absolutely not. The fact that the richest 1000 people in Britain saw their collective wealth go up by £40 billion last year has nothing to do with the fact that millions are finding it hard to buy food. No chance. Just like the Nazis and the Bolsheviks were adamant that it wasn’t their fault back in the dark days of the last century.

Blame the Kulaks.

Blame the Jews.

Blame the shirkers.

Blame the immigrants.

It is the most evil of records and it is well and truly stuck in the same well worn groove. The politics of hate and blame and lies and lies.

In times when rulers and a compliant media join forces to tell lies on an industrial scale, the truth tends to emerge in dribs and drabs. Thankfully we still have plenty of free media here in Britain. The problem is that they are constantly shouted down by the strident voice of the tabloids.

Here are three stories from yesterday, two from the media and one from First Base.

Story One. The Daily Mirror. Westminster City Council is about to pass a resolution making it a crime to give free food to the poor. Honestly. No kidding. Here’s the link.


Because the good folk of Westminster in their multi million pound houses don’t want to see their pampered world polluted by homeless people sleeping in doorways. Feeding these dreadful people will only encourage them to stay where they are not wanted. By threatening to fine the misguided communist types (churches!) who are giving free soup to these awful poor types, the council is taking steps to get the streets cleared of this unwanted rubbish. Will the policy be popular with the good folk of Kensington? You bet it will. They’ll love it to bits. I mean when you shell out £5 million for a nice town house, the last thing you want is to have to see nasty poor people in doorways when you take a nice morning stroll down to the delicatessen.

Have a read of the article. And then pinch yourself. And look at the calendar. This Britain 2013.

Story 2. The BBC. A woman in Hull has done exactly what it says on the Tory tin. She has given up a dead end job, taken on board a tonne of student debt and taken three years to get a degree onto her CV. She has bettered herself. Improved herself. She has bought into the Tory idea that we should morph ourselves into a well educated, highly skilled workforce capable of slugging it out in a global economy dominated by those super smart Asians. Duly armed with her degree, she set out on the task of getting one of those well paid, skilled jobs that will make us just like Germany or Singapore.

She couldn’t find one.

Instead she signed on. And as a part of the Work Programme she was given help with preparing the kind of CV that was most likely to find her work. And her Job Centre Plus advisor told her to remove the degree from the CV. Because having a degree would put off prospective employers offering the only kind of job she was going to get. Like shelf stacking. Like cleaning. Like bar tending. Such employers don’t want smart people. Smart people harbour ambitions to move on and better themselves. Smart people raise awkward issues about health and safety and employment law. Smart people are a pain in the neck. Stalin used to send smart people to Siberia. Hitler used to send smart people to Buchenwald.

What do we do?

Nothing quite so drastic, thank Christ. The woman was given a choice. Remove your degree from your CV or we will take it that you are not serious about finding work. She dug her heels in and told them she was really proud of her degree and refused to delete it. Her Job Centre Plus worker sanctioned her for 13 weeks.


Pinch yourself. And look at the calendar. This Britain 2013.

Story 3.

Just another day in the First Base Agency

Just another guy coming through the door for a food parcel with his head down.

He’s about fifty with a face hard weathered by a lifetime in the salty air of the high seas. His life story? A Thatcher child who once upon a time had the choice of the British Army or a YTS scheme. He chose the Green Machine and got a front of house view of two great slaughters. First came our slaughter of Saddam’s conscripts in Desert Storm and then came Milosovic’s slaughter of the Kosovo muslims. A serious head injury saw him invalided out of the army and he spent the next 20 years on the fishing boats. His time on the trawlers saw him collect a growing number of injuries until his body could take the hard life no more.

So he gave up the boats and came back to town to seek work more appropriate for his battered body.

So he signs on and he fills in over fifty job applications in his first month of being on the dole. It is his first month on benefits in fifty something years on the planet.

He goes into the Job Centre to sign on. And they inform him that he has missed an appointment. They tell him that they have sent out a letter and he has chosen to ignore it. Nonsense he says. Of course I haven’t ignored it. I never received a letter. Obviously I check the post. Every morning I wait on the postman. Wouldn’t you if you had written out over 50 job applications in a month? Of course you would. Of course I did. But none of it makes a difference. They accuse him of lying and sanction him for a month and all of a sudden this proud, proud man is standing at our counter needing a food parcel to eat.

He served his country for eight years. He witnessed sights and events from the bottom levels of hell in our name. And by way of payment, some lackey in the Job Centre casually tells him he is a liar and takes away every penny of income for a month.

Do I believe him? Too damn right I do. Just like I believe the fact that if First Base was based in Westminster we would be facing fines for giving out food to people who have nothing to eat. Just like I believe that a woman from Hull was sanctioned for wanting to put her degree on her CV. 

But the bright eyed student from Chorley is a long way from being ready to believe these truths. Instead she is still completely brainwashed by all the anti immigrant and shirker rhetoric.

In the end, the era of Stalin and Hitler passed and history lifted the lid on the vile truth about what they did. And this nasty, vicious little era will pass as well, and eventually the truth will become widely known. And then maybe the bright student from Chorley will feel ashamed that she was hoodwinked into spreading poison with such enthusiasm.

But that day seems far away right now.

Right now we are still groping around in the ‘Darkness at Noon’

Take a look at the calendar

This is Britain 2013.