I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


 ‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’
Dylan Thomas wrote the line. Years and years ago in a time when cities indeed got themselves felled on a regular basis. Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima…
Thomas gave the eye of a poet to the industrialised destruction of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.
The poetry of course is in the disconnect. One the one hand, there is the image of a wavering, liver spotted hand wielding an expensive fountain pen. On the other hand, there is hell falling to the earth from a thousand Lancaster bombers.
Or one bomber called ‘Enola Gay’
The death by a thousand cuts that so many are now being forced to endure is thankfully considerably less dramatic than the destruction of Hamburg and Hiroshima. But there are similarities.
And there is is the same disconnect.
And as is so often the case, it is the little people who are being forced to carry the can.
We start our journey in the very same building by the River Thames where Churchill gave Bomber Harris the nod set the air itself on fire by raining millions of incendiary bombs down onto the great cities of Germany. You know. The crumbling Neo Gothic building with the famous clock.
In 2008 the banks collapsed and the money ran dry. Cuts were required and bright eyed types with starred first degrees were dispatched to find the nooks and crannies where cash could be saved.
It was deemed that every penny counted.
Every last one.
And soon a twisted, malign infant came screaming into the world and was duly christened ‘The Bedroom Tax’.
The principle was classically Neo Liberal. If you are so poor that you need the State to keep a roof over your head, then don’t expect the State to stump up for any more rooms than you strictly require. The State will only pay for the bare minimum. And so it was deemed sensible that anyone guilty of being too poor to pay their own rent was to be fined £15 a week for that poxy little box room with the view onto the settee strewn waste ground out back.
That’ll teach the wretched blighters to be poor!
And so the hand signed the paper and the bright eyed young things licked their lips in anticipation of a £100 million a year saving.
But things never tend to work out the way the bright eyed young things think they will. Oh if only they did work out that way, we might still be a shining city on the hill.
The bright young things never quite managed to spot a single fact which really should have been blindingly obvious.
The problem was that the Housing Benefit money wasn’t paid to the poor person who needed help with their rent. Instead the Housing Benefit was paid directly to their landlord. Usually their social landlord.
Well it didn’t take all that very long for the social landlords to start to view the future with fear and trepidation. Because if you have a thousand social houses and the Government goes and cuts its payments to you by £15 a week for these houses, well you suddenly find a gaping £15,000 a week hole in your business plan.
As in £750,000 a year.
‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’
Oh my God, what the hell are we going to do!!!!!!
And so it was that the social housing providers hired in their very own bright eyed young things to advise them on how to keep their business model in tact.
Two answers were found. 
One, shed staff and cut costs!!
Surprise, surprise. The answer is always to shed staff and cut costs and it looks like it will continue to be the case until all of the staff in the world has been shed barring the board of Goldman Sachs. Housing officers bit the bullet and hit the dole queue.
Communication between tenant and landlord became less and less about face to face communications between fellow human beings and more about computer generated letters.
The second answer was to stamp down ever more vigorously on any tenant who fell so much as a few seconds late with their rent. The very nanosecond any account slipped into arrears, a computer generated letter from a computer generated firm of virtual solicitors would be winging its way.
Once upon a time when times were different and kinder, rent arrears would provoke a visit from a housing officer to take a look at the problem over a cup of tea. One human being would converse with another human being. The problem would be examined and broken down into bite sized pieces. A compromise would be sought. A solution would be found.
After all, we all have short term cash flow hitches, right?
But with so many housing officers on the dole, these old fashioned conversations are becoming ever rarer. In their place are millions of computer generated letters from computer generated virtual solicitors.
The hand that signed the paper……
Last week one of our Veteran clients was the city that was felled. A couple of years ago he decided to escape the dole queue by going self employed. A loan from Poppy Scotland helped him to buy a van and ever since he has just about managed to keep his head above water.
His van is the key to his business. No van, no work. And so when the van developed a few hundred pounds worth of faults, he had no choice but to grit his teeth and get the thing fixed and back onto the road.
The only way he could finance this was to fall six weeks into arrears with his rent. At first he failed to open the computer generated letters that started to fall on his mat on a near daily basis. When he did finally open one, he discovered to his horror that he was a week away from having his day in court.
He asked for some help and I picked up the phone on his behalf. I called up his social landlord and had a few conversations. These were human being to human being conversations. I worked out how much he could pay and between us we agreed a re-payment plan.
It worked.
As of today he has not a single penny of arrears.
But the hand is still signing the paper and the cities are still being felled.
The bright young things are still doing their thing.
They have now deemed it necessary and vital for the social landlord to hunt down every last, single outstanding debt on its ledger with the same kind of remorseless, heartless ferocity that Bomber Harris once displayed when felling the cities described on the piece of paper that Winston Churchill had signed.
And it turns out that all of those computer generated letters from computer generated solicitors don’t come cheap. And when those same computer generated solicitors go to the trouble of arranging your day in court to account for six weeks of rent arrears which you have since caught up, well….
There are bills to be paid. 
Dues to be collected.
£350 of legal costs to be precise.
Which meant yet more computer generated letters from yet more computer generated solicitors. And yet another day in court. And of course as a self employed person who was earning just about enough to keep body and soul together, my man was not even close to being eligible for Legal Aid.
In the blue corner, a provider of 17,000 social houses across the hills and glens of Dumfries and Galloway along with a team of sharp elbowed lawyers.
In the red corner, one veteran of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the Turf Lodge Estate and the green, rolling  hills South Armargh.
Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!!!!!!!!!!
But of course there was no rumble.
Instead my man met a Citizens Advice guy who told him there was no point even trying to talk to the Sheriff. He had no leg to stand on. He was basically completely screwed. He was advised to grit teeth and ask for time to pay.
And so it was that the bright young things were able to extract a further £350 worth of blood from a near penniless stone. At a fiver a week for the next year and a half. A fiver a week less to be spent on groceries or the occasional pint. Another shoulder chained ever more firmly to the grinding, soul destroying wheel of life that is Britain 2015.
All because some bright young thing in Whitehall decided the Bedroom tax was the right way to mitigate the lunacy of the casino bankers in the gleaming towers of Canary Wharf.
So my man went home.
My man opened his front door.
My man cast his eyes down to the post waiting on the mat.
To yet another computer generated letter from yet another computer generated solicitor.
Four years ago my man was fined £60.
Four years ago my man paid off £35 of the £60.
Four years ago my man completely forgot to pay the other £25 of the £60.
‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’
In Whitehall the bright young things suggested a 10% cut to Council spending.
The hand duly signed the paper.
Which meant that 10% less was sent North to Edinburgh care of the Barnett Formula.
Which meant that 10% less was sent back South West to Dumfries and Galloway Council.
Which meant that the council duly engaged the services of some bright young things of their own to try and work out what on earth to do.
And the bright young things advised that forensic accountants should be brought in to dig out every single old debt they could find. And once these old debts had been excavated from their subterranean hiding places, they should be dusted down and passed along the line.
To computer generated solicitors.
To generate computer generated letters.
To arrange yet more days in court for yet more blood to be extracted from yet more stones.
And so on and on and on it goes.
Death by a thousand cuts.
I guess the legal bill my man will eventually have to cover for the bright young things chasing his old £25 debt will probably run to over £200.
Which he will pay off at a fiver a week.
For forty weeks
And will anyone either notice or care?
What do you think?
‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’

If you have enjoyed this blog then you might well enjoy one of my books. There are twenty of them waiting for you in the Kindle store from £1 to £2 each. Here's the link.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Inequality tends to get a lot of air time these days. Quite right too. But it isn’t very often that you get the chance to see the grotesque extent of global inequality laid out in the back of an Arnold Clark hire van. Well that is exactly what I saw yesterday. You see, I was the white van man in question.
I guess this all sounds a little bizarre. Let me explain.
From time to time my eldest son Dyonne does some work for a mate of his from London. Adam is a good lad, a Luton boy working his socks off to carve himself a niche. His company – Holy Water – do the drinks at the events where the world’s 1% gather to show off their bling and discuss how many noughts they have in the currant balance columns of their off shore accounts. The 1% like a spot of wide boy charm and Dyonne and Adam both have wide boy charm by the wagon load.
This week Holy Water have taken on the task of watering 60 guests who are attending a wedding in Scotland. It would appear these 60 gilded individuals can expect to be watered rather well. The budget for the wedding is $2.16 million. Unless I have got my maths wildly wrong, that looks a lot like a budget of $36,000 per head. Now you need to work hard to physically spend this kind of wedge. The wedding is in Scotland and most of the guests are American, so of course whisky is always going to have more than a walk on role in the unfolding drama. There is a very particular whisky required and of course Holy Water have secured its services. £700 a bottle. £144 a shot. I guess the same kind of telephone number barcodes will also to be found on the Champagne, fine wines and brandies.
The venue for the great event is a bizarre Victorian pile set in the midst of 300 acres of drop dead gorgeous Scottishness on the Isle of Bute. I didn’t see inside, but I took a look at a leaflet for the place which I picked up on the ferry. Mount Stuart was the work of the 3rd Marquis of Bute who went to town on spending his ill gotten gains during the dying years of the nineteenth century. It looks like the kind of place Edgar Alan Poe might have dreamed up on the back of a particularly bad acid trip. King Ludvig who was doing a similar thing back then might have been barking mad, but his Bavarian fairytale castles certainly have the edge as far as I am concerned.
I am digressing all over the place here.
Adam decided to break the long journey north with a Sunday night in Dumfries. He was in his car whilst two of his lads were driving a hire van filled to the gunnels with all those fine beverages. The two lads stayed in town and at ten o clock on Sunday morning they set out to complete their journey to the Firth of Clyde.
They didn’t make it very far. 
Two of Dumfries’s finest didn’t much like the look of the axles on the van and duly pulled them over for a wee chat. Then it was a wee drive up to a weighbridge outside of Lockebie.
And then…
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear….
Not just a bit over loaded. One point three bloody tonnes over loaded!
It has to be said that Adam’s face was a picture when his mobile rang with the news.
Problems, problems, problems.
By now the van was very much impounded on the car park of Lockerbie police station and by hook or by crook Adam and the lads needed on Bute that night to start doing their stuff. We learned that there is no way that a van of any description can be hired in Dumfries on a Sunday.
But problems are there to be sorted. Dyonne and I drove up and transferred half a tonne of stuff into my van and drove it up in to the hills to enjoy a night on a pallet in the yard of a disillusioned Man City fan called Paul who still finds it impossible to get his head around all the petro dollars swilling around his club.
Then we re-filled my van with enough weight for the boys in blue to give their assent for the Holy Water lads to resume their trek north.
I volunteered to hire a van the next morning and drive the left behind bottles up the next morning. And so it was.
I duly signed on the dotted line for a Mercedes Sprinter from Arnold Clark and loaded on board the troublesome 1.3 tonnes with the help of my youngest son Courtney.
Then we went to First Base to add a second cargo to the consignment. Ten food parcels for Action for Children.
In Kelloholm.
Regular readers of this blog will have become familiar with Kelloholm and all that sail in her. Once upon a very different time, Kelloholm was a coal mining village. Maybe in its Victorian heyday, the 3rd Marquis of Bute might have owned a piece of the action. Maybe profits from Kelloholm coal helped to fill the coffers that he tapped to build his Neo Gothic island fantasy.
But the glory days such as they were are now long gone. Kelloholm is a place of unemployment and mould on the walls. Pebble dash and too much rain. People get sanctioned and generally screwed. All too often cupboards are rendered bare and an emergency First Base food parcel is required for body and soul to be kept together. Buying one of those fancy bottles of Scotch would require two and a half months worth of gross income from most of the residents of Kelloholm.
And yet on the floor of my rented Arnold Clark van, the ten boxes of emergency Kelloholm food sat snugly next to all of those boxes of fine wine.
Different contents. Different end users. Different worlds.
I gather the wedding is an American affair. The groom is a one of those American Dreams come true in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley. It seems he has dug out some Scottish roots. Maybe the Third Marquis of Bute evicted a relative of his back in the day in order to farm a few more sheep.
The word is that he is a big time billionaire. The word is that the $2.16 million he is laying out to get himself through the hoop is little more than loose change as far as he is concerned.
Well good for him.
As I drove north past Kilmarnock and out into the staggering beauty of the Clyde Basin, I started working a few sums through my mind.
I have recently started what will probably be an ultimately doomed campaign to persuade the Scottish Government to offer some meaningful and permanent support to the nation’s foodbanks. My argument goes something like this.
It is now abundantly clear that foodbanks have become a part of the Welfare State. We are the new safety net. We are the destination of last resort. If we do our thing well, it has become clear that the community is more than willing to support what we do. So long as we spread the word, most of the tins and packets that make up our emergency food parcels will be donated.
But that of course is not the whole story.
There are elements of running a foodbank which are not covered by donated tins and packets. Rent needs to be paid. And wages. And the phone bill and the electric bill. And all of those many niggling costs which cannot be avoided.
I would like to see the Government hire one person and give them a car. Their job will be to tour the land to check out the foodbanks. It would only take them a couple of hours to make sure that any foodbank is kosher. Once the foodbank in question is added to the official register, they are thereby allowed to raise an invoice once a month to the Government in Edinburgh for £5 per parcel issued.
For First Base, this would mean £30,000 a year to make sure we can cover all the nuts and bolts bills and focus all of our efforts of helping the poor buggers who come through the door rather than scratching about to keep the door open.
There are 60 main food banks in Scotland which hand out an average of 3000 parcels per annum. 180,000 in total.
180,000 parcels at £5 each comes to £900,000.
Surely this is hardly a King’s ransom for the provision of the safety net of last resort. And of course if things look up, there will be less people needing emergency food and less invoices sent to the Government.
I like to think it is a reasonably good idea but I doubt if anyone in Holyrood will see it that way. You can but try, right?
But here’s the thing.
Google has just told me that at today’s exchange rate £1 will buy $1.58.
It means that $2.16 million is worth £1.36 million.
See where I am going here?
The money spent on the Silicon Valley wedding on the Isle of Bute would be enough to pay the overheads of every single foodbank in the whole of Scotland for a year and a half.
For a year and a half.
Like the Kinks said – it’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world. And at times it is a world that stinks like a pile of rotting fish. And for a few miles up the A76 yesterday, the grotesque inequality of our world was laid out in the form of cardboard boxes on the floor of a Mercedes Sprinter van hired for £75 a day from Arnold Clark.      

If you have enjoyed this blog then you might well enjoy one of my books. There are twenty of them waiting for you in the Kindle store from £1 to £2 each. Here's the link.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


 Yesterday’s number at First Base was £15,000.
On the one hand, I am pretty sure that we managed to save the tax payer £15,000.
On the other hand an hour spent in the soul destroying world of an XL spreadsheet revealed that we have a gaping £15,000 hole to fill if we are to make ends meet this year.
Symmetry of a kind. I guess. If only the £15,000 on one side of the ledger could somehow be used to fill the £15,000 pothole on the other side. But of course life is never so simple.
So how did First Base manage to offer a £15,000 helping hand to the beleaguered tax payers of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Tabitha. That’s how. Not that her real name bears any remote resemblance to Tabitha. It doesn’t, so I suggest it is a futile waste of time to try and guess her true identity. Does anyone ever call their little treasures Tabitha any more?
When she was a bright eyed teenager, nobody in Tabitha’s circle could have had any inkling of what a car crash her life was about to become. A smart, popular kid from a good family with the rest of her life spread out before her like a well kept garden. Sure she had a mischievous streak, but no harm in that, right? And sure she had a mildly alarming taste in lads who hailed from the other side of the tracks. Lads who carried the thrill of trouble. But, hey. That’s the way the world works, right?
But small mischief became bigger mischief and the bad boys just kept on getting badder. For a while there was a solid career with incomings enough for a flat and a veneer to be kept in place, But under the surface everything was party time and all the good things in Tabitha’s life seemed to be down to the drugs that consumed every penny of her disposable income.
And so it was that one by one the wheels on her wagon fell by the wayside. No more job and ever badder boys who her family despised and hated. The drugs ate away at what was already a fragile mind like a plague of maggots. Moods swings and tantrums and troughs of despair. Boyfriends stealing from the family home. Every last drop of family patience drained away into the sands.
Until at last the front door to the security of family was slammed in Tabitha’s face and it has stayed slammed shut ever since.
Wilderness years. And every minute of every day those voracious maggots went about their business. Depression. Anxiety. Heroin and methadone and anti depressents. Uppers and downers. Clarity and oblivion.
Memories of times gone by and terror of the now and what is to come. Aching, yawning emptiness and such regrets.
Such regrets.
Every now and then she comes into First Base to persuade herself that it is still possible to turn everything around. To hit the brakes and do a U turn and drive back down the road to the place where her life used to be. Once upon a time. When it used to be sunny. A time of picnics and having a place where she belonged. A safe place.
Not that the resolution ever lasts long. Something always happens and she runs as fast as she can to find a rabbit hole to dive down into. The rabbit hole comes in the form of street valium, available to one and all for the princely price of £1 a pill. £40 will carry Tabitha into a fuzzy world that feels better than the real world.
For a while.
And once she is in the all embracing fuzz of Mr Benzodiazepam she is subject to an altered reality. The blues convince Tabitha that she is invisible. She believes in new and cartoon like powers. She can walk into any shop and take what she wants and walk out without anyone seeing her. The problem is that they can see her. And they do see her. Every single time.
Just a moment love.
Could you come with me please.
Time spent in the back room where the staff get a brew on their break. Time killed until the cops land to take her away. The crazy thing is that she only ever nicks trinkets. Like a monged out magpie. Shiny things. Pretty things. Things with a recommended retail price of £0.99.
Processed and booked and questioned and bailed.
Up in front of the Sheriff to answer to the charge of stealing £3.17’s worth of Chinese tat from a shop soon to have its front windows boarded up.
Along with all the others.
None of the Sheriffs ever really know what to do with her. How could they? So it has been community service and probation and drug treatment and testing orders. And sometimes everything seems to go well for a few weeks and months until something goes wrong and she runs headlong into the oblivion of thirty blue valium pills.
Or forty.
Or fifty.
Until in the end she finally ran out of rope and spent a month at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
Never again she said.
Never, ever, ever, ever again she said.
And she meant it. Like she always means it. Because next time it will be at least six months sentenced and three months served.
And she hated it.
Really hated it.    
But we all know how resolutions tend to turn out. Friday morning brought dreadful news from the family she yearns to be a part of. And dreadful news is not a thing that Tabitha’s fragile mind is able to cope with. Dreadful news draws the wicked genie from the bottle to whisper in her ear.
You deserve it, you deserve it, you deserve it.
Release. A comfort zone. A sanctuary. A haven.
So Tabitha took to the streets and bought and swallowed sixty blue valium pills. And on she went into the familiar darkness. Familiar fog.
Into a sprawling store at an out of town shopping centre.
Tabitha the indestructible. Tabitha the invisible. Tabitha in a world of her own where she can help herself to what she wants and drift away like a cloud in a perfect summer sky.
Except she wasn’t invisible.
A security guard grabbed at her as she drifted through the doors. She shook herself loose. She ran. And against all sensible odds, she made it clear.
But for how long? There will be CCTV footage of course. Only a matter of time until cops came a calling. Go to jail. Do not pass ‘Go’. Do not collect £200.
A weekend of staring at the walls. A weekend of the walls creeping in ever closer. A weekend of waiting for the knock at the door. Waiting. Unraveling. Imagining. Regretting. Self hating. Self loathing. Self blaming.
An essentially good human being completely unable to come to terms with doing bad things in a bad, bad world.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Valium, valium, valium.
A line from Apocalypse Now.
“And then there was Chef. Chef was wrapped too tight for Vietnam. Probably wrapped too tight for New Orleans….”
In the wrong place and the wrong time. Forever.
Monday morning comes and she ventures out and crosses the town to First Base. Sheepish and all broken up.
“I’ve been realty stupid again…..”
A story told and advice sought.
Has she still got all the stuff?
Yes, she still has all the stuff.
Is the stuff still in saleable condition?
Yes, the stuff is still in saleable condition. Labels and price tags and security tags all present and correct.
OK. So why not try this. Write an letter of apology and take it all back.
And she is immediately tempted. But will they still take her to the back room where the staff have a brew during their break time? Will the cops be summoned to attend? A ride in the squad car? Remand? Go to jail. Do not pass ‘Go’. Do not collect £200.
In the end we strike a deal.
She’ll come back tomorrow. With all the stuff. And she will write her letter of apology. And then I will take it back to the shop and pass the bag over.
To be honest, we are kind of surprised when she shows. But she does show. A few less worry lines. A conscience more at ease with itself. She writes her letter and her letter is quite magnificent in its way. Her English teacher should be properly proud.
I drive to the bleakness of the out of town shopping centre. The security system goes beep, beep, beep as I walk through the door. Is there about to be trouble? No.
Can I see the manager please? Something private. Yes I can wait.
Canned music and half stolen glances for the staff behind the counter.
The manager arrives and I tell my tale. I give her one of our annual reports. So she knows who I am. Who we are. What we do. Why I am all present and correct in her store with a carrier bag of stolen goods. And a 9 out of 10 for spelling, grammar and expression letter of apology.
There is no judgement in the manager’s eyes. Only sympathy and sadness for all of the Tabitha’s in this grey and unforgiving world. She wasn't in herself. On Friday. But she has heard about the incident of course. And they have sent all the CCTV images over to the cops of course.
Of course.
I offer her the bag and she takes it. A little surprised. A little taken aback. But mainly just plain sad.
No doubt the police will come a calling at some stage. And no doubt Tabitha will have another day in court. But maybe she will have provided the Sheriff with some new tools for the job. Her defence lawyer will read out the letter of apology that her English teacher should be proud of and the store will confirm that all goods have been returned in full and in tact.
And then I very much hope the Sheriff will take the opportunity not to send Tabitha to jail. For what would be the point? Three months of jail time will drain the public purse to the tune of £15,000. Will it fix Tabitha’s fragile mind? Or will it break it further. Will it be like taking a crystal champagne flute with a chip and hurling hard into a concrete wall?
So I don’t think the Sheriff with send Tabitha to jail. Not this time. And if he doesn’t, we will have done our bit to save the tax payers of Great Britain and Northern Ireland £15,000.
I get back to the office and finish work on a budget spreadsheet for 2005/2016. And there is a wide, gaping black hole staring hard into my eyes. A £15,000 hole. A run out of cash in the middle of January hole. A hole to be filled or there will be no door on Buccleuch St for the likes of Tabitha to walk through.
It would be nice if £15,000 saved could be used as aggregate to fill our £15,000 hole.
But life is never like that.   

If you have enjoyed this blog then you might well enjoy one of my books. There are twenty of them waiting for you in the Kindle store from £1 to £2 each. Here's the link.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


More often than not the reason for propaganda is clear enough. All of us on the ‘Yes’ side of last year’s Scottish Referendum argument certainly learnt that particular lesson in spades. For a while the British Establishment tried to convince the Scots that they were adored children who would break their doting parents hearts were they to choose to up sticks and leave home. Not surprisingly the Scots saw all the way through these honeyed words and as the big day drew closer the general mood was one of ‘away and shite’.
Most of us figured they wanted to keep us for our oil, even though they went on and on and on about the fact that our oil is rubbish oil. Unlike Norwegian oil. Unlike Saudi oil.
Maybe they protested a little too loudly about just how rubbish our oil was. After all, memories of similarly vehement denials were rather too fresh in everyone’s mind. A mere decade had passed since Bush and Blair promised us all that oil had nothing whatsoever to do with their sudden need to invade Iraq. Of course it didn’t. Absolutely not and how dare anyone suggest otherwise. Communist bastards. Of course it had nothing to do with oil. It was all about WMD and saving the poor beleaguered Iraqi people from a life of misery and hell.
Aye right. 
So something new was required and it was required in a big hurry as the referendum D Day drew ever nearer. And so it was that the Establishment propaganda machine was fired up and set free. And my oh my, didn’t they ever fire off both barrels! All of a sudden the airwaves were packed full with terrifying visions of a desperate post nuclear Scotland where all the children were riddled with rickets as Ethiopan levels of starvation engulfed the blighted mountains and glens. No more NHS. No more pensions. A wide open door for immigrants and terrorists and Vladimir Putin’s invading armies.
It was all alarmist bullshit of course but the sheer volume of it all proved to be enough to scare the Bejesus out of enough already scared pensioners for the Establishment to win the day.
It was propaganda that made total sense.
Most propaganda makes total sense and then things change and the we can all see it for what it actually was.
One minute Nelson Mandela is a wicked, wicked terrorist who is rightly locked up for ever and a day. The next minute he is a world treasure who every leader yearns to get a selfie with.
Martin McGuiness went from IRA monster to respected Deputy First Minister in what felt like a blink of an eye.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the Establishment to re-write the script about Abu Qatader. For years he has been branded as a cold eyed murdering swine with the long beard to prove it. Theresa May almost broke into a celebratory brake dance when she finally managed to put him on a plane back to Jordan. And now? Well now things are getting interesting. Now it seems that ISIS and Al Queda have fallen out big time and Abu Qatadar has taken to the internet to rail against the new enemy. As far as the man with the long beard is concerned, ISIS are a bunch of Nazi gangsters who are interested in nothing more than rape and pillage. Millions of wannabe jihadists are tuning in to hear what he has to say. I wonder how long it will be before we decide to claim him as a national treasure who learnt valuable lessons during his years in the UK when he claimed all that lovely housing benefit.    
However there are times when the motivation for blatant propaganda are not so clear. Check this out.
Last week Lesley and I went into Dumfries High School for two mornings to talk to all the P7’s from the primary schools who will be feeding the new first year intake. The idea was for them to get the chance to spend a day in the frightening new world of the big school. A good idea. There were obviously lots of kids about the place.
Well, Duh!
How many? I guess there must be about 1200 pupils in the High School itself to which were added about 150 primary school day trippers. Let’s say 1350 in all.
So what?
Here’s what.
There were basically no fat kids to be seen. This is something that I find increasingly fascinating. I spent quite a lot of time in schools across Dumfries and Galloway doing drug and alcohol talks. Every time I walk the corridors I keep a look out for fat kids. And every time I get the same result.
Basically no fat kids.
There tend to be one or two in primary schools, but next to none in high schools. And yet the TV, radio and newspapers are constantly filled with horror stories about the explosion of childhood obesity that is threatening to tear down the NHS over the years to come. Obesity is the new smoking. Sugar is the new heroin.
The years to come will be ravaged by type 2 diabetes and heart disease and ninety five stone behemoths being lifted through the roof by cranes and manoeuvred into specially reinforced ambulances. Every night there will be yet another documentary about super-fat people in Dewsbury who spend every penny of their exorbitant benefits on an endless diet of McDonalds and Coke.
And of course a constant procession of grave faced doctors and politicians and life coaches will explain that the reason for this new plague of fat kids are the hundreds of thousands of feckless parents who force feed their offspring from dawn till dusk with chocolate and chicken nuggets.
So why are there no fat kids in the world beyond the shock docs and the prurient pages of the tabloids? Maybe it is only Dumfries and Galloway that lacks the headline number of super fat kids. Maybe without our knowing it, we are the last region in the western world to be home to fit youngsters.
I doubt it.
You can check it out for yourself. Kids are hardly a hidden secret when all is said and done. They go to school at nine in the morning and they come out at three in the afternoon. The next time you are out and about at either of those two times, have a look for yourself. Run the rule over the hundreds of kids pouring out of the school gates and I guarantee you there will be hardly a fat one in sight.
So where are all the fat kids? Are they hidden away? Or are they mere propaganda? When I was at school I was one of the fat kids. It wasn’t great and it lasted until I was about 15. But I most certainly wasn’t on my own. In every class of 35 I ever sat in there were at least seven or eight fat kids like me. Sure we were still a minority, but not a small minority. In ten years of talking to at least 2500 kids a year I have never once been in a class where there have been more than two fat kids. And two is seriously rare.
Once you actually take the trouble to look, it becomes immediately clear that today’s kids are massively less fat that we used to be. Why? Well I figure that being a fat kid in 2015 must basically be a living hell. We used to get bullied back in the day but there was no Facebook back then. Never before has being fat been deemed to be such a crime. If you want to get ahead and make it, there is no room for any extra pounds. Just look at the way our politicians starve themselves in order to make their way up the ladder. Alex Salmond. Nicola Sturgeon. George Osborne. Theresa May. It’s a long, long list. In fact it is basically all of them. Eric Pickles was the last of the Mohicans and it was hardly a surprise when he was dumped.
In fact can you think of a single world leader who is carrying any extra timber? Or TV personality? Or actor? Or singer?
But this doesn’t begin to explain why the politicians and the media have joined forces to make up millions of fat kids when in fact there are hardly any at all. It is indeed very perplexing propaganda. Even more perplexing is the fact that we all seem so happy to lap it up and believe every word when all we have to do is to stand outside any school at 3 o clock in the afternoon to see it for the lie it is.
Maybe the beating heart of this enormous and blatant lie can be found deep inside the NHS. And maybe this is where the clouds start to clear. Many people now see the NHS as our new national religion and for centuries religion has tended to be the source of the most far fetched lies. Check out the creationists in America who have spent $30 million on a museum where they have a life size depiction of Adam and Eve in the company of dinosaurs. According to the Museum of Creation, Noah’s flood happened a mere 4000 years ago and every archaeologist and scientist who says otherwise is a bare faced liar.
Every religion is home to some pretty tall tales. Virgin births and all that. So if our new religion is indeed the NHS, then it shouldn’t come as any great surprise if they are telling the same kind of vast porkies that churches have fed us for hundreds of years. As a rule of thumb, the back story to most religious tall tales tends to be born out of cold hard cash. The coffers are forever hungry and a good narrative is always required to persuade the Sunday morning faithful to give more than they can really afford. The likes of St Peters or Westminster Abbey or the Blue Mosque don’t exactly come cheap. And you need a healthy bank account to keep all of those Bishops and Cardinals and Imams in the lavish style they have always been so accustomed to.
The NHS is also an eye-wateringly expensive religion. The UK is home to sixty million souls and a million of us work for the NHS. It is now the world’s third greatest employer after the Chinese Army and the Indian Railways. And when all is said and done, it is one hell of a gravy train. GP’s earn twice as much as MPs. Six times more than the rest of us. The top managers of hospitals and health boards earn the kind of salaries that the Prime Minister can only dream of.
And the pensions……
The pensions.
Enough said.
Most religions shake us down for cash with a pretty simple message. Cough up or you’re going to burn in hell. Forever. As in eternity. Remember how much it hurt when you burnt your finger with a match? Well just imagine what it will be like if you burn for ever and ever and ever.
Maybe a tenner on the collection plate isn’t such a bad idea after all.
It seems the NHS is using a similar playbook. There is always a new crisis and it is always worse than the last crisis. We need more and we need it now! And if any politician wants to stand a chance to getting elected, they have to repeat the mantra of just how much they love the NHS. It is a bit like anyone who wants to be the American President having to go on and on about how religious they are and how they just love God every bit as much as America.
All British politicians are required to tell us every day how much they love the NHS and how they will always give the NHS every penny it asks for. So when the NHS warns us about a tidal wave of childhood obesity, we don’t bother to check if they are telling the truth or not. I figure if they were to tell us that they needed another five billion a year to compensate for the fact that the world is flat we would write out the cheque without giving it a second thought.
And so it seems that the gravy train will continue to trundle its merry way along the tracks whilst we wring our hands with worry about all those millions of made up fat kids.
What a dumb, daft world we live in.   

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