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, December 21, 2016


The hideous ISIS attack on a Berlin Christmas market in many ways seems like an almost perfectly awful bookend to what has been a particularly awfully year. We will look back on 2016 as being the year when hate won hands down. It has been a dark year which opens up a dark and frightening future. We are entering a time of fingers crossed and hope for the best.

The crime ISIS committed in the capital of Germany is as bad as any crime can get. We shudder at the cold brutality. The complete and absolute lack of any kind of humanity. What they did was a long way beyond disgusting. It was plain evil.

And of course the crime has dominated the news. How could it not? And of course we have recoiled in instinctive horror. How could we not?
But is probably important to take a step back. To take a couple of breaths. To look at the horror with a measured eye. And once we do so, things get a little uncomfortable.

We don’t question such an event filling every corner of the news. It is huge. Of course it is. But we need to be clear about why it is so huge. The reason isn’t all that hard to find. Twelve completely innocent people were murdered in the coldest of cold blood. Why? For being white and Christian and European and Western. For being in the most liberal and tolerant city in the world. For being unwitting pawns in a ghastly game. These are all compelling reasons. But of course the biggest reason is easy to nail down. For these are people who are just like us. We go to Christmas markets. We are innocent Europeans who do no more than go about our daily business. We don’t deserve to be executed in the name of Jihad.

Had exactly the same atrocity been committed in the midst of the rubble of Aleppo, it wouldn’t have dominated the news. Had it happened in a market in a town in Northern Nigeria none of us have ever heard of, well, I guess it might not have made the news at all.

Some victims are just more newsworthy than other victims. White Christian Europeans are at the top of the newsworthy league table whilst Black African Muslims are way down at the bottom. Should we beat ourselves up about this? Not really. Human nature is human nature. It won’t change. We are the creatures of evolution and cannot be blamed for being so.

Next I guess we have to take a look at the 'Why?'. Obviously every politician who finds themselves in front of the cameras will spout the well worn party line. This is a wicked, senseless, cowardly attack on our way of life. This is an act of mindless cruelty.
But it isn’t of course and it is a shame our politicians are so incapable of being honest about the motives of ISIS. They are not so very hard to find. Germany is a problem for ISIS. The Jihadis rely on painting a very particular picture of us to their potential recruits. We are the wicked unbelievers who cheer the TV when American bombs rain down on Muslim civilians. We are the 'Kuffar' who want to see Muslims exterminated like cockroaches. So when Germany stepped up to the plate and showed such compassion and love to the victims of Assad’s war, it made things kind of hard for the bad lads with the long beards. Facebook was full of images of welcoming, smiling Germans handing out teddy bears to traumatised Syrian kids. This was a narrative they needed to change and to change quickly. They needed to make the German people be more like the British people and the American people. Angry and fearful and xenophobic and ready to vote for people promising drone strikes and carpet bombing and no Burkhas. The German people have been far too in touch with the better angels of their nature. ISIS need to bring out the worst in us. They need us to strike back with our cluster bombs. They need us to flatten Muslim schools and to disrespect Muslim women. In order for their people to learn to love ISIS, they need to be taught to hate us. They need to provoke us into doing things to make us hated. Nice, kind German people holding up ‘Refugees Welcome’ signs are the worst kind of nightmare for ISIS. Angry looking Germans marching to old Nazi tunes are absolutely perfect.

And the worst of it is the way our leaders dutifully dance to their tune. We never learn and we never will. The tabloids will bay for blood and the politicians will duly deliver it. We are so miserably predictable.

But we can take another step back and here is where it becomes very uncomfortable indeed. What exactly did ISIS say when they claimed responsibility for the attack? They said it was the work of one of their 'soldiers'. Yes. A 'soldier'. ISIS see this as a military operation with a clear goal. The mission was to brutally kill civilians in the heart of a German city? Why? To break the will and morale of the German people. To make the German people stop showing love and start demanding revenge. ISIS need us to be as bad as they say we are. They have a clear strategy. They are quite deliberately using maximum horror to make the German population change the way they are behaving. To break the policy of the German government.

Is this the first time such a strategy has been used? Of course it isn’t. And now an awfully uncomfortable truth edges out from the very deepest of shadows. It is a truth about as welcome as a despised uncle at a wedding.
Between 13 and 15 February 1945 the British Government ordered ‘Operation Thunderclap’. Hundreds of British bombers dropped 2500 tonnes of high explosive and 1500 tonnes of incendiary bombs on the German city of Dresden. We killed between 25,000 and 35,000 people. We will never know the exact number as many of the dead were quite literally melted in the firestorm we unleashed. It is worth noting that the death toll on day one of Hiroshima was 40,000. More, but not so very much more.
We knew full well there were barely any soldiers to be found in Dresden. We knew full well the streets were packed with desperate refugees running from the wholesale murder and rape being committed by the Red Army. We knew full well there was no strategic gain to be made by setting Dresden alight.

So why did we commit such an act of utter horror? Simple. It was a calculated act of brutality disegned to break the will of the German people. Here is what the Commander in Chief of Bomber Command had to say.

“I mention this because, for a long time, the Government, for excellent reasons, has preferred the world to think that we still held some scruples and attacked only what the humanitarians are pleased to call Military Targets. I can assure you, gentlemen, that we tolerate no scruples.”   

And my word, were we ever true to his words. We proved we could keep up with the Jones’s when it came to cold murderous brutality. And we did indeed break the will of the German people. Three months later we won and Trafalgar Square was one big party. No wonder ISIS are using our playbook. Thank goodness they cannot begin to really imitate what we did to Hamburg and Dresden. On Monday night they killed 12. On that shameful night in 1945 we killed more than 30,000. We burned them alive. We melted them.

Of course we don’t want to look at this. And of course we don’t want to dwell on the crimes we have committed in the past. But we cannot escape the fact that the mass civilian killing we once indulged in paved the way to our greatest victory. ISIS are obviously happy enough to study the history we choose to sweep under the carpet. They are using our playbook. Let’s hope they never get the same result.
Way back then we had a popular saying. We said 'The only good German is a dead German.' And it was deemed perfectly OK to say this. It was very politically correct indeed. And in February 1945 we made the words come true. Big time. I guess ISIS are saying much the same thing now. And on Monday night they also made their words come true. Just not on the same scale.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


More or less exactly a week ago I bashed away at these very same keys and asked the online world for some help to give a client of ours some heat and light. I awarded him the made up name of Donald and laid out his story for the world to see. He is one of the millions of unnoticed people who have fallen victim of an increasingly vindictive and ruthless state. Donald's learning difficulties mean he finds it almost impossible to do what the Job Centre tells him to do. Hell, someone can tell me I am required to beat Usain Bolt in the hundred metres but let's face it, it ain't about to happen.

So he is guilty as charged of the crime of not being able do what they demand. Bang to rights. Deprived of all his disposable income for the next three months. Last week Donald was living in the cold and dark and he was sentenced to stay that way until February. So we asked if you guys out there could come up with £160 to get the lights back on.

Well, nearly 400 of you said OK, count me in. And not just for £160. Let's make it £7000. It's OK. Your eyes aren't playing any tricks. You read it right.


So. We got our act together pretty quickly and by Wednesday we unveiled the new First Base 'Donald Fund'. It is there for anyone in our neck of the woods who is living in the cold and dark as a result of the cruelty or ineptitude of the British State. Our local paper splashed the news on the front page complete with a somewhat bizarre picture of me looking like a complete eejit. Tomorrow morning Donald's story and your response to it is the subject of a debate on radio Clyde. 

By Thursday, the three local Citizen's Advice offices had a referral process in place and all staff duly informed.

Well, yesterday the Donald Fund sprang to life. First up was Donald himself. Lesley walked up the road with him to stick £200 on his gas and electric and all the way he kept promising faithfully he would make sure he didn't waste any. Not a light would be left on unless it was absolutely required. And all the way Lesley tried to encourage him not to be too mean with the heating. It's winter Donald. It's cold Donald. So make sure you stay warm, OK. Aye. Well. But I'm definitely going to keep it switched down as low as....

Maybe she persuaded him to get his living room up to seventy degrees. Maybe not quite. We'll keep working at it as he comes in for his bi-weekly food parcels. And how was he when we told him we had come into some funds which meant we could get his lights back on? Bowled over, stunned, cautiously over the moon, wondering if there was a catch, not quite able to process the fact that some good news had come his way. The likes of Donald are used to getting kicked in the teeth all the time. They find it hard to get their heads around something going their way for once.

Next up was Ruby, another real person with a made up name. Ruby is from West Africa. Back home she was a successful professional woman but things were going bad. Gangsters were taking over the neighbourhood and every week somebody got very dead. The bad guys were up to their eyeballs in drugs and guns and all of a sudden life was as cheap as chips. The police were nowhere to be seen. She was a mum with two kids. Here son was two and her daughter was eleven. She was terrified they would become collateral damage in the growing mayhem. So she did like mums have done since the dawn of time. She protected her kids. She cashed in all her chips and flew north to the land which had once upon a time planted its flag on the soil of her land. The old Imperial Master.

London was tough. There was no point in asking for asylum because her country wasn't an official war zone. Drug crazed murdering gangsters with booming rap music and AK 47's don't count as a war zone. Nothing there to justify asylum. I mean, come on.... So instead she was deemed an economic migrant on a work visa. One of the ones everyone seems to want rid off.

Work in her given profession was not an option. So Ruby spent every spare penny on re-training for the kind of work she could find. The kind of work we don't seem able to persuade our own people to do. You know, the caring for the vulnerable thing. She collected up all the 'Social Care' certificates she needed and worked away and paid her taxes. Her son settled in primary school with English as a first language and West Africa as a fading memory. Her daughter got straight A's in all the sciences and got a place at university.

The time came to renew the work visa and this time the Home Office said thanks but no thanks. Oh of course we realise you are doing a job that absolutely needs doing. And of course we realise you are paying all your taxes. But I'm afraid all of that really doesn't come close to cutting the mustard. Not any more. We have a mandate you see. We promised to reduce the likes of you to the tens of thousands. Yeah? Watch the news do you? Ever heard of a thing called Brexit? Duh?

Can't you get it into your head, we don't want you here. Time to go home. To get lost. To bugger off. And if that means there will be nobody to wipe our old people's bottoms then our old people's bottoms will have to be left unwiped. Settled will of the people, right? We're all bigots now.

Ruby heard whispers about a place called Scotland where there was still some hope instead of hate. She cashed in all her chips and came north. Everything she owned was just enough to cover four months of rent. She was left to hope and pray four months would be long enough for the Home Office to say yes, we grant you leave to remain to continue wiping the bottoms of our old people and to pay our taxes.

But there has been no word. Not so much as a whisper. Which means Ruby and her kids are in the worst kind of limbo. She isn't eligible for any State support whatsoever and if she even thinks of applying for any it will be deemed a blot on her copy book. Worse still, she isn't allowed to do so much as an hour's worth of paid work and if she does and gets caught it will be an even bigger blot on her copy book. The offer of university has been withdrawn from her daughter, though thankfully her son is allowed to go to school.

Ruby came to us in November without a penny to her name with less than fortnight left on the rent she had paid. We told her we could guarantee to feed her and her kids come what may. For as long as was necessary. I gave the wonderful Moxy from DG Refugee Action a call and the wonderful Moxy whistled up a month's worth of rent. Enough to keep a roof over the family's head for Christmas. Enough to put off the moment of truth.

So food. Tick. Shelter. Tick. Heat and light …... Nothing doing. Christmas looked like being all about candles and cold. And then 400 people gave £7000 and the Donald Fund was able to do it's stuff. This is the text Ruby sent me yesterday. I am pretty sure it is also to every person who gave us the money to make the Donald Fund a reality.

'Good afternoon, sir. Thank you very much for your support and assistance. God will reward you richly and have a nice weekend. Best regards. Ruby.'

Will there be a happy ending or will the Home Office goon squad crash through Ruby's front door at four o'clock in the morning? I don't like to think about it much. The new hard line of immigration is way above our pay scale. All we can do is keep the family fed and warm and to pray for the day when an Independent Scotland has the right to offer a home to people like Ruby who will give us the care we hope for in our twilight years.

Yesterday we had our first referral from Citizen's Advice. This time it was all about cock up rather than deliberate nastiness. What shall we call the client? Why not Bernie. Bernie is disabled. He is disabled enough to make work a thing that is out of the question. For years he has been on DLA – Disability Allowance. Now he is required to 'migrate' to the new PIP – Personal Independence Payments. Seriously, that is how they call it. 'Migrate'! Like a Canada Goose. Like Ruby.

There is no argument about Bernie's PIP. They just haven't got their act together to make the payments continue seamlessly. The computer has buggered it up and Bernie has no money for a week and less than a couple of quid on the meter.

Well he has power now. £20's worth. Enough to see him through to the payment the DWP has promised to make next Thursday. And if the payment fails to materialise and the cock up continues, then we will will keep topping him up until the DWP eventually come through.

So there you are. Our first three Donald Fund clients. Different lives, different stories, very different people. But they were all living in the cold and dark. And now they are living in the warm and light because 400 good people gave a damn.

Yesterday Lesley smiled and said Christmas at First Base will be better this year. Because this year there is more we can do. Last Christmas all we could offer was food. This Christmas we can offer food and heat and light.

Progress, right? Oh, nearly forgot! If you fancy topping up the Donald Fund you can do so by following the link below.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


On Saturday morning I poured a coffee, lit up a smoke and looked for the right words to raise enough cash to put the lights back on for a client of ours who I awarded the fictional name of Donald. Maybe you have read all about him in the blog below this one. In a nutshell he is a nice middle aged guy with some learning difficulties. He came to us with 86 days of a benefit sanction to serve out and a house lacking all heat and light. There was only cold and darkness.

86 days worth.

80 still to go.

£160 was needed to make it go away. So I asked anyone reading the blog if they might consider stumping up £2. And I did some maths. We needed 80 readers to donate £2 each and the finish line would be reached. So I did all the usual. Choose a photo. Come up with a title. Check for typos. And to be honest I put off the moment of truth. You see, the thing with the social media is that you never, ever know. Having loads of folk looking at something is a whole lot different from people actually shelling out some cash.

Eventually I told myself not to be so bloody soft and hit the publish button. In for a penny in for a hundred and sixty pounds. I anonymously stuck £2 on the page to get the ball rolling and made the conscious decision not to sit around watching the screen. So I went outside, cranked up the chainsaw and attacked the log pile whilst a buzzard carved a few lazy circles in the blue sky above.

I gave it a couple of hours and then followed the same coffee/smoke routine. I told myself if we could by some chance get anywhere close to the £160 figure I would be well and truly made up. £60 would be enough to get the lights on for Christmas and New Year. Yeah. £60 would do. £60 would be fine and dandy.

And I all but fell off my chair. And I have been falling off my chair ever since. As I write this, the JustGiving page is over £6000 and it is still going up. Check it out via the link below and don't forget to add in the Gift Aid.

What can I say? Well as a person who has written 23 novels over the last decade and a half I really should be able to say something. Bloody hell. Not exactly Leo Tolstoy but yeah, bloody hell. Bloody amazing. Bloody fantastic.

If you are one of the three hundred plus people who has made this happen then, thank you. Your collective generosity is quite extra-ordinary. Humbling. Heart warming. And yes, it really does restore the faith in human nature.

So what happens next now we have collected £6000 more than we asked for? What happens next as far as this blog is concerned is an unashamed advert for small charities and how we go about our business. Being small means you can be quick on your feet. You can react to things. And that is exactly what First Base has done. Three days ago we asked for £160 to put Donald's lights on. Well things have moved on in a big way. 72 hours after asking the question we unveiled our brand new 'Donald Fund' which did its first bit of business yesterday.

Nuts and bolts.

The Donald Fund is available to help anyone in our area of work who has been royally screwed over by our beloved Department of Work and Pensions and left completely penniless. Maybe like Donald they might have had all of their benefits sanctioned. Or maybe there has been some kind of epic cock up meaning no money for quite a while. The criteria for asking for the help of the Donald Fund are clear and simple. Bring in your DWP paperwork showing how they have screwed you over and the Fund will get your heat and light back on for the duration. The fund will cover £3 a day of power costs from October to March and £2 a day April to September. We won't be handing out any cash. Lesley will go along with the client to a Paypoint to get the money loaded up. There will be one or two who have a go at scamming us of course. There always are. Well, best of luck with that one guys! First Base has two poachers turned gamekeepers at the front desk going by the names of Iain and Lesley. They are in all respects been there, done that people. Remember what they say about trying to kid a kidder?

We are not experts in the dark labyrinthine world of the DWP so all applicants will have to come along armed with a referral from the Citizens Advice Service.

How many people will we help? Hard to tell. We will find out soon enough. My gut feeling suggests the money will be enough to see people right for a year to eighteen months. But hopefully this will only be the start of the story. The more eagle eyed among you might have noticed I have raised the target on the JustGiving page from £160 to £10,000 to reflect the new reality. As we help people case by case, we will start to build up a clear body of evidence which will prove how much the help is needed and how many people need it. Once we have this under our belt, we will have what we need to start applying to other sources for top up funds. The good news is that we will not have the begging bowl out for great fortunes. If we can twist the arms of the the Councillors on the three Area Committees where our clients live for £1000 a piece, we will be well on the way.

If my optimism is proved not to be misplaced, the Donald Fund will soon enough start to make a difference. The first difference will be felt by the poor buggers made to love in the cold and dark by the cruelty and ineptitude of the DWP. We will then be able to tell their stories through these pages and the local media. We will also be able to hand over case studies to our excellent local MSP's and MP to help them kick up a fuss in Holyrood and Westminster. We will be able to do a lot.

The way so many people have been treated since 2010 stinks like a train load of rotten fish. Shining a light on this cruelty has been hard. How are two bit charities like First Base supposed to compete with the likes of the Daily Mail and Channel 5 and the others who have used their power to make people hate and blame the poor. This wall to wall anti poor people propaganda has seemed overwhelming at times. Maybe we are slowly starting to see the tide turn. Finally there are a few in the Westminster Tory party who are stepping forward to say enough is enough. Ken Loach has once again shot the lights out with his movie 'I Daniel Blake'. His achievements really do beggar belief. Fifty years ago he gave the public a no holds barred, close up look at the misery of homelessness with 'Cathy Come Home'. Now he's done it again with 'I Daniel Blake.' In our X Factor world, 15 minutes of fame is the daily bread of the tabloid press. Ken Loach has been doing what he does for half a century. Some man.

The impact of our Donald Fund won't reach anywhere near as far as the impact of 'I Daniel Blake.' But we will punch above our weight, I can promise you that. For me, what has happened over the last three days shows how much can be done when we all start thinking of what can happen when change comes from the bottom. 350 people chose not to ignore the outrageous way a single individual was being treated by an increasingly vicious State. 350 people put a small charity called First Base in a position to start to make a difference. To punch above our weight. None of this required any permission from any kind of government. This is the great beauty of trying to make change happen from the level of the street. It can happen quickly and it can happen without rooms filled with highly paid civil servants. At a time when distant governments and faceless corporations seem to be squeezing the life out of us all, maybe the birth of our Donald Fund offers a small sliver of hope. Maybe we are not so helpless after all.

I like to think so. Don't you just love people power.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


At First Base we are all well enough accustomed to spending time with people whose lives are in a pretty bad place. Of course we are. After all, it's what we do. When your life is tip top, you don't tend to need emergency food. Instead you go to a shop and buy what you need. What takes your fancy. And this of course is the world most of us live in breathe in. In the UK, we are the 59 million. We are the ones with the wherewithal to fill up a Tesco basket and pay for it. The other million? Well they come to likes of First Base for their daily bread and each and every one of them brings along their very own a back story. Their reason. Their set of circumstances.

Are these sob stories or stories to make you sob? I guess that tends to be down to which newspaper you choose to read with the morning coffee. If you read the Daily Mail, you'll no doubt reckon these pathetic excuses for humanity need a good old boot up their over large backsides. A short sharp shock. A wake up call. Get a job. Get a life. Get over it. Grow up. Man up. 

Realistically, if you feel that way about the undeserving poor I guess it is pretty unlikely you'll be taking time out of your busy schedule to read this blog. Most of the people who land up on this page of mine tend to share the view that the way so many people have been treated since the Great Crash pretty well sucks.

Whatever. Thankfully I'm not a guy who is chasing votes. What I write here can be taken of left, and if the Daily Mail brigade choose to leave it then it's no skin of my nose.

So we see tough cases. And we see really tough cases. And then from time to time, we see cases which completely kick us in the teeth.

Like Donald.

Is Donald really called Donald? Of course he isn't. So why Donald? No prizes for guessing the answer!

So what's the thing about Donald? What sets him apart? What compels me to spend some time laying out his story for the online world to take a look at?

I guess it is the fact that everything about the way Donald is being treated is just so plain wrong. So unnecessary. So vicious.

I first met Donald the other day. The bell over the door announced his arrival and when I reached counter in reception I saw regular looking guy in his mid forties. He was dressed for a job interview. Smart clothes, brushed hair and fearful eyes. When he said “Hello”, his voice was small. Nervous. Worried about getting stuff wrong. 

I gave him my 'Don't worry mate, you're alright here' smile and in return he smiled back. A small smile. But a smile.

He handed over his piece of A4 paper which I duly scrutinised. It was from Citizen's Advice and whoever had written it had taken the time to make the story as full as possible. They were worried about this one. Determined to see him right.

Name. Address. Need for a 'Non Cooking' parcel. Background. Donald has been sanctioned. He doesn't know why. Neither do we. They haven't told him yet. All the paperwork says it that it will be 86 days before he sees any money.

86 days.

As in all the way through to the end of February. All the way through the coldest months of what the experts are predicting will be the coldest winter we have known in a while. All the way through Christmas and New Year and the sales and the post festive period gloom.

"You don't know why they sanctioned you mate?”

A frown. A shake of the head. A look of confusion. Regret. The small voice again.

No. They said they would send me a letter.”

It says you need a non-cooking parcel. Have you no power?”


We talked but I did most of the talking. Donald was more focused on being polite. I explained what the piece of paper he had brought to us actually meant. I explained there was no need for him to keep going into Citizen's Advice for a food parcel referral. Why? Because the piece of paper he had handed me covered him for 86 days. OK? You can come in twice a week for the next 86 days. OK?

But it wasn't OK. It took me ten minutes to explain something which was actually fairly simple. All the while Donald's face was creased in concentration as he tried to absorb what I was telling him. And by the time I went through it for the third time I knew Donald was a guy with reasonably severe learning difficulties. And the penny dropped.

What an easy mark he must have been for the person on the other side of the desk. Now Donald we need you to spend a minimum of 35 hours a week online and we need you to complete at least eight application forms and even if the job is shelf stacking in Aidrie you still need to complete the form because Aidrie is within 90 minutes commuting time.....

They might as well have talked to him in Mandarin. They had seen through the smart attire and polite face and they had set the bar a mile higher than Donald could even have dreamed of reaching. Donald had been correctly identified as low hanging fruit and they had duly picked him. Picked him off.

'Like flies to wanton boys, they kill us for their sport.' 

So sayeth Mr Shakespeare. And you know what Will? They're still doing it. After all these years. Every single lousy day.

It doesn't have to be like this of course. A Job Centre is allowed to see the likes of Donald for what they are. They are allowed to identify their weaknesses and to work around them. I am stone cold certain Donald would absolutely love a job. He would turn up on time every day looking as smart as paint and he would be polite to absolutely everyone he met. But it would have to be the right kind of job. A job where the bar was low enough enough for him. And fair enough there aren't so many of those jobs to be found. But there are a few. And the Job Centre could have done their level best to help the lad out. They could have made sure he had enough to get by on whilst they helped him to look.

But they didn't. Instead they chose to see him as easy meat. A soft touch. A way to hit their 'three a week' target. Yeah, the one they deny exists even though endless whistleblowers have leaked endless documents proving its godforsaken reality.

When the penny finally dropped, Donald's small smile grew a little. He nodded with appreciation. He told me he was pleased he didn't need to go into Citizen's Advice twice a week. The last time he had been in he had waited for three hours even though he had arrived dead on nine o'clock.

When he had gone I asked Lesley and Iain if they had seen Donald before. They had. Lots. This was his third sanction in the last two years. And yes, they agreed that he was a bit slow. An easy mark. A soft target. They told me how he is trying really hard to find a place to volunteer because it means a chance to get warm. A chance to spend some time in a heated room with the lights on. Because it is hard to get through twenty four hours when there is no light and no heat. Especially in December. And especially when you need to get through the same cold, dark 24 hours 86 times.

Well the world isn't great right now. Watching the news just makes you want to find a cave to hide in. And of course most of what is going down is completely overwhelming. It's all too big to get the head around. But I figure here is a relatively small problem which can actually be solved. At least I hope it can. For here we have one regular guy who is being treated appallingly. Unacceptably. Donald doesn't deserve this. He is a nice guy who just isn't wired right for the brutality of 2016. He is the victim of the vicious hatred we see peddled every day on the front pages of the tabloid press and the pathetic politicians who pander to those same pages. He has become the perfect victim and it is just plain wrong.

So what can be done? What can you do?

You can do this if you like. You can hover you mouse over the link below and then you can click. The click will take you to a JustGiving page I have just set up. Donald has 80 days of sanction to serve out. Donald has found a way to get by on £2 a day's worth of electricity. So Donald needs £160 to get the lights and the heaters back on and to keep them on until the end of February. And so we arrive at the doors of some basic maths. If 80 readers of this blog chip in two quid each, then Donald can sit in the light and cook his food and watch a bit of TV.

We are all just little people. We can't fix the big problems of the world. We can't make Aleppo whole again. We can't un-elect Trump. We can't re-freeze the Arctic.

But we can put Donald's lights back on until the end of February. We can warm his bones. We can give him the wherewithal to heat a pan of soup. We can make his life just that little bit more liveable.

So I have set the bar at £160. It doesn't seem like much and I guess it isn't much. Maybe this will work, maybe it won't. All you can do is ask the question and hope for the best.

So just in case you missed it the first time around, the link is here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


To state the screamingly obvious, a charity is entirely useless if it cannot attract the funds it needs to keep going. The best intentions in the world aren't worth a light if the phone gets cut off and the landlord issues an eviction order.

So we spend much of our time filling in forms. Tell us what you do in no more than 300 words..... Provide evidence of partnership working in less than 1000 characters.... Does your organisation have an equality policy.....? 

Boxes to tick and evidence to provide and jargon is absolutely mandatory. In the days when the New Labour bandwagon appeared to be an unstoppable juggernaut, these forms used to be a complete nightmare. One wrongly chosen piece of jargon in the midst of fifty pages of the very opposite to the Queen's English would guarantee yet another failure. Those were the days when the big charities splashed the cash on full time lobbyists to hang out in the Parliament tea rooms to whisper in the ears of junior ministers. The big guys wanted to make sure the big wigs set the funding bar way too high for any pesky little charity like First Base to reach. Those were the days when you had to talk with passion about having filing cabinets filled with policies covering everything under the sun.

One epic day I took a twenty quid return Ryannair flight to London with a fellow small charity manager. Were were headed for a one day conference designed to spell out how the little guy might extract a few quid from the bland suited minions who guarded the treasure chests of New Labour. I won't name the organisation who were the hosts for the day. Of course they had fancy offices with the kind of postcode usually only available to Russian oligarchs or Mafia guys on the run. They had taken great care to make sure anyone walking through their front door felt like they were walking into the home an up and coming hedge fund. It was all vibrant colours and uncomfortable arty furniture and mission statements on the walls. An ethnic themed carpet took us all the way to the carefully positioned reception desk which no doubt had been put in place after close consultation with a Feng Shui consultant.

And then there was the guy behind the desk waiting for us with a beaming smile dripping with inclusiveness. Oh my, where to begin! OK. Here goes. He was a man in women's clothing. Very flamboyant women's clothing. His skin colour and accent hinted at somewhere in the Middle East. His hair was a veritable rainbow of colours. His huge ear ring and Larry Grayson voice announced to the world how proud he was to be gay.

And to cap it all he was in a wheelchair.

Basically he was living, breathing evidence of this fine organisation's commitment to equality and general right on-ness and all things New Labour. How the hell we kept a straight face I will never know. Both of us were men of the North who cut our teeth in the rainy valleys of the East Lancastrian cotton towns. You don't tend to grow up politically correct in these places. Does your organisation have an up to date policy to train all of your staff and volunteers on how to interact with a transvestite, disabled, gay, asylum seeking person of colour?

Yeah mate. Course we have....

Can we see please.....

The big corporate charities loved all of this stuff. Of course they did. They had whole rooms filled with filing cabinets filled with policies on everything imaginable. Here is where they saw the way forward. If only they could persuade the New Labour chiefs to only splash the cash on outfits who had thoroughly trained their staff and volunteers on how to properly interface with the likes of the lad behind the reception desk. This of course was designed to squeeze little charities like ours right out of the funding equation.

Those were great days indeed for the 'uber' charities with the fancy London HQ's. Chief Execs awarded themselves six figure salaries and pension pots to rival the public sector. Those were the great days when you could attend a meeting every day where the buffet was fit for a Roman Emperor. If you had the right kind of jargon and a willingness to lie through your teeth, the money would be delivered by the truckload. On the flip side, basic places like First Base found it hard to raise the price of a cup of tea.

But everything changed the day those bemused Lehman Brothers traders found themselves out on the pavement clutching their cardboard boxes. Austerity has put paid to all of the jollies and the trainloads of public cash. In these very different times, having a perfectly penned policy on how to interact with a disabled, gay asylum seeking lad from Mosul will basically get you nowhere.

The 'uber' charities have been forced to move on. Now they take advantage of government schemes which dole out cash for job creation. How? Surely you must have noticed an upsurge in the number of tele sales calls you get urging you to pay a fiver month to some charity or another? Or door knockers on the same sort of gig? These are poor sods who have been press ganged by the Job Centre to take a job with one of the 'uber' charities who have been paid a few grand's worth of tax payer's cash to create soul destroying pretend jobs for people whose souls have already been pretty well destroyed.

We have never gone in for this kind of thing at First Base. Our walls are all peeling and the heating struggles when winter comes along. Our equality policy is the same as it has been for the last ten years. Anyone who walks up the stairs to the first floor passes under a giant poster of Dr Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Every word of his 'I have a dream' speech is there in black and white. We reckon if we follow those words we won't go so very far wrong.

And so we do like we always do. We treat people like human beings. With respect and manners. We don't judge and we don't means test. We don't pretend to have all the answers and we don't speak to people whose lives have turned to shit like they were five years old. Why on earth would we? And then we try to tell their stories as best as we can and wherever we can.

As the endless cash of the New Labour pipe dream becomes an increasingly distant memory, many of the charities who relied on it for their life blood have disappeared. Because the only way forward now is to seek the support of the local community and the local community tends to have little time for fancy offices in London and chief execs with second homes in Cornwall. The local community appreciates a more basic approach where people who need some help can get some help without being made to feel like they are pathetic and useless.

Knowing what jargon to use in a fifty page application form gets you nowhere with the local community. Instead, doing the basic hard yards tends to count for everything.

A couple of months ago we took to the social media to ask for some help with a £20,000 funding shortfall. It was the wing and prayer approach to fundraising and there was no mention of policies on interfacing with disabled, gay, asylum seeking transvestites from Mosul for the simple reason that interfacing with any such individual is well covered by the words of Dr King. They're human beings, right? So treat them like human beings. It ain't rocket science. Duh.

The response to our plea for help has been overwhelming. The local community gave us what we asked for and our short term future is now secure. The open hearted generosity we have been shown has been truly moving and humbling.

This week we are receiving three chunks of cash which I like to think offer proof positive that we must be doing something right. Poles apart doesn't even begin to describe the three donors. They come from different worlds. But we all live in the same world, right? Same sun, same moon. It is a world where people's lives can go down the pan in the blink of an eye and all of a sudden they can't afford the price of a tin of beans.

So who?

OK. I will tell. A few weeks ago I received a call out of the blue from a guy called James. James is a banker who heads up an outfit called RM Capital who trade our of the finery of Edinburgh's Melville crescent. After the call I took a tour through their website to try and work out what it is they do. Search me! They deal with big chunks of cash which goes under the all kinds of weird and wonderful names. You know the kind of thing. Hands up anyone out there who has the first clue about what Quantative Easing actually is. One hand probably. James's hand!

James told me they reckoned the time was right for their young business to try and give something back. Well he had read my blog and reckoned we might be the right kind of home for their generosity. He explained they were not in the Goldman Sachs league. They wanted their money to go to the local front line where it would make a genuine and marked difference. Thankfully I was able to promise First Base was exactly such a place. Yesterday they transferred £5000 into our account.


Tomorrow I have a twelve o clock photo call. The snapper from the local paper is coming in to take a picture of Nicola handing over a cheque to First Base for over £3000. Who is Nicola? And why? 

Nicola's story is beyond harrowing. I met her a few years ago when we were doing our best to help her son James. James was a gentle giant to had served his country magnificently in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a Scottish warrior of the old school. Quiet, polite, and one of the most fundamentally decent human beings it has been my honour to know. His brain was all twisted and bent by the sights and sounds of the worst of human indecency. The close up horrors of what happens to a human body when modern weaponry is deployed. James left the army with a glowing report. They told him he had served with distinction. They told him he had done a superb professional job under the most brutal of circumstances. They told him he should be proud of himself. They told him he was a hero.

But when he attended his appointment at the Job Centre, they didn't tell him he was a hero. They treated him like a Ned. Like a Schemie. Like nothing. Like scum. And when he attended his appointment with the housing people they told him he was worth no points. No priority. No nothing. 

Thankfully we were able to help out. We got the support of local politicians of all colours and within months he had a house and furniture and a job. But every time I spent time with James he quizzed me about what we were doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. And why? And was what we were doing right? And was what he had done right? And providing those kind of answers isn't the same as helping to find a house. The guilt was eating him from the inside out. Through the long empty hours of the night. Through the long walks in the Scottish rain. Through the grueling sessions on the weight bench. And in the end the guilt won and James took his own life.

It was one of my very blackest days. It was when I got to know James's mum Nicola and his sister Marley. It was when I felt as completely useless as I have ever felt in my whole life. It seemed like half the town turned out for his funeral.

Time passed and wounds barely healed. James was a big lad who left a huge hole. And then one day my phone rang and Nicola was on the other end telling me news so bad it was incomprehensible. Marley had followed James. Marley was gone. Marley had found the prospect of life as unbearable as her brother.

And I felt even more useless and for a while wondered if I should keep on doing what I do. After all, the whole point of First Base is to stop these kind of nightmares from coming to life.

I didn't stop. And unbelievably Nicola found the kind of strength I cannot really comprehend. She took on Marley's two young kids and found a way to carry on. And now she has been out and about fundraising and tomorrow she will be handing us a cheque for £3000 to do our best for all the other James's and all the other Marley's who might come through our door.

The word humbling doesn't begin to come close.

And then came news of another chunk of cash headed our way. Just over £200 from a local grime outfit who go by the name of 'Boyz From Da Border'. Scottish Grime is a million mile an hour version of HipHop where the dumped on generation vents its fury on us Baby Boomers for giving loathsome support to Better Together, Brexit and Trump. I can't abide the music but I couldn't agree more with the sentiment behind it. Hold the front page. Young people arrange a fund raising gig for the local foodbank. Not exactly what they say in the Daily Mail, is it? Well they did it and bloody good on them and it raises a truly tantalising possibility...... it kind of looks like First Base might well be 'down with the kids.' Bloody hell.

So. Three chunks of funding from three completely different sources. You really couldn't get any more different. And you know what? We didn't ask for any of it. We filled in no forms and we ticked no boxes. This was money given from people who can see the money is needed. The fact that these good people have decided First Base is a trusted home makes all of us feel truly honoured.

Truly, truly honoured. 

So thanks guys.    

Monday, November 14, 2016


These are pretty tough times to feel much affection for democracy. The sick to stomach feeling at five in the morning is becoming all too familiar. New place names are added to a slowly growing and ever more infamous list as the dark side keep on winning. Clackmananshire. Sunderland. Ohio. And each time the encroaching darkness feels just that little bit darker. Each time the bad guys are just that little bit worse. Better Together were bad. Vote Leave were worse. Trump is appalling.

Thankfully racism and bigotry had no place in the Scottish Independence Referendum. Instead Better Together merely lied through their teeth to scare the living daylights out of the older generation. Farage and his hideous henchmen tapped the well of latent racism to achieve Brexit and Donald Trump took their dog whistle hate and amplified it through a twenty foot high speaker system.

It was only two years ago when being openly xenophobic was a surefire way to guarantee political oblivion. Now it is almost mandatory. The unsayable is the new normal. And time and again we are told by angry old men that the people have spoken and it is time for those who think otherwise to suck it up.

Are there common themes to be found as one by one the countries of the West vote for hell in a handcart? A few I guess. Every time 70% plus of the under 25’s vote for hope and a brighter future only to be slapped down by the selfish bigotry of an embittered older generation who hark back to the days of Empire when it was OK to make jokes about wogs. I guess it would be a whole lot worse if things were the other way round and it was the young generation who were sliding quietly into fascism.

Now the media spotlight will swing back across the Atlantic Ocean to shine its merciless light on France. And of course all the experts and pundits will tell us a win for Marine Le Pen just ain’t going to happen. Because it can’t happen. Just like Trump couldn’t happen. And maybe it won’t happen. Maybe the French will be the ones to draw a line in the sand, but it is hard to feel very optimistic. If Le Pen and the Front National are beaten back, it will not be down to a message of hope and tolerance being heard loud and clear. Instead it will be down to Sarkozy or whoever takes on the National Front matching them step for racist step.

Are there reasons for this sudden rush for a new kind of fascism? Sure there are. Lots of them.  All over the western world bitter old white people are turning out in their droves to vote for the dark side. They don’t like the way the world is right now. Why? Because every year seems to be worse than the one before, and none of them hold a candle to the glory days of the 1950’s. Ah yes, those good old days when it was fine and dandy to hang out a sign reading ‘No Blacks, no Irish’ on your front door. When those of a darker hue were required to sit at the back of the bus. When a solid day’s work was enough to give you a decent house and the chance of helping your kids get an even better one. And now the old towns of the Industrial Revolution all look the same with their boarded up shops and rusting factories and littered streets. Siren voices tell us that all we need to do to get the good times rolling again is to stop those pesky foreigners coming in to take what is rightfully ours.

Of course the bigger picture is rather less black and white. Or maybe a whole lot more black and white. The last twenty years have seen global living standards rise at a rate never before seen in the whole of human history. Hard to believe, right? So what’s the problem? Why are all these angry old white people voting for the likes of Trump? Well the problem is actually quite clear. The record breaking rise in living standards has not been for white people living in the west. Instead it has been enjoyed by billions of black, brown and yellow people in the south and the east. And we hate it. For hundreds of years we have become accustomed to being top of the pile. For hundreds of years we have delivered White Supremacy via the barrels of our guns. Or gunboats. Or the World Bank. Or the IMF. Successive empires have taken their turn. The Spanish, the Dutch, the French, The British, the Germans and finally the Americans. And now it seems the era of the white man is finally coming to an end. And we hate it. Oh and how we hate it. And out of this frantic desperation, millions are reaching out to comic book leaders like Trump and Farage and Victor Urban.

I actually find it hard to see Trump as any kind of Darth Vador figure. Never before has an American President been so woefully vulnerable. I don’t pretend to understand his business empire, but it seems clear enough that it is built on many billions worth of borrowed dollars, most of them Russian. After his last bankruptcy, every bank in North America decided enough was enough and took away his credit cards. Kazakhstan was the only show in town. These borrowed billions from the Wild East clearly came with plenty of strings attached.

In many ways it seems the Trump Empire is similar to the Glazer Empire. 90% of it loses money and bleeds cash and is only being kept on life support by the 10% which actually works. In the case of the Glazers, a cash cow called Manchester United FC keeps all the doomed shopping centres afloat. In Trump’s case it is ‘The Apprentice’ that keeps all the gaudy towers standing. Apparently the Donald's big plan was to make a decent fist of running for President and then use his super size profile to launch Trump TV which would finally take his business into the black. No wonder he looked so green about the gills when it became clear he had actually won. Well, there ain’t going to be any Trump TV now and he can hardly carry on with 'the Apprentice'. You can bet your bottom dollar that Putin’s in house money men will be demanding a painful pound of flesh for all those billions of borrowed cash.

I don’t think it will take so very long for Trump’s business to start falling apart at the seams. All those hotels are just too much of a juicy target. The demonstrations aren’t about to stop any time soon. Why would they? They will be far too much fun. And will the cops break them up with tear gas and baton charges? No chance, because all the hotels are in the centre of cities who voted 70/30 against Trump. Any mayor signing off on the tear gas option would be committing electoral suicide. Will paying guests be willing keep on coughing up top dollar to stay in Trump hotels when getting through the front door will mean running the gauntlet through the baying mob? I don’t think so. And a business like Trump’s is an easy mark once the opposition gets its act together. ‘Anonymous’ have already warned Trump to tread carefully. As a Liverpool fan I saw at first hand how an angry online mob of hundreds of thousands can take down big corporations. If enough people flood the Trump servers with e mails, the Trump servers will crash. Time and again, day after day. So no online bookings. If enough people send black faxes, every fax machine gets totalled. Word has it that Trump’s golf courses here in Scotland are losing him money hand over fist. It wouldn’t take much for a car load of activists to sneak onto the Old Course at Turnberry in the wee small hours of the morning to pour weed killer on the manicured greens. No greens means no golf. No golf means no reason to stay in the hotel. No guests in the hotel means bad losses become catastrophic losses.

If Trump’s business Empire was a profitable, conservative affair, he would probably be OK. But it isn’t. Instead it is a vast hyped up bubble completely dependent on the big man's bluster and truck loads of dodgy Russian cash.

More than anyone else, Trump reminds me of Mussolini: vain, boorish, vicious and clown like. The Italians bought what Il Duce had to sell and they backed him to get the trains to run on time. They took his pipe dreams at face value and turned a blind eye to what an idiot he was. It didn’t work out so well of course. Mussolini would have crashed and burned years before a Milan mob hung him up from a butcher’s hook if he hadn't had Hitler to prop him up. And here is where the real darkness threatens. Il Duce was too much of a clown to be much of a threat to anyone other than the poor deluded sods who voted for him. However his success paved the way for Hitler and the price of that particular Austrian corporal was paid by the fifty million who died as a result of his genocidal hatred.

I guess all of this brings me to the strapline of this blog, namely what makes Scotland different. Being the white half of a mixed race couple gives me a very particular view of the racist contagion which is slowly seeping into the countries of the west. The old Lancastrian mill towns I once called home are no longer a place to be for a family like ours. We got out a quarter of a century ago and we have thanked our lucky stars ever since. We are now meeting more and more similarly motivated refugees and we always share the same kind of conversation: thank Christ we got out. As of now, Scotland is different. Anecdotally we hear of junior doctors with the wrong kind of surname or skin colour upping sticks from the Brexit heartland and heading north to our Caledonian sanctuary.

We have been down this road before. Hundreds of years ago the Scottish Enlightenment shone a light into a dark world. We can do the same again. We can be like Sweden was in the midst of the Hitler nightmare. We can become an island of tolerance and decency in an ocean of bigotry and hate. Of course, before we can become a shining city on the hill, we need to cut the cords with our increasingly nasty Siamese twin.
We need to see the light.

And once we have seen the light, we can be the light. Lord alone knows, the world needs all the light it can get right now.

Monday, November 7, 2016


OK. Fair enough. This is pretty crazy And I'm certainly not even going to try to spin it otherwise. In these torrid times for charities trying to hang on for dear life, there are few limits to the lengths we will go to in order to raise a quid or two.

So. Here’s the thing.

We are lucky enough to be on the receiving end of north of £45,000 a year’s worth of donated food. Most of this food is for human beings but some of it is for dogs and cats who tend to feel the pinch when their masters have been sanctioned of all their benefits by the beloved Department of Work and Pensions. These pet donations are actually pretty crucial. All too often people who have just about nothing to eat will feed their pets instead of themselves.

It is not uncommon for the public to throw a few dog toys in along with the canned meat and the biscuits. Fair enough. I guess it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that pooches need cheering up when their masters are shafted by an uncaring and brutal state. Rampant Neo Liberalism can be hard on our four legged friends.

A couple of months ago we received a donation which absolutely took the biscuit. Or maybe I should say the Bonio. Check out the picture that sits atop this blog alongside King Kenny. What is it? Well, believe it or not it is a Scottish football shirt suitable for the kind of small and fiercely patriotic dogs who would have voted ‘Yes’ in their droves if only they had been given the chance.

And we didn’t just get one of this must have items. Oh no. We got forty. Enough for the first team, the reserves and the under 18’s. That said, I guess young dogs teams would be under 3’s. Under 18’s is basically all dogs. Whatever. We are the proud and bemused owners of 40 cannine Scottish football shirts.

This isn’t a usual state of affairs for a Foodbank in a small Scottish town. In fact it is pretty damned weird. But much of what goes on in First Base is kind of weird so we took the donation in our stride. We put the three boxes in a corner and put off thinking about what to do with them for another day.

Like you do.

Well dear reader, the day has come. I am writing this on Monday November 7th. In three days time on Friday November 11th a wee football match is scheduled to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Yeah. That one. Scotland versus the Auld Enemy. And it occurs to me that in this vast and historic nation, there must be a few fervent Scots who have small fervent Scottish dogs who will be all revved up and raring to dress their muts up for the big match. Or maybe more to the point, there must be a few fervent Scots who have mates with small fervent Scottish dogs who might want to buy a shirt for the aforesaid mate’s dog in order to take the piss out of the aforesaid mate.

Christ that was a mouthful but hopefully you get the drift.

Fair enough, this is a long shot, but when you manage a struggling charity and you receive a donation of forty football shirts for pocket size hounds, long shots are the only show in town.

So. The nitty gritty. If you click the link below you will be electronically transported to our JustGiving page which has been updated to be dog shirt friendly.

Bung on any kind of donation, well enough to cover the postage at least, give me a bell on 07770 443483 and one of these Braveheart shirts can be all yours.

Are they tacky? Yup

Are they ridiculous? Absolutely.

Are they clear evidence that the human race is well on its way to collective insanity. Maybe, but not nearly so much as voting for Donald Trump. It’s a mad world and we are all in it along with little dogs who want to yap at Wayne Rooney.

So go on. Click the link. You know in your heart of hearts you know you want one.
And King Kenny?
Well could I never miss an opportunity to crow bar a photo a photo of the great man onto this blog of mine.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


At  First Base we try and try and try to make sure we never judge. In our game, the day we start judging is the day we become no good at what we do. Sadly this way of going about things is hardly the norm. Way too many front line charities like nothing better than come up with new ways to weigh up which of their clients are deserving poor and which are undeserving poor. Judgement lies at the heart of everything they do. Means testing forms are filled and assessments made. Those who are polite and sober and nicely dressed are good to go. Those with methadone teeth and cheap cider on the breath are dressed down and rationed

It is hardly surprising so many people in the voluntary sector spend so much of their time judging. It has always been a British habit and recently it seems to have become particularly ingrained. The so called undeserving poor are reviled all the way from the floor of the House of Commons to the front page of the Daily Mail to the counter at the local Spar shop. Shirkers and scroungers and junkies and bagheads. They are too fat, they have too many tattoos, they smoke too much and they watch too much of the wrong kind of TV at the wrong time of day. And absolutely worst of all, they don't doff their caps with enough deference when they walk through the door of the voluntary sector to seek help.

Sadly far too many foodbanks are more than happy to toe the Government line of short, sharp, shock therapy being the answer. So it's means testing and rationing and gossiping and tut tutting.

All any of this achieves is to constantly widen the gap between us and them. The winners and the losers. Our side and their side. The haves and have nots. Which of course makes those on the wrong side of the tracks feel ever more pissed off and depressed and resentful. And messed up lives become chaotic lives and everything falls apart.

As the fictional Colonel Walter E. Kurtz once said from his fictional hideaway at the end of the Nung river, 

'It's judgement that defeats us.'

Amen to that.

So at First Base we never judge. But that doesn't alter the facts as presented. It is impossible not to wonder.

So here's the tale of two family food parcels delivered yesterday in our sleepy corner of Scotland.

Calling my deliveries 'food parcels' paints the wrong kind of picture. It summons up an image of brown paper and neatly tied string. Well that wasn't the kind of thing I delivered yesterday. You see, these were not small nuclear families. These were both families of six and the kind of grub you need to keep a family of six going doesn't fit into a neatly tied packet. We're talking multiple extra large carrier bags straining with the weight of all the tins.

For obvious reasons I will be vaguer than vague about the actual details. Anonymity is king.

The first delivery involved a drive of a few miles to a nearby small town. Yesterday was the day when Scotland's geese were all getting out of Dodge and heading south in arrow shaped formations. They owned the blue skies above whilst the poor sods below looked up with jealousy. Going somewhere sunny for the winter has plenty of attractions.

At ground level I found the street I was looking for. And I found the right grey pebble dash house with the right number on the door. Google maps got me to the street and a work along the even numbers on the right hand side of the road got me to the front door. But I guess I could have found the place in another way. I could have plugged into the how to judge the undeserving poor tool kit. You see, my destination was the house with the overgrown front garden and all the bin liners. Too busy watching Jeremy Kyle to cut the grass, right? And all that junk attracts rats.... Calls to the Council. Calls to the social landlords. Appalled talk in hushed voices at the post office counter.

Knock, knock. Door open. The sound of a loud TV. A face filled with habitual hostility. I made my introductions. We talked on the phone yesterday, right? You asked for some help in the local library, right?


Want me to cart the stuff in? Yes. Please. Just here.

Here was a hallway area which was home to a flight of stairs and ankle deep litter. The place didn't smell too good. Back to Kurtz's last post at the far end on the Nung River. 

'It smelt like slow death in there. Malaria. Nightmares. This was the end of the river alright.'

A door gave a view into the living room. More rubbish and a TV filling all the space. A woman with a vacant expression and an extra kingsize cigarette. And yes it was a game show. Of course it was a game show. It is always a game show.

Two trips with the bags and a very brief conversation. I confirmed the family would have no cash for another two weeks because the benefits are all screwed up. I said I would be along next week with more grub. She said thanks like it was a strange word on the tongue. I climbed into my van. She returned to the couch and the game show and the litter.

So dear reader. Are we going to indulge in a spot of judgement? Well, I'm not for a very simple reason. I don't know the back story. And there is always a back story. Maybe it is down to mental health or learning difficulties. Maybe it is down to childhood abuse or domestic abuse and/or both. Who can know and who can tell and who can judge?

But what about all that litter and how can you bring up young children in all that litter. How indeed? They won't die of course just like the millions of kids who grow up in the litter filled streets of Calcutta and Lagos don't die. But the odds are things won't turn out well. The classroom will become a place of embarrassment and inadequacy and it will be replaced by the comfort zone of the street. Wrong company shared. Wrong deeds committed. Drugs and cheap booze and vicious fights and community service and short term jail and all the while the world will spin and the geese will fly south to warmer places.

It happens.

We can judge all we like, but there are also some pretty compelling maths going down here. The gross household income for this particular client will have been getting along for £24,000 a year. To get £24,000 net you need to earn at least £30,000 gross. Well jobs paying £30,000 a year gross are as rare as hen's teeth in this particular small Scottish town. Maybe my client took  a long hard look at her career opportunities at the age of sixteen and woke up to the fact that the best living on the table meant producing five kids. Cue an explosion of rage at the counter of the Spar shop. And judgement. But would they have felt the same if my client had chosen to study law as a means to earn such a decent amount of daily bread? Even though studying law was a complete and utter pipe dream? In the dog eat dog world of Brexit Britain, my client has simply made like Philip Green and taken the best path available to maximise her personal wealth. I ain't about to judge her for it. The system that encourages her? Yeah. Right.

Enough already.

I followed the geese a while through a glittering autumn afternoon. I've been to New England in the Fall and I tell you what, I reckon Scotland has them on toast when it comes to drop dead gorgeous autumn-scapes. But fair enough, I'm biased.

Back to Dumfries and another family of six. Another mum and five kids. When I first carted bags of food from the back of the van for this family a year ago they were living on fresh air. They had a pretty severe benefits problem in that they weren't getting any benefits whatsoever. They had been found guilty of the crime of coming from West Africa via the EU. Cue page after page of frothing at the mouth outrage from the Daily Mail. A mother with five kids!!!!! From Africa!!!!!

For several months the local community were the only show in town and the local community came through in spades. The local community collectively told the Daily Mail to shove its dog whistle racism up its tabloid arse. The local community took to the spectacularly polite kids with the shining smiles. The local community made sure the lights and heating stayed on for most of the time through the cold days of winter. And we kept the cupboards full.

In the end the Home Office relented. Not a lot, but a bit. Now some money is coming in. About a third of what comes in for the house with the bin bags in the yard. And quite bloody right sayeth those at the counter of the Spar shop.

Compare and contrast? Well house number two is always oven ready for a Flash advert. You could spend a whole day searching for a speck of dust and you would be disappointed. The beaming kids are always scrubbed within an inch of their lives. The oldest daughter has just shot the lights out with her Higher results. Grade A's in science all the way to a degree in medicine. In a few years time she will be a doctor. I heard tell we are kind of short of those. And mum? Oh mum has it all planned out. She is at college now en route to qualifying as a primary school teacher in a few years time. And she'll make it. No doubt whatsoever about that. And she will make a bloody great primary school teacher though I don't much fancy the chance of any kid who tries it on.

I reckon the four beaming youngsters will soon be on the fast track to the kind of professions our politicians are crying out for. Just try stopping them.

It isn't about judging. But it is about compare and contrast. Two mums in Scotland 2016. Both bringing up five kids care of the State. One is on the road to nowhere. One is on the fast track to somewhere. It has nothing whatsoever to do with money. The family from Africa receives a fraction of the family from here. Instead it is all about attitude and belief. The mum from Africa is a tower of pride and strength. She would be as hard to put down as Muhammad Ali in his prime. It would be physically impossible for her to hold her head any higher. And in the years to come this family will repay the support of the community many times over.

None of this makes the first mother any worse. Somewhere along the line her spirit has been broken, probably by all the judgement. She takes what she can get and hasn't the energy to bag up all the trash.

But of course some judgement is required. And it isn't mother number one or mother number two who need judgement. It is Farage and Gove and Johnson and the Express and the Mail and all the dog whistle racist bastards who are hell bent on trying to blame everything on the family from West Africa.

Thank God we seem to be striding clear of the poison up here north of the border. The mum from Africa told me of some new jungle drums. She listened to their message and the message was 'Go North'. Cross the border. They don't hate foreigners up there. Your kids can walk home from school and be safe up there.

So she came. And she was right to come. And the community saw them through the cold of the winter when the Home Office trying to starve them out. And now they will become the kind of citizens we all crave as our population gets ever older.

So I'm not about to judge the individuals. But I'm sure as hell about to judge the lunacy of a system that encourages mother number one to sink whilst at the same time does everything possible to send mother number two somewhere else.

Somewhere far, far away. 

Maybe the same place all those geese are headed for.