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, 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.