MARK FRANKLAND

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, February 10, 2016

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH ... YOU GREEDY BASTARDS... ENOUGH IS ENOUGH..


I wasn’t at the Liverpool Sunderland game on Saturday. Three of us share two season tickets and it was my two sons who went to the match. On the surface of things, the fixture was on the mundane side of inconsequential. We – Liverpool – are a pretty miserable outfit at the moment whilst Sunderland are a perennially miserable outfit. It was mid table against bottom of the table. It was a grey, grey day in February. It was nothing much.

The game wasn’t covered live on either TV or radio. Why would it be? Logically I should have felt little regret that I hadn’t drawn this particular match out of the hat. A five hour drive up and down a wet and windswept M6 on a dank day in February to watch such dismal fare was hardly the most appealing prospect. At least it shouldn’t have been.

But this wasn’t just any run of the mill clash between twenty two mainly foreign and universally over paid individuals. In fact, what went down on the field of play was a side show. The main event was to be found on the terraces among the supporters who are every now and then referred to as Liverpool’s 12th man.

Last week our American owners announced the prices for next season’s match tickets last week. This is a year when the club will receive a windfall of £50 million thanks to the insane TV deal which is about to kick in. Fair enough. Just a telephone number. Some context would be good. £50 million is half of the savings the Government is looking to make by the heaping misery and abject poverty on hundreds of thousands of citizens via their hated Bedroom Tax. As in serious, serious cash.

Liverpool’s annual turnover will jump up to about £350 million next year. Assuming we have a few cup games, the club will sell about one and a quarter million tickets. Basically thanks to the TV money the club could give every one of these tickets away completely free of charge and still be over £10 million better off. Wow. Let's get real here, not so many businesses are receiving this kind of windfall in these brutal economic times.

What an opportunity for our owners to choose to do the right thing. The terraced streets that wrap themselves around Anfield are some of the most deprived in Europe. Half of the houses have every door and window sealed off with tin sheeting. It is the kind of place where plywood just won’t do. Unemployment, gangs, drugs, foodbanks,. Anfield is a tough, tough place. Over recent years Liverpool the city has managed to drag itself out of the gutter Maggie Thatcher consigned it to all those years ago. But it is hardly rich. It is a city where the 0.1% of super rich citizens are either footballers or gangsters. Otherwise jobs are scarce and the pay is crap. Once upon a time not so so very long ago, the money collected by the Customs House on the docks represented over 60% of the income of the whole of Britain. Those were the days when slaves and sugar made Britain the richest country in the world. The plunder of Empire poured in through the Albert Dock whilst the products of the Industrial Revolution poured out in the opposite direction.

For well over a hundred years the docks provided tens of thousands of workers proper jobs which eventually were properly paid. But not for so very long. Once the workers finally achieved fair rates of pay and better working conditions their days were numbered. The 1% hate fair pay and decent conditions, be they in Liverpool or Detroit.

The 1980’s happened and the majestic buildings of Pier Head suddenly looked like some kind of a sick joke. Yosser Hughes became the face of a blighted city. I can do that. Giz a job.

In the tough industrial cities and towns of Britain, going the match on a Saturday afternoon had always been one of the few affordable pleasures available to those who grafted forty and fifty hours a week for not a lot. It seems almost quaint now.

A few months ago I gave evidence at the Hillsborough Enquiry. To jog my memory they dug out a letter I had written a few days after the disaster and gave me a copy. I had enclosed my match ticket which had never received the attentions of a turnstile operator. I looked at it and more than anything else it was the price that rattled my cage. Liverpool v Nottingham Forest. Hillsborough Stadium. Saturday 15th April 1989. Kick Off 3pm. Leppings Lane Terrace.

£5

£5! For an FA Cup Semi Final. In 1989. What would an FA Cup semi final ticket cost now? Probably twenty times that. I did some research. To stand on the Kop for the match in 1989 cost £3. So how did that compare in real terms to today's obscene prices?. More research. There was no minimum wage back then, but the average draw for 40 hours of unskilled work was £8000 a year. So £4 an hour.

In 1989, three quarters of an hour’s worth of minimum wage work was enough to get you into Anfield to watch the match. Now our American owners are proposing a top ticket price of £77 to see the game – 11 hours of minimum wage work. To watch from the Kop you get to pay the bargain basement price of £45 – six and a half hour’s worth of minimum wage work. This is a horrible nine times more than 1989. Oh the joys of big money American ownership.

This got me to checking out other areas of 1989 life which were more affordable than they are today. In those days I was a minimum wager myself as we struggled to get an infant business into young adulthood. My £8000 salary made me eligible for a mortgage of £28,000. This was more than enough for me to buy a Lancaster two up and two down for £22,000 – the deposit was £1000. The repayments came in at £120 a month – 30 hours worth of minimum wage work. A 2016 version of me on minimum wage would qualify for a mortgage of £50,000. This would be no great use as according to Google my old gaff would now set me back £180,000 and require a deposit of north of £30,000.

Back in 89, an hour’s work would be enough for five pints in the pub, two cinema tickets and ten litres of fuel. Now an hour’s graft gets you a couple of pints, one cinema ticket and seven litres of fuel. These things are dearer than they were in 89, but nothing approaching the 900% real terms increase in the cost of watching football from the Kop.

No wonder life has become such a bleak grind for so many. A life of spending most of your money paying the rent and keeping the lights on. A life of going out once in a blue moon. A closed down life of work, endless TV and not a lot else.

When Maggie Thatcher gritted her teeth and declared war on the industrial heartlands, the city of Liverpool took on the role of Tora Bora. It was the city of Liverpool who fought the Iron Maiden the longest and the hardest.

We lost of course. She won. But for a while we gave her a run for her money. The Tory Government met the resistance of the city with the same kind of implacable fury the Waffen SS used to put down the Warsaw Uprising forty years earlier. OK. Not quite that! By the end of the 80's Liverpool seemed well on the way to becoming a British version of the kind of post industrial nightmare Detroit is now.

I guess the good folk of Detroit never had the same kind of instinctive unity that the Scouse nation has always been able to rely on. The city somehow managed to stay on its feet and against all sensible odds it has re-invented itself as one of Europe's most popular weekend destinations.

All of this meandering around my formative years brings me very belatedly to the point. On Saturday afternoon the Kop decided that taking it on the chin wasn't their preferred option. They announced to the world they were making the figure 77 iconic. As in the eye watering £77 ticket. A mass walkout was planned for the 77th minute. A die was cast and I suddenly wished I was making that rainy soaked drive down the M6. How bloody crazy is that? I wanted to go to the match to get the chance to walk out early. Whoever said that being a football supporter is any kind of sane pastime.

As the moment of truth drew nearer I was nervous as hell. For two days the chatter of the football world had been all about how many would vote with their feet. And lots of people were anxious. The general feeling was that if the Liverpool fans failed to step up to the plate, then the 'People's Game' was probably lost forever. For sixty five minutes the stadium was eerily quiet. Instead of the usual array of colour, the Kop waved giant black flags. Usually the Kop waits until the dying moments of the match to sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. Not this time. All of a sudden the noise levels shot up in the 75th minute as the scarves were raised high. Then Gerry Marsden's 60's anthem was replaced by a roar of anger.

“Enough is enough, enough is enough, you greedy bastards, enough is enough....”

And 15,000 Scousers got up from their seats and walked out. Thank Christ. So. Still some life in the old dog yet. How the owners must have hated it in their Boston ivory towers on the far side of the grey Atlantic. Goddamn sonofabitches! This isn't how this franchise is supposed to play out! Well guys.... tough. You had your Tea Party way back in 1773. Looks like it's time for us to have ours. And guess what, we don't like getting ripped off any more than you did. I think you are about to discover you have picked a troublesome enemy. Will we win? Who knows. It would be nice if people power could find a way to give the 1% a couple of black eyes and a cracked rib. Because this isn't just about football. It's about just about everything. It's about the bloody, sodding 1% ripping us off and then ripping us off some more.

“Enough is enough, enough is enough, you greedy bastards, enough is enough....”

As I write this, the news is so far so good. The walkout has generated a huge amount of press and I have yet to read a single word of support for the Bostonian price hike. In the eyes of the world, they are the bad guys. Well, Yippee Kay Yay. They are hiding of course. They always do. No doubt they are hoping like hell that if they keep their heads down it will all go away. I doubt it. We have the taste of blood on our lips. This one has the chance to run and run. Well bring it on. It's about time. Maybe we might even get to win this time. Just for once. They will clutch at the straw of the memory of Maggie and try to follow in her ferocious footsteps. Well, I'll paraphrase a quote from an American Vice Presidential Debate.

“You compare yourself to Maggie Thatcher? Well I knew Maggie Thatcher. Maggie Thatcher was an enemy of mine. You're no Maggie Thatcher.”

Anyway. It's time I come clean and own up to the fact that I have some skin in this game. A couple of years ago a released a short book called 'King Kenny's Revolution'. It tells the fictional tale of a fans revolt against a set of fictional American owners of Liverpool Football Club. In the wake of the events of the weekend, it seems the right and proper thing to do is to put it into the Amazon free section. So if you fancy a read, to can download yourself the book by clicking this link. Unlike watching the match it is entirely free at the point of use.

http://goo.gl/ImoZlG

I hope you enjoy it. Please pass the link around.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

AN EPITAPH TO MARY


I can't say that I knew Mary well. In fact I barely knew her at all. For a while she was one of our food parcel regulars.

And then she wasn't.

We stopped seeing her.

When was that? A couple of years ago I guess.

This is the way of things at First Base. We see someone for a while. And they disappear from our radar. Maybe they are in jail. Maybe they have skipped town. Maybe they have straightened everything out. Or maybe....

Yeah. The big maybe. The worst maybe. The dead maybe. That all to frequent dead maybe.

Last week Mary was no longer a maybe. Only dead. Irrevocably dead. Yet another young life snuffed out decades and decades before she got remotely close to making it to the new average age.

I know little about Mary's short and rather blighted life. A conversation with Mary was always a confusing affair. She would jump from this thing to that thing with no obvious reason and all the while her eyes would twinkle with unexplained pleasure.

Rain or shine, wind or snow, Mary would always come through the door with a smile on her face. Sadly her smile labelled her for most people. It wasn't the smile you would expect from a young woman in her twenties. Instead Mary had the smile of a ninety year old Babuschka from rural Moldova.

A Methadone smile. Methadone Hyrdochloride. Sweet and thick and green and doled out once day as the State's answer to all of the lost souls trying to find comfort in the cotton wool embrace of street opiates. Of heroin. Of smack.

Ferociously acidic Methadone Hydrochloride which will eat away the enamel of your teeth no matter how often you brush and floss and rinse. Which is why so many who are parked up on the 'Done' make a point of keeping their lips firmly together when they speak. Stumpy brown Methadone teeth are not a great look if you are looking to put your life onto a better track. One smile and expressions harden.

One smile and eyes glaze. Junkie. Smackhead. Thief. Prosser. Scum.

So best not to smile. Better instead to mumble and keep the secret.

But not Mary. Mary always smiled. Somehow she was able to allow the instinctive hatred of so many of those at the other end of her smile to wash over her. In some ways Mary's long love affair with heroin was evident at first glance. The methadone teeth. The stick thin limbs. The air of inevitable doom.

But in other ways she bucked the stereotypes the world threw at her. She was always determinedly smart. She always had something of a twinkle in her presence. And she always smiled that wrecked smile of hers and the smile always reached all the way into her eyes.

Sum up Mary in a single word? I would say nice. Nice can be a damning way of descrbing a person of course. Not in Mary's case. Nice is just what she was. Oh of course this might well have been down to her mental health problems which were considerable. But I think she would have been nice regardless. She was one of those rare people without a nasty side.

Had she always ghosted through life with a brain not quite fit for purpose? Or was her muddle something new? A consequence of something awful happening? I have no idea. Mary never became a client. She never came in to wrap her bony fingers around a mug of coffee to unpack her bag full of demons. To try and make some kind of sense of them. To dredge up the horrible memories so long buried deep under the insulation of tenner bags of heroin.

No. Never that. Mary was never more than a fleeting presence. Five minutes of smiling and talking very fast about all kinds of everything. And asking over and over again how we all were and how everything was going before drifting away with a bag of food that looked like it weighed more than her.

Thank you, thank you, thank you...

And out of the door. Into the cold. Into the rest of her life.

Being so very nice in the dark world of heroin can't have been good. Mary was a pin up girl for the word vulnerable. No doubt she provided easy meat for the circling sharks out there who can smell vulnerability from a mile away.

But she managed to keep on smiling. And smiling. And being nice.

One day my mobile rang and the screen told me that the person calling was withholding their number. It was the local cops. On a Bank Holiday? What on earth...? Was I the key holder for 6 Buccleuch St? Yes I was. Could I come in? I could.

When I arrived the front door was open and two young cops were filling the reception area with their bulky authority. How had they got in? I checked out the door for evidence of break in. None. They gave me the story. They had received a call from a member of the public reporting that our front door was unlocked even though it was a Bank Holiday. I asked them for more detail.

It had been one of our food parcel clients. They hadn't noticed the 'Closed' sign on the door. They hadn't clocked the fact that all the lights were off. Instead they had simply walked in and stood at the counter for a while until eventually they realised the building was empty.

And then they had called up the cops and stood guard until the cops arrived.

I asked if they could they describe the client in question to me? They could. They described Mary. To a tee.

Was it Mary I asked? Yes it was Mary.

I smiled. They looked mildly confused. “I hope you lads have learned a lesson today?”

They still looked confused and now a tad annoyed as well. After all I was the idiot who had forgotten to lock the front door. When all was said and done.

“What do you mean?”

“You know Mary, right? Had some dealings with her?”

“Aye. We know Mary.”

“So think about it. Here's the scenario. A long term chaotic heroin addict gets lucky and discovers that a building is unlocked and empty on a Bank Holiday. And they have a mobile phone. And the use of a free land line phone. So they have ample opportunity to live up to all the stereotypes and call up a bunch of pals to rob everything in sight? Yeah? But Mary didn't do that, did she? She called up you guys and stood guard until you arrived. How long did it take you to get here?”

A shrug. “Dunno. Half an hour or so.”

I grinned at them. “Not bad. She waited in the cold for a whole half hour to make sure the place stayed safe. I guess that is the lesson for the day, hey lads? Never judge a book by the cover. Would you have expected Mary to do what she did?”

Shaking heads. Vague embarrassment. Also annoyance. Coppers hate it if you get too preachy. It was time to endeth the lesson. They left. I locked up. And the next week we bought a big box of chocolates and kept them at the counter for the next time Mary came in.

She came a week later. And when we gave her the chocolates it was the first and only time I saw her without a smile on her face. The tears were instant and they engulfed her. For a moment I thought her skeleton legs were about to give up the ghost. She hung onto the chocolates with an almost frantic expression on her pale face.

It took a while before she felt able to speak. And when she eventually did speak it was not her usual fast gabble. Just a sentence. Just the one.

“Nobody has ever given me chocolates before.”

She didn't stay for long. She wasn't at all comfortable with being the hero of the hour. She left. Out of the door. Into the cold. Into what was left of her doomed life.

Last week the jungle drums beat out a familiar message. The death message. Mary was no more. Mary was gone. How? Rumours. Maybe an overdose. Maybe suicide. Nobody knew. Yet another lost soul whose chips had been cashed before they turned thirty. And for the umpteenth time I pictured a memorial in the centre of the town erected to the memory of all the young people dead before the age of thirty thanks to heroin and valium and all the rest.

First Base has been going for twelve years now. I guess we will have heard those jungle drums beat at least 200 times. 200 young people dead years and years before their time. 200 in a town of 50,000. I cannot help compare the memory of these 200 young people with the 400 or so who lost their lives fighting in Afghanistan. 400 out of a population of sixty million. They left a gaping hole in the fabric of the country. But the loss of the Dumfries 200 has left barely a mark. Quiet death. Unnoticed death. Unlamented and unremarked. Old primary school pictures on the mantlepieces of forever broken families. Methadone files gathering dust. Police records done and dusted.

Gone and forgotten. Small lives snuffed out leaving nothing more than a wisp of smoke. And then nothing.

Like Mary's life. A fading memory of her wrecked smile and twinkling eyes and hundred mile and hour talk. And a day when she taught two young coppers that just because someone uses heroin doesn't mean they are a bad person.

So goodbye Mary. It was a pleasure to know you. It must have been hard to be such a nice person in such a nasty world. But you pulled it off.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

OUR PLACE AT JOURNEY'S END


History gives us the chance to see the wood from the trees. I often think that the best way to get a handle on what is going on at any particular time is to add on sixty years and see how things might look from the future. History can fall down when trying to get to the bottom of an individual event. You know, the whole who shot Kennedy thing. However when the world enters a whole new era, history can generally dig out the main underlying reasons.

A couple of examples. In the fifteenth century a few hitherto inconsequential European countries suddenly got a handle on how to use gunpowder to kill people. All of sudden they were able to punch way above their weight. This kicked off the story of the next four hundred years as a few small European countries were able to conquer the rest of the world and rob anything that wasn’t nailed down. Gunpowder launched the Age of Empire.

In the mid nineteenth century a few clever guys worked out how to use steam engines to power ships. Bigger ships. Massive ships. The kind of ships that were big enough to carry thousands and thousands of tonnes of cheap wheat from the newly opened up prairies of the Mid West of America and Canada. All of a sudden there was enough food to sustain millions more people in ever bigger cities. As in millions more people to fill the shop floors of ever more massive factories. Steamships provided the required amount of daily bread to send the Industrial Revolution into overdrive.

So what trends might a historian looking back on us from 2076. Maybe they will see the beginning of the era when water becomes three times more precious than oil. Or maybe they will see this is the time when ever ageing populations finally sank the very same countries who once upon a time harnessed the power of gunpowder to conquer the world.

Or will they see beginning of the Age of Migration? Were I a betting man, that is where I would put my ill begotten tenner. As water runs dry and soil becomes dust, millions upon millions of people will see their already lousy lives become impossible. This trend is already well established for millions of people unlucky enough to live and breathe in what was once called the Third World. No food. No prospects. No chance to earn more than a dollar a day whilst a few uber corrupt individuals up at the top of the tree fill their off shore accounts of bursting point. In a frantic attempt to stay two steps ahead of getting lynched, those at the top of the pile hire on ever more brutal secret policemen and life for the majority becomes a constant nightmare of terror and grinding poverty.

And then the soil is all prepared and ready ISIS and Boko Haram and Al Shabaab and the Taliban to sow their toxic seeds. And then it is over to the eerily prophetic words of WB Yeats.

‘Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.’

This is nothing new of course. Torture, terror, starvation and genocide have been part of human life since forever. So what is the difference now?  I think our 2076 historian will identify cheap mobile phones and widening internet access as the equivalent to the gunpowder and the steam ships. Always before when millions of people were consigned to lives of misery and fear, they felt they had all but no choice in the matter. There was no escape from the Thirty Year War or Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China. Now it is different.

Really different.

A young man in Eritrea who has seen his young sister raped by the secret police and his dad tortured and executed for getting angry about it can turn to his phone and ask Google for a road to a better life. And what will he find? Videos of Munich railway station. A thousand images of countries where there are policemen who don’t rape and torture and murder. Images of supermarkets piled high with affordable food. Flats with constant electricity and no four o clock in the morning hammering on the front door. No barrel bombs. No drought.

A life absolutely worth living instead of a life absolutely not worth living. And more to the point, Google provides a full instruction manual on how you can cash in a life of utter desperation for a life of hope.

The instruction manual cover all bases. How you make it across the Sahara or Iran or the Lebanese border. Where the boats sail from and who sails them and how much it costs. And all the way along the line the message is loud and clear – if you try this journey you might well die. So will people heed the warning? Be put off by the massive danger? Sure. Many will. But many will see the dangers of the road west as being no more than the dangers of their already desperate everyday lives.

And so they will come. By the million. Guided by Google maps every step of the way. In days gone by, the suffering multitudes had no real picture of a better life and even if  they had, they had no clue about how to try and find it. Now cheap mobile phones have changed everything. People in desperation can call up pictures of a life worth living care of a few taps at the keypad.

More to the point they can find out how to escape. The Age of Migration is unstoppable now. It is a vast fact.

Which brings us to those of us at journey’s end. We are the chosen ones in a world where half of our fellow citizens eke out an existence on a dollar a day. We are about to be split in two. Some of us will choose humanity. Others will choose fear and hatred. Some of us will open our doors Some of us will buy new locks and hide and dream of a new Hitler to arrive on the scene to save the day. To clean the streets. To make it all go away.

For thirteen years now the doors of First Base have always been open. If someone comes to us because their life has crashed and burned we do our level best to help them out. It makes no odds to us where they come from or what language they speak of what colour their skin is. Folk are folk. Simple as. For thirteen years we have done our best to help out those who many in society would prefer not to think about. The drug addicts and the alcoholics and the ex cons and the mentally ill. The forgotten ones. The despised. The preferred fodder for just about every prime time Channel 5 programme. More recently we have started to see more and more of the working poor. Folk who graft for every hour god sands and yet they still can’t fill a trolley at the supermarket.

And now we are starting to see more of those who have completed epic journeys from their lives of grinding poverty and fear. And of course if they are hungry we will make sure they have food to eat. And we don’t give a damn what Theresa May has to say about any of it. They are here. They are human beings. And everybody’s gotta eat, right?

Then what? Well we are in the process of starting up the First Base Bridge Project. Hopefully it will achieve what it says on the tin. We will try and be the bridge that will help those who choose our little town to be their journey’s end to find a place to find their new lives. When these weary travellers land up from destinations within the EU, offering some help is reasonably straight forward. Their passports mean they have a few rights. The State has a legal requirement to help them out. Not much, mind. But a bit.

For those from outside the EU, it is a very different story. They are the hated ones. They are the ones Theresa May had in mind when she sent her vans out and about to encourage us to do our patriotic thing and shop an 'illegal' to the authorities.

For the non EU citizens who choose our little town as their home, absolute destitution is a very real possibility. These are the people who are not entitled to a single penny of state aid and they are told in no uncertain terms that this is the case. More to the point, they are absolutely not allowed to work and if they are caught doing so much as half an hour’s work, they risk being frog marched onto a plane and sent back to the hunger and the gangsters and the torture rooms.

Basically they are expected to live on fresh air and as we all know that isn’t any kind of realistic possibility. In January in Scotland every human being needs the big three – some warmth, a roof over the head and some food. The Government has make its point of view crystal clear. They will not offer any help wjhatsoever. They don’t actually say that they are happy enough to see thsese people freeze and starve, but they are doing absolutely nothing to stop it.

So for these people the local community is the only show in twon. There is nothing else. Many in the community will be absolutely unwilling to lift a finger to help. They are the ones who will lock their doors and yearn for the coming of a British Adolf to make all the strangers go away. But there are many others who take a different view. They see the people who have completed the epic journeys as fellow human beings. Fantastically, jaw droppingly brave human beings. Fellow human beings who absolutely deserve our help. 

We can choose to offer this help out of a sense of human decency or we can offer this help out of calculating pragmatism. Let's make no mistake here, these are absolutely pick of the litter human beings. Anyone with the courage and wits to make the journeys these guys have made is going to be one hell of a citizen. For three years we helped Yemesi and her three kids whilst the Home Offcie made them wait. It was the community who made sure they had somewhere to live and something to eat and some heat and light for at least some of the time. Without the community, I hate to think what would have happened to them.

And the family knows this. My God do they ever. Thankfully the Home Office said ‘yes’ in the end and as a community we are all about to get a hell of a return on our humane investment in Yemesi and her family. Once Yemesi was issued with a Naytional Insurance number it took her less than six hours to find a job in a care home. I am pretty sure she will be managing it in a few years time. And in a few years time her son will be an engineer and her twin daughters will be doctors. The kids are top of everything at school. And they all love the community of Dumfries for giving them the chance of a life away from the murderous threat of Boko Haram. Once upon a time a country called America opened up its doors to millions of people from all corners of the earth who wanted to make a better life for themselves. It didn’t work out so badly for them, right? Give a lost person a live worth living and they will become the very best of citizens. It just ain’t rocket science.

So.

Over to you community of Dumfries. Right now we are helping out a family from Ghana. A mum, her niece, and four kids – 18 months, 4, 6 and 8. All lads. They have managed to pay the rent on two rooms for the next couple of months but they have no cash for anything else. No food, no power, no clothes for the kids, no nothing. We have been making sure th family’s food cupboards are full for the last couple of months and we will continue to do so for as long as it takes. Yesterday I was able to drop round four big bags of winter clothes for the kids thanks to a collection from Moxy and her brilliant people at DG Refugee Action. I also have my fingers crossed that we are in the process of sorting out some child care and some cash to keep the heaters and lights on.

I guess over the coming months and years we will be seeing more and more families standing at the gates of absolute destitution. We hope we can indeed provide them with a bridge to a better life. But a bridge has to lead somewhere. On the other side of the bridge we need to find as many people as possible who have decided to choose humanity over hate.

So. Here’s hoping. The family are still on their uppers. If there is anyone out there willing to donate stuff like toys, cleaning products or a few bob, please do so. I figure any of you living in and around Dumfries will know where we are. I can assure you that all donations stimulated by this blog will find their way straight to the family.

There will be a hideous and stark choice we will all be expected to make over he coming years. Are we going to rub along with our fellow human beings and help them when they need help? Or are we going to slam and lock our doors and leave people out in the cold.  The likes of the Daily Mail seem to think the majority of us will be more than happy to take the same hate filled road that eventually took the people of Germany into the fires of hell eighty years ago. I’m not so sure. I reckon we are better than that. Maybe by helping this lovely family from West Africa we can start to prove it.       

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A WORLD WITHOUT TEDDY BEARS - MY PULP FICTION WRITER'S VIEW OF THAT NIGHT IN COLOGNE



Mo and Saj. Saj and Mo. Chilling out and kicking back. Sprawled in their deep arm chairs with cans of coke and United on the widescreen. Mo and Saj denouncing how boring their beloved Red Devils have become. Under the Dutchman. After the Scotsman.

Mo and Saj.

Cousins. But the shared joke of their familes has always been that they are more than cousins. More like brothers. Always inseperable. From the very get go. From way back in the day when they first learned to walk.

Mo and Saj. Yorkshire born and bred. Reared in the damp air of Union St, Rotherham. Soot blackened red bricks and low rise social housing where a great mill had once stood tall and proud.

Mo and Saj. A shared primary school and a shared secondary school. Shared late night hours behind the counter of the family shop. Manners for the pensioners in for newspapers and milk. Watchful of the addicts seeking blind spots in the CCTV. On edge with the racists with their tattoos and short legged dogs.

And for a while Yorkshire had a chance to keep a hold of the two cousins. On the days they took the bus to watch the Test Match at Headingly. When they thrived in the middle order of the school team.

But slowly but surely Yorkshire had lost them. The dog shit through the letter box. The drive by abuse. The spray painted ‘PAKI TWATS’ on the shop window. The endless stop and search. The helicopters hanging in the rain sodden skies.

And then one night they had been beaten. Side by side and together. Down on the grimy pavement together. Kicked and spat on together. Loaded on board the ambulance together.

‘Paki scum!’

Side by side on ward 15 with all the family around them. Their fathers aged by years. Their mothers bringing samosas wrapped in foil to try and make it right.

But Yorkshire had lost them on that rainy night. Forever. And what looked to one and all like business as usual wasn’t business as usual at all. For now Saj and Mo were in escape mode. Savings cashed and pooled. Cheap flights to Turkey Googled and viewed. Cheap flights to Turkey Googled and booked. Cheap flights to Turkey Googled and taken and the cold hatred of Union St, Rotherham left a thousand miles behind.

Then it was the rat run south to the border. And then it was over the border and a ride in a shining 4x4.

To Raqqa. To the heart of ISIS. To a place far, far away from the stop and seach and the hammering boots and the spit in their hair and the dog shit through their letter box. And their place on the grimy pavement.

A flat of their own. And a 50 inch widecreeen. And Sky and BT Sport. And of course it was OK for them to watch United. Why not? No smoking though. Not even a crafty one. In Raqqa smoking means public whipping. And drinking mean public whipping. And drugs mean public execution.

Saj and Mo. Mo and Saj. Making easily affordable sacrifices for be a thousand miles away from the danp South Yorkshire air and the spit and the dog shit and the all pervading hate.

Three weeks now. Getting their bearings. Praying like they have never prayed before. The whole six times a day package. Days of learning how to strip and clean and fire the AK47. Days of running and burning off any spare ounces. Days of hearing all about the one and only god and the one and only prophet and the glory of getting the chance to die in his name.

Nights on the sofa in front of the tele. Nights with the the PS4. Nights online checking out the Twitter hate from home.

“Keep calm and burn a mosque”

Slow burn hate. Two sons of Yorkshire. Two lost sons of Yorkshire.

A knock at the door. Heavy. Demanding..

A shared glance. Shared fear in the eyes. What the….

Mo gets the door. Saj hangs back. United pass the ball along the back four. Van Gaal takes notes.

Three of them. Men in black. Beards and eyes of coal. Beards and eyes of death.

“You come.”

“Where?”

“You come.”

Out onto the street. No need to lock up. No stealing in Raqqa. The new Sharia law sheriffs are in town. Shoplifters go from having two hands to having one hand in the blink of an eye. In the flash of a blade.

A big black 4x4 with tinted windows and alloy wheels. Saj and Mo in the back and quiet and scared shitless as corners are taken fast.

No words spoken but the hairs on the back of their necks can sense the American F16 jet invisible in the grey clouds above. Seeking out the hardest of the hard men in their top end 4x4’s. Hellfire fodder.

A fifteen minute drive to the edge of town. A large box of a house behind walls topped with razor wire. A machine gun nest at the gate. Three more shiny 4x4’s in the yard. A man on the flat roof cradling a semi automatic.

They follow. Through a thick front door. Over a gleaming marble floor. Into the large room at the back with picture windows taking in a manicured garden. Furniture out of a Harrods catalogue. A rug worth as much as a two up, two down on Union St, Rothrham. A half naked girl draped across a leather sofa. Empty eyes. Heroin eyes. How old? Shit. Maybe twelve? Shit.

A desk by the window. And a man behind the desk fixing them with the stare of a waiting snake. Iron grey hair. A Persil white shirt and thick gold rings on thick hairy fingers.

A cigarette in an ash tray.

A twenty year old malt in a crystal glass.

“Sit down. There. Yes. There.”

They sit. The man takes them in. Slowly. Patiently. Behind them the door eases closed.

“So. Mohamed Iqbal and Sajid Khan, yes?”

They nod.

“OK. You want a drink, have a drink. You want a smoke, have a smoke. I don’t give a shit, OK?”

They nod. They exchange a glance. They each take a Lucky Strike and light up. The man focuses on the papers in front of him. They see pictures of themselves.

“OK. Listen, OK? Me? You don’t need to know me. I am big man. You can see. Once I was Colonel in Republican Guard. I fight America. Fallujah. Ramadi. Al Anbar. Everywhere. Now I am in Raqqa, OK? Why? Dollars. Fucking millions. So you want drink, you drink. You want smoke, you smoke. I make different rules.”

He doesn’t look up as he speaks. His small eyes remain locked on the paperwork. The girls eyes remain locked on eternity.

“So. Rotherham. You can tell me. Tell me everything. And no lies. I will know if you lie. I always know. And I am not a good man to lie to. You can understand?”

They can. And they tell him. And an hour becomes two hours. Then three. Then five. Outside the mosques of Raqqa call the faithful to their kness. The girls stares into a million miles of opiate nothing. The man behind the desk smokes one after another and from time to time refills his glass whilst teasing out what he needs to know.

They are honest about their lives. About how for a while they belonged to Yorkshire. The cricket and the football and the Queen.

And even after 9/11 they stayed with Yorkshire and Yorkshire stayed with them. After 7/7 they started to stray. Stop and search and abuse on the streets.

“Did it get worse?”

Yes it got worse.

“When did it get worse?”

The girls. The lost white girls. Forgotten. Worthless. From their families from hell from the council estates and the high rise blocks. Condemned to the care of a Social Work Department that didn’t care. Left to their own devices. Left to the mercies of the groups of Asian men who cruised the damp streets of Rotherham in their cars. Seeking out the lost girls. Buying the lost girls with free drinks and free drugs and crisp £20 notes. Rooms in guest houses paid for with cash. So many reports to the South Yorkshire Police, all of them falling on the deafest of deaf ears. Deaf for fears of racial incidents. So many reports to the Social Work Department and the Council. More deaf ears. More fears of racial incidents. And fears of careers crashed and burned. And pensions lost.

Until the damn burst and the septic truth exploded like a fountain of raw sewage. The truth that marauding gangs of Asian men had prayed upon hundreds upon hundreds of vulnerable Yorkshire girls. And for a while reporters had been all over Rotherham like a rash and the town had found an unwanted place at the top of the news.

“And this was when it all went bad, yes? This is when you got beaten?”

It was.

And now the man is smiling.

“So let me see if I understand, OK? When we destroy the Twin Towers, things for you are OK. And after we bomb the underground in London, things are still OK. But when we attack their women, everything goes to shit. They spit at you and put dog shit through the letterbox and they beat you on the street, yes? And now there is only hate in this place, Rotherham? Big hate?”

Yes.

Silence. Dead vacant eyes on the leather sofa. Gentle drifting smoke. Darkness outside.

“Good. Very good. You can go now.”

Mo risks it. “Can we ask why?”

A flicker of annoyance in the small eyes. But only a flicker.

“Sure. Why not? Who you tell, right? You tell and I cut your fucking heads off, OK?”

Saj and Mo nod.

“So we tell everyone all about how evil the Kuffar are, right? The unbelievers kill Muslims. Everywhere. They are like animals. Like pigs. So they must be destroyed. Like rats. All of them. But there is problem. When our people switch on the TV they see pictures of fucking Munich railway station. Yeah? 'Refugees welcome her'. Its all cake and coffee and fucking teddy bears. And our people think maybe the unbelievers aren’t so bad after all, right? Here is cake. Here is fucking teddy bear. No good. Bad. Yes?”

Saj and Mo nod.

“So we need to change the tune. Change the channel. We need to make them be like we say they are. No more fucking teddy bears, OK. Only hate. Like your shit Rotherham.”

Saj and Mo nod without really understanding.

“Like you say. We can shoot the unbelievers and we can bomb the unbelievers but they still come out with their fucking teddy bears. But if we attack their women? Then it can be like your Rotherham, yes? Then we bring out their hate. The dog shit through the letter box. No more fucking teddy bears, right?”

Saj and Mo nod, beginning to understand.

“It is all about railway stations. For many months there are railway stations on the TV. Refugess welcome. Coffee and cake. Teddy bears. So now we can make a different picture I think. A different railway station movie for all the unbelievers to watch.”

“How?”

“How? Easy. I put a thousand brothers on the street. New Years Eve. When the streets are crowded with the women of the unbelievers. All drunk and stupid. And the brothers will grope them and feel them and call them whores. Think of it. A thousand brothers. A thousand. All in front of a railway station. All in front of the TV and YouTube”

“Can you get them to do it? The brothers, I mean?”

“Sure, why not? We give them some cash. We give them some drugs. We give them some drink. Men are easy to bend. Better than a fucking suicide vest, right?”

Saj and Mo nod. Better than a fucking suicide vest.

“So you can go. I need to spend some time with my little Fatima. Watch the TV, OK. New Years Eve. We’re going to make the whole fucking world like your Rotherham. We’re going pull their strings. No more fucking teddy bears.”

Out.

Over the marble floor and through the door and into the chill of the Syrian night. Empty streets darkened by a power cut. And somewhere far away they feel the air bounce to the tune of an American air strike.

Back in the flat. The PS4 holds no great appeal. Not now. Not any more. They clean their teeth. They go to bed. They feel dirty. Sullied. Contaminated.

And a few weeks later they would indeed have tuned their 50 inch widescreen into the unfolding events outside the railway station in Cologne. They really would. But they don’t. Because a week after their visit to the man with the small eyes they are turned into a thousand pieces care of a Hellfire missile fired by a young man from Charlotte, South Carolina.

They never get the chance to see a world without teddy bears. 
 

Friday, January 1, 2016

MY SURPRISING NEW FRIENDS FROM THE EAST



We live in a strange world. Most of it we see reasonably clearly as we make our way through our lives. TV. Roads. Pavements. The office. The kitchen. The bolts of our everyday lives.

And then there are all those other bits we don’t see. Well. Not really. There are all those hundreds and thousands of cameras silently recording the nuts and bots of our everyday lives. Remembering the number plate of our cars. Click. File. Click. File. Millions and billions of hoarded images to be called up as and when required to enable someone, somewhere to back track their way through the journeys we have made. Where did we go? And to see who? And when? And for how long?

Other cameras track us on foot. Through cities and towns and buildings. Drawing cash. Paying at the counter. Window shopping. Having chance conversations.

All to be filed away in a billion virtual lockers.

Every phone call we ever make leaves a foot print. And every plastic purchase. And every e mail conversation. Or Facebook message. Or Tweet.

Every minute of every day we are being silently watched and recorded and tracked hundreds and hundreds of times.

Are we bothered? Not really. Most of us are comfortable in our innocence. If the State wants to watch us, then so be it. I guess if we get sufficiaently up tight about it, there is nothing to stop us from heading to the top half of Scotland somewhere to a caravan and a life outside the reach of the digital. The wilderness is still the wilderness. In these times of austerity nobody is about to find the cash to hide cameras in trees and rocks.

But that would be rather drastic. In reality, our mundane little lives go unnoticed. It is easy to collect up billions of snap shots of people's lives. It’s not so easy to find the time to actually look at them. When four lads wearing rucksacks met up on a railway platform in Luton en route to carrying out the 7/7 attacks on London nobody noticed.

The pictures of the bombers were only dug out from the digital archives once the deed was done. And of course everyone asked how it was the nobody noticed. Nobody saw. Because in reality Big Brother might watch, but he seldom has the time and the luck to actually see.

He is merely addicted to looking.

And then sometimes we get a fleeting glimpse of those who are lurking in the digital shadows of our lives and pulling our strings like we were their puppets. Sometimes they steal our codes and steal our money. Sometimes they dupe us into infecting our computers with their malware. Sometimes they annoy us with their spam e mails.

But sometimes there is a little more method in the madness.

And so to this blog of mine. I have been blogging away for several years now and things have changed over the course of my 220 blogs. I am told that my digital foot print has grown. In the vastness of the digital world, the prints I leave in the snow are pretty inconsequential. I am no Russell Brand or Wings over Scotland. When I first posted my blogs I was always mildly surprised if 20 people turned up to my page to have a read. Google provide plenty of information about how many readers dip in and out of a blog page. 

How many and where they have come from. And who sent them. And which blogs they have read.

Slowly but surely the number of visitors started to grow. An angry blog about the 2012 London Olympics love in was read over 400 times thanks to a nudge from Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian.

I was astounded when my memories of Hillsborough were read by over 5000. I was even more astounded when my tribute to Sir Alex Fergusson was shared and shared and shared until the visit counter clicked all the way to 28,000.

Things changed in 2014 when I became one of the voices of the ‘YES’ campaign. Instead of fifty or sixty readers checking out a newly posted blog, it was almost always over the thousand. When Stuart at 'Wings over Scotland' deemed my thoughts to be worthy of a wider audience, the number would climb to three or four thousand.

And all the while I continued to be pretty well gobsmacked by the attention. After the misery of September 19thpeople kept on turning up.

I often wonder why. I guess I have a particular view on the world. An Englishman who manages a Scottish Foodbank. A ‘YES’ man who gets an up close and personal view of the damage caused by the vicious Etonians in Westminster. A father of two mixed race boys whose ancestry remembers the bottomless brutality of the British Empire. A guy who is British who dreams and fights for the opportunity not to be. A guy who never learnt how to be patriotic. A guy who wants to get the chance to be citizen of a more decent country and has little time for the greed and hypocrisy of the one he is stuck with.

Of course lots of people hate my thoughts. They see me as a disgrace and they love to let me know. Almost every day there are small punishments for my support of the dream of ‘YES’. It can be tiresome, but I think I am realistic enough not to moan about it. My minor cuts and bruises are as nothing when compared to the imprisonment and torture those who fought to free themselves from London Rule in Asia and Africa had to endure. And Ireland of course.

I guess my blog page has gained a reputation for being Anti-London. Some say Anti-British. Maybe. Most who turn up to read seem to share my view of the world. Lots don’t, but by and large they don’t turn up. Why would they?

So over time my page has developed a kind of rhythm. I post a new blog and on day 1 about 1000 digital visitors arrive at the page. 700 of so will read the blog. On day 2, 500 turn up and 300 read the blog. By day 3, the number of visitors falls to 100. And then it falls to fifty. If I go a week or two without writing anything, page views fall back to about 30 a day. After a popular blog the tail off is slower.

Everything is logical. If I have posted something, people come along to have a look, sometimes in their thousands. If I haven’t posted anything for a while, the page goes into a kind of sleep mode.

Well it did. 

Because over recent months something has changed. Now my sleep mode involves at least 200 page visits a day. At first I was flattered by this. Wow. People are turning up to read the back list! But I am rather too cynical for that kind of Walt Disney stuff. So I started checking out the small print of my statistics page to try and get a handle on what was going on.

What I discovered was interesting to say the least. On the day when I post a new blog and 1000 visitors arrive at my page, well over 90% of the day trippers come from the UK. But when I haven’t written anything for a week or two, the identity of my visitors changes dramatically. If my page receives 200 hits on what should be a sleep mode day, it inevitably turns out that the majority of hits will have come from Russia.

How very strange. It would appear that somewhere deep in the bowels of Putin’s Russia my voice has been heard. Selected. Checked out. And then deemed worthy of some behind the scenes support. What happens when you type ‘Mark Frankland’ into Google? Simple. This page is the first hit. Part of the reason for this I guess is that my blog page always receives 200 hits each and every day. On the days when I post a blog, my visitors seem to be very real and they come from this sceptered isle of ours. On the quiet days a faceless gang of 150 Russian pitch up to keep the visitor numbers high.

It would seem that someone over there in Mother Russia has been given the job of seeking out voices who call London Rule to account. The Independence campaign must have made their job a whole lot easier. But of course Moscow has lots and lots of previous when it comes to this kind of thing. Supporting rebel voices is nothing new. Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University was named after an Independence campaigner from the Belgian Congo. To this day there is still a John Maclean Street in the Russian capital.

Once upon a time the shadowy lads from the Kremlin found ways to smuggle envelopes stuffed with cash to those who fought to free themselves from whoever was in charge. And the cash covered the costs of hiring meeting halls or printing leaflets of newspapers. Now there is no need for the cash. Now all that is needed is a clever computer programme to provide ghost visitors to the blog pages of those who call London Rule to account.

Can it really be true? It seems that way. There is no other logical explanation why in the last seven days 1300 Russians have pitched up to my blog page to check out what I am saying. Here is a screen shot of my statistics page just so you know I am not getting all weird!
So. It would appear that I have some unexpected new friends in the East. I’m not sure what to think about it really. I am certainly no fan of Mr Putin and his nasty regime. But I guess I have unwittingly joined a pretty honourable list of names. Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharal Nehru and Kwarme Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela and John McLean to name but a few.

I guess the main thing is to use this opportunity to point out a few facts to other watching eyes. I never asked for a mysterious friend from the East. It seems I have been chosen. And there ain’t a darned thing I can do about it guys. So I do hope none of the boys and girls down there in GCHQ go and get the wrong end of the stick. Let’s be clear here! I don’t like being governed from London and I would prefer to live in an Independent Scotland because that is how I actually feel. It isn’t because my friends in the East have told me to feel that way.

So don’t you guys start getting the wrong ideas, right? Fair enough I went to Cambridge, but we don’t all end up spying for Mother Russia!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

USED UP PEOPLE AND CORRIDORS OF POWER. A DAY IN THE LIFE



Sometimes a day can be like a saga. A movie. A mini series. A docu-drama. Something from Channel 4 on a weekday night.

At eight o’clock.

I had one of these days yesterday.

It started at eight in the morning and it finished at eight in the evening. Which I guess means that it lasted for twelve hours.

It felt longer than that somehow.

It was a December day in the life of a Foodbank manager.

So if you’re all sitting comfortably….

For once there is no rain and my van is all loaded up and ready to roll. A drive of six miles or so past all the waterlogged fields. Out of town and up into the low hills where the buzzards are killing the slow hours of the morning.

And their breakfast.

I turn left fifty yards into a one street village with a long closed garage and a hall with faded posters in the dusty windows. 

Three hundred and fifty yards up a pot holed track past a closed down chicken farm. They can do chickens cheaper in Thailand now. Like most things.

A cottage that has become familiar over the last few weeks. Pretty as a postcard on the outside. Bleak as a Siberian high rise on the inside.

I will call the guy who lives there Donald because the name Donald is rather in the news right now.

Donald is my first used up guy of the day. Donald did the leave school and get a job thing. And he did his job for thirty years until he had an accident at work and wrecked his back. Irrevocably.

So Donald’s working days are done. Donal is all used up and suddenly at the mercy of the State. And being at the mercy of the British State ain’t a good place to be in these straightened times.

In theory the caring state is ready to step up to the plate and take care of things for Donald. You know, all the basics. His rent. His Council Tax. Enough cash to feed himself and keep some credit on his phone. It is a pretty straight forward deal. Pay your taxes and we’ll be there for you when you make the transition from being a working man to a crippled crock.

In theory.

In practice everything is cocked up. Computers have stopped talking to each other. And when a used up man lives out in the middle of nowhere and hasn’t the credit on his phone ring up and moan about it… well… he just gets forgotten, right?

He shows me his latest letter for the Department of Work and Pensions.

Dear Donald. Thank you for attending a medical. The results conclusively show that you are physically capable of doing any work whatsoever. Which means you are no longer eligible for Employment Support Allowance. So we are taking it off you. You’ll get sixty quid on November 30 and then you’re on your own pal.

Next is a letter which landed two days later from the Council.

Dear Donald. The Department of Work and Pensions has just let us know that they have deemed you to be too sick for ESA. Well that won’t do. So we have decided to come out in solidarity with DWP and take away your housing benefit. Sorry ‘bout that Don . Tootle pip.

These guys are pretty good at coming up with reasons for not giving people any money but I have to say this one is a first. Too sick for benefits.

Once again Donald’s kitchen looks kind of different. It looked different when I took him some food last week. I asked about it and he told me. No money no logs. So he is down to burning his furniture. Oh yeah. Charles Dickens would find many familiar things in Britain 2015.

I ran him out a few bags of logs last week, but they all gone now. Another cupboard has gone up the chimney.

A job for tomorrow then. More logs for Donald. The used up guy who is too sick for benefits.

Back in the van and north up the Nith Valley to our new collection point at the Little Ark Animal Sanctuary in Sanquhar. There is a pick up truck at the top of the track bearing the logo of a fencing outfit. Which I guess explaisn why Alison is looking like she is some kind of modern day Noah. All of the animals are in the yard whilst the fencer is doing his stuff and the sight of 12 food parcels being unloaded from one red van doesn’t half get them going. If anyone out there has anything to say about the quality of First Base emergency food parcels they should have a word with these guys. The donkeys are all trying really hard to plat the poor starving beast of burden card that we sometimes see on fundraising ads. But they really don’t come anywhere close to pulling it off. They are all replendant in their winter coats and their ribs are nowhere to be seen. So I reject their pleadings for an emergency food parcel.

What a cruel bastard I am.

Alison succumbs to the pressure and shares out a packet of value ginger nuts.

Cue happy donkeys.

And its always good to spend quality time with a bunch of happy donkeys.

Will these parcels be enough to see you over Christmas?

They should do. With a following wind. With fingers crossed.

So it's back in the van.

And this time it is over the hills and east to the capital of North Britain. And just like everytime I drive into Edinburgh I can’t help but think about how it might have been if things had gone differently on 18 September 2014. If 45 had been 51. Right now we would have all been counting down to Independence Day.

But enough of that.

Things to do and people to see. A person in fact. And not just any person I’ll have you know. Because even though First Base is a small town charity in a small town town, we are lads who tend to punch above our weight.

Today I have an appointment to see the Minister.

Alex Neil MSP.

Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners' Rights

No so bad for a two bit little charity.

My efforts to enter the Parliament building with a coffee to go are firmly rebuffed by a policewoman who is very much of the not to be messed with variety. I finish it outside and take the opportunity for one last fag. A couple of hundred yards away there are a clutch of tents on the other side of the water features. Who and what? Maybe later.

I go back in and I am deemed not to be a terrorist.

Andy arrives in Reception and we are guided through the rabbit warren and up to the the third floor and an office that I am pretty sure bears no resemblance whatsoever to Ian Duncan Smith’s gaff in Westminster.

Fifty minutes pass and I am delighted to discover that Alex Neil doesn’t bear any resemblance to IDS either. What a thoroughly hell of a good lad. I could spout any number of clich├ęs along the lines or down to earth and in touch and gets it. I gather he cut his cloth with Citizens Advice. We share stories and they are the same stories. My stories are about the Donalds and all the other used up people who come to us for something to eat. His stories are about the Donalds and all the other used up people who come to his Friday surgeries because they have nowhere else to go.

He tells me if the Scottish Parliament was only allowed the responsibility of looking after the Donalds and all the other used up people then….

I tell him I am the converted and ther is no need to preach. I am a Yes man. One of the 45. No need to explain. I get it.

I make my pitch. Foodbanks are part of the Welfasre State whether politicians like it or not. And we are getting a pretty crap deal right now. The rest of the Welfare Stae gets £300 billion a year. We get bugger all. Just a whole bunch of referrals. A whole bunch of Donlads and used up people who need their daily bread.
I suggest it is time for the Scottish Goivernment to step up to the plate and help us out. Nothing happy clappy or airy fairy. Something straight forward and practical. We give out 500 food parcels in a month. Then we knock up an invoice for £5 a parcel and send it to Edinburgh. And Ediburgh pays us. £2500 to pay the rent and the phone bill and the electricity and wages and volunteer costs and extra strong, extra large carrier bags.

I have been worried that his eyes would glaze over at this point. But they don’t. He gets it. He has lived plenty of years in the real world. He knows well enough that electricity companies want paying. He knows that should a Foodbank crash and burn it will leave a gaping hole.

Will we see our £5 per parcel? Who knows. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Right?

I add the name of Alex Neil to my list of the good guys.

Then I check out the tents.

It’s an Indy Camp. Guys who have decided to stay under canvass until London rule breathes its last.

They put a smile on my face. And I light up. As the lights of the city start to twinkle in the gathering gloom of a frosty night. Under the brooding rocks of Arthur’s Seat. By the shallow landscaped ponds.

And buses go by.

And policemen watch out for Jihadis.

And pigeons wait on American tourists.

And the guys in the tents wait for a country of their own.

Time to move. Back to the car park. And what a car park it is! If Carlsberg did car parks…. Three hundred yards from the front door to the Scottish Parliament and ther are always spaces to be had. And it is £3 for three hours. Like I said. If Carlsberg did car parks…

I throw some information into my SatNav and it lets me know that I have 4.8 miles and twenty minutes to go. It tells me there are no traffic issues between the best car park I know and the library on Oxgangs Rd where I am due to meet Sam at five o’clock.

And this is going to be hard.

I have only met Sam once before and it was very brief. It was on one of the very worst of days. The day we said goodbye to James. 

Some background. 

James, the youngest client of our Veterans Project. James, a could have been tearaway who took the King’s Shilling and signed up. James who stood tall and magnificent on a hard, hard tour of Helmand Province. James who left the army when his dad died because his mum needed him. James who was one of the most decent guys it has ever been my honour to meet. James whose conscience and soul could not handle what he had seen and done on that hard, hard tour of Helmand Province. James who took his own life at 23 years old on a bone cold January night.

His brothers in arms from the Regiment came down to carry his coffin under the cold grey January skies.

And Sam was one of the band of brothers. I can still picture him that day. Clearly. He was so tall it made carrying James awkward. Sam the six foot five Fijian with the ram rod back. A face as hard as one of those Easter Island statues. But his eyes. His eyes were windows onto a grief stricken soul.

And I remember standing at the grave side and thinking what a crazy world we live in. Sam. The warrior from a warrior tribe. So many thousands of miles from his South Sea home. Tall and like a king from a Kipling story. Still as a rock. Saying his goodbyes to a fellow warrior.

On a cold, cold day.

In Dumfries.

In Scotland.

James’s mum Nicola called me a few weeks ago. She said she had been talking to Sam on Facebook. She said Sam is out of the Army now. Out in the cold. And things are not so good. Pretty bad in fact. Could First Base do anything? I said we would do our best.

But no promises.

So Sam is the second bird to be felled with my visit Edinburgh stone. My second used up guy of the day.

He is waiting for me. He stands up. All the way up. And it’s a long way. He’s a six foot five version of Marvin Gaye. Hell of a hand shake.

But a very quiet voice. And a story that makes me once again wish that 45 had been 51 and we could be free of London’s bottomless nastiness.

He remembers when they got him to sign the dotted line in Fiji they said that five years served would mean guaranteed citizenship.

He served nine years. Iraq. The Falklands. Northern Ireland. Afghanistan. The same hard, hard Helmand Tour as James. With James. He did the hardest of hard miles. And every month his salary had income tax and National Insurance deducted. Like he was a citizen.

But when he left the army in 2012 he learned the hard way that the British Establishment tell lies.

Citizenship? Who told you that? Good lord. I very much doubt it..

Well. You’ll just have to apply along with all the rest, won’t you? But don’t hold your breath. We’re not overly keen on your type to be frank. No money? No thought not.

So Sam applied. Three years ago. And for three years they have made him sign on. But his was a different sort of sign on. Every Monday he walks six miles into Edinburgh city centre to sign his name in a police station. Like a common criminal. Like a terrorist. Like scum. And then he walks six mailes home agin.

And he waits.

He receives not a penny and he has been told in no uncertain terms that should he do do much as an hour’s work he will be on a plane back to Fiji before he gets the chance to blink.

His partner has left him and she doesn’t let him see his son. His son is five now. The last picture Sam has is of a three year old son.

He has another girlfriend now and she pays the bills. They share one room over a pub. They share a mattress on the floor. And Sam watches TV all day. And one by one the demons of those hard, hard Helmand days are starting crawl into his head like moggots.

Whilst he waits on the Home Office.

And waits.

And I feel useless and inadequate and so completely ashamed of being British even though I fought tooth and nail not to be. What have we become?

I promise that I will try to what I can.

And I will.

But when all is said and done it is the bloody Home Office we are talking about here.

We stand and shake hands. Maybe there is a faint smile. Maybe not. He thanks me and I feel terrible.

I get in my van and drive south.

He goes back to his one room over the pub and more hours of TV.

More waiting.

And all the way back I remember him in that cold graveyard on that cold January day. Like a statue. Like a king. Like a warrior. So very far from home. Saying goodbye to an unlikely brother in arms.

But a brother all the same.

Christ I really hate this country at times.