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

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


It was only a little over a year ago when Scotland seemed to be on the brink of a new beginning. Just for a few weeks. A few amazing weeks when the sun seemed to shine every day.

There was no sunshine on September 19th of course. It was a grey day in every sense. And now we are back to business as usual. So much for all of those promises of life being better should we wake up to the fact that we are better together.

There seem to be an awful lot of Union flags in Manchester’s Midland Hotel this week. Interestingly enough, this grand old Victorian pile was once upon a time pre-selected by Hitler to be the Nazi HQ of a conquered Britain. A different sort of take on the whole Norther Powerhouse idea. I guess he would have instructed his interior designers to hang plenty of flags from every available wall as well.

The Tories are clearly very pleased and proud of themselves and they miss no opportunity to tell us all how proud we should be of our better together Kingdom.

Oh really?

A year on and it is very hard for 'Yes' supporters to resist the temptation of sayimg we told you so.

Britain is a hard country to feel proud of in the era of Dave and George.

Our reaction to the death of a quarter of a million Syrians, mainly care of Assad’s barrel bombs?

Drop more bombs of course.

Our reaction to the greatest tide of human misery and desperation Europe has seen since those days when Uncle Adolf eyed up a top floor suite in the Midland Hotel?

Pull up the drawbridge and lock the doors tight.

And all the while the poor get punished whilst the super rich get super richer. Tax on inherited houses worth a million quid? – Down. Tax credits for the poorest of working families? Down

A few months ago the United Nations released its five yearly report of the world’s drug crisis. They explained how the times they are a changing. Colombia’s time as bad guy number one seems to be over. Now there are new kids on the block.

The report summed up the state of play in the global narcotics trade rather succinctly.

‘Mexico is the heart: London is the head’

Better together in Dave and George’s land of racketeers and money launderers. We’ll wash your cash and sell you weapons with no strings attached. It’s what we do. It’s how we roll. Thirty years ago this Joe Strummer line appeared in the album Sandinista.

‘In a war torn swamp stop any mercenary and check the British bullets in his armoury.”

The big problem with a country where there is untrammelled nastiness at the top is that the self same untrammelled nastiness seeps all the way down to the bottom. The programme schedulers at Channel 5 have a good reason for giving their prime time over to a seemingly endless series of programmes designed to mock and demonise the poor. They have identified a market. In fact it is the very same market that Dave and George managed to tap into on May 7th.

A market made up of many of the same people who said No Thanks last September. I’m all right Jack so even though everything around me is crap, I will hang on to what I’ve got. Better the Devil you know…

For the first time in well over a hundred years there is a vast national debate about which people are the deserving poor and which are undeserving. The despicable underclass who are shirking and scrounging and not playing up and playing the game.

There is a chap who isn’t willing to grace the world with his name who writes long angry letters to our local paper every week explaining why I should be ashamed at myself for refusing to take time out to harangue the people who come to First Base to eat. He is disgusted at me for not taking time out to lay into the feckless for the bad life choices they have made. Week after week the letters page carries his angry, poisoned words. How dare First Base give these undeserving wretches a tin of beans for their tea!

At times I read his bile and wonder if the date at the top of the page is in fact 1873 and the front page dominated by the story of a British punitive column slaying an army of uppity natives in Bechuanaland.
My letter writing nemesis is adamant that the vast silent majority of Brits are well and truly on his side of the fence. Make the lazy buggers pay a heavy price for their dissolute lives! Starve the idle swine into finding a zero hours job! And let's all heed the sage worlds of our gallant and far sighted Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt who boldly announced that stripping the working poor of their tax credits will encourage them to work as hard as Chinamen.

Christ it’s depressing.

There was a nasty little meeting in Dumfries last week which epitomised the hideous world of Dave and George and the Daily Mail.

I received an e mail a while back. An electronic invitation. Some half forgotten group from some half forgotten quango from Tony Blair’s time was meeting up to discuss the provision of emergency food in the region. A talking shop? Probably. Jugs of luke warm coffee and market value biscuits. Did you see that programme on Channel Five last night…..?

Should we go? Probably. I put off deciding. To be honest I have had a lifetime’s fill of talk about working in partnerships to deliver support to service users at the interface of the third sector and the public sector. Endless earnest sentences stuffed to bursting point with the politically correct jargon of the day.

Should we go? Probably.

I put off replying. And then I forgot to reply. And then other events swept through my life and I forgot all about it. Which meant that I was somewhere else entirely when the time for the meeting arrived and there was no First Base representative to join in with all the interface talk.

So it was that Lesley got a call last Thursday afternoon. Where are you? The meeting has started? You need to come! And so it was that Lesley duly dropped everything and legged it across town to fly the First Base flag.

She hadn’t been in the room so very long when she wished she had left the summons to attend to be dealt with by the answer phone. The feeling of the meeting was that it was a great shame that there seemed to be an impass between First Base and Trussell Trust. Everyone got into a Geneva mood and decided it was high time for a peace accord to be announced. Come on Lesley. Shake hands! Bask in the kind of moment that Begin and Arafat once enjoyed on the White House lawn.

Talk about being put on the spot. Put in the spotlight. Come on Lesley. Shake hands! There’s a good girl now. You know it’s the right thing to do….

So she shook. What the hell else was she going to do?

And then the meeting moved along to the business of the day in the spirit of peace and harmony. Emergency food provision in and around Dumfries. No doubt the main item on the agenda would be how all the support agencies might collectively meet the needs of all the families who are about to lose £2000 a year as a punishment for not being paid enough.

Well. No actually. Instead the meeting was all about how to create a robust system to make sure the undeserving poor didn’t get a hold of food they didn’t deserve. It became very clear to Lesley that everyone had been watching Channel 5 on a nightly basis. A vast new database is required to identify the rotten apples and to make sure they get nothing until they spend a long time in front of the mirror and own up to the fact that they are basically wicked and worthless human beings.

It should be made very clear that there is no place for these kinds of people in Dave and George’s brave new world. They must be stopped in their tracks. They must be issued with a prescription of tough love. Because Dave and George cannot succeed in their historic task when the Voluntary Sector panders to the shirkers and the scroungers by feeding them when they are hungry. After all, we are learning NOT to feed seagulls and foxes, right? Urban pests.

Is the fact that one or two chancers talk themselves into a food parcel they don’t strictly need the biggest problem we face right now? Of course it isn’t. The problem is that we aren’t giving out nearly enough emergency food. We should be seeing lots more of the workimg families who Dave and George are hell bent on kicking in the teeth. We are seeing a steady increase. You know who they are the moment they come through the door. How? Because the first thing they say is ‘Sorry’. The next thing they say is that they never dreamed they woul ever have to come to a place like ours to put food on the table. And over the course of a five minute chat, it soon becomes clear that they really should have come to us at least six months sooner. Because the six months will have seen them fall into the suffocating embrace of the likes of Wonga.

Right now we are handing out 100 food parcels a week. The figure really should be at least 150. The reason why it isn’t 150? Simple. Stigma. The fear of being seen. The fear of the vicious gossip from vicious neighbours who spend their evenings hating the poor care of Channel 5. Vicious neighbours who spend their mornings hating the poor over their Cornlakes care of the Daily Mail.

Of course everyone doesn’t really hate the poor. If they did, there is no way in a million years that we would be receiving £50,000 a year’s worth of donated food. My letter writing pal has it entirely wrong on this point. The silent majority are the ones who hand in the tins of beans and soup. The problem is that the constant message of hate that comes from the Government and the media makes it seem like every man and his dog is a Channel 5 devotee, even though their viewing fugures hardly set the heather on fire.

It is bad enough when the likes of my letter writing friend jump on the band wagon. But when so called support agencies join in enthusiastically over coffee and value biscuits, it becomes truly depressing.

Better Together in Dave and George’s world where judging people is the hip thing to do.

The next day Lesley received a call from the Trussell Trust to rubber stamp the new mood of peace and accord. 

They have just given out a food parcel to Joe Bloggs. So. Should Joe Bloggs come in to us looking for food we need to know that he isn’t entitled to one.

We have known the Joe Bloggs in question for years. He is a thoroughly decent guy who has fallen on hard times. Really hard times. No money. No electric in the plugs and barely a shred of hope to make the next day worth living. A proud man reduced to roaming the streets hunting for docked out fags.

But he wouldn’t scam us in a million years. Not a chance. What conceivable right did they have to make such an arbitrary judgement about him? And to share it? And why had they come to such a damning conclusion which they felt compelled to share? I have no idea, though I suspect it must have been his appearance. When you go for months on end with neither electricity nor cash, your appearance tends to go downhill. And so it was that this particular book was duly judged by it’s careworn cover.

Judged to be one of those bad poor people. Undeserving.

Joe Bloggs didn’t come in to scam a food parcel. Of course he didn’t. But it’s the thought that counts, right?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


Many, many moons ago we had a family business making animal feed. From our dusty old mill in Lancaster we sent over 100,000 tonnes a year of cattle and sheep feed to all corners of Northern Britain. The job entailed many hours of standing in freezing farmyards passing the time of day with farmers and trying to persuade them to buy something.

In hindsight it was character building.

Over recent weeks my mind has been taken back to one particular encounter on a farm on the outskirts of Leeds. It was a huge enterprise. They milked over three hundred cows, reared pigs and collected the eggs from 30,000 chickens. More impressively still, they were marketing a high percentage of their produce themselves. Every day their milk floats headed out into the city bearing a selection of their wares. There was no chance in a million years that I was about to get an order from the old boy who was running the show. He had his suppliers screwed down to the floor and to trade with him would have been much akin to setting handfuls of ten pound notes alight.

But I vividly remember our farmyard chat.

He told me that he was just back from a two week trip to Kiev. This was pretty astonishing. It was hard to picture this particular red faced, flat capped Yorkshireman choosing the Ukraine as a holiday destination. In fact it was pretty hard to imagine him taking a holiday anywhere. He wasn’t the taking a holiday kind of a guy.

He soon put me right.

“I wasn’t on bloody holiday. In Kiev? Is tha’ mad or summat? Nae lad. I were invited. By Council.”

“Leeds Council?”

“Don’t be daft. Kiev Council. They paid plane tickets, hotels, whole bloody lot.”

These were the months following the spectacular implosion of the Soviet Empire. The old satellite states were claiming their independence from Moscow one by one and the Ukraine was one of the first in the queue.
The new born nations were scrambling to find a toehold in the world. I had visited the old Soviet Union a couple of times and therefore found it utterly fascinating that the new leadership in Ukraine had stumped up the cash to fly this gruff Yorkshire farmer east.

Why would they do that?

The answer wasn’t hard to understand. When Carol and I had visited Leningrad in the depths of the winter of 1991, old women could be seen queuing for hours on end to get into shops which were selling a range of produce that was made up of cabbage, cabbage and more cabbage, much of it rotten.

We were fine of course. We had dollars, and a fistful of dollars secured us access to the foreign currency shops which were reserved for the Party elite. The new rulers of independent Ukraine had twigged on to the fact that the road to their people’s hearts was through their stomachs. They needed to find a way to put affordable food on the shelves and to put it there quickly. So they had done themselves some blue sky thinking which had taken them to my man’s farm on the outskirts of Leeds.

They paid him a visit. They told him that they would like him to come over to Ukraine to do the same thing on the outskirts of Kiev as he did on the outskirts of Leeds. 

And the land? Oh the land was no problem. They had plenty of land. Millions and millions of acres. They would give him the land. All they wanted him to do was to show them how to turn that land into milk and cream and eggs and pork.

Just like he did in Leeds.

So he accepted the invitation. Of course he did. What Yorkshire farmer would ever knock back the chance to go and scope out a couple of thousand acres of free land. As if.

They drove him to the edge of the city and they showed him around the sprawling collective farm they were willing to gift him. But he needed more than a look round before coming to his decision.

“Nae point just looking lad. Tha' needs to feel the bloody soil. Properly. So I told them to bring a digger. A big un. Told em I needed a look at the soil. So they brought a digger and when they got ten feet down and soil were still pitch black, I told them to stop.”

I recall him going rather misty eyed as he described the most fertile soil he had ever seen. He told me he could get four tonnes of wheat off each and every acre. He told me he had never seen owt like it.
I asked him how and why. 

“Easy lad. Daft buggers haven’t farmed it for seventy years. It’s barely done owt. It’s just been left fallow.”

I have no idea if he ever went east to farm those acres of black soil. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But it left me with a vivid picture. When I was sixteen I saw the surface view of those very same acres. I was on a school trip that took us through the Iron Curtain into the sinister Alice in Wonderland lunacy of the old Eastern Bloc. We traveled by coach. One long, hot day we made the drive south from Kiev to Odessa. It was hundreds of miles of wheat and corn and sunflowers. Flat, flat, flat. Weathered faces under head scarves. Horse drawn transport. No traffic on the roads. I hadn’t read any Tolstoy at that time, but if I had I would have felt like I was a part of one of his epic tales of the vastness of the Steppe.

Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe. After Russia. When I took my bus trip, the one was absorbed into the other. And it was impossible not to wonder how any country with such vast agricultural spaces could ever manage to leave its people hungry. By this time successive Bolshevik governments had conclusively proved that neither five year plans nor shipping people off to Siberia in cattle trucks were good ways of putting food on the table.

A couple of years after my school trip, I learned some of the reasons why this was the case in a university lecture hall. The topic was Soviet agriculture and why it was such a basket case. For seventy years the men in the Politbureau had enjoyed the same kind of cordial relationship with their farming community as the one Liverpool fans like me have with Man United fans.

When the currency crashed to worthlessness in the months after the 1917 October Revolution, the farmers refused to sell their grain to the cities. Why would they? They had no interest in being paid in worthless cash. So Trotsky got himself into the barter game. He looted every grand piano he could find in the grand houses of Moscow and Leningrad and stuck them on trains to the countryside. Once the loot arrived, his commissars swapped luxury goods for grain and somehow they contained the starvation in the cities to manageable levels.

This whole process really pissed Stalin off and he made his mind up that it would never about to happen again. He wasn’t the kind of guy who took kindly to being held over any kind of barrel. The problem? Pesky small farmers refusing to release their crops. The solution? Kill the bastards. He implemented a policy called De-Kulakisation (I guess we would call it de-smallfarmerisation. The supermarkets are quite good at it) In the early years of the 1930's, Stalin topped over 20 million small farmers and moved all agriculture in to huge collective farms where resident secret policemen kept everyone honest.

The problem was that the collective farms were a complete car crash when it came to turning out food and most of the time the people in the cities went hungry.

In the Seventies, the Politbureau decided to loosen their grip out of sheer desperation. They allowed 4% of the land on every collective to be farmed by the workers themselves and they were allowed to sell anything they produced in the market and keep the cash. It worked. By the late Seventies this 4% of land was producing over 70% of all Soviet food.

Human nature and all that.


It’s 1992 and the second largest country in Europe is all set to really become something. It has 50 million citizens itching to get a feel of what freedom is like in the flesh and they have gazillions of the best acres on planet Earth at their disposal.

What could go wrong?

Quite a lot as it turned out. Almost everything in fact. A few weeks ago I listened to a fascinating World Service documentary about the slow collapse of the Ukraine. There are no longer 52 million Ukrainians. The population has shrunk dramatically to just over 40 million. Why? Lots of reasons. When the EU opened up to Poland and the Baltic States, hundreds of thousands got on coaches and headed west for better paid work. They left a vacuum in their wake. So hundreds of thousands of young Ukrainians headed west to fill the gap. Sure jobs in Warsaw or Riga were not as well paid as jobs in London or Berlin, but the cash was way better that jobs in Kiev or Lvov.

As the young up sticks and left, the old got sick. The health system creaked and almost collapsed. The older generation missed the certainly of the old Soviet days and started to drown their sorrows in a billion litres of vodka. Soon the average lifespan of Ukraine’s men was ten years less than that of its women.

An expert on the documentary laid out the bones of a bleak future. She predicted that by 2030 the population of the country was going to be down to just over thirty million: a fall of twenty million from Independence Day. Worse still, the projected population would be increasingly old and weary as the young people continued to go west. She said that there were serious doubts as to whether there would be enough people left to actually maintain a viable country.

And so once again, all of those millions upon millions of acres of prime black soil would be left untouched at a time when the nine billion people of planet earth need grain like never before.

The answer?

She had no answer. She wondered if anyone could ever come up with an answer. How can you come up with twenty million energetic young people in less than twenty years?


But it shouldn’t be impossible because of course we see these very people on the news every night. They are the ones paying for death rides across the Med in inflatable dinghies. And many if not most of these people have skills we in the west have largely forgotten. They know how to farm. They know how to maximise the potential from acres of black soil.

Would twenty million take up a similar offer to the one the Kiev Council made to my man from the outskirts of Leeds? Come East for twenty acres and a place of your own? A 21st Century version of the old Oregon Trail? Swap the RPG’s on the streets of Alleppo for a little house on the Ukrainian Steppe?

It has the look to me of a win, win situation.

Ukraine gets twenty million energetic young people who would become the very best of patriotic citizens.
Twenty million energetic young people get a chance to escape from murder, torture, famine and torture rooms.

And of course mankind gets the shelves filled from planet earth’s greatest larder.

If only basic common sense was allowed to prevail for once. If only the world could find a way of running itself as a World rather than a network of Glasgow style gangs of Neds, all ferociously defending their turf.
The fading, aging countries of the old west are crying out for an injection of new blood, but all most of us are frantically building higher fences. How would the people of the Ukraine react to twenty million immigrants coming along to save the day? Not well I think. We have all seen the Neo Nazis strutting their stuff in Independence Square. Logic and common sense are not a part of their world view.

So I guess we will continue to build our fences higher and higher and soon we will add watch towers complete with machine guns to hold the line. And we will hide on our side of the fence and get older and older until our countries are like vast old peoples homes and every acre of land lies fallow.

We are entering and era of walls and fences where common sense and practicality will be banished by wave  after wave of xenophobia.

Let’s face it, the human race is really, really good at being idiotic.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


You know what, I got to spend yesterday afternoon visiting royalty. I guess this might make the picture of Jack and I passing the time of day a tad confusing. A donkey? So where are the Corgis and the polo ponies then?
I sympathise with your confusion. I really do.

So here’s the thing. It wasn’t THAT royalty. You know. Britain’s most successful EU migrant family. Those upwardly mobile Germans from Saxe Coburg who have smashed all records for housing benefit payments. For most EU migrants residing in London, the £23,000 benefit cap can be a little restricting. I mean it is hard enough to get HMG to cover the rent on a two bed flat on the eighteenth floor of a Hackney high rise. So palaces tend to be out of the question. But not for the Saxe Coburgs. They managed to negotiate themselves an exemption and the rest is history.

But like I said. I wasn’t visiting THAT particular dynasty.

Instead I got the chance to spend some time with a representative of a very different dynasty. Which explains the presence of Jack the donkey in the picture.

Let’s wind the clock back for a moment or two. A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a lady who is running an animal sanctuary in Sanquhar. She told me that they were looking to provide some homeless accommodation for vagrant chickens. And she wondered if First Base would like to take the eggs from the rescued chucks and include them in our food parcels.
And I said yes, you bet we would. Of course we would. But in truth I really wasn’t listening properly. You see by this time the lady had introduced herself.


Well Alison is a perfectly nice name but not a name to set the brain running fast. Well, at least not my brain.

Alison’s surname however was a different matter entirely.


And so it was that while Alison ran through her plans to get into the rescued chicken game, my mind was running in geography mode. 

Sanquhar. Dumfries and Galloway. Population – 2000. Or thereabouts. Reason for existence in the first place? Coal. Lots and lots of Victorian coal.

A small coal mining village sitting atop the very same coalfield as another small coal mining village a few miles to the north.


A village that is now nothing more than a ghost village. A few overgrown bricks. A track that winds up into the bare hills and ends up nowhere at all. A place remembered by old photos of hard terraced streets in the midst of a Scottish wilderness.
And just like Saxe Coburg’s greatest claim to fame is being the home turf of a migrant family who made good in another country, Glenbuck’s most famous son did exactly the same.

We are talking of the king of the Kop here.

We’re talking Bill Shankly.

I did the maths. Sanquhar to Glenbuck? As the crow flies? Twenty miles maybe. Maybe even less.
Could it be?

Well it could.

Alison told me that she was married to the great man’s nephew.

I am sure such a revelation would be enough to make any true Liverpool fan lose their words. When I first walked into Anfield in the autumn of 1973, I remember staring in awe from my place on the Kop to where the great man was sitting in the dug out. He was Caesar in his Coliseum. A magnetic presence. In charge of everything. The team. The fans. All of it.

And this was not a king who had assumed his throne through marriage or birth. He was a warrior king who had taken his empire by the seismic force of his will power and charisma.
A small man from the Ayrshire coalfield who basically conquered the world of football. And of course we will never see his likes again. Sorry Brendan, but you are the very palest or pale shadows.
And here was a member of the great man’s dynasty offering free range eggs for our Foodbank. Life can be a truly crazy gig at times.

Would I like come along to check out the animal sanctuary? Well of course I would. And yesterday I did.


In 2013 Alison lost her son, Clark. She channeled the energy of her grief and created an animal sanctuary in his memory. Clarke had always loved animals and Clarke had always loved to see people happy. So the idea was a simple idea. Make a place where animals can make people happy.
She managed to buy a piece of land in the grounds of an abandoned brickworks half a mile outside the village and got on with building Clark’s Little Ark. And in my humble opinion, Alison and her many helpers have created a near perfect charity. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have all kinds of issues with the bullying super charities who seem hell bent of acting like Footsie 100 corporations. When was it that the Voluntary Sector went so slick and corporate? When was it that everything suddenly started to revolve around mission statements and branding and chief execs on six figure salaries ruling their roosts from offices with the right kind of London postcode?

You will find none of that at Clark’s Little Ark.

Instead you’ll find donkeys and ponies and ducks and a pig. And some of the nicest people you could ever meet. It costs a visitor nothing to visit. So on a sunny day families who struggle to make the weekly shop can take the kids for a walk up the hill out of the village to spend some time with the animals.

And it doesn’t cost a penny. Fresh air and good company and break from the relentless adverts on the spinning hours of daytime TV.

Buy this, buy this, buy this….

You need, you need, you need….

Rolling images of ever so perfect families in ever so perfect homes with ever so perfect pearly white teeth with the disposable income to buy their little treasures anything they want to buy them.
And what can you do when the TV keeps on telling your kids that proper TV parents take their kids on extra special days out? All the time. To McDonalds. To Burger King. To Disneyland.
Where do you go when even the cracks under the cushions on the couch have been drained of loose change? It is just another dismal brick in the walled in poverty that passes for day to day life for so many millions in Britain 2015.

Well the parents of Sanquhar DO have a place to go when the sun is shining. They can spend and hour or two in Clark’s Little Ark.

And it isn’t just a place for kids. Workers bring along clients with mental health problems. Probation Workers send along angry youngsters to do their community service time and to drain away their aggression in the calming company of the animals.

And it works for the simple reason that it is simple. All of the volunteers who help out Alison do so for the simple reason that they want to help. They want to contribute. They want to make life a bit better for people who really need their lives to be a bit better. There is nothing corporate or condescending.

And there is no judgement.

No forms to fill in. No intrusive questions. No condescending voices that treat everyone like they are five years old with learning difficulties.

No bloody means testing.

No questions about criminal records.

Just old fashioned friendliness. Of course it helps that Sanquhar is a mining community. It is in the DNA of mining communities all over the world to look after their own.
Nobody is being paid anything. Everyone is a volunteer. Every hutch and shed has been donated. Every fence and enclosure has been cobbled together from old pallets and planks by weekend handymen.

What a brilliant, brilliant place.

As I drove back down the Nith Valley to Dumfries I was reminded of a story I read about Bill Shanky’s first few days in the Anfield job way back in 1959. Liverpool was a complete car crash of a club when he walked through the doors. We were stone broke and facing relegation to the third division.

The stadium was falling apart and the training ground at Melwood was even worse. Bill took a look at the training pitches and he was appalled. They were covered in litter and broken glass and stones. They were not even close to being fit for purpose. So this what he did on his first morning.

He gathered up the squad and introduced himself. Then his asked the players to run laps around the pitch. He got is coaching staff together and handed them a bag each. He lined them up on the touch line with himself in the middle of the line. And then they slowly walked the length of the pitch picking up every piece of litter and every piece of broken glass and every stone.

Up and down they went.

Up and down.

For one day and then two days and then three days.

And all the while the players ran their laps and watched their new manager walk up and down and up and down until there was not a single bit of litter, glass or stone to be found on the training pitch.
And after watching him for three days, they were already his men. Ready to run through brick walls for him.

And over the next fifteen years they ran through brick wall after brick wall until Liverpool became the greatest football club on planet earth.

That was Bill keeping it simple. Bill the coal miner socialist who always got mucked in. Bill who could turn the simple things into magic things.

And as I drove I found a huge smile on my face at the thought of the great man looking down on Clark’s Little Ark.

It is his kind of place. Rooted a mile deep in the community. Made open and welcoming by people who just want to help other people out. The socialism of the old coalfields. Plain, uncomplicated decency.

When we reached the cup final in 1965 thousands of fans wrote to Bill asking for his help in getting a ticket to the game. Wembley wasn’t even close enough to being big enough for him to be able to make it happen. Instead he sat in his office for night after night writing letters of apology. By hand. And he addressed every envelope by hand. And he licked every stamp. Because these were his people. And he saw it was the right thing to do.

A simple thing.

No wonder we still take a moment to nod to his statue at the back of the Kop.

It really made my day to find his old generous, socialist spirit alive and kicking like a mule in Clark’s Little Ark.  

I was bowled over when I arrived. One of the volunteers had a cheque for me. £300. It was from an Edinburgh reader of this blog and had sent it down to her as a Sanquhar reader of this blog. This kind of jaw dropping generosity never ceases to make my jaw drop.

Here is the link to the Clark's Little Ark Facebook page.

They have a feed bill which runs to £3000 a year and there can be fewer better homes for a few quid. They deserve all the support they get. Many thanks for a truly uplifting afternoon guys.

Monday, August 31, 2015


Corbynmania has induced a fascination with echoes. Echoes from times gone by. Echoes of the good old 1980's. In the red corner, a bearded throwback to the old school left. Only the donkey jacket is missing. But everything else from the old Tony Benn playbook is suddenly back in the spotlight from re-nationalised trains to scrapped nukes. And of course in the blue corner is the most right wing government since Maggie.
For newsreaders and stand up comics alike, these echoes are just to easy to be ignored. Archives throw out reels and reels of perfect background sights and sounds from Orgreave to champagne quaffing city boys in braces to Ben Elton on 'Saturday Night live' with the sleeves of his shiny jacket rolled up.
But I am not too sure the 80’s echoes are the ones we should be listening to. They are obvious and they are easy to hear, but that doesn’t make them right.
Cameron’s Tories are constantly compared to Thatcher’s Tories, but in reality there are few similarities. Maggie Thatcher was many things and not many of them were very good, but she was anything but a coward. When she picked a fight, she stood her ground and slugged it out like a street brawler. She was merciless and she was vicious and she had no interest in the Geneva Convention.
She lined up her enemies one by one and she took them on. She always explained exactly why they were her enemies. And then she laid into them. And she wasn’t shy about standing next to her more ghastly friends for a photo shoot, be it the Apartheid Government in South Africa of President Pinochet in Chile.
And let’s face it, very few were able to withstand the manic assaults from the Prime Minister’s handbag.
The Argentinians, the miners and the IRA were all left bleeding out on the floor.
And the Labour Party of course.
The old left.
Michael Foot and Tony Benn and Arthur Scargill and Derek Hatton.
Squashed like beetles under a skinhead’s Doc Martin boot.
There is none of her thuggish bravado to be found in Cameron and Osborne. These are not leaders for the front line. Instead they pull their strings from far back in the shadows and giggle at their covert nastiness.
They could not be less like Maggie and her bully boys.
The real echoes are much more sinister and much fainter. And of course we really don’t want to hear the real echoes because they are so ugly. This is a government that delivers its cruelty through legions of bland faced beaurocrats. They never front up. They hide. And their cowardice is endless.
The echoes are not from the eighties. They are not even from Britain. Instead they float silently through the decades from the dark days of Germany's past. The pitch black horrors of the Third Reich and the grey misery of Communist East Germany. They were both hideous regimes run by miserable cowardly men who were corrupt to their core. From Martin Bormann to Heinrich Himmler to Adolf Eichmann to Eric Honnecker. Grey men. Chicken farmers and paint salesmen.
Evil was delivered with perfect paperwork. Brutality was documented in copper plate handwriting.
A few years ago I visited the museum at Auschwitz on bitterly cold day in February. Those few blighted acres on the Upper Silesian coalfield in every respect represent the very worst place in the world. Nobody will ever find the right words to describe the numbing horror of the place. Certainly not me.
Oddly enough, of all the awful things I saw that day, the one thing that seemed worst of all was some paperwork. A ledger book. I have never seen a document more neatly written. Perfect handwriting. Immaculately lined up figures. The book recorded the exact take from every train that drew up at the platform in Birkenau. How much gold and silver and diamonds and rubies. And dollars and Reichmarks and Swiss Francs. Share certificates and works of art.
The loot. The plunder.
Measured and audited and accounted for and stored ready for transportation.
Right down to the last pfennig.
This was not about the insanity of psychotic zealots. It was plain crime. Industrial robbery. A crime that relied on perfect railway timetables and an assembly line from hell.
Adolf Eichmann didn’t have an office in Auschwitz Birkenau. He never looked his victims in the eye. Instead he hid away in Berlin and drew up his flow charts and cash flows.
When it all started in 1933, Hitler and his cronies scraped over the electoral line much like the currant Westminster Government squeaked home in May. From the very get go they relied on an army of grey, anonymous beaurocrats to cement their power. Endless nastiness was wrapped up in bland civil service language.
And nothing worked. As Germany slipped into a permanent recession, the Nazis tried to mask their dismal incompetence with vitriolic propaganda. Blame the Jews and the Gypsies and Homosexuals and the Slavs and the Communists.
And all the while those obliging grey men in cheap suits did their bidding with unblinking obedience.
The vaults of the banks of Zurich were filled with treasure whilst a million souls went up the chimneys of Birkenau.
Obviously the cowardly crew who are running Britain are not even beginning to touch the evil of the Nazis or their successors in East Germany. But they are using the same playbook.
You start by blaming people who are easy to blame. The poor. The immigrants. You orchestrate a relentless drumbeat of hate in a compliant media. And once the eyes of the public are firmly fixed on your chosen bogeymen, you quietly get on with the job of looting everything you can lay your hands on. And all the while you pretend that you are the most efficient people the world has ever seen. George Osborne started out with a record National Debt and doubled it and still managed to con people that he was a penny pinching master of austerity. And as the country slips ever deeper into poverty and mediocrity, you keep everyone looking the wrong way by bombarding them with wall to wall propaganda. You keep on blaming the poor and the Jews and immigrants and the Gypsies and the feckless Labour Government and the feckless Weimar Government. And you spend a vast fortune of borrowed money on holding the Olympic Games in your capital city.
And all the while you keep coming up with completely inept ideas and pushing them down everyone’s throat via your army of grey men in cheap suits.
Take just one First Base example from last week. Let’s call the lad Joe. Joe is 43. Joe left school at 16 and went to work on a building site. Joe has worked on building sites for twenty seven years. He’s never been unemployed because he’s a good builder. He’s an ordinary Joe. And for 27 years he paid his National Insurance into the pot to make sure he would be given the lend of an umbrella should a rainy day ever come.
Well the rainy day duly arrived a couple of months ago when Joe was paid off. So he signed on. Like you do. And he signed up to his part of the Jobseeking contract the grey men have drawn up for the citizens under their charge.
Joe doesn’t want to be unemployed.
Joe hates being unemployed.
Joe is used to earning over £300 a week. So why would he be happy with £70 a week?
So Joe has been looking for his next job. Looking hard.
How does a builder look for work? Well everyone knows that. You wear out shoe leather. You go from site to site. You ask for the foreman. You introduce yourself. You leave your number.
And you keep calling again and again. You make sure that every site foreman knows your name. Your face. Your number.
That’s what Joe did.
But there was a problem. When Joe entered into his Jobseeking contract with the grey men in cheap suits, he failed to read the small print. And the small print demands that he must spend a minimum of 35 hours each and every week seeking work online. Joe hasn’t come close. Instead he has spent his days walking from site to site to site.
So they sanctioned him.
No more £70 a week.
Instead Joe has had a month of living on fresh air and two food parcels per week care of First Base. Adolf Eichmann would have been proud of the beaurcratic trap that ensnared Joe. It had the impossible lunacy that the hideous regimes of Hitler and Honnecker so specialised in.
If Joe DOES spend 35 hours a week online, he will never find a job. Building sites don’t do online recruitment. They like face to face. Site foreman like to shake a man’s hand and judge the work in the man from the hardness of the skin on his palms.
And so Joe has been plunged into the same crazy Alice in Wonderland world that generations of Germans became so familiar with.
Spend 35 hours a week online and never get a job. But get £70 a week.
Or spend 35 hours a week visiting building sites and get sanctioned.
And all the while Osborne and Duncan Smith preen themselves for the cameras and keep banging on about how superbly competent they are. And all the while the media rubber stamps their nonsense.
And all the while the country gets poorer and poorer whilst a few off shore accounts get filled up. And still wave after wave of propaganda blames it all on poor people and immigrants.
And we buy it!
Just like the Germans bought it.
It emerged last week that over the course of two years almost three thousand people died within a fortnight of being deemed fit to work. Surely that represents the almost perfect blend of cold brutality and breathtaking incompetence.
Telling someone who is ill enough to have less than two weeks to live that they are perfectly fit for work beggars belief. It is incredibly cruel. Of course it is. But it is also utterly incompetent. After all, what do you actually gain? You save a lousy £140.
No wonder these cowardly idiots have doubled the national debt in five years.
And then there is once last echo, though this time it is an echo to be found from our own past.
Hundreds of thousands of desperate souls are fleeing from lives made up of the kind of hell that we cannot possibly imagine. Our response? Build higher fences. More razor wire. Blame them. Drown everything out with an ever louder barrage of propaganda.
Keep them out, keep them out, keep them out….
This is road we have been down before. Eighty years ago in fact. Hundreds of thousands of Jews begged us for a place of safety and we slammed the door in their faces. We put up the ‘Britain is Full’ sign.
We double locked the door and switched up the TV to drown out the sound of their pleading. And a few years later they went up the chimneys of Birkenau.
Have a read of this. WH Auden wrote these words in 1939. It seems to me that there is a familiar echo here.

Refugee Blues

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
"If you've got no passport you're officially dead":
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
"If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread":
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, "They must die":
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

Friday, August 14, 2015


I can’t pretend to be the most emotional of guys. Lets face it, I'm from Blackburn.
Born 1960.
It wasn’t the done thing to be over emotional in the grey old cotton town that turned me into what I am.
But ten minutes ago that good old Northern reserve was sorely tested and if I am going to be honest here, I am writing this with the prickle of tears in my eyes.
Regulars will know that the Foodbank I manage is facing hard times at the moment. Regulars will know that in a frantic attempt to raise the required £15,000 to keep the doors open I have written and released my 24th book: ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’.
The picture is at the top of the blogpage.
Since the book has been out and about, I have been trying to rustle up support. In the real world people have been handing out leaflets for us and the local media have been brand new.
In the virtual world I have asked for virtual support and received it. Lots and lots of kind words and generous reviews.
Tris at Mungiun’s Republic was a stand out in this regard. And of course I sent a message to Stuart at 'Wings over Scotland' asking if he could give us a leg up.
As in a retweet to his 45,000 followers.
Maybe even a review of some sort on the 'Wings over Scotland' site. This was the message I sent
‘In a perfect world you will give it a read, like it and review it. Sadly the world tends to be more shit than perfect but you never know!’
Well Stuart gave me the retweet and I was chuffed to have his support. Never in a million years did I expect what happened this morning. I received an e mail from Bruce, the local BBC reporter who had interviewed me about the book.
Had I seen this?
Had I seen what?
So you can follow the link I followed.

Bloody hell, right?
I damn near fell off my chair. Stuart’s case study is horribly familiar and will be so to anyone involved in a food bank in this era of cruelty. Thankfully with every passing day the curtain is being lifted on the small print viciousness of this nasty government.
Every day we hear stories like the one Stuart has focused on. These are the stories of the little people who cannot quite believe what they have done to deserve such a miserable fate. At First Base we see twenty of these people every day.
And they come to us because they have nothing to eat.
And most of the time they have nothing to eat because the Government has chosen to strip them of every penny of their income for the crime of….
The crime of what?
Of being ten minutes late for an appointment?
Of being to anxious and too generally mentally ill to get out of the house to make an appointment?
Of having a reading age of nine and being incapable of completing 38 online efforts to apply for work in a given fortnight?
These are the spongers and the scroungers we hear so much about in the right wing press. The ones who it seems are to blame for all the problems the world has faced since Lehman Brothers crashed and burned.
And as a punishment they have nothing to eat.
Sometimes for a week.
Sometimes for a month.
Sometimes for a three months.
Sometimes for three years for Christ’s sake.
Well in our small Scottish town, we can at least make sure they do have something to eat.
So long as we keep raising enough cash to keep the doors open. Hence the book. But in promoting the book there have been one or two unintended consequences.
There always are. Because life is never, ever simple.
It goes something like this.
Nobody is going to buy the book unless they know there is a book to buy. Duh! So you need to publicise the book. How? Get the media on board.
Press release.
‘First Base is in a £15,000 hole and we have just released a book to raise enough cash to fill the hole.’
Well what else could we say? So we said it.
And our message duly went out via the local papers, radio and TV.
Not surprisingly lots of people got the message.
Including every food parcel client I chatted with yesterday.
Oh yeah.
They heard the message all right. And they were scared. You’re not going to close down are you Mark……
And of course I made confident noises. Of course not. We’ve been here before. Many times before. One way or another we always find a way to keep the doors open. First Base knows how to run on fresh air.
I think I managed to ease their worries.
But I defy anyone not to feel the pressure of the situation. Because if the day comes when we cannot open our doors twenty people will have nothing to eat. Including kids.
And the safety net we have known since 1945 is barely there any more. 20% of the people who arrive at our desk have been sent to us by social workers who don’t have an emergency budget.
Not any more.
All they can do is send their client to the likes of First Base.
Because we have become the last line of defence. Oh and how politicians just love to grandstand and go on and on and on about the disgrace of foodbanks.
You want to take a moment to wonder how things would look right now if there were no foodbanks to hold the line.
Not great.
Knowing there is a danger that we might have to close the doors sometime in the depths of the winter is a thing that refuses to leave the mind. It is always there. Always nagging away. Always leaving an uneasy feeling in the pit of the stomach.
When you step into the spotlight and announce that you are in a financial hole, you really, really hope that you will find you have a few friends to step up alongside.
And be shoulder to shoulder.
I cannot say how pleased I am to say that First Base has had many, many friends standing shoulder to shoulder with us over the last few days.
And I see no point in not pointing out that most of them are fellow travelers from the ‘Yes’ campaign. The '45'.
But not all. More than a few ‘No’ voters have helped out as well.
Stuart has proved himself to be a true friend.
So thanks Stuart. Profound thanks.
Oh yeah, I know exactly how much you’ll hate me going all gushing on you. Well tough. You’ll have to live with it.
In the blog I posted yesterday I waxed rather lyrical about Scotland being the new ‘shining city on the hill.’
A beacon of hope for people all over the world.
A place where it is OK to be decent and caring and sympathetic. A place where immigrants and poor people don’t get blamed for everything. That is why I chose the picture at the top of the blog. Sentimental I know, but sod it.
You know what Stuart, I think you have just rubber stamped that particular thought. And everyone who has donated to your appeal has just rubber stamped that particular thought.
Big time.
And you know what? It might be tipping it down with rain outside but Scotland looks a pretty good place to be right now.    

Oh and by the way. If you want to buy yourself a copy of the 'Great Foodbank Siege' you can do so by following the link below.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


It has become a regular as clockwork part of the evening news. The Jeremy Corbyn piece. The 'Corbynmania' piece.  Public halls that have been echoing and empty for years suddenly jam packed. Extra chairs dug from dusty store rooms. Standing room only. People actually locked outside. People arriving three hours early to make sure of a seat.
And young people.
Lots and lots of young people with their faces full of unexpected hope.
For those of us who fought on the side of ‘YES’ last summer it all has a very familiar look about it. Remember how it was this time a year ago? The clock was ticking down to September 18th and the fever pitch mood of the final weeks was gathering momentum.
The battle lines also have the look of something very familiar.
On the one hand there are meeting halls filled with hundreds and hundreds of people drawn like moths to the flame of hope. Of something different. Of something fairer. Of something better.
On the other had are the giant grey walls of the establishment. 
Cold. Ugly. Dismissive. Arrogant. Lying. Condescending. Smug. Hideous.
The torrent of derision and abuse being poured over the Corbyn campaign is much the same as the derision and abuse we had thrown at us twelve months ago.

But something has changed.
A year ago it seemed like the vast grey armies of the Establishment would always prevail. On September 19th it certainly felt that way as the streets emptied of all hope and the evening news was given over to a crowd of fascist morons and their Nazi salutes in George Square.
My how the vintage port must have flowed in all those London clubs. The great unwashed had been duly conned out of their chance of something better. All those telephone calls from murky call centres had hit the mark.
You’ll lose your pension… you’ll lose your pension…. you’ll lose your pension…..
Drip, drip, drip……
Lie, lie, lie…….
Vow, vow, vow……
And that was supposed to have been that.
You’ve all had your chance. Your once in a generation chance. And you’ve blown it. We lied. And you bought the lies.
Because you’re stupid.
And we won.
Because we always win.
And now you can go back into your box.
And stay there.
But it didn’t work out that way. Not even close.
People refused to go back into the box and as their nasty, grubby lies were exposed one by one, the people of Scotland found a way to project our power.
And on May 7th we delivered our hammer blow.
On May 7th the Labour Party and the Lib Dems discovered the real meaning of Better Together. They suffered the kind of fate that the Romanian and Italian soldiers met at the battle of Stalingrad. They paid a heavy price for teaming up with the dark side.
They learnt what the word obliteration means.
And for four months the Tories and the Establishment had been smug as bugs in their rugs. The super rich have slept like babies in their vast beds.
And they are now completely convinced that things are just getting better and better as Jeremy Corbyn has moved from being a no hoper to a near shoe in.
Because nobody will vote for such an 80’s loser, right? He represents an enemy that the Establishment took on and destroyed thirty years ago when their cavalry stoved in the heads of the fleeing miners on the battlefield of Orgreave.
So let the gullible young fill the meeting halls of England to listen to the out dated words of Tony Benn. Let the deluded young indulge themselves in some misguided hope. Where is the harm? There is no harm. They are nothing. Pitiful.
And my how the good and the great of the Labour Party are closing ranks. Just listen to the desperation in their voices as they see their seats at the Establishment high table about to be taken away from them. They are terrorised by the prospect of becoming the next set of victims and going the same way as Murphy and Balls and Clegg and Alexander.
And Alexander.
Membership cancelled. Desk cleared. Access codes cancelled. Keycard reclaimed. No more invitations to the black ties dinners where the super rich write out the fat cheques and bestow the six figure non exec directorships.
On the wrong side of the wall.
In the cold.
Blair and his disciples are becoming frantically shrill in their warnings of mayhem and Armageddon and wipeout.
But here’s the thing.
None of it is working. Not any more. It doesn’t matter if it is Tony Blair or Alistair Campbell of the Murdoch Press. They all promise an electoral nemesis in 2020 if a man like Jeremy Leon Trotsky Corbyn should ever be put in a position to genuinely threaten the thousand or so people who call all of the shots.
So why oh why are the hundreds who fill the meeting halls not listening to such wise and trusted Establishment words? And why are the thousands and thousands who are about to succumb to Corbynmania not listening? Why do they not get it! Why can’t they see that nobody will vote for this kind of pipe dream 1980’s socialist drivel!
Go on!
Answer the bloody question you impudent deluded idiots.
And you know how all the people in the meeting halls are answering the question? They are answering the question with a single word.
Look at Scotland.
They HAVE free university education in Scotland.
They HAVE a publicly owned NHS in Scotland.
They HAVE a government who has promised to get rid of nuclear weapons in Scotland.
They HAVE a government who is nice about immigrants in Scotland.
They HAVE a government who condemns fighting illegal wars for the interests of corporations in Scotland.
They HAVE  a government who wants to play a positive role in Europe and the world in Scotland.
And you know what? These were all the things their manifesto promised in the run up to the election in May.
And you know what? They won by a landslide.
And you know what? You can stick your lies and bullshit where the sun don’t shine because people in England are no different from people in Scotland.
And if the Scots can do it, then we can do it to.
In the desperate years of hunger and disease after the end of the Second World War, America was the shining city on the hill for the starving millions of Europe. A place of plenty. Coca Cola and Gary Cooper and Levi jeans and shelves filled to bursting point with non rationed food. The land of the men in white hats who had sailed across the ocean to rid the world of Nazism.
Holywood brought the American Dream to the hungry and the cold.
And the hungry and the cold wanted their countries to be like that shining city on the hill.
America had the chance to guide the world into a better future. But America blew it. And now the world has become an increasingly dismal place and hundreds and hundreds of millions of people are becoming sick to the stomach with it.
It is becoming clear with every passing day that the status quo cannot last for much longer. People are arriving at a tipping point. People are arriving at a point in time where they will no longer be willing to put up with 1000 people owning well over half of the whole world. People are arriving at a time where they won’t wear the gilded thousand having $24 trillion stashed away in their off shore accounts in Grand Cayman and Luxembourg and …
Oh yes.
And the City of London.
All over Europe dark forces are coming up with dark answers to address the growing rage of the masses. And most of the time it isn’t pretty because most of the time the answers are the very same answers that Hitler and Mussolini came up with eighty years ago after the last great financial crash.
All over Europe people with the wrong coloured skin are being beaten and blamed. Even the once tolerant Scandinavians seem to be succumbing to the siren voices of the far right.
Greece tried to make a fight of it, but it seems that Greece has been smashed back to the ground.
Which leaves just one shining city on the hill for all of the millions of people whose lives just seem to get a little bit worse with every passing year.
The place where hope is the winning ticket. The place where simple words of decency and hope precipitated a democratic landslide.
A democratic revolution where not one single person was beaten to a pulp.
Whether we like it or not, we have become the role model for those who dream of achieving something better by using the power of hope not hate.
We are the antidote to the fast spreading virus of Putin and le Pen.
What we have managed to achieve over the last year or so has offered inspiration. That’s why when the Manchester Evening news asked its readers if they would like their city to become a part of Scotland over 70% said yes they would actually.
Just like 70% of Europeans would have dreamed of being Americans in 1946.
So we are the new shining city on the hill.
Hope is the asylum seeker and we have given hope a sanctuary.
It is very important that we are fully aware of the fact that the world is watching us. And admiring us. And wanting to be like us.
A place of decency and tolerance and hope where the vicious voices of those who hate are barely heard.
When I grew up I had a free university education and a grant. When I got ill, I was treated in an NHS that had no place for the private sector. When I travelled I could afford to use the train. When I was cold I could afford to switch the heating up.
These are not lunatic ideas that will destroy the fabric of our lives. Instead they are ideas that will hit the super rich hard.
No wonder they are fighting so hard to squash hope before it gets out of hand.
Well maybe this time they will not be so successful. Because when Tony Blair says vote Corbyn and get a guaranteed electoral wipeout, the hundreds in the meeting halls respond with a very simple question of their own.
What about Scotland then?
How come these barking mad ideas delivered 56 MPs out of 59?
Answer that one.
And right now nobody has an answer. And because they have no answer, more and more people turn up to every meeting.
Because all of those people have a shining city on the hill to inspire them.
I just hope that we do better than America did. Our small country has punched above its weight for hundreds of years.
We have given the world a lot.
Maybe now we can play our greatest role by providing a permanent safe place for decency and fairness and hope.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog I reckon you'll also enjoy my new book, 'The Great Foodbank Siege'. It costs £3. All proceeds go to keeping the First base Foodbank alive. And you can find it by clicking the link below.

Monday, August 10, 2015


‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ is now available to buy in the Kindle Store for the princely sum of £3. 
Once Amazon and the Vat Man have taken their respective slices of the cake, £2 from every sale will help The First Base Agency Foodbank to keep our heads above water.
What do you need to do to get yourself a copy?
Just click on this link.

Then it is simply a case of doing the usual thing in the Kindle Store and duly buying and downloading a copy.
To be honest I feel pretty nervous about the whole thing. Our financial situation certainly isn’t all that pretty at the moment. If ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ proves to be a success and we manage to sell lots and lots of copies, then it will be a huge weight of the mind. As things stand First Base will run out of cash in January and the thought of twenty people a day turning up for emergency food only to find a locked door really doesn’t bare thinking about.
I feel pretty confident that most people will enjoy the book. It isn’t overly long and everyone who has read it so far has told me it is a quick read. A page turner to use a particularly well worn cliché! I guess anyone who voted ‘Yes’ with enthusiasm last September will enjoy every page. Those who crossed the ‘No’ box with gusto? Well I guess they won’t like it quite as much! But what the hell. Even if you think you are going to hate every page, maybe you could still buy a copy. At least it helps to put food on the table for people whose cupboards are bare.
Is there anything else you can do to help out?
You bet there is.
If you read it and you like it, please take a few minutes to put a short review up on Amazon. Reviews really help.
If you read it and you like it, please share it around on social media. If this fundraising gambit is going to stand any chance of success, we will have to pick up some serious momentum in the ether worlds of Facebook and Twitter.
We have also had a bunch of leaflets printed. If you are willing to spread a few around for us, you can e mail me at with your postal address and I will send a few out.
If you are a part of any kind of group that invites speakers along, I would be delighted to turn out to do a couple of readings and to answer questions about the book and the foodbank.
It is odd how the world is changing. Thirty years ago we might have put on a jumble sale or shaken collection tins up the high street. Now we encourage supporters to click a button and spend an electronic three quid with an American multi-national.
How very bizarre and daunting.      
What is truly alarming is the fact that front line charities such as First Base find ourselves in a position where we are having to resort to increasingly frantic efforts to raise cash. Last week’s implosion of the Kids Company opened up an awful lot of eyes. I have no idea if there was bad stuff going down at the Kids Company. I hope not. It doesn’t seem that way. I found some of the criticism leveled at them to be a bit rich. Apparently they were at fault for not building up lots and lots of financial reserves. I very much doubt if this was an active choice they made. First Base has been running for twelve years now and we have never once managed to amass any reserves. It just doesn’t happen that way for most front line charities. Demand keeps on coming in through the front door and you simply do your best to keep up. It is called living from hand to mouth. Imagine if we told our clients that there is no food today because we are building up our reserves.
It seems that Kids Company worked from the same play book as the one we have always used. They tried their best to help as many kids as they could manage to help and in the end the massive demand became too much. 
In the end they were overwhelmed.
The decision the Government has made to succumb to their cold feet and pull the plug on Kids Company will end up costing the tax payer a fortune. Most of the buildings the Kids Company were using were given to them free of charge. They also had many thousands of volunteers who were willing to give up their time and their energy to help some of the most broken and vulnerable kids in the land.
So what happens now?
Will anyone let the Social Services use their buildings for free?
Will anyone volunteer to give their time and energy to the Social Services?
Will the Social Services be able to handle the thousands of broken children the Kids Company were supporting?
So what happens next? That is easy enough to predict, especially for someone who works in a front line charity like First Base. Alcoholism happens next. Drug addiction happens next. Homelessness happens next. Mental health problems happen next. Crime happens next. Violent crime happens next.
And people will get hurt and the prisons will be filled to bursting point.
The Government needs to wake up to the fact that it cannot simply throw the biggest nightmares in our society to the voluntary sector to deal with and expect us to manage on fresh air.
You are NOT cutting costs. All you are doing is sweeping problems under a carpet otherwise known as the front line charities. We are pretty good at what we do. And we are pretty dedicated. But we still have to find a way to pay the rent and the phone bill and the accountants and the electric bill.
There is no such thing as a volunteer light bulb.
It is high time that politicians of all colours stopped showboating for the cameras as they bang on about the ‘disgrace of foodbanks’.
Maybe it makes you feel good. In fact I’m sure it makes you feel good. But it does absolutely nothing to put food on the table for those of us who have nothing to eat. It would be a great deal more useful if you would take time out to ask us what help we need. I think you might be pleasantly surprised. You will find that front line charities get things done at a fraction of the cost that the public sector is used to.
But there ARE costs and there always will be costs and it is getting harder and harder to find enough cash to pay all the bills.
In a perfect world we would have enthusiastic people from the Government coming to visit and asking how they might help. Because getting food to people who have nothing to eat is pretty damned important.
In a perfect world they would wake up to the fact that places like First Base and Kids Company are now the safety net of last resort.
But our world isn’t close to being anything resembling perfect. In our world there will be no 7th Cavalry arriving care of the Government. Instead the only way we are going to be able to keep our heads above the rising tide is old fashioned people power.
So we really, really need lots of people to buy a copy of ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’.
For £3
By following this link

And then we need lots and lots of people to tell their pals to do the same.
And then by hook or by crook, our doors will continue to open every day and twenty or so people will get something to eat.
It really, really shouldn’t be this way.
But it is.
It’s Great Britain 2015 and it’s a hard place to be.
I guess that is about all I have to say.
I hope you’ll help us out.