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.

Monday, November 16, 2015


Friday night’s pictures from Paris were a hard watch. They represented everyone’s nightmare. A Friday night out. A  nice meal. A few drinks. A beautiful city. And then the crackle of automatic weapons and the descent into the butchery, panic and confusion of the battlefield.

Was it predictable?


Was the reaction predictable?


Utterly and tragically.

President Hollande got himself in front of the screens and promised merciless vengeance and within a matter of hours ten French attack jets spat fire down on a small town in Syria. We were presented with the footage of the ten fast jets hammering up into the darkness of the night. We were informed that they had surgically struck a number of ISIL targets. A recruitment Centre. A training camp. A command centre.

We were expected to buy into the fact that the men in charge of the Islamic State are complete idiots.

I mean come on. Let’s just take a moment here. You order eight guys into the heart of the French capital and sit back and watch their murder and mayhem on the rolling news. Then you front up and release a statement taking full responsibility for what has just gone down.

So what do you do nect? Are you going to leave a bunch of guys making like sitting ducks in a training camp? A recruitment centre? A command post?

Fat chance.

President Holland did the usual thing and bombed a bunch of empty buildings to try and convince his people that he was not completely helpless.

Fair enough. Doing nothing would not have been deemed unacceptable.

Yet again we have reacted in the exact way that the bastards in charge of ISIL had intended. And no doubt we will continue to dance to their tune. And let’s not forget the tune they want the Moslem world to hear.
They have a clear message. The West is wall to wall bad. We are unbelievers and infidels. We hate and despise Muslims. The only way forward is to fight back and ISIL are the boys who are doing it.
So how are they about to spin things now? How to they use our reaction to make their point? Well we might as well start with the TV pictures of iconic buildings all across the western world being lit up in the colours of the French flag. It was a touching show of support and solidarity. Something to make us all fee better about ourselves. But ISIL will whisper a different narrative.

Only a matter of weeks ago, ISIL blew over a hundred people into pieces in Ankara, Turkey. Turkey as in one of our strongest NATO allies. Did we get to see London Bridge and the Sydney Opera House lit up in the colours of the Turkish flag?

I don’t think we did.

Similarly, not a single iconic building was lit up in the colours of the Kenyan flag in the wake of the Nairobi shopping centre massacre.

I don’t think we did.


Well we can be sure the boys at the top of ISIL will have the answer. They will point out the fact that we will never light up our buildings for black and brown people.

And of course we will scoff and say such an idea is utterly ridiculous, but our words will fall on deaf ears.
The fact that we give three days of wall to wall coverage when a hundred white European people are massacred by ISIL doesn’t go unnoticed. When a similar number of brown people die at the hands of the same nutters in Baghdad or Karachi or Kabul or Alleppo or Maidugari, they barely warrant 30 seconds of rolling news time.

It doesn’t go unnoticed.

I heard a guy on the radio who had once been in charge of counter terrorism for the Met. He was adamant that it was completely unheard of for a suicide terrorist to go into action with a passport in his pocket. And yet one of the Paris killers did exactly that. Was he just and idiot or was he following orders? Because surprise, surprise the passport told the story of a boat trip to a Greek island and a journey to Paris in the midst of the hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Because of course the way Europeans are treating the refugees is a major problem to ISIL. If we Europeans are so evil and bad, how can it be that the people of Germany and Austria are throwing their doors open to the tide of human misery that is pouring out of Syria.

Well the the long beard boys in black need to change that, right?

So they sent a guy along the well trodden refugee road and told him to keep his passport on him at all times. And now they will sit back and let the tabloid press do the rest of their job for them.

And of course our tabloid press will be more than happy to dance to their tune. How will the poor sods waiting in the November rain on the Croatian border be treated now I wonder?

Usually when huge disasters strike, we draw on the lessons from the way we responded to similar disasters. We accept the value of a learning curve. After all, we are thinking human beings and we are able to evolve.
This logic governs the way we respond to floods or epidemics or hurricanes or earthquakes or famines.

But when it comes to learning how to successfully confront terrorism, we utterly refuse to learn from the past. If anyone took time for a measured look at what we now face, we would learn a lot and we would learn it very quickly.

Start with hard facts.

What is ISIL? They are a guerrilla force which commands a lot of territory. Air power? Zero. Sea power? Zero. Manpower? Between 20,000 and 30,000.

Ranged against them are the armies of the USA, Russia, Syria, Britain, France, Turkey and a bunch of Arab states. Massive air power. Massive sea power. Millions of soldiers. Satellites and drones and and a bottomless pit of cash.

So no contest, surely?

All we need to do is bomb the hell out of them and bring all of our nmassive military superiority to bear. Then it will be an open and shut case. 

Maybe before we press the button for yet more bombing, it might be worth taking some time out to see if such a course of action has ever actually worked . Let’s go back seventy years ago and see if we can find any similar examples. 

The criteria? Guerrilla forces of over 20,000 with control of territory facing enemies with vastly superior firepower.

1941 – 1944 – Polish and Ukranian Paritisans v. The Wehrmacht. Who won? The partisans.

1941 – 1944 – Serbian Parisans v. The Wehrmact. Who won? The partisans.

1946 – 1953 – The Viet Mihn v. The French Army in Indochina. Who won? The Viet Mihn

1958 – 1962 – FLN v The French Army in Algeria. Who won? The FLN

1963 – 1975 – The NVA and Viet Cong v. The US Army. Who won? The NVA and the Viet Cong.

1980 – 1989 – The Mujahadeen v. The Red Army. Who won? The Mujahadeen.

In every single case the side with all the firepower dropped hundreds of thousand of tonnes bombs and napalm and in every single case the guerrilla army won the war.

Has there been a single case when bombing the hell out of a guerrilla army has ever worked? Maybe once. Chechnya. And the Russians didn’t just bomb Grozny. They absolutely flattened it.

Are we really willing to hold up the smoking ruins of Grozny as good practice?

Nearly fifteen years have now passed since we embarked on our post 9/11 War on Terror. Nobody can accuse us of not having dropped enough bombs. Our governments have purloined hundreds and hundreds of billions of pounds and dollars of our taxes to bomb and bomb and bomb.

And the result?

Paris was the result. Can anyone in their right mind call that a success?

In all of the frenzied coverage, I have yet to hear anyone take a step back and look at what ISIL has done over the last couple of weeks from a military point of view. As far as these guys are concerned, they are at war. Well it must feel that way. They have got half the world raining bombs down on them. Recently things have just got a whole lot worse as Russia and France have joined the 'Bomb ISIL back into the Stone Age' club. Two pretty formidable enemies which huge arsenals of weapons at their disposal. To fight back ISIL dispatched a few guys to Sharm el Sheik to blow up a Russian passenger jet and eight guys to Paris to cause a blood bath.

Probably less than twenty guys and look at the utter fear and chaos they have caused. Despite being completely out gunned and out numbered, they have managed to deliver a pretty compelling message. Bomb us and this is what you will get.

So now we will all bomb them some more and they will draw strength from the hi-tech savagery of our response.

Like night follows day.

And in the end we will lose.


So how can honesty and smartness help us to find a way out of this rolling nightmare?

Brass tacks?

Who are the men who make the long journey to don the black robes of ISIL? Most are young and they come from countries wrecked by years of war. They come from the cities and towns and villages we have been bombing. They come from countries that have all but fallen apart. They come from places where 80% of young men are unemployed and economic activity has all but ground to a halt. They come from places which are devoid of any semblance of hope. And they ave grown up hard. Really, really hard. They have been brutalised and brain washed. They feel they have nothing to lose because they really DO have nothing to lose. They have grown from dangerous boys into dangerous men in streets filled with rubble and rats.

And they blame us for the bleak emptiness of their lives.

Has this happened before?

It has actually.

Check out Germany in 1945 where barely a building was left standing after years of our thousand bomber raids. Millions of youn German lads faced a desperate future. No houses. No heating. No jobs. Barely any food. And each and every one of them had been brutalised and radicalised by their compulsary years in the Hitler Youth. They had seen family and neighbours and friends blown to smithereens by our Lancaster bombers. In fact, they were primed and perfect to be forged into the same kind of implacable guerrilla force that ISIL has become.

What would have happened if we had simply walked away from the smoking ruin that Germany had become in 1945 and left them to it. Sod off and starve. Serves you right you Kraut bastards.

I guess there would very quickly have been a German version of ISIL and they would have been shooting and bombing us for the last seventy years.

But we didn’t simply walk away. Instead we were smart. We all signed up for the Marshall Plan and poured cash into the bombed out cities. We covered the bills for re-building. And once they started to make stuff again, we bought it. And slowly but surely we turned a brutalised wreck of a country into a staunch ally and friend.

For fifteen long and miserable years we have spend vast amounts of money on bombing and bombing and bombing. Iraq and Syria and Libya and Pakistan and Afghanistan and Sudan and Yemen.


We have3 created a huge wasteland where young men see no hope of anything at all. Is it really so very surprising so many choose to sign on the ISIL dotted line?

Right now we are being forced to listen to a stuck record that has us all dancing to ISIL’s tune. It is all so utterly futile. We know full well that we will lose in the end, but we do it all the same. If only a few of our leaders could find the courage to take own up to the fact that endless bombing never works.

If only our leaders could find the kind of courage Harry S Truman found seventy years ago when he had the vision to see that helping people is a better way that bombing them.

Will it happen?

What do you think?   

Friday, November 13, 2015


Yesterday had the feel of a tipping point. All day the Atlantic storm lashed the grey November bleakness of the street outside.  It was enough to rattle the windows. Usually on the days when the gutters turn into rivers we can expect things to be quiet at the front desk.

But not yesterday.

Yesterday saw 48 emergency food parcels head out of the door and into the rain.

Yesterday the phone seemed to ring all day with names and referrals and back stories.

Three kids.

Four kids.

A cat

Two dogs.

Struggling, struggling, struggling….

Picture a vast wall stretching over the horizon and beyond. Grey and cold and unforgiving. Lashed by an Atlantic storm that the forecaster says will be with us for days to come. And the wall is home to thousands upon thousands of people with chalk white faces and fear in their eyes. They are hanging from the top of the wall with fingers and hands which are cold and chapped.

And one by one they are falling off.

Giving up and dropping like autumn leaves on tired bent trees.

Victims of the first Atlantic storm of the winter.

Flotsum and jetsum. Heaped rubbish at the foot of the wall. Heaped rubbish along side the rusty old prams and the drenched sofas and teles lacking the right kind of sockets for 2015.


Over lyrical? I guess so. But stuff it, I am supposed to be a writer when all is said and done. Surely artistic is still allowed. Maybe even the Job Centre might allow artistic licence. But then again….

Yesterday was the day when the temperature dropped and it suddenly felt like the middle of November. Yesterday was the day when electric meters up and down the land screamed for attention like spoilt kids howling for sweets.

Yesterday was the day when all over Britain people put £10 in the meter only to discover that their power company immediately took £7 to cover arrears leaving only a lousy three quid to warm against the Atlantic storm.

Yesterday was the day when people all over Britain faced the hard truth that winter is more or less here and they are basically screwed.

Yesterday was the day when 48 emergency food parcels headed out of our front door and into the grey November rain

And in the midst of it all were three snap shots. Three tales of woe. Brief desperate glimpses of three broken lives. Micro dramas lost in the swirl of a vast sea of misery.

So we have a guy in his early fifties and he is unemployed. Had he watched the news last night, he would have heard that he is part of an ever shrinking group. Because there are only 5.4% us unemployed now. Wow. We are all blessed to live and breathe in booming Britain.

But I guess it didn’t feel that way for this guy. He is only recently unemployed which means he has become a part of the local Universal Credit trial rollout. This is a picture that is beginning to be revealed piece by piece. Not a pretty picture to be honest. It seems like every payment seems to get cocked up. And when you head into your local Job Centre to tell them your payment has been cocked up they shrug their shoulders and say there is nothing they can do. Not any more. Because when payments get cocked up, the city of Wolverhampton is now the only place where answers are to be found. You don’t go there. You call there. But beware. The number that connects you to Wolverhampton is not free at the point of use. Anything but. And when you ask the people in the Job Centre if you can maybe use one of their phones they tell you no. 

You can’t.

What they do tell you is that you need to spend a minimum of 35 hours of each and every week actively seeking work. And you need to prove it. And if you can’t prove it they will sanction your arse. Oh yeah. Will they ever.

My man was ‘jobsought’ to the point of insanity. But there was a training day to be had at Dalbeattie sawmill. An opportunity. A chance.

They told him if he didn’t attend the training course they would sanction his arse. But he said he wanted to go 

He was up for it. Really.

Only one problem guys. I ain’t got no money. Because my new Universal Credit claim is all screwed up. And nobody in the great city of Wolverhampton seems to want to pick up the phone to tell me anything about it.
So could you help me out with the bus fare?



Not our problem. But you better be there or else…

Yeah, yeah, I get it. Or else you’ll sanction my arse.

Twelve miles in the Atlantic storm. A long march along dry stone walls and fields of soaking sheep. Twelve miles to a training day at a sawmill. In Dalbeattie. To seek a job.

He misjudged it and landed ten minutes late. They told him ten minutes was unacceptable. They told him to get lost. We live in a time when ten minutes is always unacceptable.

So it was twelve miles back the other way past the same dry stone walls and the same miserable sheep, only this time the Atlantic storm was at his back.

Back to the Job Centre to break the news that he had misjudged his route march to the tune of 10 minutes.
They told him they were in no mood for excuses. For they have targets and goals set by the mighty Duncan Smith.

You’re just so sanctioned..

And he did the really stupid thing. He got angry. He kicked off. He exited the building care of security. And they made his sanction even longer.

And he dropped off the wall.

And came to us.

The next tale of woe was a lad in his early twenties. The same age as my youngest son. In fact he asked how Courtney was getting on. And I said Courtney was doing all right. And he said he was pleased to hear it. And it was obvious that he meant it. A very polite young lad with the haunted eyes of a rabbit about to go under the wheels of a 38 tonne artic.

Oh where to start. A while back. At least a year. It was his mum you see. Her back went. Her back went badly. You know. So bad she couldn’t get out of bed and needed him to look after her. Which he did. He moved back in for the duration and became a carer.

One night he was out with some pals when he tripped and injured his leg. Was it bad enough to need A&E? Yeah. It probably was. So one of the lads said he would give him a lift. To A&E. In the car. The car he owned. And how was it that this helpful lad had the wherewithal to own his own car? 

Yeah, well that was the thing.

The helpful lad was a drug dealer. The helpful lad was a drug dealer who was well and truly on the radar of the boys in blue. And so it was that half way to A&E the dark night was strobe lit with flashing blue.

Out of the car and into the station. And lots of questions to go with a bloody sore leg. A mobile phone confiscated and then a release with no charges.

And there were never any charges,

But they kept his mobile phone for many months. Maybe it rang out into the emptiness of the police station's evidence storage room before the battery finally ran dry.

There were calls from his social landlord. Lots and lots of them. A neighbour tells us you are not living in your flat any more. Is this true? Call back. We have told the housing benefit people you aren’t living in your flat any more. Call back. We will be evicting you on…. Call back.

You’re evicted. Call back.

We have sent you a bill of £400 to cover the costs of smashing your door in and taking all your stuff to the dump. Call back.

You owe us £950. Call back.

You going to court. Call back.

And all the while he looked after his mum and knew nothing of the torrent of calls aimed at the mobile phone in the police evidence store room.

He found out in the end of course. And his smouldering mental health issues started to burst into life. Pills and pills and pills. Letters and letters and letters.

A new claim.

Your’re on the Universal Credit now my boy. You need to spend 35 hours a week…..

Oh! It appears you owe your social landlord £950. What a very bad boy you are. A very bad boy indeed. We can’t have little toe rags like you owing their social landlords £950. That really will not do at all. So. Here it is. You are due £250 a month to keep your nasty little body and soul together. But you won’t be getting £250. Oh no. Not from us. Not from Wolverhampton. You see we are going to take away £130 a month and give it to your social landlord. OK? No? Well tough. Live with it. Toe rag.

So it’s food parcel time because £30 a week really isn’t enough to keep your body and soul in a state of togetherness. Well I don’t think it is. But I guess there will be a queue of Government Ministers out there somewhere ready and raring to explain that £30 a week would be more than enough for them to be absolutely fine and dandy.

Hopefully I will be taking him along to meet Joan McAlpine MSP this afternoon. There’s not a cat in hell’s chance of her doing anything about the good folk of Wolverhampton. But maybe she’ll find a way to persuade the good folk at the registered social landlord to make a bit more nice.

We’ll see.

And then there were three.

Yesterday morning saw me driving six miles along the same road bordered by the same dry stone walls as my man walked a few days earlier on his forced march to Dalbeattie sawmill.

In the same Atlantic storm.

In the same grey November rain.

To the third tale of woe. A poster boy for rural poverty. A man with a wrecked back and a tonne of debt. They say they are switching him from DLA to PIP. One set of initials to another. A thing that should be simple but isn’t simple. And of course it is all cocked up. And of course they have left him to live on fresh air. And a bus pass is something of a lottery. The road to Dumfries is full of potholes and should the bus hit a single pot hole in the wrong way, the resulting jar of his back can be enough to leave him bedridden for a week.

So I always figure it is best to drop his food off.

We chatted and he told me of a time a few months ago when his back seized whilst he was in bed. He couldn’t get himself up. He couldn’t really move at all.

One day and two days and three days.

And he lives on his own. And nobody much calls round to his little cottage at the end of a long track.

No water. No food, And worst of all was a packet of fags lying on a table a mere three inches beyond the reach of his grasping fingers.

So near but so far. The kind of thing those wicked Chinese jailers used to use to break the spirit of a western prisoner of war in the Korea. Back in the day.

Thankfully his GP arrived for a home visit and passed him the packet of fags.

Maybe he’ll get some cash soon. Maybe he won’t. Somewhere he is a set of numbers which a computer is attempting to link up to another set of numbers.

And they are but three tales of woe in the midst of hundreds of thousands.

Out there.

In the wet greyness of Britain in November 2015.

Hanging by finger tips onto a high wall that stretches to the horizon and beyond.

Bodies dropping one by one. Bodies swept from their tenuous grip by the raging Atlantic storm.

Just like the leaves on the trees really.

I think we are about to be busy in our work.   

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Pop quiz.

Name a bunch of people who are even more unpopular than bankers, tabloid journalists and politicians.

Well, I guess there are some pretty good candidates. Right now ISIS and more or less anyone from 1970’s British television would be right up there. But these are come and go characters. Back in the day the National Front would have strolled into any top ten. Now for anyone under the age of 50 it is a case of National Who?

Hate figures come and go but a few remain constant.

Like loan sharks.

Oh yeah, in the whole of human history these guys have never once been flavour of the month. Hatred of loan sharks spans the ages all the way from Jesus going mental in the money lenders’ temple through Shakespeare’s Shylock and his pound of flesh to the modern day Brits yearning for the chance to hang Fred the Shred from the nearest lamppost. 

Over our 12 years of life as a front line charity, loan sharks have always been oddly shadowy figures. I cannot ever remember anyone ever using a name when talking about a loan shark. Maybe you don’t find that so very odd, but it is actually. There is seldom a time when we are not kept fully up to speed as to who is the main smack peddler in the town.

To be honest the tawdry activities of the local loan sharks has never played all that large for First Base.
This made a meeting I had yesterday all the more interesting. It started with a call from a guy at a local housing association. There are two guys down from Glasgow. I gave them your name. Hope that’s OK. They’ll be round to see you at noon.

Fair enough.

Two Trading Standards officers down from Glasgow on the trail of a loan shark in North West Dumfries.
I was actually pretty impressed with them. They both had a kind of Eliot Ness thing going on and I got a strong sense of men on a mission. They were up front and open about the thread of intel that had drawn them south. It was as thin as Posh Spice. Just a whisper really. A faint echo. But enough.

I asked them to describe the pack drill. And as it turned out, the pack drill was pretty interesting.


Lending money without a licence is illegal under the criminal law. Up to two years inside, a fine up to £2000 and the possibility of having all your stuff confiscated under the proceeds of crime act if you can’t come up with a good enough explanation about how you came up with the cash to buy it.

So once the Trading Standards guys get themselves a name they can very quickly make the life of one of our modern day Shylocks pretty stressful.
It was the next bit of the story that got my attention.
It is completely legal to borrow money from a loan shark no matter how much of a scumbag he may be. More to the point, once you borrow the cash, you have no legal obligation whatsoever to pay it back.
Which basically means that the loan shark is a pretty exposed character. So long as he keeps a hold of his season ticket in the shadows he is OK. Pay me or you’ll get seriously battered. But once they are dragged kicking and screaming out into the light, the battering part of their business plan isn’t all that feasible.
This is the point where 'people power' starts to kick in. Once the 50 or 60 poor sods who are caught up in the loan shark’s net start to get wind of the fact that they don’t need to pay after all, they soon start to tell Sharky to shove his compound interest where the sun don’t shine.
So he turns up at their front door, no doubt with some B movie wannabe in tow.
Knock, know, who’s there?

It's Sharky. Pay up or Big Danny here is going to put all of that time in the gym to good use.

At which point a quivering victim is supposed to open the front door before Big Danny kicks it down and tearfully hand over an Xbox and the housekeeping money.

But once Sharky and Danny have been yanked out of the shadows, things soon start to play out differently.

Knock, knock who’s there?

Sharky and Big Danny.

Ring, ring, emergency services. Who do you need? Cops please. It’s Mrs Terrified Victim here. I have Sharky and Big Danny at my door threatening to give me a proper kicking unless I hand over our Jimmy’s Xbox.

Nae bother love. Give us five minutes.

And then it is flashing blue light time. Hello Sharky. Hello Big Danny. So what are you lads up to then? Come on. In the back.

And so it goes that 'threatening behaviour' gets bolted onto 'illegal money lending' for the Sheriff to consider at a later date.
This is when it hit me that the loan shark is in a completely different position to the drug dealer who shares similar methods of cash collection, namely a proper kicking care of Big Danny.

First up, anyone who takes a few bags of smack on credit knows that they are breaking the law themselves. Not surprisingly, they are seldom over keen to pick up the phone to seek the protection of the boys in blue. Hello there, I had twenty tenner bags of Big Danny’s boss and now he says he’s going to break my legs if I don’t pay him back. And then of course there is the other pressing problem, namely that the punter knows full well that he is going to need to score three tenner bags the next day to avoid the joys of cold turkey. Will anyone sell to him if he has just served up Big Danny and his gaffer to the local drug squad?

No chance.

A completely different set of rules applies to the loan shark. All of those trapped in their net tend to have vowed to themselves that they will never go near the likes of Sharky and Big Danny ever, ever again. As in ever.

They have learned a hard lesson the hard way. All they want now is for the slate to be wiped clean and to have the chance to start to get back on their feet.

So when they get to hear of a way out, they are more than likely to grab it with both hands. To tell Sharky asnd Big Danny to get stuffed and if they turn up at the front door, to call up the cops. Thery don’t have to worry about having broken any laws themselves for the simple reason that they haven’t broken any laws. They have done absolutely nothing wrong and there will be absolutely no consequences. They also don’t have to worry about finding another Sharky next week to lend them £20 to get the lights back on because they have already decided never to go near the likes of Sharky ever, ever again.

As in ever.

Life for Sharky and Big Danny soon becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Every time they go near a punter's front door the cops are there within minutes. And this gets noticed from behind all the curtains down the street. The community starts to turn against them. They soon become universally hated figures. There is no sympathy. Only hard hating eyes.
They are Pariahs trying to explain how they funded the 50 inch 3D tele in the front room on £70 a week's worth of brew money.
For once there is a reasonably easy solution to the abject misery and fear that many people are enduring. It is obvious that more and more will be falling from the seductive sweet talk of the loan sharks only to discover that once they are in their clutches they are completely trapped. Well it doesn’t have to be that way. All the boys from the Trading Standards need is a name and an address. Once they have the name they can get the ball rolling.

Knock, knock, who’s there?

Trading Standards. We’re about to make your life really crap.

Oh shit. No Danny. Sit yourself back down….

And then its all about Chinese whispers through the pub and the Post Office and the Spar shop and the school gates and the bus stop.

If you owe money to Sharky and Big Danny, you don’t need to pay. Just tell them to get stuffed. And if they start to kick off, just call the cops….
Her at number 34 called the cops on Tuesday night. You should have seen that Big Danny when they shoved him into the back of the squad car......
And soon the ball is wll and truly rolling.

One minute Mussolini is the dictator of everything he can see.

The next minute he is a terrified bald guy about to be hung up from a meat hook in downtown Milan.
It turns out that Sharky and Big Danny are not so mighty after all. And it turns out that it doesn’t take all that much for them to take a pretty big fall.

All it needs is a name in fact.

So if there is anyone in Dumfries who fancies jotting down a name and an address on a scrap of paper and shoving it through our letter box, I will be more than happy to pass it along to the boys from Glasgow. This isn’t how First Base usually rolls, but this is different. Every day we see people who have had every penny of their income stripped away on the back of some bogus small print from the Job Centre. The idea of parasites feeding off this constant stream of human misery really sticks in the throat.
These people deserve nothing but complete contempt. They need naming and shaming and shutting down. If you can spread this blog around any Dumfries social networks, then you never know – on morning there might just be a scrap of paper on the mat.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


 OK. It’s pretty cocky of me to hijack Emile Zola’s iconic strapline and fix it on top of this blog. Fair cop! My hands are well and truly held up. But one of the joys of penning a blog is the fact that I don’t have a sensible editor breathing down my neck.

Emile Zola is a big personal hero of mine and he should be a hero of anyone who aspires to use the power of words to make life tough for the authorities when they step out of line.
It was 1899 when Zola shocked the people of France to their Gallic core when he published his article in L’Aurore.
The title was simple and it has stood the test of 116 years of time.


I accuse.

It was an open letter to the President of France and he accused the French Government of wrongly arresting Captain Alfred Dreyfus for the heinous crime of spying for the hated Germans. The Dreyfus story had gripped the French for months and the nation had been exultant when the evil spy had been shipped off to a life of living hell on Devil’s Island penal colony.

By this time Dreyfus was rotting away and slowly but surely being eaten up by all kinds of tropical illnesses.

He had basically been found guilty for one very compelling reason – he was a Jew.

Of course being a Jew was not a great thing to be at that time and nobody was too concerned about such things a s evidence, proof or possible innocence. Dreyfus was deemed to be a rich, arrogant Jew and so he simply had to be guilty.

Zola gave up some time to the small group of voices in the wilderness who were fighting for justice for Dreyfus. Once he reviewed the paperwork it immediately became clear that Dreyfus had been fitted up by a state consumed by anti-Semitism. Even Inspector Cleuseau on a bad day would only have needed half an hour or so with the evidence to see that the hard drinking, whore loving Count Esterhazy was the real spy. 'L’Aurore' was Zola’s rooftop of choice and he cried long and loud.

The French state didn’t mess about. They had Zola tried for libel in two weeks flat and he only narrowly escaped prison by legging to England to claim asylum. I guess he was lucky it was 1899. He probably wouldn’t have had much joy today.

Once the cat was out of the bag world opinion soon did the rest. Dreyfus was brought back home and fully exonerated. He went on to serve his country with great distinction in the Great War as an artillery officer whilst Zola staked out his place in history as a writer willing to tell the kind of truth nobody wants to hear much.

Sadly the Jews of France had no kind of a happy ending as they went on to a fate worse than death. And then death.

So what is my 'J’Accuse?'

Well it is hardly the Dreyfus Affair. My Alfred Dreyfus is may mate Richard Arkless MP and thankfully he is not about to be shipped off to a British penal island of the coast of the Falklands.

I got to know Richard well during the heady days of the summer of 2014. We were fellow travellers for the 'Yes' campaign and we shared lots of different stages. September 19th saw me return to being an apolitical Charity manager whilst Richard decided to stay in the fray and put his name forward to become the Member of Parliament for Dumfries and Galloway.

In May he won by a country mile.

He is exactly the kind of guy most people want to be an MP. He has never been any kind of political advisor and has spent all of his adult life living in the same real world as the rest of us. He earned his corn first as a corporate lawyer and then as a small businessman selling LED light bulbs online.

He was never paid so much as a penny for the endless hours he dedicated to the dream of Scottish Independence and believe you me, it was a hell of a lot of hours. He did it because he believed in it.


And when the dream of 'Yes' crashed and burned in the early hours of September 19th he chose not to lie down and play dead. Instead he stuck out his chest and continued to fight.

So Richard is a genuine believer in a cause who has lived out his life in the much vaunted real world.
How nice it would be if that kind of determination, passion and energy could be viewed with a degree of respect by those on the other side of the fence.

Fat chance.

Being endlessly attacked has become a very common experience for those of us who stuck our heads above the parapet and fought for 'Yes'. It has been made very clear to us that ours is a crime that will be neither forgotten nor forgiven. We are now deemed to be subversives. Troublemakers. Rebels.

Oh of course in theory we are allowed to claim our birthright of free speech and campaign to live in an Independent Scotland. This is exactly the sort of thing that is supposed to be allowed. In practice the experience is very different indeed.

The 'No' side has been quietly settling scores for over a year now. Project Fear lives on in a constant torrent of disinformation and smear. Of course when any of us complain about this we are immediately mocked and derided for our paranoia.

We are all conspiracy theory loving nut jobs. Oh of course we are.

Luckily the murky forces of Project Fear tend to be pretty rubbish at what they do. Almost every week Wings over Scotland picks apart yet another pitiful attempt to blacken the names of those who continue to speak up for 'Yes'.

There is nothing new in this of course. Britain has hundreds of years of experience when it comes to squashing pesky independence movements. Times have changed of course. Thank God! We are not subjected to the kind of torture and imprisonment that was routinely meted out to those who fought for Indian and Kenyan Independence. Or indeed Irish Independence.

Thankfully rules and regulations mean they have to take a more subtle approach with us. Damp, rat infested cells are no longer a part of the playbook.

Now the playbook is much less in your face. Instead the newly tried and trusted method is to make something up and plaster it across the front pages of the Unionist Press. Once these accusations are slammed down in front of the public under screaming headlines, nobody will be overly bothered to check out the small print.

Classic disinformation.

Last weekend Richard became the latest in a line of victims that stretches back well over a hundred years. Someone, somewhere has deemed him to be a problem. A threat to the Realm. A subversive. An enemy within.

A target.

So what did they do?

They made stuff up and plastered it all over the front page.

Richard got a call on Saturday. Hello Mr Arkless. This is the Sunday Express. This is a courtesy call. You see, we are making you our front page lead tomorrow and not in a good way. We are going to strongly suggest that you are a cheat and a bounder andf an embarrassment to your Party. Any comment Mr Arkless?

Richard asked what on earth he was supposed to have done. They told him that his business was about to be investigated by the Trading Standards. He told them this was news to him and he asked if they would hold the story whilst he looked into it.

Hold the story? Dream on. We’re about to take you to the cleaners sunshine and we can’t bloody wait.

So it was that Richard became front page news.

Of course Trading Standards don’t work on a Sunday so Richard had to sweat out a miserable weekend whilst his phone rang and rang and rang.

On Monday morning he was able to get the facts, every one of which has been confirmed in writing by the Dumfries and Galloway Trading Standards Department.

On October 16th the Citizen’s Advice Helpline received a call from a customer of Richard’s company from somewhere outside Dumfries and Galloway. The caller had a problem with either the product or the service they had received from Richard's company. The caller asked Citizens Advice to forward their complaint to the people at Trading Standards. Citizen Advice informed the caller that this was not the kind of thing Trading Standards would deal with. They explained that it was nothing more than a routine issue to be settled between customer and supplier. They informed Trading Standards as a matter of courtesy and duly closed the case down.

The nature of the complaint is confidential and so we have no clue as to what it was. We probably never will. 

It was one phone call.

Richard asked Trading Standards when the Sunday Express had made contact.

October 16th.

Well would you credit that. The very same day that the complaint was a raised, advised on and closed down. It has to be said that the Sunday Express certainly has its ear to the ground when it comes to a punter receiving a delivery of light bulbs in damaged packaging. Or not.

But there was more.

Oh there really was more. Because in their written response to Richard’s enquiries the people at Trading Standards let him know that the first contact they had received for the Sunday Express had in fact been on October 9th.


What a newspaper. Surely this is the truly remarkable part of the whole story – the astounding reveleation that the Sunday Express is in possession of a fully functional crystal ball. This is the perfect asset for any newspaper. It gives them an ability to see the future in high definition. I am a little confused as to why they decided to use this remarkable asset for something as utterly hum drum as a punter receiving a delivery of defective light bulbs. I mean, they could have predicted 9/11 on 2/11. They could have called the General Election and the Grand National winner and every set of winning lottery numbers. How very odd that the best thing they could do with their supernatural powers was to call Dumfries and Galloway Trading Standards about a complain a week before the actual complain had actually been made. Even though it wasn't actually made. well not to Trading Standards. But never mind.


Hang on a sec here….

Maybe there is another answer.

Maybe someone, somewhere had a quiet word. Over the port and the cigars. Now look here. This Richaqrd Arkless chappie. Don’t like the cut of his jib much. Don’t like it all in fact. Rather hope he might be taken down a peg or two. You know the kind of thing. The man’s a bloody pest.

Could it be that the phone call to the Citizen’s Advice helpline was in fact nothing more than pre-planned mischief making? Oh surely not. And could it be that wires got themselves crossed and that is why the heroic reporter from the Sunday Express rang up to investigate the complaint a full week it was actually made?

The article that followed the damning front page headline was filled with lots of appalling revelations the relentless and intrepid reporters had managed to dig up by their sheer dogged professionalism. It was the kind of journalism that makes the Washington Post’s efforts to shine a light on Watergate look quite pathetic in comparison.

The forensic reporters from the Sunday Express burned the candle at both ends and they dug deep. They read through the Facebook page for Richard’s business. I know. Fantastic isn’t it. Truly inspiring. They really had the courage and tenacity to read through the complaints section on his Facebook page. Respect guys. Serious respect.

And they hit paydirt.

They found the real filthy truth about Richard Arkless MP. Subversive. Enemy within. Threat to the Realm.

Brace yourselves for this is going to be a hard read.

One customer ordered light bulbs on a Monday and hadn’t received them by Wednesday and when he called to complain the phone was not answered.

Christ. It makes you shudder. It really does. How could anyone do that?

And it gets worse.

Another customer complained that the website wasn’t working properly.

Well there really is nothing more to be said, is there? The website wasn’t working. Jesus Richard. And to think I actually considered you to be a friend. Well I know the horrible truth now. You are the kind of scum who runs a company which has a website that sometimes doesn’t work.

You utter bastard. I can only thank God that we now know the truth about you. This is where democracy needs a free press to keep the likes of you honest.

You deserve to rot in hell.

This morning I glanced through yesterday’s edition of the Dumfries Standard. It is not every day that our local MP finds himself all over the front page of a national Sunday paper. In fact I am pretty certain that it is the first time such a thing has happened in twenty years. Let’s face it, Dumfries and Galloway is hardly a region with a particularly high profile.

Oddly enough there was not so much as a sentence about the scandal.

The Standard had obviously checked out the Sunday Express story and then cross referenced it with the facts from the Trading Standards Department and quickly concluded that not only was it not a front page story, but it wasn’t any kind of story at all.

It was nothing more than a badly executed stitch up that fell apart within hours. But I don’t suppose anyone will lose any sleep. When all is said and done they succeeded in what they set out to do. They slagged Richard off on the front page and plenty of the mud will stick.

It is clear that this isn’t about to stop any time soon. It will go on and on and on until the day finally arrives when enough of us vote 'Yes' and we can be done with these ghastly people for ever and ever.


Until that day we just need to stick together and keep on fighting.

So Rich, a few very well worn words of advice.

Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


I took a drive through the Eurotunnel a few days ago and I was surprised to bump into a few unexpected ghosts. Over the last ten years or so, the journey from Dumfries to Belgium and back has become a part of my routine. It is my tobacco run. Twenty hours of driving to buy a year’s worth of nicotine addiction. £900 on the credit card for tobacco which would set me back over £6000 were I to buy it in Tesco.

Sorry George, but that’s life. You’re just going to have to tax some other poor sod to death.

I left at five in the evening and drove east along Hadrian’s Wall with the dying autumn sun at my back. By the time I hit the A1 it was well and truly dark. A gliding drive south through the slowly unfolding hours of a regulation weekday night. Familiar landmarks. Doncaster. Newark. Grantham. Stamford. Once upon a time I covered these very same miles in my old VW Beetle as I headed north from the ancient Disneyland of Cambridge to the bear pit of Anfield and 1980’s Liverpool. There are no more roundabouts now. And the airbases are empty of American planes. The Pershing missiles of the 80’s have been replaced a chain of gaudily lit roadside diners.

Night driving makes the mind wander, usually backwards. When you drive the length of the A1 you can feel the shift from North to South in your bones. Once upon a time it wasn’t so very subtle because the North still looked like the North. The horizon framed great mills and winch gear on top of the pits. In the year we won the European Cup in Rome for the second time, a ride up the Al meant being stopped at least three times by hard faced coppers in riot gear. Who are you? Where are you going? Where have you come from? It was really hard to make them believe that I really was nothing more than a student headed back north to watch the match. I was male. I was in my early twenties. I was a scruffy bastard in a clapped out car. They saw me as a flying picket trying to make my way to the front line of the Miner’s Strike. My Lancashire accent marked me out as being the ‘Enemy Within’.

Now the visual gap between the north and the south is rather more subtle. More traffic. Huge infrastructure projects. Less patience.

Once I was over the Thames the road signs started to tell me there were delays at Junction 11A of the M20. Sod it. Was that the exit to the Eurotunnel? Probably. Pictures of a twenty hour snarl up started to form.
Maidstone Services at two in the morning. I logged onto the Eurotunnel site to be informed there were no problems. Not tonight. Operation Stack was not required. Not tonight. So maybe it would be OK.
I waited on a black coffee from the smiling East Europeans who were running the 24 hour McDonalds. A young couple joined me at the counter. Early twenties and dressed up to and beyond the nines in designer ware. They had followed me onto the car park in the kind of car that would make a copper with a speed gun lick his lips with anticipation.

They were dolled up for the kind of night club we get to see on the Bacardi adverts on the TV. After huge consideration, they ordered just about everything on the menu and then carried their feast next door to a room of gaudily flashing slot machines that promised a maximum win of a thousand pounds.

Was this the destination they had in mind when they spent big on getting their hair done with such precsion? Life in the fast lane? Two thirty in the morning with a Big Mac meal and a slot machine promising a grand to the lucky winner?

Young designer love in Britain 2015.
Once I was within thirty miles of the Eurotunnel there were wagons everywhere. Parked up. Beached. Hundreds and hundreds of them. This was not Operation Stack. This was clearly the new normal.
There was a five mile queue of them at Junction 11A. 

But the car lane was empty. I felt a bizarre guilt as I slid by and checked myself onto the 5.30 crossing.
It was still dark when I reached France and the road to Belgium was pre dawn quiet. I parked up, crashed out and by 8.30 I was on the road back to the tunnel complete with a bootfull of Virginia’s best.
A watery sun lit up a picture of utter chaos. It felt like every wagon in Europe was clogging up every centimetre of spare ground in and around Calais. Hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds. They were queuing two abreast for the last ten miles of motorway before the tunnel. The remaining two lanes were not enough to deal with the day to day traffic. So all was snarled and in every car there seemed to be a fuming face. Christ the people of Calais must be seriously pissed off with having the paranoid craziness of the British immigration policy dumped on their doorstep.

Once again there was no queue for cars.

But the wagons? Their queue must have been at least two or three days long. Once upon a time I had a lot of dealings with the haulage industry and their profit margins are forever tight. The chaotic Calais car park must surely be  graveyard for hundreds of small haulage companies. You can’t make any kind of living when your truck stands idle for days at a time because Theresa May wants to look good in the eyes of the Daily Mail. It hit me that the hundreds of static trucks represent our life blood. We neither make stuff nor grow stuff any more. Instead our miraculous economy is all about printing money and buying what we need form someone else. 

Including 70% of our food.
On any given day our supermarkets have enough in the cupboards to cover two days of sales. After two days we all rely on the supply chain. After two days we rely on all of those hundreds and hundreds of wagons to keep the shelves topped up. In the 1940’s we all relied on the Atlantic convoys to bring us our daily bread. Then the enemy was the U boat fleet for the Kriegsmarine. Now we rely on thousands of wagons, most of them owned and driven by one man band operations trying to scratch enough of a living to cover the mortgage. They are not facing oblivion care of one of Admiral Canaris’s torpedoes. Instead their enemy is to be found in the bitter and twisted corridors of the Home Office where it seems to have been deemed to be acceptable for our haulage fleet to be sacrificed in order to keep 3000 refugees living rough in the woods outside Calais.

Nice one Theresa. It seems the Welfare Reforms are not making enough people hungry for your liking. First you starve the unemployed poor. Then you starve the working poor. And then the only thing left to do is starve every bugger else.

But hey, at least the Daily Mail will be happy and they will keep telling you what a completely terrific gal you are and my oh my aren’t those new shoes to completely die for.

The Calais end of the Eurotunnel has changed a lot over recent years. Now it is all about fences. Lots and lots of fences. High gleaming fences with razor wire glittering in the morning sun.

Fortress Britain on French soil.

Dodgy semi armoured vans riding the no-mans land between the fences. No mines there yet. No machine gun nests either. Just lots of hard faced tyoes cradling automatic weapons and itching to let the bullets fly.

And this was the moment when my unexpected ghost arrived.

The early eighties were a time when a daft lad looking to walk on the wild side didn’t have to travel all that far to get a feel for life on the edge. A short ferry ride over the waters of the Irish Sea would take you to the bullet scarred streets of West Belfast where a Lancashire accent in the wrong pub could earn you the kicking of your life. Or much, much worst.

And then there were the trips into the East. Through the Iron Curtain. Into the frightening greyness of East Germany. The other side of the looking glass. A border like no other. Rough handling and god help any Westerner who hadn’t left a bottle of scotch handily placed for the guys with the unsmiling faces.

Three times I went through the line at Eisenach. A small town on the Thuringian plain. A small town on the road to Leipzig with its vast smoke belching factories.

At night you could see the Eisenach border crossing from about three miles out as the straight line of the autobahn carried you towards the glow of the arclights.

It was a huge sprawling place of brutal white light and watch towers and fences.

Fences and fences and fences.

On one side of the fence were chocolate villages with streets full of Mercs and BMWs and supemarkets selling mountains of bananas. One the other side of the fence were smoke belching Trabants and not a banana to be found. Ever.

And between the one and the other was Eisenach.

Fences and fences and fences.

And a clear message. You are not welcome here. Not now. Not ever. We don’t want your type.

We don’t do niceties here.

We don’t greet visitors with a warm smile.

We don’t say ‘Welcome to the German Democratic Republic, we hope you enjoy your stay.”

Oh no.

Not here.

Not in Eisanach.

Not in this nest of razor wire.

Here we are all about dead eyes and machine gun towers.

Here the message to visitors is crystal clear.

Why not fuck off.

Before we shoot you.

Eisenach border crossing on a glittering winter night was like nowhere else. It was the Cold War up close and personal. It left a mark.

And now as I made my way through security zones of fencing and hard faced men with cradled guns, the ghost of Eisenach was in the passenger seat.    

We don’t do niceties here.

We don’t greet visitors with a warm smile.

We don’t say ‘Welcome to Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we hope you enjoy your stay.”

Oh no.

Not here.

Not in Calais GB.

Not in this nest of razor wire.

Here we are all about dead eyes and machine guns

Here the message to visitors is crystal clear.

Why not fuck off.

Before we shoot you.

And once again it hit me. We are slowly but surely becoming East Germany. A small battened down hateful place when nasty beaurocrats hold sway. We’re good at sport and rubbish at everything else except corruption on an industrial scale. We have CCTV instead of the Stasi, but Big Brother watches all the same.
We have walled ourselves in to treasure our arrogant mediocrity. And we spend our money on fences and fences and fences.

And we have spent big to get our very own Eisenach.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Over the last few months it has become increasingly common for people to call me a Marxist. All kinds of people. Invariably this has been done with a smile in the voice which suggests mild amusement rather than any kind of Ronald Reagan style loathing. 

I find it somewhat bizarre to be honest. In my fifty four years on the planet I have never read so much as a word written by the German immigrant with the big beard. I suppose the fact that the renowned author of Das Kapital is remembered with a degree of affection says a lot about the guy. These days he would have been a tabloid hate figure on three levels. Big beard, European migrant and Leftie – a heady cocktail for any Daily Mail headline writer.

I guess he probably stands at number two on the list of the most successful German immigrants to set down roots in the UK. Well maybe not. Can Aldi and Lidl be classed as German immigrants? What is beyond doubt is that Karl has never remotely threatened the greatest immigrant family of them all for the top slot. Few families in history have been as upwardly mobile as the Saxe Coburgs of Gotha. I mean, come on. Old Karl might have a fancy tomb in Hampstead but it pales into insignificance when held up against Buck Palace, Windsor and Balmoral.

On the whole question of who is the most successful German immigrant, I now have skin in the game which has nothing whatsoever to do with being branded as a Marxist. As a lifelong Koppite I am now also a Kloppite and hopefully Liverpool Football Club's new bearded wonder from the Black Forest is about to leave a legacy to make Karl Marx’s efforts seem trivial.

I find it particularly amusing when my pal Councillor Archie Dryburgh calls me a Marxist. This comes from a lifelong Union man who would be in his element in the midst of a picket line brawl. Archie was extolling the virtues of Jeremy Corbyn ten minutes after the beared wonder threw his hat in the ring. And still this old school firebrand calls ME a Marxist!

Honestly, you couldn’t make it up.

So how on earth have I attracted this strange label? Well in some quarters it seems that supporting the dream of an independent Scotland is deemed to be clear evidence of loony leftism. That of course is when we are not being branded as old school nationalist fascists from the Mussolini school of black shirtedness.

Maybe that’s it then.

Or maybe it is because I have completely lost any faith I might have had of Capitalism being a good way to run a railroad. Questioning capitalism is still not allowed. We are required to accept it warts and all. End of story. It’s not up for discussion. Anyone who questions capitalism is treated in much the same way as those who once upon a time had the temerity to suggest that the world might not be flat after all.

I don’t question capitalism as a result of ploughing through the pages of Das Kapital. Instead I have given it a once over as a cynical old Lancastrian and it seems pretty damned obvious that it ain’t working. 

When capitalism burst onto the scene a couple of hundred years ago, it was the kind of ultra simple idea that was bound to catch on. Lots of ultra clever guys were inventing a whole bunch of cool stuff like steam engines and trains and Spinning Jennys. The Industrial Revolution was making all things possible and factories were the absolute thing. But massive red brick factories don’t come cheap and the money had to come from somewhere. Capitalism created the answer and allowed those with all the old money to invest in the new technologies. They bought stocks and shares, enjoyed the dividends and sold them on for a fat profit.
So it was the First World was born and the rest of the world was left floundering in our wake as we roared off over the horizon riding in our shiny new steam trains. Like Jim Morrison said, ‘The West is the best.’

It wasn’t pretty of course. The average age for a Lancastrian factory worker in 1840 was less than forty. And when the salesmen couldn’t open up new markets for our goods, we used gunboats and soldiers to find buyers for our Sheffield steel and Dewsbury wool and Blackburn cotton. 

Buy our stuff our else. Wog.
In the end the big scramble for market share got completely out of hand and World War One put an end to the golden era of untrammelled, buccaneering capitalism. Then came seventy years when capitalism was looked on fondly because it was so patently better than Bolshevik Communism which was all about secret policemen and rotten cabbage. It was easy to miss the bad bits of capitalism when the hard faced men in the fur hats were to be seen on the Kremlin balcony watching their nukes trundle by every May Day.

The comfort blanket of communism was ripped away when the Berlin Wall crashed and ever since it has become harder and harder to see capitalism in any kind of good light. The years since the collapse of the Soviet Union have seem a vast chunk of the world’s wealth flow into the offshore coffers of a thousand or so ulta rich individuals who make Scrooge look like a rank amateur when it comes to hoarding. Now the eighty five richest people on the planet own more than the four billion poorest. Maybe I have become a complete Trot in my old age, but I cannot for the life of me see how this can possibly be deemed to be a good thing.

Those of us who feel it would be a good idea to redistribute these vast treasure troves among the billions who try to get by on a dollar a day are deemed to be barking mad extremists by the very same people who thought it was a great idea to sell mortgages to people with neither jobs nor income and pretend they were worth something by wrapping them up in shiny paper.

Examples of the abject failure of capitalism are all around us and yet we seem determined to ignore them. In this respect, we are al little like the last citizens of ancient Rome. When the vast armies Gauls and Vandals were massing at the gates, the citizens of Rome were still convinced that everything was going to be OK because the the priests in the temple were slaughtering a variety of animals and then promising that everything was hunky dory.


A couple of weeks ago I made a call to the bank to ask a couple of questions about the mortgage. ‘What kind of mortgage do you have Mr Frankland?’ asked the voice on the phone. When I told him it was a repayment mortgage there was something of a stunned silence. It was a bit like I had told him that I commuted to work every day in a horse driven carriage.

A repayment mortgage? How very quaint. He obviously wasn’t used to repayment mortgages. Instead he was used to the shiny interest only variety. The ones with as much reality as the promises made by the doomed high priests of the Roman Empire.

Once you take a step back, the capitalist play book is such utter nonsense.

You take a two bedroom flat in a high rise block in Hackney. You pretend it is worth £600,000. Which is completely ridiculous of course. Then you find a couple of young professionals who between them are earning £80,000 a year gross and £50,000 net. Hi folks! Why not buy a nice two bedder in high rise Hackney? Oh but we simply can’t afford it Mr Banker. After all, a repayment mortgage will cost us £42,000 a year and we only earn £50,000. It’s quite impossible.

Oh don't worry yourselves you nice young hard working couple. I will give you a super duper interest omly mortgage for a piddling £18,000 a year. Peanuts. But Mr Nice Banker, where will you find £600,000 to lend us for our piece of high rise Hackney heaven? Oh that’s easy peasy. I’m a banker. I'm Alchemist of the twenty first century. A high priest. Just you watch. All I need to do is press this button on my key board and hey presto, the money is right here. I could say I have printed the money, but that would be wrong of me. Instead I have merely created a digital six and five digital noughts. Now. You jusy sign here and for the next twenty five years you can give me £18,000 a year in exchange for me creating a digital six and five digital noughts on my screen. And then will we own our little piece of high rise Hackney heaven Mr Banker? No. Who will own it? Me. But what is in it for us then? Oh lots ands lots. You see, in a year’s time your flat will be worth £700,000 and you will have earned yourselves a digital one and five digital noughts.

And all the while nobody wants to stop and take a moment and ask how it can be that a poxy two bedroom flat in Hackney can ever be deemed to be worth £600,000. As in twenty four times the national average wage.

Whichever way you look at it, such a state of affairs is abject lunacy. But we don’t look. To look is the see the kind of truth we don’t want to see. It is the hard truth so brutally demonstrated in the suburbs of Detroit when houses which were deemed to be worth $100,000 fell all the way to being offered for sale at $10 each. And still there were no buyers.

What kind of system can claim that a house is worth $100,000 in May and a sound investment and then turn full circle and value the very same asset at $10 and say it represents a lousy investment in October?

Complete nuts.

Imagine yourself back in 2007. You have £200,000 in the bank and you need to invest it in your future. It’s your nest egg. It will have to look after you in your old age. It’s a truly massive decision, right? So you need to be sensible and careful and conservative and cautious. This is no time to be throwing your life savings at Fancy Dan dot com start ups.

So you play it safe. Sensible. You go blue chip. You stick to the cast iron rules of capitalism and you seek safety and security in the comforting arms of the trusted and the big.

You divide your nest egg into five and you put it where it is safer than safe.

£40,000 to the nation's greatest grocer.


£40,000 to the nation's greatest bank.

The Royal Bank of Scotland

£40,000 to Europe’s greatest car maker: 


£40,000 to the nations greatest oil giant.


£40,000 to the nation's greatest purveyor of all things electrical.


Blue chip compamies selling blue chip products that people will always buy. Surely....

I wonder how much your £200,000 would be worth today after all of those careful, safe investments? 

Maybe £60,000?

You would have been £140,000 better off had you drawn the cash and stuffed it in the mattress. So much for the cast iron security of blue chip capitalism.

Once upon a time Capitalism was all about building factories and making stuff and selling stuff for a profit which was then shared out among the stockholders. It made sense in a way, though not much for the poor sods who worked in the factories.

Now it is all about finding new and fancy ways to pretend that something that is worth a quid is actually worth a tenner and getting a bunch of suckers to buy it in the hope that it will be worth twenty quid next year.
Those in the middle of the con know they have a matter of months to get their cash out and stuff it away in Grand Cayman before the wheels fall off and the real value to the asset is revealed for all of the world to see.

Two bedroom flats in Hackney aren’t worth £600,000. Not even close. In the old sane days of capitalism, the price of bricks and mortar was deemed to be three and a half times the income of the buyers. Maybe £175,000 would be vaguely realistic. £600,000 is utter nonsense and one day the whole house of cards will crash. And when it crashes everyone will wonder how on earth anyone had ever imagined that two bedroom flats in Hackney could possibly be worth £600,000. A bit like how people now scratch their heads and wonder how in a million years anyone could ever have believed it was worth paying £60 for an RBS share which is worth £3.50 today.

Well. I have never read Das Kapital. But I have an idea that Karl Marx clearly saw the kind of road capitalism was travelling. And he predicted it would all end in tears.

I can only agree. Does that make me a Marxist? I suppose it does in a way. Oddly enough, it is still the case that anyone who agrees with Karl Marx is deemed to be a barking mad extremist whilst those who still feel that Sir Fred Goodwin was on the right track are deemed to be sound chaps one and all.

Oh really?