MARK FRANKLAND

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A WEEK IN A 1970'S TIME WARP



I have spent much of the last week in a strange kind of time warp. It has been a week of late night drives and early morning drives. The motorways of the northern half of Britain bathed in moonlight or the first rays of the sun. And every mile of the way I have had my ear phones firmly in place and guiding my wandering mind all the way back through four decades of my life.
Driving empty motorways and walking dogs down quiet country lanes in the company of David Peace and the first two books of his ‘West Riding Quartet’. Maybe you saw the film ‘The Damned United’. David Peace wrote the book that spawned the movie. The West Riding Quartet runs from 1974 to 1983 and as I write this, I'm about half way there. Peace is a Northerner who writes about the North. Not just any North. The north of the 1970’s and the 1980’s. He is a quite extra-ordinary writer. At times his sentences are almost painful to read, or in my case, to listen to. His words are violent, often brutal. He is one of the best I have ever read when it comes to picking out the sights and sounds and smells of a time gone by.
Time and time again I found myself yanked back four decades to the North I grew up in. 1974. A fourteen year old me. 1977. A seventeen year old me. Unformed and then a little more formed. Framed by the hardness of Blackburn and all it entailed.
At the time, the sheer violence of the world I grew up in didn’t seem remotely unusual. It was all I knew. It was how things were. Being taken back there makes me realise the unbelievable extent to which the world has changed. Alt too often we measure change in terms of gadgets and technology. We reminisce and chuckle at the clunky black and white TV’s our parents once upon a time rented from Granada. 
‘Great service you get renting your colour set from Granada….’ 
We recall boxy cars, kipper ties, platform shoes and flared pants. We shake our heads at archive pictures of Shawaddywaddy and the Bay City Rollers. We wince at the sight of Jimmy Saville and Gary Glitter.
What seems to have been lost is the constant violence of the times. The violence was multi layered. Across the board. At a headline level, it was the violence we watched every night on the news. Another body on a bleak Ulster street covered up by a makeshift blanket with blood leaking into the gutter. Huge street riots in the Ardoyne. Petrol bombs, half bricks and rubber bullets. Strikes, strikes and more strikes. And these weren’t strikes with songs and banners. These were full on. Hard, hard men with long hair and sideburns waging full scale war with lines of policemen. Twisted faces all coated in hate. Bloodied faces. Smoke and sirens.
Other violence was closer to home. Every Saturday afternoon provided a close up view on those crumbling terraces of the football grounds of the north. A constant electrical tension which would in a second explode into a surge of kicking and screaming. Bike chains and hammers and broken heads. And then the police would wade in smashing the guilty and innocent alike with their truncheons.
Nobody particularly minded. It as just how it was. It was the norm. You developed instincts. You developed a sixth sense about when things were about to kick off. At the football. In Friday night pubs. On Saturday night streets. In the Mecca in Blackburn or Angels in Burnley.
But it always kicked off.
Every single time.
What was normal then would be front page news now. Getting caught by the cops in the act of drunken idiocy on a weekend street meant summary justice. There was never any due process. Instead two or three of them would march you into an alley and beat the living daylights out of you. And when it was done, you had no particular sense of grievance. It was just the way it was.
Of all the street mobs of the 1970’s there was no mob quite like the police.
I had quite forgotten the brutal language of the time. Racism was a constant. Sentences littered with words which if used now would land you in court. Wogs and Coons and Niggers and Pakis and Spades.
On the rare occasions that an opposition team fielded a black player at Anfield, the terraces would rock with the song ‘Get back on your jam jar…’. Was it everyone? Not quite. But it was most.
Smoky working men’s clubs where a thousand manifestations of Bernard Manning had them rolling in the aisles with Irish jokes and Paki jokes and Nigger jokes. Accepted. Paid for.
Behind the casual violence of the day was a constant sense of underlying fear. The fear of getting jumped on a late night street. Fear of being picked up by the cops for the crime of being there and taken to a cell smelling of vomit to be knocked about. Fear of being put up against a wall at an away game in London or Birmingham and forced to answer a series of questions. So they could assess your accent. So they could give you a kicking if your accent was wrong. Fear of walking down the street on a run of the mill afternoon only to be shredded by exploding shop windows. Lacerating glass care of the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army. 
And the biggest fear of all the fears. The constant, nagging, gut churning fear: the four minutes to put you affairs in order fear. A fear talked about over pints of bitter in pubs stained brown by a hundred years of nicotine. Stained and never rubbed clean. Why would it be rubbed clean?
What would you do if you heard the sirens go off? And it wasn’t just a practice? The real thing. Am armada of incoming Soviet missiles to end everything? The worst of it was that we knew exactly what the sirens sounded like. From time to time they tested them out. Physics on a slow afternoon. Grey skies outside. Hard desks bearing years of carved graffiti. And suddenly the wailing of the sirens would climb up the hill from the valley bottom and turn our stomachs to jelly. And for a few desperate seconds, your life would flash before you. And then the teacher would have a laugh at our pale faces and let us know that it was just a practice. Of course they could have let us know us in advance. Of course they could. And of course they didn’t. This was Blackburn in the 1970’s where no opportunity for casual cruelty would every be passed up on.
The pages of the West Riding Quartet are stalked by another deep and constant fear that ran through the North like a nagging cancer through those half forgotten years. The Yorkshire Ripper. Out there. Somewhere. Waiting to pounce with his hammer and his Philips screwdriver. The girls at school would never go anywhere on their own at night. Not then. Not in the North. Not with the Ripper out there somewhere. In the curtains of rain. In the red brick alleyways behind the terraced streets. On the waste ground left litter strewn and vacant when they flattened the old cotton mills.

And of course he had to come from Yorkshire. He had to do most of his work in Leeds. These were the days when Leeds was somehow the very epicentre of the violence of the times. The darkest of the dark cities. The violent heart of a violent time. Leeds United Football Club and the National Front and the Yorkshire Ripper. Going to watch Liverpool at Eland Road was like traveling across the Pennines to a war zone. The ultimate hostile territory. A post industrial wilderness of gaunt broken mills and broken glass. Walls casually daubed with casual hate. ‘LUFC’. ‘NF’. ‘WOGS OUT.’
“We’re going Paki bashing, we’re going Paki bashing, we’re going Paki bashing.......na na na’
The waves of hatred that poured out of the Kop End at Eland Road were like nothing else. No banter. No humour. Just pure, unrefined hate. And there would always be a few of them ‘going the match’ clad from head to toe in the white sheets of the Ku Klux Clan.
Jesus. Bloody Leeds. 
I remember one afternoon at University when three of us had driven out to the country one sunny afternoon to get stoned. We sat out in the sun and a hundred yards away there was the brow of a low hill.
One of the lads suddenly sat up and pointed to the skyline.
“Just imagine if about thirty Leeds came over there right now. Just imagine it.”
We imagined. There would only be one outcome to thirty Leeds suddenly appearing over that hill. A&E
There was no need for him to say ‘thirty Leeds United fans.’ Just '30 Leeds'. Leeds. A word that said all there needed to be said.
The Red Riding quartet takes the reader into the darkest corners of those violent times. The merciless, laughing brutality of the police. 
‘This is the North and we do what we want.’ 
It is scary to look at the early evolution of the out of control beast the Yorkshire Police Force was to become. The out of control beast that did Maggie’s bidding with such enthusiasm during the Miner’s Strike. The out of control beast that stood by and laughed whilst 96 of us were crushed to death at Hillsborough. The out of control beast that covered up what they had done for 25 years.
As the motorway miles drifted by, I was amazed at the extent to which my memory had erased the violence of those formative Northern years. The bleakness of the landscape. Brutality in every corner of life.
The hard North.
Leeds.
I took a break from David Peace and downloaded a podcast from the Guardian website. A journalist’s memory of 30 April 1975 when the helicopters evacuated the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon. Extraordinary pictures on the six o'clock news watched by a wide eyed fifteen year old me. And it had seemed like the marauding communist hordes were another step closer to engulfing us. The propaganda was wall to wall. Grainy footage from desperate looking grey streets in Dresden or Leipzig. The hard faces on the Kremlin balcony watching a huge procession of missiles driving by below. Documentaries laying out the stark facts of how it would be should the Red Army ever let their vast columns of tanks rolls west. Machine like athletes from East Germany sweeping the board at every Olympic Games. Women that looked like men. Men that looked like supermen. Faces like the faces on the giant posters on the giant walls of Moscow and East Berlin. Hard eyed, chisel cheeked and utterly focused. Brainwashed to one day come and get us.
Almost worse than Leeds.
But not quite.
The memorial to 30 April 1975 wrapped up with a small fact that seemed like the perfect full stop in my time-warp week. When an American soldier finished his 13 month tour in Vietnam, he would hunt for a present to take home for his mum and grannie. Most of them were teenagers away from their small town homes for the very first time. After months of gnawing fear and extreme violence, they just wanted to wrap it all up and go home. 
With a present. 
Something far removed from the napalm strikes and carpet bombing. The most popular choice was a two and a half foot tall ceramic elephant, delicately painted with bright colours. A small town twenty miles from Saigon built up a whole industry making these elephants for the returning GI’s. They were flat on top which made them idea for putting down a coffee cup or holding a pot plant. They could be kept indoors or outdoors. And they weighed a tonne. But this wasn’t a problem for the returning GI's as the US Postal Service was hugely subsidised. A ceramic elephant could be had for a handful of dollars and shipped home for even less. On some days at the height of the war, literally thousands of these ceramic elephants were weighing down the planes of the USAF transport fleet. One day, a particularly agitated Colonel lost his rag at all of his capacity being used up by the ‘Bloody Useless Fucking Elephants’
Soon his words were translated into intitials in the way just about everything is translated into initials by modern armies. ‘Bloody Useless Fucking Elephants’ became BUFE became ‘Buffies’.
And thousands and thousands of those Buffies are still out there in front rooms and on patios in the small towns that stumped up the conscripted cannon fodder of the Vietnam War. Holding coffee cups and pot plants. Carrying the quiet memories of a violent, violent time when brutality was so very much the norm.
My how things have changed.
















If you have enjoyed this blog then you might well enjoy one of my books. There are twenty of them waiting for you in the Kindle store from £1 to £2 each. Here's the link.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

THE SNP 56 ARE BY NO MEANS THE FIRST THE CHALLENGE THE VERY HEART OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE. AND ALREADY THE EMPIRE IS BEGINNING TO STRIKE BACK...



Last week the new Tory Government decided that Thursday will now become 'Legislation Day'. It appears to be a dastardly little ploy to screw over the 56 SNP MP's who have made such a dramatic entrance to the 'Mother of all Parliaments'. 
And it got me to thinking.....
Maybe in some well hidden corner of Whitehall there is an old dusty book. A playbook which has been lovingly updated for hundreds and hundreds of years. It is the guidebook on how to hold onto a colony. Everything you need to know to maintain an Empire. Good chaps from good schools have passed the book along the line for centuries, adding pearls of wisdom every step along the way. Clive, Rhodes, Salisbury ..... they’ve all left their mark in the book. Entries written with a flourish. Beautiful handwritten bequests for all the good chaps to come.
Good chaps from good schools.
It appears that the book has been dusted off this week and examined for guidance by our new Government. And already it has started. Already the subtle levers of Empire are being pulled.
As a writer of pulp fiction, I just couldn’t resist it. Here is how a new junior Minister who I will call Harvey spent an extra-ordinary few hours of his life one day last week.
I claim artistic licence!

The euphoria is still running through him. Through every artery and every vein. What a few days it has been. The exit poll. The count. The champagne. The doting eyes of the delicious new intern from Balliol. The call from Number 10. The place on the team. Forty eight seconds on BBC News 24.
Even his cow of a wife has been half way nice to him. For once.
A new office. And is the intern’s skirt deliberately short? And is there been a new look in her sparkling eyes when she brings him his first cup of coffee of the day. Maybe. Christ.
A tap at the door. Baines from head office. A face like a coffin and the smell of three packs of Marlboro a day about him. Manners of a bloody pig. An over promoted comprehensive school type from some godforsaken corner of bloody Yorkshire. But scary as hell. All sharp elbows and the cold black heart of a Mafia executioner.
“You need to meet some people Harvey. Today. One o’clock. For lunch. Here’s the address.”
“But I’ve….”
“Fuck off Harvey. Just go. There’s a good lad.”
So he goes. Across town in a taxi to an address in Mayfair. A doorman with knowing eyes and a glacial smile. It seems he is expected. The door man helps him off with his coat and Harvey has the feeling that the man could snap his neck like a twig. If he wanted to. If he was told to.
Stairs.
Old paintings of men with whiskers and high collars.
A corridor with carpet which must have cost a fortune when it was laid sometime back in the reign of King George.
A small room with a view of the three story white town houses across the road. Multi-million pound pads for Arabs and dodgy Russians.
One table. Two men. Thin as crows and dressed in three piece tweed care of Saville Row. Smiling like a pair of ancient sharks. Dry skin stretched tight over dry bones. Regimental ties. Killer’s eyes.
“Ah Harvey. Splendid. What an excellent chap you are. Please. Take a pew. Drink? Of course a drink. Time for celebration and all that. We’ve broken out a bottle of the good stuff. Rude not to really. A majority! Who’d have thought it! Bloody marvelous.”
He sits. He allows his glass to be filled. A clock ticks out from one of the panelled walls. There is no background music. This is a room that has never known background music. Only the tick of the clock. Only the low hum of the traffic outside.
“I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your names…”
“Of course you didn’t. We don’t do names, actually. We’re not the kind of chaps who go around throwing our names about the place. Not the thing you see. Not the thing at all. But we know your name Harvey. Bloody well in fact.”
They are both triangulating him with their knowing smiles. He feels like a wasp in a jar. Trapped. About to be suffocated. Powerless. Awaiting his fate.
“No menu here Harvey. No need to choose. We’re rather traditional actually. Today it is Toad in the Hole and Spotted Dick with custard. Agreeable?”
“Yes. Yes, of course.”
“Excellent. A toast methinks.” A glass raised. A glass filled with ancient claret. A glass gripped by the bony fingers of a corpse. “To victory.”
Harvey raises his glass but fails to meet the old blue eyes which chill him all the way to the bone. He digs as deep as he can and finds an unexpected parcel of courage.
“Might I ask who you are?”
“Of course you might old boy. But we won’t tell you of course. You are not nearly far enough up the food chain for anything like that. Maybe one day. Let’s just say that we are the wheels within the wheels. We are the chaps who hold the line. Defend the Realm. Good enough?”
He gulps some wine. It glows all the way down to his gullet. “Of course.”
“But we know all about you old boy. Down to the last inch.”
“Knew you father too. Decent sort. Remember him at school. Shame about that unfortunate business in the showers of course. With that fag of his. Blond haired little thing. Deary me. What was the little tart called now….”
“Bashington-Hartley.”
"Good Lord. So it was. Bashington-Hartley. Quite a fandangle at the time I must say. But it all blew over. These things do tend to blow over. Anyway. I digress. That’s the thing with being such a bloody fossil. The mind tends to wander back a bit. Back a lot in fact. Never mind.”
The expensively clad skeleton patted the cover of an old book with gentle affection.
“This, Harvey, is the book. The bible. The comprehensive list of ways and means. You see Harvey, you don’t just to get to hang onto an Empire like the one we hung onto for centuries without learning how to pull a string or two. Think about it. In India there were a couple of hundred thousand of us and about five hundred million of them. And yet we still managed to keep our boots on their throats for two hundred years. And when we left, we had stripped their cupboards bare. Completely bare. That kind of thing takes a bit of doing. And all the good old boys who made it happen wrote it all down in this book. The bible. Which of course means that good chaps like ourselves now have the opportunity to dip into its wisdom to learn the lessons we need to learn to win the wars of today. With me old chap?”
Harvey isn’t with him. But he nods all the same. He has never in his life been this out of his depth. And the story of his dad’s forgotten exploits in the showers with Bashington-Hartley is still racing around his head like a swarm of bees.
“Excellent. Splendid. Knew you'd catch on quick. We will summon you from time to time. Spot of luncheon. Spot of claret. And suggestions. All you need to do is to follow the script. And then lots and lots of good things will start to come your way. It's the way of the world, old thing. A non-exec directorship here. A stock exchange tip there. And when things are all played out, it will be a 'K' and a cosy seat on the red benches. Maybe one day you will sit where we are sitting now and you'll become one of the guardians of the book. Sound good old chap?”
A knighthood. The House of Lords. Once of those six figure a year non-exec jobs for two days work a year. Course it sounded good.
“Actually, yes it does.”
“Of course it does old boy.”
More wine splashes into glasses. Another bottle is ordered. Toad in the Hole and Spotted Dick and custard.
Stilton cheese and Port from the time of the Suez Crisis.
“Right. To business I think. These 56 Scottish types who have just arrived promise to be something of a thorn in the side. A bit of a handful. And we can't be having that. Not at all. We're going to have to clip their wings. Keep them honest. Make sure they don’t get the chance to become over pesky. Of course we have seen this kind of thing before. Lots of times. The bloody Irish. The Indian Congress. Militant Tendency. That scientist chap, Kelly. We've always had our ups and downs. And of course the time always comes when we have no choice but to let go. But we pride ourselves on letting go on our own terms. Once we have filled our pockets, right? We have managed to keep it that way since the unfortunate business in America back in 1776. Not a bad record, don’t you think?”
“Yes. Absolutely.”
“The trick is not to do anything too dramatic. We pick at the loose threads. Wear the buggers down. Chip away. Erode. Get me?”
“Yes.”
“So. We can make a start. No time like the present. Parliamentary schedule. All of these keen Scottish types will get homesick soon enough. Come Thursday afternoon, they'll all be itching to catch their planes and trains back north to see their ghastly wives. And of course they'll want to win Brownie points by seeing every man and his dog at their surgeries on the Friday morning. So. Here is what you are going to do. You are going to make Thursday our 'Legislation Day'. Thursday will be the day that all the laws get voted on. And you will make sure that the debates on all these new laws will always run late into the evening. No problem for good chaps like you with constituencies in the Home Counties. A much bigger problem from our dear Scottish friends who are hundreds of miles from home. We’ll give them a choice to make. Do I stay down to vote on something that is basically all about England? Or do I knock off early and head home to my nearest and dearest? And it won’t be all that long before the draw of the bosom of their families becomes overwhelming. And then all those good chaps from good schools who now edit good newspapers will start to ask a few questions about attendance records of our new Scottish friends. No doubt you can see how things will play out from there?”
“Of course.”
“Splendid. So we can leave the details to you then. Thursday is 'Legislation Day' from here on in. More Port? Of course more Port. I can see we're all going to get along quite famously. I have heard from a little bird that you have rather a deletable little intern fetching and carrying…..”
His head is buzzing by the time the doorman with the eyes of a killer re-unites him with his coat and ushers him out into a fresh spring afternoon.
And Harvey knows that he has arrived.
No longer is he on the outside looking in.
Now he is on the inside.
At the table and looking out
One of them.
He is a wheel within a wheel.   

If you have enjoyed this blog then you might well enjoy one of my books. There are twenty of them waiting for you in the Kindle store from £1 to £2 each. Here's the link.




 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

GOD HELP YOU DAVE. YOUR LAST VICEROY OF SCOTLAND IS ABOUT TO BE AN ABSOLUTE CAR CRASH.




They are by now well into Sinatra’s ‘Wee small hours of the morning’. Outside all is quiet. The soft light of a fat moon gently bathes the gentle rolling curves of the Cotswold hills. An owl hoots from a copse of silver birch trees. A fox barks.
The place is in so many ways the same place as Thomas Hardy knew all those years ago. Only now the squires have been replaced by bankers from the City who have exchanged their bonuses for a thatched roof Disneyland life of green wellingtons and Farmers Markets
Somewhere out in the night Jeremy Clarkson is sulking over a late night tumbler of scotch.
Somewhere out in the night Rebecca Brooks is talking to New York. 
Happy talk.
But in the Cameron house all of the lights are burning. Hyped up special advisers all but hyper ventilate as the results of their night of nights fizz through the blackness of the ether and into their top of the range tablets.
And it is unbelievable. 
Jaw-dropping. 
Better than any of them had dared to dream of.
‘I never felt more like singing the blues … the Tories win and Labour lose….’
The South of England is as blue as the Caribbean Sea.
Only a few hours earlier, the exit poll had rendered their sharp hungry faces all but speechless. Now the result from Nuneaton has turned them all into believers. Acolytes. Disciples.
After eighteen years, the show is back on the road.
And in the middle of it all, Dave sits on his sofa wearing the smile of a man who suddenly owns the world. The smile of a man born to rule the world. Bred to rule the world. Groomed to rule the world.
And this time there will be no tortuous hours of schmoozing those 'holier than thou' shits from the LibDems. Twats. For by now it is abundantly clear that the holier than thou shits are well on their way into the dustbin of history.
Shame for Clegg of course. But life’s a bitch, right? Should have joined the right party in the first place.
But in a sky as blue as the electoral map of the South of England, there are clouds gathering out on the horizon. Dark clouds. Angry clouds. Clouds than promise to well and truly screw up any planned barbeque for later on. Dark enough to bugger up a carefully planned menu of Pimms No l and those super sausages from that splendid chap at the Farmers Market.
Scottish clouds.
And Dave is in two minds about the Scottish clouds. The Scottish storm. The Scottish hurricane.
In so very many ways, it has been such a completely perfect storm. Watching that Bryllcreamed prick Douglas Alexander being put down by a twenty year old student was as good as watching a fox being ripped apart by a pack of hounds. And then Murphy. And Curran. The last vestiges of the smug prancing arrogance of New Labour.
What goes around comes around guys.
There’s a new show on the road now. A new sheriff in town.
And there’s no getting away from the fact that playing the Scottish bogeyman card has been the game changer. The sheer undiluted gullibility of the people never ceases to amaze him. When George first laid out the strategy, Dave had had his doubts. Come on George. It’s not like they're the bloody IRA. There is a limit. Isn’t there? Even the British aren’t that bloody stupid.
Or are they?
Well it seems they are. Maybe they always have been.
Fear of marauding Scottish bands certainly appears to have swept through the streets on Nuneaton.
Idiots.
One of the bright young things presents a tablet screen for his inspection. Baggy cords and designer stubble. Son of a pal from school. Eyes gleaming with the blazing burning buzz of victory. Well. Dave hopes that’s what it is. Dave hopes there are no inappropriate residual traces of the taste of Colombia to be found on his ludicrously over priced toilet cistern.
Whatever.
“Check this out boss.”
It's a tweet.
“They’ll be dancing in the streets of Grand Cayman and the British Virgin Islands.”
A slow smile.
“Bloody excellent. Grab another bowl of Twiglets from the kitchen would you, Tarquin. There’s a good lad.”
And the still the great SNP storm rages across the north of the Realm. Unbelievable. He pictures the ashen face of Ed Milliband up in Doncaster. Watching the same storm wreak the same havoc.
You didn’t believe it could actually happen, did you Ed?
Ouch.
Another and another and another.
Seats from ghastly places which have been painted red since the dawn of democratic time. The heartlands. The bed rock.
All gone.
Almost perfect.
But not yet completely perfect.
For everything to be completely perfect, there needs to be one more splash of yellow on the map.
For Dave knows his history. Because they know how to do history at Eton. It’s all part of the job of preparation. If we are going to groom you for one of the top slots, we need to to tell it warts and all. And there are always lots of warts in the process of losing the greatest Empire the world has ever seen. Bumps along the road.
So many of his predecessors have been screwed over by storms which came raging in from the far corners of the Empire. Good men one and all. Good men made to look stupid care of wild eyed colonials burning with the desire to be free.
And for just a few moments, Dave’s attention wanders away from the screen and away into pictures from the past.
He can see Disraeli all the way back in 1878. And how he yearns to shoot the messenger. The messenger is wearing a frock coat and his message is enough to warrant immediate execution. News from the Cape. A Zulu army has wiped out a British column at a place called Isandlwana. A bunch of bloody savages.
Same room. Lord Salisbury this time. White faced with fury. Yet another good pal from school wiped off the face of the earth by the bloody Irish. The bastards. The endless bloody bastards. Vermin. Murderous swine. And eighty of the uncouth bastards in the House of Commons…..
Winston Churchill. The man who saw off Hitler. But he could never see of bloody Ghandi. A skinny little waif mincing about the place in his idiotic rags. The bloody cheek of the man. Outrageous. Turned up for an audience with the King looking like a beggar straight off the streets of Calcutta. Some reporter asked him if he was possibly a little under-dressed for an audience with his king. And what had the wretched little sod said? For Christ's sake. ‘Oh I think the King was wearing quite enough for both of us….”
On and on the list rolls on along through Dave’s mind. Much like a trolley clattering along a hospital corridor.
Anthony Eden and Nasser.
Harold Macmillan and Rhodesia.
Maggie and the bloody Irish again.
And Dave knows that the process of disengaging from Empire can be a complete and utter bloody nightmare. Especially if you have the wrong sort of chap in charge.
And who cops it?
The Prime sodding Minister cops it. That’s who. Disraeli hadn’t been within ten thousand miles of the carnage at Isandlwana, but he still caught all the flak.
And now it is clear that all roads are heading north.
His legacy will be framed by Scotland, Scotland, Scotland.
Scotland has presented him with the keys to the big house. Now he knows in his bones that Scotland will frame the way he will be remembered. Scotland will make him or break him.
And all of those history lessons bought and paid for at such eye watering expense have taught him well.
The key to getting out of Dodge in one piece is having a good Viceroy. If you have the right kind of Viceroy, you can get clear without looking like a complete laughing stock in Washington and Moscow and Berlin and Paris. Especially bloody Paris. Bastards.
And in the midst of the designer comfort of his sofa Dave knows he is going to need his own Lord Louis Mountbatten. His own Chris Patten.
With the right Viceroy, he will be able to get out of Scotland with a semblance of dignity. With the right kind of Viceroy he will be able deprive the gloating, preening bastards in Paris the chance of a bloody good laugh.
But with the wrong kind of Viceroy….
Jesus.
It will be like the bloody Yanks legging it out of Saigon with their tails between their legs.
The thought sends a shudder through him. And now his moment of truth is growing ever closer. The moment his destiny might be decided.
And democracy can be such a complete and utter twat at times. A trace of a smile. Isn’t that right, Nick?
Ed?
Nigel?
It is time for democracy to deal out her cards.
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale.
A place nobody gives a shit about.
A million acres of inconsequential Scottish nothing. Sheep and deep fried bloody Mars bars.
But it is the place that now holds the key to his legacy.
And all Dave needs is for the historic Scottish storm to claim one final victim. And surely it must. On this night of nights for the marauding SNP, it simply has to be. It can’ be anything else.
Can it…?
The moment of truth arrives and Dave holds his breath…..
Emma Harper, SNP – 19,961
David Mundell, Conservative ……….
Come on, come on, come on….
Pleeeeeeeeaze……..
20,759
"NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards ………………"
“What on earth is the matter dear….”
And all of the bright young things are flocking into the room to see what the terrible thing is.
Dave sinks back into the sofa and raises a weary arm. A weary hand. A weary pointing finger…..
And on the screen the Right Honourable David Mundell is cavorting around the stage like a nerdy teenager at his first school disco.
“Him. That's what's wrong. That useless, worthless piece of shit.”
Slowly and one by one, the consequences climb up the ladders into his brain. And they rain on his parade. And they block out the warm glow. And they piss on his chips.
He curses himself for ever allowing himself the luxury of mentally trawling the benches of the House of Lords for the perfect last Viceroy of Scotland. The right kind of chap. A chap from the right kind of school capable of holding their knife and fork properly. A chap to look good on a horse. A Mountbatten.
And all he bloody needed was the chance dump the LibDems and for the great SNP storm to sweep Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and bastarding Tweeddale clean of the last trace of blue.
But the storm has run out of steam.
And against all sensible odds, the shambling cretin has managed to buck the trend of the night and hang on. 800 lousy votes. Eight bloody hundred. And now dave knows the way history will remember him is in the bumbling hands of David bloody Mundell. 
He can’t help it.
He can’t help picturing the hapless git being taken apart piece by piece by Salmond and Sturgeon. And a shiver runs though him.
Talk about bloody cannon fodder. Jesus. They’re going to toy with him. Run rings around him. Mock him. Like vicious kids pulling the legs off a spider.
And for the next five years, Dave realises he is going to have to suffer seeing the useless twat sitting at the Cabinet table. His Cabinet table. And all because 800 deluded so called Labour supporting wankers have chosen to tactically vote to get their pathetic communist rocks off by ticking the Tory box on the ballot paper.
Arrghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A nervous cough.
Shuffling feet.
“We probably need to get moving boss. You know. The count…”
“Yes. Of course. The count.”
“You OK, boss?”
“Me? OK? Not really. Not at all in fact.”
“But I thought…..”
“Of course you did. Why wouldn’t you?”
“So………….?”
“We’ve got the wrong Viceroy, Tarquin. The wrong bloody Viceroy. And he is going to make us us look like complete twats. And there isn’t a bloody thing I can do about it.”  
And somewhere far out in the gentle Cotswolds night a dog fox barks.

Monday, May 11, 2015

FROM 19 SEPTEMBER TO 8 MAY. FROM 45 TO 56. FROM DUNKIRK TO EL ALAMEIN. THE ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE IS NOW CLEAR....




As the dawn of last Friday brightened into a sunny spring morning, I took time out from the TV to revisit the blog I wrote in the midst of the abjecy misery of September 19th. Two numbers. Two dates. And what a world of difference. 
September 19th 2014. May 8th 2015.
A journey from the darkness to the light.
A journey from abject despair to a quiet certainty of eventual victory.
A journey from 45 to 56.
My blog from the day when the 45 was born was written with images fresh in my mind of thugs wrapped in Union Flags offering Nazi salutes to the world’s media whilst two young girls valiantly hung onto their Saltire. A handful of words from George Orwell slid to the forefront of my mind.
“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”
You can read the blog by following the link if you like.
I have known only two darker days than September 19th. There was 30 May 1985 , the day after 39 Juventus fans died in the Heysel Stadium. And of course there was the very worst of all of my days after the day before: 16 April 1989. Post Hillsborough, when I was still alive whist 96 of my fellow fans were zipped into body bags on the floor of a gymnasium in Sheffield.
The images of the wannabe Nazis running through their hate filled song book with leering, drunken faces seemed to fit the mood of the world. Hope had been murdered in its bed. The hideously smug forces of the Establishment had trampled over months and months of glorious optimism.
The future was empty and bleak. I felt like emigrating.
But it only took a matter of a few short weeks to realise that September 19th was in fact the Dunkirk moment for the 45% of us who voted ‘Yes’.
For a while the army of ‘Yes’ looked as beaten and bedraggled as the sunken eyed squaddies who disembarked from the armada of boats that evacuated the beaches over those extraordinary few days in the summer of 1940.
Two more dates. May 1940. November 1942.
30 months from the seemingly utter defeat of Dunkirk to the tide turning victory at El Alamein.
It is worth remembering Churchill’s reflections. “Before Alamein, we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat.”
It think that for all of us who fought on the side of ‘Yes’, last Friday was our El Alamein moment.
On 19 September, Independence seemed as far as away as the defeat of Hitler must have seemed in the summer of 1940. Today Independence is all but inevitable. The road ahead is suddenly clear.
And there is no point in pretending that I didn’t enjoy every single minute of watching the world turn. Someone, I can’t remember who, said that what happened in Scotland last Friday is the nearest thing you will ever have to a Revolution in a modern democracy. The same faces that were so insufferably smug and mocking in the wake of the 'No' vote were suddenly fighting back tears. It was a long and utterly gratifying list of entitled arrogance. Seldom can the phrase ‘served them bloody well right’ have been so completely apt. What a roll call.
Jim Murphy, Douglas Alexander, Danny Alexander, Margaret Curran….
They thought they had squashed us like beetles with their tsunami of lies. They assumed that they were the masters of their universe. It was supposed to have been business as usual and reservedfirst class seats on the Westminster gravy train all the way to the House of Lords.
But it didn’t work out that way because from time to time democracy can be a thing of utter beauty. I can never remember an electorate delivering such a perfectly destructive blow. Scotland was Kinshasa. We were Mohamed Ali and they were George Foreman.
What a joy to see the utter horror on their chalk white faces. How could it be? How dare the gullible, cap doffing plebs do such a thing to us?
Well we dared. And we did.
And there ain’t no stopping us now.
On a baking hot evening last summer, I teamed up with a fellow ‘Yes’ traveler called Richard Arkless to debate our local Labour MP and MSP. It was all a bit tetchy and at times downright nasty. They were both clearly affronted at the idea that two ordinary Joes like Richard and I should have the gall to take them on.
On September 19th it seemed like they had had the last laugh.
Not so.
Richard was one of those who signed on the dotted line for the SNP. And then he went further. He stepped out of his comfort zone to put his name forward to be a candidate. Well he isn’t a candidate any more.
Yet more numbers.
Richard Arkless – SNP – 24,000
Russell Brown – Labour – 14,000
Bloody hell Rich! It restores my faith in just about everything.
The road ahead has turned into an eight lane highway were all the traffic is thundering in one direction at a hundred miles an hour. How many will be willing to head out onto the streets to knock doors in the name of Labour, the Tories or the Lib Dems next year when the time comes to elect the Scottish Parliament? Not many. And what can they possibly say? A year further down the tracks and the picture becomes even starker when the time comes to elect local councilors. Not many people bother to vote in local elections. The last time such elections were held in Scotland back in 2012, turnout was 39%. Last Friday the 45% of us who voted ‘Yes’ turned out in overwhelming numbers to kick Better Together in the teeth. The 45 are right now in a mood to turn out and vote for just about anything so long as it puts them back in their box and keeps them there. By the summer of 2017 the Unionist armies will be little more than a shell shocked rabble.
Will the passing of time encourage the 45 to take our collective foot from their throats? 
Aye right!
And all the while David Cameron will look at yellow coloured maps of Scotland and despair at what he is supposed to do about any of it. There will be lots and lots of huffing and puffing. Chests will be beaten and fingers will be wagged. They will threaten and they will plead. And none of it will make so much as a jot of difference. There is nothing any of them will ever be able to say that will make the 45 forget the way we felt on September 19th 2014. Nothing will ever erase the memories of the Nazi morons dancing their dance in George Square. Nothing will erase the memory of David Cameron’s smug Etonian face as he described his purring Queen.
Oh no.
We’re not about to forget any of it.
Because what goes around comes around.
There will be many more days like last Friday and with each successive humiliating defeat, their grip on their last colony will be weakened.
We have the million and a half strong army of the 45.
They have Jim Murphy.
And let’s face it, the last few weeks have conclusively proved that Jim ain’t no Field Marshall Erwin Rommel!      

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

HERE'S A NUTS AND BOLTS EXAMPLE OF WHY WE WOULD ALL BE SO MUCH BETTER LIVING IN AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND




One of the things that annoyed me most of all during the Referendum campaign was the constant obsession with money. Both sides were as guilty as each other in this regard. Whether or not an Independent Scotland would be a good place to be a citizen or not was deemed to be entirely down to pounds, shillings and pence. I guess to expect anything different would have been pretty naïve really.
We are constantly obsessed with money which they say it makes the world go round. And yet every day brings us fresh examples of how money is anything but everything. Having loads and loads of cash is no guarantee of things being great. You can find proof of this in all kinds of different walks of life.
Why don’t we start with Lottery winners? Each and every one of them is always convinced that their cheque with lots of noughts will transform their lives from the ordinary to the fantastic. It hardly ever does. Most of the time it leads to misery, alienation and an arid shell of an existence.
Football offers umpteen examples of money guaranteeing absolutely nothing. Take last year’s Champions League as a prime example. Hundreds of millions worth Middle Eastern oil money has been ploughed into the French club Paris Saint Germain to pay the ludicrously obscene salaries of what are supposed to be some of the best players on the planet. These Petro-dollars have signed off on a contract paying Zlatan Ibrahimovic £300,000 a week AFTER tax. Let’s remember here that the top rate of tax in France is now 70% for high rollers like Zlatan. So for the gilded striker to receive £300,000 in his hot little hands, the Sheiks have to pay him £1 million a week gross. £50 million a year. And he was but one player in a squad of 25. So surely all the truck loads of Arabian cash that have been tipped into their stable of superstars must have guarantee Paris Saint Germain will sweep all before them? They don’t, actually. Last year they were bounced out of the Champions League in the quarter finals. The wage bill for Athletico Madrid’s entire payroll from directors to players to groundsmen to tea makers was 30% of what PSG paid Zlatan alone, and yet the Spaniards made it within 60 seconds of winning the competition.
How could this be? The established narrative is that splurging money offers a cast iron guarantee of success in football. Except that it doesn’t. Management and team spirit more often than not prove to be every bit as effective. More so in fact.
Every year the supposedly wise old heads who commission Hollywood blockbusters will pile hundreds of millions into some sprawling dog’s dinner of a movie which fails utterly to become a blockbuster. Every year some Indy movie made on a shoestring will defy all the odds and put bums on seats all over the world.
RBS was the biggest bank in the world and set to grow and prosper for ever and a day.
Right.
Tesco is huge and massive and home to one pound in every five that we spend on our groceries. How can anyone possibly compete with them? Well they can’t of course. The rule of Tesco is absolute! So how can a funny little foreign company owned by some reclusive weirdo who hasn’t had his photo taken since 1973 even think of taking on the mighty behemoth of British retailing?
You got it. They’re called Lidl.
Does the same failed logic apply to countries? I think it does. Qatar is the richest small country in the world and, so long as we use oil for our cars and gas for our central heating, it always will be. Denmark has very few natural resources and lots and lots of pigs. Where would you rather live?
A common theme that runs through all of these various examples is that something small is a great deal easier to manage effectively than something large. Big is beautiful is a theory that seldom works. Generally the bigger any entitity becomes, the less well it tends to work. Empires start small and for a while they are pretty effective. Then they get ideas beyond their station and they start to believe in their own publicity. They start to feel invincible. And then, as sure as night follows day, they start to over reach. Surprise setbacks put them onto the back foot and their instinct is to throw cash at the problem in the belief that might will always be right.
Then the time comes for them to learn the age old lesson of 'the larger they are the harder they fall'.
Waterloo and Isandwana and Stalingrad and Dien Bien Phu.
Hitler and Napoleon had all the resources in the world in the run up to their harder than hard falls. The money got them nowhere in the end.
When addressing numerous ‘Yes’ meetings, I tried my level best to sell the idea that a nation of 5 million stands a far better chance of punching above its weight in the world than an archaic amorphous mass of a place that is now home to 60 million largely discontented souls. Why? Because it is manageable. Just like Lidl.
My argument seldom seemed to excite much interest from the various audiences I spoke to. My efforts to sell the dream of being able to draw up a Bill of Rights for every man, woman and child in an independent Scotland  fell on equally deaf ears.
Sadly we live in an age where ideas and dreams seldom seem to stand a chance of winning any hearts and minds. It seems that cold, hard cash is our one and only God.
But nuts and bolts common sense should still deserve a hearing.
And so I’m going to give it another shot. Here is a nuts and bolts argument for why we would all be so much better off living in a well run little country of five million.
For the last five years, First Base has run a project to support local veterans. During that time we have done our best to support over 150 men and women who have been involved at the sharp end of Britain’s recent wars. Their ages have ranged for 20 to 80 and they have witnessed the darkest corners of humanity in Ireland, the Falklands, Bosnia, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
The majority suffer from some sort of PTSD type symptoms and each and every one of them deserves the kind of Rolls Royce mental health treatment politicians never tire of spouting on about.
When the project started out five years ago, local Vets faced a waiting list of nine months to see an NHS mental health professional. Believe it or not, this was actually quite good. The average wait across the whole of the UK was 18 months.
This didn’t seem right to us.
It wasn’t right.
It was a bloody disgrace. So we did some negotiating with the local NHS guys and they offered us a deal. £5000 would buy us half a day a week from a superb young psychotherapist who specialises in PTSD treatment. So we raised the £5000 and soon the waiting list was down to three weeks. After a year’s worth of lobbying, the local NHS beancounters found some underspend money and agreed to cover the bills themselves.
So. Job done. 
Well, not quite. 
As Rab the psychotherapist successfully worked with over fifty local guys, the word of what a great job he was doing started to spread. And as the word spread, more and more local vets started to have their names put on the list. And the list started to grow.
Again.
Time for another meeting with the boss of the mental health team. Would another £5000 get us another half a day? Nope. Not this time. Things are stretched way too tight. If Rab is taken away from other duties for half a day, there is be nobody with any slack to ‘backfill’ him.
So we started to look for a more permanent fix. The next 15 years are going to be challenging to say the least. For a reason that nobody really understands, it takes an average of 13 years for a veteran to pick up the phone to ask for some help from the first onset of the symptoms of PTSD.
This is why almost everyone working in this particular field is expecting a mental health timebomb to go off over the coming years. Between 2003 and 2014, over 200,000 men and women saw the worst combat the British Army has seen since the Falklands. Iraq and Afghanistan. Those whose minds are disturbed by memories of the 2003 invasion will start to pick up the phone next year and the phone will ring off the wall all the way to 2029.
The waiting list is just going to grow and grow. And of course with every passing year, the public memory of what the guys endured in those two brutal wars will fade out. In the end all the wars we don’t win become forgotten wars. And the men and women who fought those wars become forgotten warriors.
Anyway. What is the long term, permanent fix for this coming problem in Dumfries and Galloway? The boss of Mental Health services could see the answer clearly.
Hire an excellent psychologist to work full time on meeting the demands of the coming mental health time bomb. To encourage the right person to up sticks and move down to Dumfries and Galloway, this absolutely has to be a full time post. It must also be a fully mobile post. Having a single central location in a huge rural region like ours is no use.
Cost?
£70,000 a year.
Any chance of getting that from the local NHS budget?
Not a cat in hell’s chance.
So where then?
The Government. No other show in town.
Fair enough.
If First Base were based in Carlisle, the chances of making this kind of pitch to the government would be much the same as Carlisle United winning the Premier Leagues. The Westminster Parliament is a closed off place where to get any kind of access you generally need to write a cheque with plenty of noughts on it. You need a super smooth lobbyist to stand a chance of getting the ear of a minister and their invoices are enough to make all but a very rich man bust into tears.
But First Base isn’t based in Carlisle.
We are based in Dumfries. And things are rather different here than in Carlisle. After my meeting, I was able to leave a message for my local MSP Joan McAlpine to give me a call. And she gave me a call. We talked the thing through and she agreed that the proposed plan seemed like an ideal fix for the rural regions of Scotland that have provided the British Army with so many of its finest fighting soldiers for hundreds of years.
Last Thursday there was a debate on Veterans in the Parliament and Joan put our plan to the Minister. And next week she will be taking me along to meet the Veterans Minister Keith Brown.
Maybe we will get a result, maybe we won’t. There are no guarantees and we don’t expect any. Our argument is that £70,000 a year is a modest amount of cash to fund a pilot project down here in Dumfries and Galloway. If the model works here, then it can work just as well in all of the rural regions of Scotland. The annual bill to give this kind top class support to our country’s traumatised veterans will be a tad under £15 million a year.
I intend to put forward three arguments as to why this represents money well spent.
First, there is the emotional argument. We sent these men and women into unique horror of combat. When helicopters and tanks come home from combat zones with all kinds of damage, we shell out the required cash to get them fixed without batting a eyelid. Why is it so very hard to do the same for human beings?
Then there is the political argument. The public has spoken very clearly on this one. The public have shown support to veterans to the tune of £100 million – that is the amount that we have all put into the ‘Help for Heroes’ collection pots.
Then there is a pounds, shillings and pence argument. When PTSD is allowed to fester, it almost invariably drives the person suffering into the disastrously false embrace of drink or drugs or both. All too many vets use a litre of vodka a day to hide from the nightmares that haunt their fractured brains. As the years roll by, their bodies slowly but surely give up the ghost. As their livers cave in, these guys become very expensive citizens indeed. Last year I wrote a blog to commemorate my friend Tinker who was one of the Paratroopers who fought the battle of Goose Green in 1982. You can read it here.


Tinker spent eighteen months of his last two years of life in the high dependency unit at our local hospital. When I visited him he looked like a man who had been liberated from Bergen Belsen. God alone knows how the doctors and nurses managed to keep him breathing for as long as they did. How much did those last two years cost the NHS? £100,000? £200,000? More?
Would his life have ended in such a desperate way had he been given the mental Health treatment he asked for and needed years earlier?
Surely it would.
There will be many more Tinkers over the coming years. If we leave them to seek solace through drink and drugs, they will becomne every bit as expensive as Tinker became. Surely this is a classic example of prevention being better than cure. £70,000 a year spent now will save hundreds of thousands down the line.
Will these arguments prevail? I have no idea. I hope so.
But that isn’t the point. The point is that our Dumfries postcode gives us the chance to make the argument. Maybe after my meeting next week with the Veterans Minister, I will get the chance of a further meeting with the Health Minister. And maybe after that meeting the Health Minister will take the idea to the Cabinet. And maybe the Cabinet will sign off on a pilot project down here in Dumfries and Galloway. And maybe after a couple of years, the pilot project will be successful enough to encourage the Government to roll the model out all the way across rural Scotland. And maybe in 15 years time the NHS with be several million pounds better off as a result of not having to treat hundreds of guys who have wrecked their bodies through using booze to self medicate their cancerous memories of Basra and Helmand.
This is the kind of thing that can happen in a small, well run country of five million which has an open, accessible Parliament filled with open and accessible MSPs. It is the kind of thing that wouldn’t stand a snowball in hell’s chance of happening if First Base had a Carlisle postcode.
Running a railroad well always beats the pants out of throwing bucket loads of cash at a railroad. I look forward to the day when the rail road will finally be ours to run well.              

Saturday, May 2, 2015

TRY THIS MORAL DILEMMA ON FOR SIZE. IT'S A WHOPPER!




A couple of days ago I was driving around town when the hourly radio news demanded my attention like a spoilt child. The bulletin was home to two figures which on the surface of things appeared to be entirely unrelated. The two numbers did have one very definite thing in common: they were both were very, very big numbers.
The first number came care of the United Nations. Their experts had calculated that the bill to put earthquake wrecked Nepal back on its feet was going to run to £270 million. Would the world please help?
The second number was even bigger. The men and women of HM Customs had boarded a trawler in the North Sea and bagged themselves the greatest ever haul of illegal drugs in the long history of Britain. Three tonnes of cocaine. A street value of £500 million.
Now that IS a big number. A massive number.
Five worth years of Bedroom Tax savings
Thirty five years of Wayne Rooney’s salary.
A year’s worth of average wage for 25,000 Brits.
A year’s worth of dole money for 150,000 Brits.
Oooft!
Christ there would be heads rolling all the way from the streets Bogata to the icy waters of German Bight.
The news duly moved along to sports and then weather and my mind drifted. An for some reason the two big numbers started to dance around each other. To eye each other up. To become suddenly attracted to each other like a couple on the dance floor of a weekend nightclub.
Could one number provide a solution to the other number?
The thought of it put a smile on my face. It goes something like this.
There is a huge earthquake in Nepal.
The devastation and loss of life are truly hideous. The UN fly in their best guys to work out how much it will cost to play the part of all the king’s horses and all the king's men and duly put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
It’s big. Massive.
£270,000,000
A few thousand miles away in 10 Downing Street, London, the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland watches the pictures of flattened buildings and dusty body bags with a concerned frown.
How awful. Truly horrid. Is there an angle here to blame Ed Milliband? Or the SNP? Or both?
Probably not. Bloody shame really.
But should we step up to the plate? Should Britain don a suit of white armour? Is there any moral imperative for us to dig deep into our pockets? These are tough questions indeed for Dave, the old Etonian.
Well. I guess we did rule the place for the thick end of 200 years.
And then of course there are the 3400 men of the Regiment of Ghurkhas who have been our best soldiers for years and bloody years.
And then of course there is an election coming. Hang on a minute. Maybe there is something in this whole natural disaster thing......
It would be nice if Britain could go out there and play it large for once. Just imagine. The Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland takes to the airwaves and rolls back the years. I have a message for my friends in Washington and Moscow and Beijing and Dehli. Oh, and Paris of course. Especially Paris.It’s about this nasty business out in Nepal. I know. Jolly rotten and all that. Well here’s the thing. We have a tad of history in that neck of the woods. Maybe the best thing is for us to pick up the tab on this one. Oh yes, all of it. Oh, it’s not a problem really. Broke? Us? Don’t be so silly. We’re Britain remember. We’re good for it.
Fine words. And fond memories of the good old days when London ruled the greatest Empire there ever was. But the money is a bit of an issue. Well. A bloody massive issue.
Maybe the Prime Minister could take to the TV screens wearing his very best concerned face and ask his fifty million people to stump up £5.50 each…..
I nice thought, but quite frankly pigs might bloody well fly.
So.
Plan B.
Now there’s an interesting thought……
Bloody Hell….
“Samantha!! Come here a sec…. let me run this by you….”
The next day the TV screens of our green and pleasant land give up the very primest of prime time to a special emergency broadcast from our Prime Minister. Images of the ravaged streets of Kathmandu. Images of generations of Ghurkhas complete with their Victoria Crosses. Images of Edmund Hilary atop Everest in 1953.

“My fellow countrymen. We have all watched the appalling pictures from Nepal. And we have all felt the urge to do our bit and help out. Well of course we have. We’re British when all is said and done. The United Nations has asked the world for £270 million to sort things out. And of course £270 million is an awful lot of money. But we must also remember that Britain is a rich country and things are going especially well right now thanks to the Herculean efforts of my best pal George. So I am going to pick up the phone to the the UN and let them know that Britain will be taking care of this one. Nepal was part of the Empire back in the day. And of course for years we have had those terrific Ghurkha chappies to stick in the front of the frontline when the going gets really tough. And I don’t’ mind admitting that I wouldn't like to meet any of them on a dark night…
Anyway. I digress. 
Can we really afford £270 million? Of course we can’t. Duh! Not when we are borrowing £100 million a day from the bloody Chinese and Arabs. I mean, as if! But maybe there is another way. Maybe if we pull the cushions off the sofa and root around a bit, we might just be able to dig out some change. Luck money, right?
So here’s the thing. A few days ago the heroic men and women of Her Majesty’s Customs bagged themselves 3 tonnes of cocaine from a trawler in the North Sea. Lots and lots of lovely Charlie. As things stand, we will be loading the whole lot of it into an incinerator. And burning it! Every last gramme! What a crying bloody shame! What a waste! For goodness sake, this particular three tonne ball of Colombian snow has a street value of £500 million. And we are planning burn it!
Well, not this time. This time we are going to do something different. My fellow citizens, tonight I am announcing that every last gramme of our newly acquired cocaine will be put up for sale by Her Majesty’s Government. 
OK? Oh yes. You heard it right.
Let’s go over the details, shall we? We have tested the product and it is 82% pure which is at least twice as good as you’ll buy anywhere on the street. Even my pals in Canary Wharf struggle to get hold of any Charlie better than 60%, and they pay top dollar. We have reached out to our partners at GlaxoSmithKline and Amazon and they have agreed to help. GSK will package up the product and Amazon will deliver it to your door.
So here’s what you need to do. Go onto Amazon. Type in ‘Government Coke’. It will pop up in the ‘Kitchen and.Home’ section. Then you simply do your normal Amazon thing. Choose how much you want to buy and pay for it. Every purchase will arrive complete with an 'immunity from prosecution certificate' personally signed by my good self. Well. It’s a copy of course. As if I could sign every certificate individually!
Any other questions? Oh, there will be lots of course. I will try to answer one of two of the main ones.
Will there be VAT? Of course there will. We are the dealer here remember and what self respecting drug dealer would punt out 250 million quid’s worth of Charlie without having a bite out of it? Come on guys. Who do you think we are? The bloody SNP!
Will GSK and Amazon get a bite too? I think you can guess the answer to that one. This is the drug trade. There’s a way for doing things. There is a chain. These are my blood, right? They need to get their slice.
Will anyone die? Of course they will. Our chaps reckon somewhere between 25 and 50. But that will be less than the number who would die after using street Charlie which has been cut with all kinds of dodgy rubbish. And the £270 million we will be sending out to Nepal will save tens of thousands of lives. So we’ve weighed it up and decided it’s a no brainer.
How will it affect the drug cartels? Well, if you'll excuse my French, it will be a complete kick in the bollocks for them. Think it through. First we take half a billion's worth of coke off them. Then to add insult to injury, we undercut them and steal their market as well. How can they compete with me punting out 82% pure Charlie at half the street price complete with an 'immunity from prosecution certificate'? Ouch!
What will the Americans say? Well they’ll be pissed of course. Seriously pissed. But what can they really say? We’re the good guys here. We’re saving lots and lots of lives.
How badly will it hurt the City of London? Well, I’ll be honest with you, this one is a bit of a bummer. Thee tonnes worth of coke would normally generate at least £100 million in laundering fees for the chaps, but for once they’re just going to have to live with it.
So. I think that’s about everything. This is a one off and when it’s gone, it’s gone! Remember it's 82% pure and it's on sale at nearly half the street price. Log on now, fill your boots and with every snort think how the great people of this great country of ours are helping to save the mountain kingdom of Nepal.
Oh…
Nearly forgot! Remember to vote Tory next Thursday. They can’t possibly call us the nasty party now. So you all have a good one. This is Dave signing off….”

Ridiculous, I know. But then….
How many lives might be saved if we chose not to incinerate the three tonnes of Colombia’s finest? Tens of thousands. What are those lives worth? How can such a thing be measured? A moral dilemma.
I’m buggered if I know. But it’s a hell of a thought.        

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A DAY TRIP TO THE HEART OF THE ESTABLISHMENT ON WINTER'S DAY IN APRIL



A few days after the one and only Tory MP in Scotland told a Parliamentary committee that anything said by yours truly should be taken with a pinch of salt I received a surprise call from the Department of Work and Pensions. They wanted my e mail address. And was it OK for them to send me an e mail? An invitation, you see. Someone coming up from London. As in over the border. A fact finding mission. An opportunity to reach out and be all embracing. It took me a while. It quite often takes me a while to find my way to right page when I am addressed in government speak. But I got there in the end.
A few minutes later my computer made the clicking noise it makes when an inbound e mail hits the buffers and I duly opened up the missive from the minions of Ian Duncan Smith.
An invitation indeed. An invitation to indulge in some information sharing. And some fact finding. I did my best to read between the lines and kind of figured that the gist of the proposed meeting was to get under the skin of the whole 'Welfare Reforms = A Whole Bunch of Food Parcels' debate.
Fair enough.
Nice to be asked and all that.
So I hit the reply button and RSVP’d.
The meeting was on Monday.
My SatNav has given up the ghost recently so I set off early armed with a print out from Google Maps. Silvan House looked an easy enough place to find in theory. But places always look easy to find in theory. And we all know what a dire fate awaits any citizen of our green and pleasant land should they be late for an appointment with the DWP.
It turned out that Silvan House was as easy to find in practice as in theory. It was a great multi-storey crescent shaped place that screamed out ‘Government’ at the top of its voice. I parked up and loaded up on a last hit of nicotine.
It occurred to me that this was the first time I had entered a huge multi-story crescent shaped building in thirty years. Back in 1984 the circumstances were somewhat different. A much younger me was a resident of Moss Side, Manchester and from time to time I would travel two miles across town to venture into the badlands of Hulme’s notorious Crescents. These particular crescents were a 1972 built high rise monstrosity designed to house 13000 Mancunians in accommodation better than the festering two up and two downs that had escaped the Luffwaffe. It didn’t work out as planned. By 1984 the Crescents had become a no go area to end all no go areas and less than a couple of thousand of the flats were occupied. Nobody in their right mind wanted to live in Hulme in 1984 and when the cops made their occasional forays into the concrete jungle they went in paramilitary style. I used to take my life in my hands to visit a huge Rastafarian called Rufus to score dope. It was like being on a Mancunian stage set from the cult epic, ‘The Warriors’.
Anyway. I digress. 
A lot.
Silvan House Edinburgh is a very different place to 1980’s Hulme. I have no doubt that the cops can visit any time they like. On their own. Without stab vests.
I did the signing in thing and was directed to a waiting room where the posters on the wall warned of the immigrant beetles which are threatening our indigenous trees. The main tenant of Silvan House is the Forestry Commission and they have kindly put their mission statement on the waiting room wall at eye level to ensure anyone waiting can bring themselves up to speed with the core values of the guardians of our nation’s trees.
There was another guy waiting and he introduced himself as a fellow foodbank guy. We shook hands and soon there were two more foodbank guys in the room.
So four of us.
Did anyone have any clue as to what the meeting was about?
None of us had.
After five minutes our escort to the second floor arrived and escorted us to the second floor. It was very open plan and home to an extraordinary array of brightly coloured filing cabinets. And I mean BRIGHTLY coloured filing cabinets. As in garish orange and yellow and red and purple. It gave the place the feel of a primary school classroom. I guess there must have been fifty or so people working open plan, each and every one of them with their eyes spot welded to computer screens. Was this the very room where so many thousands of lives have been turned upside down over the last few years? Crashed and burned at the left click of a mouse in a room filled with rainbow bright filing cabinets?
Meeting rooms were labelled with the names of the kind indigenous trees that are threatened by aggressive immigrant beetles. I cannot recall the name of our designated room. Spruce maybe.
Coffee was ordered and delivered with enthusiastic smiles and the DWP delegation joined us around the oval table. They did introductions. We did introductions. They told us what they did and we told them what we did. It was all friendly and polite and at no stage did it become remotely clear why we were actually there. Subtle messages were delivered loud and clear. On two separate occasions we were told with absolute authority that there were no central targets for sanctions. There had never been central targets for sanctions. Ever.
Ah the land of smoke and mirrors. Three years worth of investigative journalism undertaken by the Guardian newspaper strongly suggests such targets exist. And as yet these allegations have not prompted the DWP to take the newspaper to court. But now were being told an entirely different truth.   
To what end?
My blog in the wake of being described as a person whose words should be taken with a pinch of salt by North Britain’s one and only Tory had been read many thousands of times. An Ewan from the Trussell Trust now writes regularly for the Herald. Foodbank guys are suddenly front and centre of the news cycle. Jim Murphy says we are about to be abolished. Was our voice getting a little too loud? Had the truth we were peddling become a little too inconvenient? Was this a charm offensive?
Maybe.
A couple of hours passed and lady from London needed to chase a plane back down south. Handshakes all round. We really must do this again. Absolutely we must. Communication is king.
On the way out I discovered one last oddity. I walked into the gleaming Gents toilet only to turn on my heels and walk straight back out.
No urinals.
And when you enter a public toilet with no urinals it can only mean one thing. It means you are in the wrong place and you need to get out quick before anyone gets the wrong end of the stick. I got out. Quickly. I checked the door and was surprised to find that the silhouette figure was absolutely not wearing a dress. The silhouette figure on the door was most definitely wearing trousers.
So. A Gents with no urinals. Another first to go with all those happy clappy filing cabinets.
We handed in our visitors passes and stepped out into a freezing rain that was more January than April.
Anyone have any idea what that was all about?
None of us had.
Not a clue.
But that is how it tends to be when you journey into the heart of the Establishment. You never quite know if you have been patted on the head or if you have had your pocket picked.
So I got into my car and drove home through snow covered forests.
And none the wiser.
It was all a very far cry from going to see Rufus back in the day.