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.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

HERE ARE TWO AUDIO EXTRACTS FROM 'THE GREAT FOODBANK SIEGE' WHICH WILL BE ON SALE VERY, VERY SOON


So all you need to do is follow the links below to hear my dulcet tones reading two extracts from 'The Great Foodbank Siege'

EXTRACTS

https://www.spreaker.com/show/mark-franklands-tracks


This is the blurb from the leaflet we are having printed which will give you a feel for what the project is all about


WHAT IS THE BOOK FOR?

I am a man who wears two hats.
Hat Number One - A thriller writer – ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ is my twenty third book.
Hat Number Two - A Foodbank Manager. The First Base Agency Foodbank in Dumfries.
Right now the Foodbank Manager’s hat is weighing heavy.
Every day twenty hungry people come to us for emergency food..
5000 in the last year. 30,000 since we started the project.
Never once have we had to turn anyone away.
It’s a responsibility everyone involved with First Base really feels.
Right now we have a £15,000 funding hole for this year.
Unless we raise the cash, the lights will go out in January.
For this reason I have joined my two hats together and written ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’
You can buy a digital copy for £3 at Amazon. Every book sold gets us £2 nearer to filling the £15,000 hole (Amazon’s cut is £1 by the way)
We need to sell 7500 books
That is what ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ is for.
I really hope you will help us out.

WHERE DID THE STORY COME FROM?

Basically I started out with some fact and turned it into fiction.
THE FACT
In March this year, David Mundell, the only Tory MP in Scotland, appeared in the Holyrood Parliament to defend his Government’s Welfare Reform Policies. He was asked to comment on some statistics I had produced in a blog. At which point he said that anything I said ‘should be taken with a pinch of salt’. Why? Because ‘I was a very prominent ‘Yes’ supporter’. His comments caused a minor media storm. We invited David to come along to First Base for an afternoon to help serve some food parcels and to hear about the problems people were facing. We never received a reply. On May 7th, the Conservatives won an outright majority and David became the Secretary of State for Scotland. All fact.
THE FICTION
In ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ It is not David who is the Secretary of State for Scotland in the summer of 2015. It is James Shillingford-Moore. And James accepts our invitation to come to spend an afternoon at First Base.
But it doesn’t work out well. Two disillusioned veterans armed with semi-automatic weapons take control of the building and the Great Foodbank Siege gets under way.
It doesn’t take very long for things to get completely out of hand. Huge tensions develop between the Governments in Edinburgh and London. As the crisis deepens, the ties holding together the United Kingdom are stretched to braking point…
Like I said….pure fiction!
People tell me it is a quick and easy read. Entertaining. Some will like it, others will hate it. It is certainly irreverent. Thankfully free speech is still allowed!
Hopefully you will buy a copy and make your own mind up.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

IT LOOKS TO ME LIKE PEOPLE POWER IS MAKING A COMEBACK



 The times we are living in seem to be getting more interesting by the day. I wonder if in years to come this will be seen as an era when the tide finally started to turn. When I first started writing this blog of mine three years ago, it seemed almost impossible to imagine anything changing much. Every year an extra £50 billion would flow into the coffers of the thousand or so super rich families who own and run the country. Every year the rest of us continued to find it ever hard to make ends meet without the £50 billion the gilded thousand had taken from us.
And who was going to stop it happening? The media was bought, sold and co-opted into being nothing more than a mouth piece for big money. In true 1984 style, those at the top were enjoying huge success in persuading people that the poor and the immigrants were to be blamed for everything. And of course politicians from all parties seemed like they actually came from one party – the Oxford to Special Adviser to Safe Seat party.
They all looked the same. They all said the same things. Kings and Queens of the meaningless, anodyne sound bite designed to send people to sleep.
And then the ‘Yes’ campaign happened and people remembered what actual people power looks like. For a few heady months it looked as if David might be about to send Goliath crashing to the floor. Of course in the end David didn’t quite get over the line. But it was a close run thing.
And people noticed just HOW close it had been.
The political establishment, big business and the super rich had all joined forces to throw the kitchen sink at the grass roots ‘Yes’ campaign. It should have been an easy win. It should have been a first round knockout. It should have been no contest.
But it was a contest.
A hell of a contest.
And in the end the Establishment only just managed to scrape over the line with a points victory won with last minute lies.
But a win’s a win, right?
The little guy had been given a shot at the title and the big guy had duly won. The little guy was supposed to retreat back into his box never to be heard of again.
This is an outcome the Establishment has become accustomed to. They squash the little guy so hard that he will never be able to get back up again.
Arthur Scargill? Derek Hatton? John Maclean? We all know how the story goes.
Men squashed all the way down into the dustbin of history leaving the road to those lovely offshore bank accounts of Grand Cayman wide open.
But it didn’t happen.
100,000 people joined the SNP and a few months later the political map of our small country was ripped to shreds.
I find the Jeremy Corbyn frenzy completely compelling. Of course the red tops are shrieking out warnings at the top of their voices. Corbyn it seems is somewhere to the left of Trotsky and support for him threatens to set the country ablaze.
The vile communist poison he is spouting threatens to destroy our very way of life. Appalling. Despicable. Unelectable.
The problem is that nobody seems much interested in what Rupert Murdoch has to say about it. The more the ‘Sun’ rails about this new bearded Red under our bed, the more people seem to be taken with him. And the more the other three ex Special Advisers rail against his dreadful outdated socialist ideas, the more everyone hates them for their utter blandness.
I grew up in a world where all of those Corbyn style communist ideas ruled the roost. And what a living hell it was. I went to university and didn’t have to pay a penny in fees. Appalling. I even received a maintenance grant. Despicable. I used to travel about on publicly owned British Rail trains. Imagine that. How disgraceful. A nasty, poor student could actually AFFORD to travel by train! And in those long lost winters,  people tolerated me actually being warm because communist style publicly owned power companies chose to sell affordable electricity and gas. To everyone. For goodness sake.
How could any sensible, modern country even think of taking on board these kinds of deluded policies? Any modern country stupid enough to adopt such outdated and naïve ideas would surely collapse like a pack of cards in a matter of days.
I mean look at Germany. The Pinkos in the Reichstag have just made all German Higher Education free of charge and they have been providing affordable train tickets on a nationalised rail network for years. And just look at them! A complete joke. They are so outdated in their ideas that they still actually have factories that make things.
Ridiculous..
Thank God we have the Daily Mail and Yvette Cooper to keep us safe from the foul propaganda that the bearded one is spouting.
The great thing is that he might just win, even though it absolutely isn’t supposed to be possible.
Like it wasn’t supposed to be possible for anyone to win a majority in the Scottish Parliament.
Like it wasn’t supposed to be possible for 56 SNP MPs to take up seats in the House of Commons.
Now that we are waking up and relearning the art of people power, it seems that all sorts of things are possible, and my God doesn’t the Establishment hate it.
Communities are finding new and different ways to rediscover their spirit. From where I sit in our First Base Foodbank, this new spirit never ceases to amaze me.
And believe me, it warms the soul.
Regular readers will be aware that First Base has had a strange few days as the story of David Mundell opening a new Trussell Trust Foodbank has raged across social and mainstream media alike.
Ten years ago the new Foodbank might well have been a body blow we would not have been able to ride.
The David and Goliath thing again.
In the blue corner. The First Base Agency. A small charity in a small town with fifty brilliant volunteers and no money.
In the red corner. The Trussell Trust Foodbank. A national charity with the backing of the Government, the church and Tesco. Some Goliath!
But Goliath had a bad weekend of it. The Secretary of State for Scotland was run out of town with his tail between his legs. Social media picked at the seams of the Trussell Trust and exposed all kinds of uncomfortable truths.
And from the moment we opened our doors on Monday, the community support we have received has been overwhelming.
The first man through the door gave Lesley £200 in cash towards our £15000 funding hole. He didn’t give his name which is a shame because I really would have liked to have dropped him a letter of thanks. I hope you are reading this whoever you are.
Thanks.
A retired SNP member of many decades came it with carrier bags of food and an uncooled anger at David Mundell running away from the demonstration she had been a part of. She said she lived out in the countryside and didn’t get into town much. Which meant that she would find it hard to bring us some food every month.
Could I give her our bank details so she could set up a standing order?
Wow.
Next up, the new community spirit took me into one of the more bizarre experiences of my life.
Some background.
For thirteen years now, all of First Base’s leaflets and newsletters have been produced by a local family business called Alba printers. And for thirteen years the boss, John, has been making us a promise. It goes something like this. A hundred local firms pay to be in an annual draw to see whose name will appear on the shirts of Queen of the South, our local football club. John always said that if Alba won the draw he didn’t want to put their name on the shirts.
Instead he wanted to put the First Base Agency on the shirts.
So long as that was OK by us? Well of course it was OK by us!
And this year Alba came second in the draw. Which means our name is on the shorts. Crazy really. So in a couple of months you might catch a slow motion replay of a Rangers defender piling into a Queens striker and if you look closely enough you’ll be able to see our name on the shorts.
I have been looking at team photos since I was five. You know the ones. Three lines of lads in the new kit. Arms folded. Faces ready for the season to come. Well the Queens players had their 2015/16 picture taken and then John and I were waved forward to sit in.
Sponsors.
A local family business fixes it for the name of the local Foodbank to appear on the shorts of the local football club who by the way have our food collection boxes at the ground on match days.
Tell me if I’m wrong, but I reckon this is what a good community looks like.
Then it was back to First Base for another appointment. Joan McAlpine MSP called in to sit in on a meeting I was having with Lynn, the Community Champion from Tesco Lockerbie.
More background.
Each year every Tesco store in the land gives over two days to encouraging customers to donate some food to feed hungry members of the local community. The company adds 30% to whatever is collected. Where does the collected food go? Well a national deal was done at a national level. Like most deals. All donated food was to be handed over to two large national charities: The Trussell Trust and Fareshare.
Last year this caused quiet a lot of upset down here in the South West of Scotland. Pop up banners said ‘HELP YOUR LOCAL COMMUNITY!’. But it turned out that all the food was being shipped up the road to Glasgow and the local community wasn’t getting so much as a mouthful. The local press had a minor field day. Tesco must have been furious. The two national charities had two options. They could find a way of making sure the donated food was transferred to locally run Foodbank who would hand it out to the local community.
Not a bad solution, but it would have meant them giving something away. Well they weren’t about to do that. So instead the Trussell Trust started making noises about the desperate unmet need they had identified down here in Dumfries, and lo and behold a few months later a Tory Minister was in town to open ‘The Dumfriesshire Foodbank’
Interesting they chose to call it ‘Dumfriesshire’ rather than ‘Dumfries’. Could it possibly have been a way to allow them to hoover up all the food donations from the stores in Annan and Lockerbie?
Perish the thought.
And that should have been that. Except it wasn’t. Because we now live in a time when people are rediscovering their ability to project power.
There was a Peasants Revolt.
And the staff in the Tesco stores in Annan and Lockerbie and the Dumfries Peel Centre decided they didn’t want to help collect food for the two national charities. They preferred to help to collect for the local charity. You see over the years we have handed out over 30,000 food parcels. This means that most families will have had some contact with what we do. A son. A grandson. A nephew. An uncle. A friend. A neighbour. Unexpected hard times. People have witnessed First Base being there to help people when they need help. And people appreciate it. Which is why the staff in the three stores put their collective feet down and found a way to make sure the donated food came to us.
£3000 of donated food.
Lots.
Wow.
And the meeting on Tuesday was all about seeing if the Lockerbie store could find ways of doing more to help us.
A meeting made up of a foodbank manager, a member of the Scottish Parliament and the community champion of the Tesco store in Lockebie.
Once again, that looks a lot like a community working pretty well to me.
Our experience over the last few days might be seen as a street level view of a changing country where the old style wisdom of Jeremy Corbyn is suddenly firing up the imagination of the young.
Those at the top of the chain met to decide what was going to happen.
But those at the other end of the chain collectively decided otherwise.
In the last few days we have had all kinds of support from completely different areas of our local community. It seems well worth listing them.
£100 of sliced ham from Brown Brothers, meat processors in Kelloholm
£50 of bread from Greggs
200 packets of instant custard and visit from the Community Champion at Tesco Lockerbie.
£500 of food donations from 21 local churches.
Our name on the shorts of the local football club care of a local printer.
£200 in cash from an anonymous donor.
£10 a month from a retired supporter of an Independent Scotland.
A visit from our local MSP.
And lots and lots and lots of support from lots and lots and lots of people.
Tell you what Jeremy, I reckon you might just be onto something.
It would appear that people power might just be making a comeback.   
COMING SOON
'THE GREAT FOODBANK SIEGE'
All proceeds will go to filling the First Base Agency's £15,000 funding hole
 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

THE DAY WHEN DAVID MUNDELL, VICEROY OF SCOTLAND WAS RUN OUT OF OUR SMALL LITTLE TOWN. AND THE DAY WHEN FOR ONCE MY TIMING MIGHT JUST BE RIGHT!




 Well yesterday was quite a day down here in the so called sleepy market town of Dumfries. And it was quite a day for our small little charity.
Some background facts might be a good idea.
Regular readers will know that a few months ago the Trussell Trust decided that Dumfries was in need of a second foodbank. To say we were not best amused would be something of an understatement. I wrote a blog about it. And thousands of people read the blog including the local paper who turned it into front page news. Then The Daily Record grabbed a piece of it and amazingly enough our little Dumfries Foodbank spat went national. Somebody dusted the blog down yesterday and sent it back into the fray and another couple of thousand people gave it a read. It’s here by the way.
At about the same time David Mundell, who at the time was the one and only Tory MP in Scotland, was invited up to the Parliament in Hoyrood to answer some questions.  Was the impact of his Government’s Welfare Reform Policies behind so very many people needing foodbanks?
He was very certain in his answers.
Absolutely not!
Perish the thought.
Such delude nonsense could only come from deluded Pinkos and closet communists!
Joan McAlpine, our local MSP, hit him with some figures from a blog I had written about the situation in the ex coal mining village of Kelloholm.
His ill thought out and mildly idiotic response went on provoke a minor media storm. He stated
‘Everything that man says should be taken with a pinch of salt!’
And pray why?
‘Because he is a prominent ‘YES’ campaigner!’
Oh dear oh dear David. Not so smart, right?
We invited David along to spend an afternoon at First Bass to serve a few food parcels and to listen to the back stories of those who need them. It isn’t such a terribly radical idea. Joan McAlpine MP did it. Richard Arkles MP did it.
David decided not to dignify our invitation with a reply.
Well yesterday both of the back stories came together.
The Trussell Trust decided to have an all singing, all dancing launch event for their latest franchise and they invited David Mundell along to cut the ribbon.
To be honest it was never going to be a good look and it soon became very apparent that there would be an awful lot of very angry people turning out to let him know their thoughts.
Of course there have been some pretty big changes of late. David is no longer merely the Last of the Tory Mohicans. He is now Scotland’s top dog. Secretary of State for Scotland complete with ministerial salary and ministerial car and a ministerial pension to die for. He is Viceroy now and fronting up the latest round of Welfare Reforms as decreed by London Rule.
Was it really so surprising that people who have been kicked squarely in the teeth by this nasty Government might decide to avail themselves of the opportunity to have a pop at the visiting Viceroy?
On the evening before the event I got a rather frantic call from The Trussell Trust asking if I could come along and be all nicey, nicey for the Minister.
Nice to be asked, but no thanks, actually.
I told them my thoughts about their new Foodbank haven’t changed one jot. It also seemed to me not the greatest idea to show my face after what David said about me in the Scottish Parliament.
By the way, since the new food bank opened in March they have handed out 128 food parcels. We have handed out just shy of 2000.
ITV Border called to ask if I would be there. Actually, no. Could they call round to First Base to do an interview? Of course they could. In the end they needed no more than a scrap of footage from our place: the pictures of what kicked off two hundred yards up the road were much more media friendly.
I asked Lesley and Anne if they would take a walk up and see how big the crowd was.
They took a walk up and on the way decided they would try and blag their way in and ask the Minister why he had accepted the Trussell Trust invitation and never replied to ours.
By the time they arrived, the crowd was densely packed and angry and the front door of the Foodbank was locked tight. They forced their way to the front and gained entry by identifying themselves as a delegation from First Base.
Believe me, you would have let them in as well. Two formidable ladies on a mission.
Inside the tables were groaning with buffet food ready and waiting to be eaten. A pop up banner announced that ‘EVERY TOWN SHOULD HAVE ONE’
As in a Trussell Trust foodbank.
I’m not so sure about that to be honest.
The local manager and the Minister made bland speeches and photo opportunities were taken.
Then there was a clear plan about what was to happen next. The Minister would take questions from the press and then do the rounds with the guests. All nice and informal and leisurely. Chit chat and finger food.
But it didn’t work out that way.
The two First Base ladies stepped to the front with Lesley doing her guerrilla film maker thing with her mobile phone.
“Mr Mundell, can I ask why you wouldn’t come to the First Base Agency…”
“Mr Mundell, can I ask why you will not accept First Base’s statistics….”
Oh my God!!!!!
The utter terrifying horror!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What sheer terror must have flowed through the Minister as he was attacked with such ferocity. His very own Brighton Bomb moment had arrived.
I shudder to think how he must have felt at that gut churning moment..
In the blink of an eye, everything had become dangerous and so very scary.
This was worse than any baying mob in West Belfast hurling half bricks and petrol bombs.
For these were the First Base ladies and they make ISIS look like pussy cats.
One in her twenties and one in her seventies.
AND THEY WERE ASKING HIM QUESTIONS!!!!
OH MY GOD!!!!!
At first he tried to deal with the fear and stand his ground. And he was magnificently eloquent under pressure.
“Aye…. Well….If….if ….uh…….”
But then he could stand it no more. And let’s be frank here, which of us could have stood up such a brutal attack?
He proved he is only human.
He broke.
He ran.
Through the back door and to the yard where the Ministerial car was waiting to get him clear of Dumfries Dodge.
Lesley’s guerrilla style video is a 40 second long classic which deserves to be submitted for a nomination at the Sundance Festival.
Follow this link if you want to have a watch.
“Aye…. Well….If….if….uh…….”
You’ve got to love it.
Everyone inside the launch party was left rather bemused. Where was the Minister? Why wasn’t he taking any questions? Why wasn’t he doing a spot of glad handing? Why wasn’t he tucking into all of that lovely buffet food?
But of course they hadn’t seen the vicious Al Queda style ambush he had been subjected to by our two foodbank Jihadis.
However getting out of Dodge did not prove to be easy. There was a wild and dangerous mob lying in wait.
The horror.
The sheer unmitigated horror.
George Bush might have thought that his cruise missile attack on Baghdad was ‘shock and awe’.
Dubya, that was nothing compared to the living hell that David had to live through yesterday. People shouted at him. Shouted! And waved banners! Oh sweet Jesus imagine it.
And I find it hard to even write this but we must not flinch in these dangerous times when wild eyed Nationalists threaten to destroy our very way of British life.
So brace yourself reader.
This will make for hard reading….
Someone stuck a ‘YES’ badge on the back of his ministerial car.
The horror. Oh the sheer horror….
No wonder the news channels blazed out the story of the heroic Minister being driven from town bay a savage, baying mob. No doubt he will now require trauma therapy for many years to come.
Maybe as voters we are over demanding. Maybe we expect our leaders to show almost impossible courage. But real life isn’t like Hollywood. Had it been the big screen, David would have ripped off his jacket and shirt and faced the mob down Bruce Willis style in his vest.
But that is the movies.
Yesterday the Secretary of State for Scotland faced truly terrible things.
People asked questions. People shouted. People waved placards.
And someone stuck a ‘YES’ badge on his car.
So yes.
No wonder he ran.
Of course he ran. Surely anyone would run in the face of such a danger to life and limb…..
Urmmm.
Well when you think about it….
They don’t actually.
I’ll trot out two quick examples.
September 1931. Ghandi has persuaded millions of Indians to boycott British cotton. All across Lancashire the mills are closed down. And people are starving. Not going to a food bank starving. Actually starving. Ghandi comes over to Britain to meet the King. He hears about the appalling situation in the small cotton town of Darwen where all the mills are closed and where people are actually staving. You can maybe imagine how those starving Lancastrians felt about the little brown man in the loin cloth who was responsible for their misery.
I guess they would have happily lynched him.
Did he run away? No he didn’t run away. Instead he got the train up to Darwen and walked out of the station and into the street to meet the thousands of starving cotton mill workers who were waiting to hang him from the nearest tree.
They didn’t.
Instead they were awed by his charisma and his courage. It happened 84 years ago and yet the people in Darwen still remember the little brown man in the loin cloth with respect and fondness.
1981. Toxteth is ablaze with the worst riots Britain has seen in decades. It is the high point of the Thatcherite fury. Someone has to go there to see what is happening. On the ground. In Liverpool. In Toxteth.
Michael Hesseltine puts his had up and sets off north.
Did he sneak into the city, make a quick speech in a sealed of building and leave before people knew he was there?
No. He went. He stayed. He made a point of traveling everywhere on the bus. He stood his ground. Fought his corner. Showed bottle.
He won Scouse respect and still has it.
So no David.
You didn’t have to run.
And no matter how the tabloids try to spin it, running was actually rather pathetic.
Which brings me to the issue of my timing looking like being right for once.
A few weeks ago I did the First Base cash flow spreadsheets and they had something of an Athens look about them.
First Base is £15,000 short for the year.
Unless we fill the hole, the lights will be going out in January.
At which point I came up with a cunning plan which goes something like this. I am a man who wears two hats. There is the pulp fiction writer hat. And there is the Foodbank manager hat.
I decided to take the two hats and turn them into one.
And I decided to take some fact and turn it into some fiction.
Fact: David Mundell slags me in the Scottish Parliament, we invite him to come along to First Base, he doesn’t bother to reply, the Tories win and outright majority and he gets the Viceroy job.
Fiction. In a made up world, it is a made up MP called James Shillingford-Moore who slags me off in the Scottish Parliament and goes on to become Viceroy of Scotland.
But in the Wild West world of pulp fiction, circumstances force him to accept the invitation to come along and serve food parcels in First Base.
So he comes along.
And two disgruntled veterans come along armed with semi automatic weapons and take him hostage.
It doesn’t take all that very long for things to escalate and to get completely out of hand.
The book is called ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ and it will be up, running and live on Amazon in a couple of weeks.
It will cost £2.99 and once Amazon have taken their share, £2 a copy will go to filling our First Base financial hole.
We will be looking for every bit of support we can get to help promote the book. I will write more when it is launched. Over the next week or so I will post a couple of recorded audio sneak peaks.
So you can maybe see why the timing is pretty good.
The Secretary of State for Scotland didn’t get taken hostage in a foodbank by armed men yesterday.
But he WAS seen running away with his tail between his legs all across the social media and the mainstream media.
That looks like pretty good pre-publicity to me!!!!   

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A GENUINE LIFE AND DEATH DRAMA IN FIRST BASE.. ON A QUIET WEDNESDAY AFTEROON



It’s a quiet Wednesday afternoon in First Base. I’m just back from dropping off a week’s worth of food parcels to a guy in Beeswing. A Hanzel and Gretyl little cottage on the edge of a wood. Hedges full of finches. A rickety old fence. A guy still all smashed up by the car accident two years ago. Citizens Advice tell me that his benefits are all screwed up. And it is going to take ages to sort out. And his three kids are here for the summer holidays. And he ain’t got a penny to his name.
And the last time he tried to step up onto a bus it buggered up his ruined spine and it sent him to bed for weeks.
And a return taxi fare from Beeswing to Dumfries is £24.
Which might as well be £2400.
So I took a week’s worth of groceries.
Like I did last week.
Like I’ll do next week.
Until the kids go back to their mum.
It’s rural poverty picture postcard style.
It’s rural poverty complete with skylarks and butterflies and goldfinches.
I arrive back at First Base at 1.30.
Have we been busy?
No. Not really. Only ten today.
Only ten. I smile at that one. Five years ago we gave out ten parcels a week. Now it’s a quiet day when it’s only ten.
But of course the world is a different place to the world of five years ago.
The bell on the front door rings through the quiet building. Lesley goes down. I add some numbers into my petty cash spreadsheet.
Usually I can hear the conversations at the counter downstairs clearly enough. The all too familiar details to explain why a person cannot feed themselves.
Once surprising and shocking.
Now common place.
Now every day and run of the mill and common or garden.
Now the accepted norm.
But right now I can’t hear anything. Which is a little strange.
“Are you still coming down Mark?”
Am I still coming down? I wasn’t aware I was supposed to be coming down at all. Which makes it a pretty odd thing for Lesley to say. Which makes me think she is speaking in some kind of code.
Maybe trouble?
“Sure.”
I go down.
Lesley gives me a questioning sort of look. It’s an ‘I’m not sure if we have a problem here’ sort of a look.
I take her place at the counter and there is a lad standing there.
It takes about half a second to establish the fact that he is completely out of his tree.
How old?
Dunno. Early thirties. Tall and bloody strong looking. A lean kind of strong. You could see him playing on the wing for the local rugby club. Or humping an 50kg load down a trail in Helmand Province.
Smart clothes. Well cut hair. Clean finger nails.
He is trying to string together some sort of a sentence but he isn’t getting anywhere near to achieving his goal.
Oh the lips are moving all right. But somehow his vocal cords lack the strength to come up with anything more than a whisper.
Are there any words there?
I don’t think there are.
“Look at me mate, will you?”
With a Herculean effort he pulls his head up and manages to look me in the face, all the while trying to shape a few words.
Wow.
His pupils have packed their bags and left for Singapore.
We’re talking seriously pinned.
I look for some kind of focus. There’s none to be found. Windows on an empty house.
By now his hands are trying to hang onto the counter like it is a life raft.
It ain’t good. It ain’t good at all.
I look at Lesley. Lesley looks at me.
“There’s no smell of alcohol, is there?”
Forty a day for twenty five years means I have little faith in my sense of smell.
“No.”
“Pinned eyes?”
Nod.
“Best make the call.”
By now his knees are barely managing to do any kind of job for him at all. He’s going down in stages.
I dial 999 whilst Lesley guides him down to the floor. She gets him into the recovery position. She puts a cushion under his head.
“Emergency, which service please?”
“Ambulance please.”
They come on the line and I run through the details. Who we are. Where we are. A man down. All the way down.
I look at him and he is starting to look like a corpse.
All of a sudden the clock is ticking down way too fast.
“He is deteriorating very quickly now. I think this is very urgent”
“The ambulance is on its way. Please call back if anything gets significantly worse.”
I say I will. But it is hard to see how much worse things can get. Lesley has his wrist between her fingers and she isn’t finding much sign of life.
Come on come on come on…...
I check the referral slip he has managed to put on the counter. Maybe they will have some facts to help the ambulance crew.
I get Mike on the line. Bloody hell. You’re kidding. He only left here at half past one. And he was fine.
So he has used between your place and our place?
It looks that way. And we both know that the Scousers have been back in town for a month now and people are dying at the rate of one a week. Because Scouse Smack tends to be at least three times as strong as the kind of Smack that our Dumfries users are accustomed to.
A bag of Scouse Smack can leave you counting down the minutes to finding out the answer to the biggest question of them all.
Go on Willie Shakespeare.
Tell it like it is.
‘That undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns….
Lesley shakes her head slightly. And I can see it in her eyes. He’s fading to black.
But I can hear the siren on the phone now.
“Looks like your ambulance.” Says Mike.
I kill the call and I can still hear the siren.
Thank Christ for that.
I look down at him. His face is completely at peace.
Somewhere deep in the caverns of his waning consciousness he is in complete Nirvana. Clients have told me about this land of milk and honey many times before. Arriving at the gates of an overdose death feels like floating in a Walt Disney dreamland. It is the easiest death in the world.
Until they are dragged by the collar back into the cold, greyness of the world.
It occurs to me somewhere out there old pictures are probably lined up on a mantelpiece. Or a favourite sideboard. Mum's front room? Gran's front room?
A beaming face in the middle of the P6 class photo.
Part of school teams. A new football kit. On the beach somewhere. Making sand castles. Riding a donkey. Dressed for Halloween. Blowing out candles. With the whole family at Christmas. Holding a new puppy.
That scene from Blade Runner jumps into my head.
A dying Rutger Hauer. A drenched Harrison Ford.
“All these moments will now be lost …. Like tears in the rain”
Memories and hopes and dreams all down on the floor in our reception area. Only the merest hint of life now.
The last flickering of a tired candle.
And who would have ever thought this was how it would all end? When he was six? When he was in the school team? When the new puppy arrived?
Down on the floor.
Fading away.
They are here. 
Two of them. Exuding efficiency. They absorb the facts and they do their thing. Heroin overdose is nothing new. They do this every day.
I hear one of them say he is down to four breaths a minute.
But four breaths a minute turns out to be enough.
They jag him with Narcon and the opiates are slammed into reverse.
He jolts back into the world. His eyes stare about the place in bemused surprise.
One minute he’s floating the soft clouds of paradise.
The next minute his on the floor in First Base.
But he can speak now. Just about.
He wants the rest of the apple he was eating.
He wants to say thank you to everyone.
But he doesn’t want to go to the hospital.
Oh he really, really doesn’t want to go to the hospital.
He confirms that he has used two tenner bags.
And eventually he agrees to be strapped onto the fold-up wheel chair and taken out to the ambulance.
And all the way he keeps saying sorry and thank you and sorry and thank you.
So here are the bare facts.
The ambulance arrived less than five minutes after I made the call. Which quite frankly was superb. And the ambulance team were completely superb. Would he have made it if they had taken 15 minutes?
I doubt it.
I think they would have arrived to find a corpse.
Another victim claimed by overly pure Scouse smack.
Without the absolute brilliance of the local ambulance service, I hate to think how many would be dying.
Three a week?
Probably.
But not today.
Not today on a quiet Wednesday afternoon in First Base.
Today it has been ten food parcels handed out and one life saved.


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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS




 ‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’
Dylan Thomas wrote the line. Years and years ago in a time when cities indeed got themselves felled on a regular basis. Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima…
Thomas gave the eye of a poet to the industrialised destruction of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.
The poetry of course is in the disconnect. One the one hand, there is the image of a wavering, liver spotted hand wielding an expensive fountain pen. On the other hand, there is hell falling to the earth from a thousand Lancaster bombers.
Or one bomber called ‘Enola Gay’
The death by a thousand cuts that so many are now being forced to endure is thankfully considerably less dramatic than the destruction of Hamburg and Hiroshima. But there are similarities.
And there is is the same disconnect.
And as is so often the case, it is the little people who are being forced to carry the can.
We start our journey in the very same building by the River Thames where Churchill gave Bomber Harris the nod set the air itself on fire by raining millions of incendiary bombs down onto the great cities of Germany. You know. The crumbling Neo Gothic building with the famous clock.
In 2008 the banks collapsed and the money ran dry. Cuts were required and bright eyed types with starred first degrees were dispatched to find the nooks and crannies where cash could be saved.
It was deemed that every penny counted.
Every last one.
And soon a twisted, malign infant came screaming into the world and was duly christened ‘The Bedroom Tax’.
The principle was classically Neo Liberal. If you are so poor that you need the State to keep a roof over your head, then don’t expect the State to stump up for any more rooms than you strictly require. The State will only pay for the bare minimum. And so it was deemed sensible that anyone guilty of being too poor to pay their own rent was to be fined £15 a week for that poxy little box room with the view onto the settee strewn waste ground out back.
That’ll teach the wretched blighters to be poor!
And so the hand signed the paper and the bright eyed young things licked their lips in anticipation of a £100 million a year saving.
But things never tend to work out the way the bright eyed young things think they will. Oh if only they did work out that way, we might still be a shining city on the hill.
The bright young things never quite managed to spot a single fact which really should have been blindingly obvious.
The problem was that the Housing Benefit money wasn’t paid to the poor person who needed help with their rent. Instead the Housing Benefit was paid directly to their landlord. Usually their social landlord.
Well it didn’t take all that very long for the social landlords to start to view the future with fear and trepidation. Because if you have a thousand social houses and the Government goes and cuts its payments to you by £15 a week for these houses, well you suddenly find a gaping £15,000 a week hole in your business plan.
As in £750,000 a year.
‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’
Oh my God, what the hell are we going to do!!!!!!
And so it was that the social housing providers hired in their very own bright eyed young things to advise them on how to keep their business model in tact.
Two answers were found. 
One, shed staff and cut costs!!
Surprise, surprise. The answer is always to shed staff and cut costs and it looks like it will continue to be the case until all of the staff in the world has been shed barring the board of Goldman Sachs. Housing officers bit the bullet and hit the dole queue.
Communication between tenant and landlord became less and less about face to face communications between fellow human beings and more about computer generated letters.
The second answer was to stamp down ever more vigorously on any tenant who fell so much as a few seconds late with their rent. The very nanosecond any account slipped into arrears, a computer generated letter from a computer generated firm of virtual solicitors would be winging its way.
Once upon a time when times were different and kinder, rent arrears would provoke a visit from a housing officer to take a look at the problem over a cup of tea. One human being would converse with another human being. The problem would be examined and broken down into bite sized pieces. A compromise would be sought. A solution would be found.
After all, we all have short term cash flow hitches, right?
But with so many housing officers on the dole, these old fashioned conversations are becoming ever rarer. In their place are millions of computer generated letters from computer generated virtual solicitors.
The hand that signed the paper……
Last week one of our Veteran clients was the city that was felled. A couple of years ago he decided to escape the dole queue by going self employed. A loan from Poppy Scotland helped him to buy a van and ever since he has just about managed to keep his head above water.
His van is the key to his business. No van, no work. And so when the van developed a few hundred pounds worth of faults, he had no choice but to grit his teeth and get the thing fixed and back onto the road.
The only way he could finance this was to fall six weeks into arrears with his rent. At first he failed to open the computer generated letters that started to fall on his mat on a near daily basis. When he did finally open one, he discovered to his horror that he was a week away from having his day in court.
He asked for some help and I picked up the phone on his behalf. I called up his social landlord and had a few conversations. These were human being to human being conversations. I worked out how much he could pay and between us we agreed a re-payment plan.
It worked.
As of today he has not a single penny of arrears.
But the hand is still signing the paper and the cities are still being felled.
The bright young things are still doing their thing.
They have now deemed it necessary and vital for the social landlord to hunt down every last, single outstanding debt on its ledger with the same kind of remorseless, heartless ferocity that Bomber Harris once displayed when felling the cities described on the piece of paper that Winston Churchill had signed.
And it turns out that all of those computer generated letters from computer generated solicitors don’t come cheap. And when those same computer generated solicitors go to the trouble of arranging your day in court to account for six weeks of rent arrears which you have since caught up, well….
There are bills to be paid. 
Dues to be collected.
£350 of legal costs to be precise.
Which meant yet more computer generated letters from yet more computer generated solicitors. And yet another day in court. And of course as a self employed person who was earning just about enough to keep body and soul together, my man was not even close to being eligible for Legal Aid.
In the blue corner, a provider of 17,000 social houses across the hills and glens of Dumfries and Galloway along with a team of sharp elbowed lawyers.
In the red corner, one veteran of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the Turf Lodge Estate and the green, rolling  hills South Armargh.
Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!!!!!!!!!!
But of course there was no rumble.
Instead my man met a Citizens Advice guy who told him there was no point even trying to talk to the Sheriff. He had no leg to stand on. He was basically completely screwed. He was advised to grit teeth and ask for time to pay.
And so it was that the bright young things were able to extract a further £350 worth of blood from a near penniless stone. At a fiver a week for the next year and a half. A fiver a week less to be spent on groceries or the occasional pint. Another shoulder chained ever more firmly to the grinding, soul destroying wheel of life that is Britain 2015.
All because some bright young thing in Whitehall decided the Bedroom tax was the right way to mitigate the lunacy of the casino bankers in the gleaming towers of Canary Wharf.
So my man went home.
My man opened his front door.
My man cast his eyes down to the post waiting on the mat.
To yet another computer generated letter from yet another computer generated solicitor.
Four years ago my man was fined £60.
Four years ago my man paid off £35 of the £60.
Four years ago my man completely forgot to pay the other £25 of the £60.
‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’
In Whitehall the bright young things suggested a 10% cut to Council spending.
The hand duly signed the paper.
Which meant that 10% less was sent North to Edinburgh care of the Barnett Formula.
Which meant that 10% less was sent back South West to Dumfries and Galloway Council.
Which meant that the council duly engaged the services of some bright young things of their own to try and work out what on earth to do.
And the bright young things advised that forensic accountants should be brought in to dig out every single old debt they could find. And once these old debts had been excavated from their subterranean hiding places, they should be dusted down and passed along the line.
To computer generated solicitors.
To generate computer generated letters.
To arrange yet more days in court for yet more blood to be extracted from yet more stones.
And so on and on and on it goes.
Death by a thousand cuts.
I guess the legal bill my man will eventually have to cover for the bright young things chasing his old £25 debt will probably run to over £200.
Which he will pay off at a fiver a week.
For forty weeks
And will anyone either notice or care?
What do you think?
‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’


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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A GROTESQUE PICTURE OF INEQUALITY IN THE BACK OF AN ARNOLD CLARK HIRE VAN




Inequality tends to get a lot of air time these days. Quite right too. But it isn’t very often that you get the chance to see the grotesque extent of global inequality laid out in the back of an Arnold Clark hire van. Well that is exactly what I saw yesterday. You see, I was the white van man in question.
I guess this all sounds a little bizarre. Let me explain.
From time to time my eldest son Dyonne does some work for a mate of his from London. Adam is a good lad, a Luton boy working his socks off to carve himself a niche. His company – Holy Water – do the drinks at the events where the world’s 1% gather to show off their bling and discuss how many noughts they have in the currant balance columns of their off shore accounts. The 1% like a spot of wide boy charm and Dyonne and Adam both have wide boy charm by the wagon load.
This week Holy Water have taken on the task of watering 60 guests who are attending a wedding in Scotland. It would appear these 60 gilded individuals can expect to be watered rather well. The budget for the wedding is $2.16 million. Unless I have got my maths wildly wrong, that looks a lot like a budget of $36,000 per head. Now you need to work hard to physically spend this kind of wedge. The wedding is in Scotland and most of the guests are American, so of course whisky is always going to have more than a walk on role in the unfolding drama. There is a very particular whisky required and of course Holy Water have secured its services. £700 a bottle. £144 a shot. I guess the same kind of telephone number barcodes will also to be found on the Champagne, fine wines and brandies.
The venue for the great event is a bizarre Victorian pile set in the midst of 300 acres of drop dead gorgeous Scottishness on the Isle of Bute. I didn’t see inside, but I took a look at a leaflet for the place which I picked up on the ferry. Mount Stuart was the work of the 3rd Marquis of Bute who went to town on spending his ill gotten gains during the dying years of the nineteenth century. It looks like the kind of place Edgar Alan Poe might have dreamed up on the back of a particularly bad acid trip. King Ludvig who was doing a similar thing back then might have been barking mad, but his Bavarian fairytale castles certainly have the edge as far as I am concerned.
Anyway.
I am digressing all over the place here.
Adam decided to break the long journey north with a Sunday night in Dumfries. He was in his car whilst two of his lads were driving a hire van filled to the gunnels with all those fine beverages. The two lads stayed in town and at ten o clock on Sunday morning they set out to complete their journey to the Firth of Clyde.
They didn’t make it very far. 
Two of Dumfries’s finest didn’t much like the look of the axles on the van and duly pulled them over for a wee chat. Then it was a wee drive up to a weighbridge outside of Lockebie.
And then…
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear….
Not just a bit over loaded. One point three bloody tonnes over loaded!
It has to be said that Adam’s face was a picture when his mobile rang with the news.
Problems, problems, problems.
By now the van was very much impounded on the car park of Lockerbie police station and by hook or by crook Adam and the lads needed on Bute that night to start doing their stuff. We learned that there is no way that a van of any description can be hired in Dumfries on a Sunday.
But problems are there to be sorted. Dyonne and I drove up and transferred half a tonne of stuff into my van and drove it up in to the hills to enjoy a night on a pallet in the yard of a disillusioned Man City fan called Paul who still finds it impossible to get his head around all the petro dollars swilling around his club.
Then we re-filled my van with enough weight for the boys in blue to give their assent for the Holy Water lads to resume their trek north.
I volunteered to hire a van the next morning and drive the left behind bottles up the next morning. And so it was.
I duly signed on the dotted line for a Mercedes Sprinter from Arnold Clark and loaded on board the troublesome 1.3 tonnes with the help of my youngest son Courtney.
Then we went to First Base to add a second cargo to the consignment. Ten food parcels for Action for Children.
In Kelloholm.
Regular readers of this blog will have become familiar with Kelloholm and all that sail in her. Once upon a very different time, Kelloholm was a coal mining village. Maybe in its Victorian heyday, the 3rd Marquis of Bute might have owned a piece of the action. Maybe profits from Kelloholm coal helped to fill the coffers that he tapped to build his Neo Gothic island fantasy.
But the glory days such as they were are now long gone. Kelloholm is a place of unemployment and mould on the walls. Pebble dash and too much rain. People get sanctioned and generally screwed. All too often cupboards are rendered bare and an emergency First Base food parcel is required for body and soul to be kept together. Buying one of those fancy bottles of Scotch would require two and a half months worth of gross income from most of the residents of Kelloholm.
And yet on the floor of my rented Arnold Clark van, the ten boxes of emergency Kelloholm food sat snugly next to all of those boxes of fine wine.
Different contents. Different end users. Different worlds.
I gather the wedding is an American affair. The groom is a one of those American Dreams come true in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley. It seems he has dug out some Scottish roots. Maybe the Third Marquis of Bute evicted a relative of his back in the day in order to farm a few more sheep.
The word is that he is a big time billionaire. The word is that the $2.16 million he is laying out to get himself through the hoop is little more than loose change as far as he is concerned.
Well good for him.
As I drove north past Kilmarnock and out into the staggering beauty of the Clyde Basin, I started working a few sums through my mind.
I have recently started what will probably be an ultimately doomed campaign to persuade the Scottish Government to offer some meaningful and permanent support to the nation’s foodbanks. My argument goes something like this.
It is now abundantly clear that foodbanks have become a part of the Welfare State. We are the new safety net. We are the destination of last resort. If we do our thing well, it has become clear that the community is more than willing to support what we do. So long as we spread the word, most of the tins and packets that make up our emergency food parcels will be donated.
But that of course is not the whole story.
There are elements of running a foodbank which are not covered by donated tins and packets. Rent needs to be paid. And wages. And the phone bill and the electric bill. And all of those many niggling costs which cannot be avoided.
I would like to see the Government hire one person and give them a car. Their job will be to tour the land to check out the foodbanks. It would only take them a couple of hours to make sure that any foodbank is kosher. Once the foodbank in question is added to the official register, they are thereby allowed to raise an invoice once a month to the Government in Edinburgh for £5 per parcel issued.
For First Base, this would mean £30,000 a year to make sure we can cover all the nuts and bolts bills and focus all of our efforts of helping the poor buggers who come through the door rather than scratching about to keep the door open.
Maths.
There are 60 main food banks in Scotland which hand out an average of 3000 parcels per annum. 180,000 in total.
180,000 parcels at £5 each comes to £900,000.
Surely this is hardly a King’s ransom for the provision of the safety net of last resort. And of course if things look up, there will be less people needing emergency food and less invoices sent to the Government.
I like to think it is a reasonably good idea but I doubt if anyone in Holyrood will see it that way. You can but try, right?
But here’s the thing.
Google has just told me that at today’s exchange rate £1 will buy $1.58.
It means that $2.16 million is worth £1.36 million.
See where I am going here?
The money spent on the Silicon Valley wedding on the Isle of Bute would be enough to pay the overheads of every single foodbank in the whole of Scotland for a year and a half.
For a year and a half.
Like the Kinks said – it’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world. And at times it is a world that stinks like a pile of rotting fish. And for a few miles up the A76 yesterday, the grotesque inequality of our world was laid out in the form of cardboard boxes on the floor of a Mercedes Sprinter van hired for £75 a day from Arnold Clark.      



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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

YESTERDAY FIRST BASE SAVED THE TAX PAYERS OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND £15,000. AT LEAST I HOPE WE DID.



 Yesterday’s number at First Base was £15,000.
On the one hand, I am pretty sure that we managed to save the tax payer £15,000.
On the other hand an hour spent in the soul destroying world of an XL spreadsheet revealed that we have a gaping £15,000 hole to fill if we are to make ends meet this year.
Symmetry of a kind. I guess. If only the £15,000 on one side of the ledger could somehow be used to fill the £15,000 pothole on the other side. But of course life is never so simple.
So how did First Base manage to offer a £15,000 helping hand to the beleaguered tax payers of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Tabitha. That’s how. Not that her real name bears any remote resemblance to Tabitha. It doesn’t, so I suggest it is a futile waste of time to try and guess her true identity. Does anyone ever call their little treasures Tabitha any more?
When she was a bright eyed teenager, nobody in Tabitha’s circle could have had any inkling of what a car crash her life was about to become. A smart, popular kid from a good family with the rest of her life spread out before her like a well kept garden. Sure she had a mischievous streak, but no harm in that, right? And sure she had a mildly alarming taste in lads who hailed from the other side of the tracks. Lads who carried the thrill of trouble. But, hey. That’s the way the world works, right?
But small mischief became bigger mischief and the bad boys just kept on getting badder. For a while there was a solid career with incomings enough for a flat and a veneer to be kept in place, But under the surface everything was party time and all the good things in Tabitha’s life seemed to be down to the drugs that consumed every penny of her disposable income.
And so it was that one by one the wheels on her wagon fell by the wayside. No more job and ever badder boys who her family despised and hated. The drugs ate away at what was already a fragile mind like a plague of maggots. Moods swings and tantrums and troughs of despair. Boyfriends stealing from the family home. Every last drop of family patience drained away into the sands.
Until at last the front door to the security of family was slammed in Tabitha’s face and it has stayed slammed shut ever since.
Wilderness years. And every minute of every day those voracious maggots went about their business. Depression. Anxiety. Heroin and methadone and anti depressents. Uppers and downers. Clarity and oblivion.
Memories of times gone by and terror of the now and what is to come. Aching, yawning emptiness and such regrets.
Such regrets.
Every now and then she comes into First Base to persuade herself that it is still possible to turn everything around. To hit the brakes and do a U turn and drive back down the road to the place where her life used to be. Once upon a time. When it used to be sunny. A time of picnics and having a place where she belonged. A safe place.
Not that the resolution ever lasts long. Something always happens and she runs as fast as she can to find a rabbit hole to dive down into. The rabbit hole comes in the form of street valium, available to one and all for the princely price of £1 a pill. £40 will carry Tabitha into a fuzzy world that feels better than the real world.
For a while.
And once she is in the all embracing fuzz of Mr Benzodiazepam she is subject to an altered reality. The blues convince Tabitha that she is invisible. She believes in new and cartoon like powers. She can walk into any shop and take what she wants and walk out without anyone seeing her. The problem is that they can see her. And they do see her. Every single time.
Just a moment love.
Could you come with me please.
Time spent in the back room where the staff get a brew on their break. Time killed until the cops land to take her away. The crazy thing is that she only ever nicks trinkets. Like a monged out magpie. Shiny things. Pretty things. Things with a recommended retail price of £0.99.
Processed and booked and questioned and bailed.
Up in front of the Sheriff to answer to the charge of stealing £3.17’s worth of Chinese tat from a shop soon to have its front windows boarded up.
Along with all the others.
None of the Sheriffs ever really know what to do with her. How could they? So it has been community service and probation and drug treatment and testing orders. And sometimes everything seems to go well for a few weeks and months until something goes wrong and she runs headlong into the oblivion of thirty blue valium pills.
Or forty.
Or fifty.
Until in the end she finally ran out of rope and spent a month at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
Never again she said.
Never, ever, ever, ever again she said.
And she meant it. Like she always means it. Because next time it will be at least six months sentenced and three months served.
And she hated it.
Really hated it.    
But we all know how resolutions tend to turn out. Friday morning brought dreadful news from the family she yearns to be a part of. And dreadful news is not a thing that Tabitha’s fragile mind is able to cope with. Dreadful news draws the wicked genie from the bottle to whisper in her ear.
You deserve it, you deserve it, you deserve it.
Release. A comfort zone. A sanctuary. A haven.
So Tabitha took to the streets and bought and swallowed sixty blue valium pills. And on she went into the familiar darkness. Familiar fog.
Into a sprawling store at an out of town shopping centre.
Tabitha the indestructible. Tabitha the invisible. Tabitha in a world of her own where she can help herself to what she wants and drift away like a cloud in a perfect summer sky.
Except she wasn’t invisible.
A security guard grabbed at her as she drifted through the doors. She shook herself loose. She ran. And against all sensible odds, she made it clear.
But for how long? There will be CCTV footage of course. Only a matter of time until cops came a calling. Go to jail. Do not pass ‘Go’. Do not collect £200.
A weekend of staring at the walls. A weekend of the walls creeping in ever closer. A weekend of waiting for the knock at the door. Waiting. Unraveling. Imagining. Regretting. Self hating. Self loathing. Self blaming.
An essentially good human being completely unable to come to terms with doing bad things in a bad, bad world.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Valium, valium, valium.
A line from Apocalypse Now.
“And then there was Chef. Chef was wrapped too tight for Vietnam. Probably wrapped too tight for New Orleans….”
In the wrong place and the wrong time. Forever.
Monday morning comes and she ventures out and crosses the town to First Base. Sheepish and all broken up.
“I’ve been realty stupid again…..”
A story told and advice sought.
Has she still got all the stuff?
Yes, she still has all the stuff.
Is the stuff still in saleable condition?
Yes, the stuff is still in saleable condition. Labels and price tags and security tags all present and correct.
OK. So why not try this. Write an letter of apology and take it all back.
And she is immediately tempted. But will they still take her to the back room where the staff have a brew during their break time? Will the cops be summoned to attend? A ride in the squad car? Remand? Go to jail. Do not pass ‘Go’. Do not collect £200.
In the end we strike a deal.
She’ll come back tomorrow. With all the stuff. And she will write her letter of apology. And then I will take it back to the shop and pass the bag over.
To be honest, we are kind of surprised when she shows. But she does show. A few less worry lines. A conscience more at ease with itself. She writes her letter and her letter is quite magnificent in its way. Her English teacher should be properly proud.
I drive to the bleakness of the out of town shopping centre. The security system goes beep, beep, beep as I walk through the door. Is there about to be trouble? No.
Can I see the manager please? Something private. Yes I can wait.
Canned music and half stolen glances for the staff behind the counter.
The manager arrives and I tell my tale. I give her one of our annual reports. So she knows who I am. Who we are. What we do. Why I am all present and correct in her store with a carrier bag of stolen goods. And a 9 out of 10 for spelling, grammar and expression letter of apology.
There is no judgement in the manager’s eyes. Only sympathy and sadness for all of the Tabitha’s in this grey and unforgiving world. She wasn't in herself. On Friday. But she has heard about the incident of course. And they have sent all the CCTV images over to the cops of course.
Of course.
I offer her the bag and she takes it. A little surprised. A little taken aback. But mainly just plain sad.
No doubt the police will come a calling at some stage. And no doubt Tabitha will have another day in court. But maybe she will have provided the Sheriff with some new tools for the job. Her defence lawyer will read out the letter of apology that her English teacher should be proud of and the store will confirm that all goods have been returned in full and in tact.
And then I very much hope the Sheriff will take the opportunity not to send Tabitha to jail. For what would be the point? Three months of jail time will drain the public purse to the tune of £15,000. Will it fix Tabitha’s fragile mind? Or will it break it further. Will it be like taking a crystal champagne flute with a chip and hurling hard into a concrete wall?
So I don’t think the Sheriff with send Tabitha to jail. Not this time. And if he doesn’t, we will have done our bit to save the tax payers of Great Britain and Northern Ireland £15,000.
I get back to the office and finish work on a budget spreadsheet for 2005/2016. And there is a wide, gaping black hole staring hard into my eyes. A £15,000 hole. A run out of cash in the middle of January hole. A hole to be filled or there will be no door on Buccleuch St for the likes of Tabitha to walk through.
It would be nice if £15,000 saved could be used as aggregate to fill our £15,000 hole.
But life is never like that.   


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