MARK FRANKLAND

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

THE SORRY TALE OF THE HIDEOUS UNIONIST NURSE, THE BBC AND THE SCREWED OVER FOOD BANKS

Once upon a time I was a big fan of the BBC. What a long lost era it seems now. As a much younger man I travelled to plenty of countries where any kind of free press was a pipe dream. Most of these places were locked down behind the Iron Curtain. Crumbling high rise blocks and monumental factories belching clouds of brown smoke up into the grey skies. Aggressive cops and pot holed roads and nothing in the shops. And hushed conversations with frightened looking guys of my own age in back street bars. Talk of Keegan and Dalglish over great beer at tuppence a litre. Talk of the BBC World Service and hidden radios and keeping a careful ear out for heavy boots thundering up the crumbling concrete steps. 

Half forgotten days when listening in to the World Service could mean five years of hard labour.

Those times when the Beeb was a genuine voice of freedom to millions all over the world living hard, locked down lives. And yes, it made me proud. It was very much the best of British. How well it compared to the new breed of Thatcher loving tabloids who cheered on every swipe of a police baton into yet another miner's face.

Yeah, yeah. I'm showing my age. I have reached an age where I seem to show my age all the time. I guess over the next few hundred words I will be showing it again. So be it. 

The recent case of the hideous Unionist nurse and the BBC is depressing on so many levels. I think it is the complete and utter tawdriness of the whole affair which reminds me so strongly of East Germany.

It appears this loathsome woman pitched up for the Edinburgh edition of Question Time only to leave fuming because she had been deprived of her big moment. So she got in touch with the Beeb and reminded them of what she was yearning to tell the world. Juicy, juicy stuff. The poor beleaguered NHS nurse driven to a food bank by her Dickensian level of pay.

It's worth taking a moment here. The BBC receives north of a billion quid's worth of our money to be the balanced, level headed, professional deliverer of the news of the day. It's a hell of a budget. It is a budget massive enough to guarantee they are the permanent top dog. It means they have vast resources.

So what? So this.

It means they have enough people to look into things properly. So here is how things should have gone if the BBC remotely resembled the organisation they claim to be.

Got a moment boss? Thanks. I have been speaking to a woman called Claire Austin. She an NHS nurse, yeah? Been one for years. She was in the audience at Question Time but David couldn't squeeze her in. She's a bit pissed off actually. Anyway. She says her pay is so bad she needs to go to a food bank.

Bloody hell. NHS nurse needs food bank? I'm liking the sound of this. OK. Excellent. You best do some checking. Got your note book? Good. Here's your list.

1. How long has she been working as a nurse?
2. What pay scale will she be on?  
3. Where does she live?
4. Where is her nearest food bank?
5. Who runs it?
6. What are their rules for referrals?

Oh yeah, nearly forgot! The usual, right. All her social media. Facebook. Twitter. All of it, right? We don't want an accidental nutter on our hands. Two hours enough? 

Sure boss.

Time passes.

Knock, knock...

Yeah..

Hi boss. The foodbank nurse....

Sure. In you come. Grab a pew.

I'll go through the notes if that's OK with you?

Fire away.

OK. It seems she actually IS an NHS nurse, though she does quite a few shifts for an agency. BUPA.

The starting salary for a nurse in Scotland is £22,000. She's no spring chicken. If she's been at it for eight years or so I'm told she'll be pulling in over £30K. Then there's all the BUPA shifts on top.

So minimum wage times three, right?

Right.

Go on.

She's actually living in Stockbridge.

Christ. Stockbridge! As in average house prices of half a million right?

Right.

Go on.

I've been onto the local food bank. Obviously they can't breach client confidentiality but they are pretty adamant they wouldn't be doling out emergency food to anyone over £30K a year.

I bet they are. Social media?

I think we've dodged bullet sir.

Go on.

Let's just say it's an eye opener. Convertible car. Lots of pictures of her living it large in fancy restaurants. She spent New Year in a five star hotel in New York.

For fuck's sake. What does the bloody woman take us for? A bunch of complete twats? Just tell her to fuck off. Well. You know. Politely. 

Will do boss. Pity really. It would have been a good story. If it had been true......

Oh yeah. Story of my fucking life. If we could cover the made up stories we would be box office every night. C'est la Vie. Keep at it.

How nice it would be if the BBC was still the kind of place where facts were checked before being thrown out into the world. 

Sadly a rather different set of facts drive the BBC's agenda when it comes to domestic news coverage.

1. The Tories look nailed on to be in power for at least the next ten years.
2. When it comes to all of that lovely billion quid's worth of licence fee money, the Tories very much have their grubby mits on the purse strings.
3. The Tories are in the pockets of a whole bunch of right wing media barons who hate the licence fee and resent the BBC and yearn for the day when Auntie is forced to become 'pay for view'.
4. The best way to hang onto their swag is to attack whoever the Government deem to be the bad guys. Like the SNP. Like Corben.

So it was the prospect of putting the First Minister into the firing line of the Walter Mitty nurse was just too good to ignore.

You absolute fucking beauty! So what's she like? Will she bottle it or will she stick the knife in?

Oh she'll stick it in all right. Wait till you see her. You'd cast her as the nurse in Misery. What a face on her. You could cut bread with it.

Fucking love it. Love it, love it, love it. We'll have that jumped up little bitch hopping like she's on hot coals. It's done. Line her up. Nice one. Won't go unnoticed this.... yeah?..... 

Thanks Boss.

Sheila. Dial up London will you? get me Freddy on the line.....

Freddy!!!! .......Yeah, good...... Fucking excellent actually.... get a load of this... we've got this nurse lined up for tomorrow night.... a right hard nosed bitch... and .......

Brownie points all round. Smug glasses of port in oak panelled rooms where it is still OK to say 'Wog'. Pats on backs and invites to a decent spot of shooting in August. Expenses accounts waved through and pensions to die for and maybe, just maybe... well.... maybe even a 'K'......

And of course I feel pissed off on so many different levels.

I'm pissed off for being put in a position where I have to feel grateful to the Scottish Sun for exposing the dreadful woman. And I really hate feeling any kind of gratitude to the Sun.

As a YES man I am constantly pissed off at the endless, wall to wall Unionist state sponsored, tax payer funded propaganda.

But I am most pissed off as a food bank manager. Every year I accept invitations to talk to at least twenty community groups - church congregations, Rotary Clubs, Women's Institutes. And every time I have to explain how we don't get ripped off by armies of scrounging chancers trying it on for a bag of free grub.

I run through our referral rules. We do emergency food. As in last resort food. We often see people who are receiving their benefits in full who are finding life tough. Obviously they are. Living on £60 a week isn't anyone's idea of a picnic. Do we give them a food parcel? No we don't. Is this because we are hard nosed people who tell our clients to learn how to bake bread and soak broth mix and generally buck up their ideas?

No.

We say 'no' because we have no choice. Were we to give emergency food to everyone out there who is trying to survive on State benefits we wouldn't be handing out 5000 emergency food parcels a year: we would be handing out 50,000 emergency food parcels a year. And we couldn't manage that. No chance.

So we need to draw a line. Which means we have to tell people trying to get by on £3000 a year we cannot help them. So what do you think we would do if the likes of Claire Austin came in asking for our help because she was struggling to get by on thirty grand a year?

Aye. Well. No prizes for guessing.

This is why food banks like First Base are the collateral damage of this tawdry tale. We are completely reliant on the £45,000 worth of food our local community donates to us every year. Without this generosity we would have to turn people away. And these would not be people earning thirty grand a year. These would be people with not a single penny to their names. 

By allowing Austin to peddle her lies on prime time, the BBC has helped to sow a few seeds of doubt. What's going on with these food banks? What do they think they are playing at doling out free grub to people earning £30K a year? I don't earn £30K. I don't earn £20K!

And the next time the viewer passes our collection bin in the supermarket they stop and think for a moment. Then with a small shake of the head they put a box of cereal back in the trolley.

Austin's nasty lies might well cost us thousands of pounds in food donations. Because as the BBC know only too well, people don't look deeply into stories. They merely absorb the bullet points. Food banks give food to people on £30K a year. Which isn't right. So I'm not giving any more. Why should I? I don't earn that kind of money?

So thanks for that. I can't see you losing any sleep about it. Instead you can dream of that lovely final salary pension....

And you never know......

Maybe just maybe.......

A 'K'...........   

Monday, May 15, 2017

IT'S TIME FOR 'YES' TO STOP BEING SO BLOODY MEEK AND GET OURSELVES RIGHT INTO SOME WESTMINSTER FACES.

I am quite sure I am far from being alone in feeling like smashing something up every time I am subjected to a dose of election coverage. It has already gone a long, long way beyond pathetic. The Unionists drone on about how rubbish Scottish education is and how the polls say nobody wants Indyref 2. Our lot go all meek and mild and polite and say the schools are really not all that bad and let's not forget how wicked the 'rape clause' is.

Oh Christ. The bloody 'rape clause'. I am sick to the back teeth of hearing about the 'rape clause'. Oh, of course it is horrendous. Duh. But to go on and on and on about it is playground politics of the worst kind. How many people in Scotland will it affect? I guess it will a couple of hundred at most. Is this really the sum total of what we have in our armoury? If it is, then God help us. 

When  did we get so petty? How did we drift away from arguing out the huge issues of September 2014 to hoping for nothing better than scoring a few cheap points of Ruth Davidson?

I am waiting for someone to point out the fact that the 'rape clause' isn't the real problem: the idea of dissuading people from having more than two kids is the problem. Fair enough, it might make some kind of bleak Stalinist sense in the polluted, over crowded south east corner of the UK. Up here in Scotland it makes no sense at all. We have one of the most rapidly ageing populations in the western world. Added to this, we have a three hundred year old EMIGRATION problem. In a nutshell, Scotland needs every young person it can get. Even if every young family came up with five kids each we would still be a long way short of having the new young blood we need.

So what is the real problem? Simple. What is right for London and the South East is almost invariably wrong for Scotland. The answer? Well the answer is straight forward enough. We need to get rid of London rule.

The Unionists really must be laughing their socks off at our meekness. Do they lose sleep when we use up every moment we get in front of the cameras to drone on about the rape clause? I don't think so.

We need to find a way to get under their skin. To make them lose sleep. To make them angry enough to throw glasses across the room and kick the dog. We need to be a stone in their shoe. 

So what should we be talking about right now as the days drain away to Saint Theresa's coronation in June?

Nukes.

Nukes, nukes and nukes again.

The Trident deterrent is the biggest Achilles heel we could ever ask for. Now we should make like Graham Souness and start kicking at their weak point until the tendons pop.

So why is Trident a better thing to bang on about than the rape clause? Let's weigh the impact of the two issues. One makes life cruelly uncomfortable for a couple of hundred damaged women whilst the other has the capacity to pretty much end human life as we know it. 

Kind of obvious, right? But what is new? Can we find a new angle or will we merely be banging out thirty year old arguments? Well here's the good news, we have a whole bunch of new ammunition which is all but guaranteed to have any Tory defense spokesman wriggling on the hook like an over privileged worm.

Number one.

Let's go up to the minute topical. Windows XP. Trident runs on Windows XP, as in the very same open door operating system we have just seen hacked to pieces. To be fair, we are not alone in this. Most of the US military also runs on Windows XP. Right now they are running as fast as they can to do an upgrade. In the meantime they have cut a deal with Microsoft whereby the Pentagon has coughed up $31 million to make sure they get the system upgrades they need to be safe. 

So what about us? Surely we will be fine. After all, for the last seven years we have been in the hands of the strong and stable brigade.

Ah. Well. Actually......

You've got it. No deal with Microsoft. No system upgrades. These clowns are spending £100 billion on the nukes whilst penny pinching a lousy few million to keep the operating system secure. 

There's incompetence and there's complete utter mind boggling incompetence......... 

Over the last few months we have learned quite a lot about how good the Russians are at hacking stuff. We should probably take a moment here. Who are we aiming our treasured nukes at? Mainly Russia. Are they happy about this? No, they're really pissed off about it. Would they rather not have to worry about us threatening to burn millions of their citizens to death? I think they would actually be quite keen not to have that worry. Conclusion? I think it is fair to assume they will already have hacked through our Windows XP system and they will now be in a position to shut the whole thing down long before Saint Theresa gets the chance to murder a million Muscovites in the name of strength and stability.

Are they going to advertise this? Of course not. Instead whey will sit back and watch us waste £100 billion on a heap of junk. Wouldn't you?

Next up. 

The maintenance contract. 

This is a real beauty. We own the submarines, but the actual missile system.... well that's a whole different ball game. Technically we buy the nukes off the Americans for top dollar. But there are plenty of strings attached to the deal. A Trident missile needs a full service every 18 months or it won't work. Guess what? We are not allowed to do the servicing. The contract we have signed means only the Americans can do the servicing. And here is the real jaw dropper. The right to withdraw all servicing and thereby render the nukes completely useless falls squarely in the realms of a Presidential decree.

As in Donald Trump. It is entirely his call. If we piss off the Donald, he is in a position to throw one of his trademark tantrums and make our nuclear deterrent little more than a bunch of scrap metal.

Next.

The right honourable Michael Fallon, Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Defence. 

A few days ago Mr Fallon casually ditched decades of cast in stone policy with a single off the cuff statement. It has always been British policy only to use nuclear weapons in retaliation. Never, ever would we be the first to start the madness.

Well. Not any more. We have now joined the first strike club along with North Korea. You really would have though such a monumental change of policy might have required a vote in Parliament. It seems not. Saint Theresa doesn't really do Parliament.

Last and probably least is the inconvenient fact that lots of countries are well on the road to developing mini underwater drones. In a few years time there will be thousands and thousands of these things dodging about under the oceans. So what? So it will mean there will be no possibility of a Trident submarine staying hidden. And if a Trident sub isn't hidden, it isn't worth a light. All kinds of Generals and Admirals have pointed this out to the strong and stable brigade and begged then to stop wasting the defense budget on the ultimate vanity project. They would rather we had a few more soldiers and an aircraft carrier with some planes on it.

Not surprisingly these pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

These are new and compelling reasons why we shouldn't have the abomination of Trident on Scottish soil. So what might we do with these compelling reasons?

Well there isn't much point in raising our concerns politely because the Unionist media will just ignore us.

As per usual.

Instead we need to raise the ante. First up we turn their guns on them and point out how the polls show a clear majority of Scots don't want nuclear weapons in our country.

We accept as things stand we are not allowed to unilaterally vote for their removal in the Holyrood Parliament. Defense is reserved to Whitehall forever and ever, amen.

So what do we do? Well I chucked this idea out a few weeks ago and it only gets more tempting. We could pass a law in Holyrood banning any nuclear weapons from travelling on any Scottish road. Our roads are not devolved. Our roads are all ours. Then we instruct our police force who are also not devolved to set up a permanent road block outside the gates of Faslane to make sure no nukes get in or out.

Oh that would get their attention. I don't think we would have to worry about this particular policy winning a few column inches in the Daily Mail.

Next the Scottish Government could send a nice clear information leaflet to every household in Scotland explaining why our roads will no longer be available for the transportation of weapons of mass destruction. We lay out each and every piece of evidence of gross Westminster incompetence item by item. We quote every senior admiral and general who has spelled out the glaring truth of what an complete and utter waste of time and money Trident really is.

Then it would be time to look London in the eye and ask what they are about to do about it? 

Invade?

Oh really? Again?

Trident is basically a complete fiasco. It is greatest waste of public money in our long history. It won't stand any degree of scrutiny. It wouldn't take so very long for the whole thing to become a monumental embarrassment.

Just take a moment and imagine how good it would feel to watch them flounder about.

It would be better than good. Certainly better than droning on and on and on about the bloody rape clause.    

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

SLOW MOTION NIGHTMARES IN THIS STRONG AND STABLE LAND OF OURS.

I wonder if power has ever gone to a person's head quite as quickly as it has gone to Theresa May's head? It actually beggars belief. In a few short months we have watched the backroom girl morph into a bug eyed ego maniac. Yesterday saw our leader banging out her stump speech in front of a backdrop of banners announcing 'Theresa May's Team'. Fair enough the background colour was blue, but there was barely a mention of the word 'Conservative'. We used to worry about Tony Blair getting a bit too Presidential!

As far as the media is concerned, the sight of the Prime Minister dodging up and down the country repeating 'strong and stable' over and over and over again to pitiful groups of party hacks is something to be wondered at. Can you remember a leader who has managed to make so much out of doing absolutely nothing? I can't. Oh, she's put in a lot of mirror time working on her Maggie Thatcher look and she has become number one in the world when it comes to parroting out inane sound bites.

Over and over and over again.

Brexit means Brexit. Brexit means Brexit. Brexit means......

Strong and stable. Strong and stable. Strong and ......

Pretty Polly. Pretty Polly. Pretty Polly.......

I mean, for Christ's bloody sake!

As far as I can see, apart from rubbing up the rest of Europe the wrong way, May has only tried to do do two actual things in a year's worth of being strong and stable: create 20 grammar schools and make a modest change to National Insurance. In both cases a tiny amount of opposition was plenty enough to send her running for the hills screaming like a spoilt child denied sweets. Oh, and then she did a screeching U turn on both. So much for strong and stable. More like weak and completely bloody pathetic.

Much has been made of Theresa May the modern day Maggie Thatcher. Well to paraphrase some words from a Vice Presidential debate of a few years ago - I remember Maggie Thatcher, Maggie Thatcher was an enemy of mine, you ain't no Maggie Thatcher. 

Back in the early Eighties Thatcher decided to cut costs. And she cut costs. Big time. This bunch of clowns have been talking tough about their determined austerity drive for seven years now. Vote for us! We are the grown ups. We are the ones with the back bone to cut costs and balance the books. We're the tough guys carefully reared by the public school system to do the very best for this wonderful United Kingdom we all share. Strong and stable!!!!

Well the press certainly seem to buy it. But there has been a teensy weensy problem nobody seems to want to talk about. There has been NO bloody austerity. Every year since 2017 the Tories have spent more and more to the tune of seven hundred billion quid. Think about it. You start out with twenty grand on your credit cards and make a vow to count every penny and cut out every household expense possible. And for seven years you live off own brand and never do more than sixty on the motorway and change every light bulb in the house to low energy. I mean you really give it your best shot. You're as strong and stable as you can be. How would you look if after eighty four consecutive months of belt tightening you checked out the credit card statements to discover they added up to forty grand? Like a complete incompetent idiot, that's how you'd look. And you know what? That is exactly what you would be. A complete incompetent idiot.

But it seems nobody cares much if the Tories double the national debt whilst taking the country down the fast track to the Third World. At least when Maggie screwed the poor she actually managed to save a few quid. This lot have managed to make a misery out of millions of lives whilst at the same time splashing the cash like never before. Even in the two world wars of the last century we didn't manage to actually double the national debt. These clowns truly are in a class of their own.

So how on earth has it happened? I mean, there is no doubt the strong and stable brigade have definitely hammered the poor within an inch of their lives. Millions and millions of them. To find the answer to this conundrum maybe the best place to look is at the counter of a food bank.

Let's check out three case studies from yesterday. Three slow motion nightmares in this strong and stable land of ours. As ever, all names are changed.

First in was Uriah. I'm calling him Uriah because there was something truly Dickensian about this lad. It was wall to wall sunny outside but his bean pole frame was wrapped from head to toe. Long mousy hair hung out of a woolly hat. His jacket was zipped all the way up.

He hung back from the counter and eyed me with suspicion. 

Food parcel mate? 

Nod.

Has someone sent you?

Shake.

And then he opened up. A long and rambling and more or less incoherent tale of woe. I guess it took me about two minutes of listening to realise Uriah was well and truly away with the fairies. He jumped from one thing to another like a grasshopper on crystal meth. I had to make my mind race to collect the salient facts and arrange them into some kind of order. No family. Autism. Lots of different meds for lots of mental mayhem. And once upon a time when he had first emerged from the care system, things had been OK because he had been getting £200 a week. But then last year they had sectioned him for a few weeks and when he was released back into the community he didn't get any money at all. Nothing for six months. 

And then he got onto his 'peace' thing. The concept of 'peace' was really rattling his brain like a busted up car going way too fast down a rutted farm track. He had stomped into the Job Centre to rail about getting no money. And the people in the Job Centre told him he needed to leave or else they would call the police. He kept on with his rant and they called the police and the Sheriff deemed he had committed a breach of the peace and duly sent him to jail without passing 'Go.'

But how could this be? The 'peace' as he knew it was getting no money for six months. So if that was the 'peace', then how could it be a crime to breach it? What kind of 'peace' was it when all was said and done? And what at the end of the day were Justices of the Peace all about?

His solution to this messed up puzzle was to sit on the pavement outside the Homeless Department to beg and engage passers by with his theory about the word 'peace.' 

No doubt the police will keep getting calls and no doubt they will keep picking him up and putting him a cell and wondering what on earth to do with him. Eventually an exasperated sheriff will pack him off to jail again. And Uriah will behave himself inside because he is absolutely as nice as ninepence and as a harmless a human being as you are ever going to meet.

And so it will be for years and years to come because we have a strong and stable government who have deemed it clever to find the right kind of small print to make it all but impossible for the likes of Uriah to get their hands on any benefits. 

And how will this look on the accounts ledger of UK Plc? A bloody catastrophe, that's how. A mix of police time, custody time, criminal justice social work time, legal aid lawyer time, jail time and NHS time will turn Uriah into a long term £25,000 a year citizen. The next twenty years will set the tax payer back the thick end of half a million. And why? because a bunch of idiots in Whitehall reckon it's a clever idea to deprive Uriah of his benefits. In the name of austerity!

The next time he is in I will try to persuade him to have a go at selling the Big Issue. I reckon his Dickensian charm will work wonders. With a following wind he will earn enough to keep his body and soul together and the police will not be required to keep lifting him. Maybe. Hopefully.

Next up a dad with three grown up lads with mental health problems ranging from severe to chronic. And dad was hardly a picture of health himself. He had the look of a man back in the world after six months in Dachau. Pale. Rake thin. Bent. Heavy on his walking stick. For years his GP had diagnosed him to be too ill to work, but now he had been given a miracle cure care of the Department of Work and Pensions and deemed to be as fit as a flea. He dumped an impressive pile of paperwork down on the counter which represented his appeal. Oh the joys of appealing to the DWP. The sprawling, labyrinthine, Kafkaesque nightmare of appealing to the DWP. Months and months and paper and paper and all the while a busted up family of four is expected to get by on fifty quid a week. Aye right. 

And it doesn't take an Einstein to see where this tale of woe is headed. The Dad's already fractured health will completely fail as stress takes its inevitable toll. And then? Then it will be the hospital for dad and the three lads will have to taken into some kind of long term care.

The cost? Oh now we're talking. Now we get into the really big numbers. Three lads in permanent care? Oooof. We're looking at a minimum of a hundred grand a year plus the NHS bill to keep dad breathing. A million quid over the next decade all because the clowns have decided it's clever to tell sick people they ain't sick after all.

And then there was Kate. A voice on the phone, almost gagging with the shame and embarrassment of making the call. Because she never in a million years thought she would have to make the call. I told her our opening hours and she told me she was so riddled with arthritis she couldn't carry a bag of sugar let alone a bag of food.

No problem. Don't worry. I'll drop it off.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Too many thank you's.

I found her place a couple of hours later. I carried the bags into the spic and span kitchen whilst the sun poured in through the window. She sat and said how sorry she was and how ashamed she was and how she couldn't get her head around how her life had come to this. And within about a minute tears were pouring down her cheeks. 

She told me she had been a social worker for twenty years until a variety of long term illnesses had forced her to give up work. As far as her GP is concerned, she is a very ill woman. As far as the DWP are concerned, she is fighting fit. So she is trying to get accepted for ESA and the DWP keeps on telling her to go jump in the lake. And of course every time she tries to get onto ESA, things go pear shaped and her benefits don't land. Which means her direct debit payments bounce which means all kinds of penalty charges. From the gas, from the electricity, from the Council Tax, from the phone company. It means there are several non negotiable deductions from her £65 which leave her with £53 a week. And the power company are demanding £35 which leaves her with £18.

Which isn't enough. It isn't even close to being enough. So for ten days she tried to get by on a 20p pack of noodles a day. When she saw her GP to get her sick line renewed, he had a duck fit on her. What on earth did she think she was playing at? Did she want to add malnutrition to her collection of ailments? He basically gave her a three line whip and insisted she really, really needed to swallow her pride and call First Base.

She swallowed her pride.

She called First Base.

And so here I was standing in her pristine kitchen whilst her frail body shook and the tears poured. I told her I would be round once a week and I told her there was nothing to be ashamed about and it didn't make a jot of difference.

And she made a really, really good point. At least once a month the social services call her up to pretty well beg her to come back to work because they are stretched to breaking point. And every month she has to tell them she would love to come back to work because she really, really misses work. And why on earth would she choose to eke out a miserable, desperate existence on £60 a week when she can earn £500 doing a job she loves and misses? Why on earth indeed.

And now? Same old, same old. her health with fail big time and it will cost more and more for the NHS to keep her breathing. £200,000 over the next five years or so? Probably. And when a ambulance comes for her, there will be no DWP lackeys to tell her she isn't sick. 

So there you go. In the course of a few hours here were three cases where so called austerity had sent people right down to rock bottom. And over the coming years we will all have to shell out the thick end of two  million quid to pick up the pieces. This is how the clowns in Whitehall have managed to double the national debt whilst completely screwing millions of vulnerable people. This is why these clowns will double the national debt again over the next seven years in the name of being strong and stable. 

And the fawning media will cheer them every step of the way. You really couldn't make it up.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

WILL THIS BE MY LAST DIVIDED CITY?


There's a lot of division talk going around at the moment. It seems division is the latest 'new black'. The Brexit division between the UK and the other 27 is in the process of dividing England and Scotland and the Labour Party and essentially every man and his dog. Thank goodness we have a Prime Minister who has the vision to see these widening divides must be healed once and for all. On the morning of June 9th our country will be united as never before and ready and raring to once again put Johnny Foreigner firmly back in his box. The skies will be filled with Lancasters and Spitfires and 'Land and Hope and Glory' will be sung before morning assembly in every primary school from John O'Groats to Lands End.

Once Mother Theresa is duly anointed, I for one will be dropping any thoughts of such nonsense as an independent Scotland. I will see the light and stand meekly in line with my fellow 60 million tearfully proud Brits. I will throw darts at a picture of Angela Merkel. I will drink my morning coffee from a 'made in China' mug bearing a picture of the Queen. I will read the Daily Mail and mutter under my breath when I pass Muslim types in the supermarket.

Two world wars and one world cup, do dah, do dah, day........

We Scots have been in the frontline of the nastiness of division for a while now. Haven't you noticed? Well if you haven't, you best get yourself a copy of the Daily Mail and start watching a DVD of Ruth Davidson's greatest hits. It's hell up here. Families are divided and everything. People are knifing each other in Spar shops and anyone with an English accent stands about as much chance of seeing it through to the end of the day as a Rabbi on a Tehran street corner.

If we fail to listen to the words of Ruth and Theresa RIGHT NOW the division will descend into civil war and we'll all be doomed and Germany and France will invade us and all of our pet dogs will be forced to wear the Hijab.......

Yeah, yeah. Division, right? Same old, same old. Same very old.

The instinct to divide and rule is almost as ingrained into the British psyche as blaming the French. And so once again the Tories are wooing the dumbed down, celebrity obsessed masses with dark threats of wicked Scots pulling the strings in any other Britain than one ruled by Mother Theresa and her lackeys. We're the new enemy within. The dividers. The bad guys.

Division doesn't tend to happen on its own. It needs nurturing. It needs tending. And this is an area of expertise where the London Establishment is in a class of its own.

I spent most of the day yesterday thinking about division. The coming divide between Scotland and the Single Market means smokers like me need to engage in some serious forward planning. The glory days of driving to Belgium and back to stock up on Single Market tobacco might be drawing to a close. I doubt it will be forever for us Scots, but it might be for a while. So I am in the process of making like a squirrel in the face of the coming winter. I reckon five years worth of Virginia's best should be enough to see me through to an Independent Scotland rejoining our band of European brothers whilst at the same time waving bye bye to our London masters.

It is worth noting the customs duty I would be sending south to our lords and masters in HM Treasury in the those five years would be kicking £20,000 and that just ain't about to happen.

So this time I have come to Cyprus to add a few days of sunshine to cheap baccy. Oh the joys of Easyjet. Yesterday I drove up to Nicosia on an errand for a mate. I won't go into a whole bunch of detail. This pal of mine needs a specific medication which costs £300 a month for the NHS to prescribe. As in £3600 a year. Not surprisingly this isn't a sum the NHS is willing to stump up for my pal as the condition falls short of being of the life and death variety.

Fair enough I guess. Times are hard and even though the Scottish NHS is about twenty times better than the English version, the pennies still need to be counted.

Anyway. Here's the thing. The very same medication can be had on the Turkish side of the UN buffer zone for rather less of an eye watering cost. You ready for this? I picked up a three year supply for £35. £10,800 in the UK versus £35 in Turkey. Thank god for strong and stable government where multi national pharmaceutical companies can write cheques big enough to guarantee exactly the kind of government they need to make those lovely share options happen.

A road sign on the brow of a baked hill told me I was ten miles from the city. The crest of the ridge line revealed Nicosia set in front of a backdrop of mountains. As I drew nearer my eyes were drawn to the mountainside which provided a backdrop to the city. There was something weird about the the colour. Then I saw it. The Turkish Cypriots had painted the rocky slopes red and white to create a truly ginormous Turkish flag. Christ it was huge. Umpteen football pitches worth of pure and unadulterated division. It takes a lot of hate to want to turn a whole mountainside into a giant 'Fuck you'.

I wasn't particularly shocked. The night before I had YouTubed myself some history. Back in 74 the military leaders in Greece started to crack down ever harder on the Turkish Cypriots and so the Turkish Government dropped in their Paras. Cue war, ethnic cleansing, lots of disappeared families and finally a hundred mile UN patrolled 'buffer zone' to keep the warring factions from each other's throats. 

The Green line. 

In some places it is twenty metres wide. In others it stretches to seven kilometres. It contains what was once the international airport and the ghost resort of Farmagusta where the likes of Oliver Reed and Richard Burton sought oblivion in the swinging sixties.

So how come the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots got to hating each other which such a deadly passion? Ah. Well that would be our fault. In the 50's the Cypriots were reasonably united in their desire to be shut of the Brits. Well we weren't having any of it. We did all the usual stuff. We locked them up and hunted them in the mountains. We knew the writing was on the wall for our control of the Suez canal and there was no way we were about to give up Cyprus. But whip cracking on its own didn't work. So it was time for a bit of divide and rule. 80% of the island were Greek Cypriots whilst 20% were Turkish Cypriots. We started throwing sweeties and the Turks. We paid them top dollar to be our baton swinging riot policemen and we gave then all the best civil service jobs. Slowly but surely we turned Greek against Turk and Turk against Greek. And we made one hell of a job of it.

Basically, we did our thing.

Then in 1960 Harold McMillan grew tired of getting it in the neck from the Americans. OK, OK, enough already. We're off, OK? Happy now? Of course before leaving we made sure Cyprus signed on the dotted line of a contract giving us 90 square miles of their newly independent land for two huge bases for the British Army.

And what did we leave behind? Two communities at each others throats. The catastrophe of 1974 was more or less an inevitability.

For forty years you couldn't cross the Green Line at all. That has changed now and there are six crossing points. I went through the one on Lehdra St in the heart of Nicosia's walled city.

Slowly the streets narrow in on themselves. Half of the shops are long closed. Angry graffiti and peeling walls. Skinny cats and hard faced old ladies wearing black. Until every sun baked street ends in sand bags and barbed wire. Young soldiers messing with their phones, gleaming weapons waiting close by. Just in case....

Just a small queue at the border. A scan of the passport and a nod through. First the Greeks, the the Turks. An to keep you amused whilst you are waiting your turn, there is a blown up copy of the original UN mandate from 1974 on the wall of the border post.

On the north side of the line things feel different. All of a sudden there are lots of young African guys wandering about killing the empty hours. Stall holders grin and hit you with their sales pitches instead of glowering and looking completely fed up. I found a pharmacy and duly completed my meds mission. A coffee and a fag and a chance to watch the groups of German retirees being guided along the sights of the Green Line. Then it was time for a haircut and a shave because there really is no barber like a Turkish barber.

He was wary when he asked me where I cam from. And then his face lit up when I said 'Scotland'. Just like it always does. Funny that, don'y you think Ruth? He was polite enough not to rub in the fact that Cyprus managed to kick out its London rulers back in 1960, the date of my birth. Oh the joys of being a citizen of the last colony of Empire 1.0. I was polite enough not to tell him that if Mother Theresa and Boris have their Empire 2.0 way, then Cyprus might well be getting a sky full of British Paras next.

As I sat back and felt the glide of the razor I got to thinking about all the other divided cites I have seen in my fifty something years.

First there was Belfast as an eighteen year old. A squatting grey town with a Brit soldier on every corner and metal 'peace' walls protecting the locals from themselves. Was this another divided city of our creation? Sure was. When you inject a bunch of loyal Prods into a Catholic island and give them all the best jobs, it doesn't tend to end well. It ends with the IRA and UDA and 20,000 British troops trying to keep them from each other's throats.

Next up was Berlin in the dark days of the 80's when we all kind of figured the last thing we would ever hear would be the nuclear attack warning sirens. The Berlin Wall was a very different animal from its Nicosia counterpart. There were no ramshackle sandbags at the end of narrow streets. Instead it was watchtowers and barbed wire and ferocious ark lights. Standing on the western side, our side, was almost like standing on the edge of the world. I crossed the wall into the German East three times in the 80's there was nothing about the place to make me nostalgic. Mother Theresa might be bloody annoying, but Eric Honecker she ain't. East Germany was an ugly, vicious grey place and it was a pure delight to be in Berlin on the night after the wall came down and see what freedom looks like in the flesh.

The Berlin Wall wasn't our fault. We played our part of course. The misjudged, vindictive Treaty of Versailles made Hitler all but inevitable and we of course had a seat at the table when Berlin was carved up in 1945. But the wall was all down to Moscow.

Jerusalem next in the febrile days after the first Intifada of 1990. There was no wall back then but there were soldiers everywhere you looked. They patrolled the streets in fours and they behaved much like the skinheads of the NF. A few hours in West Jerusalem was more than enough to fully understand what 'occupied territories' actually means. Occupied means occupied. Occupied means a rifle butt in the face if you happen to look at a soldier in a way he doesn't like. The Israeli occupation of West Jerusalem was one of the ugliest things I have ever seen. They did everything they could to dissuade us from crossing the line into Palestine. They said it was filled with dangerous, vicious terrorists. They lied. Instead we found West Jerusalem was home to the most hospitable, brilliant people I have ever met.

Was divided Jerusalem our fault? Oh yeah. Lock, stock and barrel. Balfour sold the Palestinian lands from under their feet when he made his Declaration in 1917 offering a homeland for the Jews. Back then the British were flat broke and about to call in the receiver. The up coming battle of Passchendaele needed paying for and the only show in town was to borrow money from the big Jewish banks on Wall St. So we made our devil's bargain. We sold out the Palestinians for a lousy few miles of Belgium and hundreds of thousands of corpses.

Then in the nineties it was my home town of Blackburn as racial tension deepened with every passing day. The Muslims battened down the hatches in one half of the town. The whites did the same on the other. There were no Belfast style 'peace' walls but there might well have been. It was no place to bring up two mixed race boys. We weren't 'White Flight'. We were 'Mixed Race Flight'. We got out of Dodge and headed north.

Thank Christ.

Then in 2003 it was Portadown as part of the research for my book 'Terrible Beauty'. In theory there was peace in Northern Ireland, but it didn't feel that way. Lots more 'peace' walls and every kerb in town was lovingly painted up. It was either red, white and blue for the Loyalist areas or green, white and gold for the Republicans. Every lamp post carried a flag and you knew exactly when you passed from one area and into another. A local drove us around and gave us the tour. It was about eight o'clock on a rainy winter's night and within a matter of minutes we were being tail gated by a Police Service of Northern Ireland Land Rover. Any vehicle crossing the lines of the divided town stuck out like a sore thumb. Peace? Aye right.

And finally Nicosia with its sandbags and shops frozen in the time of platform shoes and the Bay City Rollers. Another divided city.

Maybe my last?


Maybe not. A still our London rulers are using divide and rule to achieve their ends. Sadly there still seem to be plenty among us who are lapping it up.