At 2.30 this morning I got to thinking about Andrew. And yes, this is a pretty vague sentence which needs a whole bunch of tightening up. Key details? Why Andrew? Who is Andrew? Why 2.30 am? What was the trigger? Who the hell cares anyway?
OK. Fair enough.
2.30am. We finished a box set and moved over to the news. And there she was. Our wretched Prime Minister playing her Daily Mail cards one by one like a desperate gambler drinking in the last chance saloon. The woman who had started out as a vicar's daughter promising to look out for the 'just about managing' had finally completed her journey. No more Mrs Nice Lady. Oh no. Tightening polls meant it was time for her to play the tough on terror card. It was time to promise to scrap human rights and come down hard on brown people.
Christ don't you get tired of this wretched tale being played out over and over again. Some outcast maniac manages a blood drenched public suicide. He duly takes number of innocent civilians of all creeds and colours with him on his journey to the next world. Cue the Prime Minister of the day. Step out in front of the cameras, in front of Downing St so long as it isn't pissing it down. Fix the camera with a beady stare and tell the evil cowardly terrorist swine they will never succeed. They will never make us change our way of life.
And then what does the PM do?
Oh yeah. They change our way of life. We are told our democracy is sacred and the forces of evil will never challenge our freedoms. You know how the script goes. Hitler didn't manage it, nor did the IRA, nor will the long beards....
And then there comes the 'but.....'
Our democracy is sacred but..... well here's the thing... you see when I called this election all the boffins said I would win it by a country mile and everyone would love me and they would hate Jeremy Corbyn and I wouldn't have to talk to any actual people and......
They lied you see. And the plebs seem to actually want to listen to what that bearded communist has to say. Traitorous bastards. And all my own MPs are queuing up to stab me in the back. And.....
Well I have to do something. Can't you see? So bugger the sacred democracy. I'm calling a pause in the name of respect for the dead. Oh, you might say I am doing exactly what ISIS want me to do by suspending campaigning and thereby allowing them to interfere in our beloved democratic process. Well to be frank, I couldn't give a shit. I need a moment, right? I need to give the Daily Mail something for the front page.
Anyway. Next up. They will never, ever make us retreat from the beloved freedoms we have enjoyed for hundreds of years. We are the Sceptered Isle where the Magna Carta was dotted line signed! This is the very green and pleasant land where every citizen is allowed to speak freely and be safe from being locked up without trial! Hitler wanted to change all that but we had Spitfires!
So here is my message to all of you long bearded murderous bastards. If my people vote for me and my team, I will make sure there is less free speech and more people will be locked up without trial. For longer. So there. Pow!!! Boooosh!!!!
Here is my very clear message. If you attack us we will suspend our democratic process and chip away at the freedom of our citizens. How do you like that? Think that will get you anywhere? Oh and by the way, I will also make sure the people we lock up without trial will be brown people who prefer to worship their God on a Friday.
Oh you think all of this will only make you stronger and more popular do you? Well I dare say it will. Am I bothered? As if! The Daily Mail will like it. They'll love it. Capische?
So that's the 'why' part. Why it was at 2.30am I got to thinking about Andrew.
So I guess I best get to the 'who' part. Who was he? This Andrew. AKA 'Gizmo'.
I guess he is best described as one of my ghosts. And there are far too many names on my ghost list. Over the fourteen years of First Base my ghost list has grown to sixty of so. The ones who didn't make it. All the clients dead years and years before their time. Overdoses, suicides, ruined health. If there was a memorial in the town centre it might well carry the words 'In loving memory of the victims of the Trainspotting Generation'.
Over the course of my 55 years I have met all manner of remarkable people. They have come in all shapes and sizes. An old drinking pal recently turned up as the Government's head lawyer in Gina Miller's Brexit case. Another mate who I shared a stage with in my last university drama went on to win an Oscar. I once gave the late, great Bob Paisley a thirty mile lift to and from an after dinner speech. As a charity manager I have spent time with party leaders and crime bosses and the survivors of fifty years worth of British Wars. As a writer I have spent time with old IRA war horses and refugees and locked down lifers in HMP Shotts.
Some famous, some infamous. Some good and some not so good. Remarkable in many different ways.
Andrew would always make it into my top ten. I guess he is the most chaotic individual I have ever come across. I think of him as a 21st Century version of the Artful Dodger.
He must have been twenty or so when I first came across him at the reception counter. And boy, could he talk. Talk for bloody Scotland, so he could. A million miles an hour in the twang of Glasgow. Tales of a life revolving around ten bags of smack a day. Ducking and diving. At least two petty crimes an hour. Seven days a week. Every week.
He blagged me out of a copy of my book 'The Cull' on that first day. Time passed and he was back demanding a signature and asking if he was my inspiration for the character Ricky Macintosh. I told him he wasn't but he was having none of it.
He over estimated the things a small town author can achieve. He was forever bringing us waifs and strays. Lost souls from the streets. Come see Mark and Carol. They will show you how to make it right...
He became a fixture. An ever present handful. He would turn up more or less every day fully expecting a bollocking for his latest idiocy and most of the time getting one. For someone who had spent so little of his life in school he was one of the smartest people I have ever met. In another life he might have been the greatest City trader of them all. He might have been almost anything. Instead he lived his messed up life from minute to minute in a breakneck haze of smack and blue valium.
And he had a heart the size of the Galloway Forest. If someone hit rock bottom on the pavement, Andrew would sit with them all night. In the rain. In the biting cold of winter. Because he would never leave anyone behind.
He was forever in and out of jail. Two months here and eight months there. I went to visit him in Polmont and Dumfries. And every time he would tell me how it was all going to be different this time. And every time his good intentions would crash and burn within half an hour of his liberation and he would duly arrive at First Base monged out of his head.
And he would get yet another bollocking as his head lolled to his chest.
The day we got the news was as bad as a day can get. A light had been extinguished. He was found dead in a front garden and he left a gaping hole. I don't recall exactly how old he was. Twenty five or thereabouts. Laid to rest on a grey winter's day as the crows looked down from the bare trees. His family played the Verve for him. 'The drugs don't work.' They didn't. Not for Andrew.
So why did our Prime Minister's promise to strip away our civil liberties get me to thinking about Andrew at 2.30am?
One day he crashed through the door fresh from another short stretch in HMP Dumfries. For once he wasn't off his face. Instead he was blazing with indignation. He was a torch bearer. He was demanding justice. Because if there was one thing Andrew hated over all other things, it was injustice.
I had to calm him down. Sit him down. More or less push a fag into his mouth. Slow him down.
And so it was he told me the story of his new African pals. There were three of them and he had got to know them well in the jail.
They had arrived in the Republic of Ireland a few few months earlier en route to claim asylum in the United Kingdom. They thought they had done their homework. They had checked out the atlas. There was the island of Ireland. And there was the bigger island of Great Britain. So they got themselves to Larne and took the ferry and duly presented themselves to the authorities in Stranraer.
It was time for a geography lesson for the fleeing Africans. They were told they had actually crossed the border three days earlier when they had taken the bus from Dublin to Belfast. Not that there had been a border crossing or anything like that. If they had looked closely they might have noticed how the lines in the middle of the road stopped being yellow and started being white.
They had already missed their window of opportunity to make an asylum claim. Three days had already passed. Too long. So it was a case of sorry, but no.
But what do you do with three Africans who have missed their window without knowing it? Why, you lock them up of course. Do you? What crime have they committed to warrant being thrown in jail? I mean you can't just lock people up because you feel like it. Can you?
Well you can actually.
We'll use the anti-terror legislation. Shouldn't be too much of a problem. When all is said and done they are foreign, black and they have no money for a decent lawyer. So, yeah. bang 'em up. Who gives a shit.
Well Andrew gave a shit. He was absolutely raging. He was ready to storm the castle. He told me I had to do something about it and for the umpteenth time I told him there was nothing I could do. I suggested he make an appointment to see his MP.
He never did.
And the Dumfries Three? I have no idea what happened to them. I very much doubt if they ever had any kind of trial. They must have been shoved onto a plane and sent back to whatever fate awaited them I guess.
Three more statistics nobody much cared about. Except Andrew. And Andrew never did get the chance to make the world a better place. He blew it. He rolled the dice one time to many.
And he is still sorely missed.
And his outrage is still relevant. It always will be. Our Prime Minister is asking us to be turkeys by once again voting for Christmas. She says we don't need to worry about our civil liberties because the State can be trusted to only use new powers to go after the bad guys. And of course the British State can be trusted to always get it right. Because there was never a Guildford Four or a Birmingham Six.
Or a Dumfries Three.
Andrew was a smart kid. He knew in his bones what was right and what was wrong. He had been locked up enough times to fully appreciate the true value of liberty. Of civil liberty.
Andrew found it very easy to see the wood from the trees. Will the rest of us share his 20/20 vision? I doubt it. I guess we will make like sheep and do what the tabloid press tells us to do. We'll toss away our freedom because we have never known what it is to lose it.
If only we were all as smart as Andrew the Prime Minister wouldn't be given the time of day.