prologue — the storm coming

(an extract from my novel of the same name, currently available on Kindle at Amazon)

Edinburgh in January takes on a hellish aspect — cold and grey and desolate with a wind so vicious it drills deep in your bones.

With Christmas and New Year over life for most has returned to dreary routine. City centre streets that were teeming with shoppers and revellers now lie empty and sparse, while the abundance of impressive monuments and grand Georgian architecture loom as dark and dismal as the history and culture that produced them.

Their splendour is lost, as always, on the ranks of the homeless who colonise these city centre streets. It is lost, too, on the people rushing to and from work in the myriad stores and the coffee shops, offices and cafes, prominent on their minds the woes of another bleak January and winter to get through.

And why the hell did I spend so much on Christmas this year when I promised myself I wasn’t going to? Need to get back to the gym after eating and drinking so much. Really wish I was single again because tired of arguing every night. Tired of being single and wish I was in a relationship.

What they all have in common is a shared sense of end of days as they struggle in the midst of swirling wind and rain that banishes all hope of life being anything more than a desperate bid to make it to the end of another winter.

Meanwhile, stuck out on the edge of Edinburgh in its sprawling housing schemes life doesn’t change from one day to the next, no matter the weather. There men gather in the same pubs in a futile attempt to escape their woes in a drink-sodden consciousness; wives or partners at home fretting over bills, food, the rent, struggling to survive in a world in which cruelty is a virtue and compassion a vice. Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Incapacity and Disability Benefit, everybody knows the script, knows what the inside of a Jobcentre, police station and courtroom looks like. Foodbanks, benefit sanctions, and council tax arrears describe a daily struggle against the juggernaut of despair rolling over their lives. Not for them the fancy art galleries, museums and cafes found in the city centre. Not for them either the restaurants, wine bars, and theatres. Drug abuse, domestic abuse, alcoholism, violence, crime — maladies and a cause for moral panic in polite society, out in the schemes as normal as the rain.

Turn on the TV, open up a newspaper, everywhere you look evidence of success and prosperity — flash cars, designer clothes, expensive jewellery, big houses, holidays abroad, celebrities — all of it taunting you, reminding you of what you lack. Reminding you that you lack. They leave you in no doubt that unless you have those things, live that life, you’re worthless. And in a world in which to have is more important than how to get, for those whose prospects are zero the only way to have is to take.

So you start out young, breaking into shops, houses and cars, punting the goods on to anyone who’ll buy. The first time you get caught you get a fine, maybe community service, but nothing to worry about and you keep going until you end up getting sent down for a year or two. Some come out at this stage and decide to change course. They meet someone, have a family, and settle down to a fate of low paid menial jobs, bearing the constraints of poverty as Jesus bore the cross, accommodating themselves to lives of quiet desperation.

A small number come out committed to crime and the freedom and liberation it promises, the sense of pride and self respect that comes with the refusal to conform or move to the beat of society’s drum. Not for them a crap job with no money. Rather risk ending up on the wrong end of a blade, a bullet, or a sentence than succumb to that fate. Because for those who choose this path, or for whom this path is chosen, it’s either one or the other — sometimes even all three. For in the end — sometime, somewhere — your luck always run out as the law of averages asserts its dominance.

The few who choose to walk a different path despite the risks, and who with luck and judgment and ruthlessness in equal measure manage to escape the scheme and reach the ever-elusive goal of respectability and affluence, such people give crime a good name. The single most important decision facing them is when to break away from a life that unless you do at some point is guaranteed to break you.

Get out too soon and you lose the money you would’ve made if you’d kept going. Get out too late and you will surely end up dead or in prison on a long sentence. The only guarantee is that you will either move aside of your own volition or be moved aside by force. For just as in nature, where the law of survival of the fittest obtains, nothing and nobody lasts forever.

Here, then, follows a cautionary tale.


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