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.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


It was half past eleven.

I was on my way back from paying a couple of donations into the bank. The first rain in weeks was easing from a slate grey sky.

I guess there was a kind of wry smile on my face. Umbrellas! At least five of them, bobbing down the sparsely populated pavement. You really have to love the ingrained pessimism. No rain for weeks and none forecast, and yet these guys had still picked up an umbrella before leaving the house.

When I was twenty or so yards shy of our front door, I saw there was someone there. A food parcel early bird or just a guy riding out the light rain? 

Today's made up name is Che. And yeah, there will be relevance in due course.

"Are you wanting the foodbank mate?"

Not so threatening. Well I didn't think so. And yet my words brought on a rabbit in the headlights look. And an a somewhat bizarre flash of fear. Me pushing sixty and a country mile from any kind of prime. Che at least two decades younger and fit as a butcher's dog. No kind of sense.

He answered the question with a kind of careful politeness and at the third attempt he made it to where he was wanting to go.

Yes, he was here for the food bank.

And he was sorry for being so early. And it was nae bother pal because he could go away and come back in half an hour. Honest, pal. Don't want to be any trouble.

It seemed to take ages to persuade him it was no trouble at all. But I got there in the end and we made our way inside. I made my to one side of the counter. He was on the other side, unpacking carefully folded papers from his coat pocket.

And all of a sudden he was telling me about the coat. His new coat. A gift from a local charity who were helping him out. And he was pleased with the coat. Really pleased. He told me it was the first coat he had owned since he was teenager. His first coat in twenty something years.

When you work in a place like First Base you pick up a sixth sense for people who have millions of words locked up inside and straining to get out.

Che was one of these people and the story of the coat popped off the padlock and out came the words. Like a burst dam.

Had I heard about MAPP? No really. Bits and pieces. So he explained as best as he could. It was a jumble, but I got the gist. MAPP is the control net cast over a long term prisoner released back into the world after years inside. Probation workers and social workers and charities and policemen and a forensic psychiatrist and a seven in the morning to seven at night tag.

A last chance saloon and even the tiniest slip would mean go to jail, do no pass go, do not collect £200....

Did I get it? I got it. 

Every second sentence included an apology. Look I shouldn't be bothering you with any of this... you've better things to do... you dunnae want to waste time on the likes of me. Like taking too much of my time would mean crossing one of those invisible MAPP lines. Go to jail, do not pass go, do not collect £200....

Christ. A cat on hot bricks. 

"Come on mate, let's have a brew..."

At first he said no. A brew wasn't for the likes of him. And he shouldn't be wasting my time. And he was sorry, like....

In the end I prevailed. The first coat in twenty years came off and was duly hung on the back of a chair. I did the honours and he arranged his paperwork on the table.

Outside it had stopped raining and the craziness of the Trump visit and the latest Brexit meltdown was sending the airwaves into near meltdown. Inside all was quiet.

He took a smoke and slowly but surely wandered back through the story his years. His years in the darkest corner of darkness. His years in a world we never see.

Seventeen years old and off the rails. Drink and drugs and daft as a brush. Down south. Over the border. He never said where. An English Saturday night in the early 90's. All pissed up and buzzing and out of cash.

And there was a guy with a wallet in his breast pocket. A ticket to keep the night rolling. So Che made a grab for the wallet which was about a subtle as a Trump rally. A fight. An assault. An arrest. Bang to rights and two years.

No doubt there were plenty of sage voices in his ear. Just keep your head down mate. Go with the flow. Make like you're invisible. The time will fly by. You'll be out in twelve months. Out and still eighteen with the rest of your life to live.

But it didn't go that way. Instead, Che made a friend. The wrong kind of friend. A blood brother. 

The friend had been way off the rails for years. At ten years old, psychiatrists had poked and prodded at his brain to try to work out where all the rage was coming from. What they found came as a surprise. Che's pal had an IQ which was off the charts. The shrinks warned against boredom. Unless this remarkable mind was properly stretched and engaged, then this remarkable mind would go bad.

It went bad. 

Bad enough for prison. And Che's new blood brother had a creed. A driving passion. He hated authority. All authority was the enemy. A evil to be fought. 24 hours a day, every day. Without any kind of compromise. Without quarter asked for or given.

Che signed on the dotted line and they took the fight to the prison system. A bit like El Salvador declaring war on the United States. And like Che kept telling me, this was the early 90's when a different set of rules applied. The gloves were well and truly off. There would be no time off for good behaviour. Beatings and humiliations and solitary and yet more beatings.

A dark and brutal drama played out a million miles from public view. And one warder was in a league of his own. Of course he was. The 'in house' sadist. Because this was the early 90's and there was barely a rule book to tear up. 

And slowly but surely Che and his pal slipped beyond the pale. Beyond any kind of sensible decision. Brutalised. Committed to their hopeless war. Lost.

They got hold of the sadistic warder and held him hostage for twenty hours. And by now Che couldn't look me in the eye any more. He kept starting to get up. To reach for the new coat and run. He kept telling me I shouldn't be wasting time with someone like him. He kept saying sorry. And he kept saying how ashamed he was. Because he knew it was wrong. But in the darkness of the early nineties.....

Two years became eleven years. His pal was maxed up to life with not a cat in hell's chance of parole. The remarkable mind was to be kept far from the light forever and ever amen.

Is he still inside?

Yeah. He went down hill. More violence. More assaults. Time added and added until it was all the time in the world. He's not good now. So I've heard. The remarkable mind is broken. Smashed into a million pieces. The sorry tale of the Ming vase and the sledge hammer.

For a while Che stuck to the creed and fought on. Through the endless beatings and humiliations. He managed not to break. For a while. But slowly the smoke cleared and the futility of the fight swam into view.

He was out after eight years but there was nothing to ground him. No guidebook. No normal. Only drink and drugs and in and out of so may jails he lost track of them all.

Until this time. Until this last chance saloon and MAPP and every camera in the town watching his every move. Don't have any contact with any known drug user. Don't have any contact with any known criminal. And if you are even thirty seconds past seven o'clock...… And if you are even thirty seconds late for you daily appointment.....

An unfamiliar world in his first new coat in twenty years. A chance of a future, but how to find it? Forty years old and everything strange.

Sometimes the sentences would flow easily. Other times he would lose his thread and find it hard to work his way back to where he had started. Every few minutes he would jolt and spin round in his chair.

"Sorry. I thought there was someone there. Just paranoia. I'm paranoid all the time."

And what do you say? None of this was new to me. I have heard all too may similar tales of the dark places. There were the men from Long Kesh I met when researching 'Terrible Beauty'. Tales from the darkness told over slow pints in pubs on the Falls Rd and the Shankill. My Palestinian friend Ghazi, who was arrested and tortured twenty seven times by Assad's goons for the crime of being a school teacher and a poet. Busted up food parcel clients who fought the system and lost big time.

Too many beatings. Too much solitary. Too many humiliations. Too long in the dark. Out of sight and out of mind and so very lost.

It is how a life can turn. A few pints. A few pills. The idiocy of youth. A wallet in a breast pocket on a long lost Saturday night. One minute life is relatively normal....

And then all is dark. 

Maybe I am hopelessly naïve, but I actually have good vibes about Che's chances. He has discovered a well of decency which has actually been there all along. Many of the guys I have met who have spent months of their lives in solitary have found some Zen. Che has all the tools he needs to find his path. He has people skills which seem to surprise him. I reckon he'll find way more forgiveness than he is expecting to find.

He has a firm grip of the whole take each day as it comes thing. Hour by hour. 

I showed him how to use the calendar feature and his phone and his face lit up. With such technology literally at his finger tips, he could see a world where he wouldn't be late for an appointment. 

He says he'll keep calling in and I hope he does. I have zero training or qualifications. Only experience. A modest ability to shut up and listen. And never to judge. Never, ever to judge.

And sometimes not judging can actually be enough. 

Here's hoping.   

Thursday, July 5, 2018


International sport makes for really interesting litmus paper for any immigrant. So who are you going to support? The team from your new place or the team for you old place. And at times there can be all kinds of contradictions.

My brother in law Alan is sports daft to his toenails. To his eternal shame, is greatest sporting allegiance will always be to Manchester United. He was sucked over to the dark side as a young boy and I fear he will never escape from the demonic grip of football's very own version of Mordor.

When England take the field to play Sweden on Saturday, he will be well ensconced in a Lancaster pub, pint in hand, and ready and raring to roar on the Three Lions. 

But here's the thing. When the same three lions take to the field wearing cricket whites tom play the West Indies, Alan's Caribbean roots completely take over. He simply couldn't comprehend the idea of supporting England when they play the West Indies at cricket.

Over my twenty five year journey to Scottishness, I have dipped the litmus paper a few times. Like Alan, club football trumps any other allegiance. In my case it is Liverpool Football Club where I have been lucky enough to have been a season ticket holder since 1973. Unlike Alan, I am with the good guys. Let's just say we have a few pretty heated conversations, but it has never come to blows. Thankfully! Nobody in their right mind would want to come to blows with my brother in law Alan.

And now? Well the litmus paper tells me I have gone more or less 100% native. When England play Scotland at anything, I am instinctively in the blue corner. I cheered when Scotland beat England at cricket and rugby over the last few months. And I was completely and utterly gutted when Harry Kane got his injury time equaliser up at Hampden.

So do I still support England at anything? Well occasionally, yes. Absolutely in the Ashes. Reasonably whole heartedly if the All Blacks are the opposition on the rugby field.

Other than that? Not so much.

This World Cup? I am mainly indifferent. That said, I like the England team and their manager and I am made up by the fact that a third of the squad is made up of mixed race lads like my two sons. There are two Liverpool lads in the squad, so obviously I want things to go well for them. But I feel exactly the same for Bobby Firmino and Brazil, Degan Lovren and Croatia, Sadio Mane and Senegal and Mo Salah and Egypt.

When I sat down to watch England take on Colombia, I was pretty much indifferent. I couldn't help but warm to the in your face skulduggery of the South Americans and their fans were brilliant, especially when compared to the English fans who seemed to be mainly angry bald men running through a playlist of songs extolling the virtues of Brexit.

At least it made a change from the IRA.

When Harry Kane buried his penalty, I felt no urge to punch the air. I wasn't up or down. Merely indifferent.

Then came the penalty shoot out once again I wasn't remotely bothered either way.

And then our Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson took the long walk and I was suddenly invested. For Christ's sake Jordan, don't miss...

He missed.


And now I had skin the game. If England lost, the tabloids would lay into him like a bunch of rabid hyenas which would very possibly screw him for next season.

Well Colombia missed two and England scored two and all of a sudden a surprisingly open road to the final opened up for the Three Lions and their bald, Brexit loving acolytes. 

So how do I feel now? Well now my Indy instincts have kicked in and I hope they go all the way. Just think about it. Imagine the sight of every right wing bald man in every white English van flying the Cross of St George whilst at the same time flicking V signs at Pakistani pedestrians. How long will it be before someone decides the time is right to fly Spitfires over London.

Raging English nationalism is never a good look. On these islands of ours, the Celts know how to turn national fervour into something the rest of the world likes to buy into. Our flags and songs are tailor made for it. 'Flower of Scotland', 'Land of my fathers', 'The fields of Athenry'. All good stuff. 

'God save our gracious Queen', 'Land of hope and glory...'. Yeah. Not so much so, right?

Think about all those hard to get Better Together Unionists. Moral and economic arguments are never going to tip them over the line. Fairness arguments are never going to tip them over the line. Never ending Tory arrogance and nastiness in London never seems to nudge them any nearer to crossing the line.

But the sight of all those white vans and all those red and white flags hanging from the windows...

Well I reckon it might just do it. And just imagine if by some miracle England actually won the thing. Imagine how utterly insufferable they would be. The Spitfires and cheering Tories who have never been to a football match in their lives.

Oh yeah....

That would do it. I reckon support for an Independent Scotland would go over 60% in the weeks and months following and English World Cup triumph.

So this particular immigrant would very much like to see his old country manage the seemingly impossible for a very simple reason - this particular immigrant would like a passport bearing the name of his new place.

En - ger - land!  En - ger - land! ENG - ER - LAND!

But when it comes to flicking V signs at Pakistani pedestrians …. well I think I will have to draw a line at that one. 


Thursday, June 14, 2018


I think it's fair to say the Scots and the English have had a few pretty tasty bust ups over the last couple of thousand years. We've been at it all the way back to the good days when Hadrian managed to knock up the kind of wall Trump can only dream off. We were at it at Bannockburn and Culloden when there were plenty of bodies left lying on the battlefield. We were at it at Wembley in 1977 when the battlefield turf was ripped up and re-planted in back gardens across Scotland.

Every now and then the Scots have had the chance to throw a party and drink the pubs dry. Much more often, the bust ups have involved the Scots being required to take up the foetal position and grit our teeth through yet another kicking. Like the Clearances. Like when Maggie took a wrecking ball to the ship yards and the coal mines. Like when Cameron stood outside Number 10 and rubbed it in like only an Etonian twat can rub it in.

And year by year and century by century, our masters in London have lovingly added straw after straw to our camel's back. It's been like a never ending game of Colonial Jenga. Another and another and another...

And as they have piled up the straws, just about every other colony has cut the cord and ridden off into the sunset. But not Scotland. Never Scotland. Our rulers in London have enjoyed a free hand to do pretty much anything they like. And we have been like the long abused wife. Why won't she leave? How can she put up with it? Day after day and month after month and year and year after year...? And he's such a complete bastard.... And yet she still won't leave....

It puts me in mind of Trump's statement on 2016 campaign trail when he said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and still retain the undying love of his treasured base.

But in the end, even the strongest camel's back will snap when a tipping point is reached and passed.

After the vast dramas played out on the battlefields of the ages, how ironic it might prove to be if the final straw was fifteen minutes of school yard nonsense played out on the floor of the House of Commons.

Emperor Hadrian, King Edward the Second, the Duke of Cumberland, Margaret Thatcher.......

David Lidington.

David Lidington!

As T.S. Eliot once upon a time said, 'This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.'

That's David Lidington. A whimper in human form. Every inch the archetypal insipid Tory. Of a weekend, he's the kind of guy you'd find selling raffle tickets at a church fete somewhere in the Cotswolds. He's followed a well trodden path from nice public school to Cambridge to MP for Aylesbury. Once upon a time he wrote a PHD on 'The enforcement of penal statutes at the court of the Exchequer 1558 - 1576.' Oh yeah. he most surely did. Then he honed his Tory dark arts with BP and Rio Tinto before signing on as a special advisor for Douglas Hurd and Queen Maggie. His special advice proved to be sufficiently special for him to be granted his super safe, blue rinse seat in 1992

And for twenty something years he has minced along happily. Every now and then he has had to negotiate a few bumps in the road. His local paper was a bit pissed off when he was found to be burning his through an eye watering £116,000 a year's worth of expenses. They were even more pissed off when they caught him claiming for toothpaste, shower gel, body spray and vitamin supplements. Now that's what you can properly call mincing corruption.

And so after all the vast unfolded dramas, the thunder of cannon, the crash of cavalry hooves, the agonised screams of men with hacked off limbs and spilt entrails, after all that, we had David Lidington getting to his feet and mincing his way through a fifteen minute filibuster. 

Filibuster. Yeah, right. Like some quaint public school tradition. And fair enough, on the surface of things it is better than other public school traditions which tend to involve buggering the new kid.

The Tory benches tittered appreciatively. Jolly good David. Sock it to 'em Liddus. Both barrels old chap. Let the unwashed buggers know who's in charge here. Tally Ho! 300 to 40. How d'ya like that then? 

Job done and not a cannon fired. Pats on the back and a well earned G and T in the bar for good old Liddus. Bloody good show. 

And Twitter north of Gretna got a bit uppity. There were plenty of outraged words but aren't there always? People are outraged all the time on Twitter. No doubt there would have been more than a few on the Tory benches who secretly hankered for some cannon smoke and spilt guts. But hey, ho. Mincing Liddus did 'em proud enough. A solid chap for the Lords one day. Safe pair of hands. And who's going to notice anyway? 

Well, quite. The Scots? Do me a favour. 

And if the big SNP walkout had been a little more meek, then it still might have been OK. If they had filed out from the chamber with an air of offended dignity, then Liddus might have hung on to his man of the hour status.

But it wasn't that kind of walk out. Instead it was a proper Scottish walk out. As the Tory benches brayed, the departing body language would have put a smile on the faces of the ghosts of all those guys who bled out at Bannockburn and Culloden. It was the pointing which did it for me. Proper pointing which carried a crystal clear unspoken message. Wanna step outside, pal? 

Pure YouTube gold. Thirty seconds worth of Friday night aggression guaranteed to rally the troops. And as someone who has been yearning for an end to the painful politeness, I punched the air. 

I reckon the walk out will prove to be an all the king's horses and all the king's men moment for our London rulers. Oh they'll shrug it off and look down their noses and mock. And the Mail and Sun will wade in with all kinds of puffed up outrage. And they will hurl out pelters and present their smug faces to the TV cameras.

And they won't have a clue about how things will play out in the pubs of Scotland this weekend. Because there is a choice here. Do you want to side with the mincing little Tory from Aylesbury? Or do you want to side with the lads doing the pointing?

I wonder how many No voters quietly moved across into the Yes tent last night? My gut feeling says plenty. More than plenty. Tens of thousands.

The straw to finally break the camel's back.

And hopefully we'll all start to wake up to the fact that we're not lining up against the likes of Edward and Cumberland and Thatcher. All they have now is Lidington.

And Mundell.

And Rees Mogg.

And May.

Pygmies one and all.

I heard an extraordinary fact last week. It is a fact which says everything about why the time has arrived for Scotland to choose the lifeboat option and get away from the Titanic whilst we have the chance.

OK. We all know the world is moving at a thousand miles an hour. Robotics, genetics, alternative power, algorithms, you know the kind of thing. And every government in the world is preaching the need for as many smart people as the universities can churn out to try and surf the crashing waves. Every man and his dog is screaming for more engineers and programmers and the like.

So here's the thing. A university did some research which went something like this. If you are a straight A student leaving school and all you are bothered about is making as much money as you possibly can, what subject would you study and where would you study it? Well it has to be engineering or something to so with computers and economics or the law. Surely? I mean if you want to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

Well I guess if they had asked the question in Germany or China or India, that might well have been the answer. But not here. Not in Titanic Britain. Not even close.

The answer? Any clues? Any gut feelings? No.....?


At Oxford.

Yup. A degree which involves studying Plato and the lads in the original Latin. And let's face it the only places where you're going to learn that kind of Latin are the right kind of public schools.

Fair enough, a knowledge of Classics in the original Latin offers nothing when it comes to riding the wild storm waves of the 21st Century. Instead it proves you're the right sort of chap. A good fit for the shining towers of the City of London where the world's dirty money is laundered and all those lovely fat bonus cheques are to be found......

Classics at bloody Oxford.......

David bloody Lidington .......

The United bloody Kingdom.....

One last straw.......

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


I was giving a talk at a festival in Moniave on Saturday morning which meant I didn't get to Dumfries until 12.30. When I first chatted online to one of the organisers of the town's Independence march a few months ago, he told me they hoped to maybe put 500 onto the streets. The day before there had been some Facebook talk of 2000. I have to admit this got my head shaking. I mean this is Dumfries when all is said and done. 66% 'NO' despite the likes of me throwing the kitchen sink at the thing back in 2014. 2000? well, maybe.

The roads into the town centre were all closed off so I parked up and walked onto Buccleuch St bridge and duly stopped dead in my tracks.

A sea of blue and white all the way up to the top of Buccleuch St. A sea of blue and white all the way to the far end of Whitesands. A sea of blue and white which must have been at least a mile long and probably then some.

Astounding. So 2000 had indeed been completely wrong: just not in the way everyone thought. 

By the time I reached Dock Park, people were talking about a tweet from the local cops. 


Bloody hell. 10,000 right bang slap in the very heart of Better Together Central. 

I walked along Whitesands with Christiana, Dami and John, the Nigerian family we have supported for two years whilst they have waited and waited on the Home Office. The sight of young John enthusiastically joining in chants for an Independent Scotland couldn't help but put a smile on my face. And the smile stayed wrapped across my face for the next few hours.

And yet, underneath the smile I also felt a slow burn kind of anger. All around me were 10,000 similarly smiling faces enjoying the spring sunshine and basking in a sense of unity. I was angry at the way such people are constantly portrayed by the ghastly Unionist media. I was angry because these nasty, English owned rags continue to make up fairytales about how dark and divisive InyRef was.

It wasn't of course. It was like this. A celebration. A carnival. A blossoming of hope which went on through the weeks of a hot summer and found its crescendo in September 2014.

Our referendum did not open a Pandora's Box of racism and bigotry like the Brexit vote. Those who bought into the idea of becoming a shiny Nordic place took to the streets and waved flags. Those who didn't stayed home and quietly put a cross in the 'NO' box.

As is their absolute right of course. They don't boast about it. I never, ever seem to meet anyone who owns up to voting 'NO' back in 2014. They did what they did quietly and they have stayed quiet about it to this day.

As I stood on the bridge and absorbed the extraordinary scenes in front of me, my mind couldn't help but wander back to Buccleuch St on the morning of September 19, 2014.

I arrived at work lacking sleep and a will to live. I recall a thin rain. A few cars. A couple of pedestrians. Forlorn 'YES' signs in forlorn windows. A sparkling future ripped away. How would the street have looked if we had won? Wow. Party time. And the party would have gone on for weeks. Better Together didn't throw a party. Those who voted 'NO' retreated behind their locked doors and kept it to themselves. We are told the Queen purred. Cameron stood on the steps of Number 10 and spat out a mouthful of poison.

He might as well have stood there and screamed 'SUCKERS!!!!'

And now we have a Government in Edinburgh who seem to be banned from even uttering the word 'Independence'. They seem to be running from Ruth Davidson and the Daily Mail like a Pakistani schoolboy being pursued by fifty skinheads dosed to their eyeballs on Meth.

We are so constantly polite. There must be a whole bunch of dead guys spinning in their graves at our endless politeness. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you George Washington and Charles Stuart Parnell and Mahatma Gandhi and Kwami Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta and Gamal Nasser. I suppose I best also give you our very own local boy, Robert the Bruce.

None of these guys did polite. History teaches us very clearly all about how to get out from under the stamp of London Rule. You don't do it by being polite. You do it by getting right in their faces.

And as I stood on Buccleuch St bridge, my eyes feasted on the sight of ten thousand people basically saying stuff being polite. Truly a sight for sore eyes.

Good people. Young and old. All types. All colours. From skipping kids to mobility scooters. And just about each and every one of them waving a flag.

At this point I need to remember to say a big thanks to everyone who donated food and cash to First Base. It came to about £1000. And it was appreciated . Of course it was appreciated. The march will help us to get our Independence sometime in the years to come. In the meantime, it will make sure a few people don't have to go hungry in the next few weeks.

Special mentions need to be made for Wings over Scotland, the guys who organised the 'Aye Night' in Castle Douglas a couple of weeks ago, and the local SNP office who stored all the donated food.

Later I got myself onto YouTube. As you do, right? Lots of videos of Dumfries looking like it has never looked before. Someone worked out the town hadn't seen such a gathering since the funeral of Robert Burns.

And then there was an ITV News interview with local Tory MSP, Oliver Mundell. Yeah, that's right. The son of the esteemed Secretary of State for Scotland. He looked like an ISIS guy had forced him to chew a mouthful of rotten prawns at the point of an AK47.

So Mr Mundell, what are your thoughts about the march in Dumfries today?

Now there could have been plenty of handy fire exits for a politician with a bit of class about them. Maybe Oliver might have tried something like this on for size.

First up, smile. Look like a regular guy.

'Well of course, I don't exactly agree with all the people who have filled the streets of Dumfries today. But when all is said and done I am a democrat, and it is hard not to be enthused by such a display. The police tell me the march has been entirely peaceful, and I think this says much about what a great country Scotland is.....'

Now that would have been a touch of class. Well, I think it would have been.

But Oliver didn't say that. Instead he glowered into the camera like a spoilt brat who had not received what he wanted for Christmas. He described the march as 'A complete waste of time'.

Oh dear.

And then he went one better and said it was 'affront' to all the decent people who voted NO in 2014.

Really, Oliver?

Abhorrent? Are you being serious? Continuing to believe in something is an affront? Maybe you should stop and think about this nonsense for a minute.

William Wilberforce didn't get slavery abolished at the first attempt. I guess it must have been a affront to all those decent slave owners when he just kept on trying.

The pesky Irish kept bleating on about Independence for fifty years before they got it. An affront.

Ditto the other 40 or so countries who finally managed the shake themselves free of London's grasp.

In 1939 we sent an expeditionary force across the Channel to take on Hitler only to see them sent packing a year later. It must have seemed like an absolute affront when we showed the ill grace to have another go in June 1944.

So here's the thing, Oliver. It's called living in a country where having an opinion is allowed. It is our hard won right. And it shouldn't be an affront to anyone.

Not that I am about to moan about it. Because every time you and your dad behave like petulant schoolboys you add another few hundred to our ranks.

So keep on spitting the dummy, Oliver.

Cue a few words from Peter Gabriel's homage to the great Steve Biko

'You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the fames begin to catch 
The wind will blow it higher.'

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


For one reason or another, I've had a bit of hospital time over the last few weeks. I have had some time of my own up here in Dumfries whilst family members have been in hospitals in the North West of England. And bloody hell, talk about compare and contrast....

There are always two ways of looking at things. There are the statistics thrown in our faces by politicians and the media. And then there is what you see with your own eyes. There are endless arguments about the stories and fairy tales which get spun out of statistics. But when it comes to what you can see with your own eyes, well it's a slam dunk.

Last month I was gearing up for my annual tobacco buying road trip down to Belgium. As in twenty hours of driving. And there was a thing. My leg was swollen and once upon a time when I was a stressed out corporate type I had a deep vein thrombosis. Was the swollen leg a warning of some kind? 

It was half past seven in the morning and I was due to set out for Belgium at five in the afternoon. Should I play sensible? The prospect of a massive coronary on the A1 persuaded me discretion was probably the better part of valour.

I called up the GP surgery and asked if there was any chance? There was. Pitch up at 10.15 and wait. So I pitched up and waited. For fifteen minutes. The Doc tutted a bit and asked if I smoked and kept on tutting. Then she asked how much I smoked and she tutted some more. She reckoned it was best to put the trip off. A scan and an Xray were deemed to be prudent.

The scan was booked for four days later. The Xray a week after that. So it was I made my debut in our brand spanking new hospital on a bright breezy morning where the view from the front door stretched forever and then some. The outside of the new building is a tad on the boxy side, but the inside makes you feel like you've been teleported to Berlin. I'm no kind of architecture boff, but it wasn't hard to gasp at the spectacular use of light. Gardens between the wings and the café actually had a terrace and lawns. Christ. More like NASA HQ than a hospital.

My appointment was for 10.20. And at 10.20 the woman behind the desk called my name. By 10.35 I was back in my car and lighting up a fag I wasn't even craving so hard.

Another week and this time an Xray. Appointment time 11.00 and at 11.04 the woman behind the desk called my name. This time I was in and out in less than 10 minutes.

It was like being a super rich Wall St type with the best health insurance money could buy. It was bloody jaw dropping. And I duly celebrated by taking a 950 mile road trip to save £15 a pouch on baccy.

Time passed and I told this tale to my brother in law in England. He shook his head at me like I was painting pictures of Martians landing on the Tesco car park. He's not a doctor going sort of guy. In January he had picked up the phone for an appointment for the first time in six years. Of course sir, let me check, OK, I have a slot in six weeks time.....

Two and a half hours plays six weeks..... Stuff the statistics. Reality tells a different story.

The last week or so has seen more of the same. Another family member is in a hospital in the North West and we drove down to visit. I might talk about chalk and cheese. I might talk about Romania and Switzerland.

Christ. Where to start? Maybe with the air of quiet doom wrapped around every brick. Slowly rotting wings, closed down one by one. Grimy windows offering glimpses of stacked up junk. Weeds growing through cracked paving stones. Drifts of cigarette butts outside building entrances. A lift with walls of scrawled, scratched graffiti. Old scrawled. Months and years of it. 'Abused by staff' scratched into the grimed paint. Obviously cost cutting meant there was nobody to provide a new lick of paint. Instead someone had tried their level best to over scratch the word 'staff'. But it hadn't really worked out.

Dead plants, their pots overflowing with litter. A sign on the door said the visitor's toilet wasn't working. And the sign was obviously as old as the graffiti in the lift. The staff toilet doubled up as a storage room for plastic chairs and somewhere along the way the toilet seat had gone west.

Outside the spring sun splashed the moors into postcard prettiness and the rows of terraces seemed quaint rather than desperate. The last of the mill chimneys remembered the days when the town once joined with the people of India in paying all London's bills.

No wonder the poor sods voted so overwhelmingly for Brexit. When you are forgotten you feel forgotten. Maybe if they had a Parliament of their own, then they wouldn't see their taxes shovelled into Crossrail and HS2 and instead into a hospital looking like the one we have in Dumfries. 

But they don't. They have London rule shoved down their throats. Like a strapped down hunger striker getting a plastic tube shoved down his gullet. 

And here's the thing, this stuff doesn't just stop with hospitals and getting to see a GP. It runs through prisons and the probation service and the police and a hundred and one other areas where we now do our own thing.

And nobody seems to be asking why. When I was doing my thing during the 2014 Indyref, I mugged up before various debates with Better Together's Westminster finest. And fair enough, we do spend a bit more per head on the NHS up here in Scotland. But not that much more. Not in a million years enough to explain the chasm that has opened up between up here and down there. 

I don't pretend to have any answers. It's not my field and it never will be. Gut feeling? Well maybe the answer might be found in the recent Carillion thing. We don't do much privatisation up here, thank God. Down South and it is everywhere. And if you take a pile of cash and open it up to greed and a corruption, well there won't be much of a pile left once the boys on the Carillion board have had the chance to fill their pockets.

You really would think this would be a thing our Government in Edinburgh would shout from the roof tops about. Well, you would wouldn't you?

But they don't. Instead they are as meek as Indian Maharajas back in day cowering at the feet of their colonial masters. The unwritten rule is to never criticise the English. Be nice to the English. Bow and bloody scrape to the English. Well I don't feel any obligation to stick to these timid rules for the simple reason I was born English. All my family are English. The first forty years of my life was English. And I had to watch my English dad live out too much time at the end of his days in nasty, festering English hospitals. And I worry about my mum and mother in law ever needing any kind of care from the non existent English care system. And I worry about my nephews and nieces ever needing A&E. I and my own family might be lucky enough to be New Scots, but we have left plenty behind and it isn't so very hard to feel their pain: especially when they find themselves in hospital.

So here's the thing. This well kept secret isn't going to last forever. And human beings don't tend to change so very much. When things get really bad, we up sticks and move. War in Aleppo? Get out of Dodge and into Lebanon. War in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Uganda looks like a good bet. Highland Clearances? Let's roll the dice and check out New York City. People will always be drawn from places which are crap to places which are a whole lot better.

It's called migration and it is as old as the hills. Sometimes you need a passport and lots of paperwork to get out of Dodge. And if you are living in the North of England and at your wits end, there is an overwhelming bunch of paperwork to get through before you will get anywhere near Australia of Canada or New Zealand.

Or maybe you might opt for an easier route. The one we took. A hundred miles up the M6. Past the blue and white sign at Gretna. No visa required. No proof of bank account or job. No criminal record checks or health forms.

Park the car, find a place to stay and you're good to go. Five minutes of form filling and you're in the system. A New Scot. No more prescription charges. A healthcare system to leave you open mouthed. Free tuition. Free care for the elderly. Air that tastes like air. And if your skin is brown, the chance to walk the streets without waiting to be told to 'fuck off home you Paki bastard.'

It is isn't so very hard to see what is about to happen next. In fact my gut tells me it is happening already. After hundreds of years of Scotland seeing its young up sticks and leave for better prospects to be found in all corners north, south, east and west, the tide is starting to turn. Sure London isn't about to allow us any say when it comes to people coming here from the rest of the world, but there isn't a thing they can do to stop internal migration.

Most people up here don't see this. Most people up here don't know they're born. Nobody in Edinburgh is about to tell us just how crap things are getting in the North of England. And nobody in the media is about to tell us how crap things are in the North of England. You can find out for yourself if you want to. Take a road trip to any Northern town. Follow the signs to the hospital, stick a few quid in the meter and check it out. I promise you. You'll be shocked.

As this migration from England to Scotland starts to pick up pace, it will certainly present challenges and opportunities in equal measure. Scotland has land and resources coming out of its ears. The only thing we lack is people, particularly hungry young people. If thousands of these very hungry young people become disgusted enough with the spreading Brexit ugliness and racism and decide to up sticks and head north, then in my humble opinion we should embrace it. You can bet your bottom dollar not one of them will be joining forces with Better Together 2 in when Indyref 2 comes around.

Last week I attended an anti-poverty bash hosted by the local Council. The nearest thing we have to an Anti-Poverty Tsar is Wendy and I mentioned all this stuff to her. She asked me to put my thoughts down on paper for her. I hope a blog page does as well as paper.

It's all yours, Wendy!      

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


So, we hear an awful lot about austerity. We hear about austerity pretty much all of the time. Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, Greens, Plaid, Momentum.... everyone's at it. And the narrative is nice and simple. It's served up in bite size pieces. Austerity is wicked and bad. And the Tories are wicked and bad for depriving our public services of their life blood. And it's kind of hard not swallow the bite size pieces without thinking very much about it.

Of course a food bank like First Base is as good a place as any to get an up close and personal look at the damage rampant austerity causes. Obviously. I have penned umpteen blogs over the last few years painting pictures of lives wrecked for the sake of saving a lousy few quid. However a working in a food bank also paints another equally compelling picture - the abject idiocy of those given the job of spending the public pound. And I never cease to be amazed by just how much of a pass we always seem to give these guys as they waste our money on an industrial scale.

In all the recent rampant furore surrounding the Windrush scandal and Amber Rudd's resignation, we saw a classic case of this. Rudd told a Select Committee there were no Home Office targets to deport people. Then a pissed off Home Office lackey started leaking enough killer facts to make her fall on her sword. Most damning was a letter she sent to Theresa May boasting of how an additional £10 million spent would up the annual deportation figures by 10%. Ah-ha! Gotcha! To get a 10% increase means you have to have a target in the first place. Bang to rights and off she popped to the back benches.

And of course nobody did the maths. Before the £10 million cash injection, the Home Office was turfing out 10,800 undocumented immigrants a year. The extra cash would up the game to the tune of 10%. Yeah? As in an extra 1080 deportations per annum. So lets do the maths.

£10,000,000 divided by 1080 is.......



Turfing these people out at a cost of nearly ten grand each was deemed to be something to crow about. Well obviously it was, because God forbid if they were allowed to stay they would get jobs and pay taxes and.....

Is this a good way for the public sector to spend your taxes? Well I guess the answer to that depends on how much you hate immigrants. Nigel Farage would no doubt see it as cheap at half the price. Me? Not so much.

Time to cut to the chase. Time for an example of wasted public money which borders on the truly epic.

It's time to tell the story of Danny. Who isn't really called Danny by the way.

On the cover of his autobiography, the strapline under the title might run something along the lines of 'A modern day tale of woe'. Or 'How laying some laminate flooring can come back to haunt you.'

For fifty something years Danny's story was nothing to write home about. It was the story of a regular guy who got born, went to school, worked away and generally lived a regulation life.

And then he lost his job, and didn't walk straight into another job. At fifty something, it was his first taste of being on the brew. It didn't go so well. Within a matter of weeks he was sanctioned for being ten minutes late for an appointment and a piece of paper brought him into First Base for his first food parcel. He was philosophical about things. He always is to be fair. He served out his one month sanction and I kind of figured we wouldn't see him again.

How wrong I was.

Within a couple of weeks he was back with us on a three month sanction and he has now been sanctioned on a more or less permanent basis for the last five years.

Not surprisingly things have slipped. At times he allows some bitterness to float to the surface. But not often. He has a remarkable ability to take things in his stride. I could rattle on for paragraph after paragraph about the various disasters he has had to roll with. Instead I'll borrow a line from Shakespeare. Let's just say he's 'suffered the whips and scorns of outrageous fortune'. 

A few years ago in the days when Danny had a place of his own and a job and a normal life, he shelled out to lay a laminate floor in the kitchen. Is it humanly possible to get more normal than that? Probably not. Well, he was turfed out of his place during one of his many sanctions and his Registered Social Landlord pulled up the laminate floor to return the flat to its original condition.

And they duly sent Danny a bill for £1000 for doing so.

Of course £1000 might as well be £1 million to a guy living off food parcels. But what the hell. However, the unpaid bill triggered a bunch of new consequences which ended up with Danny sleeping out on the streets. Like the strapline said, beware of the laminate flooring....

And here is where we arrive at the point where Danny and I might have something of a falling out. One dreak winter's morning he was cold and hungry and as per usual he didn't have a penny to his name. Now he could have waited until noon and come into First Base for some grub. 

But Danny didn't wait. Instead he embarked on a catastrophic attempt at shoplifting and completely blew it. Bang to rights. Caught red handed. Fair cop, Gov.

A truly heinous crime. Oh those famous train robbers suddenly had some serious completion because Danny was caught in the act of stealing a pack of sliced cheese priced at 99p.

I mean, come on Danny. A 99p pack of cheese. How do you think it makes First Base look? We can't be much of a food bank when our guys resort to half inching budget dairy products.

Anyway. The cops came and cuffed him and read him his rights. They processed him and he politely let them know he was absolutely 100% guilty as charged.

Which they duly noted in their copious paperwork.

Weeks passed and Danny was awarded his day in court and a duty lawyer who he duly told of his plan to plead 100% guilty.

The Sheriff took Danny's guilt on board and accepted a pal's address for bail. Another hearing would be scheduled once background reports had been assembled. 

Weeks drifted by and eventually a letter arrived at the pal's house Danny had used for his bail address. Unfortunately the pal wasn't much of a secretary and failed to pass the letter on to Danny.

Which meant he missed the hearing.

Shock, horror! The man who had stolen a 99p pack of sliced, processed cheese was in breach of his bail conditions and on the loose! No wonder the cops mobilised their forces and launched a manhunt onto the streets of Dumfries. How long did it take them to track him down? I don't suppose we will ever know. I doubt if we will ever know how many boys in blue were sent out onto the streets to track him down.

What we do know is they finally got their man on a Friday afternoon. What a moment of triumph it must have been. Seal Team 6's moment of glory with Bin Laden pales into insignificance in comparison.

Well they took no chances with the cheese thief. They banged him up for the weekend on made absolutely sure he would be back in front of the Sheriff on Monday morning.

And so it was the Jesse James of dairy products once again faced his fate. Another court date and this time 'breach of bail' was added to the charge sheet.

The case will be heard in a couple of weeks time and already news teams from all around the world are booking up every hotel in Dumfries. What a spectacle it promises to be as Danny finally faces justice.

I think we are about to see one particular record broken, for surely we are about to see the most expensive packet of sliced, processed cheese in the history of mankind. It started out at a modest 99p. And now? Wow. I'll have a go at the maths.

Google has just taken me to a Mirror article which reckons the cost of police custody runs at £418 per day. So, OK. There's £1254. Police time for the manhunt? Maybe another £500. Police paperwork time? £300. Prosecution costs? £500. Danny's Legal Aid bill? £600. Court costs? £1000. Costs of administering some community service time? £500. Which all comes to.....


£4654 for a 99p pack of sliced, processed cheese nicked by a man who has gone out of his way to plead guilty every step of the way. That really is some pack of cheese.

So are you happy with the way your hard earned tax pounds are being spent? I mean, you could deport an extra two illegals for that! Or you could pay for a whole bunch of school books. Or maybe fill in lots of potholes............

We are constantly told there's no money. We're constantly told austerity is depriving our beloved public services of the ability to do their thing. We're constantly told our gallant boys in blue risk their lives to keep us safe. And all of these statements are true enough some of the time. But not all of the time. 

Four and a half thousand quid for a 99p pack of cheese doesn't much look like value for money to me. But what do I know?

I'm just the foodbank guy.

If you can spare a couple of quid to help First Base feed other noted cheese thieves like Danny, then you can make your way to our Just Giving page by following the link below.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


A few days ago I penned a blog about a food parcel client who I christened Bradley. I suppose it was something on a modern parable. Bradley found himself homeless on the streets of Manchester and decided to cycle from town to town until he found a Homeless Department willing and able to offer him a bed. 

Astonishingly he had to cycle all the way to Dumfries to find some shelter. He had to leave England and come to Scotland. As I posted the blog, I wondered if anyone would be interested in Bradley's extraordinary Odyssey.

Well not for the first time I was left pretty gobsmacked. Recent events have flagged up many of the dark sides of social media. Fair enough. But surely one of the greatest benefits of our new online world is the opportunity it offers for stories like Bradley's story to be laid out for the world to see.

As I type these words just over 56,000 people have read about Bradley's 150 mile ride north. I have to admit I feel pretty privileged to have had the chance to be the messenger. And if Bradley's story really is a 2018 version of the Odyssey, well I guess that makes me Homer!

My blog was hardly complimentary towards the country of my birth: England. And as the number of page views swelled, I wondered if I was about to be laid into by marauding bands of angry trolls wrapped in the flag of St George.

Nope. Not a whisper. Not a word. In fact over the course of my many blogs extolling the virtues of an Independent Scotland I have barely ever heard a negative whisper from south of border. I get plenty of responses from other new immigrants who were born in England who have chosen to find a better life up here. I also hear from many who are planning to up sticks and seek refuge from the spreading, noxious jingoism of Theresa May's poisonous world. 

I suppose this is merely yet more evidence of the new bubbles we now inhabit. The border at Gretna Green may be invisible and frictionless, but it becomes more of a border with every passing week. I certainly feel it more and more as I drive past the Cross of St George as I head south down the M6 to visit my mum or to go and watch the Mighty Reds at Anfield.

I seldom see all that much of my old stamping ground. But on the occasions when I get any kind of close up look at the streets I grew up in, I get a cold feeling. Everywhere has changed and changed utterly as the man once said.

Once upon a time it amused me to see the way southerners exhibited a kind of shuddering fear of the dark valleys of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Uncompromising dark moors. Long dead cotton mills latticed with smashed windows. Terraced streets hanging to steep slopes. Soot blackened pubs crouching on every street corner.

What they saw as alien and threatening, I saw as home. I was never British, but I was always Lancastrian. More to the point, I was sure I always would be. I had a front row 1980's seat as the Thatcher regime took the place apart brick by brick. And by then I was too much an adopted son of Liverpool to see the early stages of the dark, bitter contagion which has slowly spread through the dark valleys I once called home.

Liverpool resisted the Thatcher hurricane. As the rest the country mocked and made up new Scouser jokes, the city stood firm behind its barricades. The city kept a hold of its soul. And now the city is being rewarded for its stubborn resilience. Against all sensible odds Liverpool is booming again as Europe's most popular weekend destination. Tourists fly into John Lennon airport in their thousands to do the Beatles and the football and the waterfront and the night life. 

But Liverpool has always been a place apart. I hope it always will be. It came as no surprise to anyone when the city stood shoulder to shoulder with Scotland in the EU Referendum.

These days I am very much a Scottish Scouser: any affiliation I once had to the valleys of East Lancashire has long gone. It is literally years since I spent any time there.

Until Saturday.

After the joys of Liverpool 0 - Stoke 0, I headed sixty miles east along the M62 to a small town on the outskirts of Huddersfield to pick up an Ebay purchase.

As I passed through 'Death Valley' and into the foothills of the Pennines, Bradley's story was very much fresh in my mind. Oldham, Rochdale, and the bleak moors where Brady and Hindley once upon a time buried their dead.

And then it was the Satnav voice in my ear as we wound along the Colne valley to our destination. The same houses and mills Lowry once painted, but so very different. The potholed road reminded me of the kind of thing I drove along when visiting East Germany before the Wall came down. Maybe I was imagining it, but every town seemed to be wrapped in a kind of festering anger. The only sign of any economic life was unmistakably Asian. Shops and car washes and repair shops. Kebab and curry places instead of Fish and Chips. Pubs on very tenth corner instead of every corner. Boarded windows and mobility scooters.

The very dismal heart of Brexit Britain. Beaten and doomed and looking for someone to blame. And finding someone to blame. People with brown faces.

Of course this is what London does best. It's the old divide and rule thing. Two hundred years ago these dark valleys were home to engine which propelled the British Empire. The cotton flowed in through the docks on the Mersey to be spun in the satanic mills of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire. And then the finished garments were be sent back out through Liverpool to be rammed down the throats of half a billion Indians who were banned from spinning their own cotton.

And then both sides of the coin became redundant as the Empire collapsed like a soggy cardboard box in the wake of two world wars. The engine room was no longer needed as London turned all its attention to money laundering and ten new garden centres a week. And all those Indians and Pakistanis we invited over to clean the streets and unblock the drains? Well they could be the fall guys. They could carry the can for all the closed down mills.

Thankfully the people of Liverpool tapped into their instinctive mistrust of anything to come out of the mouths of the public schoolboys of Westminster. Liverpool walked away from England and chose the rest of the world instead. Now the Kop makes up new songs every week to celebrate Mo Salah, our newly crowned Egyptian king.

"........ if he scores another few, I'll be a Muslim too....."

Every other Saturday, football loving second generation Pakistanis come to Anfield to feel a part of things. They don't go near Ewood Park or Turf Moor or Eland Road. Can't blame them really. Who in their right mind would want to cough up £40 to be called a fucking Paki bastard.

The Farage poison has seeped into the soot blackened bricks. You can feel it. Taste it. And as I picked my way through the pot holes, I quietly thanked my lucky stars. We got out of Dodge and left the poison far, far behind.

Another Premier League Saturday played out through the radio as we found where we needed to go and started out on the journey back north. Interviews and league tables. And as we got back onto the M62 the phone in show kicked into life.

Calls from Burnley. Turf Moor. Burnley 0 - Brighton and Hove Albion 0. Anger and controversy. Chris Hughton, Brighton's mixed race manager had hit out at the Burnley crowd for booing one of his players. The studio scrambled for the back story. And found it. Brighton player Gaeton Bong had accused ex Burnley player, Jay Rodriguez, of racism. The FA had duly investigated the allegations and decided the charges could not be proven. Jay Rodriguz doesn't play for Burnley any more. In fact he hasn't played for them for a while. But a succession of callers were keen to point out the fact that Jay remained very much one of their own.

"He's a Barrowford lad. Born and bred. One or ours...."

Ah, Barrowford. Once upon a time home to my friend Diana and Channel 4's Krishnan Guru Murthi. Suddenly my mind was washed through with memories of Burnley. My Dad's old home ground. 'Angels' on a Saturday night where you were in for a guaranteed kicking if anyone found out you were from Blackburn. The growling home end at Turf Moor.

"Everywhere we go...
People wanna know....
We are the Burnley.....
Long Side aggro.....
If you don't believe us.....
Come and have a go....."

And here they were trying to justify themselves. Angry. The Brighton fans had responded to their booing with a chant of 'You're just a town full of racists'. And the home crowd had returned the favour with a few choice homophobic ditties. 

The fans were segregated by a line of policemen and stewards. Insults were thrown across the divide. Brexitland and Remainland. North and south. Citizens of somehwere and citizens of everywhere. The booming and the doomed. And every time the black man received the ball, the black man was booed by the white crowd.

They were adamant they were doing no more than defending 'one of their own'. A white Burnley lad from Barrowford. And none of them seemed remotely aware of how they sounded. They were lost in their bubble.

As I headed west along the M62 it was hard not to come to a pretty obvious conclusion. Here were people who were simply constructing an excuse to go back to the good old days when it was deemed to be more than OK to boo the black player.

"Get back on your jam jar....."

We dropped down from the Pennines onto the Fylde Plain and then made our way up into the hills of Cumbria. The angry voices on the radio eventually faded out.

A blue sign. 'Welcome to Scotland'. A new home. An adopted home. A better home. A sanctuary. And I smiled to myself.

A place worth cycling a hundred and fifty miles to get to.