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, September 20, 2017


It wasn't supposed to be like this this year!

This was supposed to be the year when we didn't have to look at the coming winter with a gnawing feeling of dread. This was supposed to be the year when we had all the funding we need for the cold months to come secured and squared away. This was supposed to be the year when all we needed to focus on was feeding the 4000 hungry folk who will be arriving at our door once the clocks change and the cold starts to bite.

Well, it hasn't turned out that way. So here I am again yet again with a begging bowl in my hand and a rather desperate look in my eyes. It seems the only way we will get through the winter in one piece is if you gusy are willing to pick us up and carry us through.


So, what has happened? Small print mainly. Why do well paid beaurocrats always seem to want to use the small print to completely screw front line charities like Firth Base? Search me. I actually think we do a pretty good job, but I am kind of biased when all is said and done.

Let's go back a few months. One day I received a call from a local journalist who was interested to hear what I though about the discovery of all the 'Anti Poverty' money.

What Anti Poverty Money?” I asked him, proving just how far my finger is from the pulse of our local council.

The journalist gave me the bones of a rather remarkable emerging story. Dumfries and Galloway Council had discovered over two million pound's worth of Anti Pverty money down the back of the sofa. It had been gathering for three years and now someone had pulled off the cushions and there it was.

Well obviously there wasn't an actual sofa. Instead there was a nosy young Councilor who used a Public Information Request to prize out the truth. Initially the Council leadership met the allegation with vehement denials but soon the truth became impossible to deny.

Urm. Well. You see....

So there it was. A whopping £2 million, every penny of which was aimed at helping out poor folk in Dumfries and Galloway.

So how did I feel about it? Pretty pissed off, that's how I felt about it. During the three years the council had been stashing away the cash Forst Base at almost run out of cash three times. All that stress and heartache and all the while there was a whole bunch of cash being squirrraled away for no good reason.

So I made calls and people started making all kinds of promises and assurances. Of course the money will be available for First Base to apply for. Of course it will! It is Anti Poverty funding when all is said and done and we all know that is exactly what you guys do. You help out poor people!

But of course getting everything in place to distribute £2 million to the front line charities who help those in most pressing need takes time. Protocaols need to be put in place. Application forms need to be created. Criterea need to be listed. But we were told not to worry ourselves. A happy ending was on the way. And for the forst time ever First Base could go into a winter without wondering just how the hell we will get through to spring.

So. Hunky dory. It seemed there would be no need to bother you guys with a begging bowl for once.

In the mean time I filled in an application for Scottish Government funding which was forty pages long and might as well have been in Mandarin for all the sense it made to me. It was called 'The Equality and Cohesion Fund'. It seemed to me we should be eligible. Equality and Cohesion? Yeah. We do that. I like to think I have a reasonable vocabulary. I've written 25 books and I have an English A level. However my list of words didn't come close to equiping me for this beauty. I reackon I got about one word in three. Seriously, you've never seen jargo like it. Chris from the Council was my guide and translator and we managed to fill in the mighty form and send it off. Chris reckoned we had a decent chnace of success. I wasn't so sure.

The rejection letter duly arrived a couple of months later and an explanatory phone call was promised. When I took the call the guy on the other end of the line said we had fallen foul of the small print. Some minion in the Government had decided only charities who were Limited Companies could be trusted with government funds.

As in the big ones like Barnados and Shelter and McMillan and the Trussel Trust

Small fry like First Base were deemed to be too dodgy. Thanks guys. I guess the minion who came up with this new bit of small print doesn't much rate all the small, community based front line charities who have done the heavy lifting for the last ten years of austerity.

For First Base to tear up our constitution and become a Limided Company would cost us £5000 a year. Would it make us a safer bet for the pubic pound? Of course it wouldn't. Last year Kids Company proved beyond all reasonable doubt that size is no guarantee of security.

Anyway. Not to worry. There was still the back of the sofa two million to be bid for. Just wait until the autumn.....

Well it is Autumn. The leaves are on the turn and the nights are drawing in. And I have no doubt you will guess what is coming next. Oh yeah. Of course you can.

Mark …. hi... look we're really sorry. I mean we are really, really, truly sorry....

There's small print, you see. We hadn't realised before. You know, when we told you not to worry. When we tasked you to be patient and bear with us....

You see, the small print says only the Council is allowed to spend the £2 million. We're not allowed to give it to any charities......


And how very convenient in a time of cuts. I made abunch of calls and ran into familiar brick walls. Elected councilors were pretty outraged. Council officials explained the small print was the small print and when all is said and done, the small print is God.

And the small print declared not a penny of the back of the sofa treasure trove would be finding its way to the small, front line charities of Dumfries and Galloway who do the donkey work of helping people in dire need.

One thing in particular really got my goat. We were hoping to apply for £15,000. This is the cash we need to make it through to the end of the winter. This is the cash we are now asking you to help us with. And of course the small print says we have to look elesewhere for the £15,000

Here is what the small print said was absolutely fine and dandy. The Council is spending £15,000 on delivering training sessions to Councillors and officials which will help then to understand why people get poor. Seriously. £15,000. They must think our local councillors have been living in some kind of Tibetan monastary for the last ten years where there is no TV.

I asked who was going to be doing the training. I pointed out we would have been more than happy to tell our Councilors all they need to know about local poverty. After all, this is what we do. Every single day. And we would have do it free of charge because that is also what we do.

Well guess what. The money is being paid to a charity. Not a tow bit outfit like First Base with our peeling wall paper and freezing basement. A proper charity. A big charity. A limited company charity from from the big city with central heating set to a cosy 75 degrees.

Not that I mean to sound bitter or anything!

On the day I received the news about the latest small print I answered a call from the Social Services in Annan.

We're going through your food parcels really quickly. I mean, really really quickly. We can barely keep up. Could you send us another forty five please?”

Of course we could. And of course we did. Because the social workers are excellent and they only hand out our food parcels to people who really need them. To people experiencing serious poverty.

The Annan Social Work Department is a part of the Council of course. It seems there is no small print to stop them picking up the phone and asking us to send along £500 worth of goods. This winter the Council's homeless department and social work department will hand out well over £6000 worth of our food parcels. And by hook or by crook we will make sure the food is there for them to give out. Of course we will. It is what we do. We won't create small print to stop this happening. It would be totally unfair to the people who need emergency food and the excellent homeless officers and social workers who are doing their best to help them out.

But it sucks.

And so here we are again. Groundhog Day. I have set up a JustGiving page and this year's target is £15,000. Last year I said I would live off one of our food parcels for four days. It was ridiculous really. We actually pride ourselves on the food parcels we give out and living off one for four days was no kind of hardship. Whatever. It didn't stop you guys from being unbelievably generous.

So this year I have done something rather more demanding than eating more tinned food than usual. I am way to old for climbing Kilimanjaro or jumping out of a plane.

So have written a book. My twenty fifth. And all proceeds will go to filling our £15,000 hole.

The book is called 'The Last Colonial War'. That's it up at the top of the page. I will be publishing a chapter a day right here over the next thirty days or so. And of course atb the end of each Chapter will be a link to our latest Just Giving page. Hopefully if people enjoy the story they will be minded to bung us a couple of quid. Alternatively, if you want to read the whole thing straight away you can buy it in the Amazon Kindle store for £4 by following this link.

So what is 'The Last Colonial War' all about. This is the blurb from the back cover. This is a digital back cover by the way: First Base certainly can't run to turning the book into a paperback!

JUNE 2030

Countries across the world are reeling with the effects of accelerating climate change. Failed harvests, raging bush fires, and widespread water rationing are bringing many nations to boiling point.
Scotland and England are headed in very different directions.

After six years of independence, Scotland has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. As global temperatures rise, the Scots are suddenly blessed with an abundance of scarce resources.
South of the border things are very different. England has been in steep decline in the years since Brexit. Banks have fled the City of London and the Government is finding it hard to secure buyers for new issues of Government Bonds.

By 2030 things in England are becoming dire. Constant riots, failing services, and a collapsing currency have brought the country to the brink of collapse.
The English Prime Minister is backed into a corner. England is on the brink of becoming a failed State. He has to find something to turn things around before his Government is engulfed by the growing anarchy.

He needs to do something to win back the support of his people and to halt England's descent....

He looks north to England's booming neighbour and decides on a final throw of the dice....

The Last Colonial War.

This is the story of men and women in high office who call the shots. It is also the story of the men and women on the ground whose actions decide the course of the war.

It is tempting to simply treat 'The Last Colonial War' as an enjoyable page turner and say, oh but of course it couldn't actually happen... But then again.....”

I guess about half of the people of Scotland will really like it. The other half? Maybe not so much! It was an interesting story to write. To picture the world in 2030 I worked on three basic premises. One, Brexit will be a complete car crash. Two, once this becomes clear, Scotland will see sense and jump the sinking UK ship. Three, in thirteen years time the impact of climate change will be really serious.

The story first started to germinate when I watched the film 'The Big Short'. Maybe you have seen it? It tells the story of the guys who saw the 2007 financial crash coming and bet the farm on their gut feeling. The main guy was called Michael Burry. Christian Bale played him in the movie. Burry bet $1.3 billion and won. Everyone said he was barking mad. What got my attention was a line right at the ned of the movie. Once he banked his winnings Michael left Scion Capital and the world's money markets. Ever since he has only invested in one thing.


He is convinced water will soon becone the new oil. I reckon he is absolutely right. And guess what, Scotland has to be just about the best placed country on earth to collect water. When we ad water to all of our other natural resources, the future of an Independent Scotland promises to be bright indeed. Things aren't nearly so bright southn of the border where the whole system relies on the average London house continuing to be worth £500,000. Is this possible when the average London salary is £40,000? Of course it isn't. And when the vast housing bubble bursts the whole house of cards will come down.

How will the people of England feel about their leaders when they are told to cough up £50 to see a doctor in order to balance the books? And what is the favourite ploy of desperately unpopular politicians when all else is failing.....?

1982? A jolly good war....... ?

And let's face it, London has plenty of previous when it comes to marching armies into Scotland .

I hope you give it a read and I hope you enjoy it. You can go stright to chapter one by following the link below.

If you like the book please share it with everyone you can think of

To help us out with our £15,000 hole please follow this link here.

And that's it. It is time for crossed fingers. All I can do now is watch this space and hope you guys come through for us.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017




By the spring of 2013, the legend of Akram Kebir had once again spread to every corner of Afghanistan. His name was whispered in fields and market places and NATO bases. Every news channel in the world yearned for a face to face interview. Every editor in the world was ready and willing to pay top dollar for a photo. Any photo. The Americans had raised the price on Akram's head to $5 million. Every night tens of thousands of NATO soldiers hoped and prayed he would stay clear of their sector.

Nobody ever knew where he was. He moved through the mountains like a ghost. Drones silently spent every minute of every day gliding over the vastness of the mountains. Elite soldiers patrolled for weeks on end and never found so much as an empty plastic bottle.

For weeks there would be nothing and then one day a patrol would be ripped apart by a string of well set IED's and yet more NATO troops would be cut apart by equally carefully arranged cross fire.

Akram and his men had by now been responsible for the death of 43 NATO troops from four nations. They had killed Americans, French, Italians and British. A further 172 soldiers had been wounded to various degrees and removed from the field.

Intelligence officers burned the midnight oil trying to second guess Akram's movements. What was the size and makeup of his force? How many vehicles did he have? Did he have a main command bunker somewhere? How was he re-supplied? How did he communicate with the Taliban leadership? They were certain his group numbered between 200 and 400 and they simply couldn't understand how so many fighters could manage to remain so invisible.

Most troubling of all to the analysts was the period between June 2009 and September 2011 when there had been no evidence of any activity whatsoever. Where had Kebir been for all that time? Over the border in Waziristan? Or maybe Iran or Yemen? Was Kebir still fighting for the Taliban or had he used this time to make connections with groups with more global ambitions? Nobody could discover any kind of clue. He just vanished.

And then in the autumn of 2011 the killing started up again.
If they had known the truth, they would probably have buried it. The truth would have astounded them. The truth would have made them want to smash up their computers and scream in frustration. For Akram Kebir did not have between 200 and 400 fighters under his command. And he did not have a well-hidden command bunker. His band had never been greater than 20 and by 2013 it numbered a mere 13. He had spent the lost years laying down a chain of supply caches which contained enough arms and ammunition to maintain the group for ten years. The last time he had met with the Taliban leadership had been in February 2009 when he had informed them of his long term plan to operate alone and like a ghost. He had told them there would be no kind of contact and he would undertake the task of killing the Kuffar. He demanded money and they gave him $100,000 in well used notes. And then he was gone in the night. The Taliban leadership were as much in the dark about his whereabouts as NATO command.

Akram never stopped moving. He never spent more than one night in the same place. He only allowed fires to be lit when there was enough thick cloud cover to hide the group from the drones. They were mountain men who could cover twice as much ground as any Special Forces pursuers. Not one of his men had slept in any kind of building in more than five years. They didn't just blend into the landscape. They were the landscape.

By the spring of 2013, the boy Omar was long gone. The man Omar was brutally fit. His face was dark and hard. The months of blisters and legs screaming with pain were by now a forgotten memory. His uncle gave his famous name to their deeds, but it was the magic in Omar's fingers which made the group so effective. The Mujahideen had been laying IED's since 1980, but nobody had ever perfected the art like Omar. His devices never fizzled and failed. He applied his brain and anticipated how his targets would react like he was playing a high explosive version of chess. He always seemed to know what the NATO troops were going to do before they knew it themselves.

Primary blast, secondary blast, kill zone and out. No engagement ever lasted for more than sixty seconds. The towering silence of the mountains would be broken by an eruption of savage sound and fury and then the silence would return. By the time the helicopters would swoop down to gather up the wounded, Akram and his men would be gone.

Omar was a part of a group within the group. For many years he and Akram's two sons, Faisal and Tariq, had set themselves apart. They were the youngest by many years. For the first two years, Akram had ordered his sons to stick to their cousin like a second skin to ensure he didn't try to escape. But eventually, things had changed. Akram became convinced his nephew had grown into a true Mujahid. He was happy for the young men of the group to be a group apart. All the other men had fought the Russians alongside Akram and spent the long cold nights remembering old battles.
Akram trusted the nine older fighters who at been at his side for thirty years and more, but he only trusted them 99%. He only trusted family 100%.

Every night he would pass the bag of used dollars to his two sons who would find a place to hide it. For three years he wouldn't allow Omar to join them in with this task but eventually he accepted the son of his brother as real family.

The leader never had the first suspicion of the slow mutiny being plotted by his nephew and his sons. Such a thing was beyond his comprehension. Any fighter who tried to slip away would be tracked down and executed. There was nowhere to run. Not for the old fighters. Not for his nephew. Not for his sons. Their Jihad would continue until the Kuffar left Afghanistan.

It had taken Omar years of patient work to bring his cousins round to embracing the idea of escape. When Obama and the other NATO leaders had announced a timetable to leave, they had waited for Akram to tell the group it was time to leave the mountains and return to their lives. He didn't. Instead, he told them they would keep on killing until there was nobody left to kill.

It was enough for Faisal and Tariq to swear a blood oath to their cousin. When their opportunity came they vowed to take it.

The hoped-for opportunity started to emerge on a snowy afternoon in January when they successfully wiped out a six man patrol from the American 82nd Airborne Division. The blizzard was so intense they had more time than usual to take anything useful from the corpses. Omar took an iPhone from the breast pocket of a dead Latino and hid it away.

It took him two months to perfect an escape plan. In the phone's memory, the most promising number was 'Major Collins'. Omar was pretty sure a Major would never be a part of a six man search and destroy patrol which meant the man was still alive. Maybe he was based close by in Afghanistan. Maybe he was in America. Omar came up with a plan which made the Major's location irrelevant.

At ten past six on a cold evening, the group stopped in a wooded area to lay up for the night. Akram gave the money bag to Faisal just like always. The text message to the American Major had been typed and ready for several weeks as Omar waited for the right moment.

The moment had arrived. He checked nobody was watching and pressed 'Send'. Once the phone assured him the message had been delivered, he hid the phone under a rock and joined his cousins.

Dear Major Collins. I am part of the group who attacked your patrol on 6 January 2013. I am with Akram Kebir. This phone marks his location. You have 30 minutes to arrange an air strike. Any longer and he will disappear. You need to be fast.”

Omar and his two cousins moved fast in fading light. By the time they heard the approaching pair of F16's they had covered nearly two miles in twenty minutes. They paused and stared down the steep slope as the planes sent four rockets into the phone signal. For a few seconds, the enormous sound of the explosions bounced around the towering peaks and then there was silence.

They shared the moment and then started their long walk.

Six months later they arrived at the refugee camp on the outskirts of Calais known to one and all as 'The Jungle'.




Moses, Moses, Moses.

I'm afraid I am going to have to claim a rather large slice of artistic license to get into the back story of Moses Mdumba. Sorry. I guess you'll either live with it or bin the whole thing right here and right now. I have just finished my so called interview with Moses. To call the encounter an interview would be pushing it a bit. Pushing it a lot in fact.

Basically, I wittered on and Moses just sat there and smiled. He smiles a lot and when he smiles he looks about fifteen years old. When he does a stern face, he could almost pass for eighteen. Neither of these age estimates come close to the truth. Moses is unsure as to the exact date of his birth and I am certainly not about to head out to Northern Uganda to dig around in the records.

His best guess is somewhere around 1998. Which makes him thirty three now.

Let's be frank here. Let's call a spade a spade. Moses doesn't really do talking. I have asked the other guys if he has ever done talking. All I get are grins and shaking heads. Moses? Talking? Come on....

So what am I to do? Well, I suppose I will do my best to take the bits and pieces he has given me and add them to some research and then try to knit it into my best approximation of his back story. Fair enough? Well, it will have to be.

So. Moses Mdumba was born in a village called Obongi in Northern Uganda in 1998. Or thereabouts. He has no memory of his father who died of malaria when Moses was still an infant. He had an older brother,


The family had a thatched hut, six cows, twelve chickens, an acre of land, and a flock of twenty three goats. The lack of a man in the house guaranteed the family was always poor. Food was short and they knew none of the luxuries of the modern world. Neither boy ever attended school and their day to day lives were all about work, not play.

When Moses was five years old he was given the job of taking the goats to their grazing and bringing them home at the end of the day. To switch on the famous Moses smile, all you need to do is say the word 'goat'. The very thought of goats animates him like nothing else. Not that this obvious enthusiasm ever leads to many words. All I got was a few snapped out sentences.

I liked the goats very much. I think I can understand goats very nicely. My goats they like Moses. They love Moses. I was the very best goat herder in Obongi. This is true.”

And I have no reason to doubt him. I have a picture of the five year old Moses leading his small flock of goats out into a flat baked plain where the only shade was provided by a scattering of Acacia trees.

I asked Moses about Obongi and I didn't get much.

Obongi, he is very small. Very dry. He is not like Scottish.”

So I Googled and I didn't get much more. An off the map village in an off the map part of the world. Had he ever been anywhere else?

One day my Mummy she take me and Abraham to Gulu. He is big town. Not big like Scottish but big.”

So. One trip to Gulu and the rest of his boyhood days herding the family flock of twenty three goats.

And then when he was eight years old and his brother Abraham was ten years old, Joseph Kony's men came for them in the night.

I was sleeping. There is big shouting. I am waking. And Kony men they are here. One man, he is holding my brother very hard. The other man...."

And as the words dried on his lips his eyes locked onto his take on the thousand yard stare. A thousand yards of dried earth and half starved goats picking away at wispy vegetation. A burning blue sky. A dust devil in the far distance.

.... the other man kill my mummy. He kill her with machete. And they take me out of this hut. And my brother. They take us.”

They took them. The followers of Joseph Kony. The soldiers of his 'Lords Resistance Army.' If you Google 'Joseph Kony' you will find a hell of a lot more than if you Google 'Obongi'. Not many know Kony's name now, but twenty years ago his was a name synonymous with the very darkest corners of the human soul. If you had Googled his name in 2012 you would have found him to be number one of the list of the most wanted men in the world. He took that particular slot on the day Seal Team Six dispatched Osama Bin Laden. It was the day Joseph Kony moved from number two to number one.

Who was he? He was the son of a priest who morphed into a murderous psychopath. He claimed to have the ear of God and he established his ramshackle army to resist the undoubted atrocities the Ugandan government were committing in the north of Uganda in the 80's and 90's. Maybe in the early days, Kony was indeed a genuine resistance fighter. But any such credibility didn't last for very long. His modus operandi was that of a textbook monster. His forces marauded and murdered and raped. His idea of conscription was to kidnap children and indoctrinate them through a mix of drug cocktails and brain washing. He forced them to commit atrocities whilst the other child soldiers egged them on. If they carried out the task, they became a part of the army. If they failed they were killed. Boys were drilled as warriors. Girls were used as sex slaves.

When Moses and Abraham were taken in the night, Kony was at the zenith of his power. The LRA was counted in the thousands, most of them child soldiers. They wreaked their havoc all across Northern Uganda and for a while there was little the Government in Kampala could do to stop them.

Did you do bad things, Moses?"

Yes. I did very bad things.”

Is it something you can talk about?”

No. I cannot talk about this one.”

And suddenly the stare was of the two thousand yard variety.

And Abraham? Did he do bad things?”

No. My brother he would not do this one. They kill him."

Christ. What can you say? If you know, well please send the answer on a postcard care of my publishers. I said nothing. I just reached out and took his hard calloused black hand in my soft journalist white hand. And his eyes looked straight through me and all the way to a place only he could see. Or not see.

Moses was a soldier of the LRA for eight long years. Slowly the army withered on the vine as the government soldiers forced Kony further and further into the bush. Moses crossed borders without knowing it. They were driven out of Uganda and into the Democratic Republic of Congo. Then they were driven out of the Democratic Republic of Congo into the Central African Republic. But there were no border posts. No customs posts. No duty free shops. Only a million square miles of forest and nothing. When they found a village, they killed and looted and raped and abducted. But most of the time they just ran. Day after day. Week after week. Always with a gnawing hunger. Always with their pursuers snapping at their heels.

By 2012 Kony's name was suddenly playing large on the social media. Young people from all over the world signed on the dotted line to campaign against the most wanted man in the world. President Obama took note and put a $5 million bounty on Kony's head. A team of 100 Green Berets was dispatched to the heart of Africa to advise on the hunt and to offer logistical support.

Every jungle firefight was defensive. Every jungle firefight was lost. By 2013 the LRA was little more than a semi starved rabble.

The best goat herder in Obongi had been waiting for many months for the right moment to arrive. The moment came in March 2013 when the older soldiers were passed out drunk on looted palm wine.

Moses took his moment and slipped from the camp.

And he walked. All he knew of the world were snippets he had collected from other boy soldiers. Some spoke English and he had absorbed some of their words. In the empty hours of the night, the boys would sometimes share their dreams of being somewhere else. Somewhere far away. Many dreamed of home and family. Others who had no home or family to return to dreamed of distant lands. One boy had spoken of a land called Scotland where they had the finest cattle a man could ever find. The boy had proclaimed Scotland to be the greatest land in the world. And for no reason he could ever understand properly, Moses Mdumba latched onto the boy's dream and took it for his own.

He knew Scotland lay far away in the north. He knew how to use the sun to navigate a route. He knew enough.

He walked through the Central African Republic and into Chad. He walked through Chad and into Libya. He crossed the Sahara to the coast of the Mediterranean sea. He got a place on a dingy and he was pulled from the water by a Dutch rescue ship.

But how did you eat? How did you pay the people traffickers? Where did you find money?”

When I am with Kony I learn how to live from land. And I learn bad things. When I leave Kony I am not a boy. I am man. Like you see now, yes? I am big man. Very strong.”

And suddenly I had a new picture of the Moses who had sneaked from camp on that dark, dark night. He was a boy only in age. By now he was already well over six feet tall and no doubt as hard and fit as a human being can be. For years he had walked for miles every day through some of the most brutal terrains on earth. He was a veteran of a hundred firefights. In another parallel life, he might have been one of the East Africans to win Olympic Gold. Instead, he learned to survive at any cost. He was the 21st-century version of the African warrior. No wonder he found his way all the way to Libya and won himself a place on one of the boats.

And then? He escaped the camp in Italy and more or less walked all the way to Calais and the jungle. He found his own corner and lit his own fire. When three Albanian gangsters stood too close to him, he stood to his full height and drove them back with the ferocity of his stare.

The moment was noticed by three figures who sat around their own fire a few yards away. One of the figures stood and walked over to Moses. They looked into each other's eyes and connected. The man held out a hand and spoke.

My name is Omar.”

I am Moses.”

Come. Join us. We have food.”  






When the Kebir twins were born in April 1960 it seemed like their timing was pretty good. Having hung on to its own unique version of the Dark Ages for hundreds of years, Afghanistan was finally emerging into the light like a bear off the back of a long hibernation. They were lucky to be born and then raised in Kabul which was slowly but surely finding its feet as a twentieth-century capital city. They were lucky to born into a liberal family who ran a thriving business meeting the growing demand for electrical goods. They always had enough to eat and they were beaten much less than the majority of their contemporaries.

To start with, the boys were peas-in-the-pod close. Inseparable and identical. They wore the same clothes and they did the same things. They were polite and respectful and like all young Afghan boys, they loved to fly kites high in the thin mountain air.

In the early 1970's their paths started to drift off in different directions. Both were star students in high school. Malik loved to spend every spare hour in the family shop where he took things apart and put them back together again whilst his father watched approvingly. By now Kabul was well and truly catching up with the rest of the world and everyone craved the kind of goods the Kebirs had on the shelves. Malik won the Science prize every year and set his heart on winning a place to study physics at university.

His twin brother traveled a very different road. For Akram, the mosque held a much greater fascination than the classroom. He was every bit as bright as his brother and soon the local Imams were purring at the boy who could recite the Koran to such perfection.

By the time the Red Army arrived in 1979, a chasm separated the Kebir twins. Malik welcomed the Soviets and their determination to frog march his country into a better future where socialism and science would replace the repression of the feudal chiefs and the Imams. Akram held a very different view. He seethed at the infidels who strutted the streets with such arrogance. He despised the sight of Kabul's women flaunting themselves in whore clothes. He became an integral part of the whispered conversations in the mosque.
As the seventies gave way to the eighties, the twins had drifted so far from each other it was becoming clear the gap could never be closed. The family shop was by now a favourite haunt of Red Army soldiers who had a nearly insatiable appetite for the kind of cheap Japanese electrical goods the shops at home in the Soviet Union never stocked. Malik won his place at university and thrived under the idealistic young Russian tutors who shared his belief in the wonders of science and their promise of a better future for the world. Malik learned enough Russian to be able to sell enough of the new Sony Walkmans to ensure the business thrived.

Life was good. Malik Kebir was living the dream.

Akram's life was in a very different place. Every day he heard quiet talk of the Mujahideen fighters who were taking the fight to the Red Army in the mountains. The Imams lit the fire of Jihad deep inside him and he yearned to join the fight. Only one thing kept him in Kabul and it was the same thing which had taken the rift between the twins and turned it into a deepening hate.


Aleema's family ran the book shop two doors down from the Kebir store and she had owned the hearts of Malik and Akram for as far back as either of them could remember. Both boys urged their father to open negotiations for her to become their wife. As time passed, it became obvious Malik would win the race to claim Aleema. Her father had also embraced the new world with enthusiasm and was more than happy to see his daughter wear the clothes of the west and walk the streets plugged into the Walkman Malik had given her as a birthday present. She was training to be a primary school teacher and she shared jokes with the young Russians who bought second hand paperbacks in the family store.

Akram watched and hated the life she was choosing with such evident enthusiasm. He urged her to the mosque, but she laughed him off. She loved the twentieth century far too much to listen to his entreaties to join him in the sixth. She liked her clothes and her music and joking with the homesick conscripts from Volgograd and Novosibirsk. She mocked his piety and recoiled from his burning hate.

And she made her choice clear to her father who was more than happy to allow her to make the choice.

She chose Malik and the date for their wedding was duly set. Something died inside Akram that day. He left Kabul a few hours later to join the great Jihad in the mountains.

Soon the name Akram Kebir started to be whispered in the mosques and markets. He became one of the stars in the Mujahideen firmament. When the shipments of American Stinger missiles found their way across the mountains from Pakistan, the legend of Akram became super-sized. On four occasions he dropped Hind attack helicopters from the blue mountain skies. His legend made life hard for his family. Almost every week Soviet intelligence officers would ransack the shop and demand to know where he was hiding. Malik was arrested and subjected to days of torture before his interrogators were willing to accept he knew nothing about his brother's whereabouts.

The days in the torture room with the damp peeling walls and the electrical wires changed Malik. Kabul changed with him. Now there were no more free spending soldiers in the shop. The locals were similarly absent as city's economy started to grind to a halt. The only moment of light in the midst of the growing darkness came in 1988 when Aleema finally produced a son and heir.


If 1960 had looked like a pretty good time to be born an Afghani, the same could not be said for 1988.

The Russians left and the country descended into bloody chaos. A brutal civil war was the backdrop to the first years of Omar's life. In 1996 the Taliban finally emerged as the top dog after many years of dog eating dog. They marched into Kabul swaggering and brutal and they duly reset the clocks back to the sixth century. And then one baking hot day in August, a stranger wrapped in weapons entered the Kebir shop whilst a pickup truck full of fighters waited outside. Omar was manning the desk whilst his father was fixing up an air conditioner in the workshop out back.

The stranger's hard dark eyes made Omar shudder.

Who are you boy?”

I am Omar. Omar Kebir, sir.”

Where is your father?”

He is in the workshop, sir."

Get him.”

Omar fled and told his father a stranger wished to see him. A Taliban stranger.

Malik froze at the sight of his twin brother. For a moment his mouth was too dry to speak. At last, he managed a few words.

Omar, this is Akram. Your uncle. My brother.”

Once again the dark eyes seemed to burn through Omar.

So this is the son of your whore."

Akram, please.....”

Shut up. As you can see, I am back. I will speak and you will listen. I will not accept any behaviour that will bring shame to me. I expect your whore to dress like a Muslim wife. I expect you to abide by our laws. You can expect no favours from me. Do you understand me, brother?"

I do.”

Omar shrank back into the corner of the shop and watched the unfolding scene with a wild mixture of emotions. He had heard about is uncle Akram. Of course, he had. Everyone had heard of great Akram. And of course, he also knew his uncle Akram was his father's twin: his identical twin.

But now as he stared at the two brothers there was almost nothing identical about them. His father had shrunk in the years which followed his torture at the hands of the Russians. Weight had fallen off him leaving brittle bones. His clothes hung off him and his skin was grey and pale. The lines of a much older man criss-crossed his face and his eyes were those of a frightened animal.

Akram seemed at least twice as big. He filled the room with an overwhelming presence. His black robes did nothing to hide the power of the man underneath. Years under the mountain sun had burned his skin almost black and his ferocious dark eyes brimmed with violence.
It seemed to Omar like his uncle stood and stared at his father for a very long time. Maybe it was a very long time. Maybe it was merely a few seconds. At last, Akram turned and stalked out into the street without another word leaving Malik Kebir staring down at the floor.

And shaking from head to toe.

The first eight years of Omar's life hadn't exactly been a picnic. He had never known a Kabul other than the war torn Kabul. He was used to the sound of shelling and the constant dull pain of hunger. He had never known the smiling Malik Kebir who had so impressed his Russian tutors at the university. He had never seen his mother in a pair of jeans or a summer dress. Instead, he had only ever known a broken, terrified father and a mother hidden away behind her black Burqa.

Omar had never attended a school and he had never flown a kite. The only world he had ever known was the shop and the two dark rooms at the back where they lived. His furthest horizon had never extended further than the end of their street. He had never had the chance to make any friends. He had no brothers and no sisters. He had no grandfather or grandmother. He had no toys. Instead, he spent the hours of his days taking apart the old radios and televisions and kettles which lived in a pile in the back yard.

His life had been hard and hungry and restricted and lonely and frightening and bleak. He fell asleep to the sound of shelling and distant explosions and he woke up to the sound of shelling and distant explosions. The only two human beings in his life were his mother and his father and they were broken human beings.

So it hadn't been much of a childhood. But now his first eight years were about to seem like some kind of a golden era. For now, Omar Kebir's life moved into the darkness of a nightmare.

Three days later the battered Toyota pickup truck returned. Once again every door and window on the street closed as it skidded to a dusty halt outside the Kebir store. Five black clad figures jumped down from the back. Three took up station on the road with weapons at the ready.

Two stood and waited for Akram who took a moment before climbing out from the front seat. He stood for a long moment staring at nothing in particular. His men waited with expressionless faces. He was Akram Kebir. It was enough.

At last, he seemed to give a small nod and entered the shop. Once again his twin brother was a picture of naked terror. A shrunken man locked into a shrunken life.

Bring Aleema.”

Akram, please.....”

Bring her.”

But Malik did not need to bring his wife from the rooms at the back of the shop. She came out on her own with her head held high and her fierce eyes matching those of the Taliban fighters

I am here.”

Akram looked her up and down with disdain. And when he spoke his voice was flat. Quiet. Uninterested

Aleema Kebir, you have been found guilty of behaviour abhorrent to the teachings of our Prophet Mohamad and the laws of Allah. You have been found guilty of behaving like a filthy whore. Sentence has been passed and the sentence is death by stoning. I am here to make sure the will of Allah is carried out."

Without further words, he turned and walked out. His men grabbed a hold of Aleema and dragged her from the room. Malik tried to hold one of them back. He clung hard to the man's robe all the way out of the door and onto the street until he was felled by the butt of a rifle which splintered his nose. Omar ran out in time to see his mother force her face forward to spit in the face of his uncle.

She didn't utter a sound as they beat her to the floor and kicked and kicked. Akram never said a word either. He just watched. He didn't bother to wipe the saliva from his face.

As they kicked, the dull thudding sound of heavy boots crashing into half-starved flesh crawled deep into Omar's mind.

At last one of the men looked to Akram and Akram gave a curt nod. They picked Aleema from the dust like some kind of broken toy and threw her down onto the hot metal floor of the truck. They climbed on board and drove away leaving nothing but a burning silence.

Aleema Kebir was stoned to death two hours later in the centre of Kabul.
Malik's face eventually healed, but the last part of him which hadn't been broken before was now broken for good. He functioned at the most basic of levels. He ate. He slept. He carried out basic repairs. But never again did he speak so much as a single word. He locked himself down. He departed the scene.

Omar had no choice other than to grow up fast. He ran the shop and bought their food and cooked their basic meals and washed out their threadbare clothes. Only the small donations of food from their neighbours kept them from starving. Aleema's mother would call round most mornings from her family's long closed book shop to tutor Omar in his domestic tasks.

Father and son found a way to get through one day and then another day and then another. There was no more shelling in the night. The city belonged to the Taliban now. People hid behind their locked doors and prayed for it all to end.

It was the time when there was no music. Only the call to prayers from the city's minarets broke the oppressive silence that gripped the city. Only the kites soaring the thermals of the mountain sky brought any kind of colour.
Akram returned three months later and this time his brother didn't shrink back in fear. Malik never looked up from the toaster he had been trying to re-wire for three days.

Will you not greet your brother?”

Nothing. Just the scratch of a screwdriver.

Omar swallowed hard and forced out some words. "My father doesn't speak anymore. I don't think he can."

Akram nodded. This was nothing new to him. He had seen the fiercest of warriors struck dumb by the horrors they had all witnessed in the mountains.

He dropped the cardboard box he was holding at the feet of the boy. Inside was a walkie-talkie set which had been stripped out of a Soviet jeep.

Can you make it work, boy?”

Omar nodded.

Good. I will return in two days.”

Omar fixed the radio set and a new routine was established. Every week Akram visited with a new batch of electrical equipment and the kind of food supplies which could no longer be found on the stalls of the city's markets.

Omar fixed everything brought to him. Soon other Taliban commanders came to call bringing him electrical items to bring back to life. Many of the items were banned, but it seemed most of the hard faced men felt no requirement to abide by the Shia Law they enforced with such brutal vigour.

Word of Omar's strange brilliance spread. He became known as 'the boy with magic in his fingers'.

In March 1997 Akram visited with supplies but no broken electronics.

Make tea.”

Omar made tea whilst the two brothers waited in silence.

Once the tea was served Akram gestured for his nephew to sit.

Many are impressed by your skills Omar. We must nurture these skills if you are to make a proper contribution. You must do the work of Allah. I am sending two men to tutor you. They will come every day. You will learn from them. Do you understand?”

Omar nodded. He understood. Nothing more was said. Both of the men had once been professors at the university. One taught Omar English. The other introduced the boy to computers. After a year his English was good enough for him to understand the thick manuals Akram brought to him. After two years he was as at home with the logic of the silicon chip as he was with the physics of electricity.

By the time he was thirteen, the men sent by Akram to teach him informed the Taliban commander there was nothing more they could teach. The pupil had left the masters far behind. They said the boy was a genius.

Sometimes in the years that followed Omar wondered what his uncle had planned for him. It was something he would never know because in September 2001 everything changed. In a city far away, men crashed planes into high buildings and within a few short weeks, the Kabul night was once again shaking with high explosives. This time the high explosives were American and within weeks the Taliban were nowhere to be seen.

Akram Kebir returned to the mountains and the boy with magic in his fingers became a thriving shop keeper. Kabul was a city broken by thirty years of more or less constant war and it was filled with millions of broken items which needed fixing. Now Omar worked sixteen hours every day and he and his silent father wanted for nothing. No longer were they reliant on Akram's weekly visits for their daily bread. Now they stood on their own.

There was nothing about the chilly day in February 2006 to suggest anything momentous. People came in and out in a steady flow. Omar agreed on prices and lined up appliances to repair.

The stranger came in a little before lunch. A white man. A European. And straight away there was something about the man Omar warmed to. The man wore jeans and a padded jacket. His face was tanned and his hair uncombed. He smiled and spoke.

I don't suppose you speak English do you?”

Yes sir. I speak English. Can I be of assistance?”

The smile widened a notch. “Hope so. People say you're the man I need.”

I will do my very best sir.”

A battered laptop emerged from a well-used back pack.

Bloody thing won't boot up. The lights go on but the screen stays black. I'm useless with this stuff. Any chance you could take a look at it?”

Normally Omar would have explained his strict first in last out policy, but this seemed different somehow. He had never had a European in his shop before.

I will try sir. Would you like some tea?”

Yeah. Please. That would be great.”

You can sit here sir. This is my father. He does not speak.”

Right. Nae bother." The man waved at Malik whose eyes hadn't once lifted from the same toaster he had been fixing for years.

Nice to meet you sir. I'm Davie. Davie Fisher.”

The words washed over Malik as if no words had been spoken at all. The son stepped into the father's silence and filled the void.

I am Omar. I will make the tea.”

Thanks Omar. That's great.”

It took the boy five minutes to coax the laptop back into life. His thin fingers raced across the keyboard as line after line of unintelligible script rolled across the screen. At last, he sat back with a small smile.

It is working now. If it is OK I can install some anti-virus software. Would you like this please?”

Yeah. Great. Whatever you think. Seems you're as good as they say you are with this stuff.”

Omar shrugged and continued with his work. The man called Davie waited in comfortable silence, every now and then taking a sip of mint tea. There was something about him which made Omar comfortable enough to speak.

Are you in Kabul for long, Sir?”

No idea. Maybe.”

You are English I think.”

This was almost enough to cause a spitting out of tea.

Christ no. Bloody hell Omar, never call me that. Jesus. No. I'm Scottish, my friend. Do you know it? Scotland?”

Only from books and the internet. I only know one place. Here. Kabul. I have never been anywhere else.”

Fair enough. So tell me. Do think Kabul is a beautiful city? You know. All those snow-capped mountains and the big sky and everything?”

Omar paused and considered. Nobody had ever asked him such a thing before. Kabul had never given him much of a reason to feel any affection for his home town.

Maybe. I like it when they fly the kites when the sun is going down. It is pretty I think."

Well if you like that kind of thing I reckon you would like where I come from. Here. Pass me the laptop. I'll show you.”

Davie Googled his way into a selection of images of the Highlands of Scotland and Omar nodded in grave agreement. It was indeed a beautiful place.

I think there is a very big difference between Scotland beautiful and Afghanistan beautiful. You have beautiful and life. We have beautiful and death. It is a very big difference I think.”

The older man smiled at the accidental wisdom. His mind locked down the sentence which would become the centrepiece of his next feature on the war ravaged city. He pulled a well-used notebook from his inside pocket and scribbled.

Here. Name, address, mobile number and E mail. Check me out if you're ever in Scotland. I'd enjoy showing you round.”

Omar took the paper and stared down at the selection of letters and numbers from another world.

A better world. A world where fathers were not taken away to be tortured and mothers were not stoned to death.

Thank you sir. If I ever come to Scotland I will make contact.”

You do that Omar. I look forward to it. Anyway, I'm taking up too much of your time. How much do I owe you? I guess you'd prefer dollars?”

Dollars are very good. Can I say twenty please?”

You can and I'm not in the mood to haggle so twenty it is.”

The man from Scotland settled his account and Omar filed away the encounter. He had never spoken with a European before. A white man. One his uncle Akram would have called Kuffar. Unbeliever. Enemy. His uncle Akram would have opened up the man's throat and thought nothing of it.

He never expected to see Davie again but he was wrong. For the next few months, the Scot became a regular visitor. Occasionally he had something in need of fixing up, but mainly he just called in to drink mint tea and pass the time of day. Omar told him all about the desperate realities of Kabul and asked question after question about Scotland. For the very first time, he managed to find the words to describe the worst day of his life when his uncle had dragged his mother out to the pickup truck. Davie hadn't said anything. He understood there were no words available to say anything. Instead, he met the despair in the boy's eyes with what he hoped was compassion in his own eyes.

Inside he felt sick to the stomach. And inadequate. And useless and worthless and fraudulent and despicable. He tried to stretch his imagination around the utter horror the boy had lived through. He tried to comprehend the extraordinary strength the boy had managed to find in order to carry on. To run the shop. To look after his broken father. To get through one day and then another and then another hundred. And what was there to say? There was nothing he could say. He was just a man who was passing through. Taking snap shots. Penning colour pieces. Pretending to himself and the world that it all washed over him.

In the end, he said the first thing to come into his mind.

One day you need to leave, Omar. And when you do leave, you should come to Scotland. And call me. Will you do that?”

Omar thought for a moment and then gave a slow nod of assent.

That a promise?”

Yes sir. It is a promise.”

Davie left Kabul a month later but they kept in contact via e mail.

Time passed. Many people continued to bring their broken things to the boy with magic in his fingers. Malik spent all the hours of his days trying to mend the same toaster.

And failing. And still he never spoke. He ate, he slept and he fiddled at the toaster whilst his son managed the business.

And then two months before Omar's 20th birthday in the autumn of 2008, the darkness once again reached out and dragged him into the pit. It was a sunny morning and the air was carrying the chill of the coming winter. The street was busy and buzzards glided the thermals. Omar was buying vegetables when the air around him squeezed into itself and then burst through his ears and deep into his brain. One moment he was filling an old carrier bag with apricots, the next moment he was down in the dust and the apricots were spread out all around him.

The street was no longer his street. Everything was incomprehensible. Black smoke billowed up into the blue sky above. There were bodies everywhere. Some were whole. Others were in pieces. Some were oddly naked. Old cars had become crushed tin cans. Faces were screaming but the screams were silent. Everything was silent.

He sat up and felt at himself as his brain slowly caught up with the mayhem all around him.

Bomb. Big bomb. His ears were damaged. But not forever. For now, the sounds to go with the pictures were starting to make their way into his brain. He slowly registered the fact that he was OK. Intact. Whole. Just deaf and breathless. As as the pieces slotted into place, he realised the bomb must have exploded close to his shop.

He clawed his way to his feet and half staggered, half ran through the screams and the blood and the pieces of people.

And now he was a part of the screaming. He wasn't aware of it. He was beyond being aware. And there were no actual words in his screams. Just a howling sound.

He knew what he would find thirty metres before he got to the place where his shop had once stood. There was no shop any more. Instead, there was a roaring inferno of flames. Instead there was hell come to earth. He started towards the flames only to be dragged back by neighbours.

He never saw his father. And he never heard his father. It would be two more days until the embers were cool enough for Malik Kebir's bones to be put into a cardboard box and buried.

Later he learned some of the facts behind the nightmare. A Taliban suicide bomber had been tasked to get as close as he could to a NATO vehicle check point situated at an intersection half a mile away from the Kebir store. Nobody ever knew why the bomber detonated so early. Most who considered themselves to be in the know guessed at nerves and agitation. An involuntary twitch of the finger. A trip caused by a cracked paving stone. An accidental collision. Nobody for a moment believed the shop had been deliberately targeted. It was just another act of accidental carnage, hardly uncommon in Afghanistan in 2008. Sometimes these accidents were delivered to earth from 30,000 feet care of an F16 fighter. Sometimes they were delivered from the level of the pavement by a terrified teenager in a suicide vest. Shit happened. All the time.

Aleema's parents took Omar away from the street and into their home. They washed the ash from his face and spread butter on his burned skin. They forced him to drink tea. They forced him to eat. And he wondered if he was going to find himself in the same place as his father for he had no words to speak. They put him to bed like a baby and he was certain he would not sleep.

But he did sleep. He slept until he was woken by a hard kick to the ribs.
There were two of them in all to familiar black robes. One levelled an AK47 at Omar's chest whilst the other yanked him to his feet.

No words were spoken. There was no need. Omar knew only too well what was happening. These were his uncle's men. They took him out into the night and threw him into the back of their pick up just like they had thrown his mother into the back of their pick up. Two more robed men sat up front. The two who had taken him tied him and gagged him and kept him down with their boots.

They left Kabul in the dark hour before the dawn. They drove for ten hours on roads which were little more than tracks. Then they walked. And walked, and walked, and walked.

They walked all through the night. They walked until Omar's feet were screaming with blisters. They walked until the pain in his thighs sent tears streaming down his cheeks. They walked until the air was thin and bitter cold in his lungs. They walked until he felt like he was at the gates of death.

At last, there were dark figures on the ridgeline. The sentinels. The camp emerged out of the barren mountainside.

They took him to the tent where his uncle waited. There was a well-used carpet on the floor.


Omar sat and took the tea he was given. He chewed on the flat bread he was given. He didn't speak.

At last Akram Kebir laid down the bones of his new life. “I left you in Kabul to care for my brother. Now Malik is dead. Now you are here. You have great skills. It is time for you to use the skills Allah has blessed you with to fight the Kuffar. It is time for you to embrace Jihad. It is time for you to become Mujahideen. Now you are weak. You are a city boy. We are men of the mountains and you too will become a man of the mountains. It will be a very hard journey. If you complain, I will beat you like a dog. You will become hard. And then you will achieve your destiny. That is all. You will sleep in the tent of my two sons. You can go.”