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.

Friday, March 29, 2013


Yesterday saw this page receive its 30,000th visitor. I still find this something that is ridiculously hard to get my head around. 19,000 hits have arrived from the UK. 4000 day trippers have turned up from the States. The rest are spread out from all over the world. It is odd how different blogs attract different nationalities. My blog wondering aloud if we are in the process of becoming a 21st Century version of East Germany drew in hundreds from Taiwan. My rant about a smooth talking marketing type from Barnardo’s was a particular favourite in Australia.

The reach of the Bloggersphere never ceases to amaze me. Three of my blogs have picked up by the Press and been turned into news stories. A few more have attracted journalists wondering if the characters in the story might be willing to go public. Fat chance! Stuff from one blog about food parcels actually ended up being quoted in a debate in the House of Commons.

When I kicked the thing off last July my idea was to try and raise my profile and sell a few more books in the Kindle Store. Has it turned out that way? Maybe. I now sell about 5 books a day which isn’t exactly John Grisham, but I guess it’s a start. I like to think that the blog has evolved into something more than just a frantic attempt to hawk a few digital novels. What I try to do is to take the various stories we see in the news every night and show how they play out for real people trying their best to get by in their real lives. Obviously the events of the last few months have hardly left me short of material.

In my years of writing books, I have tried to stick to three simple rules. Rule one, never make the writing hard to understand for those that don’t read a lot. I have always taken the fact that my books are so popular in the Scottish prison system to be proof positive that I have probably been successful in this goal.

Rule two, if someone is willing to shell out hard earned cash to read something of mine, they surely deserve to be entertained. For me, fast turning pages are way more important than literary niceties. Many dismiss what I do as the worst kind of grammatically flawed pulp fiction. Fair enough. My old English teacher felt much the same. I regularly get an invite to give talks to the lifers in HMP Shotts but I am yet to receive a call from the local book festival in Wigtown. Isn’t life tragic.

Rule three. I spent much of my working life with people who have been completely shafted by society. They are the forgotten ones who are increasingly hated as a result of the irresponsible guff spouted by politicians and the tabloid press. It seems to me that the fact that over 100,000 people have bought my books over the years and 30,000 have taken time out to visit this site suggests that there must be something in the way I write that has some appeal. Whatever this may be, I feel a sense of duty to use it to try and give a voice to all those people nobody wants to listen to. I suppose that sounds pretty sanctimonious and Victorian. So be it. I am what I am. Maybe it’s a Lancashire thing.

And then there are times when a Blog is simply a means to get something off my chest. Apparently there is lots of solid scientific research that indicates that writing stuff down is a pretty good way of helping to get the head around something. The US Army has recently spent millions of dollars on a centre in Washington DC where veterans can go to find help in getting the horrors in their head down on paper. It seems to work a bit like lancing a boil. I can go with that. A problem shared and all that.

On Wednesday night I was watching the Channel 4 news. And just like always, it was wall to wall bad. There were primordial horrors from Aleppo and primordial horrors from the Congo. But it was a quick 30 second piece that reached out of the TV and smacked me in the face and left me feeling sort of hollowed out. In fact it all but made me cry.

On Wednesday morning a schoolteacher in Pakistan did what she had done for the last 24 years; she went to work and taught her class. She was nobody special. Just a school teacher. A Headmistress in an all girls school.  Her routine was normal and predictable. Every morning she would catch the bus to work from Peshawar with her teenage son. And every afternoon when the school day was done, she would catch the bus back home. With her teenage son. It was this unremarkable routine that was to be her undoing. For in the eyes of certain people what she was doing was a crime punishable by death. As a woman, these people believed she was breaking the iron rules of Islam by going to work and teaching. By daring to teach female pupils, they saw these crimes multiplied and compounded.

And so they decided to kill her.

To execute her.

On Wednesday afternoon as she and her son made their way to the bus stop, a motorbike pulled up by the pavement. Two men jumped off and proceeded to beat the living daylights out of her son. He is now in hospital. Once the son was immobilised, they drew their pistols and shot her in the head, legs and chest. She died there and then. The killers escaped on their motor bike.

They didn’t take her money. They weren’t avenging some family feud. It seems unlikely that they were blind drunk or all crazed out on crystal meth. Instead they were no doubt completely brain washed by some long bearded Iman who had convinced them that by executing a school teacher they would open up their path to eternal paradise. I have never read the Koran in full. I have however dipped in and out from time to time. It is more poetic than the Bible. More elegant. Not that it has ever filled me with any great urge to fund Allah and buy myself a prayer mat.

Mohammed’s message seems remarkably similar to the ideas of Jesus. Try to be nice to people. Help those who are having a bad time. Don’t steal. It offers a basic set of rules that make for an easy going society where people are OK with each other. So how the hell can people twist such benevolent words to such a disgusting extent that it is suddenly OK for young men to execute a school teacher in front of her teenage son? The murderers must surely have been 100% convinced that their actions would put a smile on the face of Allah. They must have been utterly certain that the ‘One God’ would have been so impressed by their devotion that he would immediately put their names down on the list for eternal paradise.

What an utter abomination.

Ever since watching the thirty second news segment I have found it hard to get the thing out of my head. What will life be like for the various characters involved? There is the son who will be forever haunted by images of his mum’s summary execution for the crime of teaching girls to read and write. Then there are the two guys who fired the shots. Will the lunatic faith that prompted them to turn into monsters endure in the years to come? Or will cancerous doubts seep in like sewage from a cracked drain? Will the empty hours of their nights bring forth feelings of shame and disgust? And what of the Imam who drip fed poison into the minds of the impressionable and convinced them that the fast track to eternal paradise was to be found by gunning down an unarmed woman in cold blood?

No matter how I try, I find it impossible to make any sense whatsoever of such manic brutality. Did they scream out ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they unloaded their magazines? I expect they did. God is great?
God forbid.
God help us.

What an utter abomination.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Two years ago I wrote a book called ‘Mere Anarchy’. The idea for the story was pretty simple. In a fictional Britain in 2016, the moneylenders finally call time on us and say enough is enough. No more guys. We don’t reckon you’re a good bet anymore. In fact we reckon you’re a busted flush. So it’s back to the 70’s and time to go cap in hand to the IMF. The book kicks off with a delegation of Chief Execs from the Multinationals summoning the Prime Minister to a secret meeting where they lay it on the line. They tell him that they know all about the secret meetings with the IMF. They tell him that they know all about the fact that he has been ordered to implement an immediate 25% adjustment in the nation’s budgeting. And they tell him that they know all about his plans to achieve this by a mixture of savage cuts and equally savage tax hits on the super rich and the big corporations. Then they hit him with an ultimatum. Don’t even think about taxing us because if you do we will up sticks and get out of Dodge.

So my fictional Prime Minister is left with no choice whatsoever. He has just a few weeks to slash the country’s expenditure by a quarter. Once I came up with the idea, it was time to do some research and get a handle on what our Government spends £700 billion a year on. It didn’t take very long to discover that the vast majority of this cash goes on the big three – Welfare, Education and the NHS. At this point I set myself a second parameter for the story – Britain would by hook or by crook remain a democracy. So how on earth can a politician find a way to slash costs by 25% and still stand a chance of getting re-elected. This seemed suddenly very clear. Cut the NHS to pieces? No chance. Make all schools fee paying? Be serious. Dump the old age pension? Not a chance in hell since the ‘Grey Vote’ determines every election. Which of course left the vast and endless billions spent on our huge list of benefits that have mushroomed since the sunny optimism of the introduction of a safety net in 1948.
Phase two of the research involved digging into the crazy world of our benefit system and it it didn’t take so long for the story to start to come together. Even back then, there was a clear agenda in the media to make the working majority of the population loathe, despise and detest the scrounging poor. To get a handle on this whole thing, I cannot urge you strongly enough to tap ‘Chavs’ and ‘Owen Jones’ into the Amazon search box and get yourself a copy of his brilliant book. It offers a stunning view of this insidious new agenda whereby politicians or all colours have teamed up with the media to paint damning pictures of the undeserving poor. Owen saw the whole workers v. shirkers thing coming and his book is a jaw droppingly fine piece of work.
The trouble is that getting the majority to loathe the scrounging poor isn’t all that hard to do. It isn’t difficult to find alarming echoes of the job the Nazis did on the Jews back in the early 30’s. Goebbels found Anti-Semitism was an open door to push at. Take an average German family in the early 20’s. Dad works for the council and for the whole of his adult life he has done the German thing and saved for his old age. Then over the course of a few desperate weeks, his savings become worthless as the Great Inflation swept through the land like a fire storm. All of a sudden thirty years worth of savings are only worth enough to buy a day’s worth of groceries. At this point he is forced to look around the house for things to pawn. Sound familiar? In the lounge there is a grand piano which his prodigiously talented teenage daughter uses every single day to practice to become a concert pianist. Needs must. They heave the piano out of the front door and wheel it down to the Pawn Shop on the corner where Mr Rubenstein offers them enough cash for two loaves of bread. And as the family trudges home, the Rubenstein family drive past in their shiny new Mercedes. Not surprisingly, it was the hard grafting middle classes who saw their savings and pensions stripped away who made up the majority of the millions who voted Hitler into power in 1933.
Everywhere I looked I found ample evidence of the uncontrolled idiocy of the benefit system. I rang an expert I know and ran a hypothetical scenario by him. A 30 year old single mum with four kids who is signed off sick with depression. What would she get? To cut a long story short, she would get £20,000 a year in cash and a free five bedroom house. In these parts such a house costs about £150,000 and requires a mortgage of about £15,000 a year as well as £1200 council tax.
So. The maths.

How much would my fictional depressed mum of four have to earn to stand still financially if she decided to come off benefits and get a job? What gross pay is required to leave £36,000 after tax? I am no great tax expert, but it didn’t take all that long to work out that she would need about £60,000 a year to stand still. And that didn’t factor in childcare and free dentistry. It’s crazy isn’t it? £60,000 a year jobs are as rare as hen’s teeth in these parts. In reality, my fictional mum might get lucky and get a checkout job in Tesco for a sixth of that. Is it her fault? Is she intrinsically evil because she has worked out that having four kids and playing the sick card will get her a six times better living than forty hours a week on the check out?

No wonder persuading the majority to hate the poor represents the same kind of open door to push at as Goebbels discovered all those years ago. So my fictional Prime Minister in ‘Mere Anarchy’ bites the bullet and announces the end of all benefits other than the old age pension. He goes the whole nine yeards. No more Jobseekers, no more tax credits, no more sick pay, no more housing benefit, no more Council Tax benefit, no more disability allowance. No more nothing. Instead every town will have dormitories and feeding stations. He promises that nobody will have to sleep in a doorway or root in a dustbin for food.

The bones of the story are all about whether a government would be able to keep the lid on in the wake of such a massive change. Or would the country descend into anarchy?

At the time it seemed to be a work of the very purest of fiction. People who read it shuddered at the thought and then consoled themselves with the fact that like Orwell’s '1984', it was never going to happen.
And I whole heartedly agreed.

But for two years now the bloody thing seems to have been coming true little by little. My how we are being taught to hate the poor. And little by little, we are making the poor ever poorer. The Bedroom tax is the latest and most brutal brick in this particularly vicious wall. And how do the majority feel about it? They like it. It makes them feel better as they work all hours God sends but still can’t cover all the bills.
‘Mere Anarchy’ was supposed to be a story about the unthinkable. It certainly isn’t that any more. The unthinkable has become the new normal. Not very long ago it would have seemed utterly unthinkable for a government to raid people’s savings accounts to the tune of 40% on the orders of Berlin. It ain’t unthinkable any more. It would have seemed unthinkable that a government would take a quarter of the disposable income from the very poorest people in the land as punishment for them having an empty box room in their flat. Again. It ain’t unthinkable any more.

And still every minute or every day we are borrowing £8500 to cover our bills. And every day we see and hear about the damage caused by the austerity cuts.

Hang on a minute.

What austerity cuts? The problem is that the Government is spending more than it was in 2010 and we are borrowing ever more. It’s a nightmare scenario and if our lenders decide that enough is enough, the dilemma of my fictional Prime Minister will become the dilemma of a real Prime Minister.

How far away is such a real life scenario? Who knows. And if the Government has to chop 25% of expenditure in a big hurry, then how will they do it? Will it be the NHS? Or Education? Or the old age pension?
Or will it be benefits?

No prizes for guessing the answer.
If you would like to have a read of ‘Mere Anarchy’, you can download a copy by clicking this link.
If you are not into Kindle and you want a paperback, then drop me an e mail with your name and address and I will send you a copy out in the post. When the book arrives it will come with an invoice for £6 and you can send me a cheque.
You can e mail me at
Before clocking off, I really should pay proper homage to the guy who gave me the title. It was WB Yeats the Irish poet and his great poem. ‘The Second Coming’.
‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’
I am in good company in raiding this verse for a title. Fifty years ago the great Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe named his finest work ‘Things Fall Apart.’ Sadly Chinua passed away last week but not before ‘Things Fall Apart’ had sold 4 million copies all over the world. I am still going but I have one hell of a way to go to catch up Chinua in the bestsellers’ chart!

Thursday, March 21, 2013


War terminology seems to be getting more and more popular as the recession stretches and deepens. Every time a set of dire statistics are wheeled out to show just how deep in it we all are, grave faced politicians remind us of those dim and distant days when we stuck together and saw off Hitler. Whichever way you look at it, this really is a bit of a stretch. Back then we were being bombed every night by fleets of Heinkel 111’s. The bombers were ordered into the skies by a raging psychopath in Berlin with five million soldiers of the Wehrmacht at his beck and call. Our problems today are a million miles from that. Back then, we had an easily identifiable enemy to focus on. Hitler made no bones about what he had in mind if he ever found a way to get by the Royal Navy and set his Panzers loose in Kent. Invade and enslave.

Right now there are no incendiary bombs from the factories of the Ruhr setting our cities ablaze. Instead we see the world we have become accustomed to slowly falling apart. Nobody wants to buy our stuff any more. Hell, we don’t even buy our own stuff any more. Every night we hear on the news that it is getting worse and it is more than clear than nobody really has the faintest clue how to turn things around.

Part of the wartime vocabulary is the whole idea of the Frontline Charity. Newsreaders evoke images of embattled organisations heroically trying to deal with a tide of ever desperate humanity. Like most things in life, the reality is rather different from the jazzed up version of things we see on the tele. First Base is very much a frontline charity and on a fairly regular basis we get called up by the media as they look for street level views of the crisis. The young journalists seem to expect cracking photo opportunities of haggard and hungry people queued around the block for emergency food.

Of course the reality is rather different. The reality of the so called Front Line is one of quiet desperation, to borrow the title of one of my recent books which I borrowed from Pink Floyd who borrowed it from a quote from years and years ago.

Yesterday morning I pitched up at First Base to get some stuff together before heading off to talk to a bunch of school kids about how binge drinking and taking drugs isn’t the smartest play right now. A mean, cutting wind straight from Vladivostok was lancing down Buccleuch St and nothing much seemed to be moving. In theory it should have been rush hour, but Dumfries doesn’t do rush hour any more. There are no longer enough people at work in the town centre for there to be much of an incentive to rush. Parking is seldom a problem. Half the shops are boarded up. When we opened up ten years ago every building on the street was open for business. We were the exception to the rule and quite a few of our neighbours were less than happy to have a drug agency in their midst. Buccleuch St was home to solicitors and accountants and financial advisors as well as the Sheriff Court and the Municipal Chambers. Now half the street is up for sale and nobody seems to be showing much inclination to buy anything. The court is still doing decent business and the pharmacy still fulfils prescriptions.

A few weeks ago I was getting some stuff from the place we get our stationary. The owner told me how solicitors who had only a year or two ago ordered five reams of paper every month now only ordered up one ream. When you consider what solicitors charge for a piece of paper, this shows the extent to which commercial activity is grinding to a halt. No wonder so many buildings are now empty and suddenly pointless. These are office buildings and no good for converting into betting shops or pound shops or pawnshops. Or charity shops. Very quietly they have become yesterday’s news.

On to a local high school. It was built in the Seventies and carries a crumbling, peeling memory of that uniquely tacky decade. Lord alone knows how it managed to stay standing through 13 years of New Labour when such buildings were bulldozed and rebuilt thanks to thirty year Wonga style PFI loans. The colour scheme of the dark corridors paid homage to the all but forgotten look of East Germany during the heyday of the Iron Curtain. We had been warned that this particular fourth year class might be a bit of a handful. But they weren’t. Not remotely. They were as good as gold and after half an hour or so I kind of wished they would kick off and start chucking stuff around the room. Instead they wore expressions of vague fear. And why wouldn’t they? Kids aren’t stupid. They can see the writing on the wall. They instinctively get the fact that they have drawn a short straw in terms of their date of birth. Memories of those Saturday night Westerns of my childhood. ‘How’s it look Chuck? ....It’s quiet…… Too quiet…”

Two schools later and we opened up the door to the wet pavement. The Frontline was open for business. Was there a tide of desperate, tearful humanity? Nope. Just a steady trickle. Benefits screwed up. Benefits suspended. Disability pay chopped. Electric bill an unmanageable nightmare. The bell on the door announced people coming in and going out. Paperwork completed and food handed over the counter. Stories told and taken on board. Two guys up from lost jobs in Dover. They were in their early fifties and in no hurry to step away from the wall heater. Two nights kipping down by the river had taken a toll and all the homeless hostels were full up. And yeah, life’s a bitch. Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way. Except this was Scotland. But we’re all British. And we’re all in it together.

Later on I drove up to Lockerbie to give a talk to the Presbytery of the Church of Scotland for Annandale and Eskdale. I hadn’t much of a clue what to expect. It was a kind of an AGM and the agenda looked pretty daunting. Prayers and a hymn kicked things off and yet again it all felt quiet somehow. I have to say I always feel a little off key when sitting in the midst of a bunch of people who are praying. Religion isn’t my bag and what to do with your head is one of those tricky issues. Do you bow your head out of basic manners and therefore feel like a hypocritical git? Or do you just keep the chin up and stare ahead and wait for the thing to run its course? I never much like feeling like a hypocritical git, so I stared ahead and felt like a bit of a fraud. The guy who had asked me along had explained that there would be some business to get through before it was time for me to speak. Was there ever! The minutes from the last meeting of the Presbytery ran to twenty something pages and agreeing them as a thing to behold. The clerk announced each page. ‘Are there any corrections for page one of the minutes?’ A careful pause. ‘Page one is one is adopted….’ ‘Are there any corrections for page two of the minutes?’……It took a while.

Convenors and Elders and sub groups were nominated and confirmed until it was time for me to get to my feet to spend fifteen minutes going over how many people lack the means to feed themselves on any given day in Dumfries and Galloway. And it hit me that there was the same quietness in the room as there had been in the classroom earlier in the day. The same quietness that was wrapped around the empty office buildings of Buccleuch St. Because hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way….

I trotted out the First Base view of the world as seen from our front line post. The time of Government sorting everything out is drawing to a close. Echoes of TS Eliot and English Lit O Level. The Waste Land. ‘This is how the world will end, not with a bang but a whimper…’

The safety net dream time of 1945 is drawing to a close. The lights are winking out one by one on the time when all can be fed and housed and made well again by a benevolent Nanny State. Instead we are entering a time when we are all going to have to relearn the art of looking out for each other. And this all meant that this group of quietly praying people in a quiet church hall were very much manning the frontline. In the coming months and years, churches will have to get back to being what they once were. They have the space and the kitchens and the volunteers. They will need to resume their place as a focal point of the community where those who still have do what they can to help out those who have not.

I guess they would have liked to hear something more upbeat. Just like the fourth year kids would have liked a more positive outlook. But the front line isn’t a particularly upbeat place to be right now. The guns remain silent and the armies are huddled against the cold whilst a mean east wind leaks through the rusty barbed wire.

And hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way….             

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Last week Leslie did some work with the local cops. She is one of our volunteers and she gives drug talks to school kids and community groups. The local boys in blue took her across the Stranraer for a gig they were staging. The subject of the day was home grown cannabis and the idea was to give anyone involved in housing a few tips on what signs they should look out for. This is the UK’s fastest growing cottage industry. And fast growing is very much at the heart of the matter. Once upon a time when things were hard, the man of the house would head out to work the allotment or scavenge for coal whilst his wife might take in some piecework sewing.

Now many beleaguered families convert a spare room into a mini dope farm and trawl the web for tips and hints about how to get the very best out of their hydrophonic grow lights. There are a couple of pretty major downsides to this new micro industry. Number one of course is getting caught which can soon lead to eviction and a stretch of time. Number two is the amount of power required by the fancy lighting systems that drive the crop to the point of being ready to harvest.

Leslie’s role on the day was to walk the audience through the downsides of the weed. The raging paranoia and the depression and the implosion of every shred of self esteem and confidence. The two Scottish Power guys from Glasgow had a rather more practical presentation. They went over the various hyper-dodgy methods the cannabis farmers of Britain employ to tap into free power.

All of this stuff was familiar enough thanks to Panorama. However they also talked about a new thing which certainly wasn’t familiar to me. ‘Pay as you Go’ meters all have an emergency zone of £5 which is designed to ensure that family homes are not plunged into shivering darkness when the money runs out. Now there is a new group of entrepreneurs who have set up their own cottage industry on the back of spiralling power bills. For £15 cash in hand, these new Knights of the Black Eonomy will come along to your home and fettle your meter. Once they are done, the £5 emergency zone in the meter becomes a 'use as much as you like' zone in the meter.


Once you have coughed up your fifteen quid, you can crank the central heating up to full and stick a fan heater in every room. Hell, you can have two baths a night if you like. This doesn’t go under the radar. Soon the power company computers clock on to the fact the people at number thirty two have run up £432 on their five pound emergency zone.

So what happens next?

A letter is sent. Dear customer. We notice that your meter is no longer working as it should. We need to come along and take a look. Expect a card through the letter box with a call round time. So the lads duly put their card through the letterbox and pitch up to check things out. Now, if they are met by a childless couple, then they can give them a severe telling off and cut off their power supply unlit such a time as they have cleared their arrears. But if when the front door is opened there are children playing Lego in the sauna hot living room, then things are very different. The law of the land insists that hell will freeze over before a power company is allowed to cut off the power supply to a house with kids residing in it.

So what do they do then?

They replace the meter with a new one.

And what to the householders do then?

They get on the phone to their man and get him to come round to do his stuff with the new meter. And he gets another £15. And they crank the central heating up to the max and  few weeks later the computer at the power company flags up the fact that the family at number 32 have gone all the way back to £432….

And then another letter. Another meter. Another visit from Mr £15. And every radiator in the house keeps on glowing like Chernobyl reactor number three.

The lads from Scottish Power told of how there were some houses they had visited 15 times to replace the meter. And they told of how they were 99% sure that some of these houses were not in fact home to any kids at all. So what do you do if you want to employ the services of Mr £15 and you don’t actually have any kids? Easy. You borrow a few from a neighbour. When the power guys call, you make sure that you have some tee shirted, 'hire by the hour' kids in the living room playing Lego whilst Cbeebies blasts away in the background.

Once there is no need to keep feeding the ever hungry meter, there is more spare cash for a Friday night in the pub. And that offers the chance to tell a few pals all about the new arrangement with the power company. You mean they can’t do anything? Too right they can’t. And what if you don’t have kids? Borrow a few. There are plenty about. Have you got this lad’s number? Sure. £15 you say? Sure is.

So on and on it goes, and borrowed kids are shuttled from one house to the next. Will people feel bad about it? Of course they won’t. Because everyone hates the power companies. We feel ripped off and we want to throw things at the tele when we hear news of  their record half year profit figures and the multi million bonuses their bosses rack up. So screw the bastards. Serves them right.

So what will the power companies do about it? No doubt they will pay top dollar to smooth talking lobbyists to whisper honeyed words into the ears of MPs. It really isn’t all that bad for kids to get a tad chilly…? Remember how it was in the war…? Kids managed well enough then … It will do them a bit of good. Harden ‘em up. After all they don’t have much in the way of heating in Prep schools and they cost thousands of pounds a term…..

But what if the politicians dig in their heels and refuse to sign up to the idea of freezing kids? Will the Chief Execs of the power companies shrug their shoulders and accept the prospect of a life without bonuses? Well that’s a laugh isn’t it! Of course they won’t. They are as addicted to those lovely bonuses as Sir Alex is addicted to silverware.

So how will these Masters of the Universe manage to lovingly tend their bottoms lines whilst more and more of their customers opt out from paying for their power. Easy. They will load all the costs onto the schmucks who are too honest and law abiding to engage the services of Mr £15. And so the bills of those who pay will keep on going up and up, whilst the ones who have opted out will bask in front of their teles in their Costa del Sol clothes.

Will this go on forever? No. There will be a tipping point. There always is. This will be the invisible line when the cost of power reaches the stage where is quite simply impossible to manage. At this point the Mr £15 guys will become omnipresent and the whole house of cards will come crashing down.

History is full of examples of such tipping points. These are the moments when everyone gets completely pissed off at more or less the same time. We all stop and look at each other and nobody needs to say any words. We kind of instinctively know that enough is enough. It happened in St Petersburg in 1917 when hundreds of years of Tzarist rule just fizzled out. It happened a few months earlier on the Western Front when the whole of the French army simply put their rifles down, mutinied and walked home after the catastrophic Nivelle Offensive. It happened in Berlin in 1989 when twenty million East Germans called time on Eric Honneker.

Are a growing number of tampered power meters an indicator that things are about to change?

I guess we’re all about to find out the answer to than in the months and years to come.     
For another blog about the issue of spiralling power costs click the link below

Friday, March 8, 2013


There’s no getting away from the fact that Quiet Desperation is a pretty crazy book. In fact it is a very crazy book. Without any shadow of a doubt it is the craziest book this author has ever come up with. Sometimes when I am asked along to give talks to book clubs and the like I get asked questions along the lines of ‘what’s the hardest thing about writing a book’.There are plenty of answers to this one but for me it is the whole business of the back cover. Think about it. You bash away at the keyboard for however long and then you have to shrink down 300 pages into a couple of snappy paragraphs which will fit on the back cover along with the barcode.

I absolutely hate it and no matter how much I mess about with the words they never seem remotely right. This of course is one of the many joys of publishing on Kindle as you are given a whole lot more space to try and convince the prospective reader that your efforts are worth shelling out for.

But even with the acres of typing space offered up by Amazon to tell the reader what they are in for, it was still all but impossible to put much of a handle onto Quiet Desperation.

So what’s it about then?

Basically it tells the tale of a madcap lunatic world and\ the endless loathing Liverpool fans like me feel for our hated rivals from the other end of the Manchester Ship Canal. It's all about how this visceral mutual hatred hooks up with the ‘War on Terror’.

How and why?

Maybe I was just going through some sort of mid life crisis. Maybe it was having to grit my teeth and watch the Forces of Darkness from their Mordor like lair in Salford reach their Holy Grail of 19 league titles. Maybe it was the gnawing sick feeling of having to watch from my seat in the stands as the greatest football club on planet earth was asset stripped by a pair of carpet bagging, money grubbing scum of the earth Americans. Maybe it was all kinds of things.

Let’s go back to basics. There is a well founded school of thought that suggests that it is a good idea for any author to choose to write about stuff that they care about. Fair enough. Not many would argue the toss on that one. From the day I first walked into Anfield as a wide eyed eleven year old way back in 1971, there has been nothing in life beyond kids and close family that has mattered to me remotely as much as Liverpool Football Club. I reckon I have done quite a lot with my fifty two years and counting. I’ve travelled a goodly part of the globe, got a degree, run a couple of businesses, managed a charity, been a dad, written 21 books, all sorts. And course there have been lots of highs and lows along the way. But take away birth of kids, and the highest of the highs was the miracle of Istanbulon 25 May 2005. Hillsborough stadium 15 April 1989 was the lowest of all lows. Bar none.

So writing books about Liverpool FC has been something of a no brainer. To date there have been four of them. ‘The Drums of Anfield’, ‘The Long and Winding Road to Istanbul’, ‘King Kenny’s Revolution’ and ‘Quiet Desperation.’ To be honest they are the easiest books in the world to write. It's what you get when you write about something that you care about.

But none of this comes close to getting to bottom of why on earth I cam up with a tale of one of football’s deepest and blackest of rivalries getting mixed up with the War on Terror. Well I’ll give it a shot.

I guess the first seeds for Quiet Desperation were sown in a couple of games in the Nineties by which time Sir Alex Fergusson had very much succeeded in delivering his promise to knock us ‘off our fucking perch’. Match One. Anfield in the depths of the Souness era. A swaggering United were 3-0 up within twenty minutes and Peter Schmeichel gloatingly orchestrated the invading hordes of visiting Mancs as they sang ‘It’s so fucking easy, it’s so fucking easy…’. Utter, complete and absolute bastards. I really don’t have the words to describe the feeling of primordial triumph I felt when Neil Ruddock all but broke the net with a header after 80 minutes to make it three all. I just remember screaming incoherently at the massed ranks of Mancs like a complete Berserker. And I wasn’t on my own. We all were as one in an explosion of sheer loathing. The white heat of Tribalism.

1999. FA cup at Old Trafford. The black beating heart of Mordor. 10,000 of us. 60,000 of them. And for 90 minutes Liverpoolplayed the bastards of the park and we sang them into their accustomed silence. And then they went and scored twice in stoppage time and all of a sudden the 60,000 exploded into life like some vast monster rising up from a fetid swamp in a Speilberg movie. Dyonne was 12 at the time and the abject look of despair on his young face was a sight I won’t forget in a hurry. All around us were twisted, gloating, crowing, jumping, dancing Mancs hurling coins at us and rubbing it in. There is nothing on planet earth that I hate more than a crowing Manc. And at that moment a trickle of iced water made its way down my spine as a dark, dark truth came to me. For I knew that if someone had handed me a grenade at that moment of umra black intensity, I might well have pulled the pin and tossed it over the fence.

Just like a terrorist would.

Just like a Jihadist would.

And for a few seconds the hate filled air and sound seeped into my bones and my soul and all sense of right and wrong and morality flew out of the window. I was in the lower depths.

Oh my oh my, it’s the very essence of the dark side!

And those who have no interest in football and have never joined a tribe kind of look at you as if you are a complete nutter and they shake their heads and point out that it is only a game. For Christ’s sake.

Next up. The news. Think about it, every time we get to see a BBC reporter in their flak jacket talking to the camera in Iraq or Afghanistan or Mali or Libya or Lebanon or Syria or Gaza or any of the places where the suicide bombers grow and evolve, what do we see when we pause the TV and check out the angry young men in the crowd behind? We see Liverpoolshirts. And we see United shirts. Old ones bearing the names of old, half forgotten sponsors. The shirts are generally old and faded. They look like shirts that have been worn every single day for a long, long time. Sure these are lads who have never been within a thousand miles of either Anfield or Mordor, but it doesn’t matter. They are a part of the tribe. Warriors for the light in Anfield red and the forces of darkness in Mordor red.

And no doubt if we ever got the chance to watch a fly on the wall documentary about those tasked with fighting on the other side of the War on Terror, we would see much the same picture emerge. We would see all those militiamen from Baghdadand Beruit take off their body armour and pull on their red shirts.

But how would it play out should these guys ever have to choose? Would it be martyrdom for their God and the chance of 72 virgins? Or would it be martyrdom for King Kenny or Sir Alex?

These of course are dark and pretty unacceptable thoughts. So when it came to turning the whole thing into a book it seemed only right and proper to make it into a Black Comedy. This is an area where we Brits have plenty of previous. My favourite example of this kind of thing is Evelyn Waugh’s‘Decline and Fall’ which hit the bookshops in 1928. When it comes to being completely politically incorrect, Evelyn Waugh is in something of a class of his own. His story is about an unassuming kind of lad who gets drawn into a mad world of crime and prison. I didn’t think good old Evelyn would be all that bothered about me half inching his template, what with him being dead and all that, so I stole it.

My unassuming guy is Cuthbert Gosling and he blunders into an equally crazy lunatic world where the War on Terror and the long feud between Scouser and Manc get all wrapped up together.

We human beings are generally the most ridiculous of mammals. We can be OK at times but more often at not we behave dreadfully. I will defer to William Shakespeare who as per usual was able to describe this in a single, mind bogglingly brilliant line

“Man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority, like an angry ape, plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep”

How good is that? Wow. It’s what we do and there are few apes as angry as the Scousers and the Mancs when we face each other across the police lines on a Saturday afternoon.

And let’s face it, angry apes can be pretty funny at times.

So what did I end up writing on the back cover?



If you support Manchester United – DON’T DOWNLOAD
If you don’t like the blackest of black comedy - DON’T DOWNLOAD
If you like books to be politically correct - DON’T DOWNLOAD
If you think it is wrong to take the Mick out of the CIA and MI6- DON’T DOWNLOAD
If you think it is wrong to take the Mick out of Al Queda - DON’T DOWNLOAD
If you think it is wrong to take the Mick out of organised crime - DON’T DOWNLOAD

But if you’re a Koppite, then you should download it and take the craziest ride in the park. ‘Quiet Desperation’ takes the reader deep into a mad, mad world where the War on Terror meets the age old battle between Scouser and Manc. The story careers at breakneck speed from the mountains of Afghanistan to an Uzbek torture centre to the cloisters of Cambridge University to Langley,Virginia to small town Scotland to the shimmering African waters of Lake Turkana to the terraced streets of Anfield.

Reds supporters from all over the world have read and enjoyed Mark Frankland’s previous Liverpool FC books ‘The Long and Winding Road to Istanbul’ and ‘The Drums of Anfield’ – none will be disappointed by ‘Quiet Desperation’

In the end we must all remember that those on either side of the War on Terror like their football. Some are Koppites. And some are Mancs. And sometimes the football comes before the day job......

You’ll laugh when you really shouldn’t laugh. And you’ll not put it down.

Fancy a read? You download it for free right here


Thursday, March 7, 2013


Who says that men can’t multi-task? This missive is two things at once. First up, it is the sixty third blog to be thrown out into the ether from this site. Second up, it is an open letter to my local Member of the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’ – Russell Brown. Does this make me one of those much vaunted modern men? Maybe.
OK. On to the issue at hand.
Every day at First Base we see individuals who have been suspended from their benefits for a variety of offences, most of them petty in the extreme. For a while this new phenomenon had us scratching our heads. In ten years of issuing emergency food parcels, we had never seen people tipped off their benefits for weeks on end for being ten minutes late for an appointment or making an error with their paperwork.
Last April all became clear thanks to a whistleblower who revealed a JobCentrePlus ‘Brave New World’ to the Guardian. If you want to check out the dismal nastiness of the story, you can find it here.
Over the last few months there is no doubt that the number of suspensions has increased dramatically. Obviously this hits an outfit like First Base pretty hard. Our food parcel service was originally designed to help someone to get over a bump in the road – grub for three days until they get their next payment. This is a wholly different situation. Now we get calls from support workers saying that Client X has been suspended for two months and will need three parcels a week until things are put back in place. For us that means 25 food parcels or so which doesn’t leave a whole lot of change out of a hundred quid.
I am sure you can imagine how annoying this is. When these new measures were planned out in some wood panelled Whitehall office, I have little doubt that the beaurocrats who decided to target every Job Centre worker to get a minimum of three people a week off benefits took the decision in the secure knowledge that the individuals in question would not starve to death. People starving to death on the streets of Britain wouldn’t be very good for the image now would it? Not the thing at all. Imagine how embarrassing it would be at drinks parties in Washington? Imagine how the Germans would shake their heads and make tut tut noises at European Union jollies? And God forbid, imagine the fun the French would have making snide comments and generally taking the piss?
So. I think it is fairly clear that mass starvation would not be deemed a particularly good thing.
But if a person has no money whatsoever for anything up to two years and they cannot find a job, then how do they actually manage NOT to starve to death? Easy. It is generally assumed that the good old Voluntary Sector will step up to the plate and keep bodies and souls together. And guess what? That is exactly what we do. If someone needs 25 food parcels to survive through a two month suspension, then that is what we will give them. I am sure you can guess at the amount of ducking and diving this involves, but we do it. The main reason that we are able to step up to the plate is that the local community is stepping up to the plate at the same time. Every day people call in with carrier bags full of food. Local churches gather up provisions every Sunday morning. It is very much a ‘hook or by crook’ affair, but so far we have never turned anyone away.
The maths are enough to make you want to get hold of a hammer and smash up a telephone box. Eight weeks of non paid dole comes in at about £480. However there is bound to be a whole bunch of paperwork involved in actually suspending someone and that will carry a cost. I also expect that artificially rendering people penniless for weeks on end must be a pretty trying way for the JobCentrePlus staff to spend their days. Let’s not forget the staff at the Job Centre are all completely normal people who are worried sick at the prospect of paying the mortgage, filling up the car and paying the next electric bill just like the rest of us. I for one would hate the thought of being targeted to completely mess up the lives of a minimum of three people every week of my working life. It must be desperately depressing and the clients will seldom take it lying down. Days must be a made up of hour after hour of getting abused and threatened. Stressful? Oh yeah. Bloody stressful. I wonder how many JobCentrePlus staff are signed off sick with stress on any given day? Loads I expect. And all that sick pay will add up and take a great big bite out of the nominal public purse saving of £480 generating by kicking someone off benefits for two months.
When we add up the added admin costs and the signed off sick costs I very doubt if there will be any saving at all to speak of. But there is a very definite extra cost lumped on to the Voluntary Sector who are expected to keep the show on the road.
Thanks for that.
For the sake of argument let’s assume that a two month benefit suspension does indeed save the tax payer £200. If 10,000 people a month are suspended this would generate a saving of £65000 a day which sounds one hell of a lot. It isn’t actually. It is about 0.05% of our daily deficit. Which of course kind of shows just how bloody big the deficit actually is.
I wonder if there is something else going on here? One of the prime pieces of evidence that the Government is using to convince the Chinese and the Arabs that lending us a hundred and twenty million quid a day at 2% is a sound and sensible idea is the fact that our unemployment register is miles lower than the likes of France and Greece and Spain. We can’t be all that bad if there are so few people on the dole when compared to there countries. Or so the story goes.
It seems to me that there might just be more than one way to kill this particular cat. Of course it is great if you can create an economic climate where there are loads of new jobs on offer every month. It sure doesn’t feel that way. Alternatively you can make sure that you suspend lots of people for tiny technicalities and thereby get them off the big list. As a conjuring trick it has a lot going for it. It gives us a story to tell to the men from Beijing and Riyadh. And it also gives us a chance to take the Mick out of the French in Brussels.
Is it true?
Well here is where you come in Russell. I think it would be a really good idea if you were to put in a Freedom of Information request to the Dumfries JobCentrePlus. A simple question. Get them to tell you exactly how many are suspended from benefits on any given day. Once we have the answer to that question, then we can do some simple maths.
Population of Dumfries? About 50,000. In very rough figures that is 0.1% of the population of Britain. So if we find that there are 250 people suspended in Dumfries it would be fair enough to multiply this by 1000 and assume that a quarter of a million are suspended in the UK as a whole. And that would make the unemployment figures look a little less rosy.
Should that be the case, some basic questions of morality probably need to be asked. Basically, is it morally justifiable to screw a quarter of a million people to keep the interest rate down on the £120 million we borrow each and every day? Let’s not forget that we would have to close down a whole lot of hospitals and schools if the rate went up to the same as the Spanish, Greeks and Italians are paying. I think a bit of honesty would be nice if this is indeed the reason behind what is going down. As far as we are concerned at First Base, we would appreciate a bit of honesty. It doesn’t seem much to ask, especially when we are expected to find a way to pick up all the pieces.
So it’s over to you Russell.
Best of British and all that! 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


For those of you who have been following this blog for a while will no doubt be familiar with the story of our run in with Barnardo’s. Basically they refused to sell us their carrier bags to use to hold the contents of our food parcels because they felt it would be horrid and wrong to associate their treasured brand with such a tawdry activity. A very, very southern lady from their Marketing Department spoke to me down the phone in words carefully chosen for a backward five year old. She was clearly working on the assumption that the unwashed masses residing in our hell holes north of Watford Gap have great trouble with the whole reading and writing thing. In fact she seemed at a loss to understand why I was so taken aback at her refusal to allow me to buy any carrier bags from her. But then I pictured her taking a patient deep breath and remembering that northern types like me understand very little beyond eating chips, getting drunk, watching football and applying for parts as extras in Hovis adverts.

Anyway. She got me seriously pissed off and I got it off my chest in a blog. I have completely given up trying to second guess which blogs will attract an audience. Sometimes I write something that I reckon people will be pretty interested in and barely a soul gives it a second glance. Other times I get completely taken by surprise. On the surface of things a couple of charities having a spat over plastic carrier bags didn’t seem like the kind of thing to achieve much in the way of global reach. Well I was wrong about that one. Big style.

The blog in question seems to have winged its way around the world and for the first time the page has been visited in great numbers by the good folk of Australia. That one has got me wondering. Why would the carrier bag thing play so big down in Oz? Then I remembered watching a documentary about all the thousands of British orphans in the 40’s and 50’s who were shipped to the other side of the world to be packed away into children’s homes from hell. Little wonder a story shining an unforgiving light on a children’s charity found an audience Down Under.

Our local paper – The Standard – picked up on the tale and now it seems like the whole of Dumfries knows about what went down. And here is where we come to the great ending to the saga promised in the blog title.

A couple of days after the story ran, David and Gladys came in to see us. They explained that they had read the story and felt as outraged as everyone else. More to the point, they had a solution and they handed the solution over to me in a white envelope. Their solution was a donation of £250 for us to get our own bags printed.

All of us were completely gobsmacked by their generosity. How could we not be? They are not rich people. They are a retired couple who try to do what they can to help out in the community. I got myself online, found a supplier, agreed a design and last week we had 3000 bright yellow bags delivered bearing our name, opening hours and contact details. In the end the set up charges meant the bags cost £450 and David and Gladys called back in with a further donation of £200. Even more gobsmacking.

I guess they are what David Cameron had in mind in the days when he was banging on about the Big Society as opposed to hating immigrants, Europe and the poor.

I’m going to pause a moment here for an unashamed John Lennon moment. Imagine how our country might look right now if all of us behaved like David and Gladys? I have no idea what percentage of their disposable income £450 represents, but I would hazard a guess that it is a fair amount. If all of us took a similar view of the world around us, it would without doubt be a far better place to live and breathe in. Apparently those up at the top of the tree had a pretty good year last year. 200 individuals of the super rich managed to grow their collective wealth by over £150 billion and at the same time they coughed up 0.14% tax. Not bad in the midst of a recession. Were they to wake up one morning and decide to live their lives like David and Gladys, then there would be no need for thousands of our poorest citizens to be ground into the dust by the Bedroom Tax and all the other vicious little changes to the benefit system that are kicking the poor in the teeth.

Maybe it is best not to dwell too long on the Lennon view of life. Those who spout such dreams tend not to end up in a ten million pound pile in Belgravia. Instead they bleed out on a New York sidewalk. I seem to remember something about a Palestinian terrorist who knocked about a couple of thousand years ago and got right up the noses of the Establishment. I think he was from somewhere up Galilee way. He was one of the first to set up an ‘Occupy’ type movement and got himself into hot water when he was lifted for committing acts of criminal damage in a bank. Tipped over tables and all sorts, so he did.  In the end he was dobbed in by a tout and crucified. Something tells me that he would have given David and Gladys a big thumbs up. As would John Winston Lennon of Menlove Avenue, Liverpool L18.

I haven’t just got God by the way, but you can’t help but take a shine to anyone who goes off on one in a bank and tips over the money lender’s counting tables.

Yesterday I had a different kind of community experience. I got a call a couple of months ago asking if I could do a talk about the charity for a local community group. Sure. No problem. It’s what we do. I pitched up yesterday afternoon to find a room with an audience of about 25 waiting to hear all about who we are and what we do. Average age? Mid sixties I guess. The schedule was me then coffee and cake and then bingo. I gave a potted history and an overview of the currant drugs situation and everyone seemed pretty interested.

Next it seemed a good idea to chat through all the up coming benefit changes and to explain why our food parcel service has trebled.

And all hell let loose.

From a quiet and attentive audience they became angry and animated. Some banged the table and bemoaned the fact that they were being hit hard whilst others who had never worked a day in their lives were living lives of Riley. Some demanded that anyone addicted to drugs should be given nothing. Less than nothing. Others raged against the Government. Other saved their anger for the English and for a while I wondered if they might turn into a lynch mob. Was my Lancashire upbringing going to see my strung up from a lamppost like an aristocrat in St Petersburg 1917? And then with the inevitability of night following day ,the dreaded immigrants entered the toxic mix. They should all be sent home. Of course they should. Why should they be given brand new houses and paid hundreds of pounds a week? And why the hell are we giving millions of pounds away to other countries when so many at home are having a hard time?

I’m not all that good at being particularly polite in such situations. Usually I just shut the thing down by pointing out that I have a black wife and two brown boys. This news brings on open mouths and expressions that suggest people would like a hole to open up and swallow them. People who demand for all immigrants to be sent back home never expect the middle aged white British guy will have a black wife! Yesterday it seemed unfair to play that particular card. They were quite an old crowd and they were enjoying letting off steam. I made the point that just about every penny of our wealth came from robbing people at gunpoint and I gave them a George Galloway quote. ‘When we arrived in East Bengal in the 18th Century it was the richest place on earth. When we left in 1948 it was the poorest place on earth. I wonder what happened there then?” What happened indeed?

They didn’t seem to like that much. And they didn’t much like talk of getting rich out of selling slaves either, though one or two were at pains to point out that slavery was an English thing.

So there it all was. A Pandora’s Box of prejudice stirred up by newspapers and politicians alike. The back story to UKIP romping home in second place in the Eastleigh by-election. It is the old, old story. Hard Times really should be the catalyst for communities to open up doors and come together. Hard Times call for all of us to make like David and Gladys. And if we all did indeed make like David and Gladys, then the times wouldn’t seem so very hard after all.

But we don’t and it is hardly surprising that we don’t. For every single day we are drip fed messages of subtle hate. We are given scapegoats to blame for all that it is bad and yesterday afternoon those same scapegoats were lined up one by one. The immigrants, the English, the shirking poor, the drug addicts and of course the Government.

And the 200 of so inhabitants of Belgravia, Grand Cayman, St Moritz and Monte Carlo who made £150 billion last year and paid 0.14% tax?

Nobody mentioned them. Surprise, surprise. They got a pass.

I blame the English for that.

And the immigrants!

‘Imagine all the people … living in harmony ….’

Dream on John. The Belgravia set are not about to allow any ‘living in harmony’ any time soon. Once upon a time we perfected our ‘Divide and Rule’ skills in India and Kenya and Ireland. Now we do much the same at home.     

A little bit of Peace and Love.....
And a little bit of Criminal damage in a bank.....