I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Tuesday, 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.....


  1. Go David and Gladys. It's great to know that there are still some folk out there who put their money where their mouths are!
    I had my own little blog rant this week over at Authors Electric.
    Strangely enough it also featured John Lennon's Imagine (must be an age thing) in the context of FairTrade though. I have to say that the response from everyone around to even READ anything about FairTrade at my online festival never mind write anything has been WOEFUL. When I was reminding people every five minutes I got maybe 10 visitors. I've had 8 in the last 4 days. I can only assume that the chattering classes really aren't interested either in me or FairTrade. And given your 'community' group experience, it somehow doesn't surprise me.

  2. Piece in our local paper this week about somebody assaulting - and terrifying - a young Polish woman in the small deli were she was working. Racist abuse culminated in him spitting at her. It's truly worrying how much hate there is out there, fostered, drip drip drip, by our politicians and the tabloids.