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.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


It would appear that the world has somehow turned on its head this week because an old lady finally succumbed to her final stroke. Predictably enough, the floodgates opened up wide and all sorts of pent up stuff came a pouring out. Let’s face it, Maggie Thatcher dying was hardly a surprise. Within hours of her breathing her last, every TV channel slotted a ready made tribute show into their re-jigged schedules.

Her death has given people from both sides of our fractured land the chance to say what they have been dying to say for years and years. By and large, the South seems sad to see her go. Nouveau riche football Chairmen seriously seem to have considered giving her a minute’s silence. In the North, nobody in their right mind would even think of it. The word is that the Reading Chairman John Madejski is really pissed off. He of course is a big Thatcher success story. He made his millions, bought his trophy football club and no doubt he is chuffed to bits to see the Welfare State being dismantled piece by piece. He is itching to demand silence in the football stadium that bears his name to pay proper homage to the greegrocer’s daughter from Grantham who created a free for all playground for him to make himself filthy rich. There is only one problem. A ticklish problem. 5000 pesky unwashed types from the northern wasteland of Liverpool who would only respect a minute’s silence in homage of the Iron lady if they were mown down by a machine gun.

Those who love her for cutting the ropes and allowing the rich to become super rich have relished the chance to tell the rest of us all about it. Those who were shafted the hardest have painted a rather different picture. We have seen celebratory rallies and all manner of jokes and the old Wizard on Oz number ‘Ding, dong the Witch is Dead’ has been dusted down and propelled up the charts.

What a pitiful spectacle this has been. When all is said and done, the online campaign to get the song up the charts is little more that a pathetic student joke. Is it funny? Not really. Will it make any difference to anything whatsoever? Obviously not. What would have Maggie herself have made of it? She would have dismissed it with her usual contempt. She was many things and not many of them good, but the woman who dusted herself down and fronted up within minutes of the IRA coming within a few feet of rubbing her out would hardly have bothered herself with a bit of puerile student humour. Not so the breed of puffed up new rich bastards she created, probably without really wanting to. They instinctively took the opportunity to throw their weight around and managed to bully the BBC into making a big deal about it. Who won? The usual suspects won of course. The ones who own all the newspapers and more or less everything else.

Banning a song from a movie made in 1939 is the kind of thing they used to do in the repressed countries behind the Iron Curtain. It is the kind of thing that would be done today in North Korea. It is the kind of thing that always gets done in any country where a very few self important people manage to get a hold of way too much power. Like Hitler’s Germany. Like Stalin’s Russia. Like Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Like Apartheid South Africa. Like the Britain Maggie helped to make.

This fact of course would drive The Lady absolutely crazy. Call her what your like, but few would argue that she had a deep and instinctive loathing from this kind of mediocre totalitarian crap. It is hard to argue with the very clear fact that she was instrumental in winning the Cold War. History of course gives the dismal regimes that ruled Eastern Europe for 45 years after the war a more benign look than was the case at the time. Anyone under the age of 24 has little conception of what those wretched countries were really like. I took several trips to the other side of the line and the memory is still sharp. They were repressed, grey and brutal places where horribly pampered beaurocrats kept millions in line with the fear of the secret police coming to call at three in the morning. Anyone who has watched a line of shivering Soviet pensioners queuing for three hours in minus 20 degree temperatures for the chance to buy a rotten cabbage will have no fond memories of Bolshevik Communism. The hard faced bastards who would stand on the balcony and watch their treasured nuclear weapon trundle by in the May Day Parade would definitely have banned the BBC from playing ‘Ding, dong the Witch is dead’. And Maggie would have given them absolute hell for doing so. How ridiculous that a new and different breed of jumped up oligarchs have been able arrange such a petty ban in the supposedly free Britain of 2013.

A few days before Maggie died, I followed a strand on Twitter to a story that was in its way even more momentous that her passing. In January, the last American tank was quietly shipped out of Germany.

What a quite extraordinary moment. The American tanks arrived in Germany in the winter of 1945 and stayed for 68 long years. In the years of my youth, they were part of the thin line that fronted up the might of the Red Army. Back then, there seemed only one possible ending to the Cold War and it wasn’t a good one. I spent my teenage years with a dull resignation that one day I would be snuffed out care on an intercontinental ballistic missile fired of from some buried silo east of Novisibirsk.

The Cold War was something that was set in stone. It was a thing that would be forever. A cold shadow of death that would always quietly chill our bones.

But it wasn’t of course. History makes a mockery of that kind of certainty. In the Spring of 1941, Hitler’s promise of a Thousand Year Reich didn’t look so far fetched at all. Then he had a go at invading Russia without giving his stormtroopers any winter clothing. When Saddam Hussein promised us the ‘Mother of all Battles’ it didn’t seem all that far fetched. But when the Marine Corps rampaged into Iraq, the much feared Republican Guard melted away like an ice cube in a Qatari Footabll Stadium.

I firmly believe that the same will apply to the ‘no such thing as society’ guff we have been hearing a lot about this week. Apparently Maggie never actually said ‘there is no such thing as society’, but it was always easy enough to believe that she had. She certainly did a pretty good job of smashing up many of the institutions that held our society together. She seemed hell bent of breaking up anything that gave the chance of people coming together and making their voices heard: coal mines, factories, trade unions or football grounds, she had a go at all of them.

The perceived wisdom of this week from both sides of the divide is that she was completely successful in this aim. Here is something that Polly Toynbee and Rupert Murdoch can agree on. Society is broken and will remain so for ever and ever. What a load of tosh. We have seen plenty of times throughout the span of human history where a few individuals manage to grab all the money and power and duly manage to convince everyone that this state of affairs will go on forever. It doesn’t. It didn’t in ancient Rome or Napoleonic France or Nazi Germany or Tsarist Russia or Bolshevik Russia. And it won’t last here either. A time will come when the dismally mediocre era of the likes of Sir Philip Green and Fred Goodwin and Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch the bloody Beckhams will come crashing to a close.

Times are already a changing. In Spain, the banks are no longer able to throw a pensioner out of their house when the mortgage is not paid. Every time they send in a couple of cars full of bailiffs to turf out a grandmother, they are met by a mob of a thousand teenagers. The process is simple. Grandma rings her grandson or granddaughter to let them know that the bad guys are on their way. Grandson or granddaughter gets onto Facebook and Twitter and they do their stuff and by the time the bailiffs arrive, the mob is waiting and ready. In the beginning the bailiffs called the cops and demanded backup. But the cops told then to take a hike. No way were they about to launch a mega riot to help some bank evict a pensioner who had had their pension slashed to help to pay for the losses made by the very same bank. And so the Spanish banks have given up trying to evict pensioners from their homes. It has become impossible. It has become a thing of the past.

I have no doubt that the next few years will bring more of the same. There will be many more Starbucks moments and very soon the likes of Philip Green will have to hide themselves in Monaco along with their money. They will become unacceptable. Just like the Berlin Wall became unacceptable in November 1989.

The Spanish teenagers offer conclusive proof that contrary to popular opinion, society is very much alive and kicking. And it is capable of kicking harder and harder. The super rich oligarchs will make sure that the politicians pass laws that say it is fine and dandy to evict pensioners from their homes. But society in the end won’t see it that way. And when a thousand youngsters stand in the street and say get stuffed, the laws and the tantrums of the super rich mean bugger all. Just like in November 1989, the Berlin Wall turned out to be nothing more than a pile of crumbling breeze blocks.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend an hour of my life that offered proof positive that society is very much alive and kicking. Last year I was invited to go to church and give a talk about our food parcel service to the congregation of St Johns, Dumfries. Church is always a bit strange for me. I am not remotely religious and I never have been. They listened to what I had to say as I gave what has become almost a stump speech for me. My message was that the days when we can look to the government to fix everything are all but gone. A new era is upon us. If someone in the community has hit the bricks, then the onus is now on the rest of the community to give them a lift up. After all, that’s what we managed to do for hundreds of years before the Welfare State was created. The congregation listened to what I had to say and decided to do something. To act together. To be society.

Now they come to church on Sunday mornings with carrier bags filled with baked beans and rice pudding and jars of jam. And yesterday they started up a new initiative. They put together a team of volunteers to make soup and bake cakes and advertised a lunch for £3 a head. Over fifty people came along and almost £200 was raised for our food parcel service. That is enough for 800 tins of beans. 800 packets of savoury rice. 1400 tins of tinned custard. £200 enables us to feed 70 people for three days. Their goal is to meet a target of 100 people attending a monthly lunch. £300 a month. £3600 a year. Enough for us to feed 1200 people for three days.

It’s called society stupid. It’s here, it’s now and it is alive and kicking. Hitler was quite convinced that the sight of skies full of his bombers would make us bow and scrape to him. No chance. We stuck together and we sorted it out. We sorted him out. And in time, we will sort out to puffed up, tawdry oligarchs who bred like cockroaches from the dung heap of Maggie’s brave new Britain.

David Cameron stood up last week and eulogised his beloved mentor who had made Britain ‘Great’ again. Great! For Christ’s sake. When she walked into Downing Street in 1979, financial services made up 4% of our economy. 34 years on and that figure has become 40%. What is so great about that? Not a lot. Of course it was great for stockbrokers like David Cameron’s dad, but for the rest of us it has been anything but great. If you want to look for greatness, check out St John’s yesterday lunchtime. We are more than capable of being great on our own, thank you very much. Just like those who marched with Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery. Just like the ones who took a hammer to the obscenity that was the Berlin Wall. Just like the Spanish kids facing down the bailiffs. Just like the volunteers to cooked soup and baked cakes yesterday.

No such thing as society?

Dream on guys. All mediocre oligarchs have a shelf life. And you guys have as much chance of getting a thousand years as Hitler did.

In the end the tanks will be quietly loaded on board a ship and sailed back home. In the end society always prevails.             

A Thousand Year Reich ...... Aye Right

You're never going to get a seat on our bus ..... Aye Right 

This wall ain't never going to come tumblin' down ..... Aye Right

You Scousers will all do as you're told and respect my minute's silence for Maggie.... Aye Right



  1. Thanks for that, insightful and honest as ever. I have often questioned the value of a history degree, but I see it every time I read your work!
    And it reminds me of a quote dear to my heart 'be the change you want to see' Yes. It's up to all of us to BE the society we want to be not wait for someone else to print the t shirts and badges - Nike don't own the phrase JUST DO IT (actually, maybe they do, but I don't care, I'll steal their words if I have to!) Who is the quote from - not saying lest it may prejudice the reader! It's up to each of us to take some personal responsibility and make things work the way we want them to, however little power we have. Everyone can affect one other person and from little acorns etc...

  2. bloody brilliant. i've put it on my facebook