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 6, 2013


Regular readers of this blog will be more than aware that I am an inveterate smoker. I’ve been chewing through two packs a day for thirty years and more and I see no prospect of this state of affairs changing any time soon. Various head doctors have explained that it is no accident that so many writers are such mighty smokers. Apparently the dreaded nicotine rings a few creative bells in the brain that other drugs fail to reach. That certainly seems to be the case with me. Without a fag at my side, I find the keyboard an alien thing indeed.


My last two days have involved a 1400 mile drive to outflank the idiotic British tax system. If I pay a visit to the baccy counter in the supermarket, a packet of 20 Camels sets me back £8.10. For Christ’s sake! £17.10 a day. £6241.50 a year. It is indeed a very expensive way to slowly kill myself.

Thankfully there is an alternative which is to jump in the car and drive 700 miles south to the Duchy of Luxembourg where a pack of 20 Camels can be had for £3.40: £6.80 a day: £2482 a year.

So here’s the maths from my long, long drive.

Fuel, £180. Tunnel charge, £50. Travel costs - £230. 32 cartons of Camel, each with a saving of £47. Total saving on fags - £1500. Travel costs - £230. Net saving - £1270. Time on the road – 36 hours. What’s that worth per hour? £35.30! It is the one and only time in my sad and sorry life that I can ever make a such an hourly return and that is all down to the beloved British tax system. I haven’t paid a penny of tax to HM Treasury for my nicotine addiction for years now and I haven’t broken the law thanks to the rules and regulations of the EU which deem it to be OK for any EU citizen to visit any EU country and buy stuff for themselves.

Our holier than thou politicians preach on endlessly about this. They boast that slamming £7 a pack’s worth of tax onto addicts like me is their way of showing us tough love. If they charge us enough we’ll all give it up. Aye right. If they had their way, I would be getting drop kicked to the tune of £5100 a year. Well, dream on George.

I guess there will be many out there who will get all morally outraged at my tax dodging. They will get hot under the collar and tell me that it is my duty to cough up my tax dues so that the NHS is properly funded to sort me out when I start to cough up blood. I don’t buy into that theory. Once we make it past seventy we start to become seriously expensive overheads for the NHS and the older we get, the more expensive we get. By the time we hit our nineties, we cost a living fortune. Not only do we draw our pensions but we need more and more new hips and emergency care. Well the likes of me are making it much less likely that we will ever become such an expensive burden on the fast emptying coffers of the public purse. 40 a day men don’t make it into the nervous nineties. As a rule of thumb we are long gone before that particular cake full of candles is wheeled out. Maybe we should be viewed as model citizens who are voluntarily killing ourselves off early to save the tax payer the eye watering cost of keeping us living and breathing through our dotage.

The last time I looked, about 30% of Brits are still smokers. A high percentage of us come from the poorer side of town. It is rare indeed for First Base to give out a food parcel to a non smoker whilst those who shop in Waitrose tend to have given up what many now see as something of a filthy, plebbish habit.

So our paternalist rulers are still following rules that are hundreds of years old and taxing the living daylights out of the nation’s poor. Well there’s nowt fresh it that.

Of course I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a credit card that can stand the cost of my long drive to the Duchy of Luxembourg. The majority of my fellow addicts are not in such a fortunate position. Their only option to avoid being hammered by £7 a pack’s worth of tax is to buy their tabs from some bloke down the pub. He offers beautifully forged packets that look just like the real thing which are supplied care of the Russian Mafia. Gangsters will always thrive in any environment when Nanny States tax people into poverty in the name of looking after their health and morals. Prohibition in the States gave birth to Al Capone and the Mafia. Our lunatic taxes on fags have offered up an open goal to the charming chaps of the Russian Mafia. Rumour has it that their factories in Kaliningrad are running 24 hours a day. The going wholesale rate for Mafia-tabs is 50p a pack so long as you buy a container load. Once they work their way down the chain, they’ll sell to the end user for £4 or so – a big, fat profit for the gangsters and sweet FA for HM Treasury. And our friends from the East are truly generous guys, for if you buy a pack of their fags you get a whole load of lead and heavy metals included as a freebie. Last year tests on some Mafia-tabs showed they had 400 times more lead in them than the licensed fags on sale at Tesco. When you see the lengths that people will go to strip the lead out of derelict buildings, it is hard not to be impressed by the generosity of our Russian friends.

This is what makes the whole thing so bloody ridiculous. The Government preaches that by hammering smokers with £7 a pack’s worth of tax they are saving the NHS and looking after the nation’s health. The reality is that they are driving millions into the arms of the gangsters and storing up a huge time-bomb for the NHS. Christ knows what kind of hellish cancers the heavy metal filled fags from Kaliningrad will bring forth in the decades to come.

A few years ago the Customs ran an experiment at Man City’s old ground at Maine Rd after a home game. They drew a circle around the stadium with a diameter of about half a mile. Within the circle they scoured the pavements and bins and collected up every empty cigarette packet they could find. Shock, horror. It turned out that 70% were counterfeit. That was 10 years ago. I bet if they repeated the exercise now the figure would be nearer 80%.

So what should our gallant leaders do? Well were they to adopt the Luxembourg policy, the likes of me would have no need to take the long drive south and instead of getting bugger all they would get £1825 a year’s worth of tax off me. And hell, I’m still going to die young, so surely that would be a win/win situation. Were I buying my fags from some bloke down the pub, the situation would be even more win/win. HM Treasury would trouser an extra £1825 and Putin’s finest would lose the thick end of three grand a year. What’s not to like about that? More to the point, loads of smokers from France and Holland and Germany would jump in their cars and come through the tunnel for weekend breaks in Britain to buy their fags. Lots of lovely free spending tourists to boost the economy and less fag tax for Paris and Berlin.
Win, win and win again! 

But of course such practical common sense will never play out in the Westminster village. They will always choose the option of playing the holier than thou card and if millions of stone broke British smokers are pushed into the arms of the Russian mafia, then who gives a shit.

Which all brings me to the History Road. When I drive for many hours through the night, I find my mind wanders far and wide. This is always the case when I emerge through the Channel Tunnel into the empty hours before the dawn. Those wee small hours of the morning when the whole wide world is fast asleep…

History has always been a thing of mine and the road from Calais to Brussels is nothing if not historic for a Brit. The road signs of the night say it all; 600 bloody years’ worth of it. Six hundred years of dirt poor working class lads being sent across the grey waters of the Channel to wage the wars of the their betters: of the great and the good.

Soldiers of the Great War took a brief detour before being sent along the History Road. They were marched a few miles south from Calais to the ‘Bullring’ of Etaples where they were completely brutalised for a few weeks. They volunteered by the million to fight for their King and Country. Once they arrived into France, they were subjected to a savage regime designed to turn them into murderous killing machines. Check out Alan Bleasdale’s ‘The Monocled Mutineer’. Etaples was a disgrace.

A few miles down the History Road you arrive at Dunkirk where the hollow eyed lads of the British Army endured the churning desperation of the beaches for days on end before being shipped back home.

A few miles further, and the small village of Azincourt remembers St Crispin’s day 1415 when 7000 half starved Brits defied all sensible odds and wiped the floor with an army of 20,000 plus French knights. These were the days when lions led lions. When the armies came together, Henry the Fifth was right there in the middle of the front line. He wore the distinctive armour of the King which marked him out to every single French soldier on the field of battle. In the words of the football hooligan – come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough. The man must have been an absolute nutter, but you can’t help but admire his guts. Would Bush and Blair have decided to invade Iraq had they known they would be riding on top of the first tank over the border? I don’t think so.

Next come signs that point to the sites of the primordial hell that was the Western Front. Mons, where the British Expeditionary force stopped the rampaging army of the Kaiser for two crucial days in August 1914. Ypres, where the Germans all but broke through by deploying gas on the battlefield for the first in history in the summer of 1915. Loos, where we decided that if you can’t beat then you best join them, and on 26 September 1915 we sent our own poison gas into their trenches. Except we cocked it up. None of the officers twigged on to the fact that the wind was in their faces. So we sent gas over No Man’s Land and the breeze sent it straight back. The lads in the trenches came up with a way of describing this kind of thing – ‘Lions led by Donkeys’.

A few miles to the south of the History Road, flat grain fields lie on top of the bones of the hundreds of thousands of guys who perished in the hell on earth that was Passendaele.

Fifty miles down the History Road from Loos, and the signs remember another day when for once a lion stepped forward to lead the pride. His name was Wellington and the place was Waterloo.

Past Brussels and the History Rd swings south through the rolling hills of the Ardennes. Here is where we Brits fade from the picture somewhat. To the left is Bastogne where the Paratroopers of the 101st Airbourne stopped Hitler’s last Panzer rampage in the Battle of the Bulge. Metz, where in 1870 the Prussians learnt the art of using efficient railways as a weapon of war to stunning effect. They got all their soldiers onto the battlefield on time. The French trains were late and their disorganised army got completely marmalised. For the next 75 years the world paid a high price indeed for the Germans ability to run a railroad. Next comes Sedan where Rommel’s Panzers smashed through the French lines with a similarly devastating effect under the blue skies of June 1940.

Every time I ride the History Road, similar thoughts wander around my head. I feel unbelievably lucky to have been born in 1960 and to have had the chance to live 52 and a bit years without being shipped across the Channel. To never have been marched down the History Road to the killing fields that have chewed up so many millions of Europeans over the last few hundred years.

After driving by so many sites of historic carnage, it is hard not to arrive at the outskirts of Brussels without some feelings of warmth and affection for the EU. Not only does the EU make it so much harder for the Donkeys of Europe to hoodwink the Lions of Europe into killing each other by the million, but it also gives the chance for hopeless addicts like me to stick two fingers up to HM Treasury and buy our fags from the good folk of Luxembourg.

1400 miles. 36 hours. £5110 tax dodged.

And the silent graves of those half remembered millions who travelled the History Road and never got the chance to make the return trip.  


  1. Back in the 20th century I took a trip to Hull from my home in New Hampshire, U.S.A. My luggage consisted of nothing but camel cigarettes and Carhart dungarees. Brought home a pretty profit after three weeks there. Although I think I left my liver at Spiders.