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 11, 2014


“The army tried one last time to bring him back into the fold. And if he pulled over, it all would have been forgotten. But he kept going, and he kept winning it his way, and they called me in. They lost him. He was gone. Nothing but rumours and random intelligence, mostly from captured VC. The VC knew his name by now, and they were scared of him. He and his men were playing hit and run all the way into Cambodia."

Of course you really need Martin Sheen’s voice to do the words justice. They lost him. He was gone. The quote certainly made a pretty major impact on an 18 year old Frankland in an empty Preston Odeon. Way, way back. Pre Maggie Thatcher and pre middle age. 1979 for Christ's sake!

First Base lost one this week, but in no way, shape or form is he playing hit and run all the way into Cambodia. Nor does he have any men at his side. Instead the one we have lost is sofa surfing his away round the flats of North West Dumfries whilst the local cops make half hearted efforts to pick him up.

So Robbie is now a man on the run. He must have made all the right noises in prison. He must have smiled when he was expected to amile and nodded earnestly when he was expected to nod earnestly. He must have made all the right noises. All the right promises. This time everything would be different. This time he had learned his lesson. This time he would stay clear of the Buckfast and the handfuls of blue valium. This time he would stay clean and knuckle down and look for a job or do a course and see his kids and start out on the road to becoming a model citizen. Honest.

Did anyone really buy any of it? I doubt it. They must have been tempted to roll their eyes and say come on Robbie, pull the other one, it’s got bells on. But Robbie is a dab hand at promising to turn over a new leaf. He is one of those lads you just can’t help but like. He has a ready smile and he is always genuinely confused at how he has managed to get himself into so much bother.


When he tells you that everything will be different this time, you really want to believe it. Hell, everyone really wants to believe it. Robbie really wants to believe it. And why should it not be so? On the surface Robbie has all the tools he needs. He is smart and popular and charming. If a prospective employer were to interview ten young lads and Robbie was one of the ten, then the odds would always be stacked in his favour. But then of course they would ask for a sight of his criminal record and the whole thing would fall apart into a million pieces. Bloody hell. Would you believe it? All those times inside at that age. And he seemed such a grand lad….

We first came across Robbie when he was fifteen. He came in with his mum and brother and all of his horizons were open and bright. His mum had just read one of my books and she was looking to pick up a couple more. I was just about at the end of ‘The Poisonous Past’ and my mind had turned onto a design for the cover. I had a plan for a picture of two lads in hoodies standing somewhere in the wrong part of town. How would Robbie and his brother feel about being the lads for the picture? No problem. Glad to help. And they did. You can see them at the top of the page.

After that he called in every now and then to let us know how things were going. Back then the big dream was a career in the Army. It had been his dream for as long as he could remember. When he reached 16 the time for the dream to come true duly arrived and the British Army liked the look of him. Just like everyone else.

But it didn’t work out. After a few weeks he was chronically homesick and he chucked it in and came home. But home was suddenly a problem. You see, he had never bothered to formulate a plan B. All there had ever been was the Army and he had no kind of backup plan. So he fell in with the other lost boys who had walked out of school with no hopes and aspirations. He fell into a life of guzzled Buckfast and handfuls of cheap and cheerful pills and low grade moronic gang fights.

And trouble. More and more trouble until the Sheriff got fed up with listening to his excuses and sent him up the road to Her Majecty’s Polmont prison for young offenders. Once again he got pretty damned homesick but this time the option of chucking it in and heading back to Dumfries wasn’t on the cards.

He served out his time and came home full of good intentions which once again failed to materialise. We saw his name in the court files of the paper on day. I can’t remember what he had done. Just more drunken idiocy. It seemed more than likely that community service would be the punishment of choice. So I picked up the phone and tracked down his Criminal Justice worker. I said that if he were to get a few hundred hours of community service he could come along and do it at First Base.

And so it was. He became a part of our schools programme and what a complete and utter star he was. Sixteen year old likely lads are never much likely to listen to anything an old sod like me says. Why on earth would they? But when Robbie told it like it was, they sat quiet and took on board every word. They filed away what it was like to spend a weekend in the custody cells. What it was like to be a small town boy in the midst of all the Glasgow hard nuts in Polmont. How it was to live with the guilt of letting your mum down. Again, and again and again…

Coppers started taking him with them because the kids would listen to him. Hang on his words. Take him seriously. Get the fact the getting in the shit real time is a far cry for Grand Theft Auto or 50 Cent.

And for a while everything seemed possible. He settled down with his girlfriend and started to be a pretty good dad to his daughter. His brother started to talk to him again after being disgusted for years.

One by one, all the good things of a normal life started to come his way. A family. A partner. Two kids. A job. Respect. Self respect….

And then he blew the lot over the course of a madcap weekend with the lost boys and too many blue valium pills to keep a count of.

‘The army tried one last time to bring him back into the fold and if he had pulled over it would all have been forgotten. But he kept on going… they lost him …. He was gone.”

The slippery slope. More stupid crimes, most of which he couldn’t remember the next morning when he woke up in the cells. More self disgust. More shame. Breakups. Rows. Fracture.

And jail time.

And after a while, the local Homeless Department told him they were done with him. And local Housing Associations told him the they were done with him. Just about everyone told him they were done with him. We never did, but he stopped coming in to see us. Too embarrassed. Unwilling to have memories dragged back up of a the time when it looked like his life was about to get back on the tracks.

Every now and then I would bump into him out and about in the town. Sometimes he was off his face. Sometimes he was clear headed and sombre. Always he was his normal charming self. He would always promise to call in the next day. And he never came. The last time I saw him was in Tesco a few months ago. He had a black eye and his skin was grey. He was with some lass who looked like her brain had departed for somewhere on the far side of Pluto. He didn’t know what to do with his hands and he couldn’t drag his eyes from the floor. She kept pulling at his sleeve but seemed to lack the strength to pull it very hard. Two sets of eyes swivelled on stalks. They never said anything, but was clear that they were expecting to be turfed out by security at any minute.

He promised to call in the next day.

He never came in the next day.

Surprise, surprise.

A few days later I heard that he was back inside. And then we got a call saying there was a chance that he might be let out on a tag so long as he signed on the dotted line to put in community service time. Could he come and do his hours at the First Base Walled garden? Sure he could. But I never for a minute really thought that he would. The idea was that he would call in to arrange things on the day after his liberation.

He never came.

The only address he was able to give to the privatized keepers of the electronic tag was his dad in Annan. Well he wasn’t there long. He cut off the tag and went on the run.

They lost him. He was gone.

Now his dad comes through to Dumfries on the train every day to try and track him down and hand him in. On a couple of occasions he has missed him by less than ten minutes. But at the time of writing Robbie is still at large. No money and no prospects of anything other than yet another stretch inside. No doubt by now most of his pals will be getting pretty pissed off with the late night knock and the fugitive on the sofa.

How long will it last? Christ knows. I don’t expect the police are giving his capture any great priority. He doesn’t warrant Tommy Lee Jones and a bunch of tracker dogs. They probably figure that he will get fed up of the fugitive life soon enough and eventually the idea of a warm cell and three square meals a day will look pretty appealing.

I’ll hit the publish button on this in a few minutes at which point theses words will wing their way off to who knows where. Maybe they will be read by someone who is giving our runaway the use of a sofa. Should that be the case, then try and persuade him to have a read. Tell him he’s a bloody daftie. And tell him that the door to 6 Buccleuch St is always open.
And maybe, just maybe, this blog can make like a virtual message in a bottle.
You know well enough that we don’t bite Robbie. Sure you’ll feel embarrassed and sure you’ll like a right dickhead. Well, such is life. That will pass soon enough. I reckon it’s time to have a another go at getting things back on track. Sure it will be a long haul and most of it will be pretty crap but you’re going to have to start sometime.

So its over to you Robbie. The kettle’s on.


  1. Robbie, I'm the kind of woman you probably wouldn't have much time for - too privileged, living down south, no real idea of what your life is like. But I was moved by your story. Mark clearly cares about you and what happens to you. So do I. Not that it makes much difference to you, me caring about you, but I do. I really hope that you find whatever it is that you need to get your act together again. This stranger cares about you - and wishes you well Robbie.

  2. Wow. What a great comment! Thanks for that, seriously.

  3. Hi Robbie its lesley , I hope u come back to firstbase at some point and if u do I'm always there to talk to, I miss your chirpy nature and I need my friend back to help me out on the school's!!