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, January 30, 2015


Last month my friend Jamie died. Tragically he took his own life. Typing the six words of that particular sentence still seems ridiculous somehow. Tomorrow there will be a memorial to remember Jamie in Kirkudbright. Unfortunately I am not going to be able to make it which saddens me greatly. These words will have to be a poor substitute I guess.
Since September 18th Scotland has become a place of two camps: the ‘Yes’ camp and the ‘No’ camp. They are not Celtic/Rangers style camps. They are certainly not IRA/UDA style camps. But let’s face it, we struggle to get along with each other. It was something I found quite extra-ordinary about the campaign as people I had always got along fine with completely turned and suddenly seemed to want to shout and point. It is a thing that has managed to enter our everyday parlance. You go into a newsagent and the woman behind the counter is a real hard faced harridan who almost throws your change at you. Later when describing the encounter you can save a whole lot of words and effort. All you need to say now is ‘typical ‘No’ voter’ and everyone knows exactly what you mean. Well. So long as they are fellow travelers in the ‘Yes’ camp. I guess those across the divide will speak of us in a similar way.
Jamie was a ‘No’ voter to his toenails. He was one of the very few ‘No’ voters who didn’t feel the need to point a finger at me and shout. Instead we were able to josh each other about being either side of the widening divide. With Jamie, talking about the vote was like talking football with an Everton fan. It was all about taking the Mick with a smile. With most 'No' voting friends and acquaintances, referendum discourse was more akin to a Liverpool/Man Utd exchange of views. If such a discourse from either end of the East Lancs Rd is unfamiliar to you, I can assure you it ain’t pretty. I think Jamie was permanently amused by my fervour for 'Yes'. But when he met my son on the night of the vote he went out of his way to tell Dyonne to try and cheer me up.
In many ways Jamie was the typical ‘No’ voter. He was a land owner who farmed hundreds of acres of drop dead gorgeous Galloway wilderness: a place of rugged hills staring down onto the sparkling waters of the Solway Firth. Kirkcarswell is the kind of place that any Holywood director would choose to film Macbeth or Rob Roy. My favourite line from Shakespeare would find a comfortable roost in on a dark winter’s afternoon at Jamie’s place.
‘Light thickens and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood.’
Sorry Jamie, but I’m going to lay out a few more of your ‘No’ voting credentials. Unbelievably you were eligible for a bus pass, you were seldom out of tweed and let’s face it, you spoke with a pretty posh twang! I think the fact that I am so very comfortable in taking the piss in what is supposed to be a deadly serious document should tell you a lot about the guy I am remembering. The thing is, I remain 100% secure in the knowledge in the fact that wherever you may be now Jamie, there will be a grin on your face. Your trademark grin.
You see Jamie was one of the good guys. One of the best.
No doubt many of my fellow ‘Yes’ travelers will have bridled at the thought of a landowning ‘No’ voter. Well you would be entirely wrong to feel that way. Because Jamie wasn’t a man who wanted to fence in his piece of Scottish paradise. Instead his instincts were to share.
Every year the doors of Kirkcarswell are thrown wide open to everyone and anyone for the three days of the Wickerman Festival. From time to time I have heard locals with trench like chips on their shoulders moaning on and on that the only reason Jamie ran the Wickerman was for money. It never failed to get me riled up and led to some pretty heated exchanges. Running a music festival is right up there with owning a lower league football club as a money making exercise. Had Jamie been interested in nothing more that filling up his bank account, there are about a million ventures which would have been in front of the queue before putting on a music festival. 
Sadly ours is a country where people love nothing more than to judge a person by their accent. Jamie spoke posh so there were many who could never bear to accept that he did what he did for the very best of reasons.
Their loss.
I first got to know him in 2003. The First Base Agency was just a few weeks old and it was already clear that we were not about to be particularly popular with the local powers that be. Let’s just say that opening up a drug and alcohol support centre in Dumfries back then was akin to opening up a Jewish day care centre in Leipzig in 1938. Nobody liked us much and they liked our clients even less. The fact that the two managers were both English and one of them was black didn’t exactly help either. After those first few weeks, it was abundantly clear that the road we had chosen to travel was going to be a rocky one.
And then one sunny day in June my mobile phone rang and Jamie was on the other end of the line. Within seconds I was drawn to the larger than life voice which was filled with all his trademark enthusiasm. He had read my book ‘The Cull’. He had heard about First Base. Would it be OK for him to call in for a chat.
Sure it would.
The next day he bounced in told us all about the very first Wickerman Festival which was about to go down in a few weeks time. Would we like to have a stand? Would we like to be an affiliated charity? Well of course we would. Jamie was the first person who was willing to see beyond the local prejudice and offer us his public backing. Many others have followed over the last twelve years but he was the first.
We will never forget that Jamie.
A couple of years later when our bank account was running on fumes, the postman dropped a letter onto the mat which felt much like sight of the Seventh Cavalry must have once felt to a bunch of wagon train people surrounded by whooping Apaches. Over £1000 have been raised from a dinner dance and somehow Jamie and his wife Patsy had persuaded the organisers to send it along to our unpopular little drugs charity.
We won’t forget that either.
Over the years First Base became accepted and the Wickerman festival grew and grew. In a region where there is less than nothing for young people to do, Jamie’s festival was a shining light in the dreary gloom. Something to look forward to. Something worth counting down the days to.
A few years back we produced a stage version of my book ‘A Christmas Carroll’. We took it round schools and everyone seemed to like it. The cast was pretty rag bag – myself and a bunch of recovering users. Not everyone’s cup of tea, right? I rang Jamie and asked if we could have a tent to put the thing on at the Wickerman? 
Sure we could.
And we did.
And once we had a tent capable of holding 100 people at our disposal it seemed like we should make maximum use of it. So I gave Jamie a call and made my pitch. Young people are completely disengaged from politics, right? 
So maybe the Wickerman should do its bit to change that, right? 
A sigh. 
So how’s about I give Tommy Sheridan a call and see if he will come along to give it both barrels? You know, let’s fill the tent with a hundred youngsters and let them know what an old fashioned firebrand sounds like. What do you reckon? And of course he said yes. And of course he was more than happy to stump up a couple of free tickets for Tommy and Gail.
It is something of a treasured memory. I recall clearly sitting next to Tommy as he split the air asunder. In front of me was a packed crowd of youngsters with their mouths agape and their glazed eyes registering astonishment at the compelling words that were thundering into their ears.
And there was Jamie with his trademark beaming smile. Only in it for the money? Grow up. Get over it. The fact that Scotland’s most notorious left wing firebrand was doing his stuff to an audience of a hundred local kids in a tent in a field in the middle of nowhere was all down to him.
And that is no little thing.
Every time I spent time with Jamie I would leave feeling better about the world around me. He was one of those very rare people whose enthusiasm was genuinely infectious. In the eighteen years that have passed since we emigrated north from Lancashire I have made very few friends. Jamie was certainly one of those few. And I like to think he would have felt the same way. He leaves a horrible hole. The collective heart of our family goes out to Patsy and Jennie. I wish I could pass on condolences in person tomorrow.
A few years back Jamie commissioned me to write short book to be handed out at the festival. I came up with a story called ‘Bialystok’. Here it is.

People seemed to like it. I wrote Jamie into the story and he absolutely hated it. He tried to get bossy and said that he was commissioning the book and so he had the right to edit himself out of it. I told him to get stuffed and played the stroppy author card. And he stayed in. He got over it!
I re-read the story recently and I was greatly relieved to find that the Jamie in the story was very much the Jamie I knew. I’m glad I told him to bugger off. Ideally I wanted to put ‘Bialystok’ into the Kindle Free section to coincide with the Memorial tomorrow but unfortunately it has already been there during the last 90 days which means it cannot go there again. The cheapest that Amazon are willing to let me sell for is 99p.
So 99p it is.
You can find the link to the book’s page at the bottom of the blog. I hope you have a read.
To wrap up I am going to blag a few words from Pink Floyd where they remember a member of the group who was lost to drugs. They chose remember the good times, times when he shone like a crazy diamond.
Shine on you crazy diamond? Sounds a lot like you Jamie.

‘You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Well you wore out your welcome with random precision, rode on the steel breeze.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!’

 To download a copy of 'Bialystok' please follow the link below.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Mark.

    He sounds like a great mate.

    I think we are all, in Britain, taken up with this idea of class, accent, position...

    It's idiotic to think that because someone is rich, or educated, or speaks "the queen's English", he or she is necessarily a bad guy.

    Rich people aren't all Iain Duncan Smith, any more than poor people are Mother Theresa.

    May your friend rest in peace.

    Book purchased.