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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


I took a drive through the Eurotunnel a few days ago and I was surprised to bump into a few unexpected ghosts. Over the last ten years or so, the journey from Dumfries to Belgium and back has become a part of my routine. It is my tobacco run. Twenty hours of driving to buy a year’s worth of nicotine addiction. £900 on the credit card for tobacco which would set me back over £6000 were I to buy it in Tesco.

Sorry George, but that’s life. You’re just going to have to tax some other poor sod to death.

I left at five in the evening and drove east along Hadrian’s Wall with the dying autumn sun at my back. By the time I hit the A1 it was well and truly dark. A gliding drive south through the slowly unfolding hours of a regulation weekday night. Familiar landmarks. Doncaster. Newark. Grantham. Stamford. Once upon a time I covered these very same miles in my old VW Beetle as I headed north from the ancient Disneyland of Cambridge to the bear pit of Anfield and 1980’s Liverpool. There are no more roundabouts now. And the airbases are empty of American planes. The Pershing missiles of the 80’s have been replaced a chain of gaudily lit roadside diners.

Night driving makes the mind wander, usually backwards. When you drive the length of the A1 you can feel the shift from North to South in your bones. Once upon a time it wasn’t so very subtle because the North still looked like the North. The horizon framed great mills and winch gear on top of the pits. In the year we won the European Cup in Rome for the second time, a ride up the Al meant being stopped at least three times by hard faced coppers in riot gear. Who are you? Where are you going? Where have you come from? It was really hard to make them believe that I really was nothing more than a student headed back north to watch the match. I was male. I was in my early twenties. I was a scruffy bastard in a clapped out car. They saw me as a flying picket trying to make my way to the front line of the Miner’s Strike. My Lancashire accent marked me out as being the ‘Enemy Within’.

Now the visual gap between the north and the south is rather more subtle. More traffic. Huge infrastructure projects. Less patience.

Once I was over the Thames the road signs started to tell me there were delays at Junction 11A of the M20. Sod it. Was that the exit to the Eurotunnel? Probably. Pictures of a twenty hour snarl up started to form.
Maidstone Services at two in the morning. I logged onto the Eurotunnel site to be informed there were no problems. Not tonight. Operation Stack was not required. Not tonight. So maybe it would be OK.
I waited on a black coffee from the smiling East Europeans who were running the 24 hour McDonalds. A young couple joined me at the counter. Early twenties and dressed up to and beyond the nines in designer ware. They had followed me onto the car park in the kind of car that would make a copper with a speed gun lick his lips with anticipation.

They were dolled up for the kind of night club we get to see on the Bacardi adverts on the TV. After huge consideration, they ordered just about everything on the menu and then carried their feast next door to a room of gaudily flashing slot machines that promised a maximum win of a thousand pounds.

Was this the destination they had in mind when they spent big on getting their hair done with such precsion? Life in the fast lane? Two thirty in the morning with a Big Mac meal and a slot machine promising a grand to the lucky winner?

Young designer love in Britain 2015.
Once I was within thirty miles of the Eurotunnel there were wagons everywhere. Parked up. Beached. Hundreds and hundreds of them. This was not Operation Stack. This was clearly the new normal.
There was a five mile queue of them at Junction 11A. 

But the car lane was empty. I felt a bizarre guilt as I slid by and checked myself onto the 5.30 crossing.
It was still dark when I reached France and the road to Belgium was pre dawn quiet. I parked up, crashed out and by 8.30 I was on the road back to the tunnel complete with a bootfull of Virginia’s best.
A watery sun lit up a picture of utter chaos. It felt like every wagon in Europe was clogging up every centimetre of spare ground in and around Calais. Hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds. They were queuing two abreast for the last ten miles of motorway before the tunnel. The remaining two lanes were not enough to deal with the day to day traffic. So all was snarled and in every car there seemed to be a fuming face. Christ the people of Calais must be seriously pissed off with having the paranoid craziness of the British immigration policy dumped on their doorstep.

Once again there was no queue for cars.

But the wagons? Their queue must have been at least two or three days long. Once upon a time I had a lot of dealings with the haulage industry and their profit margins are forever tight. The chaotic Calais car park must surely be  graveyard for hundreds of small haulage companies. You can’t make any kind of living when your truck stands idle for days at a time because Theresa May wants to look good in the eyes of the Daily Mail. It hit me that the hundreds of static trucks represent our life blood. We neither make stuff nor grow stuff any more. Instead our miraculous economy is all about printing money and buying what we need form someone else. 

Including 70% of our food.
On any given day our supermarkets have enough in the cupboards to cover two days of sales. After two days we all rely on the supply chain. After two days we rely on all of those hundreds and hundreds of wagons to keep the shelves topped up. In the 1940’s we all relied on the Atlantic convoys to bring us our daily bread. Then the enemy was the U boat fleet for the Kriegsmarine. Now we rely on thousands of wagons, most of them owned and driven by one man band operations trying to scratch enough of a living to cover the mortgage. They are not facing oblivion care of one of Admiral Canaris’s torpedoes. Instead their enemy is to be found in the bitter and twisted corridors of the Home Office where it seems to have been deemed to be acceptable for our haulage fleet to be sacrificed in order to keep 3000 refugees living rough in the woods outside Calais.

Nice one Theresa. It seems the Welfare Reforms are not making enough people hungry for your liking. First you starve the unemployed poor. Then you starve the working poor. And then the only thing left to do is starve every bugger else.

But hey, at least the Daily Mail will be happy and they will keep telling you what a completely terrific gal you are and my oh my aren’t those new shoes to completely die for.

The Calais end of the Eurotunnel has changed a lot over recent years. Now it is all about fences. Lots and lots of fences. High gleaming fences with razor wire glittering in the morning sun.

Fortress Britain on French soil.

Dodgy semi armoured vans riding the no-mans land between the fences. No mines there yet. No machine gun nests either. Just lots of hard faced tyoes cradling automatic weapons and itching to let the bullets fly.

And this was the moment when my unexpected ghost arrived.

The early eighties were a time when a daft lad looking to walk on the wild side didn’t have to travel all that far to get a feel for life on the edge. A short ferry ride over the waters of the Irish Sea would take you to the bullet scarred streets of West Belfast where a Lancashire accent in the wrong pub could earn you the kicking of your life. Or much, much worst.

And then there were the trips into the East. Through the Iron Curtain. Into the frightening greyness of East Germany. The other side of the looking glass. A border like no other. Rough handling and god help any Westerner who hadn’t left a bottle of scotch handily placed for the guys with the unsmiling faces.

Three times I went through the line at Eisenach. A small town on the Thuringian plain. A small town on the road to Leipzig with its vast smoke belching factories.

At night you could see the Eisenach border crossing from about three miles out as the straight line of the autobahn carried you towards the glow of the arclights.

It was a huge sprawling place of brutal white light and watch towers and fences.

Fences and fences and fences.

On one side of the fence were chocolate villages with streets full of Mercs and BMWs and supemarkets selling mountains of bananas. One the other side of the fence were smoke belching Trabants and not a banana to be found. Ever.

And between the one and the other was Eisenach.

Fences and fences and fences.

And a clear message. You are not welcome here. Not now. Not ever. We don’t want your type.

We don’t do niceties here.

We don’t greet visitors with a warm smile.

We don’t say ‘Welcome to the German Democratic Republic, we hope you enjoy your stay.”

Oh no.

Not here.

Not in Eisanach.

Not in this nest of razor wire.

Here we are all about dead eyes and machine gun towers.

Here the message to visitors is crystal clear.

Why not fuck off.

Before we shoot you.

Eisenach border crossing on a glittering winter night was like nowhere else. It was the Cold War up close and personal. It left a mark.

And now as I made my way through security zones of fencing and hard faced men with cradled guns, the ghost of Eisenach was in the passenger seat.    

We don’t do niceties here.

We don’t greet visitors with a warm smile.

We don’t say ‘Welcome to Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we hope you enjoy your stay.”

Oh no.

Not here.

Not in Calais GB.

Not in this nest of razor wire.

Here we are all about dead eyes and machine guns

Here the message to visitors is crystal clear.

Why not fuck off.

Before we shoot you.

And once again it hit me. We are slowly but surely becoming East Germany. A small battened down hateful place when nasty beaurocrats hold sway. We’re good at sport and rubbish at everything else except corruption on an industrial scale. We have CCTV instead of the Stasi, but Big Brother watches all the same.
We have walled ourselves in to treasure our arrogant mediocrity. And we spend our money on fences and fences and fences.

And we have spent big to get our very own Eisenach.


  1. You obviously don't realise that the "migrant crisis" is over. The Uk's taking 20,000 over 5 years. So, no more reports on the BBC of hundreds of thousands of refugees, sorry, migrants, flooding into Greece and Italy and Hungary heading north. Apart from the occasional boatload rescued in the Med, or landing in an RAF base, that's it. it's not on the News...ergo it doesn't exist.

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