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, January 26, 2016


History gives us the chance to see the wood from the trees. I often think that the best way to get a handle on what is going on at any particular time is to add on sixty years and see how things might look from the future. History can fall down when trying to get to the bottom of an individual event. You know, the whole who shot Kennedy thing. However when the world enters a whole new era, history can generally dig out the main underlying reasons.

A couple of examples. In the fifteenth century a few hitherto inconsequential European countries suddenly got a handle on how to use gunpowder to kill people. All of sudden they were able to punch way above their weight. This kicked off the story of the next four hundred years as a few small European countries were able to conquer the rest of the world and rob anything that wasn’t nailed down. Gunpowder launched the Age of Empire.

In the mid nineteenth century a few clever guys worked out how to use steam engines to power ships. Bigger ships. Massive ships. The kind of ships that were big enough to carry thousands and thousands of tonnes of cheap wheat from the newly opened up prairies of the Mid West of America and Canada. All of a sudden there was enough food to sustain millions more people in ever bigger cities. As in millions more people to fill the shop floors of ever more massive factories. Steamships provided the required amount of daily bread to send the Industrial Revolution into overdrive.

So what trends might a historian looking back on us from 2076. Maybe they will see the beginning of the era when water becomes three times more precious than oil. Or maybe they will see this is the time when ever ageing populations finally sank the very same countries who once upon a time harnessed the power of gunpowder to conquer the world.

Or will they see beginning of the Age of Migration? Were I a betting man, that is where I would put my ill begotten tenner. As water runs dry and soil becomes dust, millions upon millions of people will see their already lousy lives become impossible. This trend is already well established for millions of people unlucky enough to live and breathe in what was once called the Third World. No food. No prospects. No chance to earn more than a dollar a day whilst a few uber corrupt individuals up at the top of the tree fill their off shore accounts of bursting point. In a frantic attempt to stay two steps ahead of getting lynched, those at the top of the pile hire on ever more brutal secret policemen and life for the majority becomes a constant nightmare of terror and grinding poverty.

And then the soil is all prepared and ready ISIS and Boko Haram and Al Shabaab and the Taliban to sow their toxic seeds. And then it is over to the eerily prophetic words of WB Yeats.

‘Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.’

This is nothing new of course. Torture, terror, starvation and genocide have been part of human life since forever. So what is the difference now?  I think our 2076 historian will identify cheap mobile phones and widening internet access as the equivalent to the gunpowder and the steam ships. Always before when millions of people were consigned to lives of misery and fear, they felt they had all but no choice in the matter. There was no escape from the Thirty Year War or Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China. Now it is different.

Really different.

A young man in Eritrea who has seen his young sister raped by the secret police and his dad tortured and executed for getting angry about it can turn to his phone and ask Google for a road to a better life. And what will he find? Videos of Munich railway station. A thousand images of countries where there are policemen who don’t rape and torture and murder. Images of supermarkets piled high with affordable food. Flats with constant electricity and no four o clock in the morning hammering on the front door. No barrel bombs. No drought.

A life absolutely worth living instead of a life absolutely not worth living. And more to the point, Google provides a full instruction manual on how you can cash in a life of utter desperation for a life of hope.

The instruction manual cover all bases. How you make it across the Sahara or Iran or the Lebanese border. Where the boats sail from and who sails them and how much it costs. And all the way along the line the message is loud and clear – if you try this journey you might well die. So will people heed the warning? Be put off by the massive danger? Sure. Many will. But many will see the dangers of the road west as being no more than the dangers of their already desperate everyday lives.

And so they will come. By the million. Guided by Google maps every step of the way. In days gone by, the suffering multitudes had no real picture of a better life and even if  they had, they had no clue about how to try and find it. Now cheap mobile phones have changed everything. People in desperation can call up pictures of a life worth living care of a few taps at the keypad.

More to the point they can find out how to escape. The Age of Migration is unstoppable now. It is a vast fact.

Which brings us to those of us at journey’s end. We are the chosen ones in a world where half of our fellow citizens eke out an existence on a dollar a day. We are about to be split in two. Some of us will choose humanity. Others will choose fear and hatred. Some of us will open our doors Some of us will buy new locks and hide and dream of a new Hitler to arrive on the scene to save the day. To clean the streets. To make it all go away.

For thirteen years now the doors of First Base have always been open. If someone comes to us because their life has crashed and burned we do our level best to help them out. It makes no odds to us where they come from or what language they speak of what colour their skin is. Folk are folk. Simple as. For thirteen years we have done our best to help out those who many in society would prefer not to think about. The drug addicts and the alcoholics and the ex cons and the mentally ill. The forgotten ones. The despised. The preferred fodder for just about every prime time Channel 5 programme. More recently we have started to see more and more of the working poor. Folk who graft for every hour god sands and yet they still can’t fill a trolley at the supermarket.

And now we are starting to see more of those who have completed epic journeys from their lives of grinding poverty and fear. And of course if they are hungry we will make sure they have food to eat. And we don’t give a damn what Theresa May has to say about any of it. They are here. They are human beings. And everybody’s gotta eat, right?

Then what? Well we are in the process of starting up the First Base Bridge Project. Hopefully it will achieve what it says on the tin. We will try and be the bridge that will help those who choose our little town to be their journey’s end to find a place to find their new lives. When these weary travellers land up from destinations within the EU, offering some help is reasonably straight forward. Their passports mean they have a few rights. The State has a legal requirement to help them out. Not much, mind. But a bit.

For those from outside the EU, it is a very different story. They are the hated ones. They are the ones Theresa May had in mind when she sent her vans out and about to encourage us to do our patriotic thing and shop an 'illegal' to the authorities.

For the non EU citizens who choose our little town as their home, absolute destitution is a very real possibility. These are the people who are not entitled to a single penny of state aid and they are told in no uncertain terms that this is the case. More to the point, they are absolutely not allowed to work and if they are caught doing so much as half an hour’s work, they risk being frog marched onto a plane and sent back to the hunger and the gangsters and the torture rooms.

Basically they are expected to live on fresh air and as we all know that isn’t any kind of realistic possibility. In January in Scotland every human being needs the big three – some warmth, a roof over the head and some food. The Government has make its point of view crystal clear. They will not offer any help wjhatsoever. They don’t actually say that they are happy enough to see thsese people freeze and starve, but they are doing absolutely nothing to stop it.

So for these people the local community is the only show in twon. There is nothing else. Many in the community will be absolutely unwilling to lift a finger to help. They are the ones who will lock their doors and yearn for the coming of a British Adolf to make all the strangers go away. But there are many others who take a different view. They see the people who have completed the epic journeys as fellow human beings. Fantastically, jaw droppingly brave human beings. Fellow human beings who absolutely deserve our help. 

We can choose to offer this help out of a sense of human decency or we can offer this help out of calculating pragmatism. Let's make no mistake here, these are absolutely pick of the litter human beings. Anyone with the courage and wits to make the journeys these guys have made is going to be one hell of a citizen. For three years we helped Yemesi and her three kids whilst the Home Offcie made them wait. It was the community who made sure they had somewhere to live and something to eat and some heat and light for at least some of the time. Without the community, I hate to think what would have happened to them.

And the family knows this. My God do they ever. Thankfully the Home Office said ‘yes’ in the end and as a community we are all about to get a hell of a return on our humane investment in Yemesi and her family. Once Yemesi was issued with a Naytional Insurance number it took her less than six hours to find a job in a care home. I am pretty sure she will be managing it in a few years time. And in a few years time her son will be an engineer and her twin daughters will be doctors. The kids are top of everything at school. And they all love the community of Dumfries for giving them the chance of a life away from the murderous threat of Boko Haram. Once upon a time a country called America opened up its doors to millions of people from all corners of the earth who wanted to make a better life for themselves. It didn’t work out so badly for them, right? Give a lost person a live worth living and they will become the very best of citizens. It just ain’t rocket science.


Over to you community of Dumfries. Right now we are helping out a family from Ghana. A mum, her niece, and four kids – 18 months, 4, 6 and 8. All lads. They have managed to pay the rent on two rooms for the next couple of months but they have no cash for anything else. No food, no power, no clothes for the kids, no nothing. We have been making sure th family’s food cupboards are full for the last couple of months and we will continue to do so for as long as it takes. Yesterday I was able to drop round four big bags of winter clothes for the kids thanks to a collection from Moxy and her brilliant people at DG Refugee Action. I also have my fingers crossed that we are in the process of sorting out some child care and some cash to keep the heaters and lights on.

I guess over the coming months and years we will be seeing more and more families standing at the gates of absolute destitution. We hope we can indeed provide them with a bridge to a better life. But a bridge has to lead somewhere. On the other side of the bridge we need to find as many people as possible who have decided to choose humanity over hate.

So. Here’s hoping. The family are still on their uppers. If there is anyone out there willing to donate stuff like toys, cleaning products or a few bob, please do so. I figure any of you living in and around Dumfries will know where we are. I can assure you that all donations stimulated by this blog will find their way straight to the family.

There will be a hideous and stark choice we will all be expected to make over he coming years. Are we going to rub along with our fellow human beings and help them when they need help? Or are we going to slam and lock our doors and leave people out in the cold.  The likes of the Daily Mail seem to think the majority of us will be more than happy to take the same hate filled road that eventually took the people of Germany into the fires of hell eighty years ago. I’m not so sure. I reckon we are better than that. Maybe by helping this lovely family from West Africa we can start to prove it.       


  1. I choose to rub along with my fellow human beings.

  2. I'll send you a cheque Mark.

    1. Hi Tris. Many thanks for the donation. Christiana and Comfort have just been in for a food parcel and I was able to put £70 on their power meter. Heat and light for a cold, wet Scottish February. To say they were made up would be the understatement of the year. For once the right kind of tears in First Base. All the best.

  3. If you go back a couple of posts, First Bases details are there, for a bank transfer, we just sent a belated Christmas present. And will do so year on year.

    1. Jim, I have just realised that I never said thanks for you hugely generous donation. Sorry for the inexcusable delay. Thanks and Happy New Year!

    2. No problem Mark, it was my Christmas and birthday present, form Arlene and my two children, Eoghan and Rhiannon.

      Having followed your blog for sometime now, as well as reading some of your books, I could not think of a better use for it, I will be making it an annual tradition.

      We all have to do our bit, for our fellow travelers in life.

      A Happy new year, to you and yours too.

  4. You know, Jim. This blog rarely fails to make me cry. It's partly the quality of the writing, partly the incredibly sad stories that Mark tells.

    But at the same time it cheers me so much that there are people like Mark, his team... and the people, like you and Arlene, who donate to help the folk who've slipped through the ever larger holes in the social security system.

    We must all continue to help where we can until such time as we are independent and then hopefully the need for this will be gone.

    1. I oft have a tear in my eye, reading how other humans are being treated, too.