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, May 2, 2018


A few days ago I penned a blog about a food parcel client who I christened Bradley. I suppose it was something on a modern parable. Bradley found himself homeless on the streets of Manchester and decided to cycle from town to town until he found a Homeless Department willing and able to offer him a bed. 

Astonishingly he had to cycle all the way to Dumfries to find some shelter. He had to leave England and come to Scotland. As I posted the blog, I wondered if anyone would be interested in Bradley's extraordinary Odyssey.

Well not for the first time I was left pretty gobsmacked. Recent events have flagged up many of the dark sides of social media. Fair enough. But surely one of the greatest benefits of our new online world is the opportunity it offers for stories like Bradley's story to be laid out for the world to see.

As I type these words just over 56,000 people have read about Bradley's 150 mile ride north. I have to admit I feel pretty privileged to have had the chance to be the messenger. And if Bradley's story really is a 2018 version of the Odyssey, well I guess that makes me Homer!

My blog was hardly complimentary towards the country of my birth: England. And as the number of page views swelled, I wondered if I was about to be laid into by marauding bands of angry trolls wrapped in the flag of St George.

Nope. Not a whisper. Not a word. In fact over the course of my many blogs extolling the virtues of an Independent Scotland I have barely ever heard a negative whisper from south of border. I get plenty of responses from other new immigrants who were born in England who have chosen to find a better life up here. I also hear from many who are planning to up sticks and seek refuge from the spreading, noxious jingoism of Theresa May's poisonous world. 

I suppose this is merely yet more evidence of the new bubbles we now inhabit. The border at Gretna Green may be invisible and frictionless, but it becomes more of a border with every passing week. I certainly feel it more and more as I drive past the Cross of St George as I head south down the M6 to visit my mum or to go and watch the Mighty Reds at Anfield.

I seldom see all that much of my old stamping ground. But on the occasions when I get any kind of close up look at the streets I grew up in, I get a cold feeling. Everywhere has changed and changed utterly as the man once said.

Once upon a time it amused me to see the way southerners exhibited a kind of shuddering fear of the dark valleys of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Uncompromising dark moors. Long dead cotton mills latticed with smashed windows. Terraced streets hanging to steep slopes. Soot blackened pubs crouching on every street corner.

What they saw as alien and threatening, I saw as home. I was never British, but I was always Lancastrian. More to the point, I was sure I always would be. I had a front row 1980's seat as the Thatcher regime took the place apart brick by brick. And by then I was too much an adopted son of Liverpool to see the early stages of the dark, bitter contagion which has slowly spread through the dark valleys I once called home.

Liverpool resisted the Thatcher hurricane. As the rest the country mocked and made up new Scouser jokes, the city stood firm behind its barricades. The city kept a hold of its soul. And now the city is being rewarded for its stubborn resilience. Against all sensible odds Liverpool is booming again as Europe's most popular weekend destination. Tourists fly into John Lennon airport in their thousands to do the Beatles and the football and the waterfront and the night life. 

But Liverpool has always been a place apart. I hope it always will be. It came as no surprise to anyone when the city stood shoulder to shoulder with Scotland in the EU Referendum.

These days I am very much a Scottish Scouser: any affiliation I once had to the valleys of East Lancashire has long gone. It is literally years since I spent any time there.

Until Saturday.

After the joys of Liverpool 0 - Stoke 0, I headed sixty miles east along the M62 to a small town on the outskirts of Huddersfield to pick up an Ebay purchase.

As I passed through 'Death Valley' and into the foothills of the Pennines, Bradley's story was very much fresh in my mind. Oldham, Rochdale, and the bleak moors where Brady and Hindley once upon a time buried their dead.

And then it was the Satnav voice in my ear as we wound along the Colne valley to our destination. The same houses and mills Lowry once painted, but so very different. The potholed road reminded me of the kind of thing I drove along when visiting East Germany before the Wall came down. Maybe I was imagining it, but every town seemed to be wrapped in a kind of festering anger. The only sign of any economic life was unmistakably Asian. Shops and car washes and repair shops. Kebab and curry places instead of Fish and Chips. Pubs on very tenth corner instead of every corner. Boarded windows and mobility scooters.

The very dismal heart of Brexit Britain. Beaten and doomed and looking for someone to blame. And finding someone to blame. People with brown faces.

Of course this is what London does best. It's the old divide and rule thing. Two hundred years ago these dark valleys were home to engine which propelled the British Empire. The cotton flowed in through the docks on the Mersey to be spun in the satanic mills of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire. And then the finished garments were be sent back out through Liverpool to be rammed down the throats of half a billion Indians who were banned from spinning their own cotton.

And then both sides of the coin became redundant as the Empire collapsed like a soggy cardboard box in the wake of two world wars. The engine room was no longer needed as London turned all its attention to money laundering and ten new garden centres a week. And all those Indians and Pakistanis we invited over to clean the streets and unblock the drains? Well they could be the fall guys. They could carry the can for all the closed down mills.

Thankfully the people of Liverpool tapped into their instinctive mistrust of anything to come out of the mouths of the public schoolboys of Westminster. Liverpool walked away from England and chose the rest of the world instead. Now the Kop makes up new songs every week to celebrate Mo Salah, our newly crowned Egyptian king.

"........ if he scores another few, I'll be a Muslim too....."

Every other Saturday, football loving second generation Pakistanis come to Anfield to feel a part of things. They don't go near Ewood Park or Turf Moor or Eland Road. Can't blame them really. Who in their right mind would want to cough up £40 to be called a fucking Paki bastard.

The Farage poison has seeped into the soot blackened bricks. You can feel it. Taste it. And as I picked my way through the pot holes, I quietly thanked my lucky stars. We got out of Dodge and left the poison far, far behind.

Another Premier League Saturday played out through the radio as we found where we needed to go and started out on the journey back north. Interviews and league tables. And as we got back onto the M62 the phone in show kicked into life.

Calls from Burnley. Turf Moor. Burnley 0 - Brighton and Hove Albion 0. Anger and controversy. Chris Hughton, Brighton's mixed race manager had hit out at the Burnley crowd for booing one of his players. The studio scrambled for the back story. And found it. Brighton player Gaeton Bong had accused ex Burnley player, Jay Rodriguez, of racism. The FA had duly investigated the allegations and decided the charges could not be proven. Jay Rodriguz doesn't play for Burnley any more. In fact he hasn't played for them for a while. But a succession of callers were keen to point out the fact that Jay remained very much one of their own.

"He's a Barrowford lad. Born and bred. One or ours...."

Ah, Barrowford. Once upon a time home to my friend Diana and Channel 4's Krishnan Guru Murthi. Suddenly my mind was washed through with memories of Burnley. My Dad's old home ground. 'Angels' on a Saturday night where you were in for a guaranteed kicking if anyone found out you were from Blackburn. The growling home end at Turf Moor.

"Everywhere we go...
People wanna know....
We are the Burnley.....
Long Side aggro.....
If you don't believe us.....
Come and have a go....."

And here they were trying to justify themselves. Angry. The Brighton fans had responded to their booing with a chant of 'You're just a town full of racists'. And the home crowd had returned the favour with a few choice homophobic ditties. 

The fans were segregated by a line of policemen and stewards. Insults were thrown across the divide. Brexitland and Remainland. North and south. Citizens of somehwere and citizens of everywhere. The booming and the doomed. And every time the black man received the ball, the black man was booed by the white crowd.

They were adamant they were doing no more than defending 'one of their own'. A white Burnley lad from Barrowford. And none of them seemed remotely aware of how they sounded. They were lost in their bubble.

As I headed west along the M62 it was hard not to come to a pretty obvious conclusion. Here were people who were simply constructing an excuse to go back to the good old days when it was deemed to be more than OK to boo the black player.

"Get back on your jam jar....."

We dropped down from the Pennines onto the Fylde Plain and then made our way up into the hills of Cumbria. The angry voices on the radio eventually faded out.

A blue sign. 'Welcome to Scotland'. A new home. An adopted home. A better home. A sanctuary. And I smiled to myself.

A place worth cycling a hundred and fifty miles to get to.      


  1. Simply brilliant, Mark.
    Over the decades I have plied my wares across the UK and know the geography and the people you describe intimately.
    England is in a bad place at the moment, kicked off by Thtacher and enthusiastically taken up by Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and now May.
    Brexit will kill the Union off completely.
    There are dark days ahead. Scotland will be seen as a haven by many 'refugees' from Empire 2.
    They will be made more than welcome.
    Thank you for an excellent article.
    Needs wider exposure.

  2. Feel a bit bad enjoying Burnley FC's success this season now. And I dare say Accrington is as bad but still, Up the Stanley! Should point out that Leeds as a city voted 194,000 to 192,000 to Remain.

  3. That's absolutely fair enough. I need to drag my view of Leeds away from memories of terrifying visits to Eland Rd in the 70's and 80's. Not really fair to hang on to this!

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