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, July 23, 2013


Last night I channel hopped across to BBC News 24 to find what has to be the worst piece of journalism I have ever witnessed.

It was just after 11 and a few hours earlier my radio in the kitchen had broken the news that a baby boy had been born in London. I have to say that I didn’t hold a great deal of optimism about hearing much about what else was going on across the planet, but I decided to give it a go anyway. A bad move.

I wonder when was it decided that part of the BBC licence fee should be allocated to producing hour after hour of celebrity drivel?

I first noticed this a few years ago when I switched on the news only to find 25 minutes of live coverage from a frantic reporter outside some poxy suburban courthouse in Los Angeles. Everything was put on hold as we were instructed to wait with bated breath for something truly huge to happen. Know what it was? The arrival of Paris Hilton for her sentencing having been found guilty of drink driving. For twenty five endless, painful minutes we were offered the view of a car park outside an utterly non-descript concrete building. Finally the ‘A Lister’ arrived and was duly bustled inside by a gaggle of crew-cutted, ‘live in the gym’ types.

And that was that.

Paris had turned up, all be it fifteen minutes late. This took us to twenty five past the hour and the rest of the day’s news had to be crammed in before the weather in something of a hurry. The next item was deemed to be worth thirty seconds or so. There had been five huge suicide bombings in Baghdad that day. Well over a hundred people had been blown to pieces.

It was worth 30 seconds of the BBC’s time, whilst someone who was famous for being famous and rich was worth fifty times the attention. Because she was going to court.

For a driving offence.

For Christ’s sake.

So if Paris Hilton can box off the thick end of half an hour of prime news time, then it shouldn’t have come as any surprise that the birth of a royal baby would ignite hour upon endless hour of gushing.

I switched over at just after five past the hour. This meant that the basics had already been covered. A baby had been born. It was a boy. It was eight and a half pounds. The Queen had issued a statement saying she was happy. The Prime Minister said he was happy. Prince Charles said he was proud and no doubt he was also over the moon that something huge had come along to distract the media from prying into his tax dodging.

More to the point, we were told by beaming news readers that the people were happy. The nation was happy. We were about to enter a time of national feel good. Well, obviously. The list was repeated over and over.

Justin Rose, Andy Murray, British Lions, Chris Froome, the walloped Aussies and now a Royal baby. What a completely joyous time to be a Brit. No wonder we are all being told to get out there and feel good. And no doubt over the coming days we will be encouraged to turn this wonderful feel-good factor into something truly positive. As sure as night follows day, we will be urged to dig those hidden credit cards out of locked up drawers and get out there to hit the High St like we used to hit it when Tony Blair ruled over Cool Britannia.

Oh for Christ’s sake.

I guess it is too much to expect anything else in our celebrity obsessed world. There is no celebrity story quite like a Royal celebrity story. Even Posh Spice would have struggled yesterday. She might have called a Press Conference to announce that she was reducing her daily calorie intake from six hundred to four hundred and she would still have been lucky to get thirty seconds. Even a hair extension announcement would have barely caused a ripple. In fact, the sainted Posh and Becks would really have had to push the boat out yesterday to get the media’s attention. Not only would they have had to adopt a Cambodian baby, they would probably have had to have eaten it as well. With mange tout. Now that might have got them five minutes or so. Some expert would have been wheeled out to asses how many calories are to be found in the average Cambodian baby and just how much Posh could have eaten whilst still sticking to her new starvation regime.


Back to the worst piece of journalism in the history of journalism.

By ten past eleven the BBC had a problem. Ten minutes had been more than enough to say everything that there was to say. Baby born. Everyone happy.

So it was time for some breathless, gushing footage from Kate’s home village. Guess what? The residents were all happy. More than happy. Delirious. And it seemed that all of them shared the same sentiment. ‘I just can’t believe it!!!!!”

Well it was indeed hard to believe. A local woman who had been pregnant for nine months had shocked the world by going into labour and producing a child. Unbelievable.

But that is a tad flippant. The main reason they ‘couldn’t believe it!!!!’ was the fact that it was a boy. A more cynical reporter might have pointed out that there is basically a 50/50 thing going on when a human female gives birth. It’s either a boy or a girl. Heads or tails. As yet no human being has ever given birth to a wildebeest or an iguana but I guess there is a first time for everything. The 50/50 thing makes it hard to see why it should be unbelievable either way, but Kate’s neighbours were clearly in a state of shock that it was a male.

Just imagine how unbelievable it would have been for them if the message on the Buckingham Palace easel had pronounced that at 4.24pm an eight and a half pound boy had been born and the aforesaid baby was as black as the ace of spades….

Watch it Frankland. You can find yourself locked up in the Tower for less.

Once the good folk of Bucklebury, Berkshire had managed to get their heads around the idea that a boy had been born, which was basically unbelievable, they moved on to more unbelievable stuff.

Some reported that they had seen Kate walking through the village only a few days before. Holy Christ. Imagine it. Kate. Actually walking. Through a village. I mean you can stick your Martian landing where the sun don’t shine. She was actually seen walking. Actually in a village. How fantastic is that!

Finally we left the million pound houses of Bucklebury behind and were taken to the throbbing scenes of national feel good at Buckingham Palace. Here is where the efforts of Woodward and Bernstein and their Watergate story were so completely eclipsed.

The star of the show was Louisa Baldini and my oh my, did she ever have a story to tell. She had three guests with her – a mum and two daughters and guess what, they were from Ohio.
Cleveland, Ohio.
Oh my word.
What excitement!
My heart was banging so hard I wondered it it was about to explode. Here is the tale that the gallant Louisa took ten minutes to tease out. So hang on to your seats.....
They were on holiday. They had arrived the day before. They had visited the Palace only that afternoon. They had eaten their dinner at the hotel. They heard the news that a baby had been born. So they decided to walk back to the Palace.

Oh wow.

Just imagine.

Three people from Cleveland, Ohio had finished their pudding and decided to return to the Palace.

And what had they done?

They had looked at an easel and taken pictures.

No wonder the rest of the world news was on hold. This was the real stuff. This is why we pay up our licence fee. This was true breaking news. A mum and her two daughters had looked at a message on an easel and taken pictures. People all the way from Cleveland, Ohio. And they were excited and happy. No wonder the studio made the call to give Louisa a whole ten minutes to tease out every last detail…

Oh for Christ’s sake.

I actually switched across to Al Jazeera before Louisa had the chance to run through what everyone had eaten for pudding.

Surprisingly enough, nobody chose to send a reporter out to Hanover or Saxe Coburg for a bit of local reaction. But then again, we tend to gloss over the Germanic roots of our beloved and sainted Royals. Much like we like to gloss over their tax dodging.

The family tree of the new addition makes for interesting reading.

We have to go back to some anxious days at the start of the 18th Century when it became clear that William the Third was going to die without leaving a viable heir to his throne. This was a big time problem as the obvious next in line was the offspring of James the Second and all of his family were wicked, pesky Catholics. Now being a Catholic back then was much like being a fully paid up member of Al Queda now. So Parliament had to get stuck into some fancy footwork and dig out an alternative option and lo and behold, they found Sophie of Palatine.

Good old Sophie. Granddaughter of James the First. Born and raised in Holland, married to a German, and not a word of English to her name. In fact she had never visited England. But never mind. She was a through and through Prod and that was all that mattered. So Parliament rattled through the required paperwork to settle the crown upon "the most excellent princess Sophia, electress and duchess-dowager of Hanover" and "the heirs of her body, being Protestant".      

And so it has turned out, for it is pretty nailed on that the new addition will be yet another of those heirs of Sophie’s body who will very much be a Protestant. In the same Act of Parliament, it was written in stone that no Catholic can ever sit on the throne and that is still very much the case.

Seldom, if ever, can an immigrant family have made so good in their new home. It is just a shame that the national feel good factor that we can all look forward to in the wake of the latest Prod heir of Princess Sophie can’t have a more German feel to it. Instead of being all British and spending money in Marks and Spender on our credit cards, we might instead open up a few new car factories and put on loads of extra trains at half the cost we pay now and guarantee that all our football clubs are 51% owned by the fans.

But we are way too patriotic for any of that nonsense. We will celebrate our new Prince in the traditional British way. We’ll buy our tabloids and we’ll spend on our credit cards and when the weekend comes, we will get blind drunk and be violently sick.

All in the safe knowledge that a family from Cleveland, Ohio ate their pudding and went out into the London night to look at an easel.

And they were happy.

Just like we all are. 

For Christ’s sake.

Here's good old Sophie by the way. Let's get Louisa out there for a special feature from Saxe Coburg. Imagine how it must once have been when Sophie walked around her village.... unbelievable.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Twenty years ago we spent a couple of weeks in what was once called the Holy Land, is nowadays called Israel and may one day be called Palestine. The trip was part work, part holiday. The work bit involved a visit to a desert dairy farm where 2000 cows produced prodigious amounts of milk under a blazing sun and the baleful gaze of the watchtowers along the border with Jordan. The holiday bit was taking in the shining domes of Jerusalem and all that.

What did we expect? Hard to say. The first Intifada had just run out of steam and for weeks and months the nightly news had carried pictures of Palestinian teenagers hurling half bricks at Israeli battle tanks. It wasn’t all that hard to guess who was going to win!

My earliest memory of the whole Palestine thing was the massacre at Munich airport during the 1972 Olympics. I was twelve and I now find it odd that the images of the shootout didn’t leave more of a mark. But then again, in those distant days the news was a whole lot less sterilised. My generation got the chance to spot the difference between a John Wayne film and the real stuff care of the non-censored images of Vietnam that appeared every night at six for so many years.

By the time I reached sixteen, the Middle East question appeared in my O Level history course. I guess we were supposed to get the party line, but our teacher wasn’t much use when it came to towing the line. He painted a picture in our under heated fifth form classroom complete with peeling walls of mustard paint that was maybe my first insight into the cynicism of my country.

1917. The British High Command are hell bent on launching their greatest offensive yet on the Western Front. They promise that this time things will be different. Honest. Trust us. This time we will break through and romp all the way to Berlin. And they duly present the cabinet with the estimated bill for the planned offensive. We’re going to need this many million shells and bullets and false legs....... Oh, and here’s the quote from the suppliers.......

And all of a sudden there is a problem. A rather familiar problem. The Chancellor clears his throat and puts on a sort of embarrassed face. Sorry chaps, but we’re broke I’m afraid. Completely and utterly. We’ve emptied out every last one of our piggy banks and no bank on the planet will lend us another penny. Ever so sorry to be bearer of such bad news, but there we are. And all of a sudden there are pale, worried faces around the table and nobody quite knows what to say. All except the redoubtable Foreign Secretary, Mr Arthur James Balfour who has a very cunning plan indeed up his Saville Road sleeve.

Now listen up here chaps. And do bear with me. Hear me out and all that. No bank in the world will give us so much a penny’s worth of credit. Why? Because they think our collateral stinks and I for one cannot blame them. So we need to change the game. All the banks that have any money right now are to be found on Wall St. So no surprise there then. They have made an absolute fortune out of all of us over the last three years. Now I suggest you all give me the nod to pop over and have a chat with a few of their chaps. But what of collateral you will most surely ask. And quite right too. Well here’s the thing. I am sure that you are all more than aware that the vast majority of these banks are owned by the ‘Chosen People’. The Jews. And here is where I think I might be able to come up with a spot of collateral. I will ask for them to front us the wherewithal to launch this little offensive that is so dear to the heart of the High Command, and in return I will go public and promise a homeland for the Jews. Where you might ask. Well I say, ‘where else!’ Israel! The Holy Land. Palestine. And of course every acre is well and truly marked in red on the map. Gentlemen, it is our real estate to trade and I suggest we trade it.

Well trade it he did by way of the 1917 Balfour Declaration which sold the Palestinians’ homeland from under their feet. The Jewish banks on Wall St stumped up the cash for the battle of Passchendaele where the British Army made a gain of three miles or so at the expense of 200,000 casualties.

The people of Palestine were duly sold down the river in 1948.

This piece of flagrant cynicism was very much in my mind when we drove our hire car across the unmarked border that separated Israel from the Occupied Territories. There were no border posts back then. No check points. No wall. But you knew you were over the line alright. All of a sudden the roads were full of pot holes and the cracked pavements were infested with army patrols made up of over hyped young men itching to crack a few skulls. It was the first time that I had ever seen what a Military Occupation actually looks like in the flesh. Describe it in one word? Pornographic would be my word. To see laughing soldiers shoulder pensioners off the pavement and into the road is the kind of thing that sends the blood up to boiling point and beyond.

Everything we saw disgusted us. Outraged us. Appalled us. And at the end of every Israeli rifle butt were the Palestinians. The ones who had their homes and orchards and orange groves given away by Mr Balfour in exchange for the price of the carnage of the Third Battle of Ypres.

We caught ourselves a really lucky break in the hotel we stayed at in Egypt before crossing the border into the Negev desert. We met a fellow Brit couple and we all got along. He was the Financial Times reporter for Jerusalem and they generously offered to put us up for the duration of our stay in the city. They were able to give us a few tips that were pure gold dust. Some were practical.

Our hire car had Israeli plates and therefore would have been a particularly tempting target for young Palestinian stone throwers. Thankfully there was an easy way around this. Put a Yasser Arafat scarf on the dashboard. We did, and everyone was all smiles. However the key bit of advice we received was not to be all British and mistrustful when we came face to face with Palestinian hospitality.

Our British instincts are very finely honed when it comes to an Arab being extremely friendly and hospitable. What is he after? Is he planning to lure us into his den to cut our throats? Our host from the FT encouraged us to dismiss these instincts. He promised that the hospitality we would be offered was without strings. He promised that we were about to meet the most phenomenally generous people on earth.

Well, was he ever right. As a supposed man of words, I still find it hard to describe the unbelievable days we spent in the West Bank. If ever a people could be excused for being bitter, twisted and stroppy, it is the beleaguered Palestinians who were so cynically asset stripped by the British Empire. Instead they proved to be the most amazingly open and generous people it has ever been my privilege to meet. Privilege is absolutely the word. I feel truly honoured to have spent time in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Jericho. The people we spent time with had every right to hate us with a seething passion for what had once been done in our name. Instead every door was open. I have no memory of being able to spend so much as a penny during our time in the West Bank.

Time after time we would ask what we could do to reciprocate such generosity. The answer was always the same. Please tell our story. Please tell the truth. Please let people know what is being done to us here.

And I made the promise.

So fast forward a dozen years or so and all of a sudden I found myself to be author of four novels, one of which had done reasonably well and sold 25,000 copies. And it became very clear to me that it was high time to keep the promise I had made in those narrow streets of East Jerusalem.

Please tell our story.

Please tell the truth.

All of a sudden I had no excuse not to keep the promise I had made.

However there was a problem. What reputation I had as an author was as someone who delved into the uglier corners of Scottish life. A book on the desperate tale of the Palestinian people through the second half of the 20th Century would never sell a copy in the kind of shops that sold my books. So I needed a Scottish hook and I found it in the midst of the high rise hell that was Sighthill, Glasgow which became the back drop and setting for ‘Red Zone’..

Sighthill was one of those 60’s experiments gone hideously wrong. The tower blocks were built to house 16,000 but by the Millennium the dreams of the 60’s were all dead and gone. By the turn of the century the blocks were home to 8000 desperate souls and there was room for 8000 more desperate souls. So in its wisdom, Blair’s government made the decision to parachute in 8000 asylum seekers.

Unsurprisingly it didn’t make for a happy mix. 8000 poorer than poor Glaswegians and 8000 lost and broken souls from all corners north, south, east and west.

One of those lost and broken souls was Ghazi who helped me to put flesh on the bones of the story that was growing in my head. But Ghazi was neither lost nor broken. He was in fact one of the very finest people I have ever met. Ghazi’s family were ejected from their family land in 1948 when the plans laid down by Balfour were brought into reality. He grew up in a refugee camp in Syria and somehow managed to educate himself sufficiently to become a teacher. The Syrian secret police didn’t like that. On 27 occasions they called round in the wee small hours of the morning to drag Ghazi away into the night. Sometimes they tortured him. Sometimes they merely slapped him around. Sometimes they locked him up for months on end in conditions of primordial cruelty. Other times they let him out the next day.

In the end he could stand it no more and set out on an extraordinary journey with his two young children that in the end landed him in Glasgow via Budapest.

The sixteenth floor of a Sighthill tower block was a tough gig, but Ghazi had known plenty that had been a million miles tougher. The good old boys from the Home Office were hell bent on sending the three of them back to the Syrian torturers until with huge embarrassment he took off his shirt to reveal the legacy of their handiwork. The Home Office worker all but threw up and Ghazi was awarded his citizenship.

Things have gone well for Ghazi and his family and they now live in Edinburgh. He is a brilliant poet who had also become a screenwriter and playwright. He has had some of his stuff on the BBC. But more than everything else, in my eyes he is an utterly exceptional human being. Having been subjected to the kind of cruelty that was supposed to have gone out of fashion in the Middle Ages, he remains the most gentle and charming of men.

When we first met, he told me a story which has become indelible. We were talking about Palestinian hospitality and he explained how it could cause problems at times. Let’s say you invite a friend around for tea. Of course he will say that he will come. It would be intolerably rude to refuse such an invitation. That is all well and good except it means that the person who has issued the invitation really has no idea if their guest is coming or not. In order to get a better idea of what preparations they should make they will therefore ask ‘but is that a promise?’. To which the prospective guest might say in an unconvincing sort of way ‘Sure. I suppose so. A promise. Yes.’ And once again this leaves the host none the wiser. So now there is a sure-fire way to circumnavigate the inconvenience of perfect manners. The host will ask ‘But my friend, is that a British Promise?’ At last the black and white zone is reached. The guest might shake his head with a regretful smile and say ‘No. Not a British Promise’ which means he has already accepted an invitation to go somewhere else. On the other hand he can beam and nod and say ‘Of course it is a British Promise. I will see you tomorrow.’

I found the story incredibly sad when I first heard it. I was sickened at the way we shamelessly tout the vision of Britain being home to fair play and cricket to the rest of the world. No wonder so many broken souls from the darker and more brutal corners of the world embark on such epic and horribly dangerous journeys to seek asylum on our island. How sickening it must be once journey’s end is reached to find such a cold, inhospitable, mean spirited place of grey skies and hard faces. For a couple of never to be forgotten years in the middle of the last century, we for once ignored our own self interest and stood tall for freedom and democracy. Was that all of us or was it simply the miraculous stubbornness of Winston Churchill? Who knows, but we have dined out on it ever since. Does the real Britain back up the pipe dreams that we sell to the rest of the world? And is a British Promise worth the paper it is written on? I guess those Wall St bankers who extended the credit lines to pay for the slaughter at Passchendaele would say we had been true to our word and delivered up a country for the price of a battle. How strange that the Palestinians who we evicted from their land should still hang on to the belief in a British Promise.

Well once upon a time in the occupied streets of the West Bank I made my very own British Promise and in 2003 I did my best to keep it. My book ‘Red Zone’ attempts to tell the story of what happened after 1948 through the eyes of the wonderful people we met who treated us with such hospitality. I hope it does them justice. I hope it does Ghazi justice.

If you follow the link below you can download a free copy of Red Zone from the Kindle Store and make your own mind up.



Monday, July 15, 2013


On 28th May 1982 five hundred men of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment attacked a tiny hamlet with its corrugated iron back set against the cold grey waters of the South Atlantic Ocean. The place was called Goose Green and for a few days our flag waving press hailed a mighty victory.

History tells us that the attack was borderline suicidal. Lecturers at Sandhurst and West Point insist that any force attacking a well dug in enemy must have a numerical advantage of at least three to one. In an ideal world they should also be backed up by air support and artillery.

Goose Green didn’t tick any of these boxes. The five hundred Paras were ordered forward to take on 1200 well entrenched Argentinians with no air cover and minimal artillery support. So why on earth did the top brass decide to gamble one of its very finest battalions on such a Kamikaze mission? Goose Green must surely have been one hell on an important strategic target. No. Not really. Not at all in fact. It could have quite easily been by-passed and left to its own devices. But the Government at home needed a victory to get the people onside with the whole Falklands adventure. Up until Goose Green, the news had carried all too many images of Royal Navy ships being sent to the bottom of the sea by Argentinian jets firing French made Exocet missiles.

Was it the sunk ships or the fact that the missiles were from France that got so far up Maggie Thatcher’s nose? I guess we will never know the answer to that one.

Anyway, by the end of May the time had come for her to bang the table and demand a victory. Any victory. Something to get everyone singing Jerusalem down the pub on a Friday Night. Something for her old pal Rupert Murdoch to serve up to the nation as the greatest thing since Waterloo.

All of a sudden the inconsequential and strategically irrelevant hamlet of Goose Green became a photo opportunity.

So. Who do you turn to when you want a victory against all sensible odds? The Paras of course. Who else. That is what Paras are for, when all is said and done. Back in 82 the Paras had been allocated a very specific role in the event of a full on Soviet invasion of Western Europe. They were to get themselves to the very front of the front line and take as many down as they could before getting completely marmalised. Most of the strategic planners agreed that the life expectancy of a Para in that particular scenario was about half an hour.

This was no kind of secret. They told the lads what to expect in the event of the Russian tanks rolling into the west.

Compared to the World War Three option, Goose Green must have seemed an absolute cake walk.

They won the battle of course and Maggie got her victory and the rest as they say became history. We were told by an adoring media that our Warrior Queen had delivered us a win to rank alongside El Alamein and Agincourt. Memories of Empire were re-kindled as the British public bought into the stirring tale big time and when it was time to go to the polls a year later we gave the Iron lady a landslide.

One of the 500 who played a part in the savagery and carnage of Goose Green was Tinker.

Derek Styles

AKA ‘Nobby’ Styles.

And this weekend past Tinker died. He was just over 50 years old.

He was one of the clients of our Veterans Project. Christ, I hate using the word ‘client’ when talking about Tinker. Tinker was just Tinker. In so many ways he was the very epitome of a British fighting man. About five foot eight and as wiry as a half starved kangaroo. A quiet man who exuded decency. A man who on 28th May 1982 kept on going forward along with all of his comrades whilst all the time knowing full well that the mission was a basket case. From time to time he would come in for a talk and slowly over the years he would tell me a little more about those desperate hours. But never all of it. Whenever he reached the last chapter he would all of a sudden get the thousand yard stare and silence would settle over the room like a January frost. He could never quite manage to relive the final few minutes when the issue was resolved with bayonets.

He might not have talked about those desperate moments of murderous violence, but he certainly never forgot them. How could he? They came back to him every night without fail. In technicolour. He was terrified of sleep. Sleep meant a return to those blood soaked minutes when every shred of human decency disappeared from the world. Minutes when men became the very worst of animals. Minutes when he saw things and did things that he could never manage to box off and store away out of sight and out of mind. Oh no. Never out of mind. His mind became a minefield. His mind became his enemy - a hated, unmanageable VCR that replayed images of Goose Green day and night and night and day. 

Tinker died last weekend.

But on more than one occasion he said that he would rather have died along with 17 of his fellow Paras on the rain lashed slopes of the hills overlooking Goose Green.

For most of the thirty years that followed Tinker’s War, his life was lived off the rails. Addictions, homelessness, prison.

Years of it. Too many years. A couple of weeks ago he came in to ask for me to refer him to a six week programme up at Combat Stress. Would it have worked? We’ll never know now.

Instead he departed his life a tortured soul.

There is a whole lot of stuff that told me about Goose Green that I have no intention of writing down. Would he have wanted me to write it down and throw it out into the vastness of the internet? Maybe. Maybe not. I get a lot of this stuff at First Base. Many of the ugly secrets of our State find a natural habitat in the world of heroin. Things were done on that day back in 1982 that should not have been done. Let’s leave it at that. Well not quite. The bad stuff was signed off by men way, way above the pay grade of Tinker and his fellow squaddies. They were the disposable ones. The were merely the disposable ones who were thrown into a filthy, stinking pit of violence where they prevailed against all sensible odds.

Thirty one years have passed since Goose Green and most of them were bad ones for Tinker. He carried a sadness about him like a tired old overcoat. His fifteen minutes of fame wrecked his life. Was Goose Green to blame for his premature passing? Of course it was. Before Goose Green he was a super fit young guy who represented the Army in gymnastic tournaments all over the world. A bright future was waiting to be walked into. After Goose Green, nothing was ever the same again. His life was a shell of a life. A long, dismal road where drink and drugs stripped away his health and self respect and the nightmares came at him every night.

And through those years thousands of pedestrians passed him as he stood out on the High St selling the Big Issue. And much to the credit of the people of Dumfries, he always sold every copy.

And right now the British State is smiling over a glass of sherry as yet another of its warriors has taken his secrets to the grave. Just like always.

I feel honoured to have had the chance to know Tinker. In every respect he was the opposite of the cartoon paratrooper. A quiet man. A decent man. A man with genuine morality. Empathy. Humanity.

When he was ordered forward he went forward. They all did. And my God did he ever pay the price for a few days of positive headlines in the doting press.

A favourite saying.

Old soldiers never die.

Well they do.

And Tinker did.

Last weekend.

Thirty one years and fifty days since those desperate hours at Goose Green.

I hope that you have found the peace that you could never find when you were living and breathing.

“What dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil…”

Let’s hope they are better dreams that the ones you have suffered for so very long.

Goodbye friend. You deserved so much better.




Friday, July 12, 2013


Life is all about becoming accustomed to new normalities. When we were four, it seemed inconceivable that one day we would be allowed to cross the main road outside the school on our own. Then one day we were deemed to be mature enough to do it on our own and soon it seemed completely normal.

Riding a two wheeler, being allowed into pubs, doing exams, passing a driving test, voting, being a sixth former, being a parent, eating snails. Coming of age stuff. Passing milestones. Doing things that once seemed so out of reach until in no time at all they become day to day.

We have a similar experience with the world around us as things alter and shift and change.

One minute the wild tribesmen of the Hindu Kush are violent savages to be kept down by Kipling’s cavalrymen of Empire. Fast forward a few decades, and they are suddenly our gallant best palls who heroically take the fight to the evil Soviets with the help of our weapons. The next minute these very same tribesmen are once again the epitome of all that is bad and wicked and evil and we do all we can to eradicate them with Hellfire missiles fired from our Predator Drones. In twenty years time these same lads might pick a fight with the Chinese who by that time might have become our most implacable of foes, and once again they will become our heroic best mates.

That’s the world for you. It is nothing if not fickle.

Saddam’s a top guy keeping the wild eyed Iranian nutters in their box.

Saddam’s the worst man in the world to be hunted down so that we can sleep safe in our beds.

Catholics are a threat to national security who need to need to be weeded out and burnt at the stake.

Actually. They’re OK now. Well not quite. We still must make sure the law ensures we can never have a Catholic King or Queen, but other than that…

One minute there is a Cold War and a grey wall running through Potsdamer Platz. The next minute there is no wall any more.

And of course there is all the life style stuff. Thirty years ago the idea of having a phone in your pocket was pure Star Wars. Now we watch TV on the train.

Sixty years ago chicken was a once a year luxury and a smallish bird would set you back £50 in today’s money.

Sixty years ago you could get a hundred pints of ale or fifty packs of fags for the price of a single chicken.

The world moves on. Sometimes the new normality is a completely good thing. Like when slaves get freed or women get the vote or Mandela gets freed from jail. Other times the new normality isn’t so good. Like when Jewish people are re-classified as vermin and eradicated.

Only two or three years ago, it was pretty inconceivable that people would be deprived of all their income as a punishment of being ten minutes late for an appointment at the Job Centre. There would have been a degree of public outrage at such a thing. And such outrage would have been entirely normal. Check out the theme of so many of those much treasured Dickens stories. They come from the angle that it is really pretty rubbish to live in a country where some people live in spectacular luxury a couple streets away from people who are starving to death. That was deemed to be a bad thing. That was deemed to be something that had to change. The default position was that the done thing was to feel sorry for poor people.

Human sympathy and compassion are hardly new emotions. I am no Christian, but it seems that giving a helping hand to poor people was a pretty big deal for Jesus.

But of course things have never been quite so black and white. There is generally a certain category of poor people who are deemed to deserve everything they get. Maybe this is because they are considered to be not really human at all. Different. Worse. Bad.

Black people once upon a time fell into this category. They were seen to be so very sub-human that it was fine and dandy to round them up and ship them half way around the world to sugar plantations to be worked to death.

In 1910, most Germans would have considered the idea of frog marching Jews into ghettoes to live ten to a room and be starved to death to be more far fetched than any fairytale spun by the Brothers Grimm. And yet a mere 32 years later it was deemed to be OK. More than OK. For by then Jewish people had been re-classified as scheming, money grubbing, Christ killing, communist rapists who deserved everything they got.

So things change and they often change in a hurry.

And the way we react also changes.

Take this case study.

A father of two has worked for a local plumbing firm for twenty three years. Then one day the firm goes belly up the father of two finds himself out of work. So he signs on the dotted line and frantically spends his days looking for a job: any job.
He lives a few miles out of town and it is a twenty minute bus ride to the local Job Centre. One day, a wagon driver misjudges a roundabout and sheds a full load of timber. There is a delay and the bus is held up in traffic whilst the police sort things out. The father of two is sixteen minutes late for his appointment. He explains what has happened but his reasons are deemed to be unacceptable. He is sanctioned of all benefits for a month and for that month he has to feed his family by collecting emergency food parcels from local charities.

Two months later he has resolved to make sure that he will never find himself in such a situation ever again. He now catches the earlier bus to make sure he is outside the Job Centre an hour earlier than he needs to be. But one morning the early bus doesn’t show. It has blown a tyre two miles up the road. No worries. That is exactly the reason he has decided to get the earlier bus. But Sod’s Law is as reliable as the laws of gravity and quantum physics and the next bus doesn’t show either. It has run into the back of a pensioner’s car which has pulled out unexpectedly. This time he is a whole hour late and once again his explanations are not accepted. Of course he has no knowledge of the burst tyre or the octogenarian who failed to check the blind spot.

So this time he is sanctioned for three months.

Five years ago the vast majority of Brits would have deemed such treatment to be cruel and unusual. Outrageous. And what is there not to be outraged about? A decent, law abiding guy who has worked all of his life is rendered absolutely penniless for three months because the buses have failed to run on time.

And maybe some reporters might have compared his punishment to the punishments metered out for other offences. The average wage in the UK is about £400 a week. That means that three months of income is about £5000. What would you have to do for a Magistrate or Sheriff to fine you £5000? It is hard to think of many offences that would lead to such a punishment. I am no kind of expert, but the only cases I can think of which come close are heavy drink driving offences where a fine of two or three thousand might be levied. As a rule of thumb, if we do anything that is so bad that we could be fined £5000, the odds are that we will almost certainly be sent to jail instead.

That is how things are for a British citizen who has a job.

A very different set of rules are now in place for any British citizen who doesn’t have a job. Such citizens are now deemed to be different that the rest of us; they are the shirkers. The spongers. The idle. The leaches. The bad.

The undeserving poor.

Of course they are, because everyone says so all of the time. The politicians and the media and the bloke at the bar in the pub and the woman at the counter in the Spar shop.

And all of a sudden it seems to be deemed as OK and quite normal for someone to have every penny of their meagre income taken away for three months as punishment for being ten minutes late for two appointments.

There is very little public outrage. Instead politicians are now vying with each other to come with ever more draconian ways of hammering the poor. And every time they do this they find themselves to be more popular.

Just like Hitler and his cronies got ever more popular as they hammered away at the Jews.

Only a handful of years ago we would have been appalled to see a father of two left to feed his family care of charity food parcels.

Now it has become a new normality.

Worse still, a majority of us seem to think that it serves him right.

When the Germans watched the early stages of the Nazi Party’s Jewish policy, they certainly didn’t lose any sleep over it. Nobody but nobody saw that it was a road that would in the end lead to a camp in a small Polish town where a sign reading ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ hung over the main gates and the ashes of over a million souls went up the chimneys.

The kind of judgemental hatred that our politicians and media are fuelling with such gusto can be a poisonous thing indeed.

It is a new normality that really should make our blood run cold.

But it isn’t.

Is it?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


So we are all just over half way through the annual limbo zone. Off season. Close season. The window. Whatever. No football basically, and millions of us get a kind of detached feeling at the weekends when things just don’t quite feel right somehow. For almost three eerie months of summer, quarter to five on a Saturday afternoon becomes a meaningless number rather than stoppage time up and down the land.

Instead of fixtures we live of the scraps of rumour and raging propaganda from the club.

One by one, the manager and headline stars are wheeled out into press conferences which are as closely managed as anything the Soviets ever came up with. Everyone is on message. The lads are ready and raring for a genuine push for the Champions League – the uber-hyped Promised Land we were driven out of four years ago. To get back there our great leaders are signing up a selection of very young players who nobody has ever heard of and all seem to speak Spanish as a first language. We dive onto Youtube and watch carefully edited clips of guys who look like they are due to be back at school on Monday morning doing their tricky stuff in tiny stadiums with lots of empty seats.

So here is the new dream team. Our new merry band of gladiators who will carry us back to the top table and help us to achieve our great dream….

Of finishing fourth.

And with a splash of Arctic cold water in the face, we arrive at the new reality.

Liverpool Football Club with its 18 league titles and five European Cups now dreams and yearns to finish fourth care of a bunch of kids from hot places where they grow olives.

When you take a step back from the frantic Goebbels spin a very different picture can just about be made out.

Some stark facts.

This year Liverpool Football club will get an extra £35 million care on the new TV deal.

This year Liverpool Football Club will pay out £25 million less on wages.

This year Liverpool Football Club will get another £10 million or so from sponsorship deals.

The most recent accounts basically show that the club has been more or less breaking even, so all this extra dough should mean a profit of somewhere approaching £70 million a year. Not a bad return for the lads who bought us for £300 million a couple of years ago.

Which begs a question or two. Are they really all that bothered about getting back into the Champions League and challenging for the title again? To make a genuine attempt to take the club and get it back to where it once was would mean upping the wage bill by £20 million a year instead of cutting it by more than that amount. It would also mean shelling out wheelbarrow loads of borrowed cash to buy the players. It all has the look of two birds in the bush to me and my gut tells me that our boys from Boston are much more interested in the bird in hand.

In the cold calculating light of day, it is hard not to conclude that Fenway Sports are in fact perfectly happy for us to stay rooted sixth or seventh in the league and to keep on sucking in the cash. Oh of course they won’t say that. They will carry on peddling all the right lines. And all the while they will seek out promising Spanish speakers and get them into the global shop window that Liverpool FC offers. Buy cheap and sell dear and stay seventh and rake it in.

And what message do these guys peddle around the world in the pursuit of ever more shirt sales in Asia? They hawk the Liverpool dream with all the desperate enthusiasm of a double glazing salesman. They run and re-run the archive images from the great nights of Anfield when it seemed like the roof might come unbolted with the raging sound. Liverpool and the Kop. Liverpool and the 12th Man. Istanbul and Rome and the dream long ago kick started by Bill Shankly.

They never tire of telling us how important we all are to them. Well they would, wouldn’t they? Is it true? It is buggery. Were it true they might have stepped down from their Ivy league Ivory Towers and clocked on to the fact that things are bloody hard right now in the north of England. Coppering up to raise the cash for a £800 season ticket is stretching the 12th Man all ways. Had they given even the tiniest shit about us, they might have decided to use 10% of their extra income to acknowledge the fact that the recession is kicking the 12th Man squarely in the teeth.

10% of £70 million is £7 million.

£7 million would mean they could drop the price of every season ticket by £200.

Instead they have raised prices by 5%.


And slowly but surely, they are pricing out the ones who once filled the air with that same barrage of sound that the Bostonians now use to flog their tawdry shirts in Asia. And every time an old school Koppite finally gives up the ghost and hands in his or her season ticket, the men from Massachusetts punch the air. They have no interest in this particular band of dinosaurs. In no way do we even begin to fit the fan profile they aspire to filling the stadium with. We go to the pub, turn up ten minutes before the kick off and never spend a penny in the ground. They want the guys from Scandinavia who shell out for weekend packages from Thomas Cook including a match ticket which weighs in at double the cost of a season ticket seat. These lads turn up for the match at noon and give their plastic a complete hammering in the club shop and then they go through the turnstiles early and spend even more in the bars inside the ground.

No doubt Ian Ayre’s laptop is loaded up with sort of stuff in graphic detail. When I go along to a match with my dad or one of my sons, the club gets £80 out of it. If a Norwegian dad were to go along with his son, they would look like a much more attractive option.

Seats - £150.

Museum Tour - £20.

Club Shop - £200.

Cafes - £20

Programme - £4.

Total £394.

No wonder they don’t want the old guard any more. Every time we renew our season tickets, they see it as blot on their beloved bottom line.

We are not stupid of course. We all know full well that we are being conned and ripped blind. But can you do? If football is in the blood, it stays in the blood. They have us hook, line and sinker and don’t they ever know it. This is why we look at Germany and turn green with envy. We look at the carnival of a Dortmund home game and dream of being like them. We dream of our club being our own. We dream of affordable seats. We dream of being more important than a set of accounts for a few super rich guys who live at the far side of a deep, grey ocean.

Have you ever harboured such thoughts?

Of course it is a pipe dream and it could never, ever happen because we live in a world where the 1% gets ever more bloated whist the 99% get quietly screwed.

‘You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…’

Wasn’t it a Scouser who once said that? In fact, didn’t we name an airport after him?

Well I’ve had my own little dream. It is a dream where King Kenny Dalglish is persuaded to head up a worldwide campaign to turn his beloved Liverpool Football Club into a Dortmund: a club owned lock, stock and barrel by the fans where match tickets cost a tenner each.

A dream? Duh.

An impossible dream? Almost certainly, but things didn’t look so clever on the night of nights on the Bosphorus when we were 3-0 down to AC Milan.

The result of my dreaming is ‘King Kenny’s Revolution’ and for the next five days it is available absolutely free of charge in the Kindle Store. You can have a copy by clicking the link below and take some time out to wonder how things could be so very different.

So download and enjoy and if you approve of this particular pipedream, please share it around.    
To get a free copy of 'King Kenny's Revolution' click the link below


'The Long and Winding Road to Istanbul'

'The Drums of Anfield'

'Quiet Desperation'


Monday, July 1, 2013


We’ve had a few sunny days up here in Bonnie Scotland over the last month or so. Not many. And it hasn’t exactly been anything Mediterranean. But better than usual. Normally a stretch of summer weather reduces the number of food parcel customers we serve to a mere trickle. Not so this year. This year they have kept on coming, one after the other, for day after day. The expressions are the same. Only the clothes are different. Most are resigned, despondent, beaten. But with the warmth of the weather have come new and different expressions. Hard etched anger. Pale skin stretched tight over the bones.

For like night following day, cometh the warmth of summertime, cometh the anger. And all of a sudden we are starting to hear the ‘R’ word.

It was a couple of weeks ago when the ‘R’ word made its 2013 debut at the counter in First Base. It passed through the lips of one of our regulars. He’s a nice enough guy who has taken a fearsome kicking over the last year or so. He’s certainly no young dafty. I guess he is just by fifty and he has worked for most of his years. There is no point in pretending that he is any kind of choirboy. Over years he has had his share of fights, most of which he has won. When you look at him, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to discover that he usually comes out on top in occasional dismal little late night street battles. As a result he has a record. Not the longest record, but long enough to make getting a job nigh on impossible in the new reality. So he’s on the dole and he looks like staying there for a while. Not that he actually gets paid all that often.

Some of those late night wars were fought out on the pavements outside the town’s clubs in the days when my man was a doorman. People don’t tend to forget such encounters. Grudges are borne and treasured and lovingly preserved. So what? So it means that any man and his dog can pick up the phone and report that an old foe is working on the black. So then what happens? The person who is the subject of the report is immediately suspended from all benefits until such a time as they can categorically prove that they were NOT working illegally. It’s kind of hard to prove this particular negative and my man has no ever managed to do so.

So he keeps getting sanctioned. Right now he is on his third. Three months this time. In the winter he would come in from the dismal grey rain and tell me how he had been walking the streets seeking out enough dockers to roll a few fags. He could never get his head around how such a thing could have ever happened. His sunken eyes spoke of nothing but resignation.


Not so a couple of weeks ago when the sun was the sole occupant of a wall to wall blue shy.

In place of resignation was a slow burning anger which promised to upgrade itself into white rage at the flick of a switch. And he issued a very simple statement of fact, almost rehearsed.

“Tell you what Mark, if there is a riot this summer, I’m joining in. Never thought I’d say that.”

The 'R' word.

And since then the ‘R’ word has been quietly spoken on a further three occasions. Was it drunken bravado or the big talk of a handful of blue Valium? No. Not even nearly. In each and every case it was delivered in a calm and measured tone. The ‘R’ word had been thought through carefully. Weighed and measured and tried on for size. And then used. Used in a matter of fact way.

Of the 300 food parcels we handed out in June, just over 120 went to people who have been sanctioned from all their benefits. As in rendered completely penniless. Many are on their second or third sanction and they are starting to get a little frayed at the edges. Most of the time the sanctions are for what we Lancastrians call summat and nowt. Like being five minutes late. Other times the sanctions are more proactive. A guy from last week told me that he had been given an appointment on 13th June which he duly attended only to be told that the date had been moved to the 10th of June. Had they written to him with this information? No. had they sent him a text? No. They had called him and left a voicemail message. Of course most folk getting by on £60 a week never tend to have credit in their phones and are therefore they are in no position to pick up voicemail messages. This guy was in such a position. Gotcha. Sanctioned for a month.

He was another who quietly spoke the ‘R’ word.

The fact that Job Centre staff are being driven to sanction at least three clients a week is now widely known. Most people are hyper aware that 5 minutes late will mean no money for at least a month. This of course means that it is getting harder and harder for the Job Centre people to meet their targets which means that they are having to get more creative: to come up with ever more clever ruses and tactics. Like changing an appointment and leaving a voicemail.

And of course this kind of thing gets people ever more angry. Will this anger send them out onto the streets?
Like Cairo? Like Istanbul? Like Rio?



Cold logic suggests that it can only be a matter of time.

Maybe this particular logic lies behind all the stories we are now hearing about the monumental surveillance that is being mounted on millions of us little people. Of course they blame in on Terrorism. But they always blame everything on Terrorism.

It is hard not to get the sense of hatches being battened down ready for the coming storm.

We seem to have an awful lot of extremely well kept secrets at the moment. For five years now we have been subjected to a barrage of media explaining how hard the times are and how we need to stand together to get through it. And slowly but surely the blame for what has happened has been shifted more and more onto the poor. The fact that a few bankers sent the world economy off the edge of a cliff seems to be in the process of being air brushed from history. Instead it is the idle, scrounging poor who are to blame. The media tells us we are infested by a swarm of idle, feckless individuals who binge drink, eat themselves to obesity, breed kids for cash and, horror of horrors, watch Sky on 40 inch plus TV’s.

Slowly but surely all politicians are falling into a line and they now vie with each other in the great new game of poor bashing. If Nigel Farage were to suggest putting anyone unemployed for over a year into meat pies, then Ed Milliband will blag a spot on the ‘World at One’ to say that Cornish Pasties would do even better.

It is a hell of a smoke screen and the new reality seems to be that anyone who wants to get elected has to prove that they can hate the poor with the best of them. And does it ever work. Every hammer blow delivered by the Department of Work and Pensions is followed by a jump in the polls for Cameron and his merry men. No wonder they like it so much.

Will they manage to keep the big secret forever out of view? Maybe. Eighty million Germans kept on believing that all bad things were down to the wicked, scheming, money grubbing Jews for year after year until the Red Army finally arrived at the gates of Berlin. And all the while, a very few jumped up gangsters quietly filled their Swiss bank accounts until they were in danger of bursting.

Times are hard. Hard for everyone. It says so everywhere. It is an absolute truth.

However a mere thousand citizens of this beleaguered nation of ours saw their collective wealth go up by £35 billion last year.     

As in £350 million each.

They managed to get a million quid richer every single day of 2012. So what happened to the recession?

To try and put that figure into some kind of context, it is worth noting that £35 billion is about the same as we spend on Education and Defence. It is a hundred times more that the promised savings to the public purse resulting from the hated Bedroom Tax.

It’s a bloody fortune.

Walmart is owned by the Walton family. Right now there are six members of the Walton family who own the whole thing. Between them these six people have more cash than 42% of Americans combined.

6 people have more than 120 million people.

Two years ago they had more cash than 90 million.

Where will things stand in two years time? Will it be 150 million? 200 million?

It is of course complete and utter madness when so very few people are able to drain off the wealth of so many. Since the Crash, we have all got 2% poorer every year. And my word we are all beginning to feel it. What we are still failing to realise is just where all of that lost standard of life has gone.

It has gone into the off shore accounts of those 1000 individuals who managed to get themselves £35 billion richer last year.

And who do we blame?

The poor.

But history teaches us that you can only keep on kicking the poor for so long. There always comes time when they collectively decide to kick back. Like Paris in 1789. Like St Petersburg in 1917. Like Cairo in 2011.

And when that day eventually comes, those 1000 gilded individuals will melt away to their islands in the sun.

So will they go the same way as Tsar Nicholas and Marie Antoinette and President Mubarak? Maybe. Or maybe by monitoring our Facebook and Twitter accounts, the powers that be will manager to kill any revolt before it has a chance to get started.

So roll up, roll up for the hottest ticket in town. It’s the showdown we’ve all been waiting for.

In the blue corner we have Technology.

In the red corner we have History.  

And let us never forget that there are in fact two ‘R’ words.

‘R’ for Riot

And then there is that other ‘R’ made famous by the likes of Robespierre and Trotsky and Che.

But I think it prudent now to mention that particular ‘R’ word as you never know who is listening in.