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.

Monday, November 25, 2013



Two years ago the police killed a young man called Mark Duggan in Tottenham and within a matter of hours things were kicking off all over the country. We all got to watch the whole thing unfold on live TV. For a while it seemed as if the cops were completely incapable of getting the lid back on. In the end the thing ran out of gas more than anything else. People got tired and strung out and hungover and drifted back home.

And then of course the Post Mortems started and for a few weeks it was a really, really good time to be someone with a few letters after your name and some expertise in the field of social breakdown.

Hindsight suggests that many of those who set Tottenham High St ablaze were genuinely outraged by the execution of Mark Duggan, but most of those on the streets of Hackney and Nottingham and Salford were following a very different agenda. By and large they were young, bored, pissed off, unemployed and ramped up on cocktails of cheap amphetamines and stolen booze.

People with nothing to lose just lose it. Or so the saying goes. But there has to be a spark to ignite any inferno. Conditions need to be right. The tinderbox. A few hundred acres of parched Australian woodland and a fierce wind devoid of so much as a drop of moisture.

Then all you need is a match. A car window tossed fag. A bolt of lightning. A careless campfire.


When there are many thousands of increasingly disillusioned and angry people eking out meaningless lives in dismal, unheated rooms, it doesn’t take much to send them out onto the streets. It didn’t take much in 2011 and it wouldn’t take much now.

But you will always need someone to be the first to lose the plot. To throw the first brick.

Thankfully such individuals are comparatively rare. Sometimes they are born rabble rousers out of the Trotsky/Rosa Luxembourg stable: men and women who leap up onto the table and fire up a mob to hit the streets and smash everything in sight.

It has been a long time since we had anyone cut from this cloth in Britain. The security services are pretty good and picking them out and taking them down before they get the chance to raise a mob. Maybe Arthur Scargill was the last of the Mohicans in this regard.

Now it is much more likely that the spark to set the tinderbox alight will be some lost soul without a thing to lose. In any town the police will have a pretty good idea who these individuals are. They will probably have been a handful from the age of 12 or 13. Often they will have been taken into care when their home lives became too hellish to be deemed acceptable. School will have been a story of truancy, exclusion and utter failure. They will have done the rounds of foster homes until the £1000 a day super secure care home card is the only one left for the Social Workers to play. Addictions and prison and homelessness and crimes of violence. Rap sheets running to pages and pages and pages.

They eventually reach a point where they really do have nothing to lose. Prison is no big deal. Prison is a place where they fit in. They know the drill and they know the people. It offers no kind of deterrent.

Out of prison is a whole different story. Out of prison is a huge problem and it always has been. For many years now these individuals have developed a keen sense of entitlement. Often this has evolved from their days in the £1000 a day care system when they had Xboxes and days out lavished on them to try and dissuade them from kicking off or running away. These were the days when they were a treasured commodity worth a third of a million a year to the bottom line of the Private Equity outfits who shake down the tax payer to take care of the very baddest of bad boys.

Adulthood has meant a certain number of minimum expectations. They expect to be given a place to stay. They expect to be signed off sick for some bogus reason, usually anxiety or a methadone prescription. They expect to be hooked up with a support worker whose employers will get £25 an hour to take them on trips to McDonalds and Matalan.

For years this has been the preferred way of parking up these endlessly problematic individuals. Give them a flat, sign them off sick and sort out a worker to get them into the Job Centre once a month to sign on the line.

Well those days are long gone. Even if these guys had leprosy, the French doctors would deem them fit for work of all kinds. And this means that they are suddenly at the mercy of the new regime at the Job Centre. Log online five days a week and make at least 17 attempts to find work. And note it all down in your diary. And never be so much as a minute late for your appointments.

This whole idea is futile on so many levels. Even if lads like this were to fill in two hundred job applications each and every week, they wouldn’t get an interview. Even when the economy is booming and the job market is buoyant, these guys are unemployable. When you have record that speaks of years and years served for violent crime, just about no employers are about to risk letting you through the door. But we do not live in such times. Instead we live in times where at least 10 desperate people chase every advertised position. Those who have many years under their belt for being violent are completely unemployable. And of course they know this only too well.

It means that the whole thing is nothing more than a game. The Job Centre demands that one and all dance their new dance and any minor transgression means an instant sanction. A month. Three months. Six months.

Even if these lads decided to knuckle down and dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ put in front of them, they would still be doomed to failure. Let’s scroll back through their dismal life stories. Eight years old. Bad stuff. Mum beaten black and blue. Time locked in a cupboard. Physical abuse. Sexual abuse. No boundaries. Anger and addictions and nobody to help with homework. Then the care system. Foster home after foster home and the company of fellow wild boys. Truancy and petty crime and stolen booze on the wall outside the Spar Shop.

So what doesn’t happen? Reading and writing doesn’t happen. Computer skills don’t happen. An ability to prioritise and organise doesn’t happen. These guys are absolutely incapable of seeking out a computer to use every day. They wouldn’t know where to start. Even if they got it together to book a slot at a terminal in the library, they wouldn’t have a Scooby about how to fill in an online application. And even if they had all the requisite skills, there is still the issue of the utter futility of the whole exercise.

So what does it all mean? Quite a lot. Under the ‘chuck money at problems by the truckload’ policy of the last Government, these guys were relatively pampered. They were bought off all the way from their out of control childhoods to their violent adulthoods. Xboxes and McDonalds. Now there is a new Sheriff in town. They have a set of rules to follow that they have no chance of sticking to. It means no money ever and nowhere to live. It means sofa surfing and a smouldering anger.

Last Thursday afternoon I had four of them come in just before it was time to close the doors. Between them they had served over fifty years of jail time and not one of them was a day over 35. Three of them were sanctioned and one had been denied any kind of homeless accommodation. One had been out of jail for three weeks after eight years inside and his GP was still waiting on the script for his anti-psychotic meds. They shared the wild hungry eyes of street dogs in some Third World country who had failed to find any scraps in the bin for several days. Jumpy. Wired. Seriously angry. Ready to kick off at a second’s notice. Did more jail time hold any fears? As if.

I gave them their food parcels and did my best to calm them down. Not that there was much chance of that. Don’t get me wrong, they were fine with me. Polite even. But it was like telling a volcano not to blow. Pointless. As they walked out through to door into a cold, merciless wind I stood and watched and maybe I shook my head.

On Friday it was a guy on his own who burst through the door a minute or two before closing time. He was singing and his eyes were revolving around his sockets like a pair of ferrets on crystal meth. A ragged food parcel slip was yanked from a pocket. He rambled on about a book he was going to write that would be ten times better than ‘Lord of the Rings’. He collected about thirty leaflets from the rack. He sang a song about himself; a football sort of song. I gave him some food and with the flick of a switch he was threatening to kill me. I suggested it might be time to leave and the switch flicked once more and it was back to his plans to become the new JR Tolkein.

We know the family pretty well. To say the lad’s childhood was a bad one would be understatement of the week. It was worse than bad. It was worse than anything. Maybe his brain was already fragile. Maybe in a parallel universe his brain might have remained in tact.

It didn’t.

For years he was sectioned off to a lock down mental ward. They let him out in his early twenties and within weeks he was submerged in cheap cider and heroin. Prison and prison and prison and heavy anti psychotic medication. He’s obviously out again now and god alone knows what kind of a toxic cocktail of drugs and booze was rattling around his fractured brain along with his medication. Over the years we have seen lots of people come into First Base completely off their heads.

But never this far.

I have never seen a human being so completely over the rainbow gone. He was in another world and not a better one. The voices in his head were kneading his grey matter into a whole variety of distorted shapes. Eventually he crashed out through the door and onto the pavement. No doubt within a matter of days he will be back under lock and key, either in jail or in an asylum. Or dead. Why is he on the streets at all? Money I excpect. Budget pressures. Targets. Boxes to tick.

Hopefully his road back to incarceration will involve some ludicrous petty offence like stealing a Monopoly set. Hopefully nobody winds up getting hurt. And that is all there is to do.

Fingers crossed. Touch wood. Have a rub at the rabbit’s foot. Because when you push these lads too far into a corner, bad, bad things can happen. And then more bad, bad things can happen.

It’s called a tinderbox.        

Saturday, November 16, 2013



It’s an American saying and it is hard not to agree with it. After 10 years of First Base, I have spent time with an awful lot of men and women who have been locked up for their crimes against society. In theory this makes them some of the worst criminals. It is pretty common knowledge that these days you have to be a pretty bad lad to get sent down. Prison doesn’t come cheap - £5000 a month or thereabouts. In times of austerity, it is hardly surprising that the government is looking to re-write the rule book to save a few bob. These days most punishment is served up in the form of tagging or community payback, whilst prison is reserved for the more serious offenders.

Well it would be very nice if it was the case. But it isn’t of course. Anyone with any dealings with those who have their liberty taken away will tell you that they invariably fall into three categories: mad, bad or sad.

The mad ones are those who really should be getting treated by the mental health system but the mental health system is all full up and under resourced so they get sent to jail instead.

They sad ones are almost all addicted to something or another, mostly heroin. 70% of male prisoners who arrive at a Scottish Prison test positive for opiates. It is over 90% for female prisoners. As a rule of thumb, their crimes involve a litany of micro offenses. Nicking stuff. Nickel and dime. They have worked their way up the ladder until the Sheriff or Magistrate has no choice left other than to lock them up. They have been fined and failed to pay up. They have been given community service and failed to turn up. They have been tagged and simply ignored the tag and gone out once the craving has become too severe. They tend to get sent down for three or four months and are almost always out in less than half that time.

Serving the time is no big deal. They know the system. They know the screws. They know most of the fellow cons. All the stuff about getting shivved in the showers by tattooed up Nazi skinheads is for Holywood. Most jail time is mundane and boring. Three bland meals a day and twenty hours in front of Sky TV.

So does jail time put the sad ones off their lives of petty crime? Does it hell. All it does is make them more sad. Jail time on your record basically means that you are unemployable forever and ever. You stare down the barrel of thirty or forty years of eking out an existence on £60 a week with no prospect of anything changing and you think ‘what’s the point?’ What indeed? The only thing to look forward to is the next tenner bag of smack.

And then of course there are the bad ones. The dangerous ones. The violent ones. The paedophiles and the armed robbers and the rapists and the murderers. Few would argue that these guys need taking off the streets and locking up. I most certainly wouldn’t. However once you scratch the surface, you find that many of the bad ones are also mad and sad ones. Cross over.

The idea is that if you give these bad guys extra long stretches in the hardest, roughest, toughest prisons you can build, then it will act as a deterrent to other wannabe bad guys. In those last seconds leading up to rape or murder, these nutters will draw back and think again. Actually, I best not do this. The last thing I want is thirty years in a rough tough jail.

In theory it sounds great. In practice it doesn’t work out that way. I saw a report a few months ago which checked out if the places with the most hardcore justice systems had the lowest levels of ultra violent crime. Not surprisingly it proved to be the opposite. If you want to get raped or murdered in America, the best place to go is Texas, the very place where they execute the most bad guys and lock up others for 200 years and more. If you want to avoid getting raped or murdered in Europe, then it is statistically advisable to head for Scandinavia where sentences are limp wristed and goody, goody two shoes.

How can this be? Maybe those flaxen haired Nordic types are just genetically engineered to be lovely, cuddly people who are intrinsically incapable of raping or murdering anyone. Well it didn’t seem that way a few hundred years ago when those very same flaxen haired lads sported hats with horns and turned up at the East Coast of Britain in their longboats. I seem to recall that the Vikings were pretty good at the whole rape and pillage thing.

Are the good folk of the Lone Star State born to kill and rape? I don’t think so. A hundred years ago they were the oppressed of Europe who fled persecution to take their wagon trains to the plains of the Wild West.

The report dug out something that when you think about it is pretty damned obvious. Any places where they basically don’t do social services tend to breed a high number of ultra violent offenders, and no matter how many you execute or lock up, it never makes a difference. Why? Simple. A huge majority of society’s most violent people are brutalised in the first years of their lives. They witness their mums being beaten to a pulp. Or they are beaten to a pulp themselves. Or they are raped from the age of eight. By the time they hit their teens, they are often mad, bad and sad. They fail in school and fall into the company of their fellows and find rough and ready comfort in Class A drugs. Like many severely abused ands traumatised people, they can very quickly see red. And that is the moment that they kill and rape.

There are plenty of signs to look for when these killers and rapists are eight years old. Are they becoming withdrawn? What are those bruises? Why are they using that kind of language? Why are they so aggressive in the playground? Why are they not in school today? In Scandinavia they spend their tax money on lots of well trained social workers who are on hand to spot this kind of thing and get it nipped in the bud. They don’t spend much at all on prisons. They don’t have to. In Texas they splash the cash on massive jails and death row. They don’t do social work. Social work is for wimps and communists and Washington types. And so they get more than their fair share of mad, sad and bad maniacs to lock up and execute.

There is a tried and trusted text book to follow if you want a child to mature into a stone cold killer as an adult. The book has been written, revised and refined over many years by a variety of African warlords. They abduct kids at the age of 10 or so and abuse and brutalise them. Give it a few years and these kids will grow into young men who will kill without batting an eyelid. Hitler understood this and institutionalised the system with the Hitler Youth. This huge operation duly served him up 8 million soldiers which he fed into the mincing machine of the Eastern Front where they murdered and raped their way to the gates of Moscow and all the way back again.

It is hard not to conclude that we seem to lock up way too many of the wrong people and in doing so we do nothing to persuade them to join the law abiding majority. Why? Is it merely constant ineptitude and incompetence? I don’t see that. Recently Ken Clarke was the Justice Minister and very few would ever accuse Ken of being either inept or incompetent and if they did, they would have been wrong. Instead, thanks to the media, it has become politically impossible to take any kind of sensible view about how to deal with crime. If any British politician tried to adopt a Scandinavian approach to crime, the press would take him apart piece by piece and he would not stand a snowball in Hell’s chance of getting elected.

So we go on and on with the tried and failed ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ routine. We might as well make a bonfire with billions of pounds worth of £10 notes and set it alight. That would do much less harm than the idiocy of what we do now.

The reality is what is considered to be a crime is a movable feast.

It all depends on how you look at it. Peter Sutcliffe killed thirteen women and is rightly locked away for ever and a day and then some. But what of the people who sign off on a cocked up drone strike that wipes out a school full of kids in Waziristan? No jail for them. Barely a slap on the wrist. It is seldom about the numbers of who get killed. It is always about who are the killed and who does the killing. Justice is never blind. Justice has 20/20 vision.

Drugs are a classic in this regard. If you are a two bit dealer living in a sink estate punting enough heroin to feed your own £50 a day habit, you will get sent down for a year or two when you get caught. And it is definitely a case of ‘when’ you get caught, not ‘if’ you get caught. Why? Because we have deemed heroin and crack cocaine to be utterly evil and anyone involved in the supply of either will be hunted down remorselessly. It is for the sake of society. The good of society.

OK. Fair enough. But it doesn’t play out that way. Because if it played out that way we would focus our resources on those at the very top of the chain who are in the engine rooms of the world’s narcotics trade. Here is where things get confusing. Who are the biggest heroin suppliers on planet Earth? It is a bunch of hyper violent warlords in the badlands of the Afghan/Uzbekistan border. They are a rough and ready trade organisation. They call themselves the Northern Alliance. Sound familiar? Yup, they are our best pals from 2001 when we joined forces with them to kick out the Taliban who at the time had deemed growing poppies to be against the Koran.

At the peak of the banking crisis in 2008 on the day that RBS ran out of cash, there were a number of banks around the world who faced a similar fate. These banks were based in countries where there were not enough taxpayers to be shaken down for billions of pounds and dollars to cover losses. These banks were in small countries. Offshore countries.

Someone, somewhere simply had to deposit hundreds of billions of dollars in these banks that very day or the whole world financial system would melt down. But nobody had any ready cash. So what to do? How can you rustle up several hundred billion dollars at a couple of hours notice? Easy. You pick up the phone to the guys in charge of the big drug cartels. Here’s a deal guys. It’s a one off. Any money you stick in these banks before close of business today is as clean as a whistle. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to wash every last dollar and dime with no strings attached. It was a laundry day to end all laundry days. Hundreds of billions got washed clean that day. The UN unearthed the secret and every man and his dog denied it. Nobody went to jail. Surprise, surprise. No banks folded that day and all those off shore deposits were kept nice and safe.

But who had the phone numbers for the guys in the boardrooms of the drug cartels? Well we know that now. We know it because HSBC has been fined for laundering endless billions of Mexican drug cash. They had every number they needed. And still nobody went to jail.

A few years ago I remember standing at the counter of the bank paying in a cheque to First Base. The cheque was for £25. Next to me was one of the town’s more successful dealers who was pushing great wads of cash through the window. It was all laughs and smiles as he talked about his recent holiday in the West Indies. At the time he was holding onto the child benefit books of several of our female clients who would meet him outside the post office each week. He would hand them their book. They would go in and draw the cash. Then they would come out and hand over the cash and the book until next week. If they failed to turn up, he would arrange to have them beaten up. Nice guy. I can still picture him that day as he paid thousands of pounds over the counter, all tanned and designer clad. The staff at the bank were all clearly pleased to have him as a customer. Did anyone really believe that all those tenners really came from a garage? Or did they prefer to look the other way and pursue their bonus targets?

If you take a drive through the blighted high streets of any of the poorest places in Britain you will find an unusually high number of bookies have opened up. Where do the punters get the cash? Surely these doomed areas don’t have enough people with enough disposable income to justify so many bookies. They don’t. That is why there are no more greengrocers and bakers. Things unsurprisingly are not what they seem. Most of these bookies now have roulette machines. These are fixed odds machines where the bookie takes 10% of whatever is put in. This of course means that if you stick £1000 into one of these machines, you will get £900 back and the bookie will take £100.

Unless you get lucky of course.

A report last week exposed the fact that these machines are actually nothing more than glorified washing machines and the bookies are glorified launderettes.

A smart drug dealer can take a trip down a high street and visit five bookies. He spends half an hour on the roulette machine in each. £20 on red. £20 on black. £2 on something else. In a couple of hours he can put in £5000 and get £4500 back, all washed and clean as a whistle. The big bookmakers claim that this is all news to them. Oh really? Or is this 10% money laundering service the real reason for opening up so many shops in the parts of town where the police have to go in mob handed?

Which brings us to good old Andy Hornby. As Chief Exec of HBOS he was one of the ones who cost as all billions in his pursuit of seven figure bonuses. We caught a glimpse of him in front of the Treasury Select Committee looking contrite. He said sorry. How nice. On his watch, HBOS lost £10.8 billion and it was left to all of us to pick up the tab. 16000 HBOS employees were tossed onto the dole when the bank was rescued by Lloyds.

You would think that when you have presided over a cock up of such proportions you might find it hard to get another job. In fact, it is logical to assume that someone who has cost the country £10 billion as a result of blind greed might even wind up serving time in jail. But Andy is neither on the dole nor banged up. First up, he made sure he got a hold of his £2.5 million pension from HBOS. Next, he got a job at Boots where he was once again a pretty major flop. They decided they needed rid of him and offered him £2 million to take a hike. Andy demanded an extra £450,000 in return for signing a piece of paper to guarantee he wouldn’t take any trade secrets to the competion. He got his £450,000. Employee of the month!

Now Andy is Chief Executive at Corals the bookies. 1700 shops and 20% of the British market. I guess just about every one of those 1700 shops will have a shiny money laundering roulette machine complete with flashing lights. And every day of the week these machines will deliver their 10% laundry fee to Andy’s bottom line. And Andy will get more millions in bonuses and the drug train will role along merrily whilst the nickel and dime dealers are sent down.

Like they say over the pond.

You’re guilty until proven rich.  


Wednesday, November 6, 2013




I wrote ‘Afterwards’ three years ago when we first set up our Veterans Project. As a manager of charity that has always worked at the front line of addiction, I was familiar enough with what a broken soldier looked like. Over the years I had met several. Over the years I had looked into their thousand yard stare across the counter in our reception area.

If you work in the world of heroin, you soon learn that many who seek out its warm and non judgemental embrace do so to escape the very worst of trauma. The dark places. All the way from ‘Heart of Darkness’ to ‘Apocalypse Now’.

‘The horror. The horror’.

Over these last three years, and many hours locked into those thousand yard stares, I have come to realise that I carry a small does of PTSD myself.

Hillsborough of course.

I hadn’t really noticed before. I hadn’t really given it much thought when a certain kind of sunny April afternoon and a soft spring breeze carrying the scent of cooking hot dogs would suddenly Tardis me all the way back to 15 April 1989.

I hadn’t really given much thought to the way a certain sound would suddenly throw me like a Sumo wrestler on crystal meth. It isn’t a sound you hear very often. Imagine a guy throwing a 50kg bag of flour from the back of a flat bed truck. Imagine the noise it would make as it hit the pavement. Like a dull sort of thump. It’s the same noise as a body makes when it is dropped over the kind of cages they used to have at football grounds in the 1980’s. It is the kind of noise makes that a corpse makes when it hits the gravel edging to a South Yorkshire football pitch. It is the kind of noise that shoots you back 23 years and puts you into a cold sweat.

That is my very, very mild PTSD. My stuck record. My umbilical link to moments of horror.

But I am one of the lucky ones. My stare barely reaches 10 yards. Unlike Miller. You can look into his stare at the top of the page. Three days in Fallujah took him to the bottom level of hell. At dawn on day three, an LA Times photographer caught the stare on camera and froze it in time. Within days the photo had gone everywhere and Miller had become the ‘Marlboro Marine’. He got his fifteen minutes of fame and then he was sucked down into the swamp. Last time I heard, he was tearing around the middle states of American with a bunch of bikers and blotting everything out with as many drugs as could lay his hands on.

I embarked on writing ‘Afterwards’ with no proper understanding of what a back story to a thousand yard stare might look like. I have no formal training. No relevant letters after my name. All I have is the experience of talking to people. Or more to the point, of shutting my mouth and letting them talk to me. I call it ‘shut up and listen’.

Over the years I have become aware that for some reason people seem happy to re-visit their dark places with me. Why? I haven’t the first idea. I guess I have my mum and dad to thank for bringing me up never to judge anyone.


I have sat with terrorists and soldiers and those who were abused as kids. I have sat with those who have fled to the UK from the horrors of other places. I have sat with very violent men and very broken men. Some even call in to First Base every now and then to confess their sins. God knows why. All I do is shut and listen. And then more often than not, I give them a bollocking. It is what they crave deep down. A rubber stamping of what is right and what is wrong. What is acceptable and what is unacceptable.

Over the years of working with Veterans, I have come to realise that the guilt is very worst of the PTSD cancer. Memories of things seen and witnessed can be hellish and harrowing, but with patient treatment, these memories can as often as not be eased. Smoothed out. Made more bearable.

The guilt is a whole different story. For who can say that what was done was OK? Not me.

I have seen this time and time again.

An ex Para barely able to speak as he tried to find the words to describe what he and his comrades did to the young Argentine conscripts in the trenches of Goose Green.

With bayonets and a primordial killing fury.

Time and again he tried to find the words and time and time again he failed to find the words. Until he died and now the words will stay locked away in a dictionary forever.

A lad who is still in uniform. In Iraq he was the man on the big gun. On a rooftop under a blazing sun. The word came down that someone was planting an IED as a British patrol was headed up the street below. The word came down that he was to eliminate the threat. So he eliminated the threat. He took the head clean off the threat. One minute there was a head. The next minute there was no head. The patrol was made safe. The bomber was 8 years old. And now the lad with the thousand yard stare can no longer trust himself to be alone in a room with his young son. His son has just turned five. And in three years his son will be eight….

Another young lad on another big gun. Another lad under an unforgiving, merciless sun. An Afghan sun. And six hundred yards away are two men in robes outside a clay house. The word in his earpiece says that they are to be taken down. By him. By the lad from the scheme in Dumfries. 21 years old and four years out of school. Soldier and executioner. Bringer of death. On the word through the earpiece. One, two. Supersonic metal and wrecked flesh. One, two. Two departed souls on the word in the earpiece. And it turned out that they were no more than farmers passing the time of day. It seemed OK in the Helmand warzone. But back home in the grey rain of Dumfries and Galloway, it no longer seemed OK. In the empty, empty hours of the night it no longer seemed OK. He just wanted someone to tell him that he had done the right thing. And people did. Lots of people. Hell, I did. But he never believed any of us.

And so in the depths of yet another cold, empty night he took the pain away. For ever. He bought himself a ticket to the same place as the two farmers in white robes who had once passed the time of day together under a blazing Afghan sun. In the end the guilt ate all the way through him until it reached his unprotected soul.

‘Afterwards’ tells the stories of three Scottish squaddies who went to three different wars. They marched into the darkness and never managed to march back out again. They managed to find a way to live with the memories of what they had seen. The sights and the sounds and the smells. But the guilt was a whole different story. The guilt would never go away. No matter how much they drank or how many pills the doctor gave them. All three agreed to tell their stories to help people to understand what PTSD is really like. To show why so many who are buried by the condition just drink and drink and drink. Why they get angry over nothing at all. Why they are volatile and unpredictable and all but impossible to live with.

They were all happy with the words I used and the way I used them. They all were happy that ‘Afterwards’ represented their truth.

And once again I commend their courage for choosing to bare their fractured souls. To revisit the things they did which they have never found a way to live with. They did so out of a sense of duty and honour. They wanted to help. They wanted to contribute. They wanted to help to make things better for the soldiers of the future.

They have done. Lots of people have read ‘Afterwards’. Some have been encouraged to step out of the shadows and seek treatment. Others – families and wives and friends – have used the knowledge from the book to understand their loved ones better.

Please share the link to the Amazon Kindle store where the book is free for the next few days to anyone who you know who is in the darkness.

It might just help them to seek the light.   


Monday, November 4, 2013



Blue chip? What is ‘blue chip’? According to Google, the term comes from poker: the blue chip is the highest value chip. Companies which are honoured with the prefix ‘blue chip’ are deemed to be well established and 100% solid and trustworthy. These are the household names that we can give our trust to. Heinz and Ford and Kenwood and Hoover and Cadburys. Familiar names. Names we have grown up with. Names which have been waved in front of our faces for years and years and years.

And familiarity has bred contempt.

We trust them and they shaft us.

Of course few of these much loved brands have ever been whiter than white. Anything but. I guess they merely used to be rather better at keeping their nasty secrets. A semblance of decency used to be important. It doesn’t seem to be so any more. Not they are much more in our faces. So what are you going to do about it pal?

We still hold up Henry Ford as a visionary figure: a borderline industrial genius who delivered affordable cars for all. The fact that he was more racist than most Ku Klux Klan grandmasters from Alabama has been gently air brushed from history. He always greatly admired the visions and dreams of Hitler and maintained an unholy contact with the Nazis right through the 1930’s. Many have often wondered if he offered a helping hand to the beloved Fuhrer in sitting up the assembly lines that delivered the ‘people’s cars’ to a grateful German public. Many have often wondered if Ford offered his wisdom and expertise in the development of the most brutal and starkly efficient assembly line of them all – the one that ran from all corners of Europe to the ovens of Auschwitz Birkenau. I guess the answers to that one were all burned and shredded long ago.

And what of good old cuddly Cadburys? How can a company we have known and shopped with for all of our lives be anything but British and good and decent? I mean they did that brilliant advert with the gorilla and the drums for Christ’s sake.

If only.

To make lots of chocolate you need lots of cocoa. We Brits used to have that well sorted. Our Empire was good for lots and lots of cocoa, every pound of it sold on the London market at a price guaranteed to makes a tonne of cash for Cadburys and a lifetime of penury for the poor sods who grew the beans in Ghana. This happy state of affairs ended in 1957. The Americans put their foot down after the Suez debacle and gave our Empire a winding up order. No more colonies for us. Ghana became independent and the new leader Kwame Nkrumah had the cheek and audacity to refuse to sell his cocoa exclusively in London. Within months the price of cocoa beans went up from $150 a tonne to $450 a tonne. That must have stung a little in the panelled boardroom of Britain’s most treasured purveyor of chocolate. There is plenty of rumour and hearsay about what came next. Nkrumah lasted for ten years until he was ousted in a run of the mill African coup. The rumour and hearsay suggests that the coup was arranged by the CIA and MI6 and largely financed by Cadburys. Surely not! What is beyond dispute is that the price of cocoa crashed.

And it stayed crashed. For years and years. The cocoa farmers went back to grinding poverty and Cadbury’s made their gorilla advert.

Boots is another so called blue chip outfit. Familiar. Trusted. Much loved. We all grew up with Boots. When we were ill as kids, our mums would return from a trip to Boots with a bottle of cure in one of their instantly recognisable paper bags. Founded in 1853 in Nottingham, they grew and grew until they found a spot on every High St in the land.

And they still do.

Boots the chemists. They have never needed to re-brand. Why would they? That familiar blue lettered logo says all there need to be said. For here is one of those most British of British companies. Set in stone. Part of the scenery. An ever present presence through the years of our lives. Can we trust Boots? Of course we can. Boots are as blue chip as they come.

Well the Government certainly trusts Boots on our behalf. Every year they bung the company over two billion quid’s worth of business in the form of prescription fees and other NHS work. That by the way is £40 a head for every man jack of us. Nice business if you can get it. But that is exactly the kind of business you can expect to get when you are a blue chip and well loved firm who has graced the British High St for these last 160 years.

If only it were true.

The truth is that Boots is about as British as lasagne and high speed trains. Boots ceased to be British six years ago when it was bought up by an Italian billionaire and a private equity outfit from New York. This unholy alliance shelled out a cool £9 billion and promptly re-registered the company in a sleepy little town in Switzerland. I listened to a Radio 4 podcast last year where the reporter tracked down their new head office. It is a post office box! The firm that technically hold the Boots deeds is based in Gibraltar. The firm that lent all the money is on Wall St of course.

Once they had their hands on the firm, they danced their capitalist tango with each other. One side of the partnership had leant the other the side the cash for the deal and they set an eye watering interest rate for doing so. This has become a well loved ploy over recent years.

In the years since the takeover Boots has racked up an operating profit of £5 billion. Most of the cash has been generated in Britain and the largest share has come from that lovely, lovely £2 billion a year from the tax payer. When we hand out so much business to a company, surely the least we can expect is that they will reciprocate by shelling out to pay taxes on the profits.

Well it would be nice. Well, wouldn’t it?

Corporation Tax on £5 billion is something over £1 billion. Not enough to cover the cost of Boots issuing all of those NHS prescriptions, but a fair chunk of it.

Unfortunately, the guys who own Boots don’t do tax. They are allergic to tax. They hate tax and they will go to almost any lengths to avoid paying so much as a penny of tax.

So they don’t.

Instead they tell it like this. Oh yes, we have made an operating profit of £5 billion. But here’s the thing. We are paying a fortune in interest on the £9 billion we borrowed to buy the company. And that means we have made a monumental loss. In fact, we have made such a monumental loss that we would like to use this loss to reclaim some tax from the years before we bought the company.

They have made £5 billion in six years and remarkably enough it turns out that WE owe THEM £130 million! It is £2 from every man, women and child in Britain.

Ah but hang on a second here. You borrowed that money from yourself!

No we didn’t.

Yes you did.

No we didn’t.

Yes you did,

Prove it.

Let us see the books then.

Can’t. They’re in Switzerland.

Oh. That’s a pity.

Isn’t it.

It would be nice to think that the Government’s reaction to this bare faced con would be to instruct the NHS to withdraw all business from Boots with immediate effect. I wonder why they haven’t? Could be anything to do with party donations and champagne jollies at Twickerham? Surely not? God forbid. Blue chip companies don’t do stuff like that.

It would be nice to think that having such a cunning plan in place to ensure they never have to pay any tax, they could at least behave with a semblance of decency in their day to day business.

Fat chance.

Here is my very own little beef with the well loved favourite of the British High St. A few years ago I read a report that showed the mind boggling impact a high dose of Omega 3 can have on the human mind. Well my human mind is half a century old now and it is getting a tad rusty and it needs all the help it can get. The report suggested that to have the optimum effect, the brain needs 1000 mg a day of EPA and DHA which are the initials that describe the unpronounceable chemicals that make up Omega 3.

So I went into Boots and did some label reading. Their top of the range product went by the name of ‘OMEGA 3 FISH OIL’ and the front of the box stated that each and every capsule would provide 584 mg of EPA and DHA. So no problem them, Two capsules a day would take me well beyond the 1000 mg a day target. How much? Bloody hell. £12.50 for a box of 60. 40p a day. Oh well. What the hell.

I was writing a book at the time. My normal writing routine is to get up at 5.30 and sit down for 6 o’clock and write for two hours. For ten years, my average output during this two hour slot had been 1500 words. Within three weeks to taking on board 1000 mg of Omega 3 a day, my output had gone up to 2000 words a day. I don’t suppose you will be surprised to hear that I have take the capsules ever since.


A couple of weeks ago I noticed that there had been some subtle changes to the packaging. Check out the picture below. It’s a bit like those spot the difference things we used to do when we were kids.

You will notice the words ‘MAX STRENGTH’ have suddenly appeared, but the  words EPA 351 mg and DHA 234mg have suddenly disappeared. Now why would the beloved treasure of the British High St have decided to disappear the amount of EPA and DHA from the front of the box at the very moment that they had decided to add the bold claim that their product was ‘MAX STRENGTH’?

The back of the box told the full story. The DHA had actually nudged up to 250 mg but the EHA content had done a Leeds United and crashed all the way from 351 mg to 95 mg. Looks like the price of DHA must have gone up.

OK. Time to do a few sums. 95 + 250 = 345. Two capsules a day therefore gives 690 mg. And 690 mg is still 310 mg shy of the target level of 1000. So instead of needing two capsules a day to hit the mark, I needed 3 capsules a day to hit the mark. 40p a day had suddenly become 60p a day and in my books that means a 50% price hike.

The much loved and trusted High St institution could have dealt with the rise price they were paying for their EPA in three different ways.

Number one. They help out their customers and absorb the rise. After all, they are making a tonne of money and paying no tax when all is said and done.

Fat chance.

Number two, they act like a decent and honourable business and hide nothing. They keep the product identical and raise the price from £12.50 to £18.75. Maybe they even produce a short info leaflet explaining that world EPA prices have rocketed. But that would have meant that some of their customers might have looked at the price and thought ‘I’m not paying that!’

So instead they predictably went for option 3 and chose to be dishonest and tawdry. They cheapened the product whilst at the same time re-branding the box as ‘MAX STRENGTH’.

Like a bunch of no good, money grubbing shysters.

And all those customers who were shelling out their £12.50 a month in all good faith to hit their Omega 3 target were all of a sudden falling 30% short. No doubt many will right now be wondering why they don’t feel quite as sharp and putting it down to a bug or something. But it isn’t a bug. It is just yet another example of a so called blue chip firm acting like a bunch of two bit petty con artists.

Maybe it isn’t so very surprising that sales of Karl Marx have shot up over the last year or two. Maybe he wasn’t so wrong about capitalism after all.