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.

Friday, January 24, 2014



“When one person dies it is a tragedy. When a million people die it is a statistic.”

So Uncle Joe Stalin once famously said. And of course nobody in the history of our troubled planet has ever been as well qualified to make such a statement. Uncle Joe knew exactly what was involved to kill folk by the million. The trouble is that the inescapable fact that Stalin was humankind’s greatest ever serial killer and as mad as a bag of frogs doesn’t necessarily mean that he was wrong on this one.

Every single minute of every single day kids die all manner of desperate deaths. They get shredded by shrapnel in Syria. They starve in the baked earth of the Sub Sahara. They get droned in Waziristan. They get worked to death in camps in North Korea.  Hundreds every day. Probably thousands. And no matter how hard we try, it is impossible to compute the sheer depth of the murder and mayhem that goes down in every corner of the planet. Like Stalin said. They are mere statistics. Snap shots from the news.

But the same cannot be said about Madeleine McCann. It is nearly seven years since Madeleine vanished in Praia Da Luz and still her face appears on a daily basis. Madeleine is no statistic. Madeleine is a tragedy. A face. A young girl with desperate parents and a million posters in her name.

Big numbers are hard to deal with. I remember as a kid being told that the light from the next star after the sun had begun its journey to my eyeballs sometime during the reign of Henry the Eighth and had been travelling at the speed of light ever since. That is a concept that is just way too big. It is the kind of thing that can completely fry your brain.

I mention all this because I have just spent half an hour or so wondering how to get my head around what three and a half billion people actually looks like. It’s roughly half the population of the planet, but if you were to take a peek from the space station you wouldn’t see any of them.

So how to frame an image of so very many?

As a long time football nut, crowd numbers have always been important to me. What was the score? How many were there? In the world of British football, Wembley Stadium is the place where you fit in the largest number. For the sake of easy maths, let’s round Wembley’s 92,000 capacity up to 100,000.


If you lined up several Wembley stadiums, how many would it take to make the line a mile long? About ten I guess. Ten Wembley stadiums with a million people inside.

Fine. I can make a mental picture of that.

Every other weekend I hop into my car and drive from Dumfries to Anfield for the match. It is a drive of 150 miles. So if there was a line of Wembley stadiums at the side of the road all the way from the start to the end of my journey, that would mean 1500 stadiums holding 150 million people. Now that is a tad harder to get the head around. The idea of driving for the thick end of two and a half hours passing 1500 massive football stadiums is reaching into the realms of pure science fiction.

What if there were stadiums either side of the road creating a bizarre kind of tunnel effect? 3000 stadiums. 300 million people. Every man, woman and child in Europe. Now that would be something you could see all the way from space.


We’re Getting there.

But why think small?

Let’s take that tunnel of stadiums all the way south from Dumfries to the white cliffs of Dover. 450 miles. 9000 stadiums. 900 million people. The whole population of Europe, America and Russia put together.

Let’s go bigger.

Let’s take the stadium tunnel all the way from Calais to Moscow. 1500 miles more. Another 3000 stadiums. Another 3 billion people. Wow. We’re up to almost 4 billion now. More than half of everyone in the world……

Hang on a sec…

That is over 3.5 billion. I would get to 3.5 billion somewhere near Smolensk.

So THAT is what 3.5 billion looks like.

A road from Dumfries to Smolensk with 17500 Wembleys on one side and 17500 Wembleys on the other side. 50 non stop hours of driving at a steady 70mph.

Now that’s a big thought. A real visible from space thought.


What is the relevance of 3.5 billion on a dismal grey morning in January?

It becomes relevant when partnered with the number at the top of this blog.


The richest 85 people on our planet own the same as the poorest 3.5 billion. Like Stalin said. Just a statistic.

85 is a Madeleine McCann number. An average sized restaurant can seat 85 people. A small town McDonalds can seat 85 people. A person with a mere 85 friends on Facebook is considered a ‘saddo’ by the coming generation. Picturing 85 is easy as switching channels on the tele.

The people in those 35,000 Wembley stadiums lining the long and winding road from Dumfries to Smolensk lead pretty tough lives. They work 15 hours a day for the price of a bowl of rice. They die young from completely curable diseases. They live in shacks made from cardboard and corrugated iron. They watch their kids die in their infancy. They wake up before dawn to the reek of open sewers.

How extraordinary to think that after all the wars and scientific breakthroughs and political evolutions of human history, this is the place where we have arrived. It is our destination. This is the point all those millions of years of evolution have brought us to; a world where 85 people own the same as 3.5 billion. A world where those 85 people go to almost any lengths to stuff their treasure away in offshore troves. Will they ever spend their money? Of course they won’t. Such sums of money are impossible to spend. All they can do is gaze at it with sated lust like Gollum with his ‘Precious’. And all the while, half of the planet hangs onto miserable life by a thread.

This is the best way we have found to run our railroad.

Would a pack of wolves stand for such an outcome where one wolf eats all day whilst the ones who do all the hunting starve to death and watch their cubs die? Would they hell. Nature wouldn’t allow such a thing because after a few short months the pack would only have one wolf left. And that wolf would be very fat indeed and looking with some confusion at the rotting corpses of the rest of the pack. The fat wolf would have no idea of how to go about doing any hunting and after a few weeks more it too would have starved to death and joined the rest of the corpses.

Every other mammal on the planet has managed to evolve with a degree of logic. Only one mammal has completely dumped the common sense of nature and evolved into a state of such lunacy.

And we have the front to call ourselves civilised!

I am but a humble purveyor of pulp fiction. I could take that 50 hour drive past 35000 Wembley stadiums all the way from Dumfries to Smolensk and still not come close to finding the words to properly describe such abject lunacy. Instead I am more than happy to borrow a few timeless lines from Mr Shakespeare who had a knack of finding words to describe the indescribable.

‘But man, proud man,
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep.’    

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