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.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


 The times we are living in seem to be getting more interesting by the day. I wonder if in years to come this will be seen as an era when the tide finally started to turn. When I first started writing this blog of mine three years ago, it seemed almost impossible to imagine anything changing much. Every year an extra £50 billion would flow into the coffers of the thousand or so super rich families who own and run the country. Every year the rest of us continued to find it ever hard to make ends meet without the £50 billion the gilded thousand had taken from us.
And who was going to stop it happening? The media was bought, sold and co-opted into being nothing more than a mouth piece for big money. In true 1984 style, those at the top were enjoying huge success in persuading people that the poor and the immigrants were to be blamed for everything. And of course politicians from all parties seemed like they actually came from one party – the Oxford to Special Adviser to Safe Seat party.
They all looked the same. They all said the same things. Kings and Queens of the meaningless, anodyne sound bite designed to send people to sleep.
And then the ‘Yes’ campaign happened and people remembered what actual people power looks like. For a few heady months it looked as if David might be about to send Goliath crashing to the floor. Of course in the end David didn’t quite get over the line. But it was a close run thing.
And people noticed just HOW close it had been.
The political establishment, big business and the super rich had all joined forces to throw the kitchen sink at the grass roots ‘Yes’ campaign. It should have been an easy win. It should have been a first round knockout. It should have been no contest.
But it was a contest.
A hell of a contest.
And in the end the Establishment only just managed to scrape over the line with a points victory won with last minute lies.
But a win’s a win, right?
The little guy had been given a shot at the title and the big guy had duly won. The little guy was supposed to retreat back into his box never to be heard of again.
This is an outcome the Establishment has become accustomed to. They squash the little guy so hard that he will never be able to get back up again.
Arthur Scargill? Derek Hatton? John Maclean? We all know how the story goes.
Men squashed all the way down into the dustbin of history leaving the road to those lovely offshore bank accounts of Grand Cayman wide open.
But it didn’t happen.
100,000 people joined the SNP and a few months later the political map of our small country was ripped to shreds.
I find the Jeremy Corbyn frenzy completely compelling. Of course the red tops are shrieking out warnings at the top of their voices. Corbyn it seems is somewhere to the left of Trotsky and support for him threatens to set the country ablaze.
The vile communist poison he is spouting threatens to destroy our very way of life. Appalling. Despicable. Unelectable.
The problem is that nobody seems much interested in what Rupert Murdoch has to say about it. The more the ‘Sun’ rails about this new bearded Red under our bed, the more people seem to be taken with him. And the more the other three ex Special Advisers rail against his dreadful outdated socialist ideas, the more everyone hates them for their utter blandness.
I grew up in a world where all of those Corbyn style communist ideas ruled the roost. And what a living hell it was. I went to university and didn’t have to pay a penny in fees. Appalling. I even received a maintenance grant. Despicable. I used to travel about on publicly owned British Rail trains. Imagine that. How disgraceful. A nasty, poor student could actually AFFORD to travel by train! And in those long lost winters,  people tolerated me actually being warm because communist style publicly owned power companies chose to sell affordable electricity and gas. To everyone. For goodness sake.
How could any sensible, modern country even think of taking on board these kinds of deluded policies? Any modern country stupid enough to adopt such outdated and naïve ideas would surely collapse like a pack of cards in a matter of days.
I mean look at Germany. The Pinkos in the Reichstag have just made all German Higher Education free of charge and they have been providing affordable train tickets on a nationalised rail network for years. And just look at them! A complete joke. They are so outdated in their ideas that they still actually have factories that make things.
Thank God we have the Daily Mail and Yvette Cooper to keep us safe from the foul propaganda that the bearded one is spouting.
The great thing is that he might just win, even though it absolutely isn’t supposed to be possible.
Like it wasn’t supposed to be possible for anyone to win a majority in the Scottish Parliament.
Like it wasn’t supposed to be possible for 56 SNP MPs to take up seats in the House of Commons.
Now that we are waking up and relearning the art of people power, it seems that all sorts of things are possible, and my God doesn’t the Establishment hate it.
Communities are finding new and different ways to rediscover their spirit. From where I sit in our First Base Foodbank, this new spirit never ceases to amaze me.
And believe me, it warms the soul.
Regular readers will be aware that First Base has had a strange few days as the story of David Mundell opening a new Trussell Trust Foodbank has raged across social and mainstream media alike.
Ten years ago the new Foodbank might well have been a body blow we would not have been able to ride.
The David and Goliath thing again.
In the blue corner. The First Base Agency. A small charity in a small town with fifty brilliant volunteers and no money.
In the red corner. The Trussell Trust Foodbank. A national charity with the backing of the Government, the church and Tesco. Some Goliath!
But Goliath had a bad weekend of it. The Secretary of State for Scotland was run out of town with his tail between his legs. Social media picked at the seams of the Trussell Trust and exposed all kinds of uncomfortable truths.
And from the moment we opened our doors on Monday, the community support we have received has been overwhelming.
The first man through the door gave Lesley £200 in cash towards our £15000 funding hole. He didn’t give his name which is a shame because I really would have liked to have dropped him a letter of thanks. I hope you are reading this whoever you are.
A retired SNP member of many decades came it with carrier bags of food and an uncooled anger at David Mundell running away from the demonstration she had been a part of. She said she lived out in the countryside and didn’t get into town much. Which meant that she would find it hard to bring us some food every month.
Could I give her our bank details so she could set up a standing order?
Next up, the new community spirit took me into one of the more bizarre experiences of my life.
Some background.
For thirteen years now, all of First Base’s leaflets and newsletters have been produced by a local family business called Alba printers. And for thirteen years the boss, John, has been making us a promise. It goes something like this. A hundred local firms pay to be in an annual draw to see whose name will appear on the shirts of Queen of the South, our local football club. John always said that if Alba won the draw he didn’t want to put their name on the shirts.
Instead he wanted to put the First Base Agency on the shirts.
So long as that was OK by us? Well of course it was OK by us!
And this year Alba came second in the draw. Which means our name is on the shorts. Crazy really. So in a couple of months you might catch a slow motion replay of a Rangers defender piling into a Queens striker and if you look closely enough you’ll be able to see our name on the shorts.
I have been looking at team photos since I was five. You know the ones. Three lines of lads in the new kit. Arms folded. Faces ready for the season to come. Well the Queens players had their 2015/16 picture taken and then John and I were waved forward to sit in.
A local family business fixes it for the name of the local Foodbank to appear on the shorts of the local football club who by the way have our food collection boxes at the ground on match days.
Tell me if I’m wrong, but I reckon this is what a good community looks like.
Then it was back to First Base for another appointment. Joan McAlpine MSP called in to sit in on a meeting I was having with Lynn, the Community Champion from Tesco Lockerbie.
More background.
Each year every Tesco store in the land gives over two days to encouraging customers to donate some food to feed hungry members of the local community. The company adds 30% to whatever is collected. Where does the collected food go? Well a national deal was done at a national level. Like most deals. All donated food was to be handed over to two large national charities: The Trussell Trust and Fareshare.
Last year this caused quiet a lot of upset down here in the South West of Scotland. Pop up banners said ‘HELP YOUR LOCAL COMMUNITY!’. But it turned out that all the food was being shipped up the road to Glasgow and the local community wasn’t getting so much as a mouthful. The local press had a minor field day. Tesco must have been furious. The two national charities had two options. They could find a way of making sure the donated food was transferred to locally run Foodbank who would hand it out to the local community.
Not a bad solution, but it would have meant them giving something away. Well they weren’t about to do that. So instead the Trussell Trust started making noises about the desperate unmet need they had identified down here in Dumfries, and lo and behold a few months later a Tory Minister was in town to open ‘The Dumfriesshire Foodbank’
Interesting they chose to call it ‘Dumfriesshire’ rather than ‘Dumfries’. Could it possibly have been a way to allow them to hoover up all the food donations from the stores in Annan and Lockerbie?
Perish the thought.
And that should have been that. Except it wasn’t. Because we now live in a time when people are rediscovering their ability to project power.
There was a Peasants Revolt.
And the staff in the Tesco stores in Annan and Lockerbie and the Dumfries Peel Centre decided they didn’t want to help collect food for the two national charities. They preferred to help to collect for the local charity. You see over the years we have handed out over 30,000 food parcels. This means that most families will have had some contact with what we do. A son. A grandson. A nephew. An uncle. A friend. A neighbour. Unexpected hard times. People have witnessed First Base being there to help people when they need help. And people appreciate it. Which is why the staff in the three stores put their collective feet down and found a way to make sure the donated food came to us.
£3000 of donated food.
And the meeting on Tuesday was all about seeing if the Lockerbie store could find ways of doing more to help us.
A meeting made up of a foodbank manager, a member of the Scottish Parliament and the community champion of the Tesco store in Lockebie.
Once again, that looks a lot like a community working pretty well to me.
Our experience over the last few days might be seen as a street level view of a changing country where the old style wisdom of Jeremy Corbyn is suddenly firing up the imagination of the young.
Those at the top of the chain met to decide what was going to happen.
But those at the other end of the chain collectively decided otherwise.
In the last few days we have had all kinds of support from completely different areas of our local community. It seems well worth listing them.
£100 of sliced ham from Brown Brothers, meat processors in Kelloholm
£50 of bread from Greggs
200 packets of instant custard and visit from the Community Champion at Tesco Lockerbie.
£500 of food donations from 21 local churches.
Our name on the shorts of the local football club care of a local printer.
£200 in cash from an anonymous donor.
£10 a month from a retired supporter of an Independent Scotland.
A visit from our local MSP.
And lots and lots and lots of support from lots and lots and lots of people.
Tell you what Jeremy, I reckon you might just be onto something.
It would appear that people power might just be making a comeback.   
All proceeds will go to filling the First Base Agency's £15,000 funding hole


  1. Heart warming that people really are beginning to see just what an appalling place Britain has become and started taking steps to change it.

    I am mystified by Trussell Trust slogan. "Every town should have one", was a catastrophic error of judgement on the part of their management, as was the idea of inviting the SoS of the government largely responsible for the plight of the food bank users to come along for a slap up buffet lunch, at the expense of the people who donate.

    I suspect that it may indicate the political leanings of the Trust's management... strange for a body of people who insist that they want to do good.

    All of this has made me look carefully at my small donations to Trussell in Dundee. Whilst I always remember that it is the end users that we must support, and I won;t stop my donations, I'm looking for an alternative organisation with which I would feel more at home. (Any advice would be gratefully received.)

    Great news about the QoS shorts, the strong will of the Tesco staff and the generosity of your local businesses and residents.

    We at Munguin's Republic, wish you all the best.

    These are difficult times, but if we can effect change, they are also exciting times.

    Looking forward to the book.

    1. Thanks for that Tris. I will be posting the first of two audio extracts from the book tomorrow which will give people a flavour. I am afraid I can offer little advice re your donation conundrum. Sadly big charities all too often suck away all the oxygen and make it really hard for grassroots operations to establish themselves. It rather sounds like TT have something of a monopoly in Dundee. Maybe someone will copy what Ewan did himself and set up an operation off their own back. Many thanks for the support. Once the book is out it would be great if you could give it a review and maybe nudge a few of your other blog contributors to follow suit. Our target of 7500 copies will take some hitting but the food parcel clients are certainly going to keep on coming. Selling digital books to feed people with nothing to eat. It's a strange, strange world we live in

    2. OK, Mark. Thanks for advice. I imagine that starting something new in Dundee would be an uphill battle, given the power and influence of the existing food bank. They seem to feel that “every town should have one” (I tend to feel that no town should need or want one) and that it should be one of theirs.

      I’m aware of the theories of “economy of scale”, but I’m struggling to see how that works in the case of food banks.

      But as I say, the most important thing is to remember the people who need the service and swallow misgivings about the management of Trussell. It doesn’t help hungry kids if I’m in the huff with the management.

      Anyway, I'll be happy to offer whatever support you think I can give with the raising of money to keep First Base going strong. I'll certainly do what you ask above. Let's see if we can't sell 7600!!

      One day I might even get down for a visit.

  2. Mark I have read a few of your blogs and will give one of your books ago for the holidays. Yes we are some of the lucky ones, we manage a holiday and to eat. I have contributed to the Tesco one, here in Dunfermline but with mixed emotions. This company makes enoughmoney, or at least did to fund a foodbank on their own.
    I am proud of you and the good people of Dumfries, my Aunt and Uncle lived there and the in the Village if A. My cousin still does.