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, May 17, 2016


Our new 'Bridge project' is three months old now. It is a simple enough affair. Basically we try to do what we can to help the slowly growing number of foreign nationals who come through our doors for emergency food. Three months isn't so long. But it is long enough. Long enough to see a future filled with stories of quiet tragedy.

Quiet desperation

You see it in their eyes. A journey's end that isn't even close to living up to what the wording on the tin promised. Sam, the homeless and penniless Fijian soldier learning the hard way that giving his all in the brutality of Iraq and Afghanistan wasn't enough to warrant a British passport. No benefits. No right to work. Do not pass 'Go'...

The Tunisian father of four facing imminent eviction and the prospect of seeing his young kids out on the street.

So many people cut adrift and slowly drowning in a vast grey ocean of small print and regulation. It is impossible to paint an accurate pitcture of just how utterly dismal this world is. The world we have created at the behest of Farage and his fellow xenophobic hate mongers in the tabloid press. Nothing new in all this of course. Other times and other places have seen living breathing human beings reduced to despised numbers by the beaurcrats tasked with delivering endless nastiness.

People tell me that over the last couple of years the Home Office has added thousands on new clauses to the UK's immigration rulebook. The bar inches up higher and higher. And buried deep in the small print lies something that is becoming ever closer to true wickedness.

Deport and appeal.

Dusty old ghosts from the history books of Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia or Honecker's East Germany would purr with appreciation at deport and appeal. It really does what it says on the tin. It goes something like this. Johnny foreigner pitches up in the UK and asks to stay. Maybe they are fleeing torture and war. Maybe they have already been here for long enough to settle into a family life complete with kids and career. Well, the answer is no of course. The answer is always no. Unless you are a Premier League footballer or a Russian oligarch. Once they say 'no', Johnny foreigner has the right to appeal. Because the UK is a decent caring place under the rule of law. Of course it is. And to help with their appeal they have the right to seek representation from a lawyer capable of getting their head around all those thousands of pages of vindictive Home Office legislation.

But I am using the wrong tense here. The present tense is no longer fit for purpose. The Home Office didn't like the appeals process. Too many pesky judges digging far to deeply into a well of human kindness they had no right to dig into. Saying 'yes' when it should have been abundantly clear that 'no' was the only acceptable outcome. Wig wearing pinko bastards.

Well the Home Office decided enough was enough. The goalposts needed moving and it was the beloved Michael Gove took an axe to the legal aid budget. Let's see how these jumped up foreign types get along trying to work their way through the rule book on their own. Ha!! Thought not. Go on. Off you bloody well pop. Goodbye and good bloody riddance. He even came up with the front to suggest that the legal profession should represent these uppity foreign types 'Pro Bono'. He conveniently forgot the fact that there was barely a living to be had for any lawyer plying their trade in immigration law even before he took away their life blood. He conveniently forgot that the lawyers from the milk and honey areas of the legal trade have no expertise whatsoever in immigration law and therefore couldn't help on a Pro Bono basis even if they wanted to.

But even that wasn't enough. The Home Office worried there might still be thousands of foreign types hanging around like a bad smell whingeing on about not wanting to sent back to the torture room. I mean. Come on. Some even bleat on about wanting to stay with their kids who were born in Britain as British citizens. Can you believe these people. The bloody cheek. They want to stay with their children! Bastards. And the children are little better. They actually want to stay in schools with their pals and continue to speak English as their first language. Bloody wimps. The cowardly swine can't even face the modest idea of upping sticks and relocating to a place thousands of miles away to learn a new language and live on a dollar a day.

So what did they come up with? It wasn't easy for them to be honest. You see, many moons ago that pinko bastard Winston Churchill signed us all up to the European Human Rights Convention. As in the nanny bloody state times about twenty. It doesn't half tie the hands when it comes to handling uppity foreign types. It insists they have the right to appeal. Bloody outrageous. Well the lads in the Home Office were having none of it. So the bloody European Human Rights Convention insists on a right of appeal? Fine then. They can have their right of appeal. But we don't remember it saying anywhere that they had to actually be in the country to appeal. Well, does it? Ha!! Thought not. So here's how we will play it. We'll deport the bastards and let them appeal from whichever hell hole they hail from. Bloody wogs. Best of luck with it. Let's see how they get on hiring a lawyer when all they've got is Skype and a dollar a day.

Is evil too strong a word? Not in my book. It's all about finding new small print ways to treat people like cockroaches.

And David Cameron looks so smug when his cherubic features fill our TV screens. Oh how he loves to gloat about his new triumphs over the tidal wave of human cockroaches who threaten to overwhelm us. The bastards in Brussels insist than any Lithuanian, German or Pole has the right to come to our fair shores with no questions asked. And the scrounging, scheming bastards actually seem to think they have the right to claim benefits. Well not on Dave's watch. Because Dave has sorted it. Dave has been out to bat for each and every one of us and Dave has hit the ball out of the park. Now these foreign cockroaches need to prove their worth by working for at least 16 hours a week before they are entitled to a lousy brass farthing. Pow!! Zap! Take that human cockroaches! There's a new Sheriff in town and the man in the white hat is called Dave. All hail Dave the bane of Johnny Foreigner.

Because they are all the same you see. These foreigners. Bloody cockroaches. They need a firm hand. They need to know exactly who's the boss here. Bastards. Aren't they Nigel? Course they are. All or 'em.

But here's the thing. They aren't all the same. Nobody is the same. Every single one of us on the planet is different. It's called genetics and it is inescapable. Every one of us has a different story. Sure, some of us are scheming, evil bastards. Others of us are not. Most in fact. We deserve to right to be treated on our merits. We deserve not to treated like human cockroaches as a punishment for not being born under a British postcode.

But this of course is the world of John Lennon. The reality is more Josef Goebbels. There is no case by case basis. And it is all completely hateful when you see it play out first hand. When you are confronted by the blindingly obvious fact that these are people not cockroaches.

Which brings me to Katarina which as usual is not her real name. Katerina hails from Eastern Europe and needs two First Base food parcels a week to keep her body and her soul together. You want to see her CV. Impressive doesn't even begin to cut it. For thirty years she was a very senior executive with a number of large companies in her home country. Then she met a Scottish ex pat, fell in love and got married. The Scottish ex pat fell ill and wanted to come home to the NHS. So they sold up and packed up and Katerina cut all her ties with home. The NHS treatment worked but the marriage fell apart. And all of a sudden Katerina found that without the paperwork linking her to a UK citizen she was all of a sudden one of those human cockroaches. She is over sixty and draws a pension from home which is enough to pay the rent on a flat in the tough part of town. If the exchange rate is good, she has £60 or £70 a month left over to pay for everything else. If the exchange rate is bad, then that figure can drop to £20.

A few weeks ago I sat down with Katarina to see if there was anything we could do to make things better. She came up the stairs looking smart as paint in her Sunday best. She sat quiet as a mouse and told her story in a quiet voice weighing every English word with great care. Time and again she apologised for her English which to my ear was pretty damn good. Let's face it, we see plenty of home grown clients whose English is all but indecipherable. Three litres of Frosty Jacks can turn the Queen's English into something akin to double Dutch.

I digress. Katarina. Her quiet words told of a life mostly lived without power. A lonely life of make do and mend. Wear an overcoat at all times. Only light the room you are in. And heating? No. No heating. She has a list of qualifications as long as her arm. Back home she was a high flying professional. Not here though. Here she fills in application form after application form to become a cleaner. Because cleaning offers her the best chance to find the sixteen hours a week of work Dave demands. But cleaning jobs are hard to come by when you are 61 years old and you live in a country far from home.

I filled in a form to a Trust that can help those in dire need. I got word yesterday that £100 had been ear marked for Katarina. To help with the power. To allow some electric light into her life. So I called her. And when I let her know that someone out there was going to help, the other end of the line was suddenly filled with quiet sobbing. And with every sob the sheer bottomless loneliness of her life ate into me. Once I was done, I called up Neil who is the minister at her local church. Neil is one of the good guys. Would you go see her? Sure he would. But only if she wanted him to. So I called her back up and once again there was sobbing. She said I was too kind. I said I wasn't. It made no difference.

Christ. You just feel so utterly and completely useless. Well I do. And every time I hear the likes of Farage spitting his poison I think of this lovely lady in her Sunday best. I see the loneliness in her eyes. I hear the quiet sobs on the other end of the line. And it really shouldn't be like this, but it is. And I can hear a million angry voices shouting why the bloody hell doesn't she go back home then? If it's all so bad here? Well.... why!! Because she has burnt her bridges and cut her ties. Because she put all her faith in a marriage that didn't work out. Because home is a place where the fascists are getting ever closer to enjoying a re-run of the good old days of the 1930's. Because of a whole host of reasons.

Her reasons. And I have no doubt that she will get a job at some stage. So long as she keeps body and soul together and doesn't allow the cold loneliness of her life to eat away at her soul so badly that it becomes incapable of repairing itself.


Here's a request for any of you reading this are from in and around Dumfries. Anyone need a cleaner? An hour a week? Two hours a week? If you do this lovely lady really could do with a leg up if she is to abide by Dave's new rules. If anyone out there feels they might be able to help Katarina in any way please get in touch. or 07770 443 483.      

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


The war being waged on the poor right now is no World War Two. It lacks the vast sprawling set piece battles like Midway or Stalingrad. Instead it is much more akin to the Cold War: a long, endlessly vicious conflict played out in hidden corners the eyes of the world seldom get to see.

The nearest thing we have seen to a Stalingrad has of course been the much hated Welfare Reforms. One by one these have been placed on the floor of the House of Commons and one by one they have been sent out across the country with a majority. Watching the likes of the Bedroom Tax being passed into law has been similar to watching a group of acne riddled Brownshirts kicking an old Jewish shop keeper on a pavement glittering with broken glass. Vicious, sure it has been vicious. But the mood music playing away in the background has always hammered home the fact that the beating is well and truly deserved. In any mid 1930's German town, the message was loud and clear – you life is shit and the reason is all down to those lousy scheming Jewish bastards. So it's OK to give them a kicking, right? Is the Bedroom Tax so very different? Struggling to make your mortgage payment this month? Well that is because all of these nasty skiving poor people are hoovering up all of tax you are paying. So it's fine and dandy to give them a proper kicking, right? It's what the shirking swine deserve.

The Welfare Reforms are the war on the poor right out there in the open for all the world to see. Brazen if you like. At risk of flogging the Cold War comparison to death, they are the equivalent of Reagan and Thatcher deploying their Cruise missiles and pointing them straight at the Kremlin. There was nothing secret about it. Instead it was all done right in the face of the Politbureau. When all was said and done, that was the whole point.

All the while, the real bread and butter brutality of the Cold War was being played out every single day in a hundred forgotten corners of the world where the TV cameras never came close to telling the story. CIA funded death squads quietly filled up mass graves in Nicaragua whilst Soviet Hind helicopters turned Afghan villages into rubble whilst South African punishment battalions deployed medieval levels of cruelty in Angola.

I guess that's probably enough of 'the war on the poor'/Cold War compare and contrast. Time to run through a couple of examples of how the war on the poor is being waged far from the public view. One is tiny, one is massive and both come from the same nasty stable.

The tiny one first.

I heard about this from one of our long term food parcel guys. No real names. I will call him Boris for obvious reasons. When Boris first came in a few years ago, the idea of him becoming a regular would have seemed laughable. He was about fifty and he had always worked. He had his shit together and getting a job was only a matter of time. So he filled out his job applications and he knocked doors. No big deal. He had plenty of experience of getting a job. However, he didn't fill in enough application forms to keep the Job Centre happy so they nailed him with a one month sanction. No big deal. He was perfectly confident that he would find a job which would render the sanction null and void.

He didn't find a job. Instead he kept on getting sanction after sanction. And it started to take a toll on him. He was spending too much time on his own in an unheated flat with no power. Cold and dark, dark and cold. Every day became a story of killing time through empty hours. Finding a bit of warmth care of hot food providers. And of course he started to keep the kind of company he would never normally have kept. Slowly but slowly the grinding misery of his new life broke him down. Piece by piece. He stopped shaving and his clothes started to look like a tramp's clothes. He drifted over an invisible line and joined the ranks of the unemployable. And the sanctions kept on coming as surely as cold, dark night followed cold, dark day.

I remember chatting with Boris one day at the counter. By now the bones of his skull were in danger of bursting through his grey skin. If Speilberg were ever to come to Dumfries to cast for Schindler's List Two, my man would be hired on just like that. He shook his head in wonder at the sheer extent to which his life had become so utterly crap. He told me how he would kill all of those empty hours. He would walk and walk through the streets of the town centre collecting docked fags from the ashtrays on the top of the council's bins. Once he had a carrier bag filled up, he would take them home and gather in all the tobacco. And then he would smoke it. He said he would never in a million years have believed he would ever become a guy who would spend his days collecting dockers. But that is what he had become. A guy who spent his days collecting dockers. In a carrier bag.

He was in last week. He doesn't have the energy any more to get angry about things. He is too broken up to get angry. He is a poster boy for utter resignation. He told me that the council had buggered up his quest for dockers. He told me that council guys had been instructed to go around all the bins in the town centre to pour water on the docked fags.

This seemed to me to be a whole new level of gratuitous nastiness. Fair enough, it isn't exactly a good look for a town to have lads like Boris haunting the high street in the pursuit of dockers. But come on, it isn't like it will put off tourists or inward investment or recruiting doctors for the hospital. Instead it seemed as fine an example of kicking a man down as I had ever seen. So I called up the leader of the SNP group. I mean, bloody hell Andy. Surely this is out of order? Don't you think? There aren't necessarily all that many councilors you can call up with this kind of complaint, but Andy is one of them. He is one of the good guys. He got it. But he boxed clever and fired off an angry e mail to the relevant department asking if they really thought this was a good use of scarce human resources in this era of austerity? They replied pretty sharpish. Not us, Guv. Nobody here has issued any such instruction. Honest. They were no doubt telling the truth. Instead a lone wolf council employee had taken it upon themselves to use their authority to indulge themselves in the pleasure of kicking downed men.

How charming.

Once upon a time the front page headlines of 'Der Sturmer' made it seem to the Brownshirt bully boys that it was OK to kick old Jews on the pavement. No doubt the poor hating tabloids of today had the very same effect on the guy to decided it was perfectly OK to pour water on ashtrays full of dockers.

And now the big thing.

It might be wicked and calculating. Or maybe it is just a horrible accident. The result is the same either way. The result is the mass screwing over of the poor.

It goes something like this.

We demand our politicians defend our NHS. But our politicians daren't ask us to pay more tax to make such a thing realistically possible. Instead they try to convince us they are miracle men who can conjure up billions of pounds worth of magic money to keep the show on the road. They can't of course. They know it and if we ever choose to be honest with ourselves, we probably know it as well. They have learned the hard way that trying to close a hospital is the quickest way to render yourself unelectable, even if every medical professional agrees that closing the hospital is the best thing to do. So instead they look for ways to make the required cuts far from the public view.

Last week some highly reputable outfit shone a merciless light on some of this. And it is nasty. Really nasty. So your hip is killing you . You go to your GP and tell him your hip is killing you. He sends you for an X Ray which reveals your hip is all shot to hell. He tells you you need a new one. So he sends you along to the hospital to meet with the consultant who has the job of installing the new hip. All very straight forward and in an NHS free at the point of use, this is available to each and every one of us who is deemed to be a bone fide citizen.

Well it was. Not any more. Well. Not in England at least. For instead of meeting with a consultant you now get to meet with a beaurocrat who doesn't talk about how much your hip is hurting. Instead they get you one the scales and work out just how fat you are. And if you are deemed to be too fat, they tell you to bugger off and lose some weight before coming back. The report was all about how angry the consultants are about this. They seem to think they are the real experts who should be making the decisions about who gets a new hip and who doesn't. They are seriously pissed off that the beaurocrats have muscled in on their turf. It's hard to blame them for being angry.

Of course this kind of thing is pretty inevitable when you think about it. Politicians promise to maintain the NHS. Politicians promise not to cut the NHS. Politicians promise not to raise taxes. More people use the NHS. The NHS creaks at the seams. Politicians haven't the first clue what to do about it. Politicians hire Fancy Dan high fliers from the private sector and pay them six figure salaries to work a miracle. Politicians offer the Fancy Dan high fliers massive bonuses if they can find new ways of cutting NHS costs without the public noticing. The Fancy Dan high fliers come up with a cunning plan. We can stop fat people from getting expensive treatment. And the really good news here is that 63% of the population is deemed to be overweight or obese. So we can still bang on about how our NHS is free at the point of use for everyone. We just don't bang on about the fact that we have added an extra line to that 1947 statement. You know. The bit that says free at the point of use for everyone who isn't fat.

Pretty neat, right? The Fancy Dan high fliers cash their fat bonus cheques and the politicians get to keep on spouting their nonsense and nobody is any the wiser.

But wait one minute. Surely this is a war on fat people, not a war on the poor. Well once upon a time I guess it would have been. Back in the days of cotton mills and children being boosted up chimneys, poor people tended to be skinny people. Not any more. Now studies in obesity show the opposite. In the leafy suburbs where people own second homes and send their kids to private school, Waitrose is the shop of choice and people have the wherewithal to fill their trolleys with all the healthy stuff. In the schemes on the other side of the tracks, Farmfoods rules supreme. For a pound you can buy a whole box of things that have the look of sausages but in fact are little more than tubes filled with reclaimed fat, sugar and a bunch of weird and wonderful flavourings.

Check out any map of obesity and it looks a lot like the map of life expectancy. If you live in Kensigton you can expect to live many years longer than if you live in Easterhouse. Similarly if you live in Kensington and go to the gym and shop in Waitrose, statistically you are all but certain to be many pounds lighter that you will be if you live in Easterhouse and shop in Farmfoods. The wheel has come full circle since the days of Dickens when Mr Bumble was fat and Oliver was skin and bone. Now the rich tend to be trim whilst the poor tend to be obese. And this of course makes the cunning NHS plan all the more cunning. You save cash by finding a way to exclude fat poorer people from getting treatment and thereby ensuring slim rich people get seen quickly even though the budget has been cut. Especially older richer people.

And whose votes do politicians really covet? The older richer people who vote in their droves. And whose votes are the politicians really not all that bothered about? All those obese poorer people who don't tend to bother much with the polling booths.

Unlike the decision to pour water on dockers in Dumfries council bins, this is not the action of a poor hating lone wolf. This one has to come right from the top. But the effect is much the same.