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.

Saturday, December 16, 2017


I have been putting off writing this for days. I guess the required words have been elusive. Or maybe not. Maybe putting them up on the screen just makes the whole thing more real than I want it to be. Outside the window, a hard cold December dawn is ushering in another hard cold December day. The snow in the field has frozen over and it won't be so very long before our donkey, Olive, starts to let me know in no uncertain terms that she wants her hay

It was another hard cold December day when I walked into First Base, took one look at Lesley's face, and knew straight away someone was gone. If you work in a place where the wreckage of addiction washes up, you really need to learn how to deal with death. After 14 years I am still waiting. I stopped counting the losses many years ago. Too painful. How many will it be? Over fifty certainly. Probably many more. Some are vaguely familiar faces from the front counter. A couple of food parcels. A moan about the shitness of life. Some black humour. Got any coffee pal?

Others are harder to take. The ones you get to know well. The ones you hope will one day find their way to a better place. Tinker and Mary and Callum and James and Andrew and Fitzy and Jason.

And now Brodie.

When Lesley said his name I felt like something drained out of me. And for the umpteenth time I wanted to give him a good shake. For Christ's bloody sake Brodie...

But this time it isn't about a stretch inside or patching things up after yet another bout of idiocy. This time it's for keeps.

He used to call me his mentor. He'd come bowling in with a shopping trolley full of problems and ask is it was OK to use the phone. When he used the phone he adopted a telephone voice which would have done for holding a conversation with someone standing on the other side of a football pitch. After a scatter gun of sentences her would inevitably say "Can you have a word with Mark. He's my mentor. He'll explain..."

And with that he would thrust the phone into my hand and leave me to try and unpick the latest spaghetti tangle he'd gotten his life into.

Mentor. Some bloody mentor. The net result of all my so called efforts of mentoring was Brodie lying dead in a Cornwall doorway in the weak light of a hard cold December dawn.

Sometimes when we lose a client it is just about possible to find a philosophical way of dealing with the news. These are the broken ones. The ones unlucky enough to be born with barely a card to play. The ones for whom every single lousy day is a torment. The ones who just aren't wired right for the twenty first century.

That wasn't Brodie. Brodie could have been more on less anything. He had the lot. Smart. Charismatic. Overflowing with energy and life. A gentle giant who careered through life like a drunken giraffe wearing a kilt. 

And we have all kinds of well worn statements for times like this. He was a force of nature. He was one of a kind. You know the kind of thing. I guess my well worn statement would be 'he was born at the wrong time.'

Our spreadsheet century was always going to be too safe and grey and dreary for Brodie. He instinctively hunted for an edge to live on and never really found it. Had he been born in the 1850's, I could see him as one of those Scottish explorers who blazed a trail through the darkest heart of Africa winning over the locals every step of the way with his shambling charm. Had he been born into the time of our World Wars, I can easily see him winning the Victoria Cross for a act of suicidal heroism.

The edge which drew him time and again was all about drugs and booze. Brodie didn't do hedonism to blank out and forget. Instead he did it like a raging rock star. He was drawn to excess and risk and he was forever convinced of his Captain Scarlett indestructability.

So was I for Christ's sake. This wasn't supposed to happen to Brodie. He was supposed to find a tailor made stage to shake the world to the bloody core. Not a doorway in Cornwall on a cold hard December dawn.

A couple of years ago he bounced up the stairs with his life in a familiar mess. He asked if it was OK if he made a coffee. Sure. Fire away. You've never seen anything quite like a Brodie coffee. It went something along lines of three heaped teaspoons of coffee, four heaped teaspoons of Coffeemate, four heaped teaspoons of sugar and a healthy splash of milk. Yeah. I know.

He wanted me to be the mentor. I basically gave him the usual bollocking whilst he grinned back at me. You crave risk, right? Right. And there's no bone in your body which is able to accept normality, right? Right. So to find your risk you take on board mental amounts of booze and drugs in some poxy Lochside flat, right? Right. And he shook his head in vague wonder at the level of his idiocy.

So I hit YouTube and showed him videos of the refugee camp on the Hungarian border where the Syrian refugees had been stopped in their tracks by barbed wire and snapping Alsatians and hard guys with semi-automatics. Come on lad. Here's a proper edge. Ryan Air will get you to Klagenfurt for £30. Then you can hitch it. Just pitch up and announce yourself. I'm Brodie and I'm here to help. And when he left the Agency he was all set to do it.

But he didn't. Instead he headed south and set his stall out to become the Bob Dylan of the new millennium on the streets of Bristol. Sometimes things went well. Other times not so much. He was made for busking. It meant being out in the fresh air all day and meeting the people of the world one at a time. Let's face it, he was no Bob Dylan but his easy charm guaranteed there was always enough in his cap to get by. He once told me all about the new business model he had discovered. It involved busking at two in the morning when people spilled out onto the pavement from pubs and clubs. When people were pissed up and not so bothered about how much they dropped in his cap. Most people would have been worried about getting beaten up and robbed. Not Brodie. He was Captain Scarlett. 

Until he wasn't.

It seems this was his game on the night the lights went out. Late night busking for the pre Christmas club crowd. I guess he must have decided to get his head down for ten minutes. I gather he had turned a corner. No drugs. Less booze. A new partner. Even plans to hit the gym.

Just ten minutes. Just forty winks. Just like a hundred times before. Cold night? No big deal for Captain Scarlett.

It seems even Captain Scarlett isn't immune from the cold.
For a while he joined us on the road doing our drug and alcohol presentations in schools. He was convinced he would one day manage to get through one of these gigs without accidentally swearing. Never happened. The kids would beam at the tall crazy guy who would smack himself around the head in punishment for letting a swear word out. Teachers would try hard to hide their smiles. And I would roll my eyes.

One day he regaled a class of S4's with the tale of a night which involved way too much blue Valium. It involved breaking into a garden shed and liberating a set of golf clubs and them a prolonged game of 'street golf' through the early hours of a Dumfries morning. The cops picked him up on the back nine. We had an argument about this in the car. I bollocked him for glamourising things. He said the kids deserved the truth. About Valium fuelled street golf? Really Brodie?

He really, really wanted to make a difference. To lay out the cheap drudgery of a life revolving around getting off the head on anything that came to hand. It wasn't his fault that his charisma always shone through. Instead of putting the kids off, he must have appeared like a modern version of Jack Kerouac's Dean Moriarty.

It is more or less fully light now. And yet the world is darker than it should be. When lads like Brodie depart the stage the world is always darker. It is like seeing the lights switched off in a house on a dark hill. We have more than enough grey. The Brodies are few and far between.

Now friends of the family are raising the funds to bring him home for his funeral. I have just donated on behalf of everyone at First Base. Here is the link.

I guess I should wind up but I don't really know how. I don't want to hit the key for the last full stop. Was I really a mentor? Not really. More a sounding board. A service station on the manic lane hopping motorway of his life.

You know what. I'm going to subcontract out the job of finding the right words. I'm leaving it to Pink Floyd. Because Brodie was indeed a crazy diamond who didn't half shine.

"Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.

Shine on you crazy diamond.

Now there's a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.

Shine on you crazy diamond.

You were caught in the crossfire of childhood and stardom, blown on the steel breeze.

Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, 
you legend, you martyr, and shine!

You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.

Shine on you crazy diamond.

Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.

Shine on you crazy diamond.

Well you wore out your welcome with random precision, rode on the steel breeze.

Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!"