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, April 21, 2018


Sometimes we need a close up view of something small to get a better view of something huge.

Something like this.

It's an iconic picture, right? A now familiar picture. It was taken in the very darkest depths of the Vietnam War. It was taken at a time when the American military were becoming overly comfortable with their newly minted term, 'collateral damage'. It was their way of making primordial horror easier on the ear. Collateral damage? Sounds pretty harmless. I mean, how bad can things really be when two such seemingly innocent words are hooked up with each other and sent out into the airwaves.

The picture's stark brutal truth soon elbowed its way into the very forefront of the world's attention span. Collateral damage in the flesh. The ruined, charred, napalm burned flesh of a young girl stripped of all dignity. Modern, industrialised war up close and personal.

In 'Apocalypse Now', Kurtz nails it down into a tightly wrapped sentence.

"We train our young men to drop fire on people but their commanders won't allow them to write 'FUCK' on their aeroplanes.... why? ..... because it's obscene....."

And then there is this picture.

It's familiar of course. The Turkish policeman and the dead Syrian toddler. Just one death in the midst of tens of thousands, but a different death. A death to make it real. A death which turned the nation against Katie Hopkins for labelling desperate human beings fleeing the killing fields of Syria as 'cockroaches'. And suddenly we were able to see the refugees as fellow human beings as opposed to threatening statistics.

Just for a while.

Well last week a snapshot of England 2018 walked into First Base and rang the bell on the counter.

I'm going to call him Bradley and in a few paragraphs time you will figure out why.

There was nothing about Bradley at first glance to lead me to think he was about to become iconic. Early twenties. An air of politeness. A slightly nervous smile.

He passed me his referral form with apologetic body language. And when he spoke his voice was from my neck of the woods. Just the merest hint of Noel Gallagher. Old cotton mills transformed into quirky shopping malls. Peterloo and Sir Alex Fergusson and snarled up traffic on the M62.

I read the bare bones.

"Sanctioned, yeah?"

"Well. Yes. But that was a while ago. I suppose I'm just homeless now."

The paper bore the name of a hostel in town.

"But your sorted for a place to stay?"

"Yeah. I just need to take things step by step. You know. I need to put things back together one by one."

A quiet, considered voice. Measured. Not a trace of anger or outrage. I got the feeling he was beyond all that. Yesterday is dead and gone and tomorrow's out of sight....

As I put is parcel together I wondered if he would volunteer his story. I never ask. At First Base we give people food whether they tell us their story or not.

Bradley laid out the bare bones without any realisation of his story being anything particularly extraordinary. And he was wrong about that. About as wrong as wrong can be.

In his quiet Mancunian, he described a modern day Odyssey. An iconic picture of England 2018. And in a way it is also a picture of Scotland 2018.

One minute life was rolling along and the next moment things went to hell and Bradley found himself homeless. He went through all the right doors to ask for help. For a chit to use the safety net. For the support of the country of his birth. Of England. Of the green and pleasant land that once upon a time had sprouted all those dark satanic mills.

And what did he find? Nothing. No warm embrace. No soft landing. Instead it was the streets. Long nights and the brutal, biting cold of the dawn. Distant sirens. Drunken shouts and the growl of the pre-dawn road sweeper.

Lost and not a chance of being found. Every day he asked the question. And every day the answer was the same. No room in the inn. No room anywhere. Only the pavement or the park.

So he took stock. He weighed his options. He reviewed his worldly goods. A bike and a bag of clothes.

And he came up with a plan.

A 2018 Odyssey.

Thirty something years ago, Norman Tebbit came up with his iconic interview. What should those left penniless and unemployed do to make their lives better? Get on their bikes. Go to where the work was waiting to be found. Away from the places where once upon a time ships were built and steel milled and coal mined and cotton spun.

Well Bradley had a bike. Have bike, can travel right? And he signed up to his own simple plan. So there was no homeless accommodation to be had in his home town of Manchester. So maybe he could find a different town where the answer would be different. Maybe. Only one way to find out. 

So he saddled up and started peddling. And in every new town he stopped and asked the same question. Again and again and again. Is there anywhere for me to stay here? Is there any room in the inn?

And the answer was always the same. A flat 'no'. All full up here. Sorry, but it's the cuts you see. Austerity. And as he worked his way north through Wigan and Preston and Lancaster he started to hear different words over and over.

'No local connection'.

If you're local, then maybe there might be a place. But Manchester..... Sorry mate. Manchester isn't from round here. Manchester is from Manchester. Which isn't here. Which means you have 'no local connection'. But his fellow street sleepers told him the 'no local connection' was something of a red herring. They said they were local and there was still no room to be had in the inn. Not in England in 2018.

And as the plains of Lancashire gave way to the mountains of Cumbria, he started to hear whispers of a place where there was still a sliver of hope to be found. At first it was just a myth, but with every hard mile north the myth took a little more shape and form. And reality.

A place called Scotland. A place of sanctuary. A place were basic humanity hadn't been binned off in the name of austerity. And the hope of Scotland kept him peddling over the rain soaked hills.

There was no room in the inn in Kendal or Penrith or Carlisle.

I wonder how he felt when at last he reached the big blue sign.

And suddenly he was on the last leg. Dumfries 23 miles. No more mountains. Flat back roads. Easy peddling for his now strong legs. And at last when he asked the question, the answer was yes. Yes there is somewhere. A bed. Clean sheets. A place to wash. A place to be warm. And a piece of paper and a set of directions. 

To us.

A bag of food to be warmed up in the communal kitchen. The basics of life. A roof and a chance of something hot to eat. A toe hold. A start point. A line in the sand. A chance to find a way to start over. A place to forge a new life.

A hundred and fifty years ago, hundreds of thousands of Scots took ships across the Atlantic to seek out better lives in America. For them it was Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

Bradley got himself a blue sign and a Homeless Department who said yes.

I think he'll do OK. He carries a thoughtful intelligence and his quiet manners are instinctive. He's more than employable and I don't think it will take him very long to be employed. He'll be a good addition. A new citizen. A new Scot. A refugee from the brutal reality of what England has become in 2018.

People up here have no clue of just how bad things are getting south of the border. They have no idea of how far the hospitals and schools have fallen. They have no sense of the brutal, hopeless bleakness.

You don't cycle 150 miles to put a roof over your head unless to really have to. 

This is why Bradley's modern day Odyssey is so iconic. It says much about England 2018. It also says much about Scotland 2018. Those in Westminster might see us as being on a par with Lincolnshire County Council. Well they are deluded on most things, so I guess there is little reason to feel surprised.

In reality, England and Scotland are drifting apart. London continues to deny Edinburgh any say on immigration. And they seem to think they have the whip hand. But they are missing what is going down in their blind spot. They might be able to lay down the law about migrants from the rest of the world, but there's not a thing they can do about internal migration.

And let's be clear about this, internal migration is a mighty big deal. Remember all the millions of freed slaves who left the cotton fields and headed north to power the steel mills of Pennsylvania. Look at the hundreds of millions of rural Chinese who had checked in their villages for the mega cities and thereby enabled their country to move up to number two in the economic league table.

The word of Scotland is spreading. We are becoming a beacon for people who hate what England is becoming. Many will be nurses and teachers and programmers. Others will merely be at the end of their tether.

Like Bradley.

And this is about to become something which is absolutely huge. For hundreds of years Scotland has been a place people have been forced to run away from. Well not any more.

Now we are the sanctuary. The shining city on the hill. A place far from the poisonous, festering nastiness of Farage and Rees Mogg and May and Johnson. 

We are the place which offers the kind of hope you ride a bike a hundred and fifty miles to get a piece of.

Failte gu Alba.

Oh, and by the way. If you can spare a couple of quid to help us to support more Bradleys please check out the link below


Wednesday, April 11, 2018


To be honest, there are not too many perks associated with being a pulp fiction writer. You know, perks like earning so much as a fraction of a living. Today, Amazon are telling me I have earned about £30 so far this month. Which makes it a pretty good month by the way! Sales of your actual printed page books in April? Ah. Well, that would be a big fat zero.

For pulp fiction writers like the author of this post, the worst job in the world goes something like this. You add up all of the hours you have spent researching, writing and promoting your books. OK. This is Figure A. Then you add up all the money you have earned from punting them out. Figure B. Then you grit your teeth and divide Figure A by Figure B and lo and behold you discover the hourly rate of pay achieved. For me the figure is something which hovers around 10p per hour. I doubt if I will ever manage to seriously threaten the paycheck of an Indonesian sweat shop worker. It's why those of us who don't go by the name Grisham rely on our day jobs to keep the lights on.

So I reckon we deserve the odd perk here and there, right? One such perk is surely the right to indulge in the occasional conspiracy theory.

So here we go.

A spy swapped Russian from the icy depths of the Cold War and his daughter are poisoned in Salisbury. Now that part is about the only straight forward element to the whole affair. Everything beyond this basic fact has become lost in a whirlwind of claim and counter claim. It is amazing how you can start with a nerve agent attack in a leafy English town and end up worrying about the fate of one cat and two hamsters. Mad world, right?

Almost everything we have watched go down over the last couple of weeks has been extremely weird. Nothing much seems to add up.

Here are a few of my head scratchers.

Ex UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, knocked out a blog quoting a Porton Down report from two years ago which explained why they hadn't added Novichok to their list of dastardly chemical and biological weapons. They had never actually seen Novichok. It was merely a story told by a defector from 1981 who had worked on making it. They didn't say there was no such thing. They merely played a bureaucratic straight bat and said they couldn't talk sensibly about something they had never actually seen. Fair enough.

Which made it a tad hard to explain when they were suddenly able to name and shame Novichok within hours of the Skripals being found at death's door on a park bench. Now Craig Murray pointing out this inconvenient truth wasn't exactly a problem for Russia. Quite the opposite. Which begs a big question, namely who was it who launched a monumental cyber attack on his blog page? And I mean massive. 12.5 million attacks in 24 hours.

Then there are the anomalies about Novichok itself which nobody seems to want to talk about. To start with this stuff was hailed to be the most wickedly toxic substance on planet earth. The name certainly made it seem that way. So how come the Skripals seem to have made a pretty good recovery? This is hardly the norm when the Russians set out to get their man. The Kremlin doesn't exactly have a track record of choosing duff poisons.

Then there is all the usual stuff about Vladimir Putin. Once a KGB man always KGB man! Sound familiar? I have heard a few ex spooks describing one of the espionage game's most treasured unwritten rules. You never, ever top anyone who has been a part of a spy swap. Why? Simple. Because if you ever do succumb to the temptation of whacking someone you have swapped, well, there won't be any more swaps. And if you lose the option of the spy swap, then you lose the chance of ever getting your guys back if and when things go wrong. All the spooks say this is something a true ex spook would never, ever give up. Once a KGB man always a KGB man?

But the big one for me is the reaction of the British State. I found my way to an extraordinary series of articles from Buzzfeed which you can find here if you are interested.


Basically is seems Sasha Litvinenko was far from being alone. Buzzfeed reckon there have been at least 14 killings over the last few years carried out on British soil by the Kremlin or the Russian Mafia or both. And who told Buzzfeed? Multiple sources from within the CIA and the NSA.

One case in particular jumps from the page - Alexander Perepilichnyy.

Now Alex started out as a bit of a bad boy. His finger prints were all over a Russian mafia heist which scalped $230 million. When he fell foul of the guys with power drills and blow torches, he got out of Dodge (Well, Moscow) and fled to London. And then he did the poacher turned gamekeeper thing and took the Eurostar to Paris to spill the beans to a bunch of Swiss prosecuters.

It seems the lads with the power drills and blow torches were less than amused. A hit was put out and within a week of returning from Paris Alex dropped dead from a heart attack on his morning jog along the leafy byways of Surrey. You would have though the Met might have found this somewhat suspicious. Alex was a relatively young man who had only a month earlier undertaken a rigorous medical for a new life insurance policy.

Well they weren't suspicious at all. Nothing to see here chaps. Natural causes. Case closed.

What of the coroner? Same thing. Nothing to see here.

And when the Governments of The USA and France and Switzerland started kicking up a fuss, what did our gallant Home Secretary have to say about it? Nothing to see here.....

And there it might have ended at the familiar stone wall of the British Establishment. But it didn't end there because Legal and General refused to write a cheque on the life insurance. They sued for another autopsy and in the end they got one. And guess what they found? Traces of a rare Chinese flowering plant called Gelsemium. Not the kind of plant which grows much in Surrey. It has a nick name - 'Heartbreak Grass'. Because if you eat Gelsemium it does exactly what it says on the tin. It gives you an instant and massive coronary. It literally breaks your heart. It renders you very dead indeed.

Now this is much more like the Kremlin's usual choice of poison. As in the kind that leaves you deader than dead as opposed to released from intensive care and on the road to recovery.

Armed with this rather clear proof, every man and his dog demanded an enquiry. Well of course they did. Did they get one? Nope. Our gallant Home Secretary who of course is now our gallant Prime Minister said an enquiry was out for the questions due to issues of National Security. This reason came from a well worn play book. It was the same reason Sasha Litvinenko's widow had thrown in her face for ten long years. It was the reason Sasha Litvinenko was the only murdered Russian to be enquired into.

Reasons? Why the stone wall? Why the complete lack of interest shown when 14 Russians are whacked in plain sight. Well Buzzbeed asked this question of people in Washington described as 'senior intelligence sources'. The answer came dripping with contempt. In their view, the London Establishment had become totally addicted to the heroin of dirty Russian money. And so long as dirty Russian money continued to prop up dividends in the City and mansion prices in Belgravia, then the Kremlin was more than welcome to kill any enemy they liked on British soil. Enjoy your special London murderer's Oyster Card, tovarich. Pay up and poison as you go. Nice.

But now everything has suddenly changed. A failed poisoning along with two dead hamsters and one dead cat has hailed the return of the Cold War. All of a sudden our gallant leader is willing to turn her back on all that lovely dirty Russian money and all Hell has been let well and truly loose.

So what has precipitated this dramatic change of heart? Well, here comes my conspiracy theory.

The big change is the same big change as it always is. Brexit. I think the government is taking rather more notice of its own economic projections than they are letting on. They know only too well just how screwed the UK really is. Basically they see a Realm where only two regions stump up more tax than they consume. One of course is London and the South East.

The other is Scotland.

So how are things looking for London and South East? Pretty crap, that's how. It seems pretty clear the City isn't going to be cut any breaks by Brussels. And what chance for tourism when all those super smart, super polite, super capable young Europeans stop coming? And who will be there to sweep the roads and empty the bins and man A&E and build stuff? Ouch. Brexit is about to hit London like a 38 tonne truck with an ISIS guy at the wheel.

The UK's balance of payments is already completely dire. If London takes a hit, it will get even worse. My oh my, it seems HMG is going need to hang on to all that lovely Scottish trade surplus at all costs.


Oh my God! What if those Scottish bastards have another referendum? What if......

Oh yeah. It just gets worse. Especially as more of the Brexit pigeons make it home to their roosts and London bows to the inevitable and signs off on the kind of deal on the Irish Border which will have Rees Mogg spitting with rage. Because here's the thing, if they agree a completely open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, then they can't make up scare stories about a future hard border between England and an independent Scotland.

And this will only be one of the many lies of September 2014 which can never be told again. Remember Ed Milliband's warnings of fences and watchtowers at Gretna? I certainly do.

They will be able to see the writing on the wall as clearly as we can see it up here. Last time we started at 29% and took it all the way to 45% whilst they told every lie they could think of. This time we start at 45% and all their lies are used up. This time they're going to lose. They know it only too well. If only we had the confidence to know it as well, but that is another story.

So how would it play out? Scotland sails away. The rest of the UK falls into a massive balance of payments crisis. Run on the pound. And in the blink of an eye London will find itself knocking on the door of the Third World.

Time for Plan B.

As in don't let those aforesaid Scottish bastards get the chance of having a second referendum at all. Sounds good, but how? What reason could be given? Threatening them and telling them to do as their told probably won't wash all that well.

So how's about this? Why don't we take the opportunity to poke the Russian bear? You know. Really get in their faces and ramp it up. And so long as we get the tabloids onside, then we'll be able to start scaring everyone to death. And once everyone is well and truly bricking it, we play out our aces.

The only thing standing between our treasured way of life and the marauding Russian hordes is our treasured Trident deterrent. Without Trident, we're all doomed. Without Trident, every man, woman and child in Britain will be transported to Siberia and forced to eat live rats. And at this time of national emergency, these communist loving Scots are threatening to take away our last line of defence and leave us all exposed to rape and pillage from vast hordes of savage Cossacks.....

Well people of Britain, let me tell you this. I cannot and I will not allow 5 million irresponsible, traitorous Scots to put the sixty million inhabitants of these Sceptered Isles at risk of annihilation. Oh no. Never! Not on my watch! There will be no Scottish Referendum! Not now. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not ever. From here on in we are all in this together......

For reasons of National Security.......

Just a thought!