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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


For one reason or another, I've had a bit of hospital time over the last few weeks. I have had some time of my own up here in Dumfries whilst family members have been in hospitals in the North West of England. And bloody hell, talk about compare and contrast....

There are always two ways of looking at things. There are the statistics thrown in our faces by politicians and the media. And then there is what you see with your own eyes. There are endless arguments about the stories and fairy tales which get spun out of statistics. But when it comes to what you can see with your own eyes, well it's a slam dunk.

Last month I was gearing up for my annual tobacco buying road trip down to Belgium. As in twenty hours of driving. And there was a thing. My leg was swollen and once upon a time when I was a stressed out corporate type I had a deep vein thrombosis. Was the swollen leg a warning of some kind? 

It was half past seven in the morning and I was due to set out for Belgium at five in the afternoon. Should I play sensible? The prospect of a massive coronary on the A1 persuaded me discretion was probably the better part of valour.

I called up the GP surgery and asked if there was any chance? There was. Pitch up at 10.15 and wait. So I pitched up and waited. For fifteen minutes. The Doc tutted a bit and asked if I smoked and kept on tutting. Then she asked how much I smoked and she tutted some more. She reckoned it was best to put the trip off. A scan and an Xray were deemed to be prudent.

The scan was booked for four days later. The Xray a week after that. So it was I made my debut in our brand spanking new hospital on a bright breezy morning where the view from the front door stretched forever and then some. The outside of the new building is a tad on the boxy side, but the inside makes you feel like you've been teleported to Berlin. I'm no kind of architecture boff, but it wasn't hard to gasp at the spectacular use of light. Gardens between the wings and the café actually had a terrace and lawns. Christ. More like NASA HQ than a hospital.

My appointment was for 10.20. And at 10.20 the woman behind the desk called my name. By 10.35 I was back in my car and lighting up a fag I wasn't even craving so hard.

Another week and this time an Xray. Appointment time 11.00 and at 11.04 the woman behind the desk called my name. This time I was in and out in less than 10 minutes.

It was like being a super rich Wall St type with the best health insurance money could buy. It was bloody jaw dropping. And I duly celebrated by taking a 950 mile road trip to save £15 a pouch on baccy.

Time passed and I told this tale to my brother in law in England. He shook his head at me like I was painting pictures of Martians landing on the Tesco car park. He's not a doctor going sort of guy. In January he had picked up the phone for an appointment for the first time in six years. Of course sir, let me check, OK, I have a slot in six weeks time.....

Two and a half hours plays six weeks..... Stuff the statistics. Reality tells a different story.

The last week or so has seen more of the same. Another family member is in a hospital in the North West and we drove down to visit. I might talk about chalk and cheese. I might talk about Romania and Switzerland.

Christ. Where to start? Maybe with the air of quiet doom wrapped around every brick. Slowly rotting wings, closed down one by one. Grimy windows offering glimpses of stacked up junk. Weeds growing through cracked paving stones. Drifts of cigarette butts outside building entrances. A lift with walls of scrawled, scratched graffiti. Old scrawled. Months and years of it. 'Abused by staff' scratched into the grimed paint. Obviously cost cutting meant there was nobody to provide a new lick of paint. Instead someone had tried their level best to over scratch the word 'staff'. But it hadn't really worked out.

Dead plants, their pots overflowing with litter. A sign on the door said the visitor's toilet wasn't working. And the sign was obviously as old as the graffiti in the lift. The staff toilet doubled up as a storage room for plastic chairs and somewhere along the way the toilet seat had gone west.

Outside the spring sun splashed the moors into postcard prettiness and the rows of terraces seemed quaint rather than desperate. The last of the mill chimneys remembered the days when the town once joined with the people of India in paying all London's bills.

No wonder the poor sods voted so overwhelmingly for Brexit. When you are forgotten you feel forgotten. Maybe if they had a Parliament of their own, then they wouldn't see their taxes shovelled into Crossrail and HS2 and instead into a hospital looking like the one we have in Dumfries. 

But they don't. They have London rule shoved down their throats. Like a strapped down hunger striker getting a plastic tube shoved down his gullet. 

And here's the thing, this stuff doesn't just stop with hospitals and getting to see a GP. It runs through prisons and the probation service and the police and a hundred and one other areas where we now do our own thing.

And nobody seems to be asking why. When I was doing my thing during the 2014 Indyref, I mugged up before various debates with Better Together's Westminster finest. And fair enough, we do spend a bit more per head on the NHS up here in Scotland. But not that much more. Not in a million years enough to explain the chasm that has opened up between up here and down there. 

I don't pretend to have any answers. It's not my field and it never will be. Gut feeling? Well maybe the answer might be found in the recent Carillion thing. We don't do much privatisation up here, thank God. Down South and it is everywhere. And if you take a pile of cash and open it up to greed and a corruption, well there won't be much of a pile left once the boys on the Carillion board have had the chance to fill their pockets.

You really would think this would be a thing our Government in Edinburgh would shout from the roof tops about. Well, you would wouldn't you?

But they don't. Instead they are as meek as Indian Maharajas back in day cowering at the feet of their colonial masters. The unwritten rule is to never criticise the English. Be nice to the English. Bow and bloody scrape to the English. Well I don't feel any obligation to stick to these timid rules for the simple reason I was born English. All my family are English. The first forty years of my life was English. And I had to watch my English dad live out too much time at the end of his days in nasty, festering English hospitals. And I worry about my mum and mother in law ever needing any kind of care from the non existent English care system. And I worry about my nephews and nieces ever needing A&E. I and my own family might be lucky enough to be New Scots, but we have left plenty behind and it isn't so very hard to feel their pain: especially when they find themselves in hospital.

So here's the thing. This well kept secret isn't going to last forever. And human beings don't tend to change so very much. When things get really bad, we up sticks and move. War in Aleppo? Get out of Dodge and into Lebanon. War in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Uganda looks like a good bet. Highland Clearances? Let's roll the dice and check out New York City. People will always be drawn from places which are crap to places which are a whole lot better.

It's called migration and it is as old as the hills. Sometimes you need a passport and lots of paperwork to get out of Dodge. And if you are living in the North of England and at your wits end, there is an overwhelming bunch of paperwork to get through before you will get anywhere near Australia of Canada or New Zealand.

Or maybe you might opt for an easier route. The one we took. A hundred miles up the M6. Past the blue and white sign at Gretna. No visa required. No proof of bank account or job. No criminal record checks or health forms.

Park the car, find a place to stay and you're good to go. Five minutes of form filling and you're in the system. A New Scot. No more prescription charges. A healthcare system to leave you open mouthed. Free tuition. Free care for the elderly. Air that tastes like air. And if your skin is brown, the chance to walk the streets without waiting to be told to 'fuck off home you Paki bastard.'

It is isn't so very hard to see what is about to happen next. In fact my gut tells me it is happening already. After hundreds of years of Scotland seeing its young up sticks and leave for better prospects to be found in all corners north, south, east and west, the tide is starting to turn. Sure London isn't about to allow us any say when it comes to people coming here from the rest of the world, but there isn't a thing they can do to stop internal migration.

Most people up here don't see this. Most people up here don't know they're born. Nobody in Edinburgh is about to tell us just how crap things are getting in the North of England. And nobody in the media is about to tell us how crap things are in the North of England. You can find out for yourself if you want to. Take a road trip to any Northern town. Follow the signs to the hospital, stick a few quid in the meter and check it out. I promise you. You'll be shocked.

As this migration from England to Scotland starts to pick up pace, it will certainly present challenges and opportunities in equal measure. Scotland has land and resources coming out of its ears. The only thing we lack is people, particularly hungry young people. If thousands of these very hungry young people become disgusted enough with the spreading Brexit ugliness and racism and decide to up sticks and head north, then in my humble opinion we should embrace it. You can bet your bottom dollar not one of them will be joining forces with Better Together 2 in when Indyref 2 comes around.

Last week I attended an anti-poverty bash hosted by the local Council. The nearest thing we have to an Anti-Poverty Tsar is Wendy and I mentioned all this stuff to her. She asked me to put my thoughts down on paper for her. I hope a blog page does as well as paper.

It's all yours, Wendy!      

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


So, we hear an awful lot about austerity. We hear about austerity pretty much all of the time. Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, Greens, Plaid, Momentum.... everyone's at it. And the narrative is nice and simple. It's served up in bite size pieces. Austerity is wicked and bad. And the Tories are wicked and bad for depriving our public services of their life blood. And it's kind of hard not swallow the bite size pieces without thinking very much about it.

Of course a food bank like First Base is as good a place as any to get an up close and personal look at the damage rampant austerity causes. Obviously. I have penned umpteen blogs over the last few years painting pictures of lives wrecked for the sake of saving a lousy few quid. However a working in a food bank also paints another equally compelling picture - the abject idiocy of those given the job of spending the public pound. And I never cease to be amazed by just how much of a pass we always seem to give these guys as they waste our money on an industrial scale.

In all the recent rampant furore surrounding the Windrush scandal and Amber Rudd's resignation, we saw a classic case of this. Rudd told a Select Committee there were no Home Office targets to deport people. Then a pissed off Home Office lackey started leaking enough killer facts to make her fall on her sword. Most damning was a letter she sent to Theresa May boasting of how an additional £10 million spent would up the annual deportation figures by 10%. Ah-ha! Gotcha! To get a 10% increase means you have to have a target in the first place. Bang to rights and off she popped to the back benches.

And of course nobody did the maths. Before the £10 million cash injection, the Home Office was turfing out 10,800 undocumented immigrants a year. The extra cash would up the game to the tune of 10%. Yeah? As in an extra 1080 deportations per annum. So lets do the maths.

£10,000,000 divided by 1080 is.......



Turfing these people out at a cost of nearly ten grand each was deemed to be something to crow about. Well obviously it was, because God forbid if they were allowed to stay they would get jobs and pay taxes and.....

Is this a good way for the public sector to spend your taxes? Well I guess the answer to that depends on how much you hate immigrants. Nigel Farage would no doubt see it as cheap at half the price. Me? Not so much.

Time to cut to the chase. Time for an example of wasted public money which borders on the truly epic.

It's time to tell the story of Danny. Who isn't really called Danny by the way.

On the cover of his autobiography, the strapline under the title might run something along the lines of 'A modern day tale of woe'. Or 'How laying some laminate flooring can come back to haunt you.'

For fifty something years Danny's story was nothing to write home about. It was the story of a regular guy who got born, went to school, worked away and generally lived a regulation life.

And then he lost his job, and didn't walk straight into another job. At fifty something, it was his first taste of being on the brew. It didn't go so well. Within a matter of weeks he was sanctioned for being ten minutes late for an appointment and a piece of paper brought him into First Base for his first food parcel. He was philosophical about things. He always is to be fair. He served out his one month sanction and I kind of figured we wouldn't see him again.

How wrong I was.

Within a couple of weeks he was back with us on a three month sanction and he has now been sanctioned on a more or less permanent basis for the last five years.

Not surprisingly things have slipped. At times he allows some bitterness to float to the surface. But not often. He has a remarkable ability to take things in his stride. I could rattle on for paragraph after paragraph about the various disasters he has had to roll with. Instead I'll borrow a line from Shakespeare. Let's just say he's 'suffered the whips and scorns of outrageous fortune'. 

A few years ago in the days when Danny had a place of his own and a job and a normal life, he shelled out to lay a laminate floor in the kitchen. Is it humanly possible to get more normal than that? Probably not. Well, he was turfed out of his place during one of his many sanctions and his Registered Social Landlord pulled up the laminate floor to return the flat to its original condition.

And they duly sent Danny a bill for £1000 for doing so.

Of course £1000 might as well be £1 million to a guy living off food parcels. But what the hell. However, the unpaid bill triggered a bunch of new consequences which ended up with Danny sleeping out on the streets. Like the strapline said, beware of the laminate flooring....

And here is where we arrive at the point where Danny and I might have something of a falling out. One dreak winter's morning he was cold and hungry and as per usual he didn't have a penny to his name. Now he could have waited until noon and come into First Base for some grub. 

But Danny didn't wait. Instead he embarked on a catastrophic attempt at shoplifting and completely blew it. Bang to rights. Caught red handed. Fair cop, Gov.

A truly heinous crime. Oh those famous train robbers suddenly had some serious completion because Danny was caught in the act of stealing a pack of sliced cheese priced at 99p.

I mean, come on Danny. A 99p pack of cheese. How do you think it makes First Base look? We can't be much of a food bank when our guys resort to half inching budget dairy products.

Anyway. The cops came and cuffed him and read him his rights. They processed him and he politely let them know he was absolutely 100% guilty as charged.

Which they duly noted in their copious paperwork.

Weeks passed and Danny was awarded his day in court and a duty lawyer who he duly told of his plan to plead 100% guilty.

The Sheriff took Danny's guilt on board and accepted a pal's address for bail. Another hearing would be scheduled once background reports had been assembled. 

Weeks drifted by and eventually a letter arrived at the pal's house Danny had used for his bail address. Unfortunately the pal wasn't much of a secretary and failed to pass the letter on to Danny.

Which meant he missed the hearing.

Shock, horror! The man who had stolen a 99p pack of sliced, processed cheese was in breach of his bail conditions and on the loose! No wonder the cops mobilised their forces and launched a manhunt onto the streets of Dumfries. How long did it take them to track him down? I don't suppose we will ever know. I doubt if we will ever know how many boys in blue were sent out onto the streets to track him down.

What we do know is they finally got their man on a Friday afternoon. What a moment of triumph it must have been. Seal Team 6's moment of glory with Bin Laden pales into insignificance in comparison.

Well they took no chances with the cheese thief. They banged him up for the weekend on made absolutely sure he would be back in front of the Sheriff on Monday morning.

And so it was the Jesse James of dairy products once again faced his fate. Another court date and this time 'breach of bail' was added to the charge sheet.

The case will be heard in a couple of weeks time and already news teams from all around the world are booking up every hotel in Dumfries. What a spectacle it promises to be as Danny finally faces justice.

I think we are about to see one particular record broken, for surely we are about to see the most expensive packet of sliced, processed cheese in the history of mankind. It started out at a modest 99p. And now? Wow. I'll have a go at the maths.

Google has just taken me to a Mirror article which reckons the cost of police custody runs at £418 per day. So, OK. There's £1254. Police time for the manhunt? Maybe another £500. Police paperwork time? £300. Prosecution costs? £500. Danny's Legal Aid bill? £600. Court costs? £1000. Costs of administering some community service time? £500. Which all comes to.....


£4654 for a 99p pack of sliced, processed cheese nicked by a man who has gone out of his way to plead guilty every step of the way. That really is some pack of cheese.

So are you happy with the way your hard earned tax pounds are being spent? I mean, you could deport an extra two illegals for that! Or you could pay for a whole bunch of school books. Or maybe fill in lots of potholes............

We are constantly told there's no money. We're constantly told austerity is depriving our beloved public services of the ability to do their thing. We're constantly told our gallant boys in blue risk their lives to keep us safe. And all of these statements are true enough some of the time. But not all of the time. 

Four and a half thousand quid for a 99p pack of cheese doesn't much look like value for money to me. But what do I know?

I'm just the foodbank guy.

If you can spare a couple of quid to help First Base feed other noted cheese thieves like Danny, then you can make your way to our Just Giving page by following the link below.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


A few days ago I penned a blog about a food parcel client who I christened Bradley. I suppose it was something on a modern parable. Bradley found himself homeless on the streets of Manchester and decided to cycle from town to town until he found a Homeless Department willing and able to offer him a bed. 

Astonishingly he had to cycle all the way to Dumfries to find some shelter. He had to leave England and come to Scotland. As I posted the blog, I wondered if anyone would be interested in Bradley's extraordinary Odyssey.

Well not for the first time I was left pretty gobsmacked. Recent events have flagged up many of the dark sides of social media. Fair enough. But surely one of the greatest benefits of our new online world is the opportunity it offers for stories like Bradley's story to be laid out for the world to see.

As I type these words just over 56,000 people have read about Bradley's 150 mile ride north. I have to admit I feel pretty privileged to have had the chance to be the messenger. And if Bradley's story really is a 2018 version of the Odyssey, well I guess that makes me Homer!

My blog was hardly complimentary towards the country of my birth: England. And as the number of page views swelled, I wondered if I was about to be laid into by marauding bands of angry trolls wrapped in the flag of St George.

Nope. Not a whisper. Not a word. In fact over the course of my many blogs extolling the virtues of an Independent Scotland I have barely ever heard a negative whisper from south of border. I get plenty of responses from other new immigrants who were born in England who have chosen to find a better life up here. I also hear from many who are planning to up sticks and seek refuge from the spreading, noxious jingoism of Theresa May's poisonous world. 

I suppose this is merely yet more evidence of the new bubbles we now inhabit. The border at Gretna Green may be invisible and frictionless, but it becomes more of a border with every passing week. I certainly feel it more and more as I drive past the Cross of St George as I head south down the M6 to visit my mum or to go and watch the Mighty Reds at Anfield.

I seldom see all that much of my old stamping ground. But on the occasions when I get any kind of close up look at the streets I grew up in, I get a cold feeling. Everywhere has changed and changed utterly as the man once said.

Once upon a time it amused me to see the way southerners exhibited a kind of shuddering fear of the dark valleys of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Uncompromising dark moors. Long dead cotton mills latticed with smashed windows. Terraced streets hanging to steep slopes. Soot blackened pubs crouching on every street corner.

What they saw as alien and threatening, I saw as home. I was never British, but I was always Lancastrian. More to the point, I was sure I always would be. I had a front row 1980's seat as the Thatcher regime took the place apart brick by brick. And by then I was too much an adopted son of Liverpool to see the early stages of the dark, bitter contagion which has slowly spread through the dark valleys I once called home.

Liverpool resisted the Thatcher hurricane. As the rest the country mocked and made up new Scouser jokes, the city stood firm behind its barricades. The city kept a hold of its soul. And now the city is being rewarded for its stubborn resilience. Against all sensible odds Liverpool is booming again as Europe's most popular weekend destination. Tourists fly into John Lennon airport in their thousands to do the Beatles and the football and the waterfront and the night life. 

But Liverpool has always been a place apart. I hope it always will be. It came as no surprise to anyone when the city stood shoulder to shoulder with Scotland in the EU Referendum.

These days I am very much a Scottish Scouser: any affiliation I once had to the valleys of East Lancashire has long gone. It is literally years since I spent any time there.

Until Saturday.

After the joys of Liverpool 0 - Stoke 0, I headed sixty miles east along the M62 to a small town on the outskirts of Huddersfield to pick up an Ebay purchase.

As I passed through 'Death Valley' and into the foothills of the Pennines, Bradley's story was very much fresh in my mind. Oldham, Rochdale, and the bleak moors where Brady and Hindley once upon a time buried their dead.

And then it was the Satnav voice in my ear as we wound along the Colne valley to our destination. The same houses and mills Lowry once painted, but so very different. The potholed road reminded me of the kind of thing I drove along when visiting East Germany before the Wall came down. Maybe I was imagining it, but every town seemed to be wrapped in a kind of festering anger. The only sign of any economic life was unmistakably Asian. Shops and car washes and repair shops. Kebab and curry places instead of Fish and Chips. Pubs on very tenth corner instead of every corner. Boarded windows and mobility scooters.

The very dismal heart of Brexit Britain. Beaten and doomed and looking for someone to blame. And finding someone to blame. People with brown faces.

Of course this is what London does best. It's the old divide and rule thing. Two hundred years ago these dark valleys were home to engine which propelled the British Empire. The cotton flowed in through the docks on the Mersey to be spun in the satanic mills of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire. And then the finished garments were be sent back out through Liverpool to be rammed down the throats of half a billion Indians who were banned from spinning their own cotton.

And then both sides of the coin became redundant as the Empire collapsed like a soggy cardboard box in the wake of two world wars. The engine room was no longer needed as London turned all its attention to money laundering and ten new garden centres a week. And all those Indians and Pakistanis we invited over to clean the streets and unblock the drains? Well they could be the fall guys. They could carry the can for all the closed down mills.

Thankfully the people of Liverpool tapped into their instinctive mistrust of anything to come out of the mouths of the public schoolboys of Westminster. Liverpool walked away from England and chose the rest of the world instead. Now the Kop makes up new songs every week to celebrate Mo Salah, our newly crowned Egyptian king.

"........ if he scores another few, I'll be a Muslim too....."

Every other Saturday, football loving second generation Pakistanis come to Anfield to feel a part of things. They don't go near Ewood Park or Turf Moor or Eland Road. Can't blame them really. Who in their right mind would want to cough up £40 to be called a fucking Paki bastard.

The Farage poison has seeped into the soot blackened bricks. You can feel it. Taste it. And as I picked my way through the pot holes, I quietly thanked my lucky stars. We got out of Dodge and left the poison far, far behind.

Another Premier League Saturday played out through the radio as we found where we needed to go and started out on the journey back north. Interviews and league tables. And as we got back onto the M62 the phone in show kicked into life.

Calls from Burnley. Turf Moor. Burnley 0 - Brighton and Hove Albion 0. Anger and controversy. Chris Hughton, Brighton's mixed race manager had hit out at the Burnley crowd for booing one of his players. The studio scrambled for the back story. And found it. Brighton player Gaeton Bong had accused ex Burnley player, Jay Rodriguez, of racism. The FA had duly investigated the allegations and decided the charges could not be proven. Jay Rodriguz doesn't play for Burnley any more. In fact he hasn't played for them for a while. But a succession of callers were keen to point out the fact that Jay remained very much one of their own.

"He's a Barrowford lad. Born and bred. One or ours...."

Ah, Barrowford. Once upon a time home to my friend Diana and Channel 4's Krishnan Guru Murthi. Suddenly my mind was washed through with memories of Burnley. My Dad's old home ground. 'Angels' on a Saturday night where you were in for a guaranteed kicking if anyone found out you were from Blackburn. The growling home end at Turf Moor.

"Everywhere we go...
People wanna know....
We are the Burnley.....
Long Side aggro.....
If you don't believe us.....
Come and have a go....."

And here they were trying to justify themselves. Angry. The Brighton fans had responded to their booing with a chant of 'You're just a town full of racists'. And the home crowd had returned the favour with a few choice homophobic ditties. 

The fans were segregated by a line of policemen and stewards. Insults were thrown across the divide. Brexitland and Remainland. North and south. Citizens of somehwere and citizens of everywhere. The booming and the doomed. And every time the black man received the ball, the black man was booed by the white crowd.

They were adamant they were doing no more than defending 'one of their own'. A white Burnley lad from Barrowford. And none of them seemed remotely aware of how they sounded. They were lost in their bubble.

As I headed west along the M62 it was hard not to come to a pretty obvious conclusion. Here were people who were simply constructing an excuse to go back to the good old days when it was deemed to be more than OK to boo the black player.

"Get back on your jam jar....."

We dropped down from the Pennines onto the Fylde Plain and then made our way up into the hills of Cumbria. The angry voices on the radio eventually faded out.

A blue sign. 'Welcome to Scotland'. A new home. An adopted home. A better home. A sanctuary. And I smiled to myself.

A place worth cycling a hundred and fifty miles to get to.