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, July 28, 2018


Well, I guess it was always going to happen. Two years on from the old people of Britain voting us out of the EU and we are finally here. Our great leaders are out on the airwaves summoning up the spirit of the Blitz.

Of course they are. It has become the default reaction. If anything goes well, you fly Spitfires and Lancasters over Buckingham Palace. If things go to shit, you summon up the spirit of the Blitz.

So take that Johnny Foreigner and see how you like it. Bomb us all you like, but it won't get you anywhere. Our British stiff upper lip can survive anything.

This week we dispatched our latest grinning idiot to Brussels in the shape of Dominic Raab and he has frightened all of those jumped up foreign types right to their garlic soaked collective cores.

Think you can threaten England do you? Well, do you? Well take this you utter bounders. If you dare try to push us around, well we will hit you right where it hurts. Oh yes. Try it and all sixty million of us will live on Spam. How do you like that!

I suppose we should be grateful in a way. Threatening the pesky French with a cross Channel frenzy of Spam eating and invoking memories of the Luffwaffe setting London ablaze is probably better than invoking the spirit of Hamburg and Dresden. Get my drift? Threaten us, and we will once again rain death from the skies and set the very air alight. Last time you tried it on, we killed three million of your civilians. This time..... oh yes this time. Have you counted your arsenal of nukes recently Frau Merkel? No? And why would that be? Well we all know the answer to the question don't we, Frau Merkel.

You don't have any nukes, do you Frau Merkel? Oh deary, deary me. And we have nearly 150. Quite enough to make the firestorms of Hamburg and Dresden look like a historical footnote.

Maybe not the best way to make friends across the water.

Anyway. What is possibly the most inept Government in the history of these islands has spoken. And we are expected to doff our caps and listen up, especially those of us in the colonies. Pay attention and do as you are told. 

A Hard Brexit is a coming and we must all brace ourselves and prepare. This time we are determined not to be taken by surprise. Once bitten, twice shy, right? 

Last time was a bit of a nightmare to be frank. I mean, it was understandable in a way. You see we Brits and Frenchies seemed to hold all the cards. We had three times as many planes. Twice as many tanks. Twice as many men. And military wisdom was crystal clear. An attacker had to outnumber a defender by at least three to one to stand any kind of chance. And let's be honest here, everything would have been fine if the bounders hadn't cheated and sneaked their way through the Ardennes. And of course it wasn't a very good look when a third of a million of our chaps had to skedaddle out of Dunkirk on a fleet of pedelos. 

Well, we certainly can't be doing that again. So we mast be ready. And being ready means lots and lots of Spam!

For a while these stories seemed mainly amusing. Yet more evidence of what happens when you hand the reigns of power to a bunch of over promoted public schoolboys.

Then I started listening to what the guys at the sharp end had to say. Like the boss at Immingham docks. Even if they can get a wagon customs checked in 2 minutes, in less than an hour there will be a one mile queue. 10 miles in 10 hours. 24 miles in a day. 48 miles in two days....


And suddenly a whole bunch of nightmare facts came rolling in. Over 80% of the food on the shelves of Aldi and Lidl comes in through Immingham. With no UK Air Safety Agency, no insurance company will be willing to insure any flight which means no more food coming to the UK on planes. 

And slowly but surely my brain started to make some sense of it. In fact it was all pretty familiar. Once up a time our family business trucked 120,000 tonnes of cattle and sheep feed to all corners of Britain. From the Isle of Mull to South Wales and all points in between. At any given time, our mill in Lancaster carried one day's worth of stock. Another day's worth would be on board delivery wagons. To store any more would have meant another couple of hundred thousand quid onto our overdraft and there was no way in a million years our bank manager would have agreed that.

Once upon a time we had food mountains in Britain. Those were the days when memories of Hitler's U Boats were still fresh. Blitz spirit or no Blitz spirit, we were half starved to death by 1942. The fall of the Berlin Wall ended such concerns.

Now we about three days stock of food at any given time. One day's worth is on the shelves of the supermarkets. Another day's worth is in the storerooms at the back of the supermarkets. Another day's worth is onboard tens of thousands of wagons en route to the supermarkets. And after that? After that the grub is either in Europe ready to be loaded onto trucks or elsewhere in the world ready to be put on a plane or a boat.

Three days. Three days and the shelves are empty. 

And now the grinning face of Dominic Raab is handing out the bad news like some nightmare straight out of 1984. Oh we might have to starve a bit, but it will all be find in the end. We will call up the Blitz spirit and in sixty three years time we will sign a new trade deal with Paraguay.

And still I was a mere spectator. A rubber necker. Fascinated by the growing chaos and delighted by the growing certainty of an Independent Scotland.

And then it hit me. I don't have the luxury of rubber necking. I am one of the ones grinning Dominic is speaking to. I am a part of the food chain. First Base is in the Jesus business of feeding the 5000. Fair enough, it takes us a year to feed that many rather than a day. And fair enough, we've never learned how to do the bread and fishes thing. But even so. Every year we feed 5000 folk. Which makes us a player.

Dominic says it is our job to stock up. Go forth and buy Spam. He is saying the same thing to the supermarkets and the food processors. Stock up and invoke the spirit of the Blitz. And they are saying, OK Dominic, you grinning idiot, maybe you could come up with some more suggestions. Like where the hell are we supposed to put all these stocks? In our fantasy warehouses which don't actually exist? And how are we expected to pay for these stocks when our bankers have capped off all of our credit lines? 

It's what you get when a think tank lawyer tries to get involved in the food chain.

Anyway. I got real. I ran the scenario. 29 March 2019. Hard Brexit arrives and Immingham grinds to a halt. How long to empty shelves? Maybe a week? 5 April 2019. The corner shops have trebled all of their prices. The big supermarkets have all kinds of ex squaddie security on the doors. Dominic Raab is still grinning but he won't be walking the street any time soon. And nobody is laughing at the boss of Amazon UK any more as riots spread from Portsmouth to Inverness.

Project Fear has become Project Here.

And on 5 April 2019 there will be a whole bunch of hungry people, mainly those who are too hard up to afford to buy baked beans when they cost £2 tin.

And where do hungry people go in times of need in the early years of the twenty first century? To the local food bank. 

To us.

So Frankland. You call yourself a manger. You keep yapping on about what a brilliant coverage First Base now has with 25 collection points spread all the way from Castle Douglas to Langholm.

When we ask the public for donations of food and money, we bang on about how good we are when it comes to doing the whole emergency food thing. Well. That's all well and good when we're handing out a hundred parcels a week. Not so good on 5 April 2019 when there is a half mile queue waiting for our door to open.


A plan? Our 25 collection points are dotted across an area which is home to 100,000 people. How many might be feeling the first pangs of hunger on 5 April 2019. A fifth? A quarter? And how long will the crisis last? How long before the PM hops it over to Brussels to grovel face down on the floor and beg to be let back into the fold? Two weeks? A month?

Well there is no point worrying about what to do if it lasts a month. If it lasts a month, we will all be living out our very own Mad Max movie.

Two weeks? 25,000 people? Well we can't do it. We don't have the money or the space. Just like everyone else. But we could play a part. A big part. We could supercharge our network. And maybe we might just manage.

So I called up Emma Harper MSP and laid it out. If emergency planning was a thing the Council are willing to do, they will have to come up with a warehouse and a serious stock of emergency food. What percentage chance is there of the unfolding Hard Brexit nightmare? Maybe 10%? 20%?

And if some kind of deal is shaken on and the Hard Brexit bullet is dodged, we will need to use up all of the food over the next year or so. So we'll need stuff we already use. Like tins of corned beef. Like packs of pasta. Like packets of biscuits.

And the more I think it through, the harder it gets. We will need the cops involved. Without some kind of police guard our back door will be put through in no time. Same with the doors to all our collection points. And how are we going to make sure the most vulnerable get priority? And who will deliver to those unable to leave their homes?

Believe me, it's a complete and utter nightmare. Emma says she will set up some kind of a meeting. Is this a bullet our cash strapped local Council will be willing to bite? I have no idea. The maths will be pretty scary. Bloody terrifying in fact.

Let's say we find a way to feed the most vulnerable of the people on our patch. How many is that? I'll be ultra, hyper conservative. Let's say 5000. 

5000 people for two weeks.

Two food parcels per week each. 20,000 food parcels. 

What items do we put in to make the parcel last for half of a week? 

I dunno. Maybe two packs of pasta - 60p, a tin of corned beef - £1.50, a pack of Rich Tea - 30p, and a bag of porridge - 70p.

Let's say £3

And will it even be physically possible to actually buy 20,000 tins of corned beef at a time when the whole country is quietly filling cupboards with emergency provisions?

£60,000 to keep 5000 people going for two weeks. 

Is the Council really going to stump for that? Maybe. I'm not holding my breath. We'll see I guess.

If nothing can be done, then our shelves will be bare before we even reach 5 April 2019. We will have to lock our doors and get out of the emergency food game for the duration. And then the doors will be stoved in and the hungry looters will be disappointed.

And then we will all get the chance to invoke the Blitz spirit.

For Christ's sake.

Come on Nicola. You need to get your skates on and give us a chance to get the hell off this sinking ship.         

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


It was half past eleven.

I was on my way back from paying a couple of donations into the bank. The first rain in weeks was easing from a slate grey sky.

I guess there was a kind of wry smile on my face. Umbrellas! At least five of them, bobbing down the sparsely populated pavement. You really have to love the ingrained pessimism. No rain for weeks and none forecast, and yet these guys had still picked up an umbrella before leaving the house.

When I was twenty or so yards shy of our front door, I saw there was someone there. A food parcel early bird or just a guy riding out the light rain? 

Today's made up name is Che. And yeah, there will be relevance in due course.

"Are you wanting the foodbank mate?"

Not so threatening. Well I didn't think so. And yet my words brought on a rabbit in the headlights look. And an a somewhat bizarre flash of fear. Me pushing sixty and a country mile from any kind of prime. Che at least two decades younger and fit as a butcher's dog. No kind of sense.

He answered the question with a kind of careful politeness and at the third attempt he made it to where he was wanting to go.

Yes, he was here for the food bank.

And he was sorry for being so early. And it was nae bother pal because he could go away and come back in half an hour. Honest, pal. Don't want to be any trouble.

It seemed to take ages to persuade him it was no trouble at all. But I got there in the end and we made our way inside. I made my to one side of the counter. He was on the other side, unpacking carefully folded papers from his coat pocket.

And all of a sudden he was telling me about the coat. His new coat. A gift from a local charity who were helping him out. And he was pleased with the coat. Really pleased. He told me it was the first coat he had owned since he was teenager. His first coat in twenty something years.

When you work in a place like First Base you pick up a sixth sense for people who have millions of words locked up inside and straining to get out.

Che was one of these people and the story of the coat popped off the padlock and out came the words. Like a burst dam.

Had I heard about MAPP? No really. Bits and pieces. So he explained as best as he could. It was a jumble, but I got the gist. MAPP is the control net cast over a long term prisoner released back into the world after years inside. Probation workers and social workers and charities and policemen and a forensic psychiatrist and a seven in the morning to seven at night tag.

A last chance saloon and even the tiniest slip would mean go to jail, do no pass go, do not collect £200....

Did I get it? I got it. 

Every second sentence included an apology. Look I shouldn't be bothering you with any of this... you've better things to do... you dunnae want to waste time on the likes of me. Like taking too much of my time would mean crossing one of those invisible MAPP lines. Go to jail, do not pass go, do not collect £200....

Christ. A cat on hot bricks. 

"Come on mate, let's have a brew..."

At first he said no. A brew wasn't for the likes of him. And he shouldn't be wasting my time. And he was sorry, like....

In the end I prevailed. The first coat in twenty years came off and was duly hung on the back of a chair. I did the honours and he arranged his paperwork on the table.

Outside it had stopped raining and the craziness of the Trump visit and the latest Brexit meltdown was sending the airwaves into near meltdown. Inside all was quiet.

He took a smoke and slowly but surely wandered back through the story his years. His years in the darkest corner of darkness. His years in a world we never see.

Seventeen years old and off the rails. Drink and drugs and daft as a brush. Down south. Over the border. He never said where. An English Saturday night in the early 90's. All pissed up and buzzing and out of cash.

And there was a guy with a wallet in his breast pocket. A ticket to keep the night rolling. So Che made a grab for the wallet which was about a subtle as a Trump rally. A fight. An assault. An arrest. Bang to rights and two years.

No doubt there were plenty of sage voices in his ear. Just keep your head down mate. Go with the flow. Make like you're invisible. The time will fly by. You'll be out in twelve months. Out and still eighteen with the rest of your life to live.

But it didn't go that way. Instead, Che made a friend. The wrong kind of friend. A blood brother. 

The friend had been way off the rails for years. At ten years old, psychiatrists had poked and prodded at his brain to try to work out where all the rage was coming from. What they found came as a surprise. Che's pal had an IQ which was off the charts. The shrinks warned against boredom. Unless this remarkable mind was properly stretched and engaged, then this remarkable mind would go bad.

It went bad. 

Bad enough for prison. And Che's new blood brother had a creed. A driving passion. He hated authority. All authority was the enemy. A evil to be fought. 24 hours a day, every day. Without any kind of compromise. Without quarter asked for or given.

Che signed on the dotted line and they took the fight to the prison system. A bit like El Salvador declaring war on the United States. And like Che kept telling me, this was the early 90's when a different set of rules applied. The gloves were well and truly off. There would be no time off for good behaviour. Beatings and humiliations and solitary and yet more beatings.

A dark and brutal drama played out a million miles from public view. And one warder was in a league of his own. Of course he was. The 'in house' sadist. Because this was the early 90's and there was barely a rule book to tear up. 

And slowly but surely Che and his pal slipped beyond the pale. Beyond any kind of sensible decision. Brutalised. Committed to their hopeless war. Lost.

They got hold of the sadistic warder and held him hostage for twenty hours. And by now Che couldn't look me in the eye any more. He kept starting to get up. To reach for the new coat and run. He kept telling me I shouldn't be wasting time with someone like him. He kept saying sorry. And he kept saying how ashamed he was. Because he knew it was wrong. But in the darkness of the early nineties.....

Two years became eleven years. His pal was maxed up to life with not a cat in hell's chance of parole. The remarkable mind was to be kept far from the light forever and ever amen.

Is he still inside?

Yeah. He went down hill. More violence. More assaults. Time added and added until it was all the time in the world. He's not good now. So I've heard. The remarkable mind is broken. Smashed into a million pieces. The sorry tale of the Ming vase and the sledge hammer.

For a while Che stuck to the creed and fought on. Through the endless beatings and humiliations. He managed not to break. For a while. But slowly the smoke cleared and the futility of the fight swam into view.

He was out after eight years but there was nothing to ground him. No guidebook. No normal. Only drink and drugs and in and out of so may jails he lost track of them all.

Until this time. Until this last chance saloon and MAPP and every camera in the town watching his every move. Don't have any contact with any known drug user. Don't have any contact with any known criminal. And if you are even thirty seconds past seven o'clock...… And if you are even thirty seconds late for you daily appointment.....

An unfamiliar world in his first new coat in twenty years. A chance of a future, but how to find it? Forty years old and everything strange.

Sometimes the sentences would flow easily. Other times he would lose his thread and find it hard to work his way back to where he had started. Every few minutes he would jolt and spin round in his chair.

"Sorry. I thought there was someone there. Just paranoia. I'm paranoid all the time."

And what do you say? None of this was new to me. I have heard all too may similar tales of the dark places. There were the men from Long Kesh I met when researching 'Terrible Beauty'. Tales from the darkness told over slow pints in pubs on the Falls Rd and the Shankill. My Palestinian friend Ghazi, who was arrested and tortured twenty seven times by Assad's goons for the crime of being a school teacher and a poet. Busted up food parcel clients who fought the system and lost big time.

Too many beatings. Too much solitary. Too many humiliations. Too long in the dark. Out of sight and out of mind and so very lost.

It is how a life can turn. A few pints. A few pills. The idiocy of youth. A wallet in a breast pocket on a long lost Saturday night. One minute life is relatively normal....

And then all is dark. 

Maybe I am hopelessly naïve, but I actually have good vibes about Che's chances. He has discovered a well of decency which has actually been there all along. Many of the guys I have met who have spent months of their lives in solitary have found some Zen. Che has all the tools he needs to find his path. He has people skills which seem to surprise him. I reckon he'll find way more forgiveness than he is expecting to find.

He has a firm grip of the whole take each day as it comes thing. Hour by hour. 

I showed him how to use the calendar feature and his phone and his face lit up. With such technology literally at his finger tips, he could see a world where he wouldn't be late for an appointment. 

He says he'll keep calling in and I hope he does. I have zero training or qualifications. Only experience. A modest ability to shut up and listen. And never to judge. Never, ever to judge.

And sometimes not judging can actually be enough. 

Here's hoping.   

Thursday, July 5, 2018


International sport makes for really interesting litmus paper for any immigrant. So who are you going to support? The team from your new place or the team for you old place. And at times there can be all kinds of contradictions.

My brother in law Alan is sports daft to his toenails. To his eternal shame, is greatest sporting allegiance will always be to Manchester United. He was sucked over to the dark side as a young boy and I fear he will never escape from the demonic grip of football's very own version of Mordor.

When England take the field to play Sweden on Saturday, he will be well ensconced in a Lancaster pub, pint in hand, and ready and raring to roar on the Three Lions. 

But here's the thing. When the same three lions take to the field wearing cricket whites tom play the West Indies, Alan's Caribbean roots completely take over. He simply couldn't comprehend the idea of supporting England when they play the West Indies at cricket.

Over my twenty five year journey to Scottishness, I have dipped the litmus paper a few times. Like Alan, club football trumps any other allegiance. In my case it is Liverpool Football Club where I have been lucky enough to have been a season ticket holder since 1973. Unlike Alan, I am with the good guys. Let's just say we have a few pretty heated conversations, but it has never come to blows. Thankfully! Nobody in their right mind would want to come to blows with my brother in law Alan.

And now? Well the litmus paper tells me I have gone more or less 100% native. When England play Scotland at anything, I am instinctively in the blue corner. I cheered when Scotland beat England at cricket and rugby over the last few months. And I was completely and utterly gutted when Harry Kane got his injury time equaliser up at Hampden.

So do I still support England at anything? Well occasionally, yes. Absolutely in the Ashes. Reasonably whole heartedly if the All Blacks are the opposition on the rugby field.

Other than that? Not so much.

This World Cup? I am mainly indifferent. That said, I like the England team and their manager and I am made up by the fact that a third of the squad is made up of mixed race lads like my two sons. There are two Liverpool lads in the squad, so obviously I want things to go well for them. But I feel exactly the same for Bobby Firmino and Brazil, Degan Lovren and Croatia, Sadio Mane and Senegal and Mo Salah and Egypt.

When I sat down to watch England take on Colombia, I was pretty much indifferent. I couldn't help but warm to the in your face skulduggery of the South Americans and their fans were brilliant, especially when compared to the English fans who seemed to be mainly angry bald men running through a playlist of songs extolling the virtues of Brexit.

At least it made a change from the IRA.

When Harry Kane buried his penalty, I felt no urge to punch the air. I wasn't up or down. Merely indifferent.

Then came the penalty shoot out once again I wasn't remotely bothered either way.

And then our Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson took the long walk and I was suddenly invested. For Christ's sake Jordan, don't miss...

He missed.


And now I had skin the game. If England lost, the tabloids would lay into him like a bunch of rabid hyenas which would very possibly screw him for next season.

Well Colombia missed two and England scored two and all of a sudden a surprisingly open road to the final opened up for the Three Lions and their bald, Brexit loving acolytes. 

So how do I feel now? Well now my Indy instincts have kicked in and I hope they go all the way. Just think about it. Imagine the sight of every right wing bald man in every white English van flying the Cross of St George whilst at the same time flicking V signs at Pakistani pedestrians. How long will it be before someone decides the time is right to fly Spitfires over London.

Raging English nationalism is never a good look. On these islands of ours, the Celts know how to turn national fervour into something the rest of the world likes to buy into. Our flags and songs are tailor made for it. 'Flower of Scotland', 'Land of my fathers', 'The fields of Athenry'. All good stuff. 

'God save our gracious Queen', 'Land of hope and glory...'. Yeah. Not so much so, right?

Think about all those hard to get Better Together Unionists. Moral and economic arguments are never going to tip them over the line. Fairness arguments are never going to tip them over the line. Never ending Tory arrogance and nastiness in London never seems to nudge them any nearer to crossing the line.

But the sight of all those white vans and all those red and white flags hanging from the windows...

Well I reckon it might just do it. And just imagine if by some miracle England actually won the thing. Imagine how utterly insufferable they would be. The Spitfires and cheering Tories who have never been to a football match in their lives.

Oh yeah....

That would do it. I reckon support for an Independent Scotland would go over 60% in the weeks and months following and English World Cup triumph.

So this particular immigrant would very much like to see his old country manage the seemingly impossible for a very simple reason - this particular immigrant would like a passport bearing the name of his new place.

En - ger - land!  En - ger - land! ENG - ER - LAND!

But when it comes to flicking V signs at Pakistani pedestrians …. well I think I will have to draw a line at that one.