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.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


First Base. A foodbank in the small town of Dumfries in the South West of Scotland. I guess we are pretty far from the madding crowd. At night, the winter skies sparkle with stars. When we breathe, the air hits our lungs like it's come straight out of an oxgyen tank. We barely have traffic lights. The hills which look down on us give off an air of seen it all before.

Nothing much happens here to trouble the evening news. Does this mean we are one of those 'left behind' places? Not really. We were never really anywhere much in the first place. Like Paul Newman once said in 'Cool Hand Luke', "Ah you know... small towns... nothing much happens in the evenings ... I guess mainly we're just settling old scores."

Yet a food bank in a small town can be a place where you can see the world we live in every bit as clearly as we can see the vast unpoluted night skies above us. The good and the bad. The hopeful and the hopeless. The reasons for cheer and the reasons for weary despair. All of it. The full spectrum.

All of it played out over the course of two days in a food bank in a small Scottish town.

Our peeling walls provide a back drop for hundreds of micro dramas. Mini tragedies. Unnoticed lives tossed onto an ever growing refuse heap. And yet every now and then the very same peeling walls witness spectacular generosity. Moments of inspiration. Moments of genuine hope.

So I'll start with the upside. The picture at the top of the page.


You know what, if this world of ours was filled with people like Daisy it would be a better place. A million times better. We first met Daisy five years ago. I guess she must have been six at the time. She came in with her mum on a cold day in November. She had watched the news one night and been moved by stories about people with nowhere to live and nothing to eat. She wanted to do something. To make things better. Especially for children whose lives were so much harder than her life.

But what can you do when you are six years old? When you live in a quiet Scottish town far away from the evening news? Simple. You do what you can. And Daisy did what she could. She did everything in her power. Every week she put away her pocket money and when the time was right, she bought advent calendars. For children who wouldn't be getting an advent calendar. For children who wouldn't be getting much at all. The children she had seen on the news.

And she brought the advent calendars into First Base.

Yesterday she came in to us again. For the fifth year in a row. And our peeling walls smiled down at the latest version of Daisy. And when you see someone with a heart the size of Daisy's heart, it is impossible not to imagine pictures of how the world could be if everyone had a heart the size of Daisy's heart.

It would be quite a place. A different place. A better place. A place where everyone looks at the problems of our world and makes a simple, straight forward decision. I want to make things better. How? I will do what I can. Like Daisy.

I think the word is inspirational, don't you?

But for every shaft of sunlight there are vast banks of clouds. Not particularly stormy and dramatic. Just grey. Just soul draining.

There has been an easily recognised common thread over the last couple of days. In the food bank. In front of the back drop of peeling walls. Muffled figures with pale faces. Troubled eyes. Insecurity. Fear. Broken minds.

Let's go back a bit. Our first seven years. The world before the so called Welfare Reforms. Pre austerity times. It suddenly seems a long time ago.

There was a prevailing pragmatism which nobody actually admitted to, but everyone signed up to. It went something like this. There is always a percentage of the population who lack the mental tools to make it. Once upon a time we found places for them. The lad on the factory floor who swept up. The lad on the farm who helped out. The girl in the hair dressers who made the tea and did the odds and sods. And when there was an annual outing, they would be a part of it. And when there was a Christmas Party, they would be there with everyone else. And of course they had no need of benefits. They were on the payroll. They were a part of things. They had their place.

Once. And then the world moved on and productivity targets meant no more passengers. High paid fat trimmers made such roles redundant. Mechanisation rendered them obselete. And one by one, they were nudged out of things. By accident rather than design, the State got it. Figured it out. Saw the need to be pragmatic. And so it was those whose brains were not quite right for the modern world were quietly signed onto the sick. Fair enough, they didn't exactly live high on the hog. But at least they could just about get by. It wasn't great. But it kind of worked. Kind of.

Until it stopped. Until the decision was taken to completely ignore the opinions of GP's and psychologists. Until new assessments were created to deem everyone to be fit for work. Until complicated new online forms became the only road to having a penny to your name.

The cruelty of the new order is as cold as cruelty gets. It takes people who are already a bit broken and it breaks them some more. It makes demands they haven't a hope in hell of meeting. If you can barely read and write, how on earth can you nail a Universal Credit form in one go? How can you make your online case for help when you don't even know how to switch a computer on? How can you spend thirty hours a week filling in online applications for jobs you cannot possibly do when you can't even use a keyboard?

You can't. Of course you can't. And suddenly there are no more payments. And suddenly you were getting letters talking about eviction. And suddenly there is no money on the meter and the cupboards are empty. And the stress in your head morphs and spreads and grows. And the only solution to each new problem is yet another form which needs filling in with words you do not own.

And broken people become shattered people. And they come to us. To our peeling walls.

And what can we do? We can give them a bag of food. We can do our bit to keep body and soul together. We can do our best to help them to find a brave face. We do what we can, but let's be honest, it barely scratches the surface. And there are so many of these guys.

Here's a handful from the last few days. There's the lad we've been seeing for fifteen years now. Never the sharpest tool in the box. Once upon a time, the neighbours might have deemed him to be a bit slow. Perfect fodder for the playground bullies. No chance of keeping up in the classroom. He drifted into the arms of those who can smell vulnerabilty from a mile away. Heroin. A downward spiral. Until one day he was beaten all the way to gates of death. And his already struggling brain was rendered all but obselete.

He's never had a job. Could he actually do a job? It is hard to think of one. But maybe that is just me. Because the the powers that be have decided he's tip top. Locked and loaded. Ready and raring for work. Expected to abide by the demands of job seeking. And of course the powers that be know better than his GP and his psychologist. They have decided he needs a short, sharp shock. A kick up the backside. So they have taken everything away. Every penny. All of it. They have decided to break him for good.

Is this deliberate? Of course not. It is a crazy game which looks good on paper and falls apart in the cold reality of the real world. It is a pipe dream concocted by people living easy lives who choose to believe everyone is shirking. Pretenting. Fabricating. Cheating.

There was the lady with eyes layered with trauma. Unable to stand still. Unable to make any kind of eye contact. Unable to to say yes to the offer of coffee. Or tea. A back story to chill the bones. Hints of the very darkest of dark corners. Half finished sentences. But never whole sentences. Because to complete the sentence would mean going all the way back to the nightmare. Of being locked in a room and injected with heroin. Of visitors to the room. Male visitors. So many....

Sentences never finished, but her eyes tell the story. Her GP tries to cover the nightmares with thick blankets of medication. And she can read and write and count. She just can't do people. She just can't force herself to leave her flat for days on end. She just can't get on top of the fear which has sunk right down into the marrow of her bones.

There is the lady who was raped a few months ago. Suddenly unable to face a world which has changed forever. There are no sections in the forms she has filled in which cover the terrors. Can you walk up stairs? Can you get out of the bath on your own? Can you lift your arms above the level of your shoulders? Well there we are then. You're fine. You're good to go. Stiff upper lip old girl. Crack on.

So many broken people. And a system hell bent on breaking them some more. So called tough love. Aye right. Policies knocked together by idiots to meet promises made by idiots. And in the long run, breaking already broken people will cost us all countless billions but who gives a shit when all is said and done. Just so long as the Daily Mail is happy, right?

And in the mean time hundreds of thousands of people are being quietly tossed onto an ever growing scrapheap.

It is the world on the other side of the mirror to Daisy's world. A cold world. A brutal world. A world of forms. A world where quiet cruelty is doled out far from the public view. A world where hurting the vulnerable might just net a few votes in some marginal seat in the West Midlands.

And at times it is hard not to feel overwhelmed by it all. What will happen if things carry on like this? When the real winter sets in?

Time to go back to Monday morning. Still dark outside. A coffee and the online news. Check the e mails.

Bloody hell.

'Hi Mark

I'd like to make a gift to First Base to help you over the winter. Reason? Easy really, I'm not struggling but I know lots of people are and it breaks my heart.

I will be donating £10,000 to you but will have to ask my bank to do the transfer so would need an account number and sort code.'

Like I said. Bloody hell. By the end of the day the money was in our account. And the next day saw the arrival of a completed Gift Aid form which will turn into another £2500.

There was an Edinburgh phone number. I e mailed her and asked how it was someone in Edinbugh had decided to show such spectacular generosity of a small little charity in Dumfries.

'Hi Mark

I think I first read about your work when somebody on Twitter retweeted a link to your blog. The sheer scale of need seems overwhelming but the individual stories that you tell...well they kind of put in perspective the stark difficulties that people are having to deal with. I know all the other charities are helping folk in the same circumstances, but your words make a difference - you're not just shouting into the void!

You and your team are doing a great service, as are all the others. Wish it wasn't necessary and my hope is that in an independent Scotland we would be able to restore the safety net that is so desperately needed.'

Spoken like a grown up Daisy. And suddenly the peeling walls don't seem to matter so much.

What do you do when the world seems filled with overwhelming problems? Simple. You do what you can. And you keep on doing it.

Like Daisy.

Like our Edinburgh benefactor.

If you would like to give us a hand in doing what we do, you can find our Just Giving page by following the link below.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


OK. Here we go again. Frankland, the John Grisham wannabe takes a look at the world through the lens of pulp fiction. Well, what the hell? Free country and all that.

So. Time to set the scene. We're somewhere deep in 'deep state' Washington. Pannelled walls and very old scotch. Maybe even a disregard for any smoking regulations. Low lighting. Probably lots of old leather. A group of old men, long accustomed to being the quiet power in the land.

They have all been watching the results from the US Midterm elections roll in. They have all breathed a sigh of relief. The people of America have turned their nose up at the 'in the face' racism. The orange monstrosity in the White House has received a resounding kick in the balls and now he's smashing up the furniture.

And he's weak. Oh yeah. Is he ever weak.

The guys on the old leather have made fine careers out of sensing vulnerability. Kicking men when they are down. Deploying flesh shredding force. They are the purveyors of extreme prejudice.

Is it time to put the jumped up baffoon on his back? Yup. Sure is. High time. Long, long overdue.

Quiet chuckles. Relished mouthfuls of old, old scotch.

But they can't be obvious about it. Were they to emerge out of their shadows, the narrative could turn in the blink of an eye. The orange monstrosity has a feral sense of emerging threats. Being obvious would mean him leaping aboard Airforce One and flying out into the sticks to rail about the machinations of the Deep State. And the morons in the Make America Great Again hats would probably buy it. Hook, line and Goddam sinker.

So no. Being obvious isn't any kind of option. This thing needs to be covert. Quiet. No finger prints. No traces of DNA. A stiletto eased into soft flesh at the back of the ear. And straight into the brain.

Leaving barely a mark.

So they take a run through the weaknesses of the orange monstrosity. There are plenty to go at. Corruption. Dumbness. Isolation. Creeping dementia. It's a hell of a list.

And lies. Of course lies.

Lots and lots of lies. So many lies. His lies have lost any kind of novelty. Constant lying means nobody believes a word he speaks. Even when it's the truth.

Suddenly the debate is stopped in its tracks by a low chuckle from the corner of the room. A gaunt face and a body well into the last knockings. Eighty six years on the clock. Sixty five years of time served in the darkest of the dark corners. Vietnam and Laos and El Salvador and Nigaragua and Panama and Kosovo and Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

"You know what guys, the dumb motherfucker's been crying wolf. And we all know what happened to the boy who cried wolf, right?"

They do know. And in a matter of minutes the plot is flesh on the bones. Just so long as the forecasted weather plays ball.

A hotel in Paris. The orange monstrosity is catching some last TV before being choppered to the US Military cemetery at Belieu Wood where a hundred years earlier the Dough Boys learned all about the realities of the Great War.

Everyone is giving him a wide berth. He's like an unexploded bomb, cursing the faces on the TV. Cursing the election results. Cursing the day he won the race everyone promised him he would lose. Cursing everything and everyone he can think of to curse.

He's suddenly aware of the suited man at his side. Two hundred pounds of toned muscle. Death in a nice suit. Cropped hair and square features.

Mr President, we have a problem. The weather is too bad for Marine One to fly. Too much rain. Too much fog. And if we drive...... Well. It's 55 miles and we cannot guarantee your security. Not at such short notice...

The orange monstrosity doesn't take a lot of convincing. He hates going any where near heavy rain. Heavy rain threatens the hold of his hair spray and that would be a nightmare beyond all others.

So, fine. Fuck it. If that's the way it is, that's the way it is. He snaps open another can of Diet Coke and resumes his tirade at the motherfuckers on the TV.

Two days pass and the motherfuckers on the TV start to take him apart with a thousand cuts. They talk about true colours. They jog the nation's memory of his draft dodging. They revel in the memory of him using his wealth and connections to stay clear of the jungles of Vietnam. They play clips of him attacking kneeling NFL superstars for disrespecting the veterans. They play clips of him going on and on and on and on about how much he loves and respects the men and women who have fought to keep America safe.

And now? Well now the draft dodging coward can't be bothered to stand and respect the Marines who a hundred years earlier had fought and died in the hell of Belieu Wood. He prefered to stay in his room and watch TV. 

Why? Because it was raining! 

All over America guys in their MAGA hats feel suddenly confused. Why is their guy suddenly making like such an asshole? They're all good with the racism and the women hating. I mean, duh? Corruption? Who gives a shit. Russia? Who gives a shit.

But this? Staying home and disrespecting veterans because of a bit of rain? 

No way.

And in the bars in the towns where there used to be coal mines and steel mills, the talk starts to turn ugly for the orange monstrosity. Talk of him making like a pussy assed sonofabitch. Talk of him making like some rich kid motherfucker from Queens. 

And of course the orange monstrosity jumps out in front of the cameras to explain what had actually happened. It wasn't the rain! It was the secret service guys! They insisted! They couldn't guarantee security....

He cries wolf. And the harder he tries to say this time he isn't lying, the more everyone assumes that is exactly what he is doing.

And the wolf bares its yellow teeth at the boy. And the boy wets himself in terror. Because nobody is coming. Not this time.

And in a fine old town house deep somewhere in Vermont, a face with 86 long years on the clock cracks into a satisified smile.

"Why are you smiling Grandpa?"

"Oh, I was just thinking a story my mother used to tell me. Have you ever heard about the little boy who cried wolf....."

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


The night we made our night drive to the worst place in the world, it was February cold. Ryan Air from Prestwick to Frankfurt Hahn. A fiver a head. And the airport was like being in a weird arthouse movie. Canned music and no people. An old Cold war US airbase made over German style for budget travellors. Like us.

We were the only punters at the line of car rental offices. And the sense of the surreal just kept rolling along. Wanna upgrade to a Jag for an extra ten Euros? Sure. Why not?

And then we were gliding east under a sky of glittering stars. The dashboard said it was minus 10 outside. Ever east in light traffic. An autobahn I had travelled in a another lifetime. In another world. Once upon a time I had driven the super smooth German tarmac all the way to the ark lights and razor fences of Eisenach. Smiling West German border guards. Unsmiling East German border guards. Through the Iron Curtain to a world of pot holes and chugging Trabants.

Now Eisenach was a gleaming service station and the smooth tarmac stretched all the way beyond Erfurt and Jena and Leipzig. And Gorlitz. And Chemnitz. Back in the day, Chemnitz had been Karl Marx Stadt. A crumbling, concrete manifestation of the slowly crumbling Bolshevik dream. Little did we know in a matter years Chemnitz would become the pin up town for a whole new generation of strutting Nazis. What goes around, comes around.

The autobahn went single carriageway for the last handful of miles to the Polish border. The road signs promised a hundred kilometres or so to Breslau. Which was a lie really. For there was no Breslau. Not any more. Not since 1945 when Hitler's last 'Fortress City' succumbed to the guns of the Red Army and mass rape. The Soviets were having none of Breslau. They renamed the place Wroclow and populated it with grey high rise blocks and Poles from the East.

The three in the morning border was kind enough for us. No fences or Alsation dogs. No watch towers or ark lights. And then a ten mile parked up queue of waiting wagons. Maybe it was sneak preview of what awaits us on 29 March 2019.

Potholes and no salt on the road. Odd cabin like bars gleaming puddles of light into the icy air. Glimpses of hard drinking HGV guys. Throat stripping vodka and trafficked girls from Moldova. Not a place to break down.

By four, my eyes didn't want to stay open any longer. A lay by and a couple of hours of sleep in the the Jaguar's cocoon of warmth. I opened my eyes onto a steel grey dawn and silver birches and a world of flat nothing.

An hour to the belching smoke stacks of Katowice. And then more surreal. A McDonalds gleamed in the wall to wall grey. And we were from Mars. A mixed race family in a Jag.

And suddenly were into the last few miles to the worst place in the world. There was no fanfare. No signs to speak of.

Just a small turn off. 'Osweicim'.


Light traffic in the grey early morning light. A pedestrian here and a pedestrian there. Crumbling apartment blocks and vast industrial estates and no clue as to the whereabouts of the worst place in the world. And it's not the kind of place you stop a well wrapped pedestrian to ask for directions. Not when you're in a Jag. Not when you own not a word of Polish.

A sign at last. Small. Unloved. 'Holocaust Museum'

Only a kilometre. Hidden away amidst all the factories.

We parked up and wrapped up and walked through the most famous gates in history.

'Arbeit Macht Frei'

We stood it for two hours. A gas chamber. A crematorium. Vast piles of suitcases and spectacles. The wall where 20,000 were executed. The railway siding in Birkenau where life and death was chosen for thousands a day.

Fences and watch towers and accommodation blocks and a bone chilling wind from the East. Well of course it was from the East. Where the hell else was it going to come from?

I have a memory of just standing there on the ground were so many had walked their last. I smoked and tried to absorb a brutal truth. We would have been on one of those trains. A mixed race family. An abhomination to the Nazi goons. An affront. I would have been guilty of committing a heinous crime against the purity of my race. And Carol would have been classified as a subhuman. And Dyonne and Courtney would have been deemed to be mongrels.

And for our sins we would have been stripped and gassed and incinerated. Four more souls in the midst of five million.

Four more statistics in the place where racism morphed into genocide. The place where Coon and Nigger and Wog and Spade and Darkie and Paki and Yid and Rag Head and Haji mutated into Zyclon B and carefully curated statistics of the day's kill: the day's industrial kill. Flesh to ash.

And in case you're wondering, no, the birds didn't sing. Not a note. Not a cheep.

The worst place in the world left me infected. Contaminated. A monster in the cupboard. A creak on the stair in the dead of night. A bottomless terror waiting around a distant corner.

Waiting. Always waiting. Never dead. Always patient and ready and waiting for the next moment. The next manifestation. The next infestation.

It is the lesson of the worst place in the world. Never say never. Not ever. We have found cures for TB and Yellow Fever and Cholera and Typhoid and Aids. And one day will no doubt crack Cancer. But Racism? The dark cloud in the soul of humanity?

No chance.

And for the fifteen years since we drove away from the worst place in the world, the lights have been going out one by one. In the Philippines. In India. In Brazil. In Sweden. In Denmark. In Italy. In Poland and Hungary and France and Spain. In Holland and Belgium and Russia and Greece and Ukraine.

And in America.

And right here.

So called strogmen popping out of the ground like poisonous weeds. Duterte and Mohdi and Erdovan and Putin and Urban and Bolsonaro and Farage and Tommy fucking Robinson. Hate for breakfast. Dog whistles and death squads. Lackeys for the 1%.

And of course the daddy of them all. Trump.

So laughable. So pathetic in all his preening stupidity. The butt of a million jokes a day. An orange monstrosity, but surely too much of a clown to do any real harm? Surely?

But the men who built the worst place in the world were once jokes themselves as they goose stepped and preened in their silly clothes.

Trump is their mutated spawn. The puffed up, pathetic strutting vanity of Mussolini. The venal, sweating, bottomless corruption of Goering. And Hitler's Satanic ability to turn pond life into a cult following. Whilst the world laughed, the 1% bankrolled these joke figures all the way to fifty million dead. Hilter had Krupps and BMW and Mercedes to sign the cheques. Trump has Lockheed and the Koch brothers. Hitler had his very own poisonous elf called Josef Goebbels. Trump has Bannon.

Everything has been road tested. When a handful of oligarchs are hell bent on stealing the wealth of the world, they need a useful idiot to distract the masses with a tsunami of hate. And if people can be induced to spend their every waking hour hating the Niggers and the Spades and the Coons and the Wogs and the Pakis and the Yids and the Rag Heads, they won't notice the fact that sixty people now own more than half of the world. Of course they wont't. They never do.

All of which brings me to tonight. Another agonising sit through the small hours before the dawn. The Midterms. Maybe the last chance to turn the tide. Maybe the last chance for enough people to remember the better angels of their nature. Maybe the last chance to stop a the poisonous tide which is rising all over the world.

And I'm dreading it. There have been far to many desperate nights over the last few years. IndyRef. Brexit. Trump. Triumphant, fist pumping racists wrapped in the wrong flags. And so called experts wondering how such a thing could have happened. And dawn breaking on a darker world. A world a few miles closer to the worst place in the world.

Will tomorrow bring yet another dark dawn? More memories of a smoked Camel on a railway siding where once some were allocated life and others allocated death?

Will my skin once again crawl with a gnawing feeling of coming doom? The feeling of being a mixed race family in the midst of a world turning to the dark side. A family deemed to be wrong and impure and sinful and abbhorant. A family to be blamed and hated and spat at. My two sons classified as mongrels. Sub humans. Responsible for every problem in the lives of millions.

And of course everyone will put on brave smiles and say of course it can't happen again. Of course they will. I wonder if they have ever smoked a Camel on the cracked stones of that Birkenau railway siding? I wonder if they have ever stared through the ice cold air to bare trees and mute birds?

Tonight could be the tipping point. It could be the moment when evil is stopped in it's tracks. Or it could be the night when the world slides quietly into a new dark age.

In the bleak grey of tomorrow's dawn, our small mixed race family might well be pinning our futures on a sanctuary called Scotland. The Switzerland for the twenty first century.

But right now the only voices in my head belong to the witches of Macbeth.

'By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.....'

Thursday, November 1, 2018


First Base have never followed the most common food bank model. Most of our fellow travellors do their thing something like this. They gather in all of their food donations from the public and then they divvy them up as best as they can. This tends to get done before the doors are opened. At the same time, a queue slowly forms at the door. If the doors are due to be opened up at ten o'clock, people might start arriving before nine.

First come, first served, right? And if you happen to be at the end of the queue, there is every chance you will go away empty handed. A cup of tea and genuine, heart felt apologies from a volunteer who wishes things were different.

Of course the media love this model. Why wouldn't they? It means they can dispatch a grave faced reporter to film a line of shivering human misery on a sub zero February morning.

Hushed, shocked voice.....

" ...... this is what Austerity really looks like....... I'm going to have a word with Gerry here..... Gerry, how do you feel about having to queue for two hours to get something to eat......."

Gerry tosses his roll up to the floor. Gerry rolls words around his brain. Gerry wonders how to say it without recourse to about five 'fuckings' per sentence. Gerry would love to use both barrels but knows he can't.

So Gerry just acts beaten

Like I said. What's not to like? Lines of cold looking people waiting on their tins of beans.

This isn't a model we have ever fancied signing up to. The idea of making our clients queue up on Buccleuch St is too rich for our blood. Never going to happen.

So we do things differently. We have a set list of items for each of the food parcels we issue. The items are designed to be enough for three meals a day for half a week. Fair enough, it's not gourmet. And fair enough, it would probably give an HNS nutritionist a duck fit. But we try to make sure there is enough. Our greatest goal is never turn anyone away. As in never. We have never turned anyone away in fifteen years and we don't plan to start anytime soon.

So how do we run our railroad? Well it is hardly complicated. As well as touting for food donations we also tout for cash donations. We fill in loads of application forms and we seek the support of the community. One way or another, we have always managed to come up with the cash we need to buy in the extra food we need.

This time last year we were spending £1000 a month on bought in food. This year it is £2000 a month. It stings a bit, but we're getting by. Back in the day, the process of buying in was something of a mission. It meant a trip to Lidl and the use of three trolleys. You can maybe imagine the comments we would get from the poor buggers behind us in the queue as we checked out north of 500 tins and packets. Oh yeah. Lots of dark muttering.

And then a whole new world emerged. Tesco deliveries. And what a brave new world it is. I can now log onto our account and order up 500 tins and packets in less than five minutes. The service is actually truly remarkable. We can set our clocks by the lads on the vans. They are never late and they always go the extra mile when it comes to giving a lift. It has to be said, Tesco's HR department are bloody brilliant at recruiting top lads to drive their vans.

We have a 'delivery saver' pass which means we pay about 50p per delivery which quite frankly is ridiculous. I guess their system never really considered a customer who would be ordering ten deliveries per month. Ah well. Such is life!

So all is rosy in the garden, right? If only!

When I run through the process of placing an online delivery, the half way point is the 'Substitutions' section. Here is what they say


If an item is unavailable on the day of your delivery, our pickers can select a comparable alternative for you.

If you don't want to keep the item we have chosen, simply hand it back to the driver for a full refund.


Even if we offer a more expensive alternative, you will not pay more than the price of the original item.

Pretty good, right? Britain's biggest grocer is determined to see its customers right, even if it hits them in their rather large pockets. That's what you call proper service.

There is a key sentence which comes next. This one.


And then comes the dreaded box which needs to be ticked before a customer gets the chance to bask in the glow of Tesco generosity. If you don't tick the box, then tough. Read the small print sucker! This sentence isn't exactly written in big, bold letters. You need to be a small print savvy punter to notice the rather unimposing box which needs a tick. Am I being a little cynical here? Am I wrong in wondering if Tesco actually would rather its treasured customers glided along without noticing the all important 'substitutes' box? Maybe. Probably. I usually am.

Anyway there are no flies to be found on First Base. It didn't take us long to spot the small print and tick the box. We ticked every box we could find. Substitutions? Bring 'em on boys.

So. All's good, right? Well not quite. It seems Tesco feel no need to honour their promise of 'a more expensive alternative' in our case. In fact they never seem to want to offer any alternative at all. So if we place an order for 99 packets of instant mashed potato we count ourselves lucky if 30 packets actually turn up.

Have we questioned this? You bet we have. I've lost count of how many hours of my life have been spent being bounced around all corners of the Tesco empire. And everyone I talk to agrees we really should be receiving substitutions, regardless of cost. And everyone I talk to promises the issue will be looked into and investigated and examimed. And everyone I talk to promises they are genuinely sorry I'm less than happy with my customer experience. They are all very, very nice. And every time I put the phone down I am suckered into thinking maybe this time......

And nothing ever happens. Ever. Our deliveries just get lighter and lighter. We order £200 worth of stuff and less than £50 worth of stuff actually turns up. Oh it turns up on time. And the drivers are always emabarrassed about the thin pickings they are bringing.

And there are never any substitutions.

Well, yesteray the excelled themselves. Yesterday they added insult to injury.

This is the week when things have taken off for us. It happens every year. A cold snap arrives and the moment of truth arrives for people who have had their heating switched of since the arrival of spring. It is the moment they realise daily standing charges have put their gas meters into serious arrears. So when they stump up for a tenner's worth of gas, they only actually get 50p worth of heat on the meter.

Which means their tight budget is completely screwed. Which means it is time to ask themselves the dreaded 'heating or eating' quastion. And the weather man says it will be minus three over night.

Many people tick the 'heating' box and make their way to us for some food to tide them over until they can clear the arrears and set a new budget.

It means I have 100 food parcels to deliver today.

But First Base are old hands at this game. We watched the weather forecast and duly noted the promise of two nights when the temperature in Dumfries and Galloway was predicted to bottom out at minus three. We knew exactly what was coming next.


Time to do the Boy Scout thing and be prepared. Time to log on to and slap in a big, fat order. We maxed out on several items. 'Maxed out' means no more than 99 of any item.

One such item was 99 tins of 'value' spaghetti hoops at 21p per tin.

I paid up and cracked on. The order was for 11 am yesterday and the van turned up exactly on time. Just like always. Like I said, the service is second to none.

At 11.05 am I received a text from Iain. Could I head for Lidl and strip their shelves of tinned spaghetti. Tesco had fallen short. He needed a whole bunch of tins to make up the 100 parcels I will be delivering today.

So it was Lidl for me and a whole trolley of spaghetti hoops. Just like the old days.

When I arrived at First Base, Iain's face was wearing a made in Kilmarnock cynical grin as he handed me the Tesco invoice.

I duly read through looking for the cause of his expression.

It wasn't hard to find.

Value spaghetti hoops. Ordered – 99. Delivered – 0.


Holy bloody Christ!!! A substitution!!! After all the years. After all the phone calls. After all the minutes and hours of canned music and soothing, assuring voices.....

The day had finally come. The big moment. Our big moment. A breakthrough.


Substitutions .......

One half can of Heinz spaghetti hoops.

99 cans ordered. One half can delivered.

One half can.

I know you Tesco guys say every little helps, but half a bloody can......

A couple of hours later I popped into the store to check out the spaghetti stocks on the shelves.

Let's just say there was no kind of shortage. Yeah. Let's just say that.

It rather seems we were on the wrong end of a token gesture.

Does every little actually help? When there are 100 food parcels to make up? Not really guys. I actually wonder what on earth went through the head of whoever made the call to send us half a can in lieu of an order for 99 cans.

I have tried to think it through from all angles and I still don't have any kind of a clue. Maybe it is simply and effort to stick to the very letter of the 'every little helps' mantra.


If you want to give First Base a helping hand in meeting the demands of the coming winter, you can find our JustGiving page by following the link below.