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.

Monday, December 24, 2018


You know when you're at some kind of function and it is time for the speeches. And then it becomes clear the time has arrived for some poor sap to run through a list of thankyous. Yeah? The speaker knows only too well the audience is switching off like the British power supply circa 1974. Everyone appreciates the fact the thankyous need to be said. Of course they do. The problem is the process always involves copious amounts of boredom for all concerned.

So the speaker and the audience grit their collective teeth and find a way to get through it. Even the ones who are being thanked wish there was a way not to have to sit through being thanked.

Well, this is the situation I find myself here right now. Outside the field is shrink wrapped in frost and the sky is gleaming blue. Dog walking looks like a whole lot better Christmas Eve pastime thann blogging. However certain facts are unavoidable which means the key board needs to be hammered for the next hour or so.

Bare bone facts. On December 1, the First Base storage basement had the look and feel of a post Brexit supermarket. Swinging a cat would not have presented any kind of challenge. We could have happily swung Top Cat and the whole of his crew. I was slamming in daily online orders to Tesco and receiving dribs and drabs in return. Filling the required number of food parcels for any given day meant trawling round the shelves of Lidl and Aldi and Bookers to gather up the neccessary items.

And now? Well let's just say cat swinging has become a significant challenge. Our basement has gone from dismally thin to wall to wall packed.

In cold, hard numbers about £6000 worth of donated food has made its way to us over the last three weeks. Time and again I have pulled up with yet another stuffed van load and been met with rueful grins from Iain and Jason. Will it go in? Nae bother. And one way or another, they have found a way to stow away every tin and packet. The lads certainly need to be the recipients of the first vote of thanks. Believe me, the First Base basement is hardly the most cushty place of work, especially in the damp depths of December. The heating arrangements are similar to a Siberian labour camp and if I am honest, the space is ideal for any filmmaker looking to shoot a dark dungeon scene. Dami and Anne also need an honourable mention for the time they have spent in our in house fridge.

Rather than a tedious list, I think it might be better to throw you a few snapshots. But first, maybe a short overview.

When the Christmas period arrives, all kinds of familiar images and traditions are dusted off and stuck out on display. Peaople spend fortunes to stick illuminated reindeer shaped lights out on the lawn. When exactly did these Northern animals find their way into Christmas tradition? I guess it must have been at about the same time as the Santa myth fleshed out into a big guy in a red suit with a flying sleigh who could defy the laws of time and physics to make his way up and down endless millions of chinmeys without once getting any soot in his beard.

I am always pleased by the sudden appearances of lots of donkey images as the festive period arrives. As as donkey owner myself, I am more than happy to see lots of big ears on seasonal cards and wrapping paper. This is a busy time of year for donkeys. I Googled the bible coverage of Christ's birth to track this down a bit. It seems Mary made her way to Bethlehem on a donkey and it joined her in the stables for the big moment. I guess things would have been different if Christ had been born a couple of thousand years later and Mary had made her way through the Israeli army check points of the Occupied Territories on the bus. Would the cards have been adorned with images of a battered Palestinian bus rather than cuddly looking donkeys? Maybe not.

So where am I going with this? Well it seems to me this has been the year where foodbanks have joined the Christmas narrative along with donkeys, holly, robins, reindeer, snowmen, Slade, Bing Crosby, miseltoe and Myrrh.

We have become part of the story along with the sales figures from Marks and Spencers and the evening news taking notice of tents in doorways. We are the modern day version of the the Christmas Carol. People look at the their own abundant Christmases and spare a thought for those who dread the thin pickings they are about to offer their kids. Thirty years ago Bob Geldof steered the nation's instincts to millions of starving Ethiopians. This year the sympathy is headed closer to home. To us. To the foodbanks.

And believe you me, we are well and truly thankful. Long may it continue.

So. Snapshots.

I'll start with Daisy. 

Six years ago a five year old Daisy came in to see us with her mum. She had saved all her pocket money for several months and used it to buy advent calenders for kids less lucky than her. Well this year Daisy was back. For the sixth year in a row. How about that?

A young lad working in the storeroom of the Dumfries Tesco. Eleven cages of food to load into my long wheelbase hire van as the grey rain lashed the tarmac. Not a great gig, but the smile never left his face. He was chuffed to bits there was so much. He couldn't get over how generous people had been. One lad of nine had filled a whole trolley. Not one of the small ones, one of the big yins..... 

An evening training session for the young players of Greystone Rovers Football Club. Under tens I guess. The coach had shelled out on thirty of so selection boxes for his squad. Before he got the chance to hand them out, the players held an inpromptu Parliament and voted unanimously for a different narrative. They asked him if he would mind taking the selection boxes into the foodbank. They would be getting lots of stuff. Other kids were in greater need.

A call with Sharon, the journalist on the Dumfries Standard who every year co-ordinates the collection of toys for kids in Dumfries and Galloway who otherwise would not be marked down for a visit from Santa. She gets lists of names from the social work department and a number of charities. And this year the list had soared to over 800.

Over 800.

In a region of 150,000 people 800 is a scary number. And these are the ones where the poverty has become public. How many more will go presentless behind closed doors of embarrasment and shame? She shuddered to think. And she did what she could. Again.

A £100 cheque accompanied by a brief note. A mother's donation in memory of a lost daughter.

Standing with the staff of Tescos Annan and trying to work out if all the food could be carried in one trip. Not a prayer. Not with so much. How come so much?

The travelling community. The 'foodbank nomination challenge'. A phenomenon which started in England and spread north. One traveller would fill up a trolley for the foodbank and then nominate a fellow traveller to do the same. And so on and so on until a hired long wheelbase tranny van was not enough to haul it all in a single trip.

Iain coming up the stairs and dropping a handful of envelpes on the table along with a bemused smile.

"People just keep giving me these."

A young lad from the India Palms takeaway on Glasgow Road. What could he do to help? How's about some curries? Nae bother pal. I'll bring in fifteen chicken curries and fifteen portions of pilau rice. And he did.

The supporters of Queen of the South. Two full van loads....

I could go on and on but I won't.

Instead I will cut to the chase. Millions of people will have a pretty lousy day tomorrow. There will be no piles of presents under beautifully decorated trees. There will be no steaming turkeys lifted from the oven. Instead there will be barely any heat and fridges filled with nothing much. Thankfully the community gets this and the community has come through with flying colours and then some.

What a contrast to the school yard bickering we have had to witness in the House of Commons.

Like night and day. Like a fifteen pound turkey and a microwaved tin of beans.

So thanks to absolutely everyone who has taken a moment to spare a thought fro the people we do our best to help. Each and every one of you.

Have a good one.

Saturday, December 1, 2018


For some months now our wonderful leaders in London have been ordering us all to make preparations for a hard Brexit on 29 March 2019. Like an obedient Scottish subject, I did as I was told and took a look at how our little foodbank might feed the 50,000 citizens of Dumfries in the days and weeks after the Tesco shelves being stripped bare.

Aye right. We like to think we are a pretty good foodbank, but we're not geared up to plug the hunger holes once the streets are filled with tear gas and marauding mobs. Our basement would be stripped bare in half an hour flat.

Once I had done my duty as a foodbank manager in London's last colony, I turned my attention closer to home. For well over ten years I have made full use of my rights as a citizen of the European Union to tap into the single market where free movement of goods, services, money and people is very much allowed. This has meant me moving freely from Dumfries to the French/Belgian border to load up on tobacco at a third of the price it goes for in Tesco.

Basic maths make the trip a no brainer. Last week I bought 250 50g packs of tobacco for £1750. Had I bought the same here in Dumfries, it would have set me back £5750. As in a saving of £4000. The costs of my free movement? Fuel £70 and a Christmas Special Offer Channel Tunnel ticket at £25.

My long term plan? Well I guess from a Hard Brexit to an Indpendent Scotland will take five or six years, so a couple of trips will be required, hopefully before the House of Commns squabbling strips another 10% off the value of the pound.

Fair enough, it's a long drive. 900 miles in all. But it has its upsides. It provides some time to allow the brain to drift as the slow hours of the night roll by. A talking book. Playlists. A steady stream of coffee.

And a few snap shots of Brexit England.

My route took me over the Pennines from Penrith to Scotch Corner and then all the way down through the eastern heartlands of Brexit. Farage country bathed in the the light of a near full moon.

When I fled Blackburn's cancerous racism and headed north nearly thirty years ago, I never would have guessed how the signs at Gretna would come to affect me. Now when I see 'Welcome to England' I feel like I am entering a foreign land. A land I used to know once upon a time. A land I grew up in and was a part of. But not any more. Have I left England or has England left me? Who knows? I certainly don't. This feeling is nothing new when it comes to London and the south. As a born and bred Lancastrian, I never had much time for the Thatcherite heartlands of the Home Counties. As I lived out my formative years in the 70's and 80's, it was all about us and them. Us the north, them the south. And we were branded 'the enemy within'.

Back then I would never have believed I would lose my instinctive affinity for the mill towns of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Well, how wrong I would have been. Now as a New Scot, I watch the motorway exit signs with a sense of detachment. Blackburn, Burnley, Accrington, Halifax, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Wakefield, Wigan, Bolton. They are like a bunch of pals I was once a part of when we were in the third form at school and making a misery out of the lives of our teachers. And then? And then they went one way and I went another. I went north to become a New Scot and they stayed put and signed on the dotted line for the EDL. I chose the world according to Tommy Sheridan. They opted for Tommy Robinson. And if an invitation to a school reunion ever dropped through the letterbox, I would bin it like Troy election leaflet.

Ironically my moonlit glide through the Brexit heartlands had a soundtrack from those heady days of the 80's when the North had been loud and proud in an ultimately doomed fight against the forces of raging Thatcherism. There had been a genuine unity for a while. But her victory poisoned the well. Northerners grew weary of blaming their ills on Eton dominated boardrooms. Instead they turned on the strangers in their midst. The Pakistanis and the Poles. The others. And nobody wanted to hear what the likes of Tony Benn had to say any more. Instead they dumbed all the eay down to Tommy Robinson. And when Jo Cox was murdered in broad daylight on a West Yorkshire steet, it wasn't even surprising any more.

I crossed the Thames just after midnight and the lights of London glittered all the way to the horizon and beyond from towering heights of the Queen Elizabeth bridge. And now all the road signs led to the pin up towns of Brexit England. Thurrock and Clacton and Southend on Sea. Places where lads at the bar still wear their leave vote as a badge of some kind of bizarre honour. And what if 29 March brings chaos and empty shelves? Who gives a shit. Just so long as the bastard Poles go home. And the Pakis. And the Ragheads.

The M25 became the M20 and the tunnel was less than fifty miles away. And I entered the longest stretch of road works I have ever seen. Forty long miles of flashing '50' signs and tens of thousands of plastic bollards. The on the ground reality of building the biggest lorry park in the world in readiness for the mayhem of 29 March 2019. Making Operation Stack an every day thing.

One in the morning.

Maidstone Services. Time for a coffee and a couple of hours kip before checking in for the 6.15 crossing.

The car park was overflowing with white vans and guys in Hi Viz jackets. These were the guys tasked with getting the world's greatest lorry park ready to roll for 29 March 2019. And in the silver light of the November moon, they presented a perfect snapshot of the puffed up bullshit of Brexit England. Why? Becausre there was barely an English voice to be heard. Instead the service area echoed with the sound of voices from the plains of Central Europe. And there it was. The truly pitiful truth of the cretins in the Palace of Westminster. The reality of their Brexit dream meant borrowing money from the Chinese to pay thousands of Polish workers to build the greatest lorry park in the world. Would they be able to build their lorry park with born and bred English workmen? Not in a million years.


Fifteen or so hours later. Under the Channel and back again. A catch up with and old pal from university in a small Essex town. A storm was building. The bare trees bent in the growing gale. The high street was deserted and the gutters were on time and a half. A timbered pub with a blazing log fire. Not so many drinkers had ventured out.

My round. I tried to settle up with a Scottish twenty only to be met with a blank look from the bar maid.

"Can't take that. No Scottish money."

My mate asked why such a thing should be and she simply shrigged and said her boss had told her no Scottish.


I pulled out my TSB debit card and asked if she was OK with it, what with TSB's head office being in Edinburgh and all? This provoked a moody shrug. The card reader said yes. My pal was surprised to hear that Scottish money is getting ever harder to spend in Brexit England. Slowly but surely we are joining the ranks of the others. The Poles and the Pakistanis and the Muslims and the Refugees and the Romanians.

And the Scots.

A little after five in the afternoon the next day, I drove past the 'Welcome to Scotland' sign as the now fully fledged storm threatened to flip over high sided wagons. When I got home I switched on my computer to check messages. The day's viral video demanded my attention like a screaming child in a supermarket. A fifteen year old Syrian refugee in the playground of a Huddersfield school. Knocked to the ground and subjected to a mock waterboarding. Mocking laughter and a backdrop of grey skies. A snap shot of Brexit England. Pond life empowered by Farage's 'Breaking Point' fantasies.

Was the cold, ugly brutality of the bullying a surprise? Not in the least. It was the kind of thing which had driven us from Blackburn thirty years ago. Was it a surprise to hear Tommy Robinson had jumped all over the thing to dream up some fake news where the bullied lad was in fact a sexual predator? No. Not in the least.

Instead I was saddened to hear the city of Oxford had offered the family a place of sanctuary. I wasn't sad for the family of course. And I was delighted by Oxford's offer. It was the old Lancastrian in me which was saddened. The old Northerner. Saddened by the way the North has become a place of danger for anyone with the wrong colour of skin. A place where those at risk need to run from. A place of thickening darkness.

The dark heart of Brexit England.