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 12, 2020



A list of names and addresses.

And concrete from the 1970's.

Clues without back stories.

Leaving Care team.

Adult Social Care.

Care in the Community.


A list of the struggling. The broken.

Closes and Crescents and Avenues.

Nooks and crannies.

Cracked pavements and half hearted cats.

Dying weeds wrapping long dead sofas.

Where the winds of heroin once blew.

Where the concrete of the 1970's was once laid in hope.

As if.

But hindsight is a fine thing.

Some of the security doors work.

Most don't.

Beyond the pebble dash the stairwells crouch.

Bare and disinfected.

Stairs worn down by a million foot falls.

From Bay City Roller platforms

All the way to 50 Cent Nike.

Leaving the concrete of the 1970's

As eroded as the grey hills on the skyline.

Tired doors open up with a kind of fear.

Pallid faces.


Lights off. Sometimes the view through the door

Offers a glimpse of a life in chaos.

Sometimes everything is obsessively clean.

And there is hardly ever any light.

Curtains drawn tight.

The endless flicker of a 24/7 TV.

Lives entombed by the concrete of the 1970's.

Clues found in the eyes.

Fear or aggression or drain out.

Sometimes the glaze of cheap drugs.

Sometimes the faint gleam of madness.

Sometimes absolutely nothing.

An emptiness.

A blandness.

Worn down and lifeless as the concrete of the 1970's.

Things change in an instant once I say who I am.

The First Base guy.

The Food Bank guy.


Not an imminent threat.

Old normal, new normal, just normal.

A means to some kind of end.

A bringer of Pot Noodle.

Glimmers of smiles.

And sentences of thank you.

Before the tired doors click closed.

And I retrace my steps

Over the concrete of the 1970's.

Monday, November 2, 2020


I am writing these words in the last knockings of a grey Sunday morning. It is 1 November 2020. It is 11.45. Outside the window, the weak sunshine of the early morning is long gone. The wind becoming a gale. The rain will soon be horizontal. There is barely a leaf to be seen on the swaying trees.

And tomorrow is Monday. The start of another week. A week where so many things could change for better or for worse. A week which will go a long way to shaping the course of the rest of my life. And the lives of my sons. And the lives of my yet unborn grandchildren.

Might the coming week be the most important in my near sixty years on the planet? Well. Almost certainly not.

I guess there were three weeks when my life could have been changed and changed utterly.

April 1989. 

Not the whole week. The weekend in the middle of an unusually sunny month. On the night of 14 April, Carol and I got togther and we have stayed together ever since. A true life changer. Then on the afternoon of 15 April, I skirted the gates of death by the skin of my teeth. In the cages of the Leppings Lane Terrace.

Hillsborough. Sheffield. South Yorkshire. And I made it. 96 of my fellow Reds didn't. It was the only time in my life when mass death stared me in the face.

So, yeah. April 1989. My life went on, but it was changed. Changed utterly.

The first huge week of my life is one I have no memory of whatsoever. October 1962. I was closing in on my second birthday when Kennedy and Kruschev brough the world to within a few minutes of mass death. And a one year old me would no doubt have been on the list of tens of millions to perish. Preston was high up on the Soviet nuclear hit list and our little family would have been transformed into ash within a nano second had the Americans and Soviets chosen to press their buttons.

The second of my life and death weeks also passed without me having a clue that anything had even happened. Me and millions of others. In fact, me and pretty much the whole world. We're talking September 1983. I was a couple of weeks into my last year at Cambridge. On September 26th, the threat screen at a Soviet early warning station lit up like Blackpool illuminations. The computer had sensed multiple American nukes headed for the Soviet Union and the doomsday clock was ticking down. The guy in charge was a Colonel called Stanislav Petrov. His training made what was to happen next crystal clear – pass the news down the line to the rocket guys and let Armageddon roll.

Stanislav chose not to buy what the computer was selling. Three times the klaxons howled and three times he ignored them whilst all his colleagues begged him to do otherwise. After a few minutes it became clear the computer had screwed up and everyone smoked strong Russian fags with shaking hands.

There were at least five U.S. Air Force bases within fifty miles of my college. Had Stanislav Petrov obeyed his standing orders, I would have been been gone without a trace. Of course I never knew any of this. None of us did. The story only leaked out decades later when the Bolshevik Empire crashed and burned.

The coming week is unlikely to carry the same imminant threat to my life and limb as those long lost weeks in 1962, 1983 and 1989. Its impact will take longer to play out. And yet the after effects of the next few days could determine the next half century. Maybe longer.

I'm not going to look at this globally. Instead I will be selfish and examine what might or might not come next through the eyes of me and mine.

First up is the big one. Tuesday night and the long early hours of Wednesday morning. The U.S. Election. What else? Has there ever been an election in the history of democracy which has held the attention of the whole world like this one has? No chance.

Of course anything which affects the way America is run has a pretty massive impact on the rest of us. For now at least, they are still the big dog. But the fate of Trump represents something much bigger. For the last five or so years, the world has been sliding into darkness much like it did in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Country after country has fallen into the hands of so called 'strong men; Russia and Brazil and the Philippenes and Hungary and Turkey and England.

And of course America.

Trump has made himself the pin up boy for an encroaching tide of Fascism. At times it feels like if you listen hard enough you can hear the sound of crashing jack boots drawing ever closer. And this is a sound guaranteed to scare the living daylights out of anyone who is a part of a mixed race family.

Right now the world has a horrible feel of Germany 1932. If the nightmare becomes reality on Tuesday night, the world will suddenly feel like Germany 1933. A die cast. A dark future locked in. The road to a new Dachau suddenly open for traffic.

But if he loses and loses big, then it will feel like the world has taken a step back from the brink. From the appalling. From the unthinkable. And maybe it can mean the start of something better.

The media seem to think our Lords and masters in Westminster are waiting on the result of the U.S. Election before making up their minds about a 'No Deal' Brexit on 31 December. This is a huge deal for my professional life as a food bank manager.

A no deal Brexit will probably mean thousands of trucks stuck on the wrong side of the English Channel. Supermarket shelves won't take long to empty out and the panic buying will make last March's run on toilet roll and pasta look like a minor inconvenience. Last March conclusively proved all the Brexiteer talk of the plucky 'Blitz Spirit' to be nothing more than yet another right wing fever dream. There will be no Blitz Spirit if the shelves are cleared. There will be mass panic and civil unrest. And probably not enough cops.

As a food bank, we are doing our best to put some kind of plan into place to do as much as we can in the event of this potential nightmare. Thanks to unbelievable support from some of our local food suppliers, we should be capable of providing enough for the most vulnerbale 4000 people in the area we cover for two weeks. The amounts of food needed to achieve this are eye watering. 10 tonnes of flour, 2 tonnes of pasta, 2 tonnes of mashed potato flakes.... Our thinking is probably somewhat optimistic. There seems no way the spineless occupant of 10 Downing Street will be able to withstand mass rioting for more than a few days. Hopefully after a week of so of this kind of mass mayhem, Johnson will high tail it to Brussels to get down on his knees and beg for a five year extension to the Transition Period which will hopefully allow for a return to some semblence of normal. It seems beyond crazy to have to be thinking this way, but we live in truly crazy times. Our threadbare plan reminds me of the old war plans from the height of the Cold War where the NATO forces were tasked to hang on by their finger nails for long enough for massive American forces to make it across the Atlantic to save the day.

OK. U.S. Election. Done. Prospect of a No Deal Brexit done. So all that leaves in my life changing week is the future of Scotland.

This one is a tad more subtle. Right from the get go of the Covid 19 pandemic, the Scottish Government opted for the tried and trusted option of using local health boards and Councils to run 'track, trace and isolate'. Johnson and Co chose to dish out £12 billion work of tax payer's money to their cronies in the corporate sector. The results have been pretty much conclusive. Our system, which has been tried and tested since the pandemic of 1918, has worked reasonably well: it seems we get a hold of 98% of those who test positive. The system down south barely reaches 60% on a good day.

This coupled with clear communication by a leader the people like and trust has meant Scotland has done a whole lot better than England. Every day at 1pm, I obsessively log on to the Scottish Government site to see how many cases we have had over the last 24 hours. Over the last week this figure has fallen every day. Not by much, but by a bit. 1400, 1300, 1250, 1150... On a pro rata basis, were we following the English curve these numbers would be at least double and rising.

Right now we seem to have falling numbers whilst still being able to keep schools, colleges and shops open everywhere and pubs and restaurants in over half of the country.

The next week is huge. If we are able to see a continued fall in cases whilst under a regional and partial lockdown at the same time as England sees an explosion of cases drive it into a full lockdown, then it could well be a true game changer.

Right now 'Yes' is sitting at 58% in the polls. If this coming week sees Scotland pull away from England as both countries battle the pandemic, then the lead could begin to stretch past 60% and well beyond. 

Far enough for the result of the coming referendum to be pretty much a done deal.

Which of course would mean I get the chance to live out my days as a New Scot in an independent country.

So if things go well this week, the future can start to look slightly brighter. The cancerous march of Fascism might be stopped in its tracks. The lunacy of a No Deal Brexit might be put back in its box.

And the dream of an Independent Scotland might just be a whole lot closer.

It's going to be quite a week.

Monday, October 19, 2020



Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the story of how the Kupata Project was able to play a part in helping over a thousand Ugandans to avoid starvation over the last six months. What might have happened without the generosity of the people of Scotland doesn't bear thinking about.

Sadly their situation is still difficult to say the least. Their old homes are still uninhabitable and their land is impossible to farm. We helped them through the worst, but their next months will be long and hard.

As they fight to find a new way to live their lives and to feed their children, it would only be natural for them to focus 100% on living through one day and then the next.

Astonishingly, they have given a priority to making sure they can find a way to thank all the people in far away Scotland who have helped them to survive. The women of the two refugee camps have tapped into the skills they learned as young girls.

They have made crafts – storage pots and bags. Our volunteers have collected the bags and pots and put some of them in the post.

The delivery has hardly been Amazon Prime! After what must have been something of a tortuous journey, their package managed to avoid the attentions of Somali pirates and to make a safe landing in Dumfries.

Here is what was in the box

So I duly logged onto our online fundraising site to collect up the email addresses of as many of our donors as possible......


Problem. Thanks to the annoying antics of many of the large charities who bother their donors like double glazing salesmen, unsurprisingly I discovered just about every one of the good folk who made a contribution had chosen the anonymous option.

Fair enough. I always do exactly the same myself. But it leaves me in a bit of a quandary. How do I do my bit to pass on the the thank you gifts from the ladies of Kasese when I have no clue who our donors are?

How indeed!

Well, this is the best I can come up with. If you are one of the donors and you are reading this and if you you would like to receive one of the thank you gifts, then please get in touch.

You can call or text me on 07770443483

Alternatively you can email me on

Please do. Once you get in touch and let me know your address, we will get your gift into the post. The final leg of journey should be pirate free, but in these wild times you never know...

We have set a deadline of 30 November for gifts to be claimed.

Thursday, October 15, 2020



I was in an antique shop a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't the kind of place where they were selling stuff for thousands of pounds. Quite the opposite. It was a two and three quid type of joint. The displayed wares were essentially a couple of steps up from junk.

Interesting junk. Carefully chosen junk. You know the kind of stuff.

My eyes were drawn to a mug. It was oddly shaped and home to a sheen of long gathered dust. A date reached out a me. 1984.

The wild time. Not the the cold, vicious world of George Orwell. A much hotter time when Britain teetered on the edge of complete mayhem. I was a year out of college and living in damp terrace in the heart of Moss Side. The North felt like an armed camp as the Miner's Strike raged through the summer and into a dark, festering winter. Trying to get to Liverpool away matches meant endless games of cat and mouse to get round the road blocks. Any car with young guys in it was deemed to be evidence of the 'Enemy Within'. Trying to claim you were on the way to the match was futile. Hard faces on the other side of the car window saw you as one thing and thing only: flying pickets.

Fully paid up members of Arthur Scargill's army, hell bent on making it through the check points to scream and howl at the gates of a Nottinghamshire pit.

At the time, lots of voices said the great Miner's Strike was a turning point. The last chance to stop the advance of untrammeled capitalism. And most of the time these voices were mocked and derided and sneered at. Come on guys. Bit over the top, don't you think?

Except the voices were anything but over the top.

And with the defeat of the Miners in 1985 came the long and slow decline to where we find ourselves today.

The mug said 1984. Why? Because it was a commemorative mug. 1834 to 1984. The 150th anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Six farm labourers from Dorset who swore a secret oath to a trade union. An enraged British State threw the kitchen sink and sentenced them to penal transportation to Australia. How Maggie must have yearned to do the exact same kind of thing to Arthur Scargill and his merry men. Instead she had to make do with beating them to a bloody pulp on the sun drenched fields of Orgreave.

In 1984.

The mug made me smile. How much? £3. Like I said, it was a £3 kind of place. I shelled out knowing I had the perfect home for this particular relic.


First Base's very own Union warhorse who had been fighting the good fight for forty years and more.

I got to know John ten years ago. Councillor Archie Dryburgh called me to say a Union mate of his had recently retired but still wanted to keep his hand in. He passed me John's details and we met up. It turned out John had represented the workers at Brown Brothers, a meat processing plant in Kelloholm. I asked if he knew the bosses. He did, but a rueful smile suggested the relationship had been less than cordial at times. So how would he fancy getting in touch and trying to persuade them to donate packets of sliced ham to the foodbank?

The very idea made him chuckle. Sure. Why not? What was the worst that could happen?

Two weeks later he called me with appointment. We duly rolled into the boardroom and I asked the directors if John had been a bit of a handful. Cue rueful grins and shaking heads. A bit of a handful? A bloody nightmare more like!

But they accepted he had been a completely fair and square bloody nightmare. He had their absolute respect even though he had often make their lives a misery. And of course they would be more than happy to provide packets of sliced ham to the foodbank.

Seventy packets a week. For ten years. 35,000 packets in all. Let's say £1.50 a packet. £52,000 in total. All because the directors of the company held the union warhorse in such high regard.

It was a glimpse of the world as it had once upon a time been. Before Orgreave. Before Thatcher.

Before 1984.

Over the next ten years John did various bits and bats to help us out, not least making the seventy mile round trip up and down the Nith Valley with our weekly donation of sliced ham.

I couldn't have been less surprised when my phone rang on day two of the lockdown. It was John. Of course it was John.

Stepping up just like he always stepped up. He told me he had already volunteered to help out at the hospital. Was there anything he could do for us?

There was. I asked if he would be happy to make deliveries of food parcels in and around his home village of Thornhill. Of course he could, except he went further. A country mile further. Within a few weeks he had set up a whole new foodbank complete with premises, volunteers and collection points. He mobilised the village via Facebook and the village bought in with donations of homemade jam and cakes and cash. To start with I delivered most of the food he needed to keep up with the growing number of deliveries. Border News did a piece on the new set up and the community upped its game to another level.

Soon my services were barely required. My weekly deliveries were soon little more than a few pies and packs of eggs. John shopped far and wide to get hold of the best bargains. He made the lives of the local supermarket managers a misery. He attracted a great team of volunteers. Absolutely everything was build from the bottom up and soon the Thornhill story was being talked about across the region.

Two weeks ago John was out and about on one of his shopping runs when he was hit by an immense wall of pain. Somehow he managed to drive himself to A&E, Lord alone knows how. Soon he was in an ambulance speeding north to hospital in Glasgow.

They operated and it didn't go well.

And we lost him in the early ours of Tuesday morning.

We lost one of the good guys. One of the really good guys. John was as old school as old school gets. He spent a whole life going out to bat for the little guy. Not with high sounding words and half baked Marxist drivvle. Instead he was forever practical. Hands on. Face to face. Ferocious when required. Nice as nine pence when it was a good tactic to be nice as nine pence. He got the job done. Saw things through.

He was living, breathing proof that Maggie's thugs didn't prevail under the burning summer sun of Orgreave.

And he leaves a hole. A very large hole. The volunteers who rallied to his cause are determined to make sure his last legacy lives on. As are all of us at First Base.

So farewell John. You fought the good fight right the way to the very end.

I only wish I had been able to give you the mug.

Here is the Border News piece.

Monday, September 14, 2020



Over the last few months I have been struggling with an inexplicable fatigue. Some days I hit 80%. Other days I barely make it up to 20%. These are the days where life is a serious grind. An hour feels like half a day. Everything seems like it it is twice as heavy as it actually is. My brain can feel like a bucket of treacle.

Why? No idea. Maybe my ageing grey matter is overloaded. Maybe. Maybe my long term insomnia is starting to catch up. Maybe all the miles on the clock are kicking in.

Stress? I guess the recent times have been somewhat trying. Battling to come up with the wherewithal to feed 2500 people a month here in Scotland and a thousand people down in Uganda hasn't been much of a picnic. But has it seriously stressed me out? I don't think so. I have known much worse stress over the years and never felt so completely washed out.

Maybe it is just the unrelenting gloom of the times. The gnawing sense of something terrible waiting in the winter wings. Images of a post hard Brexit of empty shelves and riot police manning the doors of Tesco. Pitching up at the foodbank to find a Texas style mile long queue of the newly desperate. Two days worth of hungry with crying kids waiting back in unheated homes. Assuming a food bank can come up with a bread and fishes on the banks of the Sea of Gallilee class of miracle. Not ready to accept the reality of an empty basement and a bad news sign on the door.


We live in the days of Covid. Mainstream news and online news and rumour and hearsay. A world where the wild world of Facebook elbows its way into what was once the normal world.

The world of half whispered testimonies to a thing which is as often as not called Long Covid. A world of chronic and endless headaches. Depression as deep as the Pacific Ocean. Nausea and a complete loss of appetite.

And fatigue.

Chronic, endless fatigue. Marathon runners who can no longer manage to jog half a mile. Writers who can barely complete a sentence. An all encompassing, bottomless tiredness which goes on for weeks and then months and maybe forever.

Well. My fatigue isn't that fatigue. Not even close. So surely a brush with Covid isn't a place where an answer might be found.

But then there is the 'glancing blow' theory. Have you come across it? It seems to go something like this. Basically the harshness of the Covid dose you receive all depends on how much of a viral load you get hit with. If you spend a prolonged amount of close up time with someone who is breathing virus in your face, then you get the full dose experience. Days of being sick and thinking you're on the way out. And then maybe you actually make your way out. Or maybe you get through the worst only to be besieged with the full on nightmare of 'Long Covid'.

Alternatively, you might get hit with a glancing blow. A brief encounter with a carrier. A couple of breaths. Enough for a mere viral toe hold. You feel a bit rough and then you are fine. Well. More or less. The Long Covid isn't in your face. Instead it is somewhere in the background. Making life that little bit harder. But not unmanageable.

Could it be?

Maybe. But to catch a glancing blow of Covid, you need to be in the wrong place at the the wrong time. I have been here in Dumfries and Galloway where at the time of writing we have barely had 300 cases since lockdown. And all through the pandemic I have adopted the two metre radar. Could I have received a glancing blow? The odds against are off the scale.

Which basically takes me back to the evening of March 11. A few days away from the last gasp of the old normal. The evening news was filled with images of the nightmare that was Lombardy. Were we next? And what should we do to avoid becoming the next Bergamo?

On the night of March 11, I drove 170 miles south. To Liverpool. To Anfield. To Liverpool v Athletico Madrid. One nil down from the first leg. One of those legendary Anfield nights was all ready to be unleashed.

It was cold, but not freezing. A slight mist dropped visibility down. The expected roaring atmosphere wasn't quite there. Nearly. But not quite. Maybe there was a thing in the back of our minds. A troubling fact. You see, every other match being played across Europe that night was being played behind closed doors.

But not our match. Our match had received the green light. Did it cross my mind not to go? Be serious. A Champions League quarter final isn't a thing you don't go to. There wasn't a single empty seat. Not a one. Does that make us all stupid people who deserved all we got? Maybe it does. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

A week later saw the end of the old normal as the lockdown was snapped into place. And soon the nightly news carried graphic images of the growing nightmare of Spain.

Of Madrid.

Of the home city of the 3000 Athletico fans who had bayed out their joy on that cold misty, Anfield night as their team ripped the European Cup from our grasp.

They had been singing in the street. Beaming. Close to dancing.

The dreaded guidance said ten days was how long it took for Covid to raise its ugly head. So I counted down the days and maybe I felt a bit under the weather, but it I was pretty sure it was just a cold.

And then it was all about the new normal and shipping out enough food to feed 2500 people a month in Scotland and 1000 people in Uganda.

By May, questions were starting to be asked. Had the Anfield game been a 'super spreader' event? People did their best to dig up the truth, but it was anything but easy. The University in Liverpool was tentatively sure over seventy of the city's Covid deaths could be tied to the game. But what about deaths in Madrid? And what about deaths everywhere else?

Impossible to say. If there were 70 deaths in the city, there would almost certainly have been the same again elsewhere. So was it 140? Or 280? We will never know.

What seems pretty certain is that the number of people killed by going to Anfield on that misty night in March was more than 96.

Oh yes. More than 96.

More than the number of people who died on a sunny April afternoon way back in 1989.

In South Yorkshire. In Sheffield. In a football stadium called Hillsborough.

At an FA Cup semi final.

At my very first football mass death event.

I guess some compare and contrast is in order.

Similarities? There are one or two I suppose. 

Neither game should have happened. The stadium at Hillsborough had not been granted a safety certificate because the whole crumbling shed was patently unsafe. The rules were clear enough. The FA was not allowed to stage an FA Cup Semi Final in a stadium which lacked a safety certificate. Not exactly rocket science. But things didn't turn out that way.

The Chairman of Sheffield Wednesday was also on the FA committee tasked with allocating the Semi Final. Sheffield Wednesday were pretty much flat broke so the Chairman pulled a string or two and blind eyes were duly turned.

By 11 March 2020, it was already clear stuffing tens of thousands of people into a football stadium was a pretty dodgy thing to do as the Covid virus was starting to march across Europe. Every other government recognised this and ordered games to be played out behind closed doors.

Our government took a different view. They were still very much 'herd immunity' curious. So they gave the game the nod. And once again a bunch of people paid with their lives.

Any other similarities? I guess there is one. Before the disaster of 1989, I had attended two previous FA Cup Semi Finals at Hillsborough. One against Arsenal in 1980 and one against Nottingham Forest a year earlier in 1988. On both occasions my ticket put me in the Lepping Lane cages. On both occasions it was an utter nightmare. On both occasions something very, very bad could easily have happened. These two previous experiences saved my life on 15 April 1989. Course knowledge prompted me to take a step back at the moment thousands of my fellow fans poured into what was to become a tunnel of death.

But there is another point I really should admit to. I knew the Leppings Lane End was potentially lethal. I knew it was a catastrophe waiting to happen. And yet I went anyway. For the third time. And it wasn't like I was some naive kid. I was twenty nine years old and I went anyway. Just like 50,000 others. Just like the 96 who never made it home.

In March this year I was well enough aware of what was going down in Lombardy. The nightmare of Bergamo was front and centre in the news. And I was fully aware of the fact that our game was the only game in Europe which was to be played in a packed stadium.

I went anyway. 53,000 of us went anyway. 3000 flew in from Madrid and went anyway.

Contrasts? Visibility is everything. In 1989 I stood and watched 96 corpses yanked clear of the death cages. The nightmare played out right in front of my eyes. And straight away the reason for the catastrophe was clear to every one of us who was there. An appalling, over aggressive police force. Cages which became death traps in the blink of an eye. Human beings being treated worse than cattle because football fans were deemed to be the scum of the earth. Enemies within.

The Government of the day created the preconditions which cost those 96 lives. During the Miners Strike, the South Yorkshire police wer encouraged to morph themselves into a quasi para military force who believed they were well and truly above the law. Throughout the 80's, the Thatcher regime saw Liverpudlians as dangerous subversives who should at all times be dealt with harshly. And most crucially, the Thatcher regime had dehumanised football fans to such an extent it was deemed OK for us to be crammed into death trap cages.

On March 11, I didn't see anyone die. The stadium was its usual magnificent self. The police were efficient and low key. There were no preconditions to hundreds of people losing their lives as a consequence of attending a football match.

The deaths were down to a single wrong decision. A miscalculation. A mistake, but it seems to have been an honest mistake. And of course hindsight is a wonderful thing.

After 15 April 1989, I was proud to play a small part in our 30 year fight for eventual justice. Will I be doing the same in the wake of 11 March 2020? No. We all make mistakes. I drove down to Liverpool with my eyes wide open. I don't think I considered missing the match for a single second. In many ways, we football fans are a bit like lemmings. There were ten year's worth of warnings in the run up to the Hillsborough disaster and the Thatcher regime chose to ignore each and every one of them. This time there were barely any warnings. Covid was a 'Johnny come lately' threat and it took all of us a while to get our heads round how we should avoid it.

So I won't be kicking off this time. Instead I will have to accept the consequence of being a football lemming. Hillsborough left me with thirty years worth of a very mild PTSD. It also irrevocably broke any last modicum of faith I had in the British State. Six years after staring down at the corpses laid out on the green grass, I emigrated and signed on the dotted line to become a New Scot.

I guess these strange bouts of chronic fatigue will be my legacy of 11 March 2020.

So be it. When all is said and done, I am still living and breathing.

Hundreds of of my fellow fans are not.

Monday, August 17, 2020



Over the last few months I have been doing my level best to deal with two food emergency. One has been right here in South West Scotland. The First Base Food Bank foodbank has issued over 11,000 emergency food parcels.

And if we hadn't? If there had been no First Base? Would anyone have actually starved? Almost certainly not. Thankfully. Our Welfare State safety net has been pretty much shredded over the last ten years. But not THAT shredded. Not completely shredded. From time time people actually DO starve to death in Austerity Britain. But it is very, very rare and usually down to chronic mental health problems and isolation rather than a lack of emergency help.

The ten thousand or so citizens of Dumfries and Galloway we have helped out genuinely needed the help. Absolutely they did. And without our help, their lives would have been much more difficult. But would anyone have actually died? No. I don't think anyone would have actually died.

My second food crisis is rather more severe. 200 families in South West Uganda were flooded out of their homes and land and left with no choice but to live under makeshift shelters. One of the young volunteers of our Ugandan charity, the Kupata Project, took on the task of trying to make sure they didn't starve.

We said we would do our best to help him. Of course we did. How could we not? We went online to ask the people of Scotland for help and the people of Scotland came through with flying colours.

Of course they did.

For the last three months our young volunteers have turned up at the two refugee camps once a week to distribute enough food to keep the bodies and souls of the 1000 flood refugees together.

They don't get food parcels like the ones we issue here in Dumfries and Galloway. They don't get pies and bread and eggs and milk and Scotch Broth and biscuits and pasta and baked beans and cereal. Instead they get Cassava meal and Maize meal. 

Do they get enough food to feel full?


Do they get enough food to stay alive?


1000 adults and children have been given food over the last three months thanks to the kindness of the people of Scotland and not one person has died.

Would somebody have died if the people of Scotland has said turned their backs?

Probably. Almost certainly.

A sobering thought, right?

Over the last three months First Base has received two 'thank you' cards for the help we have given. Which is completely and absolutely fine. We don't do what we do for a pat on a the back. And of course lots and lots of people have said thanks when we have delivered the food.

So why mention it?

I'll tell you why. Because these pictures arrived with me last week and basically kicked me in the teeth.

The women in the two camps wanted to do something to say thank you to all the people here in Scotland who made sure their children had something to eat. 

So what does a person who has absolutely nothing do to say to thank you to someone who has riches beyond their wildest dreams?

They make stuff. They use their hands. They deploy skills handed down through the generations.

The teeth kicking photos show the crafts the women in the camps have made as their way of saying thank you. 

One way or another we will get their gifts back to Scotland, though it might take a while. And then we will do our best to give them out to the people who donated the funds.

'Humbled' can be an over used word. But, yeah. I feel humbled. 

Completely humbled.

As I write this blog, we have the cash to feed the families for another four weeks. Hopefully it will be long enough for them to find a solution to their nightmare. If you want to help us to extend this period, you can donate to the Kupata Project be following the link below.


Here are the photos which basically kicked me in the teeth.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


23 March 2020 is a date which I don't suppose I will ever forget. It is locked in the brain. A moment fixed in time. I have been thinking about it quite a lot over the last few days as I have been driving around the wet fields and hills of Dumfries and Galloway.

The day everything changed. The day everything came tumbling down. The day the old world was suddenly done and dusted.

The day when it seemed like the First Base foodbank was well and truly stuffed.

For 17 years we had carefully built up a network which was capable of providing 600 people a month across our region with something to eat when they found themselves unable to go to the shops to buy anything. On a few occasions over the years things had gotten pretty precarious, mainly when our bank account started to have a Venezuelan look about it. One way or another, we always found a way through.

But this time ..... ?

This time it seemed we had arrived at a bridge too far. Everything had collapsed over the course of a couple of days.

To issue 600 food parcels a month you need quite a lot of food. I know. Duh.

Almost all of our food came from two sources. Donations from the public, mainly churches, and purchases from the supermarkets. On 23 March both of these options were as dead as Dodos. The public were locked behind closed doors and the supermarkets were rationing. Three tins of beans is not a lot of use when you are accustomed to having 150 tins a week delivered.

Two thirds of our parcels were collected from a wide variety of locations dotted across the region – libraries, offices, fellow charities. And now? Now they were all closed for the duration.

This was one half of the nightmare. The other half seemed even more impossible and daunting. For it was blindingly obvious demand for our service was about to completely explode. We thought it would probably double. As things turned out, it has quadrupled.

23 March seemed like a perfect storm. One option was to close the doors and accept the impossibility of the situation. Lots of front line charities did exactly that.

This wasn't a decision which detained us for very long. A vast food crisis was days away and one way or another we were going to do our best to meet it.

At this moment of absolute crisis, two very important things happened. Game changing things.

Up in Edinburgh, the Scottish Government committed a huge chunk of cash to the front lines of the coming social crisis.

I digested this and called up Rob Davidson, the deputy leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Was the cash real? Yes, the cash was real. The Government had been crystal clear in its instructions to Scotland's local authorities. Get the money to where it is needed. Do it fast. Screw the bureaucracy. No fifty page forms. No complicated service level agreements. Just get the money where it needs to go and get it there fast.

So how fast will fast be?

No idea Mark, but we're going to bust a gut. So Rob, here's the big question, if we use up all our reserves in chasing this thing will you guys have our back?

Yes. Completely. Do everything you need to do and the money will be with you soon enough. You have our word on that.

Old school. A solid relationship between a front line charity and a local authority built up over many years. A solid relationship between a foodbank manager and an elected Councilor built up over many years. 

As in mutual trust. A promise made and a promise trusted.

So we got cracking and re-invented the First Base wheel. We bought freezers as if they were going out of fashion. We hired a big van. We hunted out local food manufacturers and wholesalers who could guarantee supplies. Pies and eggs and bread rolls and biscuits and milk and bags of spuds. We signed up a team of volunteers at Summerhill Community Centre to knock us up thousands portions of Scotch Broth and Pasta sauce.

Could we have done all this without the nailed on promise of financial support from Edinburgh? Not really. Not sensibly. It would have been crazy to blow through every penny we had to our name in a frantic attempt to keep up with the crisis. First Base will still be needed in 2021. And 2022. And 2023.

So. We had food supplies. Now we had to find a way to get them to the mouths which needed feeding. Nobody was about to collect. Everyone was locked behind closed doors and terrified of the invisible plague stalking the land. Instead we would have to deliver. 

Our existing satellite points were all closed for the duration. We needed new distribution points and we needed them in a hurry.

Within a week we had seven. Each had the use of a public building and a bunch of volunteers willing to do what was needed. Each and every one was a classic example of something happening from the bottom up. Our role soon became crystal clear. It was on us to source reliable supplies of food and to get them to the distribution points. Once there, the food would be parceled up and delivered to anyone who needed it. 

It soon became clear these new operations were going to be about much more than food. They started picking up and dropping off prescriptions. They went street by street to make sure the vulnerable were not forgotten. They called people up on the phone to make sure they were OK. Not deserted. Not left hanging.

The speed with which all of this came together was truly amazing. Heart warming. Inspiring.

And within a week the whole of Dumfries and Galloway was covered. Every square mile of our vast rural region was catered for. A huge volunteer army self mobilised over the course of a few March days in the midst of the country's greatest crisis in seventy years. And they said there was no such thing as society. Well. Not they. She. But let's not go there.

A couple of weeks later the money from Edinbugh did indeed arrive. Each and every one of the new hubs was given money to do what they were doing. Nobody told them what to do. Nobody claimed to know better than them. Nobody tried to impose demands and strings. Instead the money was used to oil the wheels.

Well 23 March is now a long time ago. First Base Base has managed to provide food enough to fill 10,000 emergency food parcels. And nobody has gone hungry in Dumfries and Galloway. Nobody has been left behind. Nobody has become colatoral damage.

The seemingly impossible has been achieved. The volunteer army has come through with flying colours.

I have no doubt the story of Dumfries and Galloway is the story of the whole of Scotland. In just a few months the country has added a whole new layer to the Welfare State. A new line in the sand. A new volunteer army which has proved itself in the midst of a nightmare.

In short, we suddenly have a priceless new asset. A social asset. An asset we will need for many months and years to come as the fallout from the crisis hits home.

When so many people have been involved in this social miracle, it seems almost wrong to put a focus on a single project. However the best way to show how something big is working is more often than not to focus on something small. Bite sized.

Like the town of Moffat and the wonderful Jane.

Moffat is a small, very Scottish town nestled in under round hills and just far enough away from the M74 to avoid the shake of the wagons. The high street is home to crafts and cakes. Tourists buy postcards. Poverty isn't much of a feature.

Our food parcels have been available to the good folk of Moffat for years and most of the time the good folk of Moffat haven't had much need of them. Ten parcels per month was about as busy as it ever got. Keeping up with Moffat demand wasn't overly taxing.

On 23 March, the local library closed down and we needed an alternative. Angela from our Management Committee came up with a freezer and organised us a berth in a church. A couple of volunteers made contact. It was bare bones, but hopefully it would be enough.

Then the phone rang and Jane's voice exploded from the earpiece. Does a mobile phone actually have an earpiece? Whatever. You know what I mean.

Jane is one of those force of nature people. She's all constant energy and enthusiasm. She told me she was from the Moffat Town Hall Development Trust and they were determined to step up and do their bit. We arranged to meet up and by the time I arrived the place was full of volunteers and local food donations had poured in. Her attitude to the crisis was pretty straight forward. We haven't done emergency food before but we will learn how to do it soon enough. 

And so they did. Within a month they were delivering a hundred emergency food parcels a week to a wide area around the town. Most of the people they are helping are families where the main bread winner has been furloughed. In the old normal, these were the working families who by hook or by crook just about made the incomings meet the outgoings. A 20% pay cut quickly forced their heads beneath the waterline. All of a sudden genuine poverty was a problem in and around Moffat. Well, thanks to Jane and her team nobody has had to go to bed hungry.

Lots of people have been involved in making all this possible and not a single one of them is being paid a penny. In all of its long history, the Town Hall can never have been more of a beating heart for its community.

But now Jane is having to look at a bunch of 'what next?' questions. She wants to keep on with the emergency food work, but it is complicated. Normally the Development Trust relies on booking out the main hall for much of its income. Right now the main hall looks like an emergency relief centre. The first tranche of Government funding has enabled them to step up to the plate. Now we are at the moment of 'what next?'. Will the Government up in Edinburgh keep on with the funding or will the well run dry?

You can do a lot with boundless enthusiasm, but there is a limit even Jane's upbeat energy can't overcome.

All of which means we have reached something of a moment. All over Scotland, hundreds and hundreds of Janes have built something amazing. Almost awe inspiring. We have an extraordinary social asset all ready and raring to help with the dark days to come. Thousands and thousands of huge hearted people who have done something quite remarkable in the midst of the biggest crisis Scotland has faced in years.

It is a social asset which is almost priceless. However it is a social asset which lacks a lobbying voice in the corridors of power. Which of course explains my motives for writing this. I don't suppose too many people will read these words. But I will do my damndest to get our local MSP's to give it a once over and to press for the high heid yins to carry on providing enough support to keep things going. And come on guys, think about it. When it comes to bang for the public buck, you'll never get better value. The new volunteer army goes without pay and not many armies are willing to do that.

And I suppose I have to face up to the fact Jane will also probably read these words and she's going to have my guts for garters the next time I show up in my van! 

Thursday, July 23, 2020


I was in Tesco yesterday to collect our weekly order of their own brand Corn Flakes. Yeah, I know. I lead a truly glamourous life. To kill some time, I skip read the front pages of the newspaper stand. Shock and outrage jumped out at me from the front page of the Telegraph. I cannot recall the exact words, but the gist was clear enough.

Russians tried to interfere in the Scottish Referendum!!!


Here was yet more damning evidence of the near bottomless wickedness of Scot Nats like me. Let's face it. We're borderline evil people who are more than happy to collude with Vladimir Putin and his shadowy forces. To a man and woman, we are people who crossed over to the dark side six years ago. We are the new 'Enemy Within' who are more than happy to collude with a hostile foreign power to disrupt and destroy.

It's a hell of an accusation. So how do I plead..... ?

Well, here's the thing. I actually made my confession several years ago. 

Guilty as charged, your honour. 

I have been in bed with the dark forces of Putin's Russia for six years now. I didn't actually ask them to share my bed. They just yanked the duvet back and clambered on in. I had no choice in the matter.

So why don't I throw them out? Really? Are you being serious here? Have you ever tried to chuck a Russian bear from your bed?

So how did this traitorous behaviour come about? How did an upstanding food bank manager in a small sleepy Scottish town hook up with shadowy forces from the East?

I don't suppose going to Cambridge University can have helped much! The lads from Moscow have always had a high degree of success in drawing Cambridge types like me into their evil plots.

So did I get a knock on the door from a guy in a really bad suit as I nursed a hangover way back in 81? Not that I can remember. Was I granted an all expenses paid trip to a world youth event in Leipzig? Nope. My memory isn't so clever these days, but I am pretty sure the KGB never recruited me. But there again, I suppose they could have dosed me with some fiendish drug and wiped my memory bank clean of signing on the dotted line to become a Cold War warrior for the Komitat Gosudarstrenoi Bezopasnosti. See. I know what the letters KGB stand for without recourse to Google. A bad, bad sign. Not that I will have spelt it right.

So when did it happen? How did it happen?

I think I know the answer. How a food bank manager from a small, sleepy Scottish town can become embroiled in Vladimir Putin's worldwide web of wickedness.

I started writing a blog. This blog. And for a couple of years, nobody much read it. A hundred hits was a big deal. Then in early 2014 I penned a piece explaining why I would be voting 'Yes' in September 2014.

All of a sudden I seemed to have new friends. Lots and lots of new friends and almost all of them were from Russia. These were canny friends. If one of my blogs was receiving thousands of reads from within the UK, my new Russian friends were nowhere to be seen. But if a couple of weeks passed with no new blogs posted, my pals from the East would suddenly appear in their droves providing hundreds and hundreds of visits to make sure my page wasn't forgotten by the search engines.

These new friends of mine were not of the fair weather variety. Anything but. Fickle friends might have deserted me the very day our Independence dream crashed and burned in the early hours of September 15.

Well not these friends. These friends are in it for the long haul. They are still very much with me after all these years. Last week I posted nothing onto this page. And yet I still attracted over a thousand visits. So who came a calling? Well 662 of my guests made a long trip trip though cyber space all the way from Turkmenistan to Scotland.

It is hard to find too many reasons for my blogs being so popular among the good folk of Turkmenistan. I have never been to Turkmenistan. I have never met anyone from Turkmenistan. I couldn't name the capital of Turkmenistan.

My new Turkmanistani pals showed up in the statistics at the very time my old pals from Russia suddenly disappeared. Maybe they are the same pals? Maybe relocating to the steppes of Turkmenistan is all part of a fiendishly cunning FSB plan to cover their tracks?

No wonder the patriots at the Daily Telegraph are so morally outraged. This is true Tower of London stuff. Scottish traitors like me deserve to be hung, drawn and quartered. Putin puppets to a man and woman.

Maybe it is time to get to point.

You see, nobody seems to be asking why on earth someone in an FSB funded troll farm in a warehouse on the outskirts of St Petersburg would want to support an independence supporting blog written by a two bit nobody like me.

I mean seriously, why?

Where is their angle? What is the point?

It isn't so very hard to work out when you take a step back and give it a moment's thought. Let's do this step by step.

What is one of the big differences which will soon become apparent in the weeks and months following Scottish Independence?

Come on, you know the answer if you think hard enough.

Yeah. That's right. No more submarine base at Faslane. No more nukes in an independent Scotland. And in 2014 it became abundantly clear there wasn't a town in England willing to accept a Faslane 2.0. No chance. Glasgow being wiped from the surface of the earth is one thing. But Portsmouth...... Well. That's another thing altogther. Lots of good chaps have second homes in that neck of the woods.

Right now Faslane is home to 72 Trident missiles. I guess about half of them are locked and loaded at any given time.

Let's say 36. And where are they pointed? Cities in Russia. How many Russian civilians could each warhead kill? Let's say half a million. So the maths are a tad daunting when looked at through Russian eyes. Our pesky little island is capable of wiping out 18 million Russian within half an hour of our Prime Minister choosing 'the press the button' option.

Not great if you live in Moscow. So it's no wonder they like the idea of a nuke free Independent Scotland. Do you blame them? I don't.

But this isn't really the thing. I mean, is this really cricket? Or is it all a bit wicked and underhand? Typical Johnny Foreigner stuff. Not playing up and playing the game as it should be played. With decency and honour. Good chaps would never stoop so low.

Surely not? I mean we are British when all is said and done. Aren't we?


Well, maybe it isn't quite so black and white. Back in the days when I nursed my hangovers and waited on a knock on the door from a guy in a bad suit and a gangster hat, the Warsaw Pact had tens of thousands of tanks lined up along the Iron Curtain. Locked and loaded and ready to roll west at a moment's notice. The Red Peril. We were told they could be in Calais in three days and there wasn't a thing the British Army on the Rhine could do about it. Had the Red Army ever started to roll our way,  we would have had two options – go nuclear or lose.

Not great. And we didn't like it any more than the Russians like having those thirty six Tridents pointing at them right now.

So what did we do? Well the most effective thing we did was to quietly fund and support dissident groups in the countries living under the firm smack of Moscow rule. In Poland and Czechoslovakia and Hungary and Romania. We did it quietly and patiently. We played the long game. We tugged at loose threads. We pricked and nudged and harried. And slowly but surely, it started to work. Solidarity happened in Gdansk. And as we moved through the 80's, the cracks in the concrete walls of Lenin's Empire started to get ever wider.

And then 1989 happened and the whole house of cards came down.

It is a memory which apparently haunts Vladimir Putin to this day. He was there in person as the people of East Germany took to the streets to throw off the Soviet yoke. His Soviet yoke.

Within a few short months all those tens of thousands of tanks were pulled back. Returned to their bases in Russia.

Supporting all of those dissident groups in Poland and East Germany and Hungary and Czechoslovakia turned out to be a mighty fine investment. A job well done.

No arguments from me on that front. And I guess the people of Russia will feel much the same on the day when the last of Faslane's Trident missiles is loaded up onto a wagon and driven away down the M74 to England and redundancy.

So do I feel bad about my blog being supported by Russian troll farms? Nope. In the 80's we did all we could to support the likes of Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel in their efforts to free their people from the suffocation of Moscow Rule. It was the right thing to do. We did it to take away the threat of all those thousands of tanks.

If the endgame my Russian pals have in mind is a Scotland free of nukes, then it is fine by me. More than fine. Are they doing anything we didn't do? Of course not.

Not that those wonderful patriots at the Daily Telegraph are about to see it that way any time soon.