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.

Sunday, May 31, 2020


I'm the old guy in this story and my food emergency kicked off in earnest on 23 March. Lockdown day. The day the old world ended and the new world was born. The food bank I manage was presented with a set of seemingly impossible problems. With all churches and offices closed, our usual £4000 a month of food donations were a thing of the past. It was also clear that the days of our being able to spend £500 a week on delivered food from the supermarkets was also a thing of the past. And yet it was also clear that demand for emergency food was about to explode.

The problem seemed all but impossible to solve.

Thankfully as things turned out, my 23 March feeling of dread turned out to be unfounded.

Last week we provided food for 550 emergency food parcels. In the old normal, 100 parcels would have been seemed like a busy week. So. A 500% increase.

People ask me how on earth is First Base managing? How indeed? The answer is actually pretty straight forward. We are managing because we have had unbelievable support.

We have had backing from the Scottish Government and Dumfries and Galloway Council. We have had loads of donations on our online fundraising page. We have had amazing generosity from local food companies. We suddenly have a small army of brilliant volunteers which means more or less every one of the 550 food parcels we issued last week was individually delivered.

The whole thing has grown from the bottom up. In less than a month, a system to rival Amazon Prime has somehow morphed into place. Our local and National governments didn't try to interfere and micromanage. Instead they were wise enough to provide fast track funding. They oiled the wheels and left the community to solve the problem.

And I am pretty sure nobody has gone hungry in Dumfries and Galloway.

It has been a privilage to be a part of what has happened. Truly. My part has mainly been driving my shiny Arnold Clark transit van around the highways and the byways. Blue skies and long views. Referral emails land into the inbox on my phone and every few miles I pull into a lay by to redirect them out to our distribution centres for delivery. A mobile office in the midst of a sun drenched Scottish postcard.

I drive. I co-ordinate. And I spend money. Lots of it. £7000 a month and rising. I can spend the money because First Base has been given the money to spend. Our 500% increase hasn't lifted any of our basic overheads by so much as a single penny. Our monthly spreadsheets show no change for wages, rent, or utilities. The only increase is the cash we spend on bought in food.

With such widespread support, meeting the challenge of the New Normal has actually been surpsingly easy. It goes to show what can be achieved when a community comes together.

We should all be heartened. Proud. Glad to live in a well run country where the old values of community are very much alive and kicking. It is no accident that 82% of Scots approve of the way we are dealing with the Covid 19 crisis. The polls aim the approval at the Government in Edinburgh, but I think it is bigger than that. I think the 82% approval is for all of us and the way we have come together to make sure nobody has been left alone.

Too dewy eyed and wishy washy? Maybe. Everything about the last couple months has made me happier than ever about our decision to leave England behind and to become New Scots. What a relief it is to live in a country where track and tracing will be carried out by local health boards and councils rather than Serco or similar dodgy corporations who happen to have bunged a few quid to the Tory Party. 

Anyway. Enough already. In a nutshell, this has been my part in my food emergency. Challenging but ulitmately hugely satisfying.

Time to move onto the young guy in this story.


And his food emergency. 

And when you have heard about the last two months in Rabson's life, I think like me you will reach the same simple conclusion.

We really don't know we're born.

A little background.

We met Rabson on our last trip to Uganda. We were there to distribute sanitary pads to 2000 schoolgirls in Kabale Province. This is the work of the Kupata Project, a small charity we set up a couple of years ago. 

To get around the place, we hired a Toyota 4x4 from the hotel. The month before we arrived had seen record levels of rain. And believe me, when it rains down there, it really rains. At best, many of the roads are the equivalent of the roughest farm track you will ever find on a Scottish hill farm. If you add in a month's worth of Noah level rain, the roads become lethal.

It is about 10 miles from our hotel to Kabale. The road winds along Lake Bunyoni before heading up and over a mountain. The road snakes and winds up and over and you really don't want to spend too much time looking over the edge. Touch the brake and and you're pretty much sledging. I've done a bunch of driving over the years, but the road to Kabale was a country mile beyond my capabilities.

So it was break glass and ask for Rabson. He would chuckle, catch the keys and throw the Toyota over the hill like a rally driver. He made the impossible seem run of the mill. Had he been on an intensive 4x4 driving course? Of course he hadn't. Somehow he had managed to teach himself.

Rabson is probably the most self made man I have ever met. He has taught himself English as well as twenty local languages. He has self learned all about the animals of Africa. How to find them. Where to find them. How to observe them. And more than anything else, he has taught himself how to solve problems. 

Africa throws up constant problems to overcome. Every hour of every day. Physical problems like roads turned into quagmires. Human problems like bent cops looking for a reason to make your life a misery. Nothing is straightforward and if you're a green as grass Muzungu (White guy), then you need a Rabson to make things go right.

When it comes to sorting things out, Rabson is absolutely world class. Part Artful Dodger, part UN field worker, part PHD high flier.

When we were with him, his life was pretty precarious. Generating enough income to support his family was a constant battle, but he never seemed daunted. If there was a way, then he was confident of finding it.

Well. Rabson's lockdown day made my lockdown day look like a Sunday afternoon picnic.

Lockdown in Uganda meant the borders were closed. No more tourists. No more visitors. Nobody to take out on Gorilla safaris. No income. No nothing.

Lockdown meant millions of Rabsons went from having not a lot to having nothing at all. No furlough schemes. No help for the self employed. No Universal Credit. No nothing.

He headed back to his home town of Kasese and started to get his head around finding a way to put some food on the table for his family.

In Scotland, lockdown means anxiety and boredom and claustrophobia. In Uganda, lockdown means a clock ticking down the days to starvation.

And then Mother Nature decided to intervene with the bottomles cruelty she seems to always save for Africa. The skies turned dark and a vast deluge of rain was thrown down on Kasese. The land was slowly overwhelmed. And then the land slipped and broke. Tides of mud crashed through the town destroying houses and lives. Bridges were ripped away. The hospital was wrecked. People perished in a sea of cloying liquid mud.

Newly homeless and desperate families sought what dry ground they could find and erected makeshift camps. No light. No heat. No food. Minimal shelter. Real deprivation. Ticking clock deprivation.

And with the whole country clamped into lockdown, there was absolutely nobody there to help. Not the Government in Kamapala. Not the UN. Not the Red Cross.

Nobody. The countown to starvation was underway.

A problem. A problem beyond anything we can even start to get our heads around.

A picture paints a thousand words. Well here are many thousands of words. Here is the nightmare world Rabson suddenly found himself in.

Sorry but yes, that is a human leg you are looking at.

So. Here he is. A young guy in his twenties who has just lost his all livelihood, surrounded by a biblical tragedy. How easy it would have been to sink into a pit of despair. But despair isn't Rabson's style.

Instead he chose to take on the problem, just like he had taken on every other problem in his young life. Unlike me, he had virtually no support whatsoever. All he had was a mobile phone and his wits. So he took to Facebook and started to tell the story of fifty men, women and children in a makeshift camp in the midst of a nightmare. He sent the story to people he had taken to photograph the gorillas. People from all corners of the world. He coaxed and cajoled and collected donations through his phone. And with the donations, he went shopping for Posha. Posha is maizemeal and 4kg is enough to keep a person living and breathing for a week.

As I watched his efforts from a digital afar, I wished for the umpteenth time in my life that I had a bank balance like John Grisham. Managing a food bank and writing novels not many people read doesn't give you much of a bank balance. We sent £100 to Peace, our ever wonderful volunteer down in Kabale. We asked her to do her thing and get the cash to Rabson. We also asked her to find a way to get sanitary pads up to the women and girls in the camp.

Between them, Rabson and Peace made things happen. Our £100 was duly turned into a week's worth of Posha and Rabson managed to borrow a motor bike and make the long drive to Kabale to collect the pads.

By hook or by crook, Rabson has found a way to keep the families in the camp afloat. With food and sanitary pads and pots and pans and old clothes and blankets. He has so far been able to solve the problem through ingenuity, determination and sheer force of optimistic will.

Quite frankly, I am in awe. My food crisis has been nothing in comparison to Rabson's food crisis. I have been given so much support and so many resources whilst he has had virtually none.

We live in a world which seems to be slipping over the edge of a cliff into a nightmare. The problems are beyond anything we have seen since the darkest days of the second world war. And really, where do you even start? Billions of people are living through very personal nightmares.

I would like to cut through the enormity of everything and focus in on one remarkable young man who is doing remarkable things in a tiny, forgotten corner of the world.


It is going to take a month or two for the people in the camp to rebuild their homes and their lives. No cavalry are about to ride to the rescue. All they have is Rabson. And my god, they are lucky to have him.

We would like to see if we can help him to help them. The Kupata Project is all about providing sanitary pads to schoolgirls, so we can't use any of the funds we have raised so far to provide emergency food. But any funds we raise in the wake of this blog can be used for emergency food.

To provide 4kg of Posha per week for everyone in the camp for a month costs £400. A fiver each from eighty people.

All I can do is ask for your support because there is a young man out there in the very heart of Africa who is doing something truly remarkable.

I think he deserves our support.

I hope you agree.

Here is the link to the Kupata Project's online fundraising page.

Thanks for taking the time.

Friday, May 8, 2020


If somebody had asked me a couple of months ago how many food parcels First Base would hand out on a sunny day in May, I guess I would have shrugged. On a busy day, maybe thirty? Possibly forty? And a quiet day? Ten? Something like that.

A couple of months ago, a long stretch of dry sunny weather would have meant the food bank being quieter than normal. More sun means more warmth which means less cash required to feed the meter. And less cash in the meter means more cash for the supermarket. Not rocket science, right?

But that was a couple of months ago. And a couple of months ago meant the old normal. A couple of months ago was a completely different world.

In the emerging new normal of yesterday, the sun shone and 253 food parcels headed out of the door of First Base. And of course if anyone had told me this was going to happen a couple of months ago I would have chuckled at such craziness.

But this kind of craziness has now become our new normal.

Would I have thought First Base capable of sending 253 food parcels out of the door on a sunny day in May? No chance. No chance at all.

And yet we did send out 253 food parcels and amazingly enough, we pretty much did it without breaking sweat. Which is actually quite extraordinary.

So how on earth has everything changed so completely that 253 parcels in one day has become our own new normal?

It is probably worth breaking things down a bit.

I will start with the biggest number. 150 parcels headed 30 miles north up the A76 to the Miners Memorial Hall in Kirkconnel. So here's the first thing. I didn't drive 150 actual parcels up the road to Kirkconnel. Instead my white fan was filled with the ingredients needed to provide a base for 150 food parcels. Once the food was unloaded, it was bagged up and supplemented by whatever additional items were available.

Do I know where all the parcels were delivered? Not really. I know they were handed out to people in the three villages of Sanquhar, Kelloholm and Kirkconnel. People who are stuggling. Finding the ends hard to meet. Fuloughed people. Newly unemployed people. Shielded people. Locked down elderly people. All kinds of people struggling to get by in three small villages where coal mining once provided well paid jobs for all that wanted them.


Well a bunch of local folk have come to together and created a system whereby those who need help get some help. They go street to street. Every street. Sometimes it means picking up a prescription. Sometimes it means a chat from the gate or over the phone. And of course sometimes it means delivering a bag of food. 150 food parcels per week to three villages in the Lowther Hills with a combined population of 6000.

How many volunteers? I can't give you an exact number. Forty, fifty, something like that. They have taken a grip of their local area and sorted it. Brilliant really. Inspiring. Simple and yet utterly effective. Nobody is getting left behind in the old coal mining villages of Upper Nithsdale.

Our role is actually pretty simple. Our role is to send a full van up the valley with enough food to provide a solid base for the volunteers to build on. A pie, a portion of broth, eggs, milk, bicuits, bread rolls, spuds, mash, beans, cereal. Basics, Simple fare, almost all of which is sourced locally. Our job is down to logistics. Secure funds. Secure food. Schedule deliveries. And then local people provide local solutions.

A few miles down the valley is the village of Thornhill where nobody has ever hacked a chunk of coal from the belly of the earth. Thornhill is a leafy kind of place of expensive houses and gently rolling hills. For years our food parcels have been available from the local library. And for years nobody much has needed them. We only deliver four at a time. And more than once the people in the library have called me up to tell me some of the food in the bags is running out of sell by date.

But that was the old normal. The new normal means the small library is closed for the duration. One of our volunteers, John, decided to take the local bull by the horns and he has created a new normal for Thornhill. John is an old Union man. You won't be surprised to hear he doesn't have a poster of Boris Johnson on his living room wall. But he is an old hand when it comes to the whole community organising thing. He fixed for a small community hall to be used as a local hub. He went onto Facebook to ask if anyone had a spare freezer. They did. And we duly filled him up with the core ingredients listed above. 

Next up he door stepped the local Spar and Co-op managers. Would they donate? Would they host a collection box? They would. They did.

Next up he once again talked to the village via Facebook to say he would open the doors of the community centre twice a week for anyone who either wanted to pick up food or to collect food. The first day saw six people with carrier bags filled with offerings. Others stumped up cash. The local Rotary Club pitched in.

Now when I make deliveries, the stuff we provide is in the minority. Tables are laden with packets and tins and homemade jam. John goes shopping for bread and other essentials.

And slowly but surely, a demand started to quietly emerge. Referrals from social workers and health visitors. Calls to First Base. Messages on our Facebook page. Five a week. Ten a week. A couple of large stuggling families.

But John still wasn't happy. In his bones, he could sense the fear of local stigma. Behind the well kept gardens and sturdy front doors were people running out of room on their credit cards. People who never in a million years would have ever imagined ever needing help with filling their food cupboards. Proud people. People suddenly feeling the sharp end of a brutal new normal.

So John worked Facebook and guaranteed complete anonymity to anyone needing help. And he did it again and again, much like he once harried and cajoled workers to sign on the dotted line for the Union.

And over a period of five days last week, he provided emergency food for 35 people. Young and old. Adult and child. In the leafy village of Thornhill. In the gentle sunshine of a Scottish spring.

There are a whole bunch of lessons we need to learn from what John has achieved. Fear of stigma is a cancerous thing. Too many people are terrified to ask for the help they need. They are terrified of the gleeful gossip at the counter of the local Spar shop. You'll never guess who is getting food parcels....... Who'd have thought it !!

John has worried away at the problem like a dog with a bone and seems he has managed to start to break though. Respect.


Back to our 253 food parcels. 54 went to 12 families of Syrian refugees who have been settled in and around Dumfries. We were asked to help out by the social worker tasked with making sure they are OK. Every Thursday afternoon the deliveries are carried out by Lassaad. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the story of Lassaad and Hela and their four kids. We helped them out as they lived through years and years of the Hostile Environment. We were delighted to have played a part in the family being granted an indefinite leave to remain in Scotland. And now Lassaad is happily giving back. His help means we can deliver the food the refugees need in Arabic. Kevin, Our very own 'Mr Delivroo' could have probably have managed a Dumfries version of Asalaamuakeikum, but that would have been pretty much that! Lassaad is a serious upgrade.

Sorry, Kev.

Ingredients for another thirty parcels headed half a mile across town to the Summerhill Community Centre. This is very much a new normal 'barter trade' kind of deal. The volunteers of Summerhill knock out 500 portions of Scotch Broth a week for us which we freeze and distribute. In turn, we provide base ingredients for 30 food parcels which they add to and deliver out. Do we know where the parcels go? Nope. Are we bothered? Nope. We have known the people at Summerhill Community Centre for years and have absolunte confidence in their local knowledge and judgement. If Carlsberg did community centres.......

And the balance of the 253 parcels? Well these we either collected or delivered by Kev. Referrals from social workers and probation workers and welfare officers. All kinds of workers. Some were ring ins. Some were text ins. Some were Facebook ins. Some were names we have known for years. Some were first timers. In fact most were first timers.

The new normal.

253 people to feed on a sunny day in May. All done and dusted by a whole bunch of volunteers and a sixty year old blogger in a white van care of Arnold Clark. And by the way I best point out the generosity of the aforesaid Arnold Clark who extended our hire for a mere £100 for an extra month.

Without the amazing help of a huge number of people, there is no way we could have provided 253 people with the food they needed in the new normal. Not in a million years. The help we have received since the lockdown slammed home on 23 March has been astounding. 

Overwhelming. Humbling. Inspiring. Stunning.

Help from companies like the Little Bakery and Irvings and Arnold Clark and Brown Brothers and Rab Corder Bathrooms and Morrisons.

Help from everyone who has donated cash to our online fundraising page. Or by bank transfer. Or by cheque. Or in person. Too many to name. 

Help from everyone who has donated food. 

Help from the Scottish Government and Local Council who were decisive and fleet of foot. They managed to give up the beaurocratic habits of a lifetime to get cash to the front line in record time.

Help from what has become a small army of volunteers.

Help, help and more help. Enough help. Amazing help. Help to ensure 253 food parcels was no kind of impossibility. Help to ensure 253 was an achieved reality.

Which means a massive thank you is required to one and all. Required and delivered.

Thank you!

Each passing day sees more and more stuff on the news about spiralling levels of deprivation. America is starting to look increasingly desperate. Much of England is starting to look much the same. I am delighted to be able to report that Dumfries and Galloway seems to have things pretty much covered. And we are delighted to be playing our part. What is happening in real time shows the truly amazing things that can be achieved when National Government, Local Government and local communities find a way to come together. We are going to have to all do a whole lot more of this in the dire months and years which are lying in wait. The new normal will be brutal for millions.

Brutal but not impossible. If we all build on what we have started, then all kinds of solutions will be possible. Community is clearly alive and kicking. Long may it continue.

If you are minded to help us out with a small donation, then you can find our online funding page via the link below.