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, 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.