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, 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.