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.

Friday, February 19, 2021



A few hundred years ago, a gang of fiendishly clever engineers in Shropshire came up with an invention which turned the course of history. Basically everything that could line up, lined up.

Their new creation was a new amalgam of metals which changed the game in a big way. Using the new metallic mix, they were able to manufacture extra large cooking pots which wouldn't break apart when subjected to intense heat. These pots made it suddenly possible to knock up a bubbling stew for fifty plus diners on a roaring camp fire.

OK. Does't seem like such a big deal, right? I mean a cooking pot is hardly Apollo 11 or the Iphone.

Patience dear reader, patience.

So here's what everything lining up looked like.

In the years before the Shropshire boys made their metallic breakthrough, a couple of big things had happened.

Number one. The European nations had discovered a bunch of islands in the sun in the 'New World' which were perfectly suited to growing sugar cane. Sugar was right up there with gold as a way to get seriously rich. Europe was collectively developing a sweet tooth and we couldn't get enough of the sweet stuff.

But there were all kinds of problems to overcome. The islands in the sun were pretty much uninhabited. So there was no labour force and growing, harvesting and processing sugar cane was seriously labour intensive. To start with, the wannabe sugar barons reached for an old play book. They lobbied the King and said come on Jimmy, help us out here. We need a bunch of slaves to harvest sugar and we'll cut you in with a nice fat slice of the action if you can provide us with some warm bodies in shackles. 

Unsurprisingly England was at war with Ireland and Scotland at the time and England was winning. Victory in battle meant claiming a bunch of the defeated army's soldiers as spoils of war. Lots of these Scottish and Irish soldiers were duly sold off into slavery and stuck on ships bound for the Caribbean. A new word was coined.

Transportation was called 'being Barbadoed'.

So. Sorted then.

Well, actually no.

The Scots and the Irish found working out in the burning sun to be a tad problematic. They started dropping like flies. Shirking bastards. No work in them. A lousy return on investment.

So the sugar boys started looking around for a plan B. 

And they found one.

The Europeans at this time had made another game changing discovery. A new place called West Africa where tribal chiefs were more than happy to trade slaves in return for the kind of European goodies they couldn't buy at home. Early trials in the sugar fields were more than encouraging. These black fellas couldn't half put in a shift under the burning sun. In fact they worked like niggers. They offered a hell of a return on capital.

But filling a ship with slaves wasn't easy. In the early days, a few shiny beads were enough to light up the eyes of a chief with a bunch of slaves to trade. But this honeymoon period soon passed and the bar kept on getting higher.

And in the these early days, the English mainly came second best to the French, Spanish and Portuguese when it came to closing the deal. They really didn't anything much to offer.

Until the Shropshire engineers did their thing.

And absolutely everything changed.

The new cooking bowls were forged in Ironbridge.

Which is on the River Severn.

Which meant it was easy to sail the pots down to Bristol.

Which was a busy port ready and capable of loading up those pots and shipping them down to West Africa.

And the chiefs couldn't get enough of the new cooking pots. I mean they REALLY couldn't get enough of them. All of a sudden the French, Spanish and Portuguese had nothing to compete with the indestructible Ironbridge pots which were soon an absolutely must have item for any self respecting West African chief.

And within a few short years England became the top dog in the slavery game.

Millions of Africans were shipped across the Atlantic. Vast fortunes were made. Great oceans of cash were desperate to find a home. I mean, come on. There are only so many National Trust ready country piles you can build. So the oceans of cash enabled the creation of a banking sector which over the years morphed into the City of London. And the spare cash became venture capital which poured into a whole bunch of new inventions like spinning wheels and steam trains.

As in the first Industrial Revolution, which in turn provided the ships and artillery pieces and bayonets to enable plucky little Britain to go forth and conquer a quarter of the world.

So. Like I said. Those 'must have' metal pots were one hell of a game changer and countless millions of people paid a heavy price for three hundred long years.

And the memory of how it all started wasn't lost on the Lords and Masters in London. If you can find the right trinket, you can get the natives to do pretty much anything you want them to do. They will dance to any tune you play them.

Three hundred years of Empire saw endless variations on this particular theme. Probably the most successful was the 'opium for tea' scam we pulled on the Chinese. It was pretty simple really. You grow a bunch of poppies in India and turn them into smokeable opium. Then you punt it out to the Chinese. Cheap as chips. Affordable to one and all. Then, once you have got tens of millions of them well and truly hooked, you jack the price up a few hundred percent and of course like any group of hopeless addicts, they will do literally anything for their next fix. Like selling tea for less than cost. Like granting a 150 year lease on the island of Hong Kong.

But all good things come to an end.

The twentieth century saw the end of the time of trinkets. Most of the one time suckers found they were more than capable of making their own trinkets. They decided enough was enough and the British Empire imploded.

And now here we are. London is down to a miserable handful of colonies. Dreams of Empire might still be strong, but the ability to go forth and conquer has completely disappeared.

To make matter s worse, the natives in the London's money spinning colony are getting increasingly uppity. The people of Scotland are preparing to join the club of sixty countries who have freed themselves from London Rule. It is a club upon which the sun never sets.

The membership form is all filled in and sponsors have been found.

And the lords and masters in London are scrambling to find a way to stop it.

The days when London new exactly the right trinkets and baubles to settle uppity natives are long gone.

But old habits die hard.

And so it was last week when London's Clown King took to the airwaves to offer us something shiny as a bribe to stay in the shrunken Empire.

As shiny baubles go it was pretty crap. A tunnel from Stranraer to Northern Ireland.

Aye right.

I mean, come on.

Does anyone seriously think it will ever happen?

And does anyone actually want it?

Does the Clown King seriously think we are so tragically gullible? Maybe he actually does? Or maybe it is just yet another desperate ploy to dodge the bullets of a bad news day?

But here's the thing which makes this possibly the worst bauble the Empire has ever tried to peddle.

Talk of a tunnel means some engineering realities. As in what are the conditions on the bed of the Irish Sea like?

And these pesky questions shine a light on some pretty ugly secrets which London would do well to keep hidden as far as possible from the public view.

You see at the end of both of the twentieth century's world wars, Britain was left with a whole bunch of nasty munitions to deal with.

We're talking the worst of stuff here. Volatile high explosive. Shells stuffed with chemical weapons. The sort of stuff you want well away from where you live. I mean seriously, not the kind of tackle you would want anywhere near the Cotswolds.

Well this is the reason you have colonies, right? 

They offer the perfect place to get rid of your toxic waste. And a few miles off the Galloway coast is a geological feature which goes by the name Beaufort's Dyke.

Thirty miles long, two miles wide and 1000 feet deep. The perfect place to dump all your toxic, poisonous shit. Out of sight and out of mind, right?

Colonies have their uses and thousands of tonnes of nastiness was duly tipped into Beaufort's Dyke.

And in the 50's they tossed in a bunch of cement wrapped nuclear waste. Just for luck I guess.

And now the Clown King is proposing digging a tunnel through this particular Devil's brew.

Aye right.

As baubles go, this has to be the least shiny ever presented as a hopeful bribe. As baubles go, this is utterly pathetic.

As is the Clown King.

As is the shriveled excuse of an Empire he rules.

Enough already!

Saturday, February 6, 2021



It's all too easy to get lost in the constant gloom. Every day tends to be much like all the days gone by. Well. Not all. Just the two hundred and some days since the pandemic arrived to turn our lives upside down.

Lockdown three lacks the adrenaline of the first edition. Gone are the sparkling spring days and empty roads. Now there is a merciless, spirit crushing greyness. All pervading. The roads are no longer empty. Instead the emptiness is found on the faces of socially distant pedestrians. Eyes down.

Everyone seems to be huddled. All the time. Heads bowed into the endless rain. Roads make like rivers. Bedraggled buzzards peck half heartedly at run over rabbits.

Nobody talks about the new normal any more. It's just normal. What is coming next is anyone's guess, but few seem to find much optimism in the months and years to come.

So much damage. I see it all day, every day in the eyes which peer out from dark flats. Barely heated flats. The doomed troglodytes of 2021.

In the beginning the news was ever present. Not any more. Now we all kind of know the end of the story. This is going to end T.S. Eliot style, not with a bang but a whimper. The death toll will fade into memory and the toll on the living with slowly emerge from the shadows.

And then we will have to get our heads around all kinds of painful new realities. I wonder if Covid will be the full stop at the end of the five hundred year story of the West ruling the roost. Suddenly we will have to accept the hard truth of Eastern power. And all the while we will continue to scratch each others eyes out on Facebook and vote cardboard clowns into power as the rest of our planet will collectively sigh with relief. The long nightmare of our voracious, brutal greed will finally be a thing of the past.

And when our ability to print money comes to a close, we will have to get our heads round living within our ever shrinking means. It's hard to imagine it being a pretty sight. It never is when old, fading Empires run out of time and cash.

We think our foodbank is busy now. And it is busy. Really busy. How many parcels will be needed in a year's time? Five years time? Once the sheer extent of the Covid wreckage comes into view? When we all arrive into our new reality.

So we need to find flickers of light wherever we can, even though they are few and far between.

So here are a couple for a Saturday morning.

A couple of weeks ago I took some food out to a man living in the middle of nowhere with his dog. The day before he had eaten the last item in his cupboard – half a jar of cranberry sauce. The dog had gone without. So no food and no power and barely a flicker of hope. I wrote up the tale of woe in a blog and yet again the community rallied. Donations of food and cash and a brand new calor gas stove with a full bottle.

I duly delivered everything a couple of days ago and yesterday and grateful text landed. Thanks for the food and the power and everything. A picture from a cottage on top of a hill. A snap shot of a lounge heated for the first time in weeks. A curled up, fully fed dog in front of a calor gas fire. A picture of a dog who hadn't moved from the heat in hours.

A difference made. The basics of life back in place. For a while at least. A dog with a fire to lie in front of in a world of bone chilling grey. Hard damp grey.

An e mail from the mother of a family of seven. The man of the house had lost his job thanks to Covid. Every word spoke of someone trying to find some understanding in a strange world. Here was a family unfamiliar with the bitter realities of being unemployed and poor in Britain 2021. She had assumed there would be a degree of humanity in our much fabled Welfare State. She was learning the hard way. The ghost of Clement Attlee exited stage left many years ago.

Seven mouths to feed. Which we took care of. And we rustled up some cash for emergency power.

On my second visit, the oldest son told me his dad had an interview. And he told me this with a voice filled with conviction. Because for him, the idea of his dad not being chosen was utterly inconceivable. I nodded along, even though I had never met his dad. Of course I did. What else was I going to do? And as I climbed back into the van, my heart sank a notch. There seemed no room for such ferocious love and optimism in the midst of such unrelenting grey.

Well how wrong I was. And how right the oldest son was. Dad got the job and he starts on Monday. And in a fortnight the family will once again be back on their feet.

A chink of light. A flicker. A slight easing in the endless rain. A defiant snowdrop finding a way to bloom despite everything.

A twitch upon the thread.