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.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021



The Stats page tells me this will be my 428th blog. Christ. Enough to make a man feel tired in his bones. Over the years I have written about all kinds of stuff.

But never shop windows.

Well it seems the time has come to put that right!

I was driving down Buccleuch St a few weeks ago. Everything was lockdown quiet. 'To Let' signs. 'For Sale' signs. Shuttered offices and pubs.

All the trappings of our 'new normal' laid out right there.

The lights turned red when I was twenty yards shy of being let through.

I looked left and stared the front window of First Base squarely in the face.

Not great.

In fact, worse than not great. Bloody awful.

It was hardly the first time I had come to such a conclusion.

I had been coming to the same conclusion for months.

Now, when all is said and done, we're a Foodbank. We don't have to project an image of secure prosperity. We're not accountants or architects. We are not required to offer up a vision of quiet, efficient affluence.

We don't have to show off all the letters at the end of our names. In fact we don't need to show our names at all.

We just need to make sure our doors are open when we say they will be open. And we need to make sure when people come us in need of food we always have food to give them.

But even so.

There was no hiding from the fact our front window was a complete disgrace.

Ragged looking blinds. Tired paintwork. Cobwebs.

And a couple of faded, dog eared posters which all of a sudden had become outrageously out of date.

Posters bearing information from times long gone.

Tired old posters in a tired old window in a tired old street.

Old information.

Old news.

Old normal.

The weary, creased paper was still telling anyone who cared to look First Base were helping out 450 people a month with emergency food.

450 a month had seemed like such a lot when we first taped the posters up for the passing world to see.

Over 5000 a year.

So many hungry mouths to feed thanks to the years of austerity. And in the years following the hanging of the posters, the figure of 5000 per annum became the norm. Demand sometimes edged up and demand sometimes edged down. Cold weather caused spikes. Summer sun the opposite.

It seemed like 5000 parcels per annum would be the foreseeable future.




Until it wasn't.

Until we were all told to stay home and save lives.

Until the end of March 2020 when the world we had known was turned clean on its head.

So it wasn't just the tired scruffiness of our front window which rattled my cage as I waited on the lights tuning to green.

It was also the utter redundancy of the information we were offering up.

It hit me then. The first anniversary of the first lockdown was a mere matter of days away.

52 weeks of our new normal.

Maybe it was high time for some new posters. Some new information. Some new normal.

I parked up, locked up and headed inside.

What actually is the new normal? Time for some sums.

Coffee. A piece of A4 paper. Twelve sets of figures spanning a year's worth of our new normal.

Holy Christ.


And all of a sudden the posters in the front window seemed almost quaint. Like pictures of garden parties in the long hot summer of 1914.


How many people live in the area we support? 

About 100,000.


We have helped out the equivalent of almost 25% of the population in the twelve months of Covid 19.


New posters. Some new information for anyone stuck at the lights. Not 450 parcels per month. Not any more. Instead its 400 a week now.

22,500 in the year of Covid.

And it doesn't seem like we are returning to anything remotely resembling the old normal any time soon.

Demand peaked at 2600 parcels in August.

Now? Now things seem to have settled to a steady 1700 a month. Or thereabouts.

Still pretty much 400% more than it was once upon a time.

Will things change any time soon? Well of course this is the question on everyone's lips.

From where I sit, basic maths make any easing in demand look pretty unlikely.

We buy in a whole bunch of food. Every week.

Yeah, I know. Duh!

And when buying a whole bunch of food, it seems pretty clear to me inflation in the cost of food is at least 10%. Maybe even 15%

The cheapest tin of old normal spaghetti was 13p.

The cheapest tin of new normal spaghetti is 38p.

3% inflation? Aye right.

A couple of weeks ago I sorted out our latest electricity contract. In a time when the oil price had crashed all the way down to zero, I harboured some hopes we might see prices being held steady.

Aye right.

Old normal price 11.5p per unit.

New normal price 15.0p per unit

If my maths are anything like right, we're talking a 30% increase.

So let's be conservative here. Let's say food and power are up 10%

And then let's say wages stay the same.

And then let's say Rishi Sunak gets his way in the autumn and yanks back the £20 a week he added to benefits.

Well, you don't need to be Einstein do you?

Food and power costs up, wages flat and benefits down.

That doesn't look to me like a ticket back to the days of the old normal. It looks to me like more of the same.

It looks to me like we won't be changing our new posters any time soon.

It looks to me like the vast need for emergency food will continue on and on and on even if when we are all able to wake up from the Covid 19 nightmare.

And First Base are going to continue to need all the help we can get. If you are minded to help us out the link to our online funding page can be found below.

Because the New Normal looks like its going to be a pretty tough place for an awful lot of people.