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, December 19, 2021



Once upon a time First Base used to get lots and lots of Christmas cards. My, how dim and distant this particular past suddenly looks. The salad days of New Labour when there was a quango for everything from the Methadone programme to anti social behaviour. I could easily have attended two meetings every single day, each and every one complete with a £20 a head budget for a finger buffet fit for Royalty.

Bloody hell. Asbos! The quango wallahs loved nothing more than to call a meeting to chew over the Asbo fat. Surely never in history have so many Vol -Au-Vents been consumed whilst fat has has been chewed to such pathetically little effect.


The point.

The civil servants tasked with heading up all those New Labour quangos were always furnished with a generous budget for Christmas cards and did they ever use it!

So we received stacks of cards and bugger all funding. Those who spent their days trying to starve us out for the crime of exposing inconvenient truths in the press were more than happy to use up a bit of their budget on wishing us a Happy Christmas.

Well, those days are very much a thing of the very distant past and the age austerity means barely a card lands on our mat any more.

I dare say it won't come as any surprise to hear we ain't exactly shedding bucket loads of tears.

So far this December, First Base has received a grand total of four cards.

Which is absolutely fine by us because we have received an overwhelming number of food and cash donations.

But one card was a very special card.

Oh yes.

First Base received a card from the Viceroy.

The Right Honourable Alister Jack MP, the Secretary of State for Scotland and our very own Colonial Master.


A spot of reality checking is very much in order here.

Has First Base received a card from the Viceroy as an official recognition from our lords and masters in the Imperial capital? Have these particular seasons greetings come from the very beating heart of the heart of the Empire!

Well, no, actually.

Instead all of my dealings with Alister have been entirely local. And they were particularly productive. Alister and his local team went out of their way to help two families First Base was supporting who were in imminent danger of feeling the full force of the Hostile Environment. One family was from Nigeria, one from Tunisia. Both were destitute and both faced the prospect of deportation to a fate worse than death.

Well Alister went out to bat for them and he saved their bacon and for that we will be forever grateful to him.

But things have changed somewhat. Moved on.

When our modern day version of Mad King George was installed on the throne in 2019, he appointed Alister as his Viceroy to rule over the five million pesky and disruptive subjects north of Hadrian's Wall.

And this is the context in which Alister's card dropped onto our mat.

And it duly got me thinking.

Because in a way it says a lot about where Imperial rule is sitting right now.

Imagine First Base was a wee charity in India in 1925.

Let's say in Nagpur.

A small charity managed by a very public follower of Mahatma Gandhi who was forever penning leaflets extolling the virtues of Indian Independence?

Would the aforesaid manager have received a Christmas Card from the Viceroy?

Not a chance. Instead he would have been beaten black and blue and imprisoned without trial.

It would have been the same story for a hypothetical charity manager in Nakuru in 1954 who was publicly backing the Mau Mau.

But add a few years onto each scenario and the story might have been rather different.

Lets say India 1946 and Kenya 1963.

By then, a very different picture had emerged and it was clear to every man and his dog Independence was only a matter of months away.

At this point I have no doubt the two Viceroys would have been frantically sending Christmas cards out to all an sundry in a desperate bid to curry a bit of favour for the future relationship between the soon to be ex Imperial power and it's soon to be ex subjects.

When John Mclean was packed off to Peterhead Prison to be ground into the dust for the crime of railing against tens of thousands of Scottish soldiers being fed into the meat grinder of the Western Front in the cause of defending the Empire, there would have been no chance of one of his supporters receiving a Christmas card from the Viceroy.

Instead, any supporter of John Mclean was more likely to join him up in Peterhead.


Things have changed.

Scottish Independence suddenly feels a lot more like 'when' than 'if'.

The last significant colony is slowly but surely slipping from London's grasp.

And a hard reality must be settling in. A hard reality which shines a light on a future world where this particular ex colony is home to the UK's nukes and the source of 20% of England's electricity.


Which means it is time to start making nice.

Just like it was in India in 1946. Just like it was in Kenya in 1963.

It's a time for Christmas cards rather than a rat infested cell in Peterhead jail of a bunk bed in a concentration camp in the shadow of Mount Kenya.

Am I reading rather too much into a single Christmas card from the Viceroy?

Probably. When all is said and done, I am a purveyor of pulp fiction so maybe you can embrace the festive spirit and give me a break.

The bigger question I guess is this.

Is Alister about to make like Lord Louis Mountbatton and Malcolm McDonald?

Not just the Viceroy, but the last Viceroy?

Maybe one day our Christmas card might just become something of a collector's item!

Tuesday, December 14, 2021



I can't say there will be much structure to this blog. You are not about to be taken on a careful, well structured journey from A to B to C. Instead it's going to be a bunch of random observations of a pandemic drenched world where the lunatics are running the asylum into the ground.

Every day brings forth facts which a couple of years ago would have been utterly inconceivable. Unthinkable.

I guess it is what Britain 2021 has become.

Unthinkable. All of it. The stuff on the news. The stuff in day to day life.

I was chatting with Kerr the other day. He owns the Little Bakery in Dumfries and he supplies us with two and a half thousand of his award winning pies a month at a price which is quite frankly ridiculous.


He was talking bills. Right now, as 2021 draws its final few breaths, he is paying 14p a unit for his electricity. Then 1 January 2022 will land on the mat. And does it ever.

The brave new year will see Kerr's electric costs go up from 14p per unit all the way to 33p per unit.

Just like that. Over night.

And he uses plenty electric. It's a factory when all is said and done. His flour supplier has been round to slap a non negotiable 20% rise on the table. His insurance provider is wanting a 100% increase.

It's not so much death by a thousand cuts as death by a thousand machete slashes.

And of course there are only two outcomes. Kerr can keep his prices where they are and slowly but surely fade away into bankruptcy. Of he can pass on all the increases to you and me.

This isn't just a hint of inflation. This is a complete nightmare. Right there in black and white. Across the board.

And yet even at these ever rising prices, ordering in fifty tins of tinned spaghetti generally doesn't go well. Some days we are lucky to receive half a dozen. And this has somehow become normal.

Where will it all end up is the $64,000 question.

Christ knows.

Lets take a ride up the A76 to the village of Thornhill. Is it a village? I'm not entirely sure. Population of 2000 or thereabouts with a Co-op and a high school. Does this make it a small town?


Whatever. For those of you who don't know Thornhill, it is a postcard kind of a place. The high street is still home to well appointed expensive shops for well appointed customers who park up their gleaming 4x4's cheek by jowl. The venerable red stone buildings sit in front of a glorious backdrop of Scottish hills. Add in a seasonal sprinkling of snow, and the place positively gleams.

Our food parcels have been available for collection from the small library for many years. Once upon a time, a busy month would see three parcels picked up. A quiet month would mean a big fat zero. From time to time, I would get a call asking me to pick up parcels containing items which had slipped by their sell by date.

Well that was then.

I think it is fair to say things have changed somewhat.

The pandemic closed the library for book business but Dumfries and Galloway Council gave us a set of keys and allowed us to use the space for emergency food. I am truly chuffed to be able to report this arrangement is now permanent.

We are open once a week. On a Sunday. From 10 am to Noon. A brilliant team of volunteers runs the show from top to bottom. I turn up once a week with a van load of top up food to supplement what the local community donates. Which is lots by the way.

All of which brings me to last Sunday morning.

Our volunteers provided emergency food for 55 people.

In two hours.

In Thornhill.

In an affluent village/town of 2000 souls.


I know.

If this is a canary in the coal mine, we are about to be absolutely swamped when the biting cold reality of January arrives like a bunch of Russian mercenaries.

In balaclavas.

Happily other unexpected 2021 things are rather more encouraging. We are now nearly two years into the era of Covid and still the local community never ceases to be completely amazing. Every day sees food and cash donations pour in. Every week I turn up at Morrisons to pack my van to bursting point. I would like nothing more than to ramble on for page after page thanking all the people to are helping us to do what we do.

But that would be really, really boring.

And you would stop reading.

So the thank you will have to be scatter gun and general, but completely heartfelt all the same.

But I think three cases do warrant a spotlight.

Let's face it, power companies are not exactly flavour of the month right now. We see them as giant, faceless corporations who are draining our bank accounts and wrecking the climate.

As in bad guys. Wall to wall bad guys.

Well I am going to buck the trend here and give a shout out for three local purveyors of power who aren't such bad guys after all.

In truth, nobody in their right mind would ever call the Wood Fuel Co-Op in Dumfries bad guys. They sell a wide variety of eco friendly, re-cycled products designed to make open fires and wood burners environmentally acceptable. You know the kind of thing. You see these kinds of products stacked high in petrol stations where they are sold at double the prices the guys at the Wood Fuel Co-Op charge.

Their name of course gives the game away.

They are a Co-Op and here is how things work. When you pitch up, they will ask if you would like to become a member and thereby be eligible for a discount on the fuel you purchase. You don't have to say yes, but the member's discount makes it kind of hard to say no.

So. How much?

Well it's as much or as little as you like.

And where does the money go?

Well, that would be to us, actually. To First Base. To the local food bank.

And every month members are encouraged to give a donation when they stop by for their fuel.

And every month the proceeds are sent our way via our JustGiving page.

£710 this month.

How good is that?

If Heineken did green fuel businesses........


An e mail. Not asked for. Not solicited. Not begging lettered.

An email from out of the clear blue of cyber space.

It was from E'on. From their Steven's Croft Biomass power station in Lockerbie. The company had made funds available for the staff to give to charity and the staff had chosen First Base.

Could I furnish our bank details?

I could. I did. And £995 duly landed in our account,


Another email. Not asked for. Not solicited. Not begging lettered.

This time from Scottish Power.

Every year the company provides the staff with a fund for Christmas parties. By the way, this particular email landed before Christmas parties became quite such a thing as they are as I pen these words.

Well this year the staff got their collective heads together and decided the money would better going to hard stretched front line charities rather than cakes and ale. They decided to allow staff from across all regions vote to identify their chosen charity.

The email was happy to inform me that hundreds and hundreds of staff working in the South West of Scotland had voted for First Base.

Which meant some cash would be headed our way once I filled in a couple of boxes and provided our bank details.

So could I call to talk things through?

Of course I could. And I did and within a minute or so I damn nearly fell off my chair.


Seriously. Ten thousand bloody pounds.

I was completely speechless.

This is the kind of thing which counts double for us. Treble. When I fill in an application and get a 'yes' letter in response, it is good. Obviously.

But this is different. Hundreds of people have voted for First Base on the back of what we have been trying to do for the last twenty years.

I guess you can imagine how it makes us feel.

Humbled. Honoured. Motivated to keep on doing what we do.

It is worth remembering how behind the smug corporate logos lie millions of real living and breathing human beings. People power. The optimistic Ying to the scary corporate Yang.

I heard the CEO of some massive global investment fund interviewed a while ago. His outfit was managing tens of billions of pension fund cash and they were announcing to the world that from here on in the money was heading into renewables. Of course he made a long term economic case and warned of stranded money lost in the untapped oil wells of the future.

But then he went personal. He talked of his teenage kids. And he explained how he really didn't want his teenage kids to hate his guts.

He explained how this was one of the main reasons why his fund was sticking two fingers up to the likes of Trump and Bolsonaro and piling tens of billions into a better future for our grand kids.

People power, right?

Long may it last.


Monday, December 6, 2021



It's 7.45.

Not even close to getting light.

Rain streaming down the window.

Wind shaking the pane.

And an old line from a Simon and Garfunkel song.

“A winter's day in a deep and dark December.”

Deep and dark.

Sounds about right.

For some months now, working in a food bank has felt a little like living on a Caribbean island in the path of an incoming hurricane.

The weather reports all point in one direction. Everyone agrees a storm is on the way. And everyone agrees it will hit. There is only one unanswered question. The $64,000 question.

How bad will it be? 

Will we manage to ride it out? Or will it just smash up everything in sight no matter what we do?

I have been doing this job for twenty years now and never have there been so many warning signs.

Is it worth a list?

Yeah. Why not? Get it all down on paper. All the elements of the coming storm. The avoidable and the unavoidable. The acts of God and the self inflicted.

Before starting the list, it is maybe worth creating a fictional character to play a lead role in our December 2021 drama.

He's an ordinary Joe so we'll call him Joe.

A couple of months ago he was living the high life on £93 a week of Universal Credit with all of his rent covered. Most of his Council Tax was taken care of too, but he was still setting aside £7 a week to cover his share.

So. £86 a week of disposable income.

Well the Johnson regime clearly thought this was the kind of lifestyle the likes of Joe had no right whatsoever to become accustomed to.

Well of course they did.

Don't you just love it when an old Etonian who describes the £250,000 a year he was trousering for penning right wing poison for the Telegraph as 'chicken feed' decides in his great wisdom that £93 a week is rather over generous for the likes of our Joe.

So Joe was duly issued with a 20% pay cut which took his disposable income down to £66.

50 inch TV's and holidays in Benidorm?

Maybe not.

A year ago Joe's weekly shop set him back by £25. He was actually pretty cute when it came to getting the maximum nutritional bang from his limited buck. He got by on the likes of tinned spaghetti at 13p a tin and own brand 'value' Corn Flakes at 55p a box.

Suddenly it isn't so easy to find three meals a day out of £25 a week.

Not when the cheapest spaghetti is 32p.

Not when the Corn Flakes are 90p

Mere pennies to Johnson.

Ten pounds a week to Joe.

Because the government's headline 10% food inflation does not exist in the value ranges. In the value ranges its 33% if your lucky.

Which is why Joe's weekly shop tends to come in at £35.

Leaving him with a disposable income of £31.

And the temperature is dropping. Well obviously. It's winter. A deep and dark December.

Two months ago Joe never used so much as a cubic centimetre of gas. But now the flat is cold enough to eat into his bones. Especially now he is trying to cut back on his food intake. Because Johnson and his courtiers have told us all to embrace the spirit of 1940 when Polish pilots saved our bacon and everyone tried to convince themselves whale meat was anything but utterly disgusting.

This time last year, Joe was just about able to eke out his life on £20 a week's worth of power.

Now he can't seem to get it below £23.

But it's only three quid.

If £250,000 a year is chicken feed, then £3 a week is micro organism feed. Fair enough. Because when all is said and done our Joe is very much one of the little people.

A little person with a disposable income of £8.

Except it isn't.

Because once upon a time Joe took and advance on his Universal Credit and now they deduct £5 a week to bring him back up to speed.

Leaving a disposable income of £3.

Except it isn't because once upon a time Joe got himself into rent arrears which means £5 a week is deducted to bring him back up to speed.

Leaving a disposable income of …..


Something has to give. Any chance of driving down those pesky variable costs like a sharp penciled manager of a private equity firm?


Oh dear Joe. What are you going to do? Going to heat or eat? That most December 2021 of questions.

Any chance of a leg up with the heating side of the equation?


Well it's time to make your way into First Base for the first time in a year.

Joe's is the story of three of the storm warning signs. The 21% pay cut at a time when food and fuel inflation are wearing flares and perming their hair an doing the whole 1970's immersive experience thing.

And yet the list goes on.

And on.

Mental health referrals are so off the scales that it even Yorkshire Ripper levels of raging insanity probably wouldn't be enough to be deemed to be enough to justify fast track treatment.

Alcohol dependency referrals have risen five fold.

Credit card interest rates are being jacked up on a weekly basis.

Petrol prices are smashing records.

The cost of a plumbing emergency has doubled as tradesmen adopt a policy of 'think of a number' pricing.

And all the while, the rest of the world watches the Westminster clown show like some some kind of tawdry but addictive reality TV show and they just laugh their socks off. I seem to recall there is a very German word to describe this. 


But this doesn't matter, right? Not to the likes of Joe?

What has the Chinese and French having a right good laugh at the idiots running our country got to do with Joe and his disposable income?

Well quite a lot when the value of the pound graph goes in the polar opposite direction to the value of a loaf of bread graph.

See where I'm coming from?

It's quite the storm warning when you are standing behind the counter of a food bank.

It's crystal clear things will be bad.

How bad?

I literally hate to think.

Thank God the public still have a much better sense of the nightmare all the millions of Joes are facing up to than the clowns in Westminster have.

Food and cash donations are still amazing. Every week my van gets filled up and emptied out on multiple occasions.

So for the umpteenth time, a huge thank you is required to each and every person who continues to help us to help the likes of Joe. We are only as good as the community who support us.

Will it be enough? I hope so. It has always been enough before. In twenty years, First Base has never turned anyone away due to us having no food to give out. So of course we will do all we can to keep this proud record in tact when the storm escalates.

Will it be enough?

We'll find out soon enough I guess.

Well it's light now. Barely.

Time to head across to Annan Tesco to fill up the van. And then empty it. Again.

If you are minded to offer us a small leg up, we would be hugely grateful. You can find our online fundraising page by following the link below.