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, October 19, 2016


So, as you can see there are pictures of two women at the top of this blog. They are both American women in their late sixties. One of them will be all too familiar. I am pretty certain the second woman will be a complete unknown to the readers who make their way to these words of mine. Because of the old death and taxes thing, it is doubtful if either of these ladies will still be with us in twenty years time. In twenty years time they will have departed the stage for the final time leaving only memories of their lives and achievements.

And when they are both dead and gone, one of these women will have changed the world utterly and made a huge contribution to the whole of mankind. I am pretty sure you will know well enough where I am headed here. Well, I always was a bit obvious. And yes, you're absolutely right. It won't be the woman we have all heard of who will be remembered for doing something world changingly great. It will be the other one. The one none of us have ever heard of.

So where are we at. In the blue corner – literally – we have Hillary Rodham Clinton who is fighting like a spitting, cornered cat to get the nod to be the most powerful woman in the world. Or man for that matter. Human being number one. And of course it is hard to argue that particular fact. If she is indeed granted the keys to the Oval Office, she will also be granted the chance to let all those American nukes fly and thereby fulfill Robert Oppenheimer's prophetic words.

'Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.'

But if Hilary is to be the one to bring forth Armageddon, she won't really be able to claim all that much of the credit. Fair enough she will be the one to press the button, but the only reason there is a button in the first place has nothing to do with her. The fact the American President gets the chance to end civilisation as we know it is entirely down to the likes of Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer and their outsized brains.

Of course Hillary isn't basing her campaign on claiming the right to turn the planet into an irradiated wilderness. Obviously. It wouldn't be much of a vote winner. Instead she is doing her damndest to focus American minds on the dreaded Donald getting a shot at using his fingers to do something rather more terminal than groping pussies. I guess it is hard to disagree with her on that particular point.

But Hillary is focusing on the positive stuff and all the big changes she will make to the lives of 300,000,000 Americans. This is a familiar story. It is told be every candidate who dreams of becoming the most powerful human being on the planet. And when the prize is so huge, it is hardly surprising the race gets a tad ferocious as the last two standing splash hundreds of millions of dollars to slag each other off.

In 2008 the prospect of the most powerful man in the world delivering huge, life enhancing change seemed like it might be genuine. Barack Obama looked like a man to change the world for the better. Well, he tried his best but it only took a couple of months to see that the most powerful man in the world wasn't actually so powerful at all. He reckoned his huge win gave him the right to try out big stuff like finally making sure poor Americans got the chance to see a doctor when they got sick. It would have been nice if the Senate and the Congress had agreed, but they didn't. Instead the Republicans chose to put superglue under his feet and he remained stuck and hopeless for eight long years.

Barack never got the chance to use his so called power for anything good. Instead all he was left with was the chance to be destructive. He was never going to be allowed to use the the most powerful economy in the world to treat poor people who had gotten sick, but he could have invaded Iran any time he liked. Firing off Hellfire Missiles from his drone fleet was on the table every single day. Bringing in new laws to stop headbangers walking into Walmart to buy semi automatic weapons was a complete pipe dream. I actually believe Barack would have dearly loved to change the world for the better. To leave a legacy. To genuinely earn a chance to get his mug up onto Mount Rushmore. But in reality it was never going to happen. And it didn't happen.

The same fate awaits Hillary Clinton when she ends her life time quest to reach the top of the ladder. She will have all the opportunities in the world to do bad and virtually no opportunity whatsoever to do good.

At times I wonder why we get so carried away when election time comes around. Those who are elected seldom manage to change anything. Well, not for the good at least. In 1997 Tony Blair was the great white hope as he bounced into Downing St like an over eager puppy dog. He was granted over ten years to make things happen with a massive majority behind him. Was that enough to leave a genuine legacy of making things better? Nope. Instead he will be remembered for being party to a historic mistake which left over a million Iraqis dead before their time.

Hillary Rodham Clinton knows all this of course. She has been round the block enough times to get real. There will be no point in wasting her time trying to make nice. What would be the point? Instead she will get her teeth into the nice juicy War on Terror. She is making it a big selling point. Wanna a safe pair of hands to bomb those ISIS long beards back into the Stone Age? Well, I'm your gal!

The future isn't so hard to read. Barring unimaginable miracles, Hillary will win and get the desk in the Oval Office. And she will spend a minimum of four years firing off hellfire missiles around the world. The Great War on Terror will drag on. Endless billions of tax payers dollars will be wasted and in four years time a new cast of characters will strut about the place and promise to be even tougher.

And all the while the real change will happen elsewhere. Which brings me to American lady number two. Loretta Mayer – the real change maker. A few years ago Loretta joined another long running war. Unlike the Great War on Terror, this is a war that has raged for thousands of years. It has been the most protracted and brutal war our planet has ever seen. Casualties on both sides make even the Second World War seem like a tea party.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the real war of the ages. Man versus rat.

As wars go, this one is a bit like Vietnam - times about a million. In Indochina it seemed like the Americans held all the high cards. They had jets and B52's and aircraft carriers off the coast. They had napalm and Agent Orange. They had the money and the finest weaponry money could buy and when it came to their treasured 'Kill Ratio' they won the thing hands down. The Americans lost just shy of 70,000 soldiers whilst the Vietnamese lost millions. But in the end, the sheer sticking power of the little guys won the day and the most powerful nation on the planet was sent back home tae think again.

Our war on the rats has always run on similar lines. We kill and kill and kill and yet they never go away. We trap them and poison them and do absolutely anything we can think of to get them, and yet they just keep on coming. Worst of all, we have always known they will win in the end no matter how hard we try. If Hillary succumbs to the temptation to let all of her nukes fly, the era of man will probably end as the radiation clouds roll across the earth. But our age old foe will soon find a way to deal with it. Radiation? So what's the big deal. We're rats. We can handle it. We can handle anything.

When it comes to industrial killing, no animal comes close to human beings. We really, really know how to kill and we get better at it with every year that passes. In the end we will kill ourselves. We just can't help ourselves. And when it comes to mega death, we have certainly killed our share of rats over the ages. Trillions of them. But we have never managed to kill enough. Because at the end of the day they are the ones who hold the real high card. We have the nukes but they are happy to play the long game because they will always outbreed us.

If you put a mummy rat and a daddy rat into a perfect safe place where there is plenty to eat and drink and no human beings to kill them, the results are utterly jaw dropping. Mummy rat and daddy rat will live for a about a year and during that time they will create a pretty large extended family.

As in 15,000.

As in fifteen bloody thousand! 

No wonder we can't kill them fast enough. A female rat ovulates every three days and copulates every hour or so. No wonder they evolve and adapt at such lightning speed. No wonder they can shrug their shoulders at the prospect of an irradiated world. They have always known one day they will inherit the world. For the whole of history they have known all they need to do is breed and wait.

And all the while they nip at our heels like the Viet Cong once upon a time nipped at the heels of the mighty US Marine Corps. They spread diseases and steal our food. Every year 30% of the Indonesian rice crop is eaten by rats. Once they have had their fill, we humans get the 75 million tonnes they have left for us. With no rats, the harvest would be well over 100 million tonnes. In a hungry world, 30 million tonnes of rice feeds and awful lot of mouths. If we were ever to find a way to win our long war against the rats the prospect of hunger and famine would be kicked a long way down the tracks.

And here is where Loretta Mayer steps onto the stage as a genuine game changing human being; as the kind of superhero to make Batman look distinctly second rate.

Loretta joined the war on rats a decade ago and after thousands of years of failure, she has found a way to turn the tide. Loretta's big thing is that she is a vegan who really likes animals and hates the idea of killing them. She took a step back and took a measured view of the great war. She took a look at the big guns in the respective armouries of the two combatants. Our biggest strength? We're smart. Their biggest strength? Their ability to breed. And from that starting point it didn't take her so very long to find a way to use our strength to finally find a way to win the war. She was smart enough to discover the means to stop them breeding. She has come up with a super sugary pink liquid that rats simply cannot resist. Once they slurp it down they don't keel over and die and the female rats are entirely unaffected. But the male rats lose their sperm count and all of a sudden the whole game is changed completely.

If a dish of Loretta's pink goo was added to the mummy rat, daddy rat scenario, the outcome is an extended family of zero after a year instead of a family of fifteen thousand. Finally it seems we are about to finally win our long war. And why? Because an animal loving vegan woke up to the fact that wholesale killing was never going to be the answer.

Over the coming years, millions upon millions of human beings will owe their lives to Loretta Mayer and the thousands of American fire fighters who have invested their pension funds into her genius. She is about to change the world for the better in a truly massive way. She is about to become one of the very greatest human beings ever to draw breath but we won't notice because we are all way too obsessed with the Hillary/Donald show.

And of course there is a moral to this particular tale. Politicians are hugely over rated. If we want real change we need to look to the the likes of Loretta Mayer and her firemen. The good stuff always comes from the bottom. Only bad stuff tends to come from the top. 

Friday, October 14, 2016


It's 2007.

Carol and I are killing some time in a $40 a night motel somewhere deep in Rustbelt America. We were twenty miles or so out of Pittsburgh in a one horse sort of town complete with a crumbling old factory and a bunch of boarded up shops. The Walmart car park was all but empty and the only sign of activity were the two shiny Marines who were out and about looking for recruits for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The TV was on and I was hopping my way through channel after channel bizarreness. Then I landed on a political interview with a guy I had neither seen or heard of before. And yet within about ten seconds the screen seemed to burst with charisma. Wow.

Who and what and where? It turned out he was a few months into a crazy long shot run at the White House. The interviewer chuckled at the length of the odds he was facing. And the candidate laughed along with the knowing smile of someone who knew he was going to win even if the rest of the world didn't.

I nudged Carol away from her book and pointed at the screen.

You need the watch this guy. He's unbelievable.”

So we watched. Mesmerised. In a forty bucks a night motel in the midst of Rustbelt Pennsylvania.

Once again the interviewer indulged in an amused chuckle.

Senator Obama, how do you feel about the fact that Hilary Clinton will have her husband Bill on her team in the campaign. Rather daunting, don't you think.....?”

The question provoked an amused smile. “I think you are forgetting that I'll have Michelle on my team. And Michelle's got some game, I tell you.”

When the show rolled onto the next item, I told Carol this Obama guy would be the next President. And Carol laughed at the idea of a black man being President. Not in my lifetime she said. Not a chance.

So we shook hands on a £1 bet which eighteen months later I duly won.

Watching Barrack that day for the very first time was one of those light bulb moments. His eloquence and charisma completely overwhelmed the fact he was an unheard of nobody out of Chicago. He was just so damned good it was inconceivable to me that he wouldn't win.

It was a light bulbs moment which won me a quid.

I mention this eight year old memory because I had a similar light bulb moment last night whilst watching 'Question Time'.

The evening news had carried footage of Nicola Sturgeon bringing the 3000 delegates to the SNP conference to their feet by announcing she was kicking off the IndyRef 2 preliminaries. Experts had been to quick to point out this wasn't an actual referendum. Far from it. It was merely the beginning of a road. It was packing the suitcases and leaving them ready by the front door. You know, just in case.

And of course it summoned up howls of outrage and derision from the usual Unionist suspects. Of course it it. These guys would lack the reason to exist if they failed to leap in front of the cameras to bay and mock the very idea of an independent Scotland.

So nothing new there then.

The Beeb had shown a bit of foresight and booked Alec Salmond in anticipation of this kind of thing. And Alec had obviously decided to foresake the SNP conference in Glasgow for a museum in Hendon.

And of course the Beeb couldn't have chosen a question along the lines of 'Does the panel think there will be another independence referendum in Scotland?' Of course they couldn't. Instead the question was a mocking little number talking about how those who lose a playground coin toss start begging for the chance of best of three.

So nothing new there then.

But from that moment everything was new. Edge of the seat new.

The UK has become a very different place in the post Brexit world. As the value of Sterling has plummeted, sales of Cross of St George flags have broken all records. It is the era of white van man in a land where racism is the new black. Bigotry isn't simply OK, it seems to becoming mandatory. Jeremy Hardy summed up Theresa May's shiny vision rather well on Friday Night Comedy. Her's will be a realm where everyone will have an equal shot be they black or white, straight or gay, tolerant of bigoted...'

The ever adaptable Tories are racing to catch up with the new reality. No longer do they need to keep their racist tendencies in the closet. Oh no. The time has come for them to come out and now they are testing the boundaries like toddling children working out what behaviour is deemed to be amusing and what behaviour will result in a smack and an early night. They take their lead from the front pages of the Daily Mail and the Express. The settled will of the British people is to be xenophobic and racist which means our gallant leaders deem it to be their democratic duty to be xenophobic and racist. They are spending their time gleefully testing the waters like teenagers experimenting with legal highs. 

Of course they can only go so far. Amber Rudd found out the hard way where the boundary was when she tried out her big idea of naming and shaming businesses who employ too many foreign types.

Not to worry. A learning curve, right?

And what a heroic place Brexit Britain is. It is a place where you can be murdered on the street for the crime of being Polish or being an MP showing too much love for Johnny Foreigner. It is a place where you can have your Hijab ripped clean off your head.

23 June has spawned a new Nationalism which marches under the flag of St George. It's called English Nationalism and it doesn't look much like the Nationalism we have up here. It is a spitting, snarling, eight pints into a Friday night Nationalism. It is a Nationalism which harks back to a time of greatness when irksome wogs were dealt with by gunboats and Lancaster bombers firebombed German cities. Little England is getting off on the dream of a new golden age where foreign types will once again be trained to know their place.

Who cares if the pound is making like the Zimbabwean Dollar? Who cares if the rest of the world is starting to look at us like we are some kind of basket case of deluded losers? England is adopting the strut and swagger of Millwall fans.

'We are Millwall, we are Millwall, we are Millwall, from the Den.
No-one likes us, No-one likes us, No-one likes us, we don't care...'

Once again the dreams of Empire are coming alive. Once we rid ourselves of the Muslims and the Poles we can rule the world again. The cotton mills and the steel mills will all open up and run 24/7. Soon the shipyards will be clanking with the sound of thousands of highly paid white men making a new fleet of gunboats to sail out of Portsmouth harbour to re-conquer the world.

But first there are enemies to be rooted out. The job stealers from Eastern Europe. The uppity Muslims who have the cheek to own busy Spar shops and drive better cars than their customers. And of course there is the hated Metropolitan Liberal Elite who are plotting to overthrow the greatest democratic moment in our nation's long and proud history. What has come as a shock to one and all is the terrifying truth that this despised Metropolitan Liberal Elite is sixteen million strong. The hard truth the new heroic flag carriers of Brexit Britain are having to deal with is that 48% of us are democracy hating 'Remoaners'.

So where in all of this was my light bulb moment?

Oh it was there all right. And it was a hell of a light bulb. It was the kind of light bulb you expect to find hanging from the concrete ceiling of a torture room. Bright enough to burn the back of the eyes.

More or less as soon as the 'best of three' IndyRef 2 question was asked, the flag of St George brigade in the studio audience started to bristle. Their mood was crystal clear. The Scots were well and truly on their list of bad people along with the Muslims and the Poles and the namby pamby tree huggers. And the panel jumped onto the back of the prevailing mood with evident glee. There was no hint of the 2014 love bombing. We love you Scotland.... we really, really do. Please don't leave us. Please stay.....

Oh no. None of that. Instead there was mockery and derision. Leave? Oh yeah. Dream on you pathetic bastards. You lot are poorer than Greece. You're a complete joke. Leave? Dream on.

They were Queen Victoria and we were the Matebele. Independence? Oh come on. You lot couldn't manage for a week. They are the all knowing parents and we are the thirteen year old having a tantrum and threatening to run away from home.

And you could sense Alec was finding it hard to conceal his smile of joy. Because when IndyRef 2 rolls around, this will be the new Better Together. No more Mr Nice Guy. No more parents worried sick at their treasured child making a truly terrible life choice. Instead it will be unconcealed mockery and derision. Want to go your own way? Course you do. Like you want to be pathetic and poor, right? You lot? Don't make me laugh. Yeah, go on then. Have your poxy little vote. Like we give a shit. Like we are supposed to be worried. As if! You haven't got the bottle. You'll never have the bottle. Piss off and sleep in a doorway for all we care.

This time the words from south of the border will be very different. This time we will be lined up alongside the Poles and the Muslims. When I was growing up in the seventies, Saturday night prime time was filled with comedians who made a handsome living out of cracking Irish jokes and Nigger jokes and mother in law jokes. Then that kind of thing was deemed to be beyond the pale. But now we live in suddenly different times. IndyRef 2 will be a time of Scottish jokes and the millions who have wrapped themselves in the flag of the Cross of St George are all primed and ready to laugh along.

Well, the Scots don't tend to react well to this kind of thing. Never have and never will. The response will be pretty straight forward. The response will be 'away and shite'. The response will be 'Yes' by a country mile. And there will be nothing anyone will be able to do about it. Nobody will be able to persuade the Brexit brigade to make nice. I very much doubt if anyone will even bother to try. Last night Little England had it's say and it will continue to have it's say.

And we will also have our say. This time we'll say thanks, but no thanks. This time we'll say 'away and shite' with the lot of you.

This time we'll say yes.

Anyone want a quid on it?      

Friday, October 7, 2016


Watching the news this week has been a thoroughly depressing pastime. Aleppo of course has been the hardest watch and those wrecked streets seem destined to remain the hardest watch for months and years to come. I guess Haiti was next on the dismal list. It seems the place where sticking pins in people was invented has become a pin cushion for the gods who have thrown another vast natural catastrophe at a bunch of flimsy cardboard shacks.

And then of course we were served up the nauseous pictures of the collective Tory faithful indulging in a kind of mass orgasm at the prospect of so called 'Hard Brexit'

I only saw the headlines of most of it. A few commentators found it to be the nearest thing they had seen to a Politbureau jamboree since the Berlin Wall came down. Dreary speeches delivered badly by dreary men in dreary suits were cheered to the rafters for the hate they contained. Hi Ho Silver, we're all about to saddle up and head back to the sunlit days of the 1950's when we still had an Empire and plenty of perfectly formed public school types were all properly fired up to give the uppity wogs a good and proper bashing.

There was something horribly grotesque about it all. Pavlov's dog was barking its little head off. You say the word immigrant and you add something nasty and the floor will dutifully cheer and get all tearful at the prospect of the return of the British Empire. These were a bunch of people all primed and raring to re-shoulder the 'White Man's Burden' and ride out of Portsmouth Sound in a shiny new fleet of gunboats.

And of course the media jumped up and down in glee like a bunch of freckled cheerleaders from small town Iowa. For there was no more talk of economic sanity to be heard this week. Such nonsense was consigned to a great British dustbin. Who needs factories and jobs when you have the chance to kick out Johnny Foreigner and never, ever allow him in back in again.

What is truly scary is how this vicious bile seems to have become universally accepted. Apparently it is now the settled will of the British people to be xenophobic bastards. The greatest democratic act in our tawdry history deemed it to be so. Well, didn't it?

This week feels like the end of debate. Anyone who has the gall to speak up for the idea of hanging onto the only half way decent market we have is screamed at for being a democracy denying member of the Metropolitan liberal elite. Shut your face you Latte sipping privileged bastard. The poor people of Britain have cast their votes for seeping racism and my God we are going to deliver it.

With both barrels.

Usually when a Government is about to embark on such a suicidally idiotic course there is at least a degree of dissent from the media. Well it ain't so this time. Instead almost to a man and woman they are gushing at the dawn of the Hard Brexit dream. They are painting pictures of Theresa May as some kind of Wonder Womanish amalgam of Boudicea, Maggie Thatcher, Mother Teresa and Joan of Arc. Well. Not Joan of Arc. She was French. Come to think of it Mother Teresa was even worse. Oh yeah, half Albanian I'm afraid. Dear oh dear. Well we'll certainly keep the likes of her out in the future. 

Well it seems we now have our very own Mother Theresa and she is about to take us all to the promised land the good folk of Hartlepool and Merthyr Tydfil voted for in their droves. It's called foreigner free grinding poverty.

In the midst of all this rampant propaganda, the occasional snippet of reality raises a rather embarrassed head over the parapet.

Amazingly enough I know a bit about what currency fluctuations look like. Way back when, it was my job to buy all the commodities our family business needed to make 120,000 tonnes of cattle feed a year. When the pound fell in value, the price of soya would shoot up. And if the price of soya shot up, so would our prices, and farmers would call us every name under the sun. A weak pound is lousy news for anyone importing stuff. A weak pound means you have to whack up your prices and your customers hate you for it. The supermarkets are gearing up for this right now. A 10% crash in the value of sterling means a 10% price hike for groceries this winter.

On the flip side, a weak currency is manna from heaven for anyone looking to export something. For these boys, a 10% fall in the value of sterling means special offers all round for overseas customers. Maybe this is the brave new world we are hearing so much about from Boris and his merry men. Or maybe not. Because to export stuff you need to have something to export. You know. The kind of stuff you make in those places called factories. We used to have factories once upon a time until Maggie put a stop to that kind of thing. Nowadays 90% of our economy is 'service industry' where smart young Polish waitresses sell over priced coffee to pensioners who have yanked equity out of their over priced houses. Sorry buddy, you can't export that kind of thing no matter what kind of brave new world you create.

But come on. It's not like we don't make ANYTHING any more. We still make SOME stuff people want to buy. Well, don't we? Fair enough, not much. But some. Right?


Like Jaguar cars?

Sure. Like Jaguar cars. They must be having a field day right now exporting such a symbol of absolute British greatness to a world desperate buy that kind thing, especially when there is a 10% off sticker on the windscreen.

Well actually...... Well no. Not at all in fact.

Last week the boss of Jaguar made a statement which really should have stopped the Hard Brexit lads in their tracks if they had bothered to listen. He announced that sales of Jaguar cars in Europe had fallen since 23 June even though they were 10% cheaper.

But why and how?

Simple. They don't like us in Europe. They don't like the things we are saying about them. They don't like our tone. We are becoming the Apartheid South Africa of the new millennium. We're being boycotted. No wonder the cheerleaders for Hard Brexit weren't over keen on printing the thoughts of the boss of Jaguar in their papers.

But surely Her Majesty's Opposition will step up to the plate and start to convince the good people of Hartlepool and Merthyr Tydfil all foreigners are not benefit scrounging pickpockets hell bent on breaking the back of the NHS. After all, their great leader has been recast with an epic mandate. Surely the mighty Jeremy now has all the guns he needs in his armoury to take us all to the promised land.

Another snippet. And interview with Jess Philips MP. You might have heard her. Quite a character. She's a Brummie who has taken the journey from managing a women's refuge to the mother of all Parliaments.

So Jess, how was the atmosphere at the Labour Conference?

Yeah. Well …. a mate of mine from Birmingham came up for the day. When she hooked up with me I asked her how she was finding it.

I don't know what's going on here, Jess. It's weird. I've only been here three hours and I've already heard the word 'Jew' about forty times....”

Christ alive.

Here Majesty's Opposition. Aye bloody right. The world according to a Starbucks in Islington.

The most depressing thing of all is the relative silence up here in Scotland. Unlike England, we export all kinds of stuff – oil and timber and beef and whisky and salmon. And unlike England, we are popular all over the world. People like us and they want to buy our stuff, especially when it is 10% cheaper than it was a few months ago. We have the perfect opportunity to jump off this miserable sinking xenophobic ship. We just need to get on with the job of persuading people that the blindingly obvious really is blindingly obvious. We need to stop being so bloody cautious and start showing a bit of front. We need to get out while we can because who knows when another chance will come around.

One more snippet.

Last night President Hollande made a speech. He said something pretty straight forward. He said it was important that Hard Brexit should mean a world of pain for Mother Theresa and her citizens.

No great surprise about any of that. But what happened next was a surprise. All over the world the banks have developed computer programmes to read between the lines of the words of politicians. When the French President spoke, it was the middle of the night in Asia. All the human beings were asleep. But the computers were wide awake. The computers absorbed the words and considered the words and came to a conclusion.

Sell. Sell. Sell.

The value of Sterling crashed 10% in less than an hour as a bunch of Asian computers made their digital minds up about the brave new world of Hard Brexit.

Of course there was a huge panic and no doubt a few on the ball traders made a vast fortune. Human beings reversed the wisdom of the computers and the value of sterling crawled back to where it started.

It leaves us all wondering who was right? Man or machine? If I was still involved in the currency market, I would be putting my money with the machines.

We really, really need to get ourselves off this miserable sinking ship. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Yesterday I was driving back to Dumfries having collected some donated food when......

Actually, that really isn't enough. Well, is it? No it isn't. Try again Frankland.

Yesterday I was driving back to Dumfries having picked up seventy packs of delicious sliced ham which are donated to us each and every week by the good folk at Brown Brothers in Kelloholm.

Much better. Any half decent foodbank must never neglect the hand that feeds.

Anyway. A few miles out of Thornhill I hit the tail end of a wagon convoy and I just couldn't be bothered with it. So I turned right onto a back road based alternative route which I knew full well would take ten minutes longer, wagons or no wagons. It would just feel like less. With better views. And I am lucky enough not to be beholden to one of the new digital delivery outfits which expect you never waste so much as a nano second of time or else.

So it was over the swollen river Nith and straight west through a curtain of rain to the village of Penpont. Somewhere either side were the hills of the Southern Uplands, but a settled grey mist put paid to my chances of getting a look at them. Wet cattle sulked on the other side of wet hedges. And the temperature readout on the dashboard said it was a mere 8 degrees. At ten thirty. As in batten down the hatches because the long winter is a coming.

As I entered the quietness of Penpont, I once again celebrated not working for a slave driving outfit as I was able to something I have been meaning to do for a while. I drew up by the war memorial. You can see it at the top of the page. Yeah? So I guess you can see why I drew up. It is a truly beautiful thing to commemorate something truly awful. I didn't want to merely take a moment to look at it. I also wanted to count the names.

There are forty.

Does that seem a lot? In some ways, maybe it doesn't. Forty souls of Penpont in the midst of a carnage which did for more than ten million. But to look at the number forty in that way would be entirely the wrong context. Well I think it would be, and I'm the one who's writing the blog.

I found the right context a hour or so later.

Google. 'Penpont;

Wikipedia. A village in the Southern Uplands. Some co-ordinates.

Population 400.

Would the population have been much higher in 1914? Maybe, but I doubt if it would have been much. So 40 dead men represented 10% of the village's population. Or 20% of the village's male population. Or nearly 50% of the working age male population.

But that is only half the story, for there will have been many names which never made it onto the memorial. The wounded ones. The broken ones. The amputated and the blinded. The ones who were driven into madness. More Google told me that for every dead British soldier in the Great War there were two and a half who were seriously injured.


A hundred wounded guys to go with the forty dead guys.

So a hundred and forty dead or wounded men from a small Scottish village in the Southern Uplands that was probably home to not many more than 400 souls.


And yet Google also told me the percentage of dead and wounded in the United Kingdom as a whole was 7%. A mere fifth of what happened to the men of Penpont.

I cannot begin to get my head around what such a vast loss must have felt like in such a small community. I have witnessed at first hand the gaping hole the 96 victims of Hillsborough tore in the community of Liverpool. Those 96 dead people represent the greatest tragedy suffered by the UK in many, many years. And yet they make up less than 0.001% of the population of the city they hailed from. Penpont had to deal with 35% of its population not coming home or coming home all broken up.

Penpont is unusual only in the beauty of its memorial. The same story is told by memorials the length and breadth of Scotland. I guess I notice this because I was born and bred south of the border where the memorials can be every bit as beautiful, and yet they only ever hold a fraction of the names.

In the light of this, is it really all that surprising Scotland has struggled at times over the last century. Considering how many Scots were fed into the mincing machine of the Western Front it is a wonder the country managed to function at all. The fact that a nation which was home to 8% of the population of the UK contributed 25% of the 1914/18 death toll really should still be an open wound. But it isn't of course. Instead it is just another of those quiet, hushed up facts of the British State.

I have no doubt London will have a hundred an one explanations as to how this thing happened. And I have no doubt they will have a whole bunch of professors with lots of letters after their names who will come up with lots of reasons as to why such a disproportionate number of Scots met their maker in the killing fields of France. And I guess we will probably buy what they are selling us. We usually do.

In 1967 it emerged that the exact same two numbers had come together in America. Black people made up 8% of the population of the United States. However black soldiers made up 25% of the death toll in Vietnam. When the stats leaked out, black people were not best amused. They were pretty convinced young black soldiers were being used as cannon fodder from the Mekong Delta in the south to the DMZ in the north.

They kicked off. Big style. And Detroit burned for a whole long, hot summertime week.

I guess it is good we are better at taking it on the chin. When all is said and done, setting cities alight is seldom a good look. What really gets my goat are the smug, cocky voices from studios in Westminster who gleefully explain why Scotland is far too pathetic to manage on its own. I guess it is what you get in return for shedding oceans of blood in the sacred name of King, country and Empire. With so many laid to rest under the fields of France and Belgium, the fact Scotland is where it is at today it is a bloody miracle. Maybe such an achievement could be seen as proof positive we are a nation who can get up and dust ourselves down no matter how hard we fall. Not capable of being independent? Oh really?

I turned left in the centre of the village and turned south. After couple of a miles and I drew up alongside a rather derelict looking building. Peeling paint and a plaque on the wall commemorating the fact that in 1840 a guy called Kirkpatrick McMillan only went and invented the bicycle. Right there. In this old blacksmiths shop. In Kiermill. In the Southern Uplands. In Scotland.

I mean, for Christ's sake. I guess there are a few bigger inventions than the bike, but not very many. Just think of the hundreds and hundreds of millions who have used a bike to get from A to B in the 176 years worth of human history since Kirkpatrick McMillan came up with the idea.

Thought of in Scotland. Invented in Scotland. Made in Scotland. This small wet and wild place in the grey north of the world. The place which is deemed to be so pathetic that we can't even think of managing on our own. Because we are all fat and sick and idle and communist and drunk and violent and addicted to fried everything. Subsidy junkies. Schemies.

OK. We might have invented the bike. OK. We might have offered up a third of our young men to the slaughter. But never mind all that. Let's forget all about all that. Instead let's take the piss on the front pages of the Express and the Mail. Let's mock and deride like we once mocked and derided inferior blacks and Irish. Let's hang onto our last scrap of significant Empire like a spoilt child clinging to a stolen toy.


Yesterday was two villages on a rainy morning on the very cusp of Autumn. Two villages and way too many ghosts and seventy packs of ham all boxed up in the back of the van.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Over recent weeks I have had an uneasy feeling in my bones. It seems like elements of the YES side of the Indy argument are showing signs of loosing our bottle when it comes to IndyRef 2. There is a growing prevailing mood of maybe this isn't the right time after all. Maybe the best thing might be to wait a while....

Fair enough, I get it. The lesson of Quebec is that we are only likely to get two shots at the thing and if we blow the next one we will have to wait for ever and a day for another go.

There is a real problem with this kind of mindset once it starts to take root. It tends to make you put off the moment of truth. And we really, really don't want to do that. Right?

So I figure it might be time to take a quick jog around the basic maths of the thing in order to get a bit of our Mojo back.


September 18, 2014. 

Roundish figures.

NO – 2,000,000
YES – 1,620,000

They beat us by 380,000 votes. As in 55 to 45 in terms of percentages.

The maths? Well, even for a lad who struggled like buggery to get my Maths O Level, this particular sum is easy enough to do. Assuming a similar turnout next time, those of us on the 'YES' side need to win an extra 200,000 votes or so and the day will be ours.

So how is such a prospect looking? Pretty damn good actually. The maths are well and truly on our side. Here's how.

Let's start with looking at old people and young people.

Let's assume the next referendum rolls around in 2019, OK. Between 2014 and 2019, about 250,000 old people in Scotland are going to shuffle off this mortal coil and die. Sure, it's sad but it is very much life. Death and taxes, right? Last time around the these golden oldies gave Better Together 200,000 votes whilst the YES side got a lousy 50,000. They won't be with us next time around which means the NO side will have to find an extra 200,000 votes to stand still. We on the Yes side on the other hand only need 50,000.

By 2019 the sadly departed oldies will have been replaced a quarter of a million youngies. Last time around the 16 to 20's voted Yes by the bus load. As in 200,000 YES to 50,000 NO.

So if things play out much the same in terms of how the the young and the old vote, things are going to change in a pretty big way. 150,000 more for us and 150,000 less for them.

As in....

NO – 1,850,000
YES – 1,770,000

Getting closer, right?

Then we come to all the EU people.

Last time around Better Together did one hell of a job when it came to lying to the EU nationals living in Scotland. All kinds of dodgy outfits were paid to call up people from Poland and Latvia to warn them they would be deported on 19 September if the YES side won the day. It was the very purest of bullshit of course, but there is nothing new in that. Black propaganda is almost always the very purest of bullshit but it doesn't mean it doesn't work.

How many EU nationals do we have in Scotland? Google doesn't come up with a definitive answer. 300,000 seems about right. Last time these guys fell about 70/30 for NO.

210,000 NO
90 YES

A big win for the bad guys, right? So what about next time around? Well it ain't too hard to guess. The UK isn't exactly about to be the most accommodating place for an EU national over the coming years. Can you imagine a single EU national voting for the NO side next time? Why on earth would they? It is basically inconceivable.

OK. I'm liking the look of this. An extra 210,000 votes for us. A 210,00 loss for them.

Check it out now

NO – 1,640,000
YES – 1,980,000

Bloody hell. 

Everything is turned on its head. A bunch of NO voting oldies make their way into the next world whilst a bunch of YES voting young guys replace them on the electoral roll and at the same time 300,000 EU nationals do what smart turkeys should do and vote against Christmas..

Other things to think about? Yeah, well there are a couple actually.

Have you met anyone who voted YES last time who has gone on to change their mind. You know, like, I really fancied the idea of living in an independent Scotland back in 2014 but since them I have really come to love being ruled from London. Well maybe there are a few of these guys around but I haven't met any. On the flip side there seem to be more than a few who have taken the journey in the other direction from NO to YES in the wake of the broken 'Vow', all the exposed lies and Brexit.

Then there is the prospect of the campaign. Last time around the rolling carnival of the YES campaign took a start point of 28% and swung the dial all the way to 45%. Basically we won the campaign and we won it hands down. In the end we didn't quite win big enough, but we absolutely won. Will there be any less energy next time around? I can't see it. Every YES supporter I meet is fired up and raring to get it on. I find it absolutely inconceivable to imagine YES losing the next campaign. Of course we'll win it. Last time we needed to swing the dial by 21%. This time 3% will be plenty thank you very much.

And now we need to talk about the good old chaps who went by the name of Better Together. Or Project Fear. Or lying bastards. By the time we reached the beginning of September 2014, people who were arranging debates were finding it all but impossible to sign anyone up to speak up for the 'NO' side. They had all run for the hills with their tails between their legs. Who on earth is going to be willing to step up and fly the flag of NO next time? It kind of looks it will be down to Ruth Davidson doing her best to be some kind of Tory Joan of Arc. Things have changed and they have changed about as utterly as things could have changed.

There will be no embarrassing train load of Labour MPs exiting Glasgow Central next time. There will be no national newspaper willing to be duped into giving over a front page to a dodgy 'Vow'. There will be no supermarkets willing to sacrifice the affection of the their customers and their turnover in return for a few scraps from the Downing St table. Labour are a busted flush. The LibDems are a busted flush and the beloved Tories will have much bigger Brexit fish to fry. The good folk arranging the debates of IndyRef 2 will have a task on their hands when it comes to digging out anyone to argue for Westminster rule.

And they know this. Of course they do. It is why they are sabre rattling right now with everything they have. And when it comes down to it, they only have one thing. The media. The MSM. The propaganda machine. Those endless ridiculous Mail and Express front pages. They have no boots on the ground any more. Only bluster.

Do you remember the interview Saddam's PR guy gave in Baghdad as the 2003 war was all but done. He was giving a piece to the cameras and telling the world the Americans were about to be thrown back over the border when a Bradley fighting vehicle suddenly appeared over his shoulder about 400 yards behind him. His bullshit couldn't have been exposed more completely. Well, it will be the same for Better Together next time. They don't really have any biological weapons to stop us in their tracks. There is no Republican Guard. Their tanks are rusted up and lack parts. All they have is the same old propaganda and the same old lies and it won't be anything like enough.

The maths are on our side. So is history. The door is wide open and we should be gearing up to knock it off its hinges. So come on guys, let's stop buying into the tired old bullshit in the Westminster papers. We need to wake up and get our game face on.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Sometimes the brain needs a spring clean. A bit like an old dusty rug being yanked outside into the fresh air for a good old fashioned walloping. Disc clean up for grey matter. Finally getting round to emptying the old shed at the bottom of the garden so stuffed with junk you can't open the bloody door.

Every day life means clutter and then more clutter again.

Piles of growling unpaid bills.

Digital bank statements giving all the wrong answers.

More leaks needing more buckets on the floor.

A mechanic shaking his head and doing the serious face and saying sorry pal but that's going to need a new one....

And day after day of broken people with broken lives and broken eyes coming in through the door for the limited salvation of a bag of food.

And it can be all too easy to forget entirely there is a huge great world out beyond the clutter where things are different. Sometimes better. Most of the time worse. But different.

My brain was de-cluttered the other day care of an eight hour drive across the Anatolian plain. From Antalya hanging on the cliff tops over the sparkling Mediterranean to Ankara crouched in its vast dusty valley like a brooding giant.

340 miles of completely different. Apart. A whole world away.

As a boy, Anatolia was one of those names which caught at my imagination. It sat alongside the Mekong delta and Bohemia and the Mountains of the Moon. It was always on my list of place to go. To see. To breathe in.

I first visited way back in the early 80's. There were four of us crammed into my venerable VW Beetle, a car which won fame far an wide for its heroic exploits and going by the name of Fatmo.

Turkey was different back then. The country was just a few months into its latest military coup and there were tanks on every junction. An infant tourist industry had been pretty well strangled at birth by the world wide success of the film 'Midnight Express' which painted a vivid picture of a brutal and cruel country you wouldn't want to visit in a million years.

It took about ten minutes to see through the nasty, despicable poison of 'Midnight Express'. In the movie, the ill treated American hero at one point blows his top with the evil judge who is sending him down for years for 
drug trafficking.

'For a nation of pigs it is odd that you don't eat them.'

Cue Oscars and worldwide critical acclaim. Which of course would be fair enough apart from the fact it was wall to wall bullshit. The fictional American hero was painted as a decent sort of chap who was daft enough to try and smuggle cannabis. The real life version was well and truly rooted in the heroin trade, but never mind such annoying detail.

Ten minutes after parking up Fatmo on the crazy streets of Istanbul we found out the Turks are some of the most welcoming and hospitable people on planet earth. Fair enough the soldiers were all armed to the teeth but they couldn't do enough for you. If we asked for directions we would get a full military escort to our destination. I still treasure fond memories of one to great drunken nights of my life when a larger than life full army colonel took us under his wing in Konya. There were an awful lot of toasts, most of which were on the lines celebrating Kenny Dalglish and nuking the bastard Russians. The whole regiment was gathered in a vast hall to get collectively ratted under a giant screen where Amy Stewart hammered out 'Knock on wood.' The huge man with the great dome of a bald head and the enormous appetite for life has appeared in a number of my books in slightly altered guises.

And of course Anatolia didn't disappoint. How could it?

A quarter of a century later, and I was back in Turkey for a two day visit. 

Oh if Carlsberg did two day visits.......

25 May 2005. Ataturk Stadium, Istanbul. Liverpool 3 – AC Milan 3 and the rest is history. Oh and how the citizens of Istanbul took to the 40,000 Scousers who descended on their ancient city. It was a marriage made in heaven. At a time when Blair and Bush were spreading their Islamophobic poison, every one of us who were present for the 'Miracle of  Istanbul' that night were able to see at first hand what crap it all was.

And now I am here again. Back in the vastness of the Anatolian plain and my brain feels all the better for it.


Like the flags. There are flags everywhere you look where man has a tenuous toehold in the wilderness. Bright red with a star and a crescent. The government flags are enormous and they seem to flap in a kind of graceful slow motion, like the cartoon flags in a Presidential campaign ad. And if they were the only flags to be seen, then you would get suspicious. But they are nowhere close to being alone. There are flags everywhere on shacks and stalls and the balconies on block after block of gleaming new flats.

In the towns you see a country in a hurry. A country where people feel good about themselves. Every square inch of public space is given over to lovingly tended greenery. Every pavement is cleaned within an inch of its life. It is so easy to forget not all countries are made up of beleaguered small towns filled with boarded up shops and beaten faces. There is a purpose here. A collective optimism. It's how we are going to look in Scotland when we finally shake ourselves free.

Then a few miles out of the towns, time suddenly stands still. Everything is vast and then some. Horizons which seem almost impossible to take in. It could be Texas or Mongolia or the plains of Argentina.

Lonely farmers on vintage tractors fight their epic battle against the elements. Faces like leather. Men and women for all seasons. Burning, unmerciful heat in summer and twenty below in winter.

They bring their produce to the roadside and lay it our with loving attention. Melons and onions and potatoes and seeds. Young boys wait in deck chairs for the next truck to pull over to haggle for the harvest.

Service areas are an exotic mix of crumbling concrete and the kind of customer service you can only dream of at home. Salads made up of tomatoes that taste like tomatoes and cucumbers that taste like cucumbers. Charnock Richard and its rapacious soulless American franchised junk food seems a world away.

The sun burns down and every horizon just keeps on getting bigger. It isn't hard to imagine the hordes of Genghis Khan sweeping over the ridgeline. Or Tammerlane. Or Marco Polo.

At one point the sky darkened and three separate storms threw down lightening onto the bare hills.

Anatolia is a place to remember how life can be simpler and bigger and cleaner and harder. A place where a life needs to be carved out. There are no hand outs here. Nobody wants them.

And after 350 miles of Anatolia my brain felt refreshed. De-cluttered. Ready to roll.

Friday, September 9, 2016


Brexit means....

I don't know about you but I am already sick to the back teeth of politicians and pundits telling me what Brexit means. Or what it might mean. Or what it is going to mean.

Yesterday our new Prime Minister decided to 'take the fifth' and make like a hard faced Gangsta on the floor of the mother of all Parliaments. The lady was saying nuffink about nuffink, innit. It seems what Brexit is and what it might be and what she hopes it will be is yet another of those British secrets the great unwashed are best off not knowing about.

Instead we need to button our lips and leave everything in the more than capable hands of good old boys from schools costing thirty grand a year. They are bred for it you know. The diplomacy thing. Empires don't just happen you know. It takes time. Experience. The right touch. So stop worrying yourselves about what Brexit might or might not mean, OK? Good. Remember your place. You've had your vote and you've buggered everything up so now just go back to your reality TV and your crisps.

Well, I have feeling I might have accidentally blundered onto something the other day. A hint. An inkling. A clue. A fleeting glimpse of what Brexit might be.

OK. Now I am no kind of picky eater, but I have a few red lines when it comes to cooking the evening meal. I hate and despise lousy pasta. It annoys me. Pisses me off. It just seems so unnecessary to peddle crap pasta when superb Italian pasta can be had for a few pence a packet more. Of course this has become an all too familiar story in the buccaneering, free wheeling Britain Maggie unleashed all those years ago. We head out over the water to Europe and sigh in wonder at just about everything we eat or drink. How can it be that everything tastes so much better that it does at home? The wine, the fruit, the pasta....? Why on earth can you buy super sweet apples and pears for pennies on a market in Riga when at home the supermarkets charge twice the price for stuff that looks like fruit but tastes like water?

Why oh why? Because we get ripped off all the time and we are too polite and too gullible and too dumb to moan about it. Oh, and the fact that the big supermarkets control 80% of the grocery market just like Robert Mugabe controls Zimbabwe. I once watched an interview with a French guy who ran a large vineyard. He talked the camera through the process. You harvest the grapes. You put them in a massive vat and you squeeze out the juice. Then you put the juice in huge wooden barrels and you wait for the juice to become wine. Next he talked us through the various different qualities. The top half of the horizontal barrel becomes the year's vintage and it is labelled up accordingly. The next 20% goes into plastic bottles to be sold in French supermarkets for a couple of Euros a litre. You know the stuff. The stuff we Brits buy and marvel at and reckon tastes better than the stuff we get at home. The next 10% goes to wine vinegar. And the bottom 30%? The dregs? Oh that is sold off for pennies to the British supermarkets who bung on their own label and knock it out for a fiver a bottle. So. In a nutshell the reason why wine tastes great in France, Spain and Italy and rubbish here was explained.

Back to pasta. A few years ago I discovered De Cecco. It is the real deal. Genuine Italian pasta made properly by genuine Italians who have been doing their thing in a genuine Italian factory since 1886. You can see them at the top of the page. Check them out. They look like the kind of guys who know a thing or two about decent pasta, right?

So. I was in Tesco and spaghetti was on my list. I looked and then I looked again. And again. Not a single yellow and blue De Cecco packet was to be seen. They had vanished. All of them. Leaving not so much of a trace. Now the shelves were wall to wall own brand rubbish.

I wasn't particularly surprised. This seems to happen all the time with Tesco. When a company digs in its heels and demands a fair price for its product, Tesco simply turf them out and fill the space left with their own labels. The answer is to start buying whatever it is you want to buy in a different supermarket until Tesco finish their latest game of chicken and put the stuff back on sale. So Morrisons then. But the Morrisons shelves told the same story. Lots and lots of own brand rubbish. Not so much as a single pack of De Cecco. Online to Asda who haven't colonised our town yet. Nope. De Cecco? Never heard of him mate. Who is he anyway? Sounds like he plays on the wing for West Brom....

In the end I found a kilo pack in Bookers. But for how long will that remain the case? Who knows. And why?

Could it Brexit? Surely not, but there again......

Let's assume for a moment that Tesco double the wholesale price when they put their packs of De Cecco on the shelves. I doubt if such an assumption will be too far from the mark.

22 June 2016.

Sale Price - £3.10 per kg

Purchase Price - £1.55p per kg

But of course the De Cecco family want paying in Euros because Italy is very much in the Eurozone.

The purchase price for Tesco in Euros on 22 June was 2.10 euros per kilo. As in £1.55. And then? Then can the big 52/48 vote to become Little Britain and the value of the pound crashed.

So on 24 June 2016 there was a new price for the De Cecco pasta. It was still 2.10 Euros of course. But now it was going to cost Tesco £1.89 to buy 2.10 euros instead of £1.55. So unless they whacked up their prices they would need to sell at a mark up of £1.29 instead of £1.55. Unthinkable!

No doubt they were straight on the phone to the guys at De Cecco demanding an immediate 20% price cut and no doubt the guys at De Cecco told them to go jump in the lake because a 20% price cut would have meant the Italians selling for a loss.

So the supermarket boys faced a hideous decision. They could do the right thing for their treasured customers and offer them the chance to buy De Cecco pasta at a mere 60% mark up or they could take the stuff off the shelves and knock out their own brand junk instead.

A no brainer, right?

Because it seems like Brexit means rubbish pasta. Oh the joys of living in the northern province of an inward looking little island where the bottom line is new God.