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, 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.

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