MarySmith’sPlace – National day of the bunion

As a journalist I receive a lot of press releases, most of which are of little interest to me or the publications for which I write.

One came in yesterday, announcing that it was National Bunion Day. Now, why would a PR person send a press release on the actual day? If it’s to be taken up by the media it needs to be on our desks a little bit more in advance. And what is it about these random National Days?  I’m all for days or weeks in which camapigners try to raise awareness of serious issues – Alzheimers, cancer, MND.

Looking at April’s national days I see there’s been one for deep dish pizza, caramel popcorn day, walk around things day, national teflon day and buried in the midst of this was SAAM Day of action (SAAM being sexual assault awareness month) which is worth knowing about.

Anyway, National Bunion Day was on the 26th June. You can mark it in your diaries now though I don’t know if there will be another one next year. The press release was to advertise a shoe company (solebliss) which makes comfy, stylish shoes for women with bunions. I’m not sure where men with bunions can find comfy shoes, but it seems out of the 14 million people in the UK with bunions, 10 million of those are women. Still leaves quite a few men in agony.

  1. The greatest risk factor for developing bunions is genetic. If a member of your family has bunions, then you are more likely to suffer too.
  2. Shoes don’t cause bunions, but tight fitting pointy shoes can make them worse.
  3. Over a third of women over 30 suffer with bunions.
  4. Gel pads worn over the boney prominence and available from pharmacists can help cushion the bunion and reduce the pain.
  5. Once a bunion is formed, it can only be corrected by surgery.
  6. You can also buy splints from the pharmacist to keep the big toe in the correct position overnight.
  7. There are several different surgical treatments available. It is not just one simple operation.
  8. Bunion surgery is a bigger deal than people expect. Depending on the operation, you can expect to be unable to drive for up to 6 weeks and it can take 12 weeks or more for a full recovery.
  9. Up to 1 in 4 bunions can recur after surgery. The greater the angle of the bunion at the time of surgery, the greater the risk.

Now you know. And just take a look at this lovely line up of women who have bunions.

megan bunion

Quoting straight from the press release: “With a huge range of A-List celebrities including Meghan Markle, Victoria Beckham, Naomi Campbell, Jennifer Lopez and Amal Clooney having bunions, it can be difficult to understand why the condition is still hugely embarrassing and has so much a stigma for many women across the world.”

I wonder if they are going to have them surgically removed – or just seek out comfy shoes.

Do you feel stigmatised by your bunion?

Mary Smith’s Place: Twitter stranger danger?

twitter-logo-600pxWe warn our kids not to do it. Never to get involved in private chat to total strangers on social media. Not ever. You don’t know who or what they might be – sex pest, serial killer, stalker … And now – now I’ve gone and broken the rule. What can I say? He’s a man in a kilt. And, it turns out, a sex worker. Well, a male escort – but let’s not allow semantics to get in the way of a good story.

When I saw the notification of a new follower I did what I usually do – carried out a few checks. He wasn’t an American Army General and he wasn’t a lover of ‘my country, Trump and God’; the ones I automatically block. So far so good. His bio was inoffensive: climbing and walking in the Scottish Highlands. Nothing about being a sex worker. I saw we had a number of mutual followers (quite a few are writers; some are even followers of this blog!). Besides, who can resist a man in a kilt? I followed back.

He sent a DM saying thanks for the follow, then a merry Christmas wish a few days later – and a picture of the drum kit from his sister – and then we were talking about Hogmanay celebrations. I was going to a party for oldies and he was joining the Edinburgh New Year’s party – in his kilt. He’s young.

Well, I say he’s young but how would I know? He could, as I pointed out to him, be fat, bald and fifty (or sixty or seventy). He tells me he works in a gym and also has a personal fitness trainer. Sends me photographic evidence of bulging muscles, which, of course, I immediately delete – but, hey, it could be a photo of anyone, couldn’t it?


Okay, I fibbed – I ‘forgot’ to delete this one

On social media how do we know? How can I tell if this person is a fantasist, a pervert or actually quite a nice guy? And why would a fit young guy want to keep chatting to a decidedly unfit woman twice his age? Brigitte Macron, I am not! Although if Emmanuel came knocking on the door…

Occasionally, he would be a bit flirty, making suggestive remarks I didn’t like. I told him once he came across like a sleazy Donald Trump. He apologised and promised not to cross that line again. Just in case he turned out to be a stalker, I made a point of telling everyone about his existence, including the DH. When, a few weeks ago he suggested we meet to walk together I actually found myself thinking about – ‘til I woke in the morning with a vision of a newspaper headline in my head – ‘Body of 64-year-old woman found on Highland mountain.’

When he told me he worked for five years for a male escort agency I was a bit taken aback. Before then (or maybe at the same time) he played rugby until an injury put paid to that career option and left him with recurring back problems, which require visits to the physio and chiropractor, especially after a weekend of escort duties. I’m guessing those duties don’t only consist of wining and dining or attending business functions – which is what the articles about male escort agencies I’ve read would have us believe. He’s freelance now.

When I said I was going to a fancy ‘ladies who lunch’ fundraising event he suggested sending me some business cards to distribute. “I’d never be invited again,” I said.

“Oh, I’m sure you would be,” he replied. Did I mention he’s very sure of himself? Totally up himself to an overwhelming degree.

“Besides, wouldn’t that make me your pimp?”  My son has since informed me that if the business cards are only advertising escort services then it wouldn’t be pimping (note to self: how does my son come to be so well informed about such things?). Of course, by now I’m fascinated. I’m a writer, I’ve never met a male sex worker before; how could I not be?

I say met but, of course, we haven’t met. I vetoed the walk on the mountain. If we ever meet it will be in public, surrounded by lots of people. He was going to come to my next book launch – but before you all clamour for an invitation, he’s not going to be there. A change of date meant it clashed with a family celebration for his sister’s birthday. That made me think he quite possibly is a nice guy. And sometimes he makes me laugh.

Oh, if you aren’t already following him on Twitter let me introduce you to PeaSea:


The man in a kilt




MarySmith’sPlace – Turtle watching

“Come quietly,” hissed the man with the flashlight. It was one o’clock on a moonless night and as we stumbled after him in the dark our feet sank in soft sand.

The sight of the huge creature provoked various reactions. Three-year-old-child already over-excited by being out of bed and on the beach so late, let out a piercing shriek of terror as the monster from the deep moved towards him. Abdul Ali, a refugee from landlocked Afghanistan, where the most exotic aquatic creature to be seen is a fresh water crab, launched into a wild jig, whooping enthusiastically. The guide, forgetting, in his fury, to whisper, yelled at us to be quiet.


Green turtle

It takes at least an hour for a turtle, using her strong front flippers, to dig a thirty centimetre deep, circular pit. Sitting in this depression she then, with her back flippers, creates a cylindrical shaft, with sides so smooth it is difficult to believe a precision engineering tool was not used. While engaged in this digging work, however, turtles are easily distracted. Our particular turtle, alarmed by the sudden cacophony of noise turned around and trundled off back to the sea. In the gleam of the torchlight as she turned away I imagined I saw an expression of quiet resignation on her wrinkled leathery face.Consumed with guilt at having interrupted an ancient ritual – pre-dating the extinction of the dinosaurs – we returned to the vehicle to gag child and admonish a sulky Abdul Ali. Our guide, Hamid, after giving us a short, pointed lecture on the need for silence, disappeared on reconnaissance.

Once the egg laying begins, nothing – neither screaming children, nor flashing lights – will disturb the turtle or stop the process. I’d even heard of people standing on a turtle’s enormous hard-shelled back (the creatures can weigh up to 180 kilos while the carapace can measure three and a half feet in length) while she laboured to lay over a hundred, ping pong ball-shaped eggs.  After covering the clutch with sand, she makes a dummy depression next to it to confuse predators.

All the while, silent ‘tears’ trickle down her wrinkled, pre-historic face. They are not, of course, real tears but a design of nature which allows sand to be washed from her eyes. Despite this scientific, rather prosaic explanation, however, there seems to be something ineffably sad about the whole business for, after all her efforts, the mother turtle returns to the ocean – never to see her off-spring.


Back in the 1970s the Green Turtles and the smaller Olive Ridley species were on the verge of extinction. Sindh’s Wildlife Management Board established a project to protect the Karachi turtles and their eggs in 1979. Gangs of students can now no longer find the buried eggs – stealing them for their supposed aphrodisiac properties – by following the tell-tale, five foot wide ‘caterpillar’ tracks on the sand. The Wildlife Board employs local people to dig up and re-bury eggs in protected hatching grounds. Karachi bakeries can no longer use turtle eggs as a cheap substitute for poultry eggs and the export of turtle meat to Southeast Asia, particularly Japan, has also been stopped.

Despite the intervention of the turtle conservation project the survival odds are not great. Crabs, crows and stray dogs forage for eggs on the shore, the hatchlings get picked off on their way to the ocean and once there fish and other sea creatures find them tasty. Then there is the danger of fishing nets. The mother swims thousands of miles, digs for hours, pops out 100 ping pong balls – only one of which might survive to become a grown up turtle – a bit more digging then back to the sea for thousands more miles of swimming. Perhaps they are real tears, after all.

As we waited for another turtle to choose a quiet spot I wondered if this, my second attempt to see the egg-laying was also doomed. The first occasion was when friend Firasat obtained his company’s beach hut for a day. A dozen of us, including children, squashed ourselves into a Suzuki van. Wedged in beside us and under our feet were water coolers and thermoses, pots and pans and mysterious cloth-wrapped bundles from which wafted appetising aromas of biryani, chicken korma and still-warm nan bread. There’s none of your cling-film wrapped, soggy tomato sandwiches and a packet of crisps when a Karachi family goes on a picnic.

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Sunset at the beach, Karachi

In the evening, we dined in style by candlelight, which was when the trouble started. Attracted by our candles hundreds of moths – some very big – came swooping out of the dark. Firasat’s sister flapped at them with a towel but when a huge, black, unidentified winged creature whirred past her head she let out a piercing shriek. We blew out the candles. The beach was full of strange night sounds which, despite Firasat’s assurances, unsettled his sister further. “When will the turtles come?” she quavered.

Her school teacher sister, Ferzana, sighed. “Oh, for goodness sake, Shabanna, be patient.  They don’t appear before midnight.”

Shabanna checked her watch. “It’s only nine o’clock, now,” she moaned. She suddenly clutched my arm making pitiful squeaking sounds of fright. “Oh, my God, what’s that?”

“Well, hey,” I muttered as I peered in the direction she was staring, “I’m the foreigner here, no good asking me.” Something very large and very tall was loping silently along the beach. Definitely not a turtle.

Firasat soothed her. “It’s only a camel.”

Twenty minutes later, as yet another huge flying beetle sort of thing dive bombed her – deliberately, she maintained – Shabanna, we led her back to the safety of the van and abandoned our turtle watch.

Now, it was looking as if my second attempt to see a turtle was not going to be any more successful. Habib returned. He’d found another turtle further along the beach and was prepared to take us in pairs to see her digging her nest but then, so we would not disturb her – a glare in Abdul Ali’s direction – we should remain in the van until she began to lay the eggs. This might be after one, maybe two hours.

Child, finding himself being led away from the safety of other humans towards the great, dark unknown became almost as hysterical as Shabanna had been with the beetles. Sadly, we decided to give up.

Hamid, though clearly relieved by the decision, took pity on our disappointment. He disappeared again returning after half an hour carrying two buckets from the turtle nursing centre. They contained hundreds of hatchlings, each the size of a ten pence piece. Excitedly, we crowded round. It was clearly the closest we were going to get to the famed, giant turtles on this occasion. Sadly, an exhausted child and fed up Abdul Ali missed them – both were sound asleep.



Mary Smith’s Place – Double celebrations

No more tweaking, no more juggling text to fit the pictures or moving pics to fit the text: we hit send on Friday. As the publishers have the weekend and Easter Monday off it means I can totally forget about Secret Dumfries for a few days. A couple of large g&ts were consumed on Friday night.

The other celebration is because the female osprey has returned, one week after the male. Last year they arrived on the same day.

The male, Black 80, first found his way to Threave estate ten years ago. He was originally from Wales, which is quite fitting as the name Threave possibly comes from the Old Welsh word y tref meaning settlement or homestead.

Osprey 03

Courtesy of photographer Keith Kirk

Since last Friday Black 80 has been keeping himself busy bringing sticks to the nest. He’s not very good at arranging them, though, just piling them ever upwards. The nest grew about a foot in height.


Black 80 brings another stick to add to the nest. Another of Keith Kirk’s pics

The female will have a lot of rearranging and organising of the living space to do. He has attracted some unwelcome interest from red kites and had to do a fair bit of ducking and diving while carrying a stick to the nest. A cheeky crow took to chasing after him for a while and a buzzard showed some unwelcome interest but he persevered.

Then, on Good Friday, after I hit send, I went to see if the female had arrived. I’ve been watching the ospreys for several years but have never witnessed the courtship ritual of the sky dance. I’ve seen it here on YouTube and it looks pretty amazing:

As soon as I saw the nest, I knew she was back, had a quick look through my binoculars and hurried on to the viewing platform, which is about 350-400 yards across the river from the nest. The National Trust for Scotland volunteers are there every day while the ospreys are here. They have a powerful telescope set up so visitors can view the nest and watch the activities of the ospreys and the chicks.

Now, I know we should not anthropomorphise. These magnificent creatures are not human, not in any way but… Oh my goodness. That poor female had flown all the way from West Africa; she must have come through rain because the volunteer said she was wet when she arrived at the nest. Five minutes later, Black 80 jumped on her. I mean, really? No courtship ritual, no sky dance, no cup of tea and a ‘rest your wings’ just a ‘let’s be having you, girl. Been here a week on my own, you know.’

Osprey 04

NTS Threave Ospreys and Estate The happy homecoming

Not only had he been on his own at the nest for a week, the pair hadn’t seen each other since she flew off in September last year. The female leaves the nest first, leaving the male to make sure the fledged chicks are capable of fishing for their own food. While it is astonishing to think they fly all the way to Africa and all the way back to find each at the nest, what I find even more astonishing is that the chicks head off on a flight they’ve never made before.

After the fifth or sixth time of mating, Black 80 flew off. We wondered if he had gone to catch a fish for his mate. He came back with a stick. I think it’s fortunate they don’t have speakers set up in the nest. I have a feeling she might have used a few choice words. But then, what do I know? Perhaps a stick is a totally acceptable gift to an osprey which has flown all the way from Africa. I think she’d have preferred a fish.

I’m not a dedicated bird watcher but there is something so special about the ospreys, I have to visit on an almost daily basis to what’s happening. If I can’t make it during the day when the volunteers are there with the telescope and up to date info I go down in the evening and meet the regular walkers and osprey watchers. It’s like a social club.

The Dumfries & Galloway osprey population is increasing and hopefully, this year we will see more chicks arriving at Threave and in other sites around the region.