From the Poetic to the Factual: Two Book Reviews

I’m sharing this post from Annika Perry in which she has given a wonderful review of A-Z of Dumfries: Places-People-History as well as Bette Steven’s book, My Maine, which sounds beautiful.

Annika Perry

After a lifetime of New Year’s resolutions … and often failing to keep them, these last years I’ve steered away from making any.

However, one aspect of blogging weighs heavily upon me, my failure to review as many books as I would like, particularly indie-published ones. If my TBR pile was a real heap of books they would fill a room, I fear; luckily many are kept safe on my Kindle, hidden from immediate sight but never forgotten. I’m determined to share these books with you on my blog, a couple every month and I am happy to start with the two below.

Ironically, these are paperbacks, one a poetry book kindly gifted to me by Bette A. Stevens. The other by Mary Smith caught my interest as an unusual factual book about her local town.

“My Maine: Haiku through the Seasons” by Bette A. Stevens

‘My Maine’ is a…

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MarySmith’sPlace -Afghan adventures #19 #Health #Leprosy

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Malestan clinic – this was taken the previous year

Mubarak’s clinic was a shambles. The premises, rented from a local farmer, consisted of several dreary rooms round a central courtyard. I suspected if just one of the posters Mubarak had stuck on the walls to brighten the place up was removed, not only the plaster, but the whole wall would crumble.

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Mubarak in his consulting room

Peeping through a doorway into the medicine store, my heart sank. Medicines were heaped on narrow shelves in total disarray. The floor was almost entirely covered by cardboard boxes, some of which had been torn open allowing plastic drip bottles and crepe bandages to spill onto the dusty floor.

My face must have registered my feelings because Mubarak spoke apologetically, ‘We have so little space it is a big problem for us to find a place for everything.  When we move to the new clinic it will be much better.’

‘When will the new clinic be ready? Wasn’t it supposed to be finished ages ago?’

‘Well, maybe after a few months. The problem is, the builders are also farmers, and now they have to work on their land. When the harvest is finished they will be able to carry on building. Maybe you should wait until we move before doing the stocktake. I can give you a list of the things we need. Already we need more supplies.’

I shook my head. ‘No, I think it’s better to find out what you have in stock here, so we know what you will need when you move.’ Mubarak gave a nod, which I guessed was non-committal and suggested I go and have tea while he saw the last of the day’s patients.

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Baba and Khala, the couple who worked as watchman and cook/cleaner

Outside the living room my eye was caught by something stacked against the wall. Under a canvas covering was this year’s medicine supplies, not yet unpacked, although Mubarak was crying for more. Inside, I half expected to find last year’s unpacked boxes hidden under a table. Instead I found Khala, waiting to introduce me to two of her friends from the village.

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Taking tea after dinner in the living room at the clinic.

When Mubarak joined us I assumed the women would leave immediately, or at least cover their faces and turn away from him as they would in Jaghoray. They did neither, greeting him warmly. One of the women patted a place near her and he sat down, taking the glass of tea she poured and laughing at some comment made by the other woman. I nearly choked. These women from Malestan were indeed very free.

As a leprosy patient Mubarak had gone to Karachi for treatment, later training as a leprosy technician. He’d worked in Pakistan until asked if he would return to Afghanistan to open a treatment centre in his own area. He admitted he’d been apprehensive about coming home. ‘The Russians were still trying to win control of the country, but more than that, I was afraid the community would not accept me because of the leprosy.’ In fact, people were so desperate for any kind of medical services to be provided they hailed Mubarak as a conquering hero.

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Mubarak and his field assistant

At the end of the day Mubarak drove me to the house he shared with his mother, about half an hour’s drive away. The clinic guest room where I would have slept was currently occupied by Nasiba, a young woman with leprosy who had come from the north of Hazara Jat.

Her nose was depressed and she had huge, suppurating ulcers on the soles of both feet.  Another, on her side, had been caused by an accurately thrown stone. When still a child, she had been thrown out of her village when it was discovered she had leprosy. For the next ten to twelve years she had kept on walking, sleeping rough when she could not find shelter, begging for food. Sometimes people had been kind and given her food, discarded items of clothing, permission to sleep with the cow or goats for a night. Often, though, she was driven off by people terrified she might pass on her disease. Eventually she had been directed to Mubarak’s clinic.

He had started Nasiba on medication and each day he dressed her ulcers, which were slowly healing. Later, he would arrange for her to travel to Pakistan, to the leprosy centre in Karachi, where she would undergo reconstructive surgery on her nose. For now, though, she was content and happier than she could ever remember.

As we drove to Mubarak’s house I noted near the river everything was green and fresh with poplar trees in abundance. Things were later than in Jaghoray. There, the wheat had already been threshed but here it was only now being harvested.

The house was at the top of a steep incline, at the foot of which was the site for the clinic. It was a two storeyed house: the ground floor was used for the storage of animal fodder and wood and sleeping accommodation for a cow and some sheep. Two flights of stairs led to two front doors both of which were painted bright blue. The window sills were full of red geraniums. Mubarak’s mother was waiting for us; an elderly woman whose face was wrinkled like a walnut but who was still sprightly and welcomed me cheerfully. I was grateful she did not throw anything at me.

The three of us ate together. Mubarak laughed when I said I’d been surprised about the women talking to him. ‘Jaghoray women have no freedom. Malestan is different. Women here can talk to men when they meet. In the clinic we can even give women injections in the buttock.’  This was a concept of freedom I hadn’t previously contemplated.

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Who couldn’t fall in love with such a landscape?


Afghanistan Adventures #18 – Russian jeeps and hairpin bends

I had established a stock keeping system for the clinic and now was going to set up a similar one in Mubarak Shah’s neighbouring clinic in Malestan district. Jawad was to take me there – about a three hour journey – and collect me a few days later.

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In the bazaar Jawad filled up with petrol. If you are picturing a filling station with pumps – forget it. The fuel was stored in large drums. It was poured into the vehicle’s tank through a plastic funnel over the mouth of which was stretched a piece of cloth to filter out some of the dust and dirt.

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Once we had left the bazaar behind us I eagerly accepted Jawad’s offer to let me drive. I set off cautiously.  It was the first time I had driven a Russian jeep – and I was nervous about hurting Hussain’s pride and joy on one of the innumerable boulders littering the rough track. Apologising whenever I crashed the gears, we progressed rather jerkily along. Jawad was very relaxed and uncritical about my driving.

As I became more confident I occasionally succeeded in getting into third gear, and began to enjoy myself. Jawad chatted about his family and his hopes for their future. The eldest, his daughter, Shanaz, was followed by two sons, after which Jawad felt their family was complete – three children were enough if each was to be given the best chance in life.

It was Jawad’s main concern – how to ensure his children were able to receive the education necessary to allow them to achieve more in life than he had. The boys could now attend the school which had opened near their village, but there was no such opportunity for Shanaz. Although Jawad had arranged private tuition for her at home, he knew this was not a long term solution. He himself had had to give up his education when the mujahideen closed all village schools some years before, accusing the teachers, who were Government employees, of teaching communism.

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A mountain loomed ahead and I held my breath as I manoeuvred around each hairpin bend, praying that we would not meet any traffic coming towards us. It was unimaginable two vehicles could pass each other on such a narrow, twisty road. About three quarters of the way up I risked a backward glance and gasped at the dizzying sight of the road corkscrewing down the mountain. Feeling rather proud of my driving ability I approached the second to last bend. Jawad remarked conversationally, ‘This is one of the most dangerous passes in Hazara Jat. Many big trucks fall down the mountain.’

‘Wait until we reach the top before telling me horror stories, please,’ I begged. Realising the bend could not be taken in second I attempted to change to first gear. The jeep began to roll backwards – straight towards the edge of the mountain.

‘Brake! Brake!’ yelled Jawad, the one and only time he offered me superfluous advice.  I already had my foot jamming the brake pedal to the floor but with no effect. Jawad leapt out of the jeep. I wondered momentarily if I should do likewise, but the thought of Hussain’s reaction when we told him we had lost his jeep down a mountain kept me paralysed in my seat. I tried the brake again and this time the vehicle slowed. At the same moment Jawad hurled a boulder into the path of the back wheels. About three feet from the edge the jeep stopped. I was shaking like a leaf.

Jawad grinned, ‘That was close.’ I expected him to take over the driving, and was more than willing to relinquish my place, but he slid into the passenger seat again.

‘I need a minutes,’ I said, still feeling wobbly, trying not to think about what happened to the drivers of those lorries which kept falling off the mountain. For a few minutes we sat admiring the view far below us. The fields shone jewel green and gold in the sunlight in sharp contrast to the grey, rocky backdrop of the mountains. The scattered houses looked like miniature models from a toy box, and a narrow blue ribbon of river ran through the valley.

‘In winter and early spring this pass is closed, first by snow and then because of floods when it melts,’ Jawad said, adding, ‘the only way in and out of Malestan is by foot, in the snow, over another pass.’

With trepidation I began the descent. Negotiating the hairpin bends was harrowing, but the bits in between were worse. It seemed the jeep was determined to hurtle down to the valley below at an ever increasing speed, without bothering to take the bends. Jawad sat quietly but I noticed that his clenched knuckles were white. Finally, he said, ‘You do know don’t you that in these jeeps you have to pump the brake twice? If you only put your foot down once, they don’t work.’

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‘That information might have been helpful a little sooner, Jawad.’  Following this advice I slowed the jeep to a comfortable snail’s pace.

I noticed the women working in the fields did not immediately pull their chaddar over their faces and turn their backs when they heard a vehicle approach, as would any Jaghoray woman.  Some of them, recognising that a woman was driving, even waved, although most stared in open mouthed astonishment. I felt I was going to like Malestan if the women were so much freer than in Jaghoray.

At the clinic we were greeted by Mubarak and Khala and Baba, the elderly couple who worked as his cook and chowkidar. As I entered the living room Khala bombarded me with sweets, throwing them with considerable enthusiasm. Being hit on the face by handfuls of boiled sweets was a painful experience. I struggled valiantly to keep a happy, “oh what a lovely surprise”, grin on my face.

Afghanistan Adventures #17

Friday is the Islamic equivalent of Sunday and therefore a holiday from work.  Outings were occasionally organised and I agreed enthusiastically to a suggested fishing trip. Gul Agha, for once leaving his Kalashnikov behind, and his young brother, Hazrat, now one of my English students, accompanied us.

The surprising absence of fishing tackle was explained when we reached the river and Gul Agha and Hussain began to attach fuses to several home-made bombs.

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Attaching the fuses

Explosive had been packed into small plastic medicine tubs and, once the fuses had been lit, these were hurled into the river.   The dull explosions were followed by a mini tidal wave. The men jumped into the river, screaming and yelling with delight as they grabbed for the fish which rose, stunned, to the surface.

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Going fishing Afghan style

When I told them about the heavy penalties paid by poachers caught in similar activities at home they fell about laughing.

It was a scorching hot day and the water looked invitingly cool. After a while, I began to untie my trainers. ‘What,’ demanded Hussain, ‘are you doing?’

‘I thought I’d have a paddle.’  Recognising the mutinous expression on his face I sighed, waiting for the explosion.

‘You can’t go in the water! If it was just me and Ali Baba then it would be no problem, but Gul Agha would tell the people in the village. Everyone would talk. Our women do not go swimming.’

‘I don’t want to swim, just dip my feet in,’ I protested. I looked at the cool, shallow water of the river flowing gently past the willow trees then I looked at Hussain’s face, and reluctantly began to retie my laces. Cooling down would not be worth the resulting sulks.

After the fish had been harvested, Ali Baba and Hazrat collected fuel for the fire while Gul Agha, assuming the role of chief cook, unpacked frying pans and cooking oil and bundles of nan wrapped in cloth. Soon the aroma of frying fish was making us all hungry. The fish, a small fresh water trout, were cooked whole, fried until they were crisply edible on the outside with beautifully tender flesh inside. I put my concerns about the lack of ethical fishing practices behind and tucked in.

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Remains of the catch after we’d had our picnic


As we wandered back to the jeep, carrying the remainder of the fish threaded onto thin sticks, we passed a farmer leading three donkeys towards the river.  Hussain said, ‘The donkeys get very hot and tired in this weather so the farmers take them to the river. They love to stand in the water to cool down.’

‘I see,’ I remarked, ‘only women have to suffer in this heat. They work as hard as any donkey, but the donkeys get better treatment from the men than the women do.’

Hussain maintained a stony silence throughout the return journey. At home he said, ‘Gul Agha asked why you were in a bad mood. I told him you wanted to go in the water and he said it was no problem. He said you are accepted as a family member by everyone here. Then I asked him if he would allow his sister, or mother, to go in the river. He said no.’

It was my turn to be silent – I simply couldn’t think of any more to say on the subject.

Another outing was for a shooting competition. The target, a large green cloth about the size of a double bed sheet, was spread out on a mountain across the valley. From our position it looked very small to me.

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Shooting competition

Firing commenced. After each shot little black figures, like animated stick people, ran about around the target. One of them would jump up and down, waving its arms to indicate where the shot had landed. On several occasions the little figures jumped up and down even more vigorously, bringing to the notice of the marksman that a shot, off target, had landed uncomfortably close. I sat under a walnut tree slowly growing deaf and trying to show some enthusiasm when someone succeeded in hitting the centre of the target.

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Wearing my birthday dress and trying to look excited

Someone suggested I have a go and I took the Kalashnikov gingerly. I lay down, wriggling into position. As I peered doubtfully at the target someone suggested I just shoot and not bother to aim. I insisted that I must have something to aim for, but preferably something a little larger – closer to me but further away from those little stick figures.

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Going deaf under a walnut tree

However when someone suggested I simply try to hit the next mountain I felt deeply hurt. The suggestion I required an entire mountain as a target seemed to cast rather too much doubt on my marksmanship. I handed the Kalashnikov back to Gul Agha without firing a shot.

I would like to think I refused to shoot because of high moral principles regarding the use of weapons as playthings but I fear I simply did not want the embarrassment of making a complete fool of myself. What if I had missed the mountain?

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Regular readers may remember the birthday cake – I found a photo of it today.  The blue embroidered dress and waistcoat on my lap were birthday gifts.

MarySmith’sPlace – Steps to organising a book launch – and a book signing #MondayBlogs

After my post about the launch of A-Z of Dumfries: Places-People-History, a number of people asked how we organised it. Some of you were particularly interested in the book signing at Waterstones and if it was worth doing. I should clarify that the book launch and the Waterstones book signing were two separate events.


Organising the book launch:

A-Z of Dumfries is traditionally published but everything I did applies equally to an indie-published book (my friend Lynn Otty and I held a joint launch for our indie-published short story collections following the same steps).

Whether you are buying at author discount from your publisher or from Amazon if you’ve gone down that route this is the main event. This is the one at which you hope to sell lots of books, make a bit of money – and generate interest in your book even after the event.

Decide on a date and time:  we chose a Thursday evening towards the end of November, starting at 6.30pm. It’s probably best to avoid a weekend when folk tend to have other commitments. On timing – I’ve found it’s better to make it early enough so people can come along and still have the evening ahead.

Find and book a venue: okay, in this I’m lucky in that as an alumnus of the university I can book a lecture room free of charge. It’s a bit out of town but I live in a rural area, so even a town centre venue means people have to drive to get to events.

Design your invitation: Make sure you include a date by which people should RSVP – some will, some won’t so it’s always a bit of a guessing game but it does help.

Send out invitations: go through your address list and invite everyone, unless they live an unrealistic distance away. Friends, family, authors you know, journalists, acquaintances, everyone you can think of. Send personally. Don’t send it so it is obvious you’ve done a mass mailing. Invest in a ‘send personally’ thingie, it’s worth it. Don’t forget friends on Facebook who aren’t on your email list – send them a pm with the invitation attached.

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Here’s our invitation

RSVP: The RSVP date has arrived. Try not to panic. Out of over 200 invitations only 20 acceptances have come in. Resist the temptation to re-send the invitation or phone people!

Media: Send a press release to all media outlets in your area. You can find out contact details of the news desk on the internet but if you have a named contact that is better. Write your press release as if it’s an article you would read in the paper (don’t read your local paper? Then shame on you and why should they be interested in supporting your book if you don’t support it?  Sorry journalist’s hat on for a moment) rather than adorning it with PRESS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE across the top and a list of facts. No, really, check out your local paper to see how they publish information on a new book release. Include a pic of you and your book and/or a couple of pics from the book. Send it to local radio stations as well – without the pictures – and local TV stations. We had A-Z of Dumfries featured in the entertainment section of two local papers, a full page spread in another a few days before Christmas, a photo and para in a lifestyle magazine which is going to do a double page spread in the next issue and a radio interview. For Secret Dumfries we even had a 15 minute slot on a local television programme thanks to Keith’s contact. Remember though, a television programme can’t be seen to promote you book – there has to be a hook. In our case that was local history secrets – in yours it might be a local site chosen as a crime scene, or a new slant on a character based on a local legend…

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Full page in a local paper

Social Media: Put it on your FB page and on any other FB pages which are relevant. We put A-Z of Dumfries on certain local pages. Go for pages relevant to your genre. Respond to comments, including an invite to the launch party. Do this after the RSVP date. You don’t want your specially invited guests to think just anyone can come along! Tweet about your book coming out. Always include a link to where they can buy the book. It’s unlikely Twitter followers will be able to come to the book launch but they may click on an Amazon link and buy direct.

Refreshments: Now you have to calculate how many bottles of Prosecco you need and how many bottles of fizzy water to make non-alcoholic elderflower cordials, nibbles (vegetarian, gluten free, vegan, nut allergies, dairy free – nightmare). Avoid nuts and browse your supermarket shelves for savoury bites to eat – apologise profusely to those guests who can’t partake. Most people are not in the least interested in nibbles – just keep topping up the Prosecco. We buy from a supermarket which lends the glasses for free. And they were so thrilled when we brought them back washed – most people don’t. Yuck!

RSVPs: More acceptances come in – other apologies, too. Reply – just a line to say how much you are looking forward to seeing them (or sorry you can’t make it).

The Launch: Arrive early enough – with helpers – at the venue to ensure there is enough seating, have a sign pointing to the room where the launch is being held, set up a serving area for your refreshments, mix the elderflower cordial, open the wine, decant nibbles into bowls, set up a table for your books.

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At the book launch

It’s a party. As people arrive, offer drinks, introduce them to other people, let them mingle and chat. After a while people will sit down; give them time to settle. Do your talk/reading, starting with a big thank you to everyone for coming along. Keep it to a maximum of 15-20 minutes. Invite questions. Invite everyone to top up their glasses – and mention the book is available to buy and you’d be happy to sign it. Mention Christmas. If your launch is at any other time of the year, mention birthdays.

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Happy guests at the launch

Chat to people as you sign their book (check spelling of names), thank everyone. People will start to drift away at this point and it’s difficult to say goodbye to everyone while still signing books for others. Once the last guest has gone, pack up.

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Keith and I posing for the obligatory ‘me and my book’ shot

Out of the 200+ invites we sent we had over 60 guests, who bought over 40 books, which meant we were in profit. Also many of the people who could not attend asked if we could keep them a book so we made a lot more sales over the next few of weeks – plus the sales in local bookshops and on Amazon. When I thanked people on a local Facebook page and included the Amazon link, the book sold out in a day. The second order sold out and for almost two weeks before Christmas it was out of stock. This happened last year with Secret Dumfries so I need to work on improving the timing.

Waterstones book signing: We did a book signing on a Saturday morning a couple of weeks before Christmas between 11am and 1pm.

Before the event, I took in some fliers and laminated posters. I also left fliers in places where they were likely to be picked up – libraries, university coffee bar, shops which take promotional materials for local events. Waterstones put an advertising board outside the shop with event details.

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The advertising board Waterstones put outside the shop a week before the signing event

I emailed some photos from the book which they used in a display inside the shop. In fact, they removed the display material for the latest Billy Connolly book and replaced it with ours – how cool is that?

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Part of the display inside Waterstones. We didn’t think to take a pic of the display of books!

Waterstones ordered the books direct from the distributors. We will eventually receive royalties for the sales. If it had been a self-published book we would have brought them along and they would have taken fifty per cent of the sale price.

I sent out a press release and we advertised the event on social media.

On the day, a table and chairs were set up directly opposite the door with a full height display of the book behind us and more piled on the table. We don’t approach customers but wait for them to come to us. At one time Waterstones refused to host local indie-published events because of authors following customers around the shop suggesting/begging they buy their books. Blanket ban – which is understandable. We signed books for those who wanted them signed. Before we left, we were asked to sign twenty books and a ‘signed by the author’ sticker was attached.

We were not sure how many we’d sold because, with all the chat, we forgot to make a note. I went in two days later to ask. We’d sold almost 20 in the two hours plus several copies of last year’s Secret Dumfries and all the signed copies had been already sold. The shop had sold a total of 72 – with two weeks left until Christmas and a full page feature in a local paper still to come.

Worthwhile? Yes. It requires a lot of work in advance and Waterstones isn’t going to give window space to a book which sells in the numbers we’re talking about here, nor are they going to spend time promoting the event, though given the materials they did make a good show for us.

Launching the book has been hard work but it’s been fun and it gets our names known, which will help when we publish future books.

Happy to answer any questions on the nuts and bolts of organising a book launch, writing press releases or anything else launch related.

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The book!

MarySmith’sPlace – #RussianJeep #Leprosy #AfghanAdventures 16

As the clinic was soon to have a vehicle, a driver, Jawad, was appointed. When, through his network of cousins and uncles he heard of a jeep coming on the market in Angoori bazaar he and Hussain went off one morning to check it out.

The noise of an engine signalled their return late in the afternoon and we rushed out to greet the arrival of a beaming Hussain and his magnificent ‘Model Konah’ Russian jeep. On the threshold I stopped, stunned into silence at the sheer frightfulness of the vehicle.

The windscreen was so adorned by garlands of plastic flowers and other shrubbery, the driver’s visibility was reduced to almost nil. The floral theme was continued by chintzy curtains at the side windows while, suspended from the front bumper, was a collection of chains and medallions, chiming and chinking in the breeze. When Jawad put the vehicle into reverse a female voice with an American twang proceeded to warn, ‘Attention Please, this car is backing up. Attention Please this car is backing up.’

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The jeep which became Hussain’s pride and joy

The enthusiastic spectators who had gathered welcomed the jeep, as they would a bride to her new home, by bombarding it with sweets.

Hussain so loved the chintzy curtains he at first refused to remove the side windows – they did not open, having to be completely removed – but when his passengers all became faint and nauseous from the terrific heat inside he did reluctantly allow the windows to be taken out.

Now he had transport, Hussain was eager to try to find a leprosy patient he’d received news of. By now he had registered two, previously untreated, patients who had come to the clinic but this man apparently lived in a village some distance away. We set off one morning to find him, with only the vaguest of addresses and directions.

At a fork in the road, Jawad stopped. The road on the right curved around the side of a mountain.  ‘That’s the road to take,’ said Ismail. ‘It’s a short cut which joins this road again on the other side of the mountain.’

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The road round the mountain.

‘Are you sure?’ asked Jawad. ‘It doesn’t look very wide.’

‘Oh, yes, even big trucks use that road,’ Ismail replied with great authority so Jawad turned onto the mountain track. Half an hour later, increasingly concerned at how narrow the road had become, he stopped, insisting Ismail accompany him on foot to investigate further ahead.

A shame faced Ismail re-appeared to break the news the track simply disappeared about a quarter of a mile further on. There was nothing for it but to go back the way we’d come.  Except the road was already too narrow to allow Jawad to turn the vehicle so we had an agonizing thirty minutes of American accented ‘Attention please, this car is backing up’. My suggestion of pulling out a wire produced such a look of horror on Hussain’s face the idea was quickly dropped. I nursed a slight hope the mechanism might self-destruct under the strain of overuse but the nasal tones rang out with what seemed to be an increasingly persistent warning. Finally Jawad decided that it might be better to risk falling down the mountain in the middle of a three point (well, probably six) turn, rather than witness his passengers have nervous breakdowns.

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Ismail assured us the road was wide enough for big trucks

Hussain asked everyone we met on the road, and in a village shop but no one knew of our patient. One man thought he knew of a person with leprosy and gave directions to a farm. The way was obstructed by a small river whose muddy banks were too soft to bear the weight of the jeep so Hussain and Ismail continued on foot to the farm, returning after almost an hour looking thoroughly fed up. Eventually Hussain had to admit defeat and abandon the fruitless search.

A whole day wasted, leaving us tired and with a guilty niggle that perhaps we had not done enough to find the missing patient. Perhaps he was afraid his neighbours would ostracise him if it was known he had leprosy and he didn’t want to be found. To cheer everyone up I introduced the game of ‘I Went to Market and Bought’ which, played in English, soon had everyone laughing as they struggled to remember the ever lengthening alphabetical shopping list.

A second outing, to the home of one of the newly registered leprosy patients was more successful. The family were obviously very poor and the room in which we sat, although spotlessly clean, had nothing more than one threadbare gilim on the floor and a bright red geranium in a pot on the windowsill. The patient, Moosa, had been referred to Hussain by a doctor in Angoori bazaar – one of the few doctors in Afghanistan who knew anything about leprosy. Moosa had long been suspicious the tell-tale anaesthetic patches indicated the dreaded disease. Like many others, he had tried to hide the signs, afraid once it was known he had leprosy, he would be forced by the community to live as a social outcast. The doctor assured him the disease could be cured and sent him to Hussain.

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The jeep in all its glory!

At the clinic Hussain had explained how easy it was to cure the disease if Moosa took his medication regularly, and promised if he followed advice he need never suffer from the deformities which have made leprosy a disease feared throughout history. During the house visit Ismail began to teach the patient how to protect and care for his feet, showing him how to rub off the hard skin with a stone, how to soak and oil his feet each day to prevent cracks in the skin which, if left untended could cause ulcers.

While all this was going on I examined the women and girls in the family. This caused great hilarity, especially when one little girl ran away, screaming hysterically, convinced I was about to give her an injection. She was brought back and tearfully submitted to the examination after which she joined in the general laughter.

The family invited us to stay for lunch. None of us felt we should burden this poor family with the cost of feeding us but Moosa was insistent. Hussain whispered to me we should accept in case he thought we were refusing to eat with him because he had leprosy. There were many apologies for the humbleness of the meal but, served with simple dignity, the large bowl of yoghurt, crisp spring onions, fresh, warm bread and salt became a banquet.

MarySmith’sPlace – Walking off the mince pies #3 #HappyNewYear

The 1st of January 2019 was a glorious, sunny day; the 31st December 2019 was a glorious sunny day so we were looking forward to walking off the mince pies on New Year’s Day. The day dawned dismal and grey. Not raining, though, so at least there was that.


Screel, to the left, on a clear day!

Our plan was to climb Screel Hill, which is close to where we live in Dumfries & Galloway. At 344 metres, it’s not a very high hill, though it’s a bit of a tough scramble in places – and it does offer fabulous views out over Rough Firth and Auchencairn Bay.

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Unfortunately, from our bathroom window Screel wasn’t visible behind the low cloud.

I’d have opted for an alternative walk – or maybe hot chocolate and a good book – but the DH was adamant we should do it. Wee-sis and Sula the Labrador were joining us and we did have those mince pies to walk off.

The car park was full, which made me feel we were not being totally foolhardy in heading out into the mist. Others had gone before us and I thought, as Wee-sis pulled into the only space, some had even returned.

At least this year the DH was sensibly shod in proper boots rather than the crocs he wore last year.

The first part is fairly easy walking but looking back down at how far we’d come the views over the coast were not inspiring.

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Imagine how fabulous this looks on a clear day

We crossed a path and into the woods where the going became a bit tougher and a lot muddier. Pausing for a breather we discovered the DH, although sensibly shod, was not sensibly dressed. He’d forgotten when he jumped in Wee-sis’s car that his jacket was in his own car. By then, I, over-warm in my many layers had removed my fleece, so the DH struggled in to it and on we went.

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Stopping for a breather

Sula the Labrador was ecstatic as we set off – a walk with three of her two-legses family, one of whom might be persuaded to throw an occasional stick for her, is her idea of heaven.

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The last part to the top is a scramble over slippery rock, bog and mud. That only takes you to the ridge which is still some way from the summit of Screel – again over bog – which we still couldn’t even see. Sula didn’t care, she was having a wonderful time and if only these stupid humans would throw her stick, all would be perfect.

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We’re going up there – somewhere

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Wee-sis leads the way through the mist

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DH battles on – it was his idea!

Finally, we made it to take the obligatory photos and looked round at the non-existent views.

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Why you should never work with children or animals!

The return route is easier after the initial scramble. We could chat again instead of puffing. And, to add to her joy, Sula dog found something wonderfully fox-scented to roll in. And the DH only fell over once. Walkers 3 Mince pies 0

Does anyone have an easier solution to working off the Christmas excess consumption?