MarySmith’sPlace #Giant pylons will ruin iconic landscape

From time to time on this blog I have shared some of the glorious countryside we have here in Dumfries & Galloway in South West Scotland.

Unfortunately, a huge area of this is now at risk of being ruined by Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN) which has put a planning application in to the Scottish Government to erect 118 giant pylons (up to 39 metres tall) from Glenlee, near New Galloway to Tongland in the south near Kirkcudbright.

Stroan Loch, courtesy PhilMcMenemy

The route goes over or close to iconic Galloway countryside including, the Queens Way (the road from New Galloway to Newton Stewart), Raiders Road, Stroan Loch and the Otter Pool. Laurieston Forest and the Kenick Burn will also be impacted, along with an avenue of beech trees by the burn’s picnic area. The route also goes over the C13 road from Laurieston to Gatehouse of Fleet, a road beloved by everyone – locals and visitors alike.

The amount of traffic on the roads over the five years of construction work will be horrendous. Our narrow roads will become dangerous, noisy and all pleasure in driving will be destroyed – not to mention the huge inconvenience and health issues for the people living in the villages affected.

Photographer and owner of The Gallery in Laurieston, Phil McMenemy has been working flat out to raise awareness of this issue in time for people to put in their objections to the pylon scheme. He says: “This is our patch – this is my inspiration. I have to fight this – and I hope you can help.

“I would be very grateful if you could help us in our quest to get the project undergrounded, as occurs in many tourist-sensitive areas. It is going to be difficult but the more objections that are sent in the more chance we have. Objections from tourists would be a massive help because the Galloway economy is so reliant on tourism and the construction project will last a minimum of five years, probably commencing in 2023. Representations have to be sent to the Energy Consents Unit by the 13th November 2020.”

The pylons will endanger raptors in the area such as eagle, red kite and goshawk as well as endangered species such woodcock, cuckoo, willow tit, wood warbler, grasshopper warbler, song thrush, mistle thrush, spotted flycatcher, pied flycatcher, whinchat, grey wagtail, tree pipit, linnet, lesser redpoll. Lesser endangered species are red grouse, stock dove, tawny owl, house martin, willow warbler, dipper, meadow pipit, bullfinch, reed bunting. All of these species are at risk in Galloway and they all occur in the area of the proposed overhead line project. Laurieston Forest is the major stronghold for nightjars in Scotland.

Imagine a line of 39-metres tall pylons marching over this. Courtesy Phil McMenemy

Breeding grounds for otter, red squirrel, pine martin and great crested newt will be damaged.

It doesn’t have to be this way. An Underground Cable Study has already been carried out SPEN’s conclusion was that: “It is acknowledged by SPEN that the underground option is, in each case, technically feasible and, on balance, environmentally preferable having regard to landscape and visual as well as forestry impacts.”

Nevertheless, SPEN, who costed the underground route, have decided to go overground.

If you know this wonderful part of Scotland (even if only through my blog) and would like to object to the pylons being erected over ground you can send objections – by November 13, 2020 to the Scottish Government. By e-mail: or by post: Scottish Government, Energy Consents Unit, 4th Floor, 5 Atlantic Quay, 150 Broomielaw, Glasgow, G2 8LU. Whether by email or post Quote Application Ref. ECU00002128. Glenlee to Tongland 132kV Reinforcement Project. Including your name (block capitals) and your address.

Phil says: “I would be so grateful if you could help us. This is about all the villages here and all the businesses reliant on tourism – and about protecting something special and speaking up for the ecological diversity we possess and the beautiful landscape that simply cannot speak up for itself.”

These trees could face being destroyed if the pylons go overground instead of under. Courtesy Phil McMenemy

Useful site for more information here.

MarySmith’sPlace – Cancer Diary #04

Monday September 21: I have never experienced such excruciatingly painful constipation in my life. If you are squeamish about bodily functions you should skip this and move on down the post – it does get better. I don’t know if the chemo drugs caused it or one of the other drugs I have to take at various times including steroids and anti-emetics.

I’ve been devouring liquorice – vast quantities of the stuff. While out walking yesterday – walking is an excellent way to get the bowels activated – I had to find some suitable shrubbery to squat behind leaving my son to stand guard. I crouched and strained and struggled, eventually producing something about the size of a rabbit pellet. Re-emerged, not exactly triumphant, onto the path and noted a farm pick-up further ahead, parked directly in line of sight. I was very relieved to find, when we approached, it was empty. Walked on, worrying about the damage my toxic waste would do to the environment.

Today was worse, despite the liquorice consumed. I rushed to the loo so many times full of hope only to emerge later without having accomplished much more than the painful expulsion of another rabbit pellet or two. Miss Pilates class.

Tuesday September 22: I leave a message asking the cancer specialist nurse to call and when I ask which of my cocktail of drugs is the likely culprit she tells me it is most probably the anti-emetic. “Didn’t they give you a laxative to take home?” When I say no, she asks if I need something and what have I done to manage it. I explain about the liquorice. She offers to write a prescription for a laxative for my next chemo session but I tell her I’ll add stewed dried apricots and other high fibre foods to my diet and we’re laughing and joking – then I mention Sue and am in floods of tears over the phone and feel silly, but somehow better when I say I have to go and rescue my stewed apricots.

I think about the drug they give me to stop the nausea from the chemo combination and the ensuing agony (I really can’t emphasise enough how very, very painful) of the constipation and wonder just how bad the nausea would be without the anti-emetic. Am I brave enough to try? Or should I just make sure I have huge stocks of liquorice?

I’m tired and not sleeping well.

Wednesday September 23: Try to book in at health centre for my next pre-chemo blood tests on October 07 – but the booking system can’t work so far ahead so I’ve to try again next week. For some reason, it is the little things like this I find stressful. Manage to book an appointment to have my ear syringed – having a problem with ear wax on top of lung cancer seems a bit unnecessary, doesn’t it?

I drive to Cairn Holy and my son and I walk up from the bottom car park. It’s only half a mile, but it’s uphill. Watching a red squirrel playing in the branches provides a welcome pause. We’re almost at the top when I have to ‘go’ and dive off the path to crouch amongst the trees. I thought the constipation had gone, but clearly not. It takes ages to cover the evidence as I’m teetering on a very steep slope. I take some pictures to send to Sue Vincent. I find it extraordinary we both get lung cancer at the same time.

Thursday September 24: The most difficult question to answer these days is: “How are you feeling?” If it means how are you feeling physically now you’ve had your first treatment, I can say I’m all right, a bit tired but so far so good. If the question is referring to my emotions, then I have no way to answer it. I just don’t know. There is still some kind of disconnect which allows me to function without consciously thinking about having cancer and what it means. Let’s me go off to have toxic drugs pumped into my veins without thinking of all the implications. I thought of all the implications when the tumour was first spotted but seem to have left that thinking behind for now. I guess it is some kind of defence mechanism – like humour – to blunt the edges. Until I go to bed and can’t sleep and when I do I have strange vivid dreams.  

Friday September 25: I managed to get to Pilates this morning where the instructor and class had turned out wearing kick-ass boots. Shona read out the following:
Our Pilates lasses & lads stick together
We’re flexible, strong, tough as leather
Let’s use our boots with some humour
And kick hell out of Mary’s tumour! It made me cry – in a good way. As did the packet of Liquorice Allsorts posted through the letterbox.

Son and I had a lovely walk in the afternoon on a new (to us) path from Mossdale. For the first time since this all began, I almost achieved my 10,000 steps. Once upon a time, I’d have run up and down the stairs to gain the few hundred steps needed.

Saturday September 26: The DH collected the spring bulbs I’d ordered from the garden centre – planting them will be tomorrow’s task. Will I see them in flower? I daren’t say I think so but I hope so.

Sunday September 27: I had to start taking antibiotics on Friday for the two weeks up to my next chemo. Perhaps the constipation creating anti-emetic I will take then will counteract the diarrhoea the antibiotics is causing – or maybe I’ve eaten too much liquorice.

MarySmith’sPlace – Travels with a sheep – AfghanistanAdventures #51

From Lal-sar-Jangal to Band-i-Amir, December 1989

Looking across the water to the shrine

We were almost in Yakolang before anyone remembered the sheep. When Jon unlocked the door, his gasp of horror made me fear the poor animal had expired. I peered in. It was still alive – bleating its protests at this unorthodox way of travelling. It lay flattened under a huge pile of bedding and a large box, its legs sticking out like a cartoon character. Jon shifted the bundles, and the sheep struggled to an upright position.

In the bazaar, Rahimy went off to buy fruit and other supplies, while the rest of us paid our respects to the Commanders at the Paygar. As it was in Yakolang the mujahideen had threatened to shoot Khudadad for using a torch, I was less than enthusiastic about the visit.  The Commander gave Jon the usual bear-hug embrace. As a foreign female I was granted a cursory nod.

One of the lakes at Band-i-Amir

The Commander next turned to Zahir and his face froze in horror, his outstretched hand falling limply to his side. Not even his lifelong conditioning on showing respect and hospitality towards guests could overcome his revulsion at the idea of shaking hands with a leprosy patient. My heart went out to Zahir who, standing in the middle of the floor, politely continued the litany of greetings. The Commander finally indicated that we should be seated, and offered tea.

We refused, of course. It’s customary to wait until tea is offered a third time before accepting, with protestations about not wishing to cause the host any unnecessary bother. On this occasion, not even a second offer was forthcoming. The Commander didn’t want us to linger. Although I knew many people feared leprosy, because I spent the majority of my time with people who worked with leprosy patients, I had never before witnessed such a terrified reaction.

This was taken some years after my first visit, when people were once again visiting Band-i-Amir

We collected Rahimy and headed for the lakes of Band-i-Amir for a picnic lunch. After following a rough track for a short distance, a sudden glimpse of the most vivid blue imaginable confirmed we were on the right road. We spent an enjoyable hour or so scrambling on the paths between the various lakes, rewarded for our efforts by stunning views. Each lake was a different shade. In some places the water, with barely a ripple to mar its mirror like surface, was of the deepest blue, in others, it was an equally brilliant emerald green, viewed from yet another angle, it was turquoise. 

At the foot of the cliffs was a shrine built to Hazrat Ali, son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Here, Rahimy, Zahir and Ghulam Ali spent some time in prayer. It was to this huge stretch of water (two miles long and five hundred yards wide) with its supposed miraculous healing properties, to which Qurban’s father had brought the small boy, hoping to cure his leprosy. We left a donation with the caretaker, and shared some of our picnic with his grandchildren who had acted as our guides, leading the way along the paths.  

An overview of part of the lake complex

Choosing a sheltered picnic spot by the side of the main stretch of water, we tucked into cold chicken and nan, thoughtfully provided by Aziz. To round off the meal, I shared out some chocolate. The taste and texture of it came as a surprise to Zahir and Ghulam Ali who had never tried it before. I noticed the latter slipping his piece surreptitiously into his pocket, either to enjoy later or, I suspected, to dispose of discreetly.

In the deep silence around us our chatter, and the clatter of thermoses and cups, sounded intrusive although I knew that, before the Soviet invasion, Band-i-Amir was one of the major tourist attractions in Afghanistan. Every summer, it was visited by thousands of Afghans and foreigners. They had trekked over the paths, admired the stupendous views, swum in the lake beside which we now sat (presumably warmer in the summer months) and enjoyed coffee and honey cakes in Aziz’s father’s coffee shop.

Tourists coming back to one of their favourite places

Aziz had often talked about the summers he spent in Band-i-Amir, helping his father.  He’d enjoyed meeting foreigners from many different countries, picking up a few phrases in several languages. I wondered who’d taught him his most frequently quoted expression of “No money, no honey.” After the tourist season ended all the traders dismantled their tea shops and restaurants, leaving Band-i-Amir as unspoilt as when Hazrat Ali had miraculously created the series of lakes.

According to legend, a young man, whose wife and children had been imprisoned by the cruel Barbar, a king who ruled over the Hindu Kush, appealed to Hazrat Ali for help. The plan they made was for Ali, without revealing who he was, to be offered for sale to the king.   Before he would agree to purchase this new slave, the king set him three tasks. One was to build a dam which the king needed; and in fact had 1000 slaves working fruitlessly to do just that. He also demanded a fearsome dragon be slain and, finally, that Ali be brought before him, in chains.

Jawad enjoying the view

These tasks were no problem to Hazrat Ali. From the top of the mountain he threw down enormous chunks of rocks which created the Band-i-Haibat (Dam of Awe); with his sword he hacked off another slice of mountain to form the Band-i-Zulfiqar. Ali’s groom helped to create a third dam, and the 1000 slaves, motivated by such awe-inspiring activities, managed to complete their own dam, the Band-i-Ghulaman. Two other lakes, or dams, were formed – the Band-i-Panir and the Band-i-Pudina. 

Ghulam Ali, Rahimy and Zahir were talking volubly amongst themselves about the lakes and the wonders of Hazrat Ali when I slid behind the wheel and started the engine.  When I put the vehicle in gear there was a sudden silence in the back and, glancing in the mirror, I saw, with the exception of Ghulam Ali, the faces of the other two registered a mixture of absolute astonishment and terror. I said, “Don’t worry. I’ve seen it done. I’m sure I can learn quite quickly.” They quickly assured me they were not afraid, but it was some time before they relaxed enough to resume their conversation.

Down the Rabbit Hole of British Politics

I’m honoured today to be a guest blogger on Robert Goldstein’s blog, writing about the ‘rabbit hole of British politics’. Rob’s is my go-to blog to help me understand what’s going on in American politics.

Art by Rob Goldstein

I asked fellow blogger, Mary Smith, to write about her experience of the chaos in the UK. The United States is not alone in its struggle to come to terms with an election outcome that may be the result of Russian Interference.

Sometimes, when I look at the UK’s current political picture, I feel as though I’ve fallen down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole and ended up in a land where everything is topsy turvy and incomprehensible. Bizarrely, Prime Minister Boris Johnston says he’s proud of how the coronavirus pandemic has been handled – this in relation to the 40,000 deaths so far, the highest death rate in Europe. In fact, at the moment of writing this, the UK has the third-highest death rate in the world. When he boasts about being a world leader in defeating Covid-19, is this really what he means? This, from the Prime Minister…

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Do you care? #CarersWeek

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Related image

I wandered through into the kitchen, snuggled in my dressing gown, to boil my own kettle for my second coffee of the day… an unaccustomed luxury. I am usually at work by that time, dragged reluctantly from sleep by the alarm clock, woken by the cold pre-dawn walk with the dog and, seven days a week, drink my second cup of coffee perched on the end of my son’s bed. Last night, I had dressed and driven back to work when I should have been on my way to bed. Tomorrow, I will be at work before breakfast. These things happen in my job. While my son, quite rightly, objects to me calling him ‘work’, he is, after all, both my job and my employer (and it is better than some of the things I have called him…).

It has been a while since I wrote about being a carer…

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Smorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore – Share an Extract – #Afghanistan – On #offer until 18th May – No More Mulberries by Mary Smith

Do click the link to Sally Cronin’s blog where she shares a short extract from my novel set in Afghanistan, No More Mulberries, which is currently on sale until end of Monday 18th May at the bargain price of 99p (and US equivalent).

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Today the extract is from No More Mulberries by Mary Smith a novel of drama and adventure set in Afghanistan – I can highly recommend the book and it is on offer at 99p/99c until 18th May.

About the book

No More Mulberries is a story of commitment and divided loyalties, of love and loss, set against a country struggling through transition.

British-born Miriam’s marriage to her Afghan doctor husband is heading towards crisis. Despite his opposition, she goes to work as a translator at a medical teaching camp in a remote area of rural Afghanistan hoping time apart will help are see where their problems lie. She comes to realise how unresolved issues from when her first husband was killed by a mujahideen group are damaging her relationship with her husband and her son – but is it already too late to save her marriage?

And extract from No…

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Guest Post: Mary Smith

I’m a guest on BeetleyPete’s blog today, talking about why I love blogging – and letting people know No More Mulberries, my novel set in Afghanistan, is currently on sale for only 99p Do pop over to have a look – Pete’s blog is well worth a visit.


I am delighted to feature Mary, a published writer, local historian, and fully-engaged blogger who resides in Scotland. Mary has lived and worked in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and her travels and experiences are fascinating to read about. She has special offers available on one of her her books from today, and I urge you to check it out.

**Please share this post on any social media you use, to help Mary**

Here is her own short bio.

Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She wanted others to share her…

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D&G Poetry Lockdown Party – Number 13 – Mary Smith

This is a lovely wee blog, quite new, which focuses on writers and poets from around Dumfries & Galloway. I’m delighted to be featured today talking about favourite writers and places.

D&G Poetry


Name your three top writers. This turns out to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. As soon as I wrote down three names another three came to mind followed by three or four more …

I left it for a few days and tried again, deciding to stick with whichever names came to mind first. My top three writers – today – are:

Margaret Elphinstone for her historical fiction. Whether we are reading about Cumbrian Quaker Mark in Voyageurs, set at the time of the 1812 war between Canada and the United States or about the Auk People following a tsunami in Scotland 8,000 years ago in The Gathering Night, every word of her fiction rings true. Now, she is writing essays about our time and there can be no arguing that her words are vitally important for us all.

Kate Atkinson. I…

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