MarySmith’sPlace ~ CancerDiary#30 #thinking aloud

Wednesday 07, April:  A week and a day since my last update and it has been a strange week of ups and downs and mixed emotions. Missing Sue terribly yet sometimes forgetting she’s not still here. I find myself thinking, “Oh, I must tell Sue …” and then remember. I read her posts being re-blogged on franceandvincent and laugh and cry and relish the sheer joy she felt exploring her native Yorkshire moors.

And today, I’m devastated because while in the garden I lost one of the earrings she gifted me. I’ve searched and the DH has searched but so far no luck in finding it. I’ll keep on looking, though needle in a haystack comes to mind.

When the weather has been good I’ve spent time in the garden, well wrapped up (I don’t cast clouts until May is out and have still been wearing my thermal vest) mainly reading and gazing at the daffodils.

Bandit and I enjoying the sunshine – and oh my god, those thighs. It’s the steroids, honest!

A friend came one day for coffee in the garden – we last saw each other sometime in the summer of 2020 – so that was pretty special.

Also, on Easter Sunday, Wee-sis came round. The weather had changed by then so we sat freezing for an hour but it was worth it. Last time we were together, socially distanced, was back in February when we went for a walk at Rockcliffe and saw the shell tree, which was the day my cough started.

Wee-sis adds a shell to the tree on our last walk together – we’ll be back.

I’m pleased to say I am coughing less than I was a week ago though I am impatient to be rid of it all together and to stop being so breathless on any exertion – perhaps my expectations of how quickly the steroids would work were too high. I remember when Dad was put on a course of steroids and to our astonishment he managed to get out of his wheelchair (he’d lost all mobility months earlier) and take a few steps. Fortunately, the DH was there to catch him before he hit the floor. I was expecting to be skipping around like a lamb after a week on steroids.

I did manage to walk maybe about a mile to and from the osprey viewing platform at Threave and take a photo of the osprey on the nest. I was ridiculously pleased knowing the ospreys had returned and I was here to see them. I also felt quite chuffed at managing the walk. Next day I was tired but thought it was maybe to be expected. The day after, though, I was coughing a lot more again and feeling very fed up with life. Lesson learned – don’t push, don’t try to do too much.

Good to see the ospreys back on their nest

Since then, I’ve limited my walking to short strolls in the park. I’m ashamed to admit we drive there. I can’t quite believe it has come to this. It’s only a few weeks since a friend and I walked from my house to and around the park and back home – under two miles – and now I can’t even do that. Yet. I will, though, I will.

Swans at Carlingwark Loch, Castle Douglas.

From time to time the fact my tumour is reducing in size makes me feel astonishingly joyful, though I quickly resume my usual yes, but, we don’t know for sure what’s happening, don’t tempt fate, wait for the next scan … I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be an optimist.

I am, however, beginning to feel human again: not yet a fully formed human but getting there. I’m doing things. I have the talk for Aberdeen Libraries next week (fully booked with a waiting list, which is good to hear), I took part in the Society of Authors in Scotland inaugural Zoom meeting of non-fiction writers and I’m – almost – beginning to write again.

It has been so long. When we went into lockdown last year I stopped writing. Oh, I was always going to get on with it, but there was something about not actually having to do it which let me off the hook. Fortunately, before my writing muscle totally atrophied I took part in the Writedown project, in which 22 people recorded their reactions to what was happening in lockdown. When, as we were emerging from the restrictions, I was told I was not likely to live more than seven months if I did not go for treatment for lung cancer other writing projects were abandoned. Well, apart from this cancer diary and some very rough draft poems.

The voice whispering in my ear was saying: “Wait and see what the treatment achieves. No point spending time editing the My Dad’s a Goldfish memoir if I’m not going to be around to finish it.” Maybe treatment would grant me more time, enough time even to finish the book. Now, I’ve had the treatment. I know the tumour has been shrinking but won’t have a more definitive (is there such a thing in cancer?) result for another seven/eight weeks. How much time might I have? Will I want to spend it working on a book I may not finish? Would I rather spend my time exploring Scotland (Covid restrictions allowing) or making a final attempt to clear out the attic and my dad’s books?

I feel so wishy washy compared to Sue. When told she had probably ‘three to six decent months’ she worked her socks off editing and re-publishing the books she and Stuart France had previously published plus editing and publishing some new books of her own as well as writing blog posts. It turned out her time was much less than estimated but even when told it was going to be ‘days into weeks’ she didn’t sit back, put her feet up, cuddle Ani and let those days drift by but carried on working, despite the pain she was in, to create a legacy for her family and for all of us.

And so, I salute and thank you, Sue for giving me a much-needed nudge and I will pick up my red editing pen tomorrow and get cracking. First, though, I’ll be out in the garden doing a forensic fingertip search for my lost earring.

I leave you with an image of a full-throated song of joy.

MarySmith’sPlace – a very special party

I’ve been involved, almost since its birth, with a Scottish arts organisation called conFAB, which was founded in January 2004. Over the years it has grown into a really strong, dynamic organisation, developing all kinds of new and exciting work in many different genres and art forms.

conFAB has a commitment to community and education-based work and in its productions both professional practitioners and community actors and performers work alongside each other. It is committed to inclusion and equality, providing access to the arts for everyone as audiences, as participants and as artists, and is always ready to explore new ideas.

Towards the end of 2019 the organisation celebrated its 15th year with a party in the Glad Café,  Glasgow. This is what we were celebrating:

ConFAB projects

I was delighted to be invited to read a poem which was written for a project called Hidden City.  There were several Hidden City projects, in which poets were invited to places around the city and invited to write whatever that place inspired. Almost all the places visited over the course of the project have now disappeared.

My poem, Thousands Pass Here Every Day, became the title poem in my first full collection of poetry published by Indigo Dreams – one of the many reasons I have for being grateful I am involved with conFAB.

I made a wee thank you speech at the party but totally forgot one of the things I wanted to say. I’d wanted to comment on the fact that my son had grown up with conFAB. He was thirteen when the organisation started and was dragged along to various events, then he came along willingly, and then he became involved himself in a project. He was at the celebratory party, listening to the songs and speeches – and to his mother reading a poem. I don’t think he was embarrassed!

Check out conFAB’s website here and its Facebook page here – and watch it grow and develop over the next 15 years.

And here I am reading my poem:



MarySmith’sPlace – #Book launch #Successful

Keith Kirk and I enjoyed our launch party for A-Z of Dumfries: Places-People-History. I think the folk who turned out on a filthy wet miserable evening enjoyed it too.

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Our lovely, receptive audience

I was in my usual panic mode, convinced no one would turn up, especially as a trickle of ‘sorry, I can’t make it after all’ emails came in and the rain never stopped all day. The first thing we did when arriving at the venue was to haul chairs out and hide them in a store room so the place would not look too empty. Then, as people started arriving, we had to haul them back out again.

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Standing room only at the back

Keith’s granddaughters did a sterling job, meeting, greeting and directing people to the room then taking round the bowls of nibbles.

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The three lovely helpers in the front row (photo credit Keith Kirk)

We kept the introduction to the book fairly short – Keith talked a little about the photography aspect, I read out a few of my favourite entries in the book and we answered questions before urging everyone to enjoy some more Prosecco. And, of course, we pointed out A-Z of Dumfries is a wonderful Christmas gift and offered to sign books.

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Keith and I doing our stuff

Since then we have done a book-signing in the museum on Saturday morning and it was lovely to see people who couldn’t make the launch come to buy a book or two.

Next Saturday, December 07, we’ll do our final book signing, which will be in Waterstones – just perfectly timed for Christmas shoppers – as long as they don’t have to post them abroad. I took in some posters and fliers plus photos from the book so they could make a display in the shop – ousting Billy Connolly from his advertising spot!

If you are in Dumfries on Saturday, we’ll be in Waterstones from 11am to 1.00pm

After that, we are available to talk to groups and organisations about the writing and photography process that went into A-Z of Dumfries – a fine companion to Secret Dumfries.

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A few people have asked about book launches and whether it’s worth doing them so after our last book signing I’ll put something together with a more detailed account of what we did and how successful – or otherwise – it has been.

MarySmith’sPlace – #NewBook

Thrilled to announce the birth of a new book!

A-Z of Dumfries: Places-People-History by Mary Smith (yep, that’s me!) and Keith Kirk is now out.

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The town of Dumfries, in the south-west of Scotland, known as The Queen of the South, became a royal burgh in 1186 and grew into an important market town and port in the mediaeval period. During its often turbulent past, Dumfries played an important role in the Wars of Independence as the starting point of Robert the Bruce s campaign for the Scottish throne, and later hosted Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army. The poet Robert Burns spent his last years in Dumfries and in the 18th and 19th centuries the port of Dumfries benefited from trade with the Americas, as well as being a major exporter of tweed. During the Second World War Dumfries was home to the Norwegian Army in exile and although the port has closed today it is the administrative centre for the Dumfries and Galloway region.

In A-Z of Dumfries we delve into the history of Dumfries, revealing interesting and significant moments in the story of the town. The book highlights well-known landmarks, famous residents and digs beneath the surface to uncover some of the lesser known facts about Dumfries and its hidden gems.

While I wrote the text, this fascinating A-Z tour of Dumfries’s history is fully illustrated with Keith’s fabulous photographs.

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Devorgilla Bridge, built in 1431 and the oldest surviving multi-spanned bridge in the country

Obviously some of the people and places in the book will be known to local people. Some Doonhamers may know Goldie Park is named after Jean Goldie who left a bequest for a park to be created in Maxwelltown. Few, however, will know it was Jean’s mother who gave Sir Walter Scott the plot for his Heart of Midlothian novel.

While most will be aware of Burns and Barrie’s associations with the town perhaps not so many know of James Hill, a Dumfries doctor who made enormous contributions to the 18th century treatment of cancer and head injuries.

We’re delighted the book has come out in time for Christmas – it’s the perfect gift for Doonhamers at home or abroad – and for anyone who is interested in Dumfries.

A-Z of Dumfries: Places-People-History (published on November 15 by Amberley Publishing) is available in bookshops and other outlets including Amazon.

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Young visitors at the Camera Obscura at Dumfries Museum

For those who live anywhere in the region, Keith and I would be delighted to see you at our celebratory party to welcome the book into the world with some fizz on Tuesday, 26 November at the Rutherford/McCowan Building on the Crichton Campus at 6.30pm. Let me know so we can make sure there’s enough of the fizzy stuff to go round.

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Wallace’s Loaning

Then, on Saturday, November 30 we’ll be at Dumfries Museum from 11am to 1pm to sign books and on Saturday, December 7 we’ll be doing another book signing in Waterstones from 11am to 1.00pm.

MarySmith’sPlace – Write On!

I’m delighted to be co-tutoring with novelist Margaret Elphinstone on a three-day residential creative writing course in November. I’m especially pleased that there are only a couple of places left on this one.

IMG_0001 (Custom)Based in a converted coach house at Durham Hill in the village of Kirkpatrick Durham in Dumfries & Galloway, the course runs from November 19-21. Topics include character creation; plotting; the role of narrative voice; dialogue and writing from personal experience. Maragert and I are flexible, though, and can provide workshops tailored to the specific needs of the course participants. Time to discuss their work with us is also a key component of the three days.

Over the last few years we’ve met dozens of keen participants on the courses and as quite a number of them return we must be doing something right – it can’t all be down to fabulous food, glorious countryside and the chance to meet the resident llamas! Can it?

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MarySmith’sPlace – How I’ve been spending my summer

The title sounds a bit like those essays we were set in school on ‘How I spent my summer holidays’ except this isn’t about holidays. I had to take a blogging break this summer to focus on writing a local history book for Amberley Publishing: A-Z of Dumfries- Places-People-History, in collaboration again with photographer Keith Kirk. Also, because I am once again working as a seasonal museum attendant, this time at the Old Bridge House museum.

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Old Bridge House Museum – the oldest house in Dumfries, built in 1660

The deadline for the book was August 01 and I’d really hoped to finish it before then as I started my museum job on July 01 and I didn’t want to be coming home from working one job to spend the evening working on another job. Of course, I didn’t succeed in finishing it early – but did make the publisher’s deadline.

Each letter of the alphabet has its own chapter and some letters have more than one entry. While most A–Z guides are designed as route finders, this one invites readers on an alphabetical tour of discovery of some of the places and people, past and present, which have contributed to creating the Queen of the South, the town of which Doonhamers are, rightly, so proud.

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The Caul (weir) on the River Nith

Many of the town’s streets were named after the topography; others were named in tribute to worthy citizens whose names probably mean little to younger people nowadays. Work on the book has been enlightening, on occasions frustrating – street names change for no apparent reason; Doonhamers have an endearing way of giving directions that take in landmarks long since knocked down such as the swimming pool (‘you know where the swimming pool was?’), or have been under a different name for many years – such as Young’s Corner (‘We always met at Young’s Corner’). It will be interesting to see if future generations continue with this practice or if one day the site of the old swimming pool will no longer be a referral point.

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The Globe Inn, favourite pub of Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns. Under new ownership it’s currently being refurbished but should be open soon.

Some letters provided an abundance of place names and names of famous people or landmarks (we could have filled the entire book with Bs and Cs) while others, X and Z were a bit thin on the ground. We think we’ve come up with really good entries for both of those!

As always, the research has been fascinating and we made some exciting finds – a medieval sandstone carving of a bagpipe playing pig above a fish and chip shop being the most exciting.

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The Piping Pig

Publishing date is November 15 – perfect for Christmas sales. It’s already on Amazon for pre-order even though the publisher hasn’t yet put up the cover. Keith and I think we know how it will look as he sent in some cracking images for it. I’ll provide more info nearer the time with some more sneak peeks into the book.

Credit for all photos in this post to Keith Kirk.

MarySmith’sPlace #Awards: The Sunshine Blogger Award


I’m delighted to say I received the Sunshine Blogger Award in in February 2019 from Rob Goldstein at Art by Rob Goldstein.

Rob started his blog in 2013 to advocate for himself and other people with trauma related mental health problems. He is informative, writing with honesty and clarity and inspirational. Over the years his blog has evolved and includes his own poetry and other writing, digital art and photography.

The Sunshine Blogger Award is a peer appreciation award given to bloggers who are creative, positive, and inspiring, while spreading sunshine to the blogging community.

Thank you to Rob

The Rules:

Thank the blogger who nominated you in a blog post and make a link back to their blog.

Answer the 11 questions sent to you by the person who nominated you.

Nominate up to 11 new blogs to receive the award, and then write them 11 new questions – or cheat like I did and use the same questions 🙂

List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or your blog

Here are the questions I received and my answers:

What was the driving force behind the creation of your blog?

I have two blogs: My Dad’s a Goldfish and MarySmith’sPlace  I started the Goldfish blog when I moved in with my father who had dementia. I began it as a way of recording and processing what was happening in Dad’s life and my own. It was also a way of being able to keep my writing muscle working when I found I had no time nor creativity for my own writing. I started MarySmith’sPlace because I wanted somewhere to blog about non-dementia related things – exploring the countryside around me, holidays, stories from when I worked overseas.

What was your vision for your future in blogging/writing when you first started this blog? How has that vision evolved?

I don’t think I had any particular vision when I started the Goldfish blog other than recording the ups and down of living with someone with dementia – and maybe to connect with others in a similar situation. It was quite a lonely place to be. I was delighted when it came apparent the blog resonated with many people who were affected by dementia, either going through the same process as I was (often with a spouse rather than a parent) told me they found my stories helpful. Their comments made me realise I was not on my own in this situation and feel it was worth continuing.

MarySmith’sPlace is a baby still. I’ve only been blogging on it for a year. It’s still settling in and deciding what it wants to be.

What age were you when you realized you loved writing?

About ten, scribbling stories in notebooks. Probably plagiarised from authors such as Enid Blyton.

How has your life changed as a result of the electronic age? Is it better/worse/the same?

Better. I love being able to connect with people all over the world, some of whom have become real friends.

What was the very last website you visited today?

HughsViewsandNews  He reposted a post he wrote some time ago on keeping blogging fun and not feeling guilty when you can’t manage to read and comment on the blog posts of bloggers you follow – or not posting as often as you think you should. Sometimes, the guilt threatens to overwhelm me so I need a reminder from Hugh that blogging should be fun!

What was the first website you visited when you woke up four days ago?

I don’t remember.

If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be?

My lack of self-confidence.

How would your life be different today if that one thing from your past were to change?

I would have achieved more.

If you have children, tell me…how did your parenting change from the time you had your first child until the time you had your last?

I’ve only had one child so I don’t know how my parenting would have changed.

Tell me about the funniest experience you’ve had in the past month.

Getting ready for bed one night, sitting on the loo still swishing mouthwash round my mouth – bulging cheeks, contorted mouth, loud swishing noises – when the cat wandered in, took one look and fled as though confronted by the world’s scariest monster. Of course, I laughed. Have you any idea how far mouthwash can spray across a bathroom floor?

What do you have planned for the upcoming holiday season?

We always have our first picnic of the year at Easter. Anything from a dozen to twenty of us, all ages from babies to nonagenarian meet up at a local beach. We roll our painted eggs down a hill seeing whose lasts the longest before it cracks, collect wood, light a fire, toast marshmallows and catch up with each other’s news.

If I nominate you and you have an award free blog, please view the nomination as a compliment: you are under no obligation to respond. My questions are the same as those posed to me.

My eleven nominees:

Sally Cronin

Darlene Foster

Barb Taub

Shelley Wilson

Lucinda Clarke

D.G. Kaye

Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo

Beetley Pete

Brigid Gallacher

Cathy at Between the Lines Book Blog

Lizanne at Lost in a Good Book


MarySmith’sPlace – Sunset poetry walk update

Yesterday afternoon/evening, Keith Kirk and I led a dozen participants (the event was limited to 12 people so it was actually a sell-out) on the sunset poetry walk organised as part of CatStrand’s Inspiring Writers project, Ken Words.

CatStrand is a multi-arts centre in the heart of Dumfries & Galloway, which offers an amazing programme of music, theatre, cinema, dance and visual arts as well as being a venue for all manner of classes and workshops. They draw a wonderful and eclectic list of performers: Judie Tzuke who headlines Glastonbury, The Unthanks and pop icon Kiki Dee – all this in a village with a population of less than 350.

Inspiring Words brings all CatStrand’s literature-focused events and activities under one umbrella. Events include writers Margaret Elphinstone and James Robertson in conversation about their historical fiction; film and poetry workshops, and events such as the sunset poetry walk.

Our sunset poetry walk took place on the Threave Estate and it was fabulous. It was cold – very cold – but crucially, it was a clear evening, didn’t rain and we did get to see the sun setting.

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You can tell this is my photo and not one of Keith’s. Sigh.

We also saw starlings gathering before they flew off to join the great murmuration which takes place just outside the town. Keith has uploaded some fantastic photos and videos  on Facebook of the starlings. Keith pointed out a badger sett. We saw roe deer, heard – some of us – geese, listened to the River Dee.

We stood opposite the great bulk of Threave Castle while I gave a very brief potted history – a full account of the castle’s history, and more importantly, the stories of the Black Douglas dynasty would take up the entire time of the event. Threave walk (Custom)

We took longer than anticipated on the walk because everyone was so fascinated and had so many questions. Going for a walk in the countryside with Keith is a wonderful thing, especially as he is so happy to share his knowledge.

I have to say I found standing in silence in the deepening dark with a dozen people, all our senses tuning into the falling night, quite a moving experience.

A moving experience of a different kind occurred as we walked back to the visitor centre and encountered a herd of young cows which was not there when we set out. They had wandered onto our path – for some reason they were in a field with no gate – and had to be moved to allow us to continue.

Back at the visitor centre tea and shortbread were produced by the event organiser, Jane McBeth and Andrew Mellor while the serious work of translating the experiences into words.

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I will never wear this jacket again! That’s all padding, honest. Jacket padding!

What was really special was that everyone – new writers, established poets, artists – enthusiastically took part in the workshop and everyone shared what they’d written with the group. Keith was astonished at how twelve people on the same walk together produced twelve very different accounts of their experiences.

At the end Jane handed out specially produced postcards of Keith’s sunset at Threave Castle photo,

Threave Castle on the River Dee near Castle Douglas at sunset

Threave Castle on the River Dee near Castle Douglas at sunset, photo by Keith Kirk Photographer

with an envelope and stamp so that people can send in their edited work so that it is not lost – perhaps displayed on the walls at CatStrand or perhaps a poetry pamphlet?

We are already talking about repeating the event next year – in the summer.

MarySmith’sPlace – 5 minutes on the telly

A couple of months ago when Keith Kirk and I were launching Secret Dumfries we were thrilled to be invited to be filmed on ITV’s popular programme Border Life.

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Of course, the programme could not be seen to advertise our book. There was a mention of a new book out but I don’t think they even gave its name.

Despite initial nerves (mine anyway, don’t know about Keith – he seemed very relaxed), we had a fabulous day. Presenter Lori Carnochan met us with cameraman Paul Robinson at Crichton Hall, formerly the Crichton Royal Lunatic Asylum. Here we explored the basement with its fantastic wine cellars where the wealthy patients kept their wine supplies. And debated the mystery of the ‘secret tunnels’.

Camaraman Paul, had me and Lori walking down the stairs umpteen times, and another umpteen times to walk along the corridor before he was satisfied he had the shot he wanted. It was fascinating to see how the filming is done – and to understand just how long it takes to get enough for a segment on the programme.

After we finished at the Crichton we went into town to walk along the Whitesands beside the River Nith and it was Keith’s turn in the spotlight. He talked about the finials along the railings. Dumfries and the river were looking wonderful. In the programme, his part comes first though it was filmed later. I’m so glad I didn’t have to edit it – must take days.

Anyway, here’s the link 

If you don’t want to watch the whole programme – though I suggest you do as it showcases a new whisky distillery and the new art gallery in Kirkcudbright – our section starts about fourteen minutes in.

Let me know what you think of it.

Secret Dumfries is available on Amazon.


MarySmith’sPlace – Leave of absence

I’m going to disappear for a couple of weeks. I’m on deadline to finish Secret Dumfries. Amberley Publishing has already put the book for pre-order on Amazon – and I haven’t finished writing it yet.


When they were commissioning the book I was asked to supply a back-of-the-book blurb, before a single word had been written. I sent something off, saying I hoped it wasn’t cast in stone as we didn’t know what we (photographer Keith Kirk and I) might find during the research. Next thing, it’s there on Amazon

Here it is:

“Dumfries, in south-west Scotland, has a long history, much of it well recorded. However, as with most places there are more than a few secrets hidden away. First referred to as the Queen of the South by a local poet, David Dunbar in 1857, the name stuck and was later adopted by the local football team. Not many know this makes it the only football team in the world mentioned in the Bible. Darker aspects of the town’s history include the burning of nine witches on the Whitesands in 1659 and the last public hanging of a woman in Scotland, Mary Timney, was held in Dumfries in 1862. There are tales of plague victims being exiled to Scabbit Isle, of murderers and grave robbers. Not all its secrets are so dark: there’s Patrick Miller and his introduction of turnips courtesy of King Gustav III of Sweden, and the exiled Norwegian Army making its home in Dumfries during the Second World War. And what is the significance of the finials depicting telescopes and anchors on the railings along the Whitesands?

Local author Mary Smith, and photographer Keith Kirk, take the reader on a fascinating journey through the town’s past, unearthing tales of intrigue and grisly goings-on as they provide a fascinating glimpse into some of the lesser known aspects of the town’s history.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Now, I need to get my head down, nose to the grindstone and work my socks off. I hope if I use enough clichés here, they won’t creep into the book!

Please accept my apologies for not being able to visit everyone’s blogs for the next couple of weeks. I’ll be back – all chilled and euphoric.