Neolithic Europe And Beyond

The Neolithic period dates from 10,000 BC until 4,500 BC. It began 12,022 years ago, long before Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, or the Mayan and Aztec civilisations in the Americas. Given those dates, it is easy to imagine that you would find little trace of Neolithic settlements and buildings today. But nothing could be further from the truth, thanks to the work of archaeologists.

Stonehenge. One of the best-known examples of a stone temple, situated in the south-west of England.
It was built around 5,000 years ago, so is ‘Late Neolithic’.

A Dolmen, or burial tomb. This one is in Italy.

The oldest religious structure known so far. Built in 10,000 BC. It is in Anatolia, Turkey.

Temples on the Island of Malta. Over 6,000 years old, so older than the Pyramids in Egypt.

A farmstead on a Scottish Island. This is dated from 3,500 BC, so is 5,500 years old.

The entrance to a 5,000 year old burial tomb in Denmark. Forty bodies were found inside a huge mound.

Last but not least, the remains of the original walls of Jericho, in Palestine. They are estimated to be 12,000 years old.

MarySmith’sPlace ~ Writing under lockdown

Please read the full link, to see if this book is something you would like to buy. In years to come, it will be a fascinating history of a small part of Scotland during the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020. (Kindle version available too)

Mary Smith's Place

I’m excited to be a contributor in a new anthology which provides a unique record of life in my Galloway, my own wee part of Scotland, during the first 12 weeks of lockdown.

Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid brings together the work of 22 writers, each with a Galloway connection. It is a collection of prose and poetry, hopefulness, hopelessness, anger, humour and quiet endurance in which the writers tell the story of a community dealing with life in unprecedented times.

The idea behind the project came from author Margaret Elphinstone, when her writing classes could no longer meet. Inspired by the Mass Observation project which encouraged ordinary people to keep wartime diaries, she invited anyone interested to contribute – 22 of us did.

Margaret said: “In times of trouble people want to be together but with lockdown people had to isolate, sometimes…

View original post 564 more words

MarySmith’sPlace #Giant pylons will ruin iconic landscape

Please help Mary and the other campaigners, by sending an email of protest to the address shown in her post. You don’t have to live in Scotland to appreciate the scenery, or to want to visit as a tourist. Let’s try to stop another unnecessary blight on the landscape that makes bigger profits for electricity suppliers!

Mary Smith's Place

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…

View original post 552 more words

The Kelpies – a grand day out

I am reblogging this post from Mary in my new series of ‘A Reblog Offer’

Mary Smith's Place

The DH and I enjoyed a grand day out last year when we decided to visit The Kelpies near Falkirk.

Created by sculptor Andy Scott, each one weighs over 300 tonnes and at 30 metres high, they are the world’s largest equine statues. They dominate the Helix, a fabulous park by the Forth and Clyde Canal. Apart from The Kelpies there is plenty to do with walks along the towpaths, play areas, a wetland boardwalk, eating places, visitor centre and shop – but it was the Kelpies we had come to see.

We were not disappointed. They are fabulous, absolutely stunning.

20170428_132416 Standing sentinel on the Forth & Clyde Canal

Kelpies are mythological water horses or spirits which can change their shape. They haunt rivers and streams. A kelpie can appear as a docile pony but as soon as anyone mounts it he or she is stuck and will be dragged…

View original post 346 more words

A Saturday Pandemic Report From Beetley

This is the first Saturday under the newly-relaxed rules. ‘Stay at home’ has been replaced by the confusing ‘Stay alert’.

We can now drive any distance for exercise.
Sit in a park, or on a beach, without moving.
Socialise with one person not from the same household.
Visit one family member we do not live with.
Go back to work if conditions are safe.
Golf clubs and tennis clubs are open again.
Some more shops, like garden centres, are open again.

This started in earnest last Tuesday, and I had already noticed a 100% increase in traffic from the previous week. It still wasn’t ‘normal’ traffic, but noticeably heavier. Yesterday, far more people were exercising on Hoe Rough, having driven there to do so. One person who stopped and spoke to me had driven four miles to get there, and had never been there previously. The regional news reported a huge number of people had driven to the beaches and beauty spots on the north Norfolk coast. By ‘huge number’, they meant a lot more than last week, but nowhere near a ‘normal’ amount of visitors.

Wales and Scotland have their own separate governments, and have been quick to disassociate themselves with the relaxed rules handed out by Boris Johnson. They don’t want anyone crossing borders for tourism, and intend to keep the previous lockdown rules in place for now. As both of those countries are a six-hour drive from Beetley, there was no danger of me flouting their regulations.

As I sit here, there is not much difference to notice. A few cars are driving past, probably off to the supermarkets. Otherwise, it is ‘Beetley-peaceful’, with not even a dog barking.

But the weather is warming up. By next week, we should be seeing summer-value temperatures.

I’m guessing that wil provoke more radical changes around here.

Guest Post: An American in Scotland

My current blogging slump has been saved by the receipt of a guest post. My great blogging friend and occasional collaborator, Cindy Bruchman, has sent me this delightful story about her time in the far north of Scotland. At the time, she was serving in the US Navy, and this was her experience of one of the really remote parts of the British Isles.

“I once lived four years in Scotland back in the early1980s. The US NAVY had a communication station about seven miles outside of Thurso on the cliff’s edge of the North Sea. When I arrived in February, it was dark, and ropes tied to the base buildings allowed me to cross the compound without blowing away. Seriously. The slapping of the waves upon the ancient rocks and the roar of the wind made it impossible for anyone to talk outdoors. The wind was a constant companion. At its best, it was breezy. At its worst, the rage would scoot my Mini across the road. I gave up trying to comb my hair. The wet assault on my ear drums contributed to my partial loss of hearing. I was nineteen and naïve and excited to be stationed in the UK. For the first three years, I was a petty officer (E4), sending and receiving messages to and from sub tenders. In the last year, I was a “dependent wife”. I gave birth to my first son there.

At one point, we lived in a farmhouse on top of a cliff the Navy rented with one of the finest views on the planet. It overlooked Scrabster Harbor. To get to it, one had to drive up a lane and open and shut the fence gates. The sheep would surround your car and wander up to the front door. Sometimes the big male would charge at you. One clear day, I went for a hike, and I explored out past the barn to have a look at the lighthouse which pointed toward the Orkney Islands. I stumbled upon a lamb which had died; the image of the corpse is tattooed in my mind. Coming home in the dark, standing on the plateau by the cliff’s edge with the lights of Thurso sparkling below and the moon dipping in and out of the clouds, and that wind nudging you like a burly big brother, I felt my life was formidable and awesome. During the summer months, the sun was reluctant to set; at two in the morning, you could still see it, lazy on the horizon. Like the weather, my personal experiences contrasted. I buckled and failed. I soared and grew. I was living my own coming-of-age story within a setting of darkness and light and an explosion to the senses.

One of the interesting aspects about Thurso is that it’s the happening place if you like to surf. The water is freezing, and I think they are mad, but every year tourists ferry across from Sweden or the Netherlands, bringing their bicycles and tents and boards to surf.

We used to barter with the locals. We could get them tax-free liquor in exchange for North Sea salmon. After a mid-watch, we’d catch a taxi and frequent the Pentland Hotel, The Upper Deck, or The Central to have toasties with tomato and pints of lager for breakfast. Yum. Scotland is where I learned how to shoot darts.

It took me about six months to understand what on earth they were saying. The locals had a fun time teasing the Yanks by speaking their Gaelic. You knew they liked you when they finally spoke English. But even when they enunciated, it took a time to understand their brogue.

My Navy peers complained that the sun rarely came out, but I kept pinching myself to see if I were dreaming. When the sun shone, we flocked to the roofs and exposed our white-white skin. If you want the fizz of palm trees and lights and discos and urban variety, you would not like Thurso. But, if you appreciate ancient history, authentic people, the fizz that comes from the wind and waves of the coastline, you’d have a fine time. Don’t forget to bring your wellies and brollies. You’ll need them.”

My warmest thanks to Cindy for taking the time to write this, and to include her own images too. Her own site is an absolute treasure; full of great photos, literature, film reviews and articles, and her own interesting fiction too. Here’s a link. I suggest you scoot over and check it out now.

If anyone else would like to send me a guest post, they are always welcome. Please submit your idea to my email address,

St George’s Day

Today is the 23rd April. That date may have little or no significance to most people, and will pass just like any other Saturday, with little or no fuss. But in England at least, it should count for something different. It is our National Day, though you would be forgiven for not knowing that fact.

Unlike Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, England does little to celebrate its patron saint, or the day named after him. More fuss is made of the fact that it is Shakespeare’s birthday, and the TV companies are pulling out all the stops to celebrate the works of the Bard of Avon. Nothing wrong with that of course, but how about poor old Saint George, and England as a separate nation?

If you were in Ireland (or almost anywhere else) on the 17th March, you could never be unaware that it is Saint Patrick’s Day. ‘The wearing of the green’, some crazy outfits, pubs and bars serving green beer, and many other celebrations, would all bring home the fact that Ireland’s saint’s Day is celebrated wherever the Irish have a connection.

On 1st March, if you were Welsh, you might well be wearing a leek, listening to the songs of Druids, or watching a male voice choir singing ‘Men of Harlech.’ One thing’s for sure, you would know that it was Saint David’s Day, and be proud of your Welsh heritage, and separate nationality within the UK. Later in the year, on the 30th of November, Scotland joins in, with Saint Andrew’s day. Scottish flags flying proudly, special meals, and kilts and bagpipes in evidence all over. And since 2006, it is a public holiday in Scotland too.

So what happened in England? Did we just stop caring, or has it all been forgotten? There are some parades, but they are small ones. Some buildings fly the red and white flag of Saint George, but most don’t bother. It is not a public holiday, and very few young people even know that it exists. There is a small website campaigning to get better recognition, but you would be hard pressed to find it mentioned in the mainstream media, let alone celebrated in style. In central London, Trafalgar Square hosts a gathering of Morris Dancers, and a promotion of English food, for the benefit of some bemused tourists to wonder what is going on. The Prime Minister has issued an official message from Downing Street, and a few people are wandering about dressed in the style of 12th century Crusaders.

But we are missing the opportunity to celebrate England as a country in its own right, long before the formation of the UK, or the current union with Scotland, and the six counties of Northern Ireland. I am not a nationalist by nature, but surely we owe it to future generations to make them aware of the culture and heritage of the country that makes up such a large part of the British Isles? Has this country become so diverse, or steeped in apathy, that such things no longer matter? I sincerely hope not.

Happy Saint George’s Day everyone, from good old England.

Significant Songs (85)

Say What You Want

In the late 1980s, I first became aware of a group from Scotland. They were called Texas, and had a soft-rock sound that I would not normally like at all. However, the lead vocalist had a voice that appealed to me a great deal, and I used to enjoy hearing them on the car radio. Not enough to buy any of their records perhaps, but pleasant enough for a few minutes.

I saw them appear on TV, and discovered that the singer was Sharleen Spiteri, a Glaswegian of Italian origin. The main force behind the band was Johnny McElhone, who had been in two bands I had previously liked very much, Altered Images, and Hipsway. Although I wasn’t over-keen on their output at the time, I could see a great deal of potential, and a good combination of talent. Over the next few years, they failed to make their mark, with occasional releases never setting the charts on fire, and receiving less and less airplay. I had more or less forgotten about them, until 1997.

Their fourth album was called ‘White On Blonde’. It went straight in at number one, and it was immediately obvious that the years of hard work had finally paid off for the group. No less than five hit singles were released off this album, and Texas became a household name overnight. The biggest hit, and still their largest seller to date, was the simple love song, ‘Say What You Want.’ I thought it was really good, with powerful vocals, and some very good guitar too. It has endured for me ever since, although the band went their separate ways, before recently re-forming. See what you think.

Just been watching…

Given my recent lack of enthusiasm for blogging, I thought that I would turn to my love of films and TV drama for inspiration. These will be occasional posts about things I have just watched. They may or may not constitute a proper review, depending on your opinion.

Under The Skin

-Includes possible spoilers-

This 2013 film from Jonathan Glazer starring Scarlett Johansson, received a great deal of critical acclaim on release. It was compared by some to ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, and by others to the work of David Lynch, and even Orson Welles. With all that praise, and the presence of Ms Johansson, I just had to get the DVD. But I waited until it was cheap, so I have only just watched it.

Despite the presence of the Hollywood star, it is very much a British film. Special effects are few, and are suitably believable. The locations in and around Glasgow and the Scottish countryside are wet, gloomy, and bleak. In fact, so much of the film is shot in such dim lighting, there were times that it was hard to make out what was happening, at least on a flat-screen TV. Scarlett is wearing her hair short and jet black this time, and it suits her. But then what doesn’t suit this incredibly attractive young woman? The whole film hinges on her unnamed character, and the rest of the cast are complete unknowns, enjoying brief appearances on screen.

It is established very quickly that her character is not of this world. Seen naked in silhouette, a male ‘accomplice’ delivers the body of a young woman to her. She strips the girl, and puts on her clothes. The man then gives her a van, possibly the only long-wheelbase transit in Scotland with an automatic gearbox. She drives to a local shopping centre, where she watches people buying clothes, and trying on make-up, before buying a new outfit, and some cosmetics. This is just one of a series of scenes and devices establishing her strange other-worldly persona to the viewer. Why didn’t the man just bring her some clothes? She is never seen with a handbag or money, yet she has make-up to hand, and doesn’t appear to steal from the shops. We never see her eat, (save for an attempt at a slice of cake) drink, sleep, or use a toilet. So we can conclude that her appearance might be human, but she has none of our needs for survival. We never see her wash, and she doesn’t change her clothes for the duration of the film. She is also unaffected by cold and wet weather, at least most of the time.

The soundtrack adds to the reveal. She hears things at different volumes, picks up conversational snippets, sometimes unintelligible. For the viewer this is as frustrating as it is interesting, with the volume changing from shouts to whispers at will. She drives through crowds of football supporters, stares at old people waiting at bus stops, gazes at passing traffic. She is detached from all around her, an outsider, looking in. OK, I get it. I expected her to suddenly put on a T-shirt bearing the logo ‘I am an alien’, and I began to get a little miffed at the extent of the plot signalling too. But I didn’t turn the film off, take it out of the player, and fling it out of the window in Beetley, and for one very good reason. Johannson is captivating to look at. Even when she is sitting motionless behind the wheel of a van, I could watch her all day. She doesn’t have much to say, but when she speaks, it is in a surprisingly good, well-spoken English accent. This jars against the harsh language of the Scottish characters, once again setting her apart. (OK, I get it!) She does ‘vacant’ extremely well, and the emotionless nature of her character suits her perfectly.

The main action of the bulk of the film centres around her driving aimlessly, in search of young men. She chats to them on the pretext of asking directions, establishing whether or not they live alone, or if someone will miss them if they decide to accept a lift with her. Who wouldn’t get into a van with Scarlett Johansson with the implication of sex in the very near future? I know I would be in that seat like a shot. Once back at her house, they might change their minds when they see the boarded-up slum that she invites them into. But one look at her again, and in they go. Inside the house, reality is distorted, as the size inside bears no relation to the external appearance. Mesmerised by her seductive striptease, the men take off their clothes, following her into what seems to be an oily lake. She walks on the surface, they sink slowly to their demise. After we see this happen a few times, we are later shown what goes on beneath the surface, as everything seems to be sucked out of the hapless men, leaving only their complete skins floating in the mire. Everything seems to be harvested through some kind of illuminated portal, going who knows where.

As if to really hammer home the point of her complete lack of emotion, there is a scene at a stormy beach. She approaches a potential victim, and as she chats to him, a young child gets into difficulties in the sea. The father dives in to save her, and her young prey goes to help. The child drowns, and the father, at first rescued, goes back in and also drowns. She becomes tired of watching this scene, so just hits the younger man with a rock, and drags him off to her van. A second child, only a baby, is left screaming on the beach. For the umpteenth time, we are shown how cold this character is.

After a mishap with a badly-deformed man, (she didn’t see the deformity- OK I get it) she heads off alone into the countryside. The film gets much better after this. The bleak scenery is incredibly photogenic. So much so, that I could almost forgive her sudden appearance in a hotel, and her attempt to eat the gateau, all presumably whilst having no money. She is taken in by a kindly local and given shelter. She eventually decides to make love to him, presumably curious as to how this body she inhabits actually functions. It doesn’t go well though, and she runs off into the woods, wearing a coat taken from the house, as she now seems to feel the cold, and to be bothered by the rain. The last fifteen minutes of the film will have to be left up to you. All I will say it that they are a very good fifteen minutes. The ‘accomplices’ are searching for her on their motorcycles, and she meets a forestry worker in the conifers. Then it all gets very good indeed.

Can a film this long be ‘saved’ by the last section? I have to say it can. And it was.

This is an official trailer.


Architectural admiration (6)

For this part of the series, I will concentrate on places and structures found in Great Britain. This country has a lot of wonderful sights to see, and those that follow are just a few of them.

The Tyne Bridge, Newcastle, England.

Some cities are defined by a single structure. You only have to see a picture of a building, or famous statue, and you immediately recognise the location, even if you have never been there. One of these is Newcastle, where the distinctive Tyne Bridge is identifiable to almost anyone in the UK. There is a good reason for this too. The bridge connects the city with nearby Gateshead, and this industrial centre of the North-East of England has associations with ship-building, trade, docks, and mining. The imposing through arch bridge straddling the River Tyne is itself industrial in appearance, strong and purposeful, very much like the city that it is a part of. It is not the only bridge crossing the river, but was opened in 1928, to assist with increasing traffic, and to avoid tolls on other bridges. If you think it looks a bit like a smaller version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, you would be correct. It was designed and built by the same company.

Southgate Underground Station, London, England.

With the large expansion of the underground railway network in London during the 1920s, many stations on the outer edges of London at the time were constructed in unusual modernist styles. By far one of the best remaining examples is the station at Southgate, an area mostly now part of the London Borough of Barnet, close to the northern limits of the city. This amazing building resembles a spacecraft. The circular design, appearing to be supported by a row of windows, is topped with an unusual ‘spike’, with a ball on the end. This is surrounded by circular lights, giving a futuristic look to the whole structure. Best seen illuminated at night, it looks for all the world like a flying saucer, just about to take off.

Neasden Hindu Temple, London, England.

Sandwiched between the busy North Circular Road, and the undesirable dwellings of the sprawling Stonebridge Park Estate, the once-leafy suburb of Neasden is no longer the place it once was. Factories, industrial complexes, and high-rise homes make it an unlikely place to find something as wonderful as this bewitching temple. But it is worth the effort to visit this least-likely tourist destination in north-west London, to be enthralled by what you will see there. The very fact that it is so alarmingly out of context in this otherwise depressing area, just adds to the effect. Built and funded entirely by volunteers from the community, this temple really does take your breath away. Opened in 1995, it was then the largest Hindu temple outside India. Standing before it, you have to look around, finding it hard to believe that you are still in London. From the gleaming white exterior, to the intricate carvings inside, it is a complete feast for the eyes. Non-Hindus are made very welcome too, and someone will happily show you around. It really is one of the most amazing things to see in London, and outside of the local community, one of the least known modern wonders of that city.

The Town Walls, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England.

As one of the main border towns between England and Scotland, Berwick has had a violent past, and a history of conflict. Constantly fought over by the English and Scots, it has been part of England since 1482. Due to its strategic position straddling the River Tweed, less than three miles from the Scottish border, it is a place that has always been heavily defended. It still boasts a fine example of an 18th century barracks, but its Elizabethan Town Walls and fortified ramparts remain as one of the best examples in Britain today. They are a fascinating look into the warlike past of these islands, and remarkably well-preserved. They are still free to walk around, and you can do it in less than an hour. The views are spectacular, and there is much else to see in this interesting market town.

The National Wallace Monument, Stirling, Scotland.

Unfortunately, the film ‘Braveheart’ has created and perpetuated many inaccuracies concerning the Scottish noble and warrior, Sir William Wallace. During the 13th century, he rebelled along with other Scottish nobles and landowners, against the English rule of their country. In 1297, he led the Scots to victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, near to where his memorial is sited today. Despite defeating a much larger English army, the Scots failed to secure independence, later losing a major battle at Falkirk. Wallace was captured in 1305, and executed by the English, for the crime of Treason.
In 1869, a memorial to Wallace was opened, at the top of Abbey Craig, offering dramatic views from the top. Although perhaps intended to resemble a castle tower, it is somewhat Victorian Gothic in style, described as being ‘Scottish Baronial.’ The memorial serves well as a viewing platform, if you can manage all the steps to the top, (246) as well as a fair ascent from the car park. Each floor also has relevant exhibits, including Wallace’s sword, so it is entertaining for all ages.

The Hoover Building, Perivale, Middlesex.

This magnificent building is one of the best preserved Art Deco constructions from the 1930s. It is situated on one of London’s busiest roads, The Westway, and provides a welcome sight in an otherwise uninspiring landscape. Built in 1933 to house the UK factory for Hoover vacuum cleaners, its colourful designs and unashamedly ornate features divided opinion at the time. After it closed down in 1982, there were fears that it would be demolished, and a local campaign to save it had some success. It was bought by the huge supermarket chain, Tesco, and after ten years of neglect, it was fully refurbished, and opened as a supermarket. Fortunately, the exterior had been listed, so was retained by the new owners, who built a conventional shop inside the walls. It is a true wonder in West London, and delightful when illuminated at night. There is a song about it on this link that you may not like, but watch the video, for the different views.

Tilbury Fort, Essex, England.

Where the River Thames widens, to the east of London, you will find the Port of Tilbury. For many years now, this has been an important container terminal, and landing-place for many of the imports that arrive from overseas. It is an industrial area, and even the most ardent lover of the place would be hard pressed to find it attractive. During the many wars involving England throughout its history, the strategic importance of this area was always apparent. The first fort was built here by Henry VIII, and was later reinforced and improved, until appearing in the star-shaped form we can still admire today. It was here in 1588, at the height of the war with Spain, and under threat from the Armada, that Elizabeth I gave her famous rallying speech to the assembled troops. This fort holds a special place in the history of England, and as a result, is now owned and maintained by English Heritage, as a museum in perpetuity.

I hope that you enjoy this selection. Next time, I will be including some more from further afield.