Tag Archives: Scotland

Crossing the Topiary Chessmen off my Bucket List

The winners of the AUTHOR HUMILIATION CONTEST in the author category will be posted Friday. Meanwhile, enjoy Wendy’s adventures in Scotland!

Digital CameraI hadn’t seen my friend Bun in eight years, since leaving Scotland for the States. We used to run a storytelling club together, and like me she is an avid textile artist.

So when she said she had promised to take her mother on a garden tour Sunday afternoon (the only day I could see her) I–who can’t tell an onion from a lily–said sure, I’d tag along.

“Great!” Bun said. “It’s at Leuchars, Earlshall Castle.”

Could it be…? Leuchars was only a few miles from New Gilston, where Jack and I used to live in Scotland. As a bride my first year there, I’d tried several times to visit a famous garden in Leuchars, listed in the guidebook just before the new owner had shut it up and installed security cameras.

Digital CameraHot diggety! In one of those rare coincidences life sometimes hands out, I not only got to spend a happy hour with my friend Bun, but she led me straight to something I’d wanted to see for more than ten years: the Topiary Chessmen.

Hey, I don’t make comments about what’s on YOUR bucket list.

Digital CameraThe pieces are laid out in mid-play. Allegedly, one king is under some threat; to really appreciate their positioning, you have to view them from the tower window of the castle. As the family weren’t offering that option in their Open Garden for Charity day, Bun and I contented ourselves with running about screaming, “Oh, here’s a knight! This must be the queen! Look, that one’s a Dalek!” and generally acting like school children.

Digital CameraMost of the people attending had come straight from the Church of Scotland’s Sunday Service, and were dressed in expensive shoes, sweater sets, and suits. Bun was wearing a lot of her own handiwork, plus a poncho. I was wearing “tourism casual.” We attracted several stares.

Which made us cut up more. “You will be exterminated!” Bun intoned in front of a Dalek-esque pawn.

Digital Camera Digital CameraA man in a flat cap with tweed patches at his elbow stopped, looked at us, looked at it, and said in a posh English accent, “Blimey! THAT’S what it reminds me of. Ta, ladies!”

Tis true that some of them required more benevolent imagination than others, but I’d been wanting to see these things for ten years. In fact, I suggested a run out in the last week Jack and I lived in Scotland, just to see if perchance we could get into the gardens.

Digital CameraJack does not share my fascination with hegemonic sculpture.

And now I’ve seen them. And Bun and I will remember our day out among the topiary chessmen for a long time. About as long as the owners of the garden remember us racing ’round shrieking in nasal drones, “Exterminate!” and doing mouth music versions of the Dr. Who theme.

Isn’t that what friendship is all about? Silliness, long-lost dreams helped to come true, and a really good cup of tea in the garden?Digital Camera

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing, YA fiction

That was Then, This is Now

Jack’s weekly guest blog

Now that our cafe is up and running and proving successful, it’s worth taking a step to the side and assessing how our life has changed over the last couple of years.

Two years ago Wendy’s book hadn’t been published, we hadn’t done the ‘booking down the road trip’, I hadn’t turned the basement into a habitable space and we hadn’t even thought about a cafe.

The publication of the book and the search for a ‘store-sitter’ (hat tip to Andrew Whalen and Wesley Hearp) to allow us to go out and do signings around the country put the little bookstore on the map and quickly resulted in lots of people (individuals and groups) coming to see us and the shop. We’ve really enjoyed these visitors. About a week ago we got the farthest one yet, coming all the way from Washington State just to see the Little Bookstore for herself.

When we moved down to the basement, that cleared our upstairs area, which allowed us to consider expansion of one kind or another. With the demise of our beloved Mutual Pharmacy and Diner the kind of expansion we wanted was decided for us! The cafe has brought folks in who buy in the bookstore and vice versa – win-win all round.

So, how has our life changed?

We are far, far busier than we’ve ever been, not just as the bookstore but as individuals. We travel far more than we did, and we are in touch with a whole network of like-minded folks around the world. It’s actually quite strange in some ways – we arrived in a very rural place as outsiders who had traveled a fair bit, and settled into a quiet rural existence. Now we are back out traveling and occupying common ground with people all over the place.

Although we can always retreat to the basement we find we now enjoy sharing time and space with Kelley and Sam, who run the cafe on the second floor (hence the name Second Story Cafe). They arrive before we wake and sometimes leave after we’ve gone to bed.

We still have a guest bedroom, so we continue to have friends stay over from time to time, particularly musicians and storytellers from the United Kingdom. That’s a good anchor to our strange new lives.

And I sometimes, in the midst of the cafe and the shop and the visitors swirling around us, think about a famous Scottish proverb, and laugh. If ‘the De’il funds wark fir idle haunds’ then he wouldn’t find much fertile ground around here.

Y’all come see us – or, as we say in Scotland: Come Awa’ Ben.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing