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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Hame, Sweet Hame…

Jack’s back! And so is his weekly Wednesday blog post.

East, West, hame’s best! (That’s “home” fer those amang ye wha’ cannae speak Scots.)

Ah, but which hame?

Avid readers will know that I take a group of Scotophiles over to the old country every June. This year was the sixth such trip and it was as enjoyable as ever – a lovely group of seven folk (should have been eight but one had to call off at the last minute for health reasons). We were carried all round Scotland and the North East corner of Ireland in the trusty seventeen seat bus driven by our equally trusty driver and co-guide Colin Stuart, meeting such talented and interesting people as Liz Weir, Pete Clark, Jock Duncan, Doli McLennan, Robin Morton and Alison Kinnaird. (Look ‘em up; you’ll be glad you did!)

I always go a few days early to stay with Colin just outside my hometown, Dunfermline, but every year when I drive through the place I find they’ve added another roundabout and another couple of traffic lights – it’s a complete nightmare. Buildings that were much loved landmarks have disappeared. In other words, it’s not my home any more.

Meanwhile, back in Big Stone Gap, Wendy waits quietly until I depart before organizing all our friends into a work-crew and completely re-organizing the bookstore. I get hints via email and blog posts, but it never really prepares me. I may not come back to new roundabouts and traffic lights, but shelves have danced ’round about to new positions, she does a lot of traffic with yard sales, chairs have descended the stairs, and half our furniture is waiting patiently in the basement until I complete the work down there.

In other words, it’s not my home any more….

But you see what I said there? I mentioned friends – on both sides of the Atlantic. Ah – now friends are a lot more important than roundabouts, traffic lights, buildings and furniture. So I still have two hames, in the East and the West, and will have as long as I have friends there.

Then there’s that special friend who waits ’til I’ve gone before re-organizing the bookstore. Wherever she is, is truly hame!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Scotland

An Arrangement

When Jack goes to Scotland, I get to rearrange the house and implement exciting new plans for the bookstore. That’s the deal.

It is “An Arrangement.”

So while Jack has been whooping it up with ten new friends along his home turf’s west coast, visiting the grave of Elvis in Rosslyn Chapel and Robert the Bruce in Dunfermline Abbey, I have, with the aid of a few trusted friends, been moving bookshelves. And tables. And chairs. And a few other things. We’re expanding our cafe to be on the bookshop’s second floor, along with an “events room.” Thus downstairs needed reconfiguring.

Behold the bookstore’s new front room:

downstairschairs 2pissed off catschairs 3

So far, it has a high approval rating for comfort and convenience:

approval

For those of you who haven’t physically visited, here’s what it looked like before:

IMG_3407IMG_3066valkyttieThat table just tended to attract clutter. In a bookstore, any horizontal cleared surface is prime real estate, and given how bad Jack and I are at tidiness, well, just be glad the leftover laundry was a sock.

Drop in and see the new place when you’re in the neighborhood. The chairs are comfy and arranged for cozy chatting. Incidentally, I have four days left before Jack returns, and could really use a sander and a backhoe, if anyone has either?

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A sign of the times

Jack’s guest post comes a little early this week -

It’s not surprising that many bookstore customers, on hearing my accent ask where I’m from, and then talk of their own family connections back to Scotland or Ireland. This area of Southern Appalachia has strong ‘Scotch-Irish’ antecedents. Frequently these conversations will drift around to the difference between perceptions and the reality of Scotland from an American point of view. Most Americans have an image of Scotland derived from movies like ‘Braveheart’ or ‘Brigadoon’ (Vincent Minnelli famously toured Scotland looking for suitable places to make ‘Brigadoon’ but eventually made it in Hollywood because he couldn’t find anywhere in Scotland that looked ‘Scottish’ enough!).

These conversations will often move on to questions about the real Scotland and how it fits into the modern world and global economy. Of course perceptions aren’t helped by confusion over what Scotland actually is in relation to – The U.K., Great Britain, The British Isles or even ‘England’.

In case you, dear reader, also find that confusing – hold on tight, and here we go -

The British Isles is a geographic description that covers Great Britain and the complete island of Ireland.

Great Britain is the union of two nations – England/Wales and Scotland (Wales was never a separate nation, sadly – it’s a Principality of England).

The island of Ireland is split into the independent Republic of Ireland and the much smaller province of Northern Ireland.

Great Britain plus Northern Ireland makes up the U.K. (The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to give it its full name).

Got all that?

Finally I will often mention that in September 2014 there will be a referendum in Scotland on the restoration of the country to independent status again. Supporters call it ‘independence’ while opponents call it ‘separation’ – ah! The power of words!!

Talking of words, Wendy and I recently saw this sign on Interstate 77 just north of the NC line. We thought some of our Scottish friends might see the significance -

independence_14

Shurely shome shignificance (as Sir Sean Connery would Shurely Shay)

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Off with His Head!

Jack guest blogs today on the perils of Scotsmen decorating under the direction of their American wives.

I come from a country that doesn’t decorate itself for Christmas to quite the extent that Big Stone Gap (and the rest of America) goes in for. External decorations are virtually non-existent in Scotland, and internals don’t get put up until the week beforehand.

Thus I have always harumphed in a Scrooge-like way when instructed by Wendy to haul “the Christmas stuff” down from the attic. Our compromise is to wait until Dec. 1—our neighbors have their bright flashing festoons in place Thanskgiving Night—before installing Rudolphus in the front yard.

Rudolphus we purchased a few years ago, in a flush of enthusiasm on Wendy’s part not entirely shared by me, but I like it when she’s happy, so home he came–a white deer with head bowed “as if reading a book” said Wendy in the shop, clapping her hands with glee.IMG_3457

{sigh}

Our compromise then was to not have him lit up – more of a wire sculpture alongside our growing collection of other yard art, such as the giant ampersand and the post-modern ironic toilet bowl of petunias. I made Rudolphus a pair of spectacles and a red nose, and posed him each year reading an appropriate (and annually different) book.

This year I finally succumbed, though, and strung a power cord though the garage, out the window and across to ye olde Rudy. Switching on the power I discovered that, while his torso shown brilliantly, his neck and head refused to emit even a glimmer of light—headless, as if he’d pissed off a Tudor King.

A quick examination revealed a severed wire, like no other I’d ever seen. Some kind of impregnated central core instead of the expected copper refused all my attempts to reconnect it.

So there Rudolphus sits in half-hearted celebratory condition, determined (it would seem) to continue the Welch-Beck decorating compromise: his heart in the US and his head in Scotland.

And yes, he is reading Wendy’s book.

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The Stories between the Shelves

Jack is away leading his annual tour to Scotland and Ireland. Every year he takes 10 people (max) to the Isles for a guided tour with ceilidhs and creekside walks and other not-seen-by-bus activities. He loves it, the people who go love it, and …. well, I love it.

Because while Jack is away, I hold minor revolutions in the bookstore. The first year he went, I demolished our downstairs kitchen so we could use it for books. (We live in a 1903 house, and it had an upstairs kitchen too. Since we live upstairs and the books live downstairs, it made sense. It’s not like the books cook for themselves.) Another year I moved our bedroom. A third year, I gave away some furniture.

Jack doesn’t mind. He gets two weeks conducting people around his homeland, telling stories and singing songs, and I get to organize, regroup, rethink how we do things and where we put stuff. It plays to both our strengths. It is An Arrangement.

So far this year nothing major has occurred to me. The walls are the same color. No furniture is missing–if you don’t count those ugly old end tables that have really needed to go for ages. And the changes I’ve made in where the shelves are located, and which genres are on them, well, trust me, they’re for the best.

As I’ve been cleaning and pushing and thinking and measuring, I keep encountering little items that have fallen amongst cracks and crevices,  into corners where only dust goes. In our bathroom, I found a plush frog from my friend Anne, pushed back against the Danielle Steel shelf and surrounded by books. (The fact that we keep Ms. Steel in the bathroom is not so much an editorial comment as a necessity born of space limitation.)

On the side of a shelf that other shelves had encroached against, I discovered the pewter angel my friend Cami gave me the year both our books were accepted for publication. She hung there, ignored and overlooked, still cheerfully blessing the house. I gave her a good shining before suspending her above “paranormal romances.”

Behind a classics shelf that we finally had to let cover a window, I discovered on the long-lost ledge a small resin cat, black with an elongated neck and a curious smile, that Teri brought me from a trip to Ireland some time back. It was during a troubled time for our shop, and the figure came with a small card which explained that, according to folklore, this little grinning cat had escaped many troubles and retained her lives through her own wit and ingenuity–and she would elude many more troubles yet.

On the card, Teri wrote, “Like someone else I know.”

It’s amazing, the stories we find buried between the shelves, forgotten bits of our own lives, when we stir up a little dust. And it’s lovely, absolutely, to have friends who marked those moments with artifacts, trinkets, little pieces of memory that tell the stories, not in the books, but of the humans who run the shop.

Thanks Teri. Thanks Cami. Thanks Paxton for the dancing lady and Heather for the feather thing and Jane for the ivy teapot and all the other people whose artifacts have brightened my cleaning. You make life sweeter.

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