Category Archives: between books

Branching Out – –

Jack hits the ground running and meets the deadline – for once – –

Regular readers may recall that I’m no fan of gardening. This goes back to my earlier life in West Fife, where the earth tends towards solid clay. So solid, in fact that I once fashioned a frog from it, let it dry in the sun (it does shine occasionally in Scotland) and couldn’t break it with a hammer! The soil was near impossible to dig and the only things that grew were weeds –

In profusion – – –

The odd thing is that my childhood hero was my Grandad, who was an enthusiastic and successful gardener. He grew vegetables and fruit for our table and roses in the front yard. But I do recall he had to dig an awful lot of horse manure in to get the ground into condition.

When Wendy and I married and moved to East Fife I was astonished at how easy it was to dig our back yard and plant potatoes. But it didn’t turn me into a gardener – the non-gardener seed had been sown long before. I grew up thinking that trying to grow stuff was some kind of Calvinist punishment for past or future sins.

But there are some outdoor chores you simply can’t get away from and for me that has been trees and grass. When we moved to Big Stone Gap we found we’d inherited three heirloom apple trees, a pear tree and a peach tree. I managed to allow one apple tree and the peach tree to die and then tried to trim one of the other apple trees, nearly killing it as well. The grass became less of a problem when I purchased a used riding mower (that’s also when I really became an American!).

Our new dwelling here in Wytheville has a big backyard with four enormous walnut trees and more equally big but more nondescript ones. The walnuts aren’t near enough to pose a danger but some of the others definitely did. One was looming over our house and the garage and the trusty odd-job man we inherited with the house took care of that. But maybe it’s just because I have a rechargeable cordless chainsaw that I eyed the smaller one that was, nevertheless, encroaching on the power line feeding the house. Or maybe I just can’t see a tree without wanting to trim it!

tree

The last branch’s last stand!

tree2

Et voila!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, everywhere from New Gilston to Wytheville, Wendy and I have gotten quite good at growing tomatoes from seed, so maybe there’s still hope?

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Tae see Oorsels as Ithers see Us, Y’all!

Will wonders never cease? Jack posts on time – – –

My good friend Dirk is the expert technical guru who records my radio shows at his excellent home recording studio. But his real expertise is in making videos and although officially retired, he continues to do that for his previous employer as an external contractor.

In the process of working on the radio programs he became fascinated by the background information on the music that I provide and that got him sucked into an idea.

So a few months ago he announced that he wanted to make a video documentary about my life with a core focus on me as an immigrant who chose to become an American. Running alongside that will be my professional career(s) and my musical life.

Scotland_American_flag

He started the project by videoing a series of interviews with me and that was quite intimidating! Almost from the start I decided to treat this like one of these personality tests where you answer questions without thinking too hard. The questions were mostly short and open, and my answers were usually lengthy. However, because I didn’t have any pre-warning of what the questions would be, I did occasionally have to ponder a bit.

The next stage is for Dirk to video interviews with Wendy and some of my friends, both here in the US and in Scotland.

Luckily he was recently in Scotland visiting his son Trevor who is studying at St Andrews University in my home county of Fife, so he could interview folk there. Equally luckily our musical buddy Alan Reid was passing through this way recently and Dirk was able to ambush him too.

The next stage is continuing to interview folk including a central figure to the story – Wayne Bean who first got me to the US back in the 1980s and then to WETSfm where the story continues.

I think I’ve learned a lot about myself during all this and have a clearer understanding of what brought me here. Despite all the practical and principled explanations I usually give (all perfectly true) I think underneath it all I was just ready for a completely new life!

But is that really possible?

I have been organizing small group tours of Scotland annually for the last twelve years. The first couple of times I had a definite sense of ‘going home’. However around year three I suddenly realized that boarding the plane to come back at the end I really was ‘going home’.

I think I have finally arrived at the point where I feel equally Scottish and American – not an American Scot or a Scottish American, but a US Citizen who will always be Scottish.

I’m waiting to see the finished documentary with both anticipation and trepidation – – –

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Well, Cheers, VA

Jack reverts to form and comes in a day late –

Wendy and I have a guilty secret – two actually!

We are suckers for bookstores (well, duh!) but also thrift stores. The thing about thrift stores (charity shops in Scotland) is that you never know what will be in there and there’s always the hope that the next one will be better than the last.

Now that we’ve moved to Wytheville we’re in easy travel of quite a few second-hand shops, some turning out to be real Aladdin’s caves of all kind of delights – and horrors.

Being new to the area we don’t know until we visit them whether they’re any good or not, or even whether they really are selling second hand stuff or just another arty pseudo antique place selling tat at inflated prices.

But then our new friend  (who owns Oracle Books in Wytheville) took me to one here in town a couple of weeks ago. It’s an outlet of Virginia State where they sell off redundant stuff from State departments. My goodness! Everything from storage cabinets and shelf units to office tables and school desks and beyond.

Yesterday I took Wendy because she wanted a table for her writing hideaway (AKA the jail). As we wandered independently around she called to me. “Have a look” she said, and there was a display cabinet full of plastic bags, each one stuffed with corkscrews. Probably twenty or so in each bag and there were at least a hundred bags!

corkscrews

So of course the question we asked each other was – which department did they come from? Did the ABC folk order a gazillion of them and then realize too late they don’t sell wine? Or is there a department that’s so under pressure they go through a bottle a day to just function? If so, which one? Maybe Motor Vehicles? State police? Department of Health? (That’s Wendy’s vote.)

No matter which part of your tax dollars at work resulted in a table chock full of corkscrews at $2 per gallon baggie, we want to say what should of course be said: THANK YOU. We bought two bags.

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Always Look on the Bright Side – – –

Jack scrapes in under the wire as he does – occasionally – – –
I’m involved in a couple of interesting projects right now – one is a video documentary of my life by my friend Dirk who engineers my weekly radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’. The other is helping an older friend with his attempt to chronicle the early days of the Scottish folk revival in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Being of a certain age, now myself, there’s a good deal of poignancy as well as pleasure in recalling many happy memories of other friends, some of whom are no longer with us.
One of those is the wonderful singer Gordeanna McCulloch who was laid to rest just this morning in her beloved Glasgow.
gordeanna

Gordeanna with Wendy at our wedding. She let us use the pic for a story and song cassette.

She was one of the guests at our wedding twenty years ago in Auchtermuchty, and sang during the ceremony as part of the group ‘Palaver’. Another member of that group was Maureen Jelks who also sadly died recently. Others who were there and are no longer with us include John Watt and Duncan Williamson. When I first got interested in folk songs, John was my guide and mentor, while Duncan, a wonderful traveller storyteller and singer, became a close friend to us towards the end of his life. Also present then but now included in the ‘departed list’ are Mike Ward, who was a member of my old group ‘Heritage’ and Davy Lockhart, fiddle player with the group from the very beginning.
Despite this sad list, there are good reasons not to be gloomy, as many are still around and keeping in contact through the wonders of the internet. Another member of ‘Palaver’ was Aileen Carr, who kindly lent her gorgeous old house for our wedding and reception, and Davy’s wife Jean who handled the catering, my Best Man George Haig who still continues to amaze with his expertise on the autoharp, Colin who took many of the photographs (including the one of Wendy and Gordeanna, and drives the bus on my annual group tour of Scotland). And let us not forget the incredible Donna Marie, “Haint Mistress” of Abingdon, Virginia, who was Wendy’s Maid of Honor and had a grand adventure.
So, despite being well past the allotted ‘three score and ten’ (sounds like a song – and it is!) I continue to make new friends and take part in new adventures. That might explain why I remain in good health myself – much to Wendy’s relieved surprise!
Here’s to old friends and new, to memories and to new adventures –
Here’s tae us, wha’s like us – – – damn few, an’ there’s some o them deid.

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: THE HARDER THEY COME by TC Boyle

the harderThis week’s Monday Book comes from Paul Garrett.

When Sara, a part time substitute teacher and full-time anarchist, picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker near Willits, in northern California, she soon realizes his name is Adam and he is one of her former students.  Or no; not just a former student but the ne’er do well son of the principle of the school at which she taught.

She recruits him as a co-conspirator in a scheme to break in to the local humane society and “rescue” her dog which was impounded after biting a police officer during a traffic stop that went south after she informed the policeman that she was insusceptible to the laws of the state of California and the nation.

Though she is several years his senior (at one point a friend calls her a cougar, and she doesn’t deny it), they begin an affair, bound together by their mutual hatred of authority. The book unfolds in a kind of dance between Sara, Adam and, Stenson, Adam’s father, a troubled Vietnam vet, as Adam spins further and further into madness pulling the other two with him and eventually making Sara an unwilling accomplice in his own, much more sinister crime wave.

This happens against the backdrop of the beautiful but threatened landscape of Northern California’s Mendocino County

Anyone who has had a child with emotional difficulties can empathize with Stenson as he helplessly watches his son fall away into mental oblivion, all his efforts to save his son having been ineffectual.  Sara is hopelessly in love with the boy, and, though she tries to turn a blind eye to his lunacy, she must eventually face it head on.

The Harder They Come (Harper-Collins, 2015) is T. Coraghessan Boyle’s fifteenth novel and it is easy to see why he has won several awards for his previous work. Boyle is a pro.  His prose is right on target, making the characters come alive with all their strengths and weaknesses, assets and imperfections. He has a superlative eye for detail to the point that he sometimes gets lost in the minutia of a scene, as if he enjoys living in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. His sardonic wit infuses his books with both absurdity and anguish and provides an exposition about the consequences of our decisions, both good and bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Harder They Come

A Review

 

When Sara, a part time substitute teacher and full-time anarchist, picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker near Willits, in northern California, she soon realizes his name is Adam and he is one of her former students.  Or no; not just a former student but the ne’er do well son of the principle of the school at which she taught.

She recruits him as a co-conspirator in a scheme to break in to the local humane society and “rescue” her dog which was impounded after biting a police officer during a traffic stop that went south after she informed the policeman that she was insusceptible to the laws of the state of California and the nation.

Though she is several years his senior (at one point a friend calls her a cougar, and she doesn’t deny it), they begin an affair, bound together by their mutual hatred of authority. The book unfolds in a kind of dance between Sara, Adam and, Stenson, Adam’s father, a troubled Vietnam vet, as Adam spins further and further into madness pulling the other two with him and eventually making Sara an unwilling accomplice in his own, much more sinister crime wave.

This happens against the backdrop of the beautiful but threatened landscape of Northern California’s Mendocino County

Anyone who has had a child with emotional difficulties can empathize with Stenson as he helplessly watches his son fall away into mental oblivion, all his efforts to save his son having been ineffectual.  Sara is hopelessly in love with the boy, and, though she tries to turn a blind eye to his lunacy, she must eventually face it head on.

The Harder They Come (Harper-Collins, 2015) is T. Coraghessan Boyle’s fifteenth novel and it is easy to see why he has won several awards for his previous work. Boyle is a pro.  His prose is right on target, making the characters come alive with all their strengths and weaknesses, assets and imperfections. He has a superlative eye for detail to the point that he sometimes gets lost in the minutia of a scene, as if he enjoys living in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. His sardonic wit infuses his books with both absurdity and anguish and provides an exposition about the consequences of our decisions, both good and bad.

 

#

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Harder They Come

A Review

 

When Sara, a part time substitute teacher and full-time anarchist, picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker near Willits, in northern California, she soon realizes his name is Adam and he is one of her former students.  Or no; not just a former student but the ne’er do well son of the principle of the school at which she taught.

She recruits him as a co-conspirator in a scheme to break in to the local humane society and “rescue” her dog which was impounded after biting a police officer during a traffic stop that went south after she informed the policeman that she was insusceptible to the laws of the state of California and the nation.

Though she is several years his senior (at one point a friend calls her a cougar, and she doesn’t deny it), they begin an affair, bound together by their mutual hatred of authority. The book unfolds in a kind of dance between Sara, Adam and, Stenson, Adam’s father, a troubled Vietnam vet, as Adam spins further and further into madness pulling the other two with him and eventually making Sara an unwilling accomplice in his own, much more sinister crime wave.

This happens against the backdrop of the beautiful but threatened landscape of Northern California’s Mendocino County

Anyone who has had a child with emotional difficulties can empathize with Stenson as he helplessly watches his son fall away into mental oblivion, all his efforts to save his son having been ineffectual.  Sara is hopelessly in love with the boy, and, though she tries to turn a blind eye to his lunacy, she must eventually face it head on.

The Harder They Come (Harper-Collins, 2015) is T. Coraghessan Boyle’s fifteenth novel and it is easy to see why he has won several awards for his previous work. Boyle is a pro.  His prose is right on target, making the characters come alive with all their strengths and weaknesses, assets and imperfections. He has a superlative eye for detail to the point that he sometimes gets lost in the minutia of a scene, as if he enjoys living in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. His sardonic wit infuses his books with both absurdity and anguish and provides an exposition about the consequences of our decisions, both good and bad.

 

#

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Harder They Come

A Review

 

When Sara, a part time substitute teacher and full-time anarchist, picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker near Willits, in northern California, she soon realizes his name is Adam and he is one of her former students.  Or no; not just a former student but the ne’er do well son of the principle of the school at which she taught.

She recruits him as a co-conspirator in a scheme to break in to the local humane society and “rescue” her dog which was impounded after biting a police officer during a traffic stop that went south after she informed the policeman that she was insusceptible to the laws of the state of California and the nation.

Though she is several years his senior (at one point a friend calls her a cougar, and she doesn’t deny it), they begin an affair, bound together by their mutual hatred of authority. The book unfolds in a kind of dance between Sara, Adam and, Stenson, Adam’s father, a troubled Vietnam vet, as Adam spins further and further into madness pulling the other two with him and eventually making Sara an unwilling accomplice in his own, much more sinister crime wave.

This happens against the backdrop of the beautiful but threatened landscape of Northern California’s Mendocino County

Anyone who has had a child with emotional difficulties can empathize with Stenson as he helplessly watches his son fall away into mental oblivion, all his efforts to save his son having been ineffectual.  Sara is hopelessly in love with the boy, and, though she tries to turn a blind eye to his lunacy, she must eventually face it head on.

The Harder They Come (Harper-Collins, 2015) is T. Coraghessan Boyle’s fifteenth novel and it is easy to see why he has won several awards for his previous work. Boyle is a pro.  His prose is right on target, making the characters come alive with all their strengths and weaknesses, assets and imperfections. He has a superlative eye for detail to the point that he sometimes gets lost in the minutia of a scene, as if he enjoys living in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. His sardonic wit infuses his books with both absurdity and anguish and provides an exposition about the consequences of our decisions, both good and bad.

 

#

 

 

 

 

The Harder They Come

A Review

 

When Sara, a part time substitute teacher and full-time anarchist, picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker near Willits, in northern California, she soon realizes his name is Adam and he is one of her former students.  Or no; not just a former student but the ne’er do well son of the principle of the school at which she taught.

She recruits him as a co-conspirator in a scheme to break in to the local humane society and “rescue” her dog which was impounded after biting a police officer during a traffic stop that went south after she informed the policeman that she was insusceptible to the laws of the state of California and the nation.

Though she is several years his senior (at one point a friend calls her a cougar, and she doesn’t deny it), they begin an affair, bound together by their mutual hatred of authority. The book unfolds in a kind of dance between Sara, Adam and, Stenson, Adam’s father, a troubled Vietnam vet, as Adam spins further and further into madness pulling the other two with him and eventually making Sara an unwilling accomplice in his own, much more sinister crime wave.

This happens against the backdrop of the beautiful but threatened landscape of Northern California’s Mendocino County

Anyone who has had a child with emotional difficulties can empathize with Stenson as he helplessly watches his son fall away into mental oblivion, all his efforts to save his son having been ineffectual.  Sara is hopelessly in love with the boy, and, though she tries to turn a blind eye to his lunacy, she must eventually face it head on.

The Harder They Come (Harper-Collins, 2015) is T. Coraghessan Boyle’s fifteenth novel and it is easy to see why he has won several awards for his previous work. Boyle is a pro.  His prose is right on target, making the characters come alive with all their strengths and weaknesses, assets and imperfections. He has a superlative eye for detail to the point that he sometimes gets lost in the minutia of a scene, as if he enjoys living in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. His sardonic wit infuses his books with both absurdity and anguish and provides an exposition about the consequences of our decisions, both good and bad.

 

#

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East, West, Hame’s Best!

550 tazewell

Jack gets his Wednesday guest post out on Wednesday for once – –

I’ve written earlier about how much I hate moving!

It’s partly just the hassle but also the fear of the unknown. We mainly moved for strategic reasons to do with Wendy’s job and didn’t really know much about Wytheville at all.

But I needn’t have worried. The first thing was that we were taken in hand by Jim and Pattie who were friends of the previous owner of the house. They have kept an eye on the house and our cats while we’ve been away nights and ‘lent’ us the wonderful Paul, who has already built us a turning bay in the driveway and trimmed the bushes that were cutting out the light.

The first day we were here we found that a used-book store had just opened (so we don’t need to), and the owners, Randy and Lisa turned out to be real nice folk too!

The upshot is that we ended up with a houseful of folk last Saturday for our housewarming party. Five from Big Stone, one from Blacksburg, two from NC, Jim and Pattie and their friends plus Randy and Lisa.

The house dealt with the incursion well and I felt like I was at home.

Of course, we’re still dealing with the complications of address and bank changes, but I feel we’ve arrived finally.

As an added bonus, the party proved that we’re not so far away that old friends can’t get here fairly easily.

Meanwhile Haley is running the bookstore back in Big Stone and has all sorts of innovative ideas for it. So we’re pleased that it will continue, and the changes she is introducing make it more hers and less ours, which is good for her, for us and for Big Stone Gap!

 

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

THE MONDAY BOOK: Snap, a British Mystery Novel by Belinda Bauer

 

snapToday’s reviewer is Kate Belt, joyfully retired, whose current passions are reading and managing culture shock after a move from Portland, OR to Omaha, NE two years ago.

 

My Monday Book recommend offers an enjoyable, escapist, fast moving, story with characters who capture the heart. I’m not a murder mystery fan. I follow only one writer from this genre, Louise Penney, but will give a passing glance to any major award nominee.  That’s how I came to read Snap by Belinda Bauer, long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize.   When I do read mysteries, I couldn’t care less about who did it or how it was done. Working out the puzzle doesn’t interest me. I gotta love the characters, the setting, the descriptions, all that stuff same as any other novel.

 

We meet 11-year old Jack on the road to find his mother after she’d left him and his two sisters in their broken-down car, while searching for a phone to call for help. A few days later, she turns up near the area, stabbed to death. Then the dad walks out of the house and never comes back. After that, the worst that could happen is social services finding them alone and placing the children “into care,” what we call foster care in the U.S. Jack is a resourceful child and sustains his little family, though barely, by burglarizing vacant houses with guidance from a young adult mentor, for whom he also babysits.  Skinny Jack is adept at getting himself in and out of small spaces. The storyline switches between Jack at age 11 and two years later when he finds a possible clue to his mother’s murderer. Detectives assigned to the case are not quite bumbling, but far from brilliantly competent. The book is more character driven than plot driven.

 

In full disclosure, I didn’t read this story. I listened to the well-performed Audible audio version, Fast paced and easy to follow, it’s a wonderful choice for an audiobook and would also make an excellent airplane read. Some critical reviewers might have difficulty with the structure. Sometimes the characters strain credibility, but I loved the kids and had to keep rooting for all to turn out ok for them. Did it? Read Snap and find out.

 

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