Category Archives: between books

The Pies Have It!

Jack scrapes through – – –

People often ask me if I miss anything about Scotland. Well, of course. But when I go back every year the thing I really go straight for is the food.

Full Scottish breakfasts with bacon, eggs, black pudding, haggis and baked beans – great Indian curries – steak bridies (think calzone, but Scottish) – fish and chips – and Scotch pies.

I do my best over here to get close to all these. Recently I learned how to replicate Indian restaurant base curry sauce and make a big batch to freeze regularly. I can manage an occasional full Scottish breakfast. Fish and chips requires the secret batter and lard, but I can do that when the planets align.

A steak bridie would be the ultimate challenge though – imagine a savory turn-over with small chunks of steak in a delicious brown sauce, a bit of savory onion in the mix….mmmmm. The only folk I know who make them are Stephens of Dunfermline and they are rightly famous for their recipe. My next big challenge will be to try and replicate it.

What about the pies, I hear you ask?

Over here pies are usually sweet – in Scotland these would be called tarts. Over there a pie would have meat of some kind, and a ‘Scotch pie’ would have minced beef (ground beef) along with onion and a variety of (secret) herbs and spices.

Just recently my friend Trevor finished a year at St Andrews University and came home with the recipe. He made a batch while I was bunking at his place, and I was instantly back there. Of course I had to give it a try, and with some guidance from him I managed to do no’ bad.

It’s messy and time consuming, and there’s no guarantee of success, but I’ve made two lots now and they’re worth the effort.

The pastry is flour, frozen butter, ice water and egg. Freezing the butter is key. The filling is a secret. We will be having them along with haggis and other delicacies at the Burns Supper on January 25th at Oracle Books here in Wytheville.

pies

 

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Thyme brings a’ things tae an End

Jack gets over the line with time (thyme) to spare – – –

Scotland_American_flag

I’m in the throes of organizing my final group tour of Scotland right now and it’s at the point where everything starts getting complicated – which is why it’s the last one. By the time it’s over I’ll be seventy-eight years old and ready to stop!

I use a really good agent in Scotland to book hotels, ferries and tickets for ‘attractions’, but inevitably there are always timings that don’t work or hotels we’ve used before that didn’t appeal. So negotiations – –

This time, because it’s the last, I have more folk going including many past customers, so for the first and last time – two minivans instead of one – so negotiations – –

Like every year there are folk who sign up, pay their deposits and then, for perfectly good reasons, have to cancel. Other folk come along looking to join – so negotiations – –

When I first started doing this twelve years ago I was very naïve and never thought that anything could go wrong or that I could be held accountable for anything. That’s another reason to stop!  I’ve had two customers with emergency dental appointments, an oxygen cylinder chasing us unsuccessfully from hotel to hotel and an overnight hospital visit by a customer in Perth.

Despite all I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute, because of the joy of sharing my country of origin and discovering corners I’d never visited.

What I think made my tours unique are down to three things –

1) Persuading great musical friends to entertain along the way

2) Having my old friend Colin both drive the bus and add fascinating insights

3) The sheer luck of having groups including close friends and complete strangers that all got on well

It’s been a whirlwind and I won’t be sorry to stop, but it’s also been a great series of journeys.

The final tour will not only have lots of old friends, but will also be one of the few ones that Wendy will also be on – and she is the shopping expert!

 

 

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

THE MONDAY BOOK: Alas Babylon by Pat Frank

Thanks for the week off, everyone. We really enjoyed spending time with friends in a remote location. And now, back to business as usual. We appreciate Paul Garrett sending a review for this week’s Monday book.

Alas, Babylon

Alas, BabylonYoung Greta Thunberg was catapulted onto the world stage a few weeks ago when she addressed the United Nations General Assembly about the “existential threat” of climate change. Those of us who lived through the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties remember another “existential threat,” that seemed at the time to be more ominous and unquestionable.

Pat Frank’s novel Alas, Babylon (Harpers, 1959) was one of the first of many books, like Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz and The Fate of the Earth, by Johnathon Schell that attempted to come to grips with the looming threat of nuclear war.

A writer friend mentioned this book to me a few months back when a particularly prickly situation with Iran was playing out in the Persian Gulf, a place with which I became intimately familiar back in 1988. Apparently, the book was required reading in some high schools back in the day, while I was forced to read A Separate Peace and The Red Badge of Courage, two other anti-war novels, which begs the question; were all English Teachers pacifists back then?

Written in the heat of the cold war (pardon the pun) a few years before the Cuban missile crisis, the premise is that an errant missile fired by an American pilot devastates a Soviet base in Iran, launching the world into an atomic conflagration. Virtually all the major American cities are devastated, leaving a small backwater town in North Central Florida relatively unscathed. As the novel unfolds, the residents are forced to deal with the after-effects of the calamity, when they are cut off from what is left of the world.

Frank’s novel was written in an era when people were expected to be relatively well-behaved. Most of the looting in the book takes place off the page and the lone set of thugs who threaten our heroes are dealt with swiftly, despite some collateral damage. This was before things like hurricane Katrina, the Mad Max franchise, and Cormac McCarthy’s desolate novel The Road demonstrated what the end of civilization could really mean.

There are some quaint passages, as when a woman’s abortion is referred to as “a mistake she will never make again.”

Alas, Babylon avoids the preachiness of other anti-nuclear books of the age, perhaps because in the 1950’s, when school children regularly practiced hiding under their desks, home fallout shelters dotted the landscape, and Civil Defense air raid drills were carried out on a monthly basis, nuclear war was a foregone conclusion.

Pat Frank died in 1964, a good twenty-five years before the Soviet Union collapsed after rotting from the inside, and the threat of nuclear war was put on the back burner. One can’t help but wonder what he would have thought.

Nowadays worries over the horror of nuclear war are all but forgotten along with many other bugaboos and jeremiads about things that could really happen and are just around the corner and threaten life as we know it. It seems the end is always near. Nor is chronophobia a recent phenomenon, as pointed out in what is reported to be an old Scottish prayer: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us.”

While we know that over 250,000 people were incinerated or left to die a slow excruciating death at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is little direct evidence so far that anyone has been killed by climate change.

It seems that whether it is nuclear war, acid rain, the ozone hole, the coming ice age, global warming, creeping socialism, or the threat of a second term for Donald Trump, powerful people are always trying to scare us into doing their bidding.

As it turned out, it wasn’t nuclear annihilation that threatened to bring us to our knees but a sneak attack from an unexpected quarter, or as Toby Keith famously sang; “A mighty sucker punch came flying in from somewhere in the back,” on September 11th, 2001. So, while it may be true as the aphorism says, “Ninety percent of the things you worry about never happen,” we might add, “…but beware of those things you never see coming.”

 

 

 

 

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Behind the Microphone – –

Jack’s guest post is another sad one –

I started recording and broadcasting my radio show Celtic Clanjamphry some twelve years ago at the studios of WETS fm in Johnson City, Tennessee. From the beginning it was normal for Jim Blalock to be in the next-door studio preparing his classical music shows.

jim b

When I finished recording my programs Jim would always chat with me and often commented on something he’d heard on ClanJam as he had been driving somewhere. I discovered that he had wide musical interests that extended far beyond his specialization.

At this time WETS was broadcasting solely as an fm station but changes were afoot. Coming over the horizon was HD radio, and our station was preparing to pioneer this format in the area. It wasn’t clear what the implications would be for existing shows and rumors abounded. Some months before the start of three HD channels the fm schedule was changed and all Jim’s classical shows were dropped. Although I was relieved that ClanJam was retained and even moved to a much better time, I felt bad for him.

However Jim was switched to continuity and news links and did local interest interviews. I was very impressed with the dignified way he handled what must have been a difficult time for him. Eventually, when the HD channels began, one of them was largely dedicated to classical music, so Jim was back with even more air-time than before!

Jim was back next-door and we began planning a special program that would examine how classical composers had been influenced by traditional music. He gathered some CDs with examples from the classical music perspective, while I lent him some showing the crossover from the other direction. We continued to discuss this for months but sadly could never find a mutually convenient time to record it.

Then Dirk Wiley came along with an excellent home studio much closer to me and a willingness to support WETS, so my connection to Jim became more fragmented and distant. Finally he moved to Knoxville and I discovered he was fighting cancer. But still he broadcast for a station down there right to the end.

He and I had a similar approach to the making of our programs, with minimal notes and no script – just calling on our knowledge and memories as we went along. He frequently spoke to me about this and how authentic and refreshing it was. In other words he was a mentor, an example, a supporter and a very valued friend!

RIP Jim Blalock

 

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Not Fade Away – – –

Jack’s Wednesday post reverts again to default Thursday – tsk, tsk – – –

Long lost and broken tape.

Back in 1997 just before Wendy and I married we visited my Mum and recorded her memories. She was almost ninety years old by then and although she was beginning to fail a bit her long term memory was still good.

I had tried a few times to record her stories but she always dried up as soon as the microphone appeared. However Wendy was an experienced folklorist with lots of skill in putting people at ease in these kind of situations.

So we ended up with almost an hour of wonderful stories about her early life, my early life, her father and grandfather and much more.

Dad - RAF

Bill – my Dad

Mum

Alice – my Mom

Just a few days ago my niece asked about the tape and coincidentally I had just found it again. So I went to copy it onto my computer and archive it more safely. To my horror I found that at some point in the past the tape had broken. I was mortified and full of guilt!

Out came the tiny screwdriver and apart came the cassette. After hours of painstaking work and endless attempts to re-thread the now repaired tape through the various wheels and gates it finally went together again. But would it work and had I done everything correctly?

I knew that it only had to play once but would it?

I plucked up courage, booted up the computer, opened the program, then hit play on the cassette machine. There was nothing but a hiss! I took out the cassette and it had survived OK. The only thing was to fast forward to the end and turn it over, but would it handle that without breaking again?

It did survive and I turned it and hit play – and out came Mum’s voice as if she was right there in the room!

It seems we only recorded one side and put the label on the other side. The break, instead of being near the beginning was actually at the end, so nothing was lost. But the odd thing is that the start clearly leads from a previous tape, so there’s another one I need to find now.

I’m pleased to say that the recording is not only on the computer but also up in my DropBox in the sky, and as soon as I find that other cassette it will go there as well. I just hope I don’t have to use that wee screwdriver again!

The moral? Get these fragile cassettes digitized and saved safely or you will regret it!

 

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The Monday Book: The Story of the Tweed

Jack gets to do the book review this week –

The Story Of the Tweed by Herbert Maxwell

I’m not usually all that keen on travel books, but this one intrigued me as it’s about a part of Scotland with which I’m familiar. In fact I was there in June this year with my tour group, as I have been every other year for the last fourteen.

This is a facsimile reprint of a book first published in 1909, but it holds up well and could easily have been written more recently.

Maxwell traces the journey of the river Tweed from its source near Moffat to the North Sea at Berwick. But he takes a good few side turnings to explore the countryside, adjacent towns and other smaller rivers that feed into the Tweed.

river_tweed

The Tweed with the Eildon Hills in the background

Of course this is ‘ballad country’, and Maxwell was clearly well acquainted with many of them – many are quoted, including ‘The Dowie Dens o Yarrow’, ‘True Thomas’, ‘Johnnie Armstrong’ and more. Walter Scott’s famous ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ is the definitive collection and it would seem Maxwell had his own copy!

The writing is excellent, descriptive and humorous. Much of Scotland’s history was played out in this ‘debatable land’ covering the much disputed border with England. Again the author proves himself well up to the task of dissecting and explaining the history as he leads us along. Like most of my generation my schooling included very little Scottish history so it’s through books like this that I’ve had to re-educate myself.

Maxwell is clearly a big fan of Walter Scott, who lived the last part of his life in his mansion beside the Tweed. It’s clear also that he, like Scott was a big supporter of the union of Scotland and England. However I think the reason was more to do with the ending of cross border raids and the establishment of peace than for the economic reasons Scott espoused.

If you can find a copy then I highly recommend this to anyone with connections to the area or with an interest in Scottish history and balladry. Fans of Outlander will also recognize some familiar themes!

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Onward and Upward – – –

Jack gets there in time again –

maslow

I’ve seen a lot recently about encouraging young folk to go for trades rather than university and I absolutely approve of that. I had a fairly miserable time at High School and only really enjoyed French, Art and Woodwork. So I left school at age fifteen with no formal qualifications and entered my apprenticeship as a house-painter and sign writer.

But the messages I’ve seen all concentrate on the amount of money to be made from the likes of plumbing or electrical work and I’d like to suggest that there are other, sometimes surprising, positive outcomes from following the trade path.

As part of my training I attended the local college and discovered that I could go there in the evenings and get the academic qualifications I’d failed to garner at school – English and Math. So I wound up with them plus the highest trade diploma in my specialism. Some years later this proved to be required for me to become a lecturer in the construction department of that same college.

That’s when I really finally entered higher education. I attended Jordanhill teacher training college in Glasgow and studied educational psychology among many other things. That was when I first encountered Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It was a revelation to me and cropped up regularly during my career progression from lowly part-time lecturer in painting, full-time lecturer, senior lecturer, head of the construction department and finally senior manager. It was only five years before my retirement that I finally attended Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh to gain my MBA.

Through all this Dr Maslow kept cropping up and nudging me – from student motivation through to team dynamics and leadership styles and even marketing strategies!

But it’s not just dry academic stuff. I look around the world right now and I can see how lucky I’ve been. I mean that I’ve managed to hover around the top of the pyramid, while an awful lot of folk aren’t so lucky. So the hierarchy of need continues to haunt me.

And – yes – follow a trade by all means. You won’t necessarily make a fortune but you might be surprised where it takes you!

 

 

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