Category Archives: between books

Per Ardua ad Astra et Pictorum

Jack just makes it again – – –

A few weeks ago, I blogged about house painters and decorators and briefly mentioned my dad.

Dad - RAF

Early in the RAF.

So, here’s a fuller story about him as an artist-craftsman –

William Beck (usually known as Bill or Willy) was born in Govan, in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of a ship’s painter. Govan was the center of Shipbuilding on the Clyde and the Clyde was the center of shipbuilding in the world then. Painting ships was fairly rough industrial painting, but Bill was destined for much higher-class stuff.

He moved to Fife at a fairly young age and entered apprenticeship as a decorative painter. In these days (the early 1900s) an apprenticeship lasted at least seven years. Once he’d finished his time he was employed by Henry Hoggan and Son, the most prestigious and high class painting and decorating company in Dunfermline. He quickly progressed to be their expert in interior design – color coordination, mural drawing, Church decoration, marbling, wood-graining, sign-lettering etc, etc – – –

His training had included time at Edinburgh art college where he’d studied color theory, Greek and Roman design, calligraphy, water color painting and much more. A true renaissance man and a student of the marriage between art and craft!

When WW2 came along he volunteered for the RAF and spent most of the war in Egypt where his skills were employed painting the identification numbers and letters on planes and lettering maps.

After demobilization he set up a decorating business in partnership with another ex-employee of Hoggan’s – Tom Anderson. Tom was the expert in painting and wallpapering, while Bill was the artistic one.

During all this time and even while he was in Egypt he was doing excellent water color paintings – mostly portraits but later on a good many landscapes too.

Around the time that I left school and started my apprenticeship, Tom Anderson retired and Bill continued as the sole partner. In these days before DIY took hold around half the work was in private houses and half was contracts to paint government offices, hospitals and schools. The firm usually employed around five or six time-served craftsmen and two or three apprentices (of which I was one). Because the work ranged from ‘high end’ domestic to fairly basic industrial my apprenticeship gave me a good grounding. Bill built up a successful sideline in lettering shop signs and vehicle lettering and often took me along, so that added another string to my bow.

He continued to work very actively right up until he retired and I remember many occasions when he clambered up a ladder and over roofs while the rest of us looked on in amazement.

One of his proudest moments, though, was after I started teaching painting and decorating in the local college. He had always wanted to do that but had never had the opportunity, so I brought him in as a guest to demonstrate his marbling and wood graining skills. By that time he was quite sick, but he put on a great display to an appreciative audience (and boosted my reputation no end!).

In the last few years of his life he kept himself occupied by continuing to paint water colors and did all his own mounting and framing. We’re delighted to have a number hanging on our walls!

Now my mother – – –  There’s a story for a future post!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, crafting, home improvements, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Another Day – Another – – –

Wendy is tied up preparing for her big annual medical conference, so Jack gets an extra turn –

I thought a description of a typical day in the Beck/Welch house might amuse y’all –

Wendy feeds the cats and the dog, including one cat recovering from surgery and another that intimidates all the rest. We have a discussion about how to handle the intimidatory one and decide she has to live outside and in our log cabin jail out back (the cat – not Wendy). That meant checking on possible heating and cat flap arrangements.

Then it was bringing all our instruments in from the car after our gig at the local bookstore last night.

IMG_8252

On with the first of three loads of washing in between cracking walnuts. (We don’t use a dryer so sunny days are prime time for laundry.) Five mature black walnut trees came with this house and while Wendy does the collecting and hulling, I do the cracking and meat extraction.

Wendy leaves for work – –

Our friend Randy who runs the aforementioned bookstore comes over to look at three of our walnut trees which will shortly be felled and agrees to take some of the wood.

I crack more walnuts, put on the second wash and start the dishwasher.

Time for my customary soft boiled egg for lunch and then a break for a smoke in the front porch (aka ‘the catio’). As I’m relaxing I hear an explosive BANG!  At the crossing just down from our house I see a white pick-up careening over the cross street on its side with smoke pouring out while a black SUV shudders to a halt behind it. The truck rights itself and stops off the street. Silence – then raised voices while the SUV driver starts picking up various pieces of his vehicle. After ten minutes the fire engine, ambulance and various police cars arrive. I wander down and see the ambulance folk walking two women from the truck into the ambulance. Another ten minutes and everything’s cleared and gone. Small town America – – –

I crack more walnuts.

Wendy gets home, empties the dishwasher and worries that the recovering cat may have leaked cat pee on a blanket. (I have no sense of smell). We do one unexpected load of laundry for the cats, because recovering kitty needs her blankie tonight.

I crack more walnuts.

The mailman arrives and we exchange pleasantries – he has brought a forwarded bank statement for the Big Stone Celtic festival. So I know what I’ll be doing this evening after we go out for supper.

More walnuts – – – –

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

If Music be the Food of – – –

Jack easily gets in under the wire this time – –

I have a fascination with certain musical instruments – some of which I can play and others I wish I could. Guitars, obviously, but also various reed instruments such as the concertina, melodeon and even the jaw harp.

A few years ago I built Wendy a rather nice harp from a kit and noticed that the company also had a hurdy-gurdy in their catalogue. Now, that I would love to make, and it’s long been on my bucket-list!

But before I get to that there’s another project awaiting.

heritage organ

Heritage with the pump organ

Back in the early 1980s when my old folk band Heritage was young we somehow got hold of a portable pump organ. Imagine an accordion turned on its side with pedals to operate the bellows! We had just recruited Mike Ward who was an excellent keyboard player so it provided a lovely wheezy bass to our music. Of course we knew little about how it worked and were probably very lucky that it continued to.

Wendy and I love visiting antique and thrift stores and I’m always interested to see what instruments they have. Very occasionally there will be a pump organ, but they’re usually not portable. However a few years ago we came across one in NC for a reasonable price and bought it. That’s when I began to learn what went on inside them. Because the bellows was – knackered – – –

I was able to make enough temporary repairs to push air through the reeds and we discovered they all worked and were in tune! Since then I have looked at it and promised myself (and Wendy) that I’d get it working again, but still it sits.

pump

Are you going to fix me this time?

A few days ago I said I’d love to get that hurdy gurdy kit – – –

“As soon as you finish the pump organ” she said.

hurdy

Me next!

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

The more Empty it Got, the Smaller it Became

As most of you know, we closed our beloved bookstore for good in early July of this year. The last few days were a frantic “All books 50 cents, all proceeds to Appalachian Feline Friends” clean-out, and we had fun.

About 500 people came through, and almost every single one of them said some form of, “We really enjoyed having you here. You really added something nice to our lives.” Which is legacy enough for anybody. We feel full and loved and excited for our next adventure (which, yes, could possibly include a bookstore, but not this year).

empty bookstore 2Something weird started happening, though, as we emptied the shop slowly, removing things room by room and centering them up front. People bought books and shelves and said nice things and took free stuff we had lying around for the taking, and the walls began to appear. The more they appeared, the smaller the (former) bookstore got.

When we lived in the shop, there was room enough for us and two dogs and about 12 cats at one point (but don’t tell Jack because he doesn’t think there were ever more than 10) and 30,000 books. Plus all the detritus that a musician and a yarn-loving writer (yes, both senses of the word) would collect. Let’s not talk about my addiction to thrift store kitsch.

When we stripped the shop back to its bare walls, it began to look, well, tinyempty bookstore 1. Space that had held the ideas that launched a million ships, some for good, some for evil, shrank to the size of a human living room. The more we worked, the lesser the bookstore looked.

Friends who came to help commented, unprompted. I’d see them sit back on their heels over a box, or pause hefting a shelf to the porch, and stare at the walls (which now showed all the places we had drawn artwork around paint chips and cracks) and say, “Hunh. It’s getting, like, less instead of more.”

And it was. To us. To the nice couple with their daughter who bought the place, I am sure it will fill with their own happy home memories and fun, and be just the right amount of space. For Jack and me, we’re off to claim our new territory, when the time is right. God guides, and she has a great sense of humor sometimes. We are enjoying our year of resting undangerously in Wytheville (where friends tell us our house looks like a miniature version of the old bookshop) and then we’ll see what new walls unfold their spaces.

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Filed under between books, bookstore management, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

A Tale of Tails

Jack fails to make the deadline yet again – tsk, tsk!

Cats are weird!

We currently have five of them and most are FELV positive (which means that they could either live a long normal life – or not).

tooth and Bruce

Tooth arrived over our backyard fence when we were away in Scotland a few years ago. Named because she was a feral kitten that looked like a smaller version of another feral cat we fostered and named Fang, Tooth became the friendliest cat imaginable. She took on the job of looking after our aging lab Zora and then, after Zora died, she took on the same role with our terrier Bert.

After Bert passed poor Tooth hasn’t had much to do, so she was delighted when we got our new dog, Bruce. Luckily big bulldog Bruce is very used to cats and lets them all play around him perfectly happily.

Bruce is undergoing treatment for heart-worm and probably gives off some kind of ‘sickly’ vibes, because Tooth has gone back into full nursing mode. When he started limping on Sunday Tooth would have fetched a crutch!

As for the others –

Kira likes to intimidate everyone and everything. But she loves a shoulder scratch from me!

Molly likes to stay away from Kira – mostly either on top of cupboards or outside for a week.

Hannah is everyone’s buddy and isn’t afraid of Kira.

Lorelei is the newbie – just arrived and getting the lie of the land. Particularly ‘cute’!

Bruce just ignores it all – – –

 

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Podcast

conservative liberal bookstoreSorry, team, that the blog has been so lagging of late. I’m on a heavy crochet schedule, and have two book proposals in. (More on those later, no ink on signature lines yet.)

Meanwhile, because down time is precious, my reading has been confined to after I’m in bed, and more often than not the book hits me in the face to signal nighty-night.

While crocheting, however, there is only so many streamed TV shows and movies one can watch before one feels brain cells dying, so I turned in desperation to “Best Podcasts of 2019.” And found a gem.

EMBEDDED is in-depth reporting on specific issues of timeliness. Police shootings, Trump stories (some of which are hysterical – check out the one about his golf courses), and a five-part, amazingly even-keeled examination of Mitch McConnell’s political career. The dry humor, unwillingness to express opinions, and the timelag (they recorded some information as far back as 2012) make for great deep dives. Those who want to find bias probably can, but since it could cut in any direction, I’m thinking there’s not a lot of it.

Although individual programs can be as insightful as they are diverse (the one on Inuit suicide rates in Greenland, for example) EMBEDDED does its best work in serializing. Someone on that team is doing some great advising, because the sensitivity of the four-part series on Coal in Appalachia was amazingly accurate. I felt seen. That is very unusual for a network known for elitist urban attitudes. Their coverage of “Trump County” was also even-handed, in-depth, and devoid of cheap shots.

EMBEDDED makes me feel informed, and wiser, and it delivers both with a fair sense of humor. While it won’t take sides, it does deliver jokes. No small feat in a program working not to politicize its own programming.

Highly recommended, whether you think NPR is a liberal bastion of condescension or the last remaining news source of integrity in America. I never felt condescended to in their coverage of rural – and they actually covered rural blight with equal dignity to stories of urban school closures.

Two big crocheting thumbs up for EMBEDDED; I finished an entire afghan and am moving on to the Christmas snowflakes. Heh heh. No pun intended.

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Filed under between books, book reviews, crafting, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Shedding – – –

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday blog post arrives on Thursday – –

Our riding mower lived in the garage when we first moved to these nice new digs. But it was very awkward getting it from there into the backyard where it was most needed. So it’s been sitting out with a tarp over it to protect it from the rain. That isn’t ideal so we decided to get a storage shed to house it.

We decided on a DIY smallish shed made from heavy duty plastic, mainly because it came with a floor. When I checked the parts, the floor turned out to be thin and really just for positioning the walls correctly. So it was back to Lowes for lumber to make a base!

I should remind everyone that for a number of years I was Head of the construction department in my old college in Scotland. But if my friend and colleague Davy Spence who led the carpentry and joinery section had seen my workmanship on that base he would have shaken his head (my trade was painting and decorating).

Nothing daunted I set too constructing the shed with help from Wendy.

We’ve been married for twenty-one years and have rarely fallen out over anything, but this might easily have ended in divorce. I needed Wendy to hold pieces and slide them around on command. They were meant to slip easily into place.

Easily is a relative term…..

The trouble mainly stemmed from my fairly flexible (not to say, shoogley) base. That meant that none of the wall sections ended up exactly fitting as they should have. After a couple of false starts, and me accidentally letting a panel fly back and smack my beloved in the face (no swelling remains) we got them all up and connected together.

Next came the roof which was in four sections and also involved a fair amount of pulling, pushing and application of ‘Ferguson’ (a make of hammer favored by car mechanics). It wasn’t until the final roof section went into place with a satisfying click that the whole structure stopped wobbling. Including Wendy’s faith in me, since I had spent the last hour shouting things like “Up! Down! Left! More left!” as she stood outside on a ladder holding roof bits.

shed

Awaiting the doors tomorrow.

The online reviews for this shed include a number from folk who said they put it up alone and others who said that two of them did it in four hours – I don’t believe them!

For anyone who’s interested it’s a Craftsman 7×7 storage shed. You might want to take your spouse to dinner first if you’re going to build it together.

 

 

 

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Filed under between books, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch