Category Archives: between books

On the Road Again – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is on Thursday again – yawn – – –

One of the highlights of the tour I organize on odd-numbered years is the visit to Ballyeman Barn in Beautiful Antrim and the home of our old friend Liz Weir. Despite the fact that she’d only just returned from the US the day before we arrived, she was the perfect host as usual.

liz 1

Liz always cooks us a superb dinner before opening up the room for an old fashioned ceilidh with stories, songs and music. She always invites some of her local friends to join us and the entertainment and ‘craic’ is mighty (as they say in Ireland).

liz 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I wasn’t prepared for this time was the arrival of an old colleague from my teaching career in Dunfermline. I vaguely knew that John O’Connor was Irish but I didn’t know that he was from Cushendall and that he’d returned there when he retired. Just down the road from Liz’s place.

liz 4

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The Tuesday Book Sculptures

Sorry about yesterday, everyone. Traveling in rural areas of Scotland makes for spotty Internet. But all shall be forgiven, because I have now seen, in person, the Edinburgh Book Sculptures!

If anyone doesn’t know, I am a fanatic for these things. The backstory is best told on a different site, so I’ll just give you the basics here. In 2011, a mysterious little paper cut statue of a tree growing out of a book appeared in the Scottish Poetry Library. It was titled “Poetree” and had a tag honoring books, ideas, and words, thanking the library for existing.

Everyone thought that was nice, and then shortly a second statue appeared. And soon they were everywhere: the National Library, the Storytelling Centre, the Writer’s Museum, the Filmhouse, the Central lending library for Edinburgh, and the National Museum. Always celebrating words and ideas and thanking the institution (all of whom had free admission) for being there.

The sculptures gathered enough attention to have a book put out: GIFTED. And the best part is, once the sculptures gained international attention, it didn’t take the media long to figure out who had made the statues. And at her request, they withheld her name. So very British.

The other fun part about the sculptures is the books they are made from: the dinosaur from AC Doyle’s Lost World, the Hyde street scene from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. And most of the rest from Ian Rankin novels (a great crime writer based in Edinburgh).

This is a random sampling of some of the statues, which I have now finally seen in person. Some of the venues were rather startled by my ardent worship, but I am a happy person.

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A Walled Garden

19206160_1634797773197947_1339798747_nIn the city, space is a commodity. I’ve always thought of cities as incongruous lonely spaces – so many people, so little humanity interacting.

But we are staying with friends in downtown Edinburgh, not a mile off Princess Street (downtown) and they have a walled garden…..

I love walled gardens. Your own little bit of marked off territory for just sitting, thinking, being quiet and contemplative with a book and a cup of tea, or loud and boisterous with instruments and a bottle of wine and a handful of mates.

In the middle of the city, you can find the greenery and the fountains and the people who actually live in the cities, whose lives are rooted like the gardens they plant in their little secret places.

Perhaps my fondness for gardens stems back to the day after Jack’s mum died, and I was away from home in Ayrshire, in Wigtown, Scotland’s book city, and had nowhere to go to be by myself and have a good cry. And I spilled my guts to say as much to one of the bookshop owners, at Ceridwin’s Cauldron, and she took me back to her garden and brought me tea and told me to stay as long as I wanted. I spent an hour back there composing myself and being nothing but alone. Ever since then, walled gardens have been a special space.

The garden here at Barbara and Oliver’s has been a jolly place, shared for music and reminiscences and politics and the mystery of the noise coming from somewhere nearby. (Jack cracked that; it was a two-note sound not unlike the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS alien five-note theme, and he found the sewer pipe in the apartment next door was letting off gas, one note opening, the other closing. A farting building, in essence.)

Walled gardens are lovely, and every city has such little tucked-away spaces. Explore them when you can, with friends when you can. They are the heartbeat of humanity.

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Who knows where the time goes –

Once again Jack misses his deadline and the Wednesday guest post appears on Thursday –

This is the title of a great song by Sandy Denny, who died far too young after falling down stairs once too often.

I find myself humming it over and over, here in Edinburgh once again, at the age of 75, after not falling down stairs very much at all—or at least not hurting myself when I did.

Edinburgh gives me a funny feeling, one I imagine must be felt by anyone of advancing years who experiences a less and less familiar place over a lifetime.

edinburgh

I first came here as a teenager to attend a jazz club on Tuesday nights–a 30-minute train journey on a pal’s “borrowed” student pass. It was glamorous and hippy. Outside of the August arts festival the place was mostly gloomy back in the Fifties, and if you missed the last train back you were stuck. Later I could borrow my dad’s car and the road bridge over the Forth opened – much more convenient and by then the folk scene had started. Gloom moved from buildings to music, one might say.

howff

The entrance to the jazz club is still the same (later the Howff folk-club)

The weird mix of nostalgia and alienation are exacerbated because Wendy and I are staying with my old singing partner of that folk scene. Barbara Dickson and I are both originally from Dunfermline, on the other side of the river Forth. We traveled that road to the big city morning, noon, and night to do gigs of every description, and every time I cross it, I remember something else from those fun, silly, earnest times.

And yet, as I return each year now leading a Scottish tour, the place seems more and more alien. The traffic is terrible, the good shops have gone, ghost tours and pub crawls advertised everywhere, every tiny corner has been turned into yet another marketing opportunity. Not that I can complain about marketing leading a tour, but a part of me longs to show Americans the way it was when it was a proud city bent on being rather than selling itself.

For all the tartan tat, Edinburgh manages to retain a certain grandeur – I’m really not sure how it does it. The 16th Century John Knox’s house in the old High Street is surrounded by awful opportunistic chain outlets – ‘kilt outfits for 100 pounds’ etc. (I wouldn’t advise buying one, or washing it if you do). That ancient house seems to just draw in its skirts and shrug them off, like many other historic buildings in the area.

Maybe we’re all destined to become curmudgeons as we age, lauding a golden past that never was. Or perhaps we all understand that commerce is driving the world now, not history, culture, tradition. Not that those ever did. If people remembered history we wouldn’t keep circling in the same paths.

So despite my curmudgeonly misgivings, Edinburgh retains a dignity and an allure beneath the shouts of tour leaders and vendors. There is more to Scotland than buying a plush Nessie in the High Street. Always has been, always will be.

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Everything’s Coming up Roses – –

It’s Jack’s Wednesday guest post – and it’s on a Wednesday for a change!

It’s that time of year again – When we can watch the grass grow and try desperately to stay ahead of all the yard work.

We had an abnormally cool and rainy spring here, so the transition to days of sunshine and temperatures in the 80s has been rather abrupt this year. But we didn’t have the usual late frost, so we will have a very abundant apple and pear crop. Even the sad old peach tree, although on her last legs, will have a crop of some sort it appears. Apparently peach trees have a limited life and just die naturally then have to be replaced. On the other hand, the apple tree I thought I might have pruned to death a couple of years ago has recovered well – swings and roundabouts.

Our good friend David came over from NC recently and prepared our front garden so Wendy has been scattering flower seeds there, while our heirloom tomatoes are ready to be planted along the back yard fence. We couldn’t possibly have grown tomatoes outside in Scotland, far less the peppers we will plant out front here.

But summer here also brings fairly regular thunderstorms that test the efficacy of our gutters. I already know that a couple are sagging in the wrong place, so that’s another urgent job that will have to be fitted in between mowing and weed-whacking. At least we now have a weed-whacker that actually starts and runs happily as well as having the easiest string replacement system I’ve ever come across. We have another two in the shed that never worked properly!

Wendy and I have an old friend in Scotland (who lives in a house that features regularly throughout the ‘Outlander’ TV series) and he sends end-of-the-year newsletters annually that are always full of doom and gloom. Reading back through this post it looks a little like that, so – –

Just for the record, I’m very happy to live where the summers are warm and mostly sunny and the winters are no worse than Scotland!

I just remembered I need to get gas for the mower – – –

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I’m Going to a Spa to Lie Down

Friends and I have been plotting our escape for months. Grove Park Inn in Asheville, home of a spa full of mineral pools and a restaurant full of fine wines. Susan, Beth, and I are going to go be Women On Vacation there for three days.

We are taking extra wine, and some Polar Water (soda of choice for those as don’t drink soda) and coloring books and our bathing suits. We are leaving behind our cell phones and our Adulting hats.

Viva la irresponsibility!

Beth has an incredibly responsible job. She is the vet for Appalachian Feline Friends AND the entire town of Big Stone Gap. People drive up to her home at midnight with owls they hit; they phone at 3 a.m. to ask about a coughing dog. Being a vet in a small town is hard work, 24/7. Her phone will be off this weekend.

Susan reads x-rays to tell people whether or not that have incurable diseases. No pressure there….. and she is herself the survivor of a difficult health history that has left her with some enduring ouchies. Plus she looks after a herd of eldercats, including some adopted from AFF. Her phone will be off this weekend.

And me, I run around between the medical world, the bookselling world, the cat rescue world, and general adult responsibilities, trying to shuck them all onto other people so I can carve out time to write. My clinical office is moving and turning itself into a 501c3, with resultant steady politics. The cat rescue is coming into season. And I have final edits due at the end of the month that haven’t been started. (Umm, if you’re reading this, Nancy, I’m on top of it, I swear.)

We are going to a spa to lie down. Preferably in salt water pools while handsome cabana boys bring us drinks with fruit in them. Actually, skip the fruit and put in extra chocolate syrup and vodka.

And yes, we will certainly enjoy the trappings of a ritzy weekend, but more we will enjoy just being together, doing nothing but being together. Scottish folksinger Ivor Cutler wrote a song that English singer Nic Jones made famous in pubs across Britain. Jack and I often sing the lyrics when we’re stressed, and in fact since The Election in America a quote from it has been my banner picture on Facebook.

I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field to lie down

Green grass, green grass, growing  beneath me
There’s the green grass growing beneath me
I’m going in a field to lie down
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field to lie down

Blue skies, blue skies up above me
There’s the green grass growing beneath me
I’m going in a field to lie down
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field to lie down

Yellow flowers, yellow flowers growing all around me
There’s blue skies up above me
Green grass growing beneath me
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field to lie down

Susan, Beth and I are outta here. Y’all have a good weekend, ’cause we’re sure planning to.

 

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Intersections

Jack’s doing the Monday Book this week because yesterday was Wendy’s birthday – –

This is more about books in general and the kind I favor.

I tend to read memoirs, biographies, histories and novels that are set in the present. I tend not to read romances, historical novels, science fiction or fantasy. BTW – romances about the Amish may be popular but I’ve never read any.

The most recent read was ‘Monty Python Speaks’ which is really a history of the famous fellows from the their roots and on to infamy (they’ve all got it infamy). It included a reference to my big sister’s old school chum Denise Coffey, who starred in a precursor of the ‘Circus’ on British TV called ‘Do not Adjust your Set’ it even had her in a picture alongside Cleese, Palin and Jones. I was probably about 10 years old when I last was in her company.

So books can not only be a way into a particular world from the point of view of the author (and her husband), but also alongside a character referenced by someone else altogether. This gets us towards something else – altogether – –

One of my favorite writers of fiction is the author of the Inspector Rebus novels – Ian Rankin. They’re novels, but the author and Rebus are from West Fife where I also spent most of my life. He captures the Fife coalfield villages perfectly and those passages are very real to me.

So I suspect we (or at least some of us) live our lives, very often, through reliving our lives through others’ writings or maybe projecting our lives into others’ writings. We wander back and forth through our own lives, imagined lives, lives we’ve read about, imagined lives we’ve read about –

Aren’t books wonderful?

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