Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

Thyme brings a’ things tae an End

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

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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

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.

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

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.

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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

To Everything – Turn, Turn, Turn – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post just makes it in time – – –
When we first arrived in Big Stone Gap fourteen years ago we had been preceded just a few months earlier by Tony and Anne Palubicki. They were the couple pastoring the Presbyterian church just a block up from our bookstore. Here we are having just moved away and so are Tony and Anne now. It almost seems fated.
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Those of you who know us or have read ‘The Little Bookstore’ will know that we tried out various Churches when we first arrived and finally settled on the Presbyterian. I attended a Presbyterian Church as a child and my dad and granddad were both elders, so I felt very much at home. Of course Wendy and I are Quakers so that may seem strange, but it’s not unusual for ‘Friends’ to visit other denominations between Meetings.
We quickly found that Tony was wonderfully open minded and ecumenical and truly believed in a God who loved people and wanted them to live in peace.
He supported everything we tried to do in and for the town, including running a monthly discussion group in the bookstore that brought together folk who would have never normally found themselves in the same company. We discussed concepts, theology, and the best way to make guacamole.
He also treated the bookstore as a ‘third place’ where he could come and unwind regularly and even once described it as a Church as he watched me ‘ministering’ to an obviously troubled customer.
His concern for personal friends from Scotland who had visited here was genuine, tangible and greatly appreciated.
Anne was the power behind Tony’s non-throne, a woman of not-altogether gentle spirit whose spitfire nature could be the most protective hug ever given. Anne would go to bat for anyone but herself, and she never let anyone get on Tony’s nerves when she could help it.
Now the couple get to go live with their beloved grandson up in Salem, not too far from us. We will continue to have them in our lives and be blessed by that.
We’re raising a glass of ‘coke’ to you Tony and Anne – slainte and thanks!

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

‘ear, ‘ear – – –

Jack’s weekly guest post – probably late again – –

Back in 1979 I was touring in Brittany with my band and various other Scottish musicians. Towards the end I felt a bit nauseous and dizzy and put it down to something I’d eaten. For a couple of years after that, my hearing went up and down, particularly after flights, and eventually it settled to a loss of high frequencies in the right ear.

Fifteen years later I was sent by my family doctor to see an Ears Nose and Throat surgeon because I had nasal polyps. The nose thing was obviously boring but as I was leaving, he said – ”Any other problems”? He visibly brightened up when I said “Well actually – – – “.

Following tests ranging from simple to a brain scan it was established that the 1979 incident had been an inner ear infection and the damage was now permanent! A National Health Service hearing aid was provided free of charge, but it was one of the early analogue ones and it simply amplified everything so I quickly gave up on it.

InnerEar

Over the years I learned to position myself so that in company or when performing I could hear with my left ear.

But – – –

Over the last few years, even positioning myself strategically, I was finding it increasingly difficult. I knew that my old fiddle playing buddy Pete Clark was using a very high-tech digital hearing aid but then very recently something else happened –

Wendy and I were on vacation at the beach near Charleston SC with friends including my old singing buddy Barbara and she cornered me. She showed me her equally high-tech aid and insisted I try it.

So today I went to a local audiology place for a test and advice – to discover that my left ear is beginning to deteriorate as well.

So it’s time for two high-tech digital – all singing all dancing – hearing aids, and for me to re-join the world!

Now – about my eyesight – – –

 

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