Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

Hey Y’all, (don’t) Watch This

50_Cupcake_HiRez

Today is my 50th birthday. So far this morning I have celebrated by catching up on things that slid past while my attention was directed elsewhere: getting the final grades in, why the dishwasher was making that funny noise, blue line edits to Fall or Fly, what to do about the nasty stain in the downstairs toilet bowl….Turning 50 is very glamorous.

One of the items I’m catching up on is this weekend’s blog. It is very satisfying to go from 49 to 50. Among other things, this is the age at which society begins to ignore women, which means we can do as we like. At the fundraising galas, while the eyes of the men with bow ties are on the cute little blond across the room, I can drink their champagne. When a kitten tries to cross a busy road, I can leap from my automobile and demand everyone halt because I have grey in my hair, heft to my hips, and the authority of surprise behind me. Yet no one will hold me accountable, because I am a 50-year-old American woman.

If I’m reading the hints right, society thinks women are supposed to feel bad about turning 50, slightly apologetic or guilty that we couldn’t keep ourselves young and thin forever. Ha. I got these wisdom lines from a lot of different places, none of which I am ashamed of being in. And from knowing a lot of different people, most of whom were worth knowing, and the ones that weren’t I don’t know any more. Traveling light is a good thing at any age, so it seems a little counter-intuitive to worry about carrying other people’s baggage now.

Thus I spent my birthday morning stamping gel flowers into all the toilets in the house, because they promised to eliminate odors AND suspicious pink crusting. I found it very satisfying. Who knew they even made such wondrous things? And my husband has promised me one of those little round vacuums to do the floors – you know, the kind cats like to ride in You Tube videos. It’ll be entertainment as well as cleaning. Not that cleaning is my thing: living in a comfortable house while saving time is. I have stuff to write, mischief to make, cats to play with, husbands to tease – ehm, strike that, just one husband – and causes to support. Heh heh heh. Never underestimate the power of a woman whistling on her way.

Hold my stolen champagne glass, kiddo; I’m goin’ in.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Jesus on the Main Line

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually on a Wednesday for a change –

Being an old curmudgeon and resistant to change I’ve always been averse to cell-phones. When I retired from my college job I went work as a ‘consultant’ for the Scottish Qualifications Authority and my boss, Paul, was way ahead of his time with these gadgets. He liked to be able to contact his team any time, day or night. Wendy and I had a pre-paid basic cell-phone each that we only ever used in dire emergencies and we swapped them back and forth. Paul would often phone me and usually got Wendy, who he then berated at length for not being me!

Much later when Wendy started working with the college she was supplied with a sophisticated I-Phone. Over time she has had hers replaced regularly with more and more up-to-date models that do everything except cook for you. On many shared car journeys she has handed it to me and asked me to talk to people or text them or check the route or the weather ahead. I have hated doing that as I have no idea how these things work and my fingers always hit the wrong letters or the wrong icon. She tries to talk me through it, but things like “Look for the little green phone” don’t bode well for a marriage when spoken while careening down the motorway at 70+ miles per hour.

But she now has one that seems much more forgiving – either that or I’m getting better. It’s not unlike guitar chords, really, when one thinks about it… Wendy says her directions have gotten better, but I’m going with my fumble fingers figuring things out.

Which has finally led me to agree to have one of my own again. I’ve been given a present of a redundant I-Phone 6  and all I have to do is choose a carrier and a contract.

Once again I’m clueless. Growing up in Scotland there was just one phone company and you paid whatever everyone else paid. Now I’m trying desperately to understand who gets the best coverage, the best data rates, text versus voice – and on, and on. It’s a minefield!

But I’m determined now and I will get there with the help of ‘Our Good Chef Kelley up the stairs’ (our tech savvy cafe manager), and ‘Mark along the road’ (our computer expert).

If they don’t get me there I could always try the main line, as the old song says—

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

Nicely, nicely does it – – –

Jack’s guest post a combination of the Monday Book and his usual Wednesday one –

This isn’t about a particular book, or even a specific range of books – it’s about how I was introduced to books and how they’ve played into my view of the world.

When I was attending high school and college to gain my basic English literature qualification I was following a curriculum that had a clear direction with no place whatsoever for Scottish authors, poets or playwrights. We had to study Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens, although Walter Scott was allowed. I think Scott was OK because he more or less invented the notion of a romantic ‘previous’ Scotland that no longer existed and that was acceptable.

What’s strange about this is that the Scottish education system has always (since 1707 and the union of parliaments) been completely independent from the English system. My guess is that the UK government always made sure that they had folk in positions of authority in place to make sure we toed the line. Not surprisingly I found all this a bit confusing.

But I had a wonderful English teacher at high school called John (Baldy) Forrest who had little interest in set curricula and a great love for the works of Damon Runyon. Baldy would stride around the classroom on a Friday afternoon (the fact that we were the ‘no hopers’ and it was Friday afternoon probably emboldened him) wearing his required academic gown and read sections of Runyon’s short stories aloud in a convincing New York accent – a bizarre sight indeed. He had sewn a block of wood into the side panel of his gown and would whack inattentive pupils on the back of the head which only endeared me to him more! The fact that I can picture him and recall his name is a great testament to his teaching abilities and ongoing legacy. If he’s still alive he must be well into his nineties but I doubt he is – RIP Baldy.

Later I attended evening classes in the local college I ended up working in for over twenty years and once again (no longer a ‘no hoper’) attempted to gain my Higher English qualification. We were a mixture of ages, and beneficiaries of the excellent Scottish system that left doors open for late learners. I am mortified to say that I can’t remember the name of the young teacher but he re-introduced me to Shakespeare and specifically Macbeth. I can still recite lines from ‘the Scottish play’ and it got me interested in Scottish history (something else we weren’t taught in school). But he also introduced us to ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. These are American classics that both link to poems by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns.

Now I can appreciate Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens because I’ve read Burns, Grassic Gibbon, Runyon and Hemingway.

What have I learned from all this? The best teachers don’t slavishly follow laid down curricula and learning doesn’t have to only take place in the classroom or lecture hall.

BTW – Scott wrote bodice rippers and fake ballads!

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Filed under bad writing, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized

The Farmer Feeds us All

The Monday book (on Tuesday) isn’t a book – it’s a recording – –

Jack is standing in for Wendy as she is ‘on the road’.

Into the Purple Valley – Ry Cooder

I got this back in the early 1970s when it first appeared as an LP and was completely blown away. We all have certain albums that constitute ‘milestones’ in our musical lives and this is definitely one of mine. I had never heard of Ry Cooder until a friend who already had this played it for me. I immediately got a copy of my own, I still have it and I still listen to it from time to time. But nothing can re-capture hearing it for the first time.

purple valley

The singing has a world-weary quality that perfectly suits the songs and the choice of songs conjures up rural America dealing with hard times. They come from a wide variety of sources ranging from Woody Guthrie to Leadbelly and Joseph Spence and all have been performed and recorded by lots of other people.  However, Ry Cooder through this wonderful album established ‘ownership’ of all these songs.

In the end, though it’s not the singing that makes this such a stand-out – it’s the arrangements and Cooder’s fabulous guitar playing.

My favorite tracks are Vigilante Man, The Farmer Feeds us All and Denomination Blues, but that’s just me – there’s not a dud on here!

Of course other albums followed this and there are great performances from concerts and TV shows on YouTube, but this was the beginning.

To get the full experience you should search out the original LP in good condition but failing that it’s been re-issued as a CD.

(Wendy will be surprised at my choice as the next Ry Cooder album after this has an Airstream on the cover!).

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Filed under between books, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, small town USA, Uncategorized

Timing is everything

Jack’s (fairly) regular Wednesday guest post –

On Sunday we had the third Clanjamphry Live concert at the beautiful Lincoln Theater in Marion Virginia. This is a twice a year link-up with my Celtic music radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ and we were delighted that our friends Alan Reid and Rob van Sante were touring over here and available just when we needed them.

The trouble was that we had originally intended to hold the concert on Saturday night but at the last minute the theater had a request from their long established ‘showcase’ – Song of the Mountains – and couldn’t realistically turn them down. In the end we opted to move to Sunday afternoon, but had absolutely no idea if that would work. Was there an overlap of potential audience that would choose one or the other but not both? Would anyone come out to a concert on a Sunday afternoon?

alan_rob

As usual we peeked out from the wings and were somewhat nervous when, with five minutes to go, saw a pretty sparse crowd. However we then had to get organized as Wendy and I were starting things off. To our surprise and great relief when we stepped out onto the stage we saw that we had just as big an audience as we’d had for the previous concerts in the series.

Even better than that it seems that we may now have a loyal audience that trusts us to give them an experience they value.

But, despite everything, I suspect that we should try to avoid Sunday afternoons in future!

Alan and Rob got a standing ovation and an encore, which didn’t surprise me and was richly deserved. What the audience didn’t know was that they had just completed six gigs in six days with lengthy drives between and were pretty exhausted. Luckily we had booked a cabin at nearby Hungry Mother State Park for Saturday and Sunday night, so they could get some R&R before and after our concert. That meant we could also share our gigs from hell stories too!

Celtic Clanjamphry airs on WETS.fm on Sundays at 9pm, WETS HD2 on Mondays at 8pm and Saturdays at 10am. It also goes out in the Marion area on WEHC.fm on Sundays at 5pm. http://www.wets.org

Alan Reid and Rob van Sante can be found herehttp://www.reidvansante.com/

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized

A Different Kind of Porn – Nope.

doily-coatJack and I did some shelf rearranging this week, to aid me in my final week of book edits avoidance therapy. The adjustments meant losing about half a bookshelf’s worth of space, so I started looking at our diet and exercise, aging, and women’s health books.

And got really, really angry. So many books about how women can keep themselves from looking older – not being older, not keeping themselves well, just not LOOKING older. So many books on what to wear after fifty. So many books on how to be skinny – not healthy, skinny.

When Jack and I opened our bookstore, we got some books in from Playboy. We discussed whether to sell “porn,” and decided we’d go with a simple definition: if we felt like the books would harm our friends Teri and Gary’s three daughters (at the time ages 4-12, more or less) we wouldn’t sell them. (Teri is the one who traded us photocopies for free books when we first opened, for those who have read Little Bookstore.) That made it fairly easy to know what we felt comfortable selling.

So I applied the same rule to these “women’s health” books, and threw away 200 of them. Because if the girls had lived by their rules, they would have been beat down, joyless consumerists. Peh.

Here are the rules, Mollie, Maeve, and Millie: wear what makes you feel comfortable, sexy, happy, or powerful–whatever your moment or mood calls for. Put on make-up or don’t – and if you want to make your own we kept a few books on natural cosmetics and color choices for hair and skin tones. Be healthy, be that plump, skinny, middle of the road, or whatever else you and your doctor agree is working for you. Look after yourself mentally – don’t read books that try to tell you  how many of anything you should own. Don’t fall for the sale of fear.

And, as one of my favorite snark signs says, “Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. That’s expensive. Drag them down to your level. It will make them happier, too.”

Enjoy life, girls. We are enjoying the extra space in our bookstore – gained a whole shelf of space by tossing the porn.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Some Things Just Suck!

Jack’s guest post is a farewell to a very close friend, co-written with two other very close friends.

Obituary – Michael (Mike/Mick) Ward

mike

Michael Joseph Ward was born in 1950, in West Lothian, though like his five siblings, he spent much of his life in Dunfermline.  A highly intelligent, well-read, erudite, individual, the educational institutions graced by his presence included Blairs College (near Aberdeen), The Scots College in Rome, and Glasgow University.  After graduating from there, he entered the teaching profession, and for many years was a teacher of modern languages at Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline.  As an avid reader, he never stopped learning, and, in adulthood, added the Gaelic language to his already impressive list of skills.

His teaching was of a piece with his approach to any task; professional, conscientious and thorough, which earned him the respect of the many pupils who came to understand with his help that learning can be much more than the mere acquisition of knowledge, important though that is.  His quirky sense of humour often caught them unawares, too, as did his occasional side-excursion into teaching them a French folk song, to remind them that language can be much more than utilitarian.  No-one knew better than him that innovations in education are not what makes the difference; that what counted was dedicated, effective teaching, and that was what his pupils got.

Mike was a long time member of the Fife based folk band Heritage, having joined them in 1978. In need of a solid keyboard player to master the group’s portable harmonium (pump organ), they found the ideal candidate in Mike. The group also discovered that he was not only an excellent keyboard player but also a wonderful penny-whistler and player of Northumbrian and Scottish smallpipes.  He had taken up the Northumbrian pipes in the late 70s, and attended the week-long courses, tutored by Joe Hutton, which were a feature of the Edinburgh Folk Festival at that time.  For a number of years he also attended annual residential weekend courses, also tutored by Joe Hutton, in Rothbury.  He met a number of kindred spirits at these courses, many of whom would become lifelong friends.

While Heritage members up to that point had learned and played mostly by ear, as a classically trained musician (he had been college organist during his time at Blairs), Mike could easily sight read. He had a respect for the folkies as well and used his skills to help the group develop and expand their music.

early-heritage

Mike on the extreme right behind the harmonium, playing the penny whistle

Over the following fifteen years or so he played with Heritage all over Scotland and around Europe, absorbing the music of other traditions and contributing to the repertoire and musical sophistication of the band. Another recruit around the same time was fiddler Pete Clark and he and Mike struck up a particularly creative partnership supporting and adding to the band’s trademark sound.

As a language teacher (before his retirement) and multi-linguist, Mike had a particular affinity for France and Italy, and this was of great help when the group traveled to these locations. Of course he had a much wider musical fraternity, extending to the English borders area of Northumbria as well as Brittany, the Occitan area of France and Friuli, in Italy. Only three years ago he spent almost a month in the Southern Appalachians with his old musical colleague Jack Beck where he made many new friends and expanded yet again his horizons.

He could be somewhat self-deprecating about his considerable musical skills.  If you gave Mike a piano, he could keep you entertained for hours with improvised arrangements of traditional music.  He was particularly masterful when it came to slow airs.  More than once it was suggested to him that he should really consider recording and/or publishing some of these gems, but, sadly, it never happened.

late-heritage

Later, in France – Mike on keyboard at the back

In 2015, along with his friends, Alistair and Brigitte Marshall, he visited the museum at Blairs, his first visit back there since he had left as a pupil.  The curator, upon learning that Mike was an alumnus,  escorted him into the college buildings which, though in a parlous state, awaiting redevelopment, looked in many respects as they must have done when the last pupil laid down his pen for the last time.  It was an experience which Mike admitted to finding somewhat spooky!  On that same visit, he was also reunited with the organ in the beautiful St Mary’s Chapel at Blairs.  He and Alistair had plans to return there, to rehearse some of the very atmospheric Breton music for bombarde and organ.

A great connoisseur of Indian cuisine, his curries were legendary and his advice on which restaurants to visit much sought after.

During the last few years he had faced a number of serious health issues with great dignity and acceptance, born of his deep Christian faith. A devout Roman Catholic, Mike was never narrow minded, was passionately interested in human beings, of whatever faith or hue, and accepted that everyone had their particular path to follow.

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Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized