Category Archives: home improvements

Branches – –

Jack actually makes it in time –

This week has been a bit strange, what with Wendy being away for two weeks helping her parents and me keeping an eye on the (very hard working) guys trimming back the tree overhanging our house.

tree

But then there was this –

My friend Dirk who engineers my radio show is also a video guy and he startled me a year ago with a proposal to make a documentary film of my life. As we worked on the radio shows he had become interested in all the things I mentioned, including why I moved the US, my various different careers and my musical life.

He started with a great number of videoed interviews with me and the original idea was to try to cover all of that. The first version I saw was an hour long and dived all over the place. Interesting to me but probably few others!

But once he decided to focus essentially on the musical side it all began to make more sense.

It was fascinating to see how he went about it, chasing after people who knew me and persuading them to share their observations then painstakingly transcribing their interviews. Busy folk in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and even in Scotland.

But then he had to turn it into a narrative that made sense, where one interview meshed with others and where various musical interludes contributed.

It finally went public a few days ago.

I think he did a wonderful job. I hate to use words like ‘humbled’ and ‘honored’ but this time I have to. I’m so grateful to him and to all my friends who took the time and trouble to contribute so thoughtfully.

I’ve been emailing today with my sister about an audio interview with our mother that Wendy helped me do twenty years ago and it reminded me how important a legacy these seemingly fleeting things can be.

The video can be seen here –

https://vimeo.com/382758864

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, 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.

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

Why I didn’t Dye my Shorts

Several of you have been following the Black Walnut saga. We have five trees dropping what might by now be a literal metric ton of walnuts onto our lawn and over our fence onto the garden of the polite but annoyed lady next door. (Jack spoke with her; we have a plan.)

Black walnuts are almost completely usable for good things (hulls: hog feed and herbicide on plants you don’t like; part between hulls and shells, a rich brown-to-purple dye; shells for abrasive cleaning of brass and other high-end products, also make great mulch; nuts for eating or making oil). How could we pass up this opportunity? So Jack and I gathered four great buckets of them, and I sat down last week to start the hulling.

Jack took one look at the maggots and cut a deal; I hull, he shells. He likes working with a hammer and a vise. Creepy white worms don’t bother me; I’ve picked my share out of cat wounds.

My friends Elissa and Kathy sent advice: wait for the hulls to dry and crack open on their own, and life got simpler. Yes, it did. So this weekend I did almost twice as many hulls just by leaving them out to dry. After the simple hulling, I had this huge pot of rich brown liquid….

IMG_8263… so I ran and grabbed some cotton and synthetic yarn, and did a little experimenting. It was fun. My friend Fiona gave me some pointers on how different yarns should be prepped, and that worked well.

IMG_8248The thing you have to know about black walnuts is, they’re mis-named. Everything they touch is going to turn brown: your fingers, your yarns, the storage baskets, the clothes you work in.

In fact, I was highly tempted to throw my white shorts in the pot along with the yarn, but….

…you know how sometimes people see religious figures in burn spots or fridge mold and such?

Well, how do you explain this? IMG_5722

That’s right, PUSHEEN himself!!!!

So I couldn’t throw my shorts in.  But I did grab a Sharpie, so all my doubting friends could share this special moment.

BEHOLD!

IMG_8267 You’re welcome.

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Filed under crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Which Side are You On

Jack scrapes over the wire with the Wednesday post – – –

I’m a week or so late in acknowledging Labor Day I know, but –

On our kitchen wall we have a tea towel with a print of a certificate by the house decorators and painters union dating from the mid 1800s.

towel

It fascinates me for two reasons. It reminds me of a famous book – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – that describes the working conditions of a group of house painters in England in the early 1900s. The other reason is because I served a six year apprenticeship learning all the skills depicted in that certificate.

The scenes illustrated clearly display great pride in the variety of specialisms involved –

The simple yet carefully prescribed way of painting a paneled door.

The use of color to enhance a classical Greek style cornice.

A cherub studying design and another one lettering a signboard.

A collection of regular paintbrushes and tools and another collection of tools for applying goldleaf.

In the center is a scene showing why the union was so important – a sick painter (maybe suffering from lead poisoning) is being attended by a doctor while his wife and son look on.

In The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists the main character is a young man, newly finished his apprenticeship who has a particular talent for design. He spends a lot of his own time, unpaid, making wonderful designs to be used later as part of his work. This reminds me very much of my father who served his time back in the 1920s when the system still included attendance at art college. Truly a marrying of art and craft and the legacy of people like William Morris.

My apprenticeship was served under my Dad in his painting business and I was ‘indentured’. That means that, like all his apprentices, we both signed a legal document that was then torn irregularly in half. At the end of my six years I received his half, which when matched to my half showed I was legally a time-served craftsman (indentured actually means ‘patterned like teeth’).

Everything has changed now. In Scotland there are still apprenticeships but they last just three years and don’t cover the same breadth of skills. Indenturing no longer takes place and DIY has blossomed with the introduction of easier to use materials and tools.

But I learned a lot – not just about craft skills, but also social skills. Not only that but it was the gateway to my college career, so a very good start to my working life.

Finally – I’m a big believer in unions!

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Filed under book reviews, crafting, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

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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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