Category Archives: Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

Oh Death – – –

Another very sad post by Jack – –

colin

I first met Colin when he helped organize the folk-song concerts at the Music Hall in Aberdeen during the first Bon Accord Festival in 1965. At the time I was half of a duo with Barbara Dickson and we played every night for a week as top of the bill.

We kept in touch and by the early 1970s he was booking guests for Aberdeen folk club. This was when I was erroneously billed in the local newspaper as Jeff Beck (not his fault). Lots of disappointed punters but a profitable night for the club!

Shortly after that he moved down to Fife to take up the position as a teacher of English in a local high school, where he was able to introduce the study of Scots ballads to the curriculum. After that he was a regular at parties and ceilidhs at my house and those of other friends in the area.

He was a wonderful singer with a deep and rich repertoire of Doric song, but never had any real interest in either recording or getting gigs, which meant he never got the recognition he deserves.

More recently, after my move to the US, he helped me and Wendy with our small group tours of Scotland and Ireland. As an excellent driver he was the natural choice to drive the minivan, but he quickly turned into joint tour guide. His running commentaries along the way after I ran out of wind and stories endeared him to everyone and he stayed in touch with many folk over here.

I would usually fly over to Edinburgh a few days beforehand, rent a car, drive to Colin’s house where he’d feed me mince and tatties. Then use his place as my base for visiting friends and family, before we’d pick up the minivan at the end, just before the tour started. During these evenings we’d feed each other our favorite YouTube discoveries which always included this –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYwbpCm2apA

Back in the 1960s I bought a very early MGB Roadster and eventually sold it to Colin, who did lots of refurbishing. Eventually he sold it back to me and it crossed the Atlantic! Our mutual friend David bought it from me as a birthday gift for his wife Susan and it is currently being completely rebuilt in North Carolina – – – it’s in this video and so is Colin!

I was right in the middle of recording a radio show about his friend and mentor Arthur Argo when I got the message that Wendy needed to speak to me urgently!

I was stunned by her news that Colin had just died. I’m obviously of an age now when I’m bound to lose old friends (or them me), but this was a real jolt. I still can’t quite believe it.

Driving home this morning after recording the radio shows I remembered that my black funeral suit is hanging in his guest room closet – – -along with so many memories.

Rest in Peace Colin. No one deserves it more.

 

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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

Up an’ Awa – – –

Jack misses the deadline again – – –

For the last twelve years I’ve been organizing small group tours of Scotland, and it’s been both good fun and an opportunity for me to visit new places.

map-of-scotland

But it’s gradually become more work and more worrying. Every time some emergency happens (and they do) I think about the other things that could happen. I work with an agency over there for hotel and ferry bookings, and they are very good when things go awry, but still – – –

It was always the intention that Wendy would also be along, but it’s hardly ever been possible because of her work schedule. So she’s usually been left to ‘hold the fort’. I’ve always regretted that because on the few occasions she has gone she added a dimension that I couldn’t!

This year will be the final one and because it is we have lots of previous folk making the sentimental last tour. Happily, Wendy will make it this time for sure (the flights are already booked). But we have twice as many going and two mini vans instead of just one  – – –

Of course this won’t be the last return to Scotland, but in future it will be different. Just with close friends and not traipsing from hotel to hotel.

The downside of all this is that most years Wendy and I have been separated for three weeks and that was brought home to me very forcefully just recently. She’s usually the one left alone. But her parents have needed support so she was the absent one recently, and I was the one left alone. What a salutary lesson!

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Power ain’t Necessarily – –

Jack gets way over his deadline but pleads Christmas recovery  –

I noticed that Christmas has become a very ‘on-line’ thing over the last few years and that got me thinking.

Random thoughts – – –

I got my first computer around 1998, just after the college where I worked began to introduce them. Prior to that I hand wrote memos, handed them to my secretary, who typed them, copied them and then sent them to the designated recipients. There was a whole protocol around memos including who was ‘CCd’ and how that could be used as a weapon! I learned – – –

Back then there was hardly an internet as we now know it. There was eventually an ‘intranet’ within the college, and on my personal computer at home (with great difficulty) I could eventually connect via ‘dial up’ with the college.

Ah – dial up! One of the guys at the college could imitate that sound perfectly

I joined ‘America on Line’ (AOL) and got an email address, which I still have. Back then, in Scotland, you connected to your email via dial up. They had three numbers for the whole of the UK and Ireland! So getting your emails was sometimes a frustrating experience. But that was just to get your mail and not to surf the internet. There wasn’t really any internet!

When I assumed the position of Head of Construction Trades, I found by accident that the Department had ten computers. The trouble was I couldn’t find them. After a search, I was told that the computer department had pauchled fifty by attributing them to other departments! So eventually ten Commodore Pets briefly were in my department as they were wheeled to the dumpster – – –

pet

The final story is much later. I had been promoted again, had gained my MBA and was teaching management classes. Like everyone else I had great difficulty getting any kind of urgent response from the IT team to fix any problem (check out ‘The IT Crowd’ on YouTube https://youtu.be/nn2FB1P_Mn8). Nicola was their manager and was in one of my evening class programs. That night we discussed the different forms of power within organizations – hierarchical, fiefdoms and expert. Expert was the one! As soon as I had explained expert power to Nicola I never had an IT problem again.

 

 

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Long to Reign Over Us?

Well – Jack’s a day late and a dollar short – again

I have been watching the Netflix series ‘The Crown’ over the last few nights (with strict instructions from Wendy to not spoil it by swearing!).

Queen-Nazi-Salute-Getty

I should explain that, although I have some admiration for the Queen I have no time at all for the rest of them. I hover somewhere between a Monarch and a President as the figurehead for a democracy and can see the arguments both ways.

But the series does show that the British monarch sits at the top of a privileged establishment pyramid that rules and controls from ‘behind the curtain’, and in my view that’s the problem – always has been and is still.

As for ‘The Crown’?

We’re only part way through, but the most interesting angle for me is the history played out in parallel. The actual domestic stuff is a mixture of truth, gossip, innuendo and guesswork. It’s played well by the actors but in many ways it replays decades of media manipulation by a very hard working establishment.

It’s the stuff around the edge that I find most interesting. The ‘non-political’ Queen connected to lots of political situations. Her weekly audiences with the Prime Minister of the day.

Of course I lived most of my life through all of this – the Suez crisis, the Profumo affair, Churchill, McMillan, Home and Wilson. But I only saw what I was allowed to see! This series is revealing a lot of stuff that was hidden at the time, such as Philip’s link to the Profumo affair and the Nazi connections.

There are some interesting conversations between Elizabeth and Philip around the question – “are you in, or out”. He opted to be in because there was no alternative. The Duke of Windsor tried to get back in, and Princess Margaret opted to stay in, for what seemed to be mostly about the money and the lifestyle.

I will be continuing to watch the series with a mixture of personal memories and a not-so-open mind!

 

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Thyme brings a’ things tae an End

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

Scotland_American_flag

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.

jim b

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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Not Fade Away – – –

Jack’s Wednesday post reverts again to default Thursday – tsk, tsk – – –

Long lost and broken tape.

Back in 1997 just before Wendy and I married we visited my Mum and recorded her memories. She was almost ninety years old by then and although she was beginning to fail a bit her long term memory was still good.

I had tried a few times to record her stories but she always dried up as soon as the microphone appeared. However Wendy was an experienced folklorist with lots of skill in putting people at ease in these kind of situations.

So we ended up with almost an hour of wonderful stories about her early life, my early life, her father and grandfather and much more.

Dad - RAF

Bill – my Dad

Mum

Alice – my Mom

Just a few days ago my niece asked about the tape and coincidentally I had just found it again. So I went to copy it onto my computer and archive it more safely. To my horror I found that at some point in the past the tape had broken. I was mortified and full of guilt!

Out came the tiny screwdriver and apart came the cassette. After hours of painstaking work and endless attempts to re-thread the now repaired tape through the various wheels and gates it finally went together again. But would it work and had I done everything correctly?

I knew that it only had to play once but would it?

I plucked up courage, booted up the computer, opened the program, then hit play on the cassette machine. There was nothing but a hiss! I took out the cassette and it had survived OK. The only thing was to fast forward to the end and turn it over, but would it handle that without breaking again?

It did survive and I turned it and hit play – and out came Mum’s voice as if she was right there in the room!

It seems we only recorded one side and put the label on the other side. The break, instead of being near the beginning was actually at the end, so nothing was lost. But the odd thing is that the start clearly leads from a previous tape, so there’s another one I need to find now.

I’m pleased to say that the recording is not only on the computer but also up in my DropBox in the sky, and as soon as I find that other cassette it will go there as well. I just hope I don’t have to use that wee screwdriver again!

The moral? Get these fragile cassettes digitized and saved safely or you will regret it!

 

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