Category Archives: Scotland

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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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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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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A Turkey Poke or a Pig in a Poke?

Wendy apologizes for the lack of Monday book this week (she’s in DC lobbying on behalf of rural health provision), but at least I got the Wednesday guest post out on time!

Our friend Amy teaches Appalachian Studies up the road at the local campus of UVA, but she has to attend a conference elsewhere today and on Friday. So I will be guest lecturing two different groups of students on the links between the Scots language and the Appalachian dialect.

I usually start with a brief geography lesson as it’s painfully true that the majority of folk over here, even many with a strong pride in their Scottish ancestry, really don’t know where Scotland is. Not only that but there’s a lot of confusion between The UK, Great Britain, England and Scotland (most Americans just say England regardless). Despite that, Scotland has a surprisingly strong ‘brand image’ around the world and most folk will readily come up with lots of examples of things they think of as peculiarly Scottish.

Then when it comes to the movement of the settlers to this area, most people don’t really know what is meant by the ‘Scotch-Irish’. So I cover a bit of history, explaining how lowland Scots were ‘encouraged’ to move to the north of Ireland, how their children (born in Ireland) then moved on to Pennsylvania and eventually to this neck of the woods. They are the ‘Scotch-Irish’ – also known as Ulster-Scots.

They brought with them their culture, including songs, ballads, fiddle tunes, food recipes, a strong suspicion of government power, as well as their language.

Of course I have to explain that Scots isn’t just a dialect of English, but a language in its own right but with obvious similarities; rather like the relationship between, say, Spanish and Portuguese, or Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.

The legacy still to be heard in Appalachia involves vocabulary, sentence structure and pronunciation. However in Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia speaking anything other than standard English was historically frowned on and it’s only relatively recently that appreciation of these languages has been encouraged.

While family names and place names in Appalachia are a strong clue to where the settlers came from, there are many others strewn around and hiding in plain sight!

I find myself being asked more and more to give presentations like this and find it both enjoyable and stimulating. There are usually lots of questions at the end.

Finally – I have to try my best to avoid politics, but the current Scottish political scene is so volatile and fast moving that I find myself continually having to bite my tongue – and language is a political weapon in Scotland, Ireland and Appalachia.

Many tongues, many voices – – –

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Onwards and Upwards – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

By the time I write my next guest blog post I will have reached the age of 75 –

That’s quite a sobering thought, as when I was a kid most people didn’t even live that long! I’m told that that 75 is the new 65 – or maybe even the new 55 – –

jack-ii

I was born in Dunfermline, Scotland on February 5th 1942 (which explains why I can properly pronounce ‘February’) and that was at a time when the outcome of WW2 was hanging in the balance. Since then I’ve lived through the cold war, including the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the demise of the British Empire, The Suez crisis, the Falklands war, the first Iraq war, the second Iraq war, the invasion of Afghanistan and a host of other inglorious adventures.

I’ve also traveled the world and here’s a funny thing – the people I’ve met along the way have been a lot like myself. I’ve met very few folk I’d describe as seeming bad or dangerous and on the odd occasion I have, it usually only required a conversation to find common ground.

What have I learned along the way?

Well – not to accept unquestioningly what I see in newspapers and on TV; and also not to accept unquestioningly what I read on social media either. Most people are basically decent and want the same things in life for themselves and others. Of course that doesn’t mean we can’t be manipulated and influenced.

If I have to state one over-riding belief it would be that within us all there’s a dark side, but there’s also an awareness of ‘The Light’. It can be found in all religions and belief systems and I really think that we all have a desire to strive towards the light.

Am I optimistic for the future?

I’ve been extraordinarily lucky throughout my life so I tend towards the ‘glass half full’ point of view; in addition I naturally see the world from a Western position, which makes me privileged. But allowing for all that I do still think that, ever so tentatively, we are moving in the right direction. We have hiccups, of course (and never more than right now), but the light still beckons us on.

 

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Friends and Fellow Travelers

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually on Wednesday again – – –

Last night Wendy and I were the guests of an informal book group in Abingdon VA.

As we followed one of the members along the winding road to the house where they were meeting we passed more and more exceedingly imposing residencies and speculated on what might be awaiting us.

However any fears we had were quickly allayed as the rest of the members trickled in. We had forgotten that the group had visited the bookstore earlier in the year, had all bought copies of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and were very well versed in our adventures.

They all came in clutching their copies of the book – each copy with post-it notes sticking out from favorite pages and passages. We were among old friends!

We have often remarked upon how completely different these occasions tend to be. Of course there are book clubs, reading groups, friends of the library groups and writing clubs and they are each bound to have a different focus. We certainly never know exactly what to expect, which is why we tend to be a bit nervous of them. what’s interesting is that I see similarities to my singing career over the years – gigs were often like that too.

Whenever we attend an event we start off by trying to judge what folk want to hear. Will it be writing advice, getting an agent advice, finding a publisher advice, more about Big Stone Gap?

But this was close to being unique – a whole group who had already read the book and visited us in the bookstore. We proceeded to have a really great evening of personal stories, reminiscences, parallel experiences and our own continuing adventures beyond ‘the book’. Unusually, we were even able to open up a bit on some less happy things that were hinted at in ‘The Little Bookstore’ or followed on from its publication. That’s something we would definitely only do in the company of old friends!

To finish, I should say that the evening started with me as the only man in the room, but we were eventually joined by our host’s husband and his name is Moffat – and that’s also the name of a town in Scotland that I visit every two years on my group tour.

Oh – and we ended with some songs!

 

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Stand and Deliver!

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

Tricking, treating or guising?

We had three hundred kids plus their supervising adults through the bookstore last Saturday. They were ‘trick or treating’ as these Americans say. They filed in over three hours, snaking through the place to the kids’ room to choose a free book, getting handed a cafe cookie and having a photo taken of them in costume before leaving for the next port of call.

trick-treat-crowd

A small number of the 300 waiting to enter

I wondered about that American tradition so I did some investigating – it turns out that it means “give me a treat or I will play a trick on you”. So, in other words, what would be described in an English or Scottish court as ‘demanding with menaces’!

There’s been a fair bit of discussion on facebook over the last few days about the different Halloween traditions on the opposing sides of the Atlantic, and even about the various names for the vegetable that gets carved into a lantern for the occasion.  I was forced to take part, if only to promote the correct name for the said vegetable.

In Scotland the festival was, for me, always ‘Guising’ (dressing in disguise) and the lantern was carved from a tumshie (a large turnip) and the kids had to perform a poem, song or joke in return for their gift. It was always a family event too, with games – dookin for aipples or trying to snare a treacly scone dangling from a string by mouth with your hands behind your back.

The name of the vegetable? I’ve heard Turnip, Swede, Neep and Tumshie (rutabaga over here) . It was always a tumshie in my youth. But when I grew up and became a responsible adult I was once asked to join an EU funded international environmental education project led by a Danish organization that had a license to grow hemp (don’t ask!). They suggested various Acronyms for the shared undertaking and one of them was NEEPS! I immediately agreed – of such is inter-cultural understanding achieved, although no-one understood why we’d agreed so quickly and enthusiastically.

Long may these weird things continue to confound us, and I can still remember the smell of a candle burning inside a hollowed out tumshie or neep!

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