Category Archives: Scotland

“Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light – – -“

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

The great Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson  was a product of the European ‘Enlightenment’ led by thinkers and scientists based in Edinburgh. The word ‘enlightenment’, of course, plays to my Quaker beliefs as it suggests shining light into the darkness. That movement was very much about lining up rational thought and empirical evidence against superstition and ignorance.

Stevenson expressed his understanding of the battle between these forces wonderfully in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, where darkness and light are taken to extremes within the same body.

Like many others of the Quaker persuasion, I have a very questioning  faith that probably comes down at bottom to this: we each have the capability for extreme evil and extreme good within us. There’s a continual battle going on between our Jekyll and Hyde and we aren’t in complete control of that battle. Paul said something like that in the Bible in Romans: ‘we hate what we do and know what we should do, but still do the wrong things’.

What I’m getting to, loyal readers is, Charlottesville and everything surrounding it. Like you didn’t see that coming?

Most of us believe that we want to strive toward good, but sometimes  when the stars align (so much for the enlightenment)  our bad side gets a severe nudge. That’s usually powered by feelings of insecurity (think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

There are large segments of the population in the US (and England) that feel very insecure right now because they see their standard of living threatened and need to blame someone for that. They also feel they need to retreat back to a more comfortable set of circumstances. Hence – ‘Make America great again’ and Brexit (Make England great again).

The enemy, therefore (and as usual) becomes anyone not like we who have the power. The difference can be nationality, color, religion, denomination – anything convenient.

So back to my beliefs and faith – My faith is that light will ultimately prevail, as it’s a living thing and is at the beginning of everything. But the darkness is also powerful and we are the ones who feed it.

Finally – Quakers believe in non-violence and the peaceful challenging of violent behavior. I have absolutely no doubt there were many Quakers in Charlottesville and I’ve no doubt which side they were on – the side of the Light. It may become increasingly confusing to decide who gets to say what is light and what darkness. But it can never be said that genuine seekers of God’s guidance don’t find it. I am holding you, and all of us, in the Light.

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Socializing with Friends – – –

Jack’s guest Wednesday post –

There’s a favorite Scottish saying that goes – “we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns” (which roughly translates as “all human beings are part of the same big family of mankind”). When laid alongside Robert Burns’ famous song “A Man’s a Man for a’ That” it pretty much sums up my political views. I would therefore describe myself as a European style social democrat.

Scotland is an odd place in terms of its mix of entrepreneurship, inventiveness, canny financial acumen and sense of shared community. That last one perhaps stems from the highland clan system – the idea of extended family. Which neatly brings us back to Jock Tamson’s bairns.

I believe that there are certain things that any civilized community should provide to its members. That would include those that have health issues or just struggle to maintain an acceptable standard of living. That shouldn’t depend on the vagaries of charitable giving, but be organized, planned and paid for through progressive taxation. Of course this requires a healthy economy that can pay people sufficient to generate the tax income to pay for it. As a Quaker I have to also say that I believe far too much tax income is spent on making war!

Just twelve miles from my hometown is the one where Adam Smith, the father of economic theory was born. His famous book “The Wealth of Nations” is popular with lots of Neo-Liberal conservatives, however they always ignore the part where he says that market forces have to work alongside a safety net to protect the most vulnerable members of society. So even good old Adam was a social democrat at heart! Of course he was part of the European Enlightenment of the early 19th century and Edinburgh was an important part of that through medical research, philosophy and political theory.

In case this sounds like an advertizing feature for the Scottish tourist industry, I should perhaps remind you that Jock Tamson’s Bairns are all of humanity – black, white and every color in between – all religions and none – – –

So there you have it. I guess some of my American friends will have had their worst fears confirmed now. I’m the socialist their parents warned them about!

Duck and cover – – –

3 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Monday Book – Paradise to Puddledub

Jack’s guest post is the Monday book this week –

Paradise to Puddledub – Wendy Welch (Lyngham House 2002)

As  you can no doubt understand this isn’t so much a book review as a book description. It’s not a marketing ploy either; the book in question is out of print!

PtoP

This was the first complete book by my wife Wendy to be published. She had contributed academic articles before this to specialist journals and story collections, but this was all her own writing. For some years she had written a weekly column for a newspaper based in Maryville Tennessee and she continued to do this after moving to Scotland. Paradise to Puddledub is a collection of some of the stories that were published in the paper during that time.

Immediately prior to moving across the Atlantic she had lived in the tiny Newfoundland hamlet of Paradise near St John’s in Newfoundland where she studied for her PhD in Ethnography. After moving to Fife and getting married she became curiously fascinated by an equally small hamlet there called Puddledub (the joke is that the Scots word for a puddle is ‘dub’ – so the name should really be either Puddlepuddle or Dubdub!).

Of course I was very much part of the critiquing and proof reading at the time the book was being written, so it was intriguing to stumble across a copy as we were tidying a few days ago. It has been my bed-time reading since then. Many of the stories in the book describe events that I was part of, and quite few have been retold at gatherings over the years.

I suppose my only reservation is that most of the columns had to conform to a fairly strict word count because they were written originally to fit half of a newspaper page. That means that there’s more to most of the stories that there simply wasn’t room for. There’s a healthy writing discipline to that, but…

The events described range from the hilarious to the poignant and occasionally horrifying. From my first attempt to eat fast-food in a British car going round a roundabout, to the kids in an Edinburgh housing project getting to grips with a performance during the prestigious Edinburgh arts festival, not to mention the heroic librarian ‘keeping calm and carrying on’!

If Wendy happens to read this guest blog, I’d like her to consider re-publishing the book, but with some of the pieces filled out to include all of the story.

1 Comment

Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Across the Great Divide – –

It appears to be Thursday – so time for Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

Among the things I love about bookstores are the quirky things that are often displayed on high shelves, or hanging from ceilings or just pinned to any spare wall spaces. We’re no exception – we have paintings and posters, tea towels and even a bag from a Chicago Borders branch the day they closed for good. Hanging from the ceiling of our ‘Mystery and detective room’ are model planes I’ve built over the years.

Mingled in are family photographs, including two of my Granpa, Peter Ferguson, and they are very frequently the subject of conversation with customers. Because he was a coalminer from the time he left school (aged fourteen) until his mid-twenties. This is a coalmining area and so is the place I come from – just one of the many connections and parallels between Scotland and Appalachia.

Granpa worked in a number of deep mines in my home county of Fife in the late 1800s and early 1900s, going down a deep shaft in a cage then walking, often for over a mile before crawling on hands and knees to the coalface. Eventually he had some kind of accident and decided he’d had enough. He got a job delivering lemonade to corner shops around the area and continued to do that until he retired. First of all he used a horse and cart, then an early truck with an open cab and solid tires before finally graduating to something more modern.

grandpa young

That’s Granpa kneeling on the left being trained for the mine rescue team in 1900.

When his wife died just before I was born at the beginning of WW2 he moved in with us, as my Dad had joined the RAF and had been posted to Egypt. So he was my father figure for the first years of my life and I remember him with great affection. He walked me to and from elementary school, supplied us with fresh vegetables and made great oatcakes and scones. He provided our first TV and first washing machine.

One of the reasons he got us a TV was because he was an avid reader of western novels and had discovered that the lone ranger was a serial on this new-fangled thing. Later he upgraded us when the Virginian came along! I remember clearly him sitting in his favorite chair either reading or singing to himself. He had two special very traditional songs he rotated – The Wee Cooper o Fife and The Muckin o Geordie’s Byre. I’ve often said that his voice was in my head when I started to sing these kind of songs many years later.

Sadly towards the end of his life he developed a cough and was diagnosed with ‘black lung’ – a legacy that finally caught up with him and he died in the bedroom that we shared.

What I remember isn’t the sick old man but the friendly guy who had a lot of time for this kid. And that special bond that sometimes develops between those who skip a generation. He was my first best friend.

 

2 Comments

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

To See Ourselves as Others See Us

“O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!” — R Burns

I don’t write about politics. It’s a rule of mine – make some people mad and other people smug, for what purpose? BobDewardrawing

Jack and I just got back from his annual tour taking Americans to Scotland, my first return in a few years. When we lived there, I used my bi-annual trips to the States as yardsticks, measuring how things were progressing for me and for my country. Living in Scotland as an American back in the 2000s could be tricky. US-ers weren’t popular.

This year, taking nine guests across familiar territory, it was almost unfamiliar. Edinburgh’s High Street has become Myrtle Beach. The smaller towns and hidden gems we led the group through are still hidden and lovely, but the people in them went out of their way to speak to us, to ask where we were from, tell us of their relatives Stateside, wonder how we were enjoying the holiday. Warmth, not patronage. (Well, except in Edinburgh, but that’s expected in a tourism Mecca.)

The “puir wee souls, how ya gettin on there” attitude continued across the Southwest of Scotland, the edge of the Highlands, and even Ulster in N. Ireland. I said as much to Colin, the long-time family friend who is our driver, as we sat in the hotel bar one night.

He gave an eye-averted smile. “The Trump Effect, we calls it,” he said.

A lengthy conversation ensued I won’t bore you with, but the jist was that America had shifted in the minds of most Scots, from “country voted most likely to drag Britain into a war” to a thoughtful consideration that we had outed our true values with the result that your basic poor sod on the street was screwed.

Money. America was always a corporate raider in the minds of Scots, its embodiment less Lady Liberty than a sharp-eyed man in a tailored suit, legal brief in one pocket, gun in the other. A country that talked about Democracy and played shell games with cash.

Now we had voted, in the minds of others, for a guy we thought would make us rich again. But not two-chickens-in-every-pot rich, just get-us-out-of-this-grindinng-poverty rich. Honestly, I never put Scots down for having a lot of good insights into America, their views being largely shaped by Channel 5 TV. If you watch enough reruns of Dallas and The Wolf of Wall Street… but Scots were now explaining to me how sad it was that America’s middle class was shrinking, its wealth consolidating.

Brigitta, the hotel hostess, paused to listen to our conversation. Brigitta had become a hospitality diva in our eyes because of her sweet efficiency, non-stop motion, and natural kindness. A native of Poland who had married her Scottish chef husband twenty years before, she often spiked her English with metaphors to make her meanings clear.

“America, its roots are showing.”

We looked at her, inviting more. She set down the water pitchers in her never-still hands and gestured to the part in her hair.

“Women, you know, we hide the grey, we color, here. Sometimes you don’t have enough money, you don’t do it again, it grows, so. Then roots show you are not who you show you are.”

“America is such. Says one thing, is another. Wants money. But poor people, no blame, of course want money. NEED money. Desperate makes you hope rich man helps. Is mistake, thinking rich man get them money. No. Money from, not for. Why they think rich man wants help anyone get money?” She clicked her tongue, picked up her pitchers, and disappeared.

Colin, Jack, and I stared at one another.

Finally I said, “That is what I have been trying to get to grips with for some time now. It’s that Burns poem come to life, to see ourselves as others see us.”

Colin turned and gestured for the bartender. “Then you’re gonna need another drink, lassie,” he said.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Homeward Bound

We apologize for not blogging on Monday and Wednesday. Jack is leading his annual tour through Scotland and Ireland, and this is the first time Wendy has gone with him. We’ve had our hands full with the fun and logistics, and are now homeward bound. We invite everyone to hop over to Wendy’s Facebook page, which is public, and view the videos of the trip. It was lovely, if we do say so ourselves. And Wendy will be back on schedule with the Monday book, plus a few observations about life and love and living well.

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, Downton Abbey, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Wendy Welch

On the Road Again – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is on Thursday again – yawn – – –

One of the highlights of the tour I organize on odd-numbered years is the visit to Ballyeman Barn in Beautiful Antrim and the home of our old friend Liz Weir. Despite the fact that she’d only just returned from the US the day before we arrived, she was the perfect host as usual.

liz 1

Liz always cooks us a superb dinner before opening up the room for an old fashioned ceilidh with stories, songs and music. She always invites some of her local friends to join us and the entertainment and ‘craic’ is mighty (as they say in Ireland).

liz 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I wasn’t prepared for this time was the arrival of an old colleague from my teaching career in Dunfermline. I vaguely knew that John O’Connor was Irish but I didn’t know that he was from Cushendall and that he’d returned there when he retired. Just down the road from Liz’s place.

liz 4

Leave a comment

Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch