Category Archives: Scotland

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

If Music be the Food of – – –

Jack easily gets in under the wire this time – –

I have a fascination with certain musical instruments – some of which I can play and others I wish I could. Guitars, obviously, but also various reed instruments such as the concertina, melodeon and even the jaw harp.

A few years ago I built Wendy a rather nice harp from a kit and noticed that the company also had a hurdy-gurdy in their catalogue. Now, that I would love to make, and it’s long been on my bucket-list!

But before I get to that there’s another project awaiting.

heritage organ

Heritage with the pump organ

Back in the early 1980s when my old folk band Heritage was young we somehow got hold of a portable pump organ. Imagine an accordion turned on its side with pedals to operate the bellows! We had just recruited Mike Ward who was an excellent keyboard player so it provided a lovely wheezy bass to our music. Of course we knew little about how it worked and were probably very lucky that it continued to.

Wendy and I love visiting antique and thrift stores and I’m always interested to see what instruments they have. Very occasionally there will be a pump organ, but they’re usually not portable. However a few years ago we came across one in NC for a reasonable price and bought it. That’s when I began to learn what went on inside them. Because the bellows was – knackered – – –

I was able to make enough temporary repairs to push air through the reeds and we discovered they all worked and were in tune! Since then I have looked at it and promised myself (and Wendy) that I’d get it working again, but still it sits.

pump

Are you going to fix me this time?

A few days ago I said I’d love to get that hurdy gurdy kit – – –

“As soon as you finish the pump organ” she said.

hurdy

Me next!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, 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

To Everything – Turn, Turn, Turn – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post just makes it in time – – –
When we first arrived in Big Stone Gap fourteen years ago we had been preceded just a few months earlier by Tony and Anne Palubicki. They were the couple pastoring the Presbyterian church just a block up from our bookstore. Here we are having just moved away and so are Tony and Anne now. It almost seems fated.
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Those of you who know us or have read ‘The Little Bookstore’ will know that we tried out various Churches when we first arrived and finally settled on the Presbyterian. I attended a Presbyterian Church as a child and my dad and granddad were both elders, so I felt very much at home. Of course Wendy and I are Quakers so that may seem strange, but it’s not unusual for ‘Friends’ to visit other denominations between Meetings.
We quickly found that Tony was wonderfully open minded and ecumenical and truly believed in a God who loved people and wanted them to live in peace.
He supported everything we tried to do in and for the town, including running a monthly discussion group in the bookstore that brought together folk who would have never normally found themselves in the same company. We discussed concepts, theology, and the best way to make guacamole.
He also treated the bookstore as a ‘third place’ where he could come and unwind regularly and even once described it as a Church as he watched me ‘ministering’ to an obviously troubled customer.
His concern for personal friends from Scotland who had visited here was genuine, tangible and greatly appreciated.
Anne was the power behind Tony’s non-throne, a woman of not-altogether gentle spirit whose spitfire nature could be the most protective hug ever given. Anne would go to bat for anyone but herself, and she never let anyone get on Tony’s nerves when she could help it.
Now the couple get to go live with their beloved grandson up in Salem, not too far from us. We will continue to have them in our lives and be blessed by that.
We’re raising a glass of ‘coke’ to you Tony and Anne – slainte and thanks!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Monday Book – My Song is my Weapon

My Song is my Weapon – Robbie Lieberman (1995)

Reviewed by Jack Beck

Once upon a time (actually about eighteen years ago) Wendy and I were booked to perform at the Orkney Folk Festival off the north coast of Scotland. The festival took place in various venues in Stromness and we were accommodated in a lovely old hotel overlooking the harbor. Not surprisingly the hotel bar was a favorite gathering place late at night after the official concerts and ceilidhs were finished.

stromness-hotel

One night we found ourselves chatting to a young American lassie who said she had published a book we might find interesting! I immediately bought a copy and have now read it for maybe the fifth time –

As a young man in the late 1950s and early 1960s I was developing my left of center political views as well as a strong interest in folk songs. So I was well aware of Pete Seeger, the Weavers, the Almanac Singers, the connections to Woody Guthrie and Paul Robeson.

What I didn’t know was what had preceded this in the US and where all these people had in their turn served their apprenticeship, both politically and musically.

my song is

Lieberman’s book was a revelation to me in many ways –

First of all I had no idea how large and popular the US Communist Party was in the 1930s and how well accepted that generally was. Then again, I knew nothing about the ‘popular front’ and was fascinated to see how that had helped generate the ‘folk revival’ of the 1950s and 1960s.

There was much that was familiar too – the ‘redscare’, McCarthyism, the blacklist and so on.

I have to admit that on first reading I found the book pretty dense and hard going. However each time I’ve re-read it I’ve found it not just easier but more enlightening. Each time I find more gems I’d missed before!

I can thoroughly recommend this to anyone with an interest in 1930s US politics, the roots and routes of the 1950s folk revival or all three!

 

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, what's on your bedside table, writing

We’re all going on a Summer Holiday!

Jack gets back into the usual day late mode –

This is weird –

Everyone thinks I’ve just been on holiday/vacation in Scotland, whereas I was actually working most of the time. It was my annual small group tour and the culmination of much planning, checking and double checking. Despite all that I’m always aware that the paying customers expect a trouble free and enjoyable experience and for any particular preferences to be accommodated where possible. Add to that the inevitable unexpected emergencies and it all adds up to a fairly draining two weeks for me.

This year the unexpected hit quickly – one of the group had his case sent to London instead of Edinburgh by Aer Lingus and it took a week to finally get them re-united. Then I discovered I’d wrongly assumed that he and a female customer were a couple, so the hotel rooming lists had to be quickly adjusted. Luckily the agency we use for our hotel bookings were rapidly on the case and got things sorted at very short notice!

When I first started doing this twelve years ago I was very naïve and didn’t really consider that anything could go wrong. But as time has gone on, I have become more and more nervous ahead of each tour, partly because almost every year something does!

Despite all this it’s the weather that really makes the tour and we were very lucky this time, with little rain and increasingly sunny and warm conditions.

hat pic

Everyone except Beth and Brandon celebrated the 4th together!

Now that I’ve been home for a few days and just about over the jet-lag, Wendy and I are finally on a real vacation and staying, along with our friends Barbara and Oliver from Scotland, with other friends David and Susan in NC. Tomorrow we head to the beach in SC to meet up with yet more friends – Beth and Brandon – for a much anticipated week.

Check back next week for more of my real vacation – – –

PS – David drove the bus in Scotland and we visited Barbara and Oliver at their house in Edinburgh just before the group tour started – small world!

 

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Should Auld Acquaintance – – –

Jack is in Scotland and Wendy is – – somewhere – – so Jack sent this by carrier pigeon.

Back more than twenty five years ago I helped my folksinger friend Ed Miller with his then new music tour of Scotland. Ed lives in Austin, Texas and started bringing over thirty five fans, touring them around Scotland and having them joined each day by a local musician with particular knowledge of the local history and culture. I performed that function when they were in Fife each year. That finished when Wendy and I moved to the US, but it gave me the idea for my annual small group tours.

On Ed’s tours he always worked with a tour guide called Charlie Hunter, who dressed in his kilt, herded his charges off and on the coach in a timely manner.

Imagine my surprise when my tour was in Melrose on the second day of our tour and I saw a familiar kilted figure standing beside a large coach parked next to our minivan.

ed charlie

As we exchanged greetings Ed appeared as well!

Thinking that this was a ‘one off’ coincidence we bade them farewell and continued on our way. A few days later we pulled into the parking lot behind the ‘Green Welly’ at Tyndrum and who should be there as well – – -! Much joking and then another farewell. We set off for Glencoe and, as usual pulled into the visitors’ center. An hour later so did Ed and Charlie in their now familiar coach! Once again it was farewell and we headed for Oban and the ferry to Mull.

ed

The following day we headed down through beautiful Mull to the Iona ferry and I waited with our minivan while the rest of our group went across on the foot ferry. I eventually wandered up the line of parked coaches and saw a now very familiar one! It turned that they would be staying in the hotel next to ours in Oban that night, so the following morning we once again bade them farewell – only to meet them again at the Green Welly! With them for a couple of days was another old friend – Margaret Bennett!

margaret B

Our next stop was at Killin at the start of Loch Tay on our way to see Europe’s oldest living tree at Fortingall. As I guarded our minivan at Killin a very familiar coach pulled up – – –

iona

The Iona ferry on a beautiful day!

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch