Category Archives: Scotland

Liz Weir’s Monday Book

So y’all know that I’m holed up in West Virginia in a gorgeous luxury flat, typing away at a new book. As I won’t be getting much else done these three months, friends and fellow writers have stepped in to cover the Monday book through March. Liz Weir is the first – a longtime friend and magnificent storyteller. Take it away, Liz!

I wonder what American readers will make of this book, gifted to me by my daughter for Christmas?

lost wordsA sumptuously illustrated, coffee-table sized book, which contains magic within its pages. Inspired by the decision of the Oxford Junior Dictionary to remove 50 ”nature” words from its pages to replace them with words such as “broadband” and “attachment” . It has been recognised that there is a connection between the decline in natural play and children’s wellbeing so for me this is a partial antidote.

In this book Robert MacFarlane decided to explore words from the wild and with illustrator Jackie Morris they have produced a beautifully crafted book which helps young and old alike reconnect with wild experiences. The illustrations in watercolour and goldleaf do perfect justice to the text. It should be pored over rather than read cover to cover at one sitting, containing as it does acrostic “spell” poems intended to be read out loud, stunning images and a richness of language often lost to many of us.

Words like “acorn”, “bramble”, “kingfisher” “heather”, words which roll off the tongue, and yet which can so easily be forgotten. Often we talk and write about conservation but unless we retain the words to describe the beauties of the natural world they can disappear from our conversation.

Apart from the delight of simply exploring its pages I intend to use the book to work with young people during creative writing sessions. While I generally try to encourage them to find the very “best” words when writing poems, Lost Words will provide an added stimulus.

Visually, it is a lovely book, and while the librarian in me might ask where folks will shelve this large tome, I urge people to acquire a copy for the sheer delight of exploring it. The author encourages readers to “seek, find and speak”. Please do!

As one who is very reticent about letting other people choose my books I realise that my daughter knows me very well. What better gift for a storyteller and lover of language, or in my opinion for anyone?

Liz Weir is a storyteller from the Antrim Glens in Northern Ireland. Visit her website.

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Christmas Cheer – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post finally makes it – –

Wendy and I spent Christmas with her parents in Knoxville as we usually try to do. They have always been gracious and welcoming to me and for that I am always thankful.

When they came over to Scotland almost twenty years ago for our wedding (the first time they had ever been out of the US), they were enchanted by my country and still keep up with folks over there through the internet.

One thing that Wendy’s mom sampled there was ‘chicken tikka masala’ and she always hankered to have that bright red delicacy again. So this Christmas I decided to make her some and prepared by purchasing the necessary sauce from Trader Joe’s and then googled to find out how to get the red color into the chicken. To my horror it turned out to be red food dye!

She was disappointed but agreed to try my pale orange chicken concoction instead. Despite me being the only person in the company who actually likes curry, she gamely tucked into the non-red delicacy. There was quite a lot left, which I look forward to finishing in due time! Pat reminds me very much of her own Mom, Wendy’s Nanny, who once prepared for me three different kinds of porridge for breakfast to show me I was accepted into the family.

Wendy’s dad, however has much more conservative tastes in food (and other things) and has, I think, always used me as a kind of barometer for measuring how ‘the rest of the world’ thinks. I actually don’t mind that too much as we are in many ways mirror images of each other in our political and societal views. Our sources of news are diametrically opposed and we usually see current events in very different ways. I’m often surprised by how much we agree on, however, and I’m grateful to him for being much more open with his views than I’ve been prepared to be with mine (although I’m sure he has me pegged).

They must both have had severe misgivings when Wendy announced our engagement – to marry a foreigner and one so many years older than her!

The last time we were all together was to observe the total eclipse of the sun – but yet, here we are all still – – – and the sun has not fallen from the sky!

 

 

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

Up, Up, and Away – – –

Jack scrapes in once again – –

Regular readers will know of my fascination with all things aeronautical, so, when Wendy posted a message a couple days ago on FaceBook asking (on behalf of a friend!), about insurance for a 75 year old man bent on going up in a glider – – –

While I’ve made many, many trips all over the world in airliners, there really just two flight experiences that really stick in my mind.

glider

When I was about 19 years old I went on a week long gliding vacation in Yorkshire. It was held at Sutton Bank which is a very high straight cliff near Thirsk and a beautiful area. We were a small group and all stayed in a lovely old pub/inn at the foot of the cliff. Every morning an ancient ex-army land-rover would ferry us up to the airfield up on top of the cliff. Then the excitement started!

Our instructor was a Polish ex fighter pilot who’d flown Spitfires in the Battle of Britain and he was a real character. Each morning he would address us in the clubhouse where he told us nothing about gliders and everything about flying Spitfires during WW2! Then we’d go out with him in turns, get hooked up to the winch and rocket up to five hundred feet or so. That put us over the edge of the cliff where our height suddenly became over a thousand feet and with an up-draft that pushed us up even further.

But my strongest memory is the complete tranquility of sitting silently in the sky with no sense of motion and no engine – like being in an armchair!

The second experience was much more recently –

low wing

During the 1990s I organized a student exchange between my college in Scotland and one in Herning, Denmark. My opposite number there was the head of the engineering dept. and he owned a light plane (and a half share in another one). I went over for a week to set things up and he took me up in his plane (a low wing monoplane with a side by side open cockpit). We visited some of his flying buddies who lived out in the country with their own grass landing strips.

morgan

At that time I was the owner of a Morgan sports car and I remember thinking as we took off for the first time that this felt like my Morgan had just sprouted wings! We had a number of magical flights and never more than a few hundred feet up, navigating around pylons and factory chimneys and with no maps.

Coincidentally both our colleges had a link to one in Wilhelmshaven in Germany and he wanted to fly us down there. The ‘high-ups’ didn’t approve as it would involve traversing part of the north sea, so we ended up driving. When we crossed into Germany the autobahn had no speed limit so we drove at over 100 MPH!

I’m sure it was much safer – – –

 

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A Lad o’ Pairts – –

Jack’s Wednesday post is on time for a change –

I suppose everyone, when they reach my advanced age, looks back and is surprised (even amazed) at where their life has taken them.

Here I am in southern Appalachia, in the midst of a glorious and so important region in the history of American traditional music.

When I first got interested in folk music when I was in my late teens and early twenties back in Scotland, I was singing mostly American songs and it wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered my Scottish musical roots.

But I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would end up living here, where many of the songs I was singing back then originated.

Yesterday was pretty crazy in many ways. It was election day here and I was standing for county supervisor (regional councillor in Scotland) and then it finished with Wendy and I performing at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol Tennessee. Of course, I was roundly defeated in the election, but that gig – – –

BCM-Museum-Full-Screen_Malcom-Wilson

I actually thought that appearing on a CD along with Pete Seeger, Doc Watson and Dolly Parton might be the highlight of my musical journey, but perhaps last night might just equal that.

The concert was well attended by a very enthusiastic crowd and I got to sing The Carter Family’s song ‘The Storms are on the Ocean’ which was recorded close by in 1927 and has fascinated me for years, not least because it contains two verses straight from an ancient Scottish ballad and another that has a strong similarity to one by Robert Burns in ‘Red, Red Rose’.

But, really – the idea of a guy from Dunfermline playing that venue – whodathunkit!!

Wendy and I were very worried beforehand how the audience would react to a program of Scottish songs and ballads, particularly as the promoters were a local arts organization more usually concerned with chamber music, opera and the like. But, we needn’t have been concerned – they were engaged and enthusiastic from start to finish and (not surprisingly) the sound system was really excellent.

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

King’s Mountain?

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is, OF COURSE, late again –

A Dance called America – James Hunter

This isn’t really a book review, but I thought I’d better head this post that way, as much of what will come next is from my reading of this excellent and informative book.

The Battle of King’s Mountain is seen in this area and taught in US schools as a pivotal event in the American War of Independence. While that is certainly true, there is another way of seeing it that has a lot to do with centuries of Scottish history.

Everyone is familiar with the story of the ‘Scotch Irish’ and their settling in Southern Appalachia. These were the children of lowland Scots who themselves had moved to the north of Ireland and established plantations there. These children grew up to find they were unpopular in Ireland and with little economic prospects. So they moved to the ‘New World’ and specifically to Appalachia.

However Gaelic speaking highlanders from Scotland had already emigrated to the coastal regions of the Carolinas and Georgia earlier. These were relatively wealthy ‘tack men’ very high in the clan pecking order and just below the level of clan chief. Once in the Americas they established cotton and tobacco plantations (which is why Glasgow and Paisley became the tobacco and cotton ‘capitals’ of Europe).

The forces that met at King’s Mountain in 1780 comprised a loyalist army led by a professional British soldier – Major Patrick Ferguson, who was a Scots highlander, and a contingent of patriots who were mostly drawn from the Scotch-Irish immigrant population. On the British side, apart from Ferguson, the army was all volunteer, and they were mainly Gaelic speaking highlanders from the coast. The patriots were all volunteers and their leaders included many with Scots names.

Patrick_Ferguson

Patrick Ferguson

It should be noted here that back in Scotland there had been centuries of clashes between the northern clans and the southern folk – a fault line between two distinctly different cultures!

I could never understand, however, why two lots of Scots that had been, effectively, forced out of Scotland would end up on opposing sides in what was at that time pretty much an English colony. It seemed odd to me.

But, as Hunter points out, the highlanders considered themselves ‘upper class’ and aristocratic before all else and saw the patriots as lower-class peasants who needed to be put in their place. So they aligned themselves with their ‘peers’ in London rather than their fellow countrymen. In doing so they inadvertently simply continued a long tradition of Scottish history – albeit in a foreign land.

Footnotes –

When the war ended with victory for the patriots, a great many of the highlanders who had been captured didn’t return to the Carolinas and Georgia. Instead they made new lives in Canada. At the present time there are more native Gaelic speakers in Canada than in Scotland.

The last native Gaelic speaker in North Carolina died in the late 1800s. He was a Presbyterian Pastor and an African-American!

Shortly after these events the highlands of Scotland suffered ‘The Clearances’, and this resulted in a much stronger feeling of solidarity between the Gaelic and Scots cultures, which has continued to strengthen down to the present.

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Joey Lightens Things Up

Joey and InkyYo, I’m Joey. (That’s me on the right, the white and grey guy.) I got here to the orphanage – the bookstore, I mean – about a month ago, and right away I could see things were not good. All the people were tired, they were talking about politics and festival stuff and needing doctors in the area, and they walked around like zombies.

So I asked some of the other guys who’d been here longer what was going on, and they said as near as they could tell, Jack and Wendy, the people who own the bookstore and run the place, were really tired. They had a lot to do and although a lot of people were trying to help them get stuff done, it took a lot of time to manage stuff. And they didn’t seem really happy. When the others first got here, Heathcliff and Hareton and Orange and Ginger and Simba, and little Harvey the baby, and Tooth, the only girl at our frat house, they said the people were fun and liked to play with them. But they just got grumpier and more tired as August wore on.

Well, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s cheering people up, so I started right in.

First, I climbed on Wendy’s lap while she was frowning at her computer. She kept telling me “Get off” and “My edits were due yesterday!” and fussing about some “dark” book about foster care in the Coalfields, but I could see what she needed, so I danced around in her keyboard, changed the settings on her laptop to Spanish, turned the screen sideways, activated voice commands and then meowed until tech support came on and asked what I needed.

Sometimes it’s kinda hard to tell if a human is laughing or crying, but at least it got that scowl off her face. And she did get up from the computer. Which she hadn’t done all day. And I got tuna treats.Joey 2

Usually, I can get people calm just by snuggling with them. I have perfected looking innocent and adorable while asleep. But these two, they needed more.

One morning I walked in after breakfast to find Jack on the phone trying to figure out why some business in town had refused to support the festival a group was pulling together just because he was one of the people running it. Somebody even called him a “dirty foreigner,” which made him REALLY mad. And I can attest, for a human, he’s pretty clean.

He never did figure out what their problem was, but hey, the politics of humans are beyond even cat brains, and I could see he was fussing himself into a corner, so I pulled out one of my emergency go-to tricks. I stuck my head in their little ceramic milk jug and pretended to get it stuck, careening around the place bouncing off stuff. Jack had to hang up the phone and help me, and he was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe.

Mission accomplished.

It wasn’t long after that, when all of us cats found out the real reason they were so sad. They had an old, old dog, a really sweet lady named Zora. She’d welcomed all of us to the orphanage, but you could tell she was kinda… loopy, y’know? She’d wander off mid-sentence. The guys who’d been here longer said she had doggie Alzheimer’s, and you could see from the way she walked that her legs hurt her really bad. And one day, she went away and didn’t come back, and Jack and Wendy just sat around the house crying and crying.

Well, grief is important, so we left them alone for a little bit, but I got the boys together and showed them what to do. When the time was right, we formed a parade. It’s my best party trick ever. I led them, leaping from the top of one bookshelf to another like lions in a circus, yelling, “And a ONE anna TWO anna …” It worked great, ‘specially when little Harvey fell to the floor on his second round. (He wasn’t hurt, I made him take the lowest shelves. There were enough of us to do two layers.)

Jack and Wendy rushed over and just watched in amazement as we fosters went four rounds. By then they were laughing so hard, I figured it was safe to stop.

Now I’ve done that “lions in the circus” routine a thousand times, but you know how it is working with amateurs. Heathcliff took out half a CD shelf trying to stop himself. I would’ve helped the humans clean up, but opposable thumbs, you know. I figured it best to take my team upstairs for a snack, and maybe practice some other routines.

Well a couple of days ago, the bookstore was full of people all day long, and lotsa noise, and some guy playing some bag and stick thing that sounded like a cat in heat, and yesterday Jack and Wendy just seemed to come back into their own bodies. They looked younger, they walked around faster, they seemed lighter.

Happier. Like they belonged to themselves again and not everybody else. Wendy is still working at her computer a lot, but Jack says she’s writing again, and that always makes her happier. He kinda took me aside for a guy-to-guy talk and said he appreciated my cheer up routines with her but now I really should leave the laptop alone, she was doing happy writing instead of deadline stuff.

I can respect that, so I just jumped in her lap and got her blood pressure down a bit while she stroked my head. Win-win.

Looks like my time here might be coming to an end, as I’m not needed to cheer up the sad humans anymore. Wendy says she’s going to get back into writing her blog and working on her next book, and Jack says he’s got some plans to get the bookstore tidied up, so I’d say I need to find someplace else that wants my special brand of cheering up.

It’s my calling. I don’t let on, but I like it. Who’s next?joey

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

Mony a Mickle maks a Muckle

Jack’s Wednesday Blog – yes – I know!

I’m one of those crazy folks who can’t stop getting involved with folk festivals and folk clubs. I’ve been doing it most of my life so I should have known better by now!

Every time I say ‘never again’ but then ‘again’ comes around and in I dive. I suck in unsuspecting and/or long-suffering friends and even complete strangers.

Right now, we’re 10 days away from the 11th Big Stone Celtic which is our local celebration of the culture of the seven (or maybe eight or nine) connected Nations that have links to this part of the new world. This is the time just before any of these kinds of events when anything that might go wrong is very likely to. It might be overlooked essential details, a last-minute performer cancellation, the complications of expanded offerings or just the everyday pressures of all the other life events that surround us.

Big Stone Celtic is quite unusual for a folk festival this side of the pond. It’s modeled on traditional music events in Ireland and Scotland that take place in small towns and villages using every space available. Here in the US they usually take place in parks outside of towns. Apart from a Friday evening concert in the local community college on the outskirts our festival uses all the nooks and crannies we can find for free in downtown all-day Saturday.

CELTICLOGO2small

Lest this sound like a ‘one-man-band’ I should also say that despite all the pressure (and maybe why I keep repeating the torture) it only ever works if there’s a team involved. Some have been in it from the very start and others have joined or left the gang as their other commitments allowed. We have a very strong and hard working group of folk right now, though and seem to have

Wendy and I started this off 11 years ago with a very tentative Saturday afternoon thing in a small local downtown park with no idea whether there would be any interest. Because all the venues are public spaces it isn’t possible to charge entry so we are completely dependent on donations and sponsorship which I’m delighted to say has increased year on year. Our biggest sponsor is the local arts organization ProArt and for the last five years they have enabled Friday concert as well as much of the Saturday music. We have reached the level now when we feature a world class performer each year. Past festivals have featured Barbara Dickson, Alan Reid/Rob Van Sante, Ocean Orchestra, Iona, John Skelton etc.

It’s not all music, though – we go to great lengths to identify all the Celtic Nations (including Appalachia) through food, costume, crafts and all kinds of athletic activities – even sheepdogs!

Anything I might have missed in this blatant commercial can be found here – http://www.bigstoneceltic.com

 

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