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Shedding – – –

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday blog post arrives on Thursday – –

Our riding mower lived in the garage when we first moved to these nice new digs. But it was very awkward getting it from there into the backyard where it was most needed. So it’s been sitting out with a tarp over it to protect it from the rain. That isn’t ideal so we decided to get a storage shed to house it.

We decided on a DIY smallish shed made from heavy duty plastic, mainly because it came with a floor. When I checked the parts, the floor turned out to be thin and really just for positioning the walls correctly. So it was back to Lowes for lumber to make a base!

I should remind everyone that for a number of years I was Head of the construction department in my old college in Scotland. But if my friend and colleague Davy Spence who led the carpentry and joinery section had seen my workmanship on that base he would have shaken his head (my trade was painting and decorating).

Nothing daunted I set too constructing the shed with help from Wendy.

We’ve been married for twenty-one years and have rarely fallen out over anything, but this might easily have ended in divorce. I needed Wendy to hold pieces and slide them around on command. They were meant to slip easily into place.

Easily is a relative term…..

The trouble mainly stemmed from my fairly flexible (not to say, shoogley) base. That meant that none of the wall sections ended up exactly fitting as they should have. After a couple of false starts, and me accidentally letting a panel fly back and smack my beloved in the face (no swelling remains) we got them all up and connected together.

Next came the roof which was in four sections and also involved a fair amount of pulling, pushing and application of ‘Ferguson’ (a make of hammer favored by car mechanics). It wasn’t until the final roof section went into place with a satisfying click that the whole structure stopped wobbling. Including Wendy’s faith in me, since I had spent the last hour shouting things like “Up! Down! Left! More left!” as she stood outside on a ladder holding roof bits.

shed

Awaiting the doors tomorrow.

The online reviews for this shed include a number from folk who said they put it up alone and others who said that two of them did it in four hours – I don’t believe them!

For anyone who’s interested it’s a Craftsman 7×7 storage shed. You might want to take your spouse to dinner first if you’re going to build it together.

 

 

 

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Filed under between books, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book-turned-TV-series: THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood

HT MAI resisted watching this for three seasons, under the same reasoning I avoided watching NARCOS for quite some time: too close to reality. Please, divert me while I crochet, until I’m ready to re-enter Reality.

After Anne with an E built my saccharine to sufficient levels, I was ready. And so began what was not so much a binge-watch as an eyes-averted analysis.

The book has been interfered with, that much is clear. But not necessarily in a bad way. The end of Season 1 ended with Atwood’s famous quote as June Osborn is ushered into a police van,

“And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.”

Most people deem the book to end there, and readers had to choose whether June was getting out or not. It actually ends with a public address by a future scholar analyzing the fall of Gilead, and that speech is amazing in its chilling sarcasm, suggesting not a lot has been learned from the bad times.

The TV series continues from June (Offred) entering the van, going with the assumption that June is indeed rescued, sorta, for awhile. While waiting to escape, she makes some very human choices, creating a shrine for those killed in secret places, saying real prayers instead of the warped quotations of the Commanders and Wives.

The series is interesting because it lets in the thoughts and motivations of other characters; in Atwood’s book there was a moment when one of the aunts broke down and told the girls she was trying to help them, they all had to make the best of what was left available to them. Atwood also made clear in her book that the Marthas and Aunts feared being deemed no longer useful; in the TV series, it’s a little more complicated. The aunts are enjoying their power. Also, Serena Joy in the series is not a former televangelist as she was in the book, but the author of A Woman’s Place, one of the manifestos that later ousts her from being a thinking part of the Glorious Revolution into the meek helpmate Gilead requires women to be. She is more complicated than in the book. I like this.

There are also more clear examples of the regular working folk outside the extremes of Handmaids and Wives, and definite hints at the blurred lines between collusion, collaboration, and just trying to survive. In all honesty, in this series, none of them look that different from each other. Which is kinda terrifying.

What does look different is the venom poured out toward religion overall in both book and TV series being very carefully differentiated from True Religion, the kind Jesus talked about, taking care of widows and orphans and showing compassion. Quakers come out well in the series as they did in the book, I am pleased to note. But there are also points where characters are shown praying with sincerity versus being rote repeaters of things they are supposed to say. Churches are torn down, nuns and priests hunted, because they weren’t doing religion Right.

When June lights a candle at the wall of memory she’s created from an execution site, she prays with humble sincerity. Which is kinda brilliant contrasting against the constant Gilead reminder to her that God loves the Meek, which means she should keep her eyes down. Subtle, and thus so effective, this juxtaposition. When June gets to choose how she acts toward God, she IS meek, and loving. When it’s forced on her, not so much. Hello Christian Right movement, are you listening? Don’t alienate us from REAL relationships to God through your rhetoric. That’s in the Bible, actually; Jesus says it’s a very bad idea.

Back to Handmaid: its beyond-the-book parts are so clearly reflecting the cultural lexicon found in today’s divided America. While the book is usually better than the movie, I’m highly recommending this series for MATURE audiences only; it is violent and sexual, usually to make a point, but sometimes gratuitous.

And that’s my final thought on the series. Do you remember The Stanford Prison Experiment, which had to be stopped early because those chosen to be guards with near-absolute power over the “prisoners” became so brutal, injuries occurred? I wonder how many of the men wearing all-black and acting as low-pay extras playing The Guard cried during or after the filming, how it made them feel or act at home. There is one scene in which a large group of handmaids believe they are going to be executed for an act of defiance. Herded in restraints into an execution site, the scene involves guards roughly handling the women and such.

If you look closely -he is only there for a fleeting second -one of the men who reappears often as a non-speaking Guard throughout the series is an older, balding man. He is in the midst of the terrified group of women, shoving them around, and when you catch his face, he is distraught. Not angry, not trying to get the job done.

Not acting.

He looks something between remorseful and despairing and terrified, and I swear he’s crying.

Holding us all in the Light, that’s my review.

You can read about the Stanford Prison Experiment here.

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I didn’t Finish with GISH

gish

Thank you, all my sweet friends who helped me get GISH (Great International Scavenger Hunt) tasks done last week. (If you are unfamiliar with GISH, there is a good Wikipedia article linked at the bottom of this post.)

Many whose names I fear leaving off here did amazing things. Sylvia went to Niagara Falls with her husband on a date just so she could play “Carry On My Wayward Son” on a recorder at sunset. Adrienne organized a barbershop quartet BY COMPUTER to sing protest songs outside the Rayburn Building in DC. Lynn made Beyonce out of stained glass and enshrined her in the Temple of Arts and Sciences, while Lisa and Beth helped me hoist a “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR” banner over an immigrant detention center hidden two hours from my happy home. There were others, too; thank you.

I didn’t finish out the hunt; events overtook and some quirks of conscience sent me back into rethinking why I’d wanted to do it. (Because for the past two years I had.) The team I was on were super-capable and had been together a long time, so communication between them was a kind of incredible shorthand this newbie never learned. Add in my confusion over some of the tasks being meaningful, others treating animals or people in vulnerable situations like props, and it just wasn’t for me.

For instance: dress a team member as a bull and have them brandish a GISH flag with a real matador in a real bullfight ring? No, nyet, never set foot in such a place, for shame GISH; fight BS not bulls. But actions sung to a children’s song, showing how to know when someone is having a stroke? Yes please. Taking day-old produce begged from a local shop to a homeless family out by the viaduct? Yeah, okay, but then let’s not worry about the quality of the photographs documenting the event. In fact, photographs are kinda rude. Saggy banner over the detention center? That’s because we thought we were going to get arrested. Someone was coming toward us and he was NOT happy.

The dynamics of the whole large hunt were weird. It was almost like being a wind-up toy set in motion for the amusement of some rich people who had nothing better to do than think up faux adventures. They would have had to be rich, because one of the tasks was to get en pointe ballerinas in tutus to paintball each other. If you REALLLLLLLLY want to piss off a dancer, ask her to dance en pointe for free. You don’t even have to add, “and by the way your shoes are going to get ruined” for good measure.

Life holds many real adventures. It’s a rich thing to know them for themselves. And yet, the hunt showed me new things. I now know where my local women’s shelter is (had to donate toys there, and we’ve been back since.) I know which of my online never-met-in-person friends are romantics, who the pragmatists are, and which outright quirky souls who will do anything for a laugh. It is very gratifying to have friends who will do anything (safe and legal) for you–or with you. The nice couple running Mason wing-walking school totally did us a huge favor for no other reason than being kind.

So it was a mixed blessing, participating in GISH. I won’t do it again, but it was a check on the bucket list that will never be matched. And I will cherish the feeling of lifting that banner for the rest of my life.

Read about the hunt’s origins here.

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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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‘ear, ‘ear – – –

Jack’s weekly guest post – probably late again – –

Back in 1979 I was touring in Brittany with my band and various other Scottish musicians. Towards the end I felt a bit nauseous and dizzy and put it down to something I’d eaten. For a couple of years after that, my hearing went up and down, particularly after flights, and eventually it settled to a loss of high frequencies in the right ear.

Fifteen years later I was sent by my family doctor to see an Ears Nose and Throat surgeon because I had nasal polyps. The nose thing was obviously boring but as I was leaving, he said – ”Any other problems”? He visibly brightened up when I said “Well actually – – – “.

Following tests ranging from simple to a brain scan it was established that the 1979 incident had been an inner ear infection and the damage was now permanent! A National Health Service hearing aid was provided free of charge, but it was one of the early analogue ones and it simply amplified everything so I quickly gave up on it.

InnerEar

Over the years I learned to position myself so that in company or when performing I could hear with my left ear.

But – – –

Over the last few years, even positioning myself strategically, I was finding it increasingly difficult. I knew that my old fiddle playing buddy Pete Clark was using a very high-tech digital hearing aid but then very recently something else happened –

Wendy and I were on vacation at the beach near Charleston SC with friends including my old singing buddy Barbara and she cornered me. She showed me her equally high-tech aid and insisted I try it.

So today I went to a local audiology place for a test and advice – to discover that my left ear is beginning to deteriorate as well.

So it’s time for two high-tech digital – all singing all dancing – hearing aids, and for me to re-join the world!

Now – about my eyesight – – –

 

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The Ocean’s Apology

Jack and Wendy are on holiday with friends Oliver and Barbara, from Britain, and Brandon and Beth, from Virginia. Herewith a tale of their adventures.

66460144_691467604631963_6907103243638145024_n(1)The Atlantic and I had a disagreement about how I should reach shore, day 4 of our holiday. I felt riding in on Oliver’s borrowed board was best, but the wave said I should plow to shore on my face doing about 12 mph and let the sand stop me.

The wave won that toss, but since then the sea has behaved handsomely. This morning, when Brandon and I got up early to walk to an old lighthouse, we found many things on the beach, tossed up by last night’s storms.

65906883_1075559982832263_8633267998813061120_nFirst up was a strange shell I thought was  a clam, but turned out to be a pair of sunglasses. Versace, new. Brandon looked them up: $280.

“The sea is apologizing for beating you up,” he said. “It sent you a gift. And you can hide your black eye at the restaurants in Savannah.” (That is our next stop.)

“Versace, smersace,” I responded. “I don’t use name brands.”

There was a loud crash as the calm ocean suddenly produced a nasty wave.

We walked on.  A few hundred yards later, I said, “That’s not….”

“It is,” said Brandon. “The sea is trying really hard to make it up to you.”

67223035_2507246095994420_7284640253460086784_n(1)These sunglasses were more, as Brandon put it, “a Wendy-friendly style.” Aviators from Old Navy, $20 new.

“I like the heart-shaped frames, but you know I really don’t wear sunglasses.”

A strange sucking sound came from the ocean, for all the world like a frustrated sigh.

We soon reached the tidal pools around the light house coast. The storm had tossed up massive hermit crabs, a few jelly fish, numerous large scallop shells and some broken conch.

66411678_444782456368010_7061261830483607552_n“Look at that.” I pointed to the edge of a tidal pool. We waited to see if the leopard crab shell moved. It did not. I picked it up. Empty, perfect, rare.

“Oooh, this is nice,” I said aloud, holding the shell to the light to admire its colors.

“Apology accepted.” Brandon addressed this to the waves.

The sea gave a small self-satisfied sigh, and took the tide out.

 

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The Monday Book – The Trumpet Unblown

THE TRUMPET UNBLOWN (Doubleday,1955) by William Henry Hoffman

Reviewed by Phyllis Wilson Moore

trumpet

 

Winners Do Not Take All

 

The World War II era novel THE TRUMPET UNBLOWN (Doubleday,1955), by Charleston, West Virginia, native William Henry Hoffman echoes every war. It  is not an easy novel to read and dismiss. It has clout.

Published in 1955, twenty-five long years before Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) became an official diagnosis, it could serve as a template for understanding the condition. Reading it might help families understand why some veteran have difficulty articulating their distress and might help counselors assist veterans in putting the pieces of their lives back together.

It is the story of idealistic eighteen year old, Tyree Jefferson Shelby, III, and his stint in a World War II Medical Corps at war’s end.

Like many high school seniors of the day, Shelby, eager to prove his loyalty and manhood,volunteers to risk his life at the Front defending the United States against Germany and Japan.

A leader and top notch new graduate of a private military high school, Shelby feels prepared for war. After all, he was a cadet officer and many of his ancestors served nobly in previous wars.  A teenager, he eagerly enlists, leaving his proud, religious and wealthy family, his virginal girlfriend, and his plans for college behind. In a few months he is in England, the youngest man in a medical hospital unit waiting for what we now know as the Normandy Invasion.

Being a “third”, and obviously from an affluent family, he is immediately at odds with some of the older more seasoned veterans. He does things by the book. He likes to keep clean and neat, no easy feat with cold water and no soap. He doesn’t drink. He is a virgin and plans to remain one. When his girl’s country club poolside photograph is stolen he finds it soiled and hanging on a support beam in a room the Corps shares. He fights for it and loses.

As they wait for their orders, Shelby goes with the other men as they make the rounds of the bars and brothels. He is goaded into paying a prostitute but can’t perform.

Once in France he learns to hurry up and wait. Disgruntled fellow soldiers and an ineffective commanding officer make matters worse. Setting up the field hospital is grinding work but once  it is done, they wait. No battles ensue. Members of his unit begin to explore the area and visit neighboring villages. From the supply tent they steal canned food, cigarettes, drugs, and army supplies to barter for alcohol, sex, and fresh vegetables.

Finally a major battle occurs and the hospital staff is overwhelmed.The mind boggling carnage and chaos troubles him but he does his job of carrying the wounded to and from the operating arena.

Between battles they wait. Sometimes they tear down the camp hospital and move closer to the action and the carnage begins again.

Each day the Corps proves the opposite of what he expected. He is not fighting the Germans or the Japanese; he is being bullied.

When another young soldier offers two villagers a ride and then rapes the girl, Shelby, in the jeep’s front seat, does and says nothing. He listens as the struggling girl and her now restrained boyfriend beg someone to intercede. Finally,the couple is thrown from the jeep more dead than alive.

Back in camp, Shelby begins to steal from the supply tent. He joins the drinkers in their search for prostitutes and more alcohol. He finds a prostitute and pays her with drugs he steals from the medical supply ten

Eventually, he and his buddies are suspected of pilfering and selling the belongings of their own wounded. When military investigators arrive there is no proof. The Corps reputation, bad to begin with, is further tarnished.

At war’s end his Corps is tangled in a major SNAFU (situation normal, all fouled up). It receives no orders to return from the field and prepare for a return to the United States. Other units do. As the rains set in camp morale plummets and bad behavior goes unchecked. Finally they are given busy work. The useless task of hauling rocks to create an unnecessary road to nowhere only to watch as each day’s rocks sink into the mud.

Shelby, the intelligent, religious, well mannered boy, breaks and is sent to a military psychiatric hospital. Instead of feeling relief he feels shame The physicians have no treatment plan (tranquilizer and mood stabilizers were not invented until 1953) for him except to discharge him. He does not want to go home.

Eventually, he is forced to return home. Home  to his waiting girlfriend, his worried and adoring family, and a world he can’t imagine re-entering. Apathetic, he wants nothing. He finds pleasure in nothing. There is no way he can recount his military experiences around the dinner table. College does not interest him. Invitations to parties or dinners are ignored. He is offered business positions but refused them.

To everyone’s amazement, he avoids his sweetheart. He will not say why. How can he explain his bout of Gonorrhea to his parents or his girl? How can he kiss her? How can he marry her?

In his own home, he is daily unnerved by the wall of military portraits showing his heroic ancestors. When relatives visit to hear of his war exploits he makes himself scarce. What he would like to do is go away, be alone, and sleep.

The book is chilling in its ability to show war at its worst and the effects of what was then referred to as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue” (General Patton called it malingering).  For me, this work explains PTSD better than anything I’ve read on the subject. This haunting novel is relevant today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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