Well, Cheers, VA

Jack reverts to form and comes in a day late –

Wendy and I have a guilty secret – two actually!

We are suckers for bookstores (well, duh!) but also thrift stores. The thing about thrift stores (charity shops in Scotland) is that you never know what will be in there and there’s always the hope that the next one will be better than the last.

Now that we’ve moved to Wytheville we’re in easy travel of quite a few second-hand shops, some turning out to be real Aladdin’s caves of all kind of delights – and horrors.

Being new to the area we don’t know until we visit them whether they’re any good or not, or even whether they really are selling second hand stuff or just another arty pseudo antique place selling tat at inflated prices.

But then our new friend  (who owns Oracle Books in Wytheville) took me to one here in town a couple of weeks ago. It’s an outlet of Virginia State where they sell off redundant stuff from State departments. My goodness! Everything from storage cabinets and shelf units to office tables and school desks and beyond.

Yesterday I took Wendy because she wanted a table for her writing hideaway (AKA the jail). As we wandered independently around she called to me. “Have a look” she said, and there was a display cabinet full of plastic bags, each one stuffed with corkscrews. Probably twenty or so in each bag and there were at least a hundred bags!

corkscrews

So of course the question we asked each other was – which department did they come from? Did the ABC folk order a gazillion of them and then realize too late they don’t sell wine? Or is there a department that’s so under pressure they go through a bottle a day to just function? If so, which one? Maybe Motor Vehicles? State police? Department of Health? (That’s Wendy’s vote.)

No matter which part of your tax dollars at work resulted in a table chock full of corkscrews at $2 per gallon baggie, we want to say what should of course be said: THANK YOU. We bought two bags.

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The Monday Book: ARE THESE MY BASOOMAS I SEE BEFORE ME by Louise Rennison

basoomasLouise Rennison wrote ten books about her heroine Georgia Nicholson, a typical English teen who kept adults laughing. From titles like Away Laughing on a Fast Camel to Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers, she captured the worst of being 15 and made it funny.

I got the last of the Georgia books out of our local library a week or two ago, just to see if the magic held. Yep. Georgia utters lines like “Everyone is so obsessed with themselves nowadays that they have no time for me” and “He said, ‘Hi, gorgeous,’ which I think is nice. I admire honesty” with her usual bluster and bravado.

Plots aren’t really a part of the Georgia mystique, although this one is ostensibly about putting on a production of Hamlet at the all-girls Catholic school. Really, though, each book is about boys, snogging, lip gloss, and great shoes. It’s just that Rennison is soooooo funny you don’t care. Each book is written like a diary, with entries such as

12:01 “I hate him.”

12:04 “Hate is a bit strong. He just rang up and asked me out again.”

That kind of sappy, hormone-driven humor has always been Rennison’s strong point, but apparently when writing Basoomas, she knew she was finishing the series, because where she’d held back before, she didn’t this time. All her books had a gentleness toward sex and snogging that let teachers at least pretend they could be used in literature class, but Basoomas never misses a joke. Talking about the band finishing up practice, “I waited while the Lurve God put away his equipment. (Leave it.)”

Etc. etc. for a hundred pages or so. If you want some escapist, snort soda through your nose laugh out loud fun, pick up a Louise Rennison novel. She died in 2016, so enjoy the ten that are around, and have fun.

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Always Look on the Bright Side – – –

Jack scrapes in under the wire as he does – occasionally – – –
I’m involved in a couple of interesting projects right now – one is a video documentary of my life by my friend Dirk who engineers my weekly radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’. The other is helping an older friend with his attempt to chronicle the early days of the Scottish folk revival in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Being of a certain age, now myself, there’s a good deal of poignancy as well as pleasure in recalling many happy memories of other friends, some of whom are no longer with us.
One of those is the wonderful singer Gordeanna McCulloch who was laid to rest just this morning in her beloved Glasgow.
gordeanna

Gordeanna with Wendy at our wedding. She let us use the pic for a story and song cassette.

She was one of the guests at our wedding twenty years ago in Auchtermuchty, and sang during the ceremony as part of the group ‘Palaver’. Another member of that group was Maureen Jelks who also sadly died recently. Others who were there and are no longer with us include John Watt and Duncan Williamson. When I first got interested in folk songs, John was my guide and mentor, while Duncan, a wonderful traveller storyteller and singer, became a close friend to us towards the end of his life. Also present then but now included in the ‘departed list’ are Mike Ward, who was a member of my old group ‘Heritage’ and Davy Lockhart, fiddle player with the group from the very beginning.
Despite this sad list, there are good reasons not to be gloomy, as many are still around and keeping in contact through the wonders of the internet. Another member of ‘Palaver’ was Aileen Carr, who kindly lent her gorgeous old house for our wedding and reception, and Davy’s wife Jean who handled the catering, my Best Man George Haig who still continues to amaze with his expertise on the autoharp, Colin who took many of the photographs (including the one of Wendy and Gordeanna, and drives the bus on my annual group tour of Scotland). And let us not forget the incredible Donna Marie, “Haint Mistress” of Abingdon, Virginia, who was Wendy’s Maid of Honor and had a grand adventure.
So, despite being well past the allotted ‘three score and ten’ (sounds like a song – and it is!) I continue to make new friends and take part in new adventures. That might explain why I remain in good health myself – much to Wendy’s relieved surprise!
Here’s to old friends and new, to memories and to new adventures –
Here’s tae us, wha’s like us – – – damn few, an’ there’s some o them deid.

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The Monday Book: WE NEED NEW NAMES by NoViolet Bulawayo

bulawayoI got this book out of the library on CD to keep my company careening up and down I-81. It was very good company indeed.

The opening chapter was the winner in a short story contest, and sets up the whole theme of the book: the innocence of children observing the folly of white people trying to “save” Zimbabwe (and a neighboring country or two). The whole book is one long lesson in irony. Had she taken a different approach to the writing, Bulawayo’s book could have been non-fiction history. Or horror.

One of the best features of her writing is how the children who are its heroes run through the insanity around them. They find a woman who hung herself because she had AIDS, and take her shoes to buy bread because they’re hungry. They run to meet the NGO truck that passes out toy guns without food. They lament that they no longer go to school because life is so boring, then they play “funeral,” imitating the machete-hacking death of a local leader who encouraged the citizens of the “Paradise” refugee village to vote. When the BBC crew that covered the actual funeral find them playing this game, they are horrified.

Not the children. They are living their lives in the circumstances surrounding them, watching the crazy go down with the sweet, confused, triumphant, intent on getting food and staying out of trouble for the most part. Not unlike the adults around them, just a little less aware of the subtleties.

I actually recommend this novel to people writing about trauma, because it shows how the voices of children narrating terrible things can make space for people to read about it without blaming the narrator or the writer. (It takes the me-me-me out of memoir.) That said, I don’t want to cheapen what Bulawayo has accomplished here. More than using innocence to point out guilt, shame, horror, she’s written with an internal voice of honest brutality that comes off as gentle. Her writing is lovely. What she’s writing about is not, on two levels: the violence of a country coming apart, and the whiteness that haunts both its dissolution and its recovery.

In a quest to be “woke,” several of my friends have begun a challenge: reading books or watching movies that represent African or Caribbean voices without white saviors. Bulawayo’s books should be at the top of this list.

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Elwyn (by James Ryan)

As reported earlier, the short story competition was a close run thing. James Ryan’s was the first entry to arrive –

“Ahhhhhhhhhh….free at last.” How many seasons have I been lying under that bush? I hope it’s been long enough so that damned cat is dead. I don’t mean to sound like an animal hater but, it’s hard not to hate someone who buries you under a bush after peeing in your face. Don’t laugh. It was not funny at all. I’m not sure how many seasons went by before the smell left. I suppose I should be thankful that he didn’t do the other thing on me. If he had, I would probably still be stinking. Yuck!

I know you’re wondering what and who I am. My name is Elwyn and I am a Sylvan. Sylvans are associated with trees and bushes. We can be found in any woodland of any size. Our job is to keep the forest in good working order. It was my misfortune to be caught by the cat that day. Normally, I stayed high enough in the trees not to be in any danger. That day I was on the ground straightening an oak seedling that had been stepped on by a large bear the night before. It was a tiring job and when I finished, I leaned against a rock to rest from my labors. The sun was warm and the leaves were so comfortable that I fell asleep almost immediately.

The next thing I knew I was in the cat’s mouth and being carried towards the house in the distance. Talk about being scared. I was sure I was going to be eaten alive. He carried me to the bush in the yard where he played with me as if I were a ball. He batted me around and every time I tried to get away, he would let me get far enough to get my hopes up, then he would pounce on me again. He finally grew tired and went to sleep. Unfortunately for me, he went to sleep with his paw on my chest. I was just glad he had stopped throwing me around. After a while I started thinking about getting free.

The problem was that his foot was rather large and heavy. And every time I tried to move, his claws would extend and keep me where I was. I’m not quite sure how long he lay there sleeping, but it must have been several hours. I didn’t really mind because it gave me time to rest and begin to feel better about the whole thing. So far, I wasn’t dead or crippled up beyond recovery. So, I spent the time thinking of ways to escape. However, as hard as I tried, nothing came to mind.

The cat suddenly sat up, yawned, picked me up and carried me further under the bush where he dug a hole threw me in it and pissed in my face. Then he covered me up and there I stayed until the lady found me.  NOW PUT ME BACK INTO THE WOODS!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, writing

The Monday Book: EVERY BITTER THING by Monica Wood

woodIt is SO GOOD when you discover not just a book you like but a new author whose other books you intend to hunt down. Monica Wood has a lovely poetic way of writing. Lyrical, that overused term, comes to mind.

The premise of her novel Any Bitter Thing is that a priest winds up raising his niece after a tragic car accident, and another accident years later, in her adulthood, brings many things to light.

You know I love a character-driven book, and for the most part the bouncy protagonist’s little girl grown into a woman drives it. And for the most part everything is believable in how people make decisions, and yet there’s an undercurrent of one step removed from the characters.

For instance, when the priest is falling for one of his parishoners, does she use this and him to get something she needs, or is it accidental? The question is left unanswered in the book. You have to rely on how the characters acted to make your own decision.

Wood authored a few other novels I plan to find at the library, but meanwhile, lose yourself in Any Bitter Thing. It’s got a surprisingly heavy plot for such gentle writing, and yet it feels like relaxing with an old friend. The kind of book you have a cup of tea with, and try not to think too hard about people you knew who remind you of these characters.

 

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ELF STORY GRAND PRIZE WINNER

IMG_6114
Remember this guy? He surfaced in our new house’s yard, face-down under a bush, after a strong wind a couple of weeks ago. In an effort to banish the creepy factor and turn this into a fun discovery, we launched a short story contest. Congratulations to Grand Prize Winner Kathy Osborne Still. Kathy is Director of News and Media Relations at UVa Wise.
Second Prize, Honorable Mention, and Flash Fiction Short Short prizes posted next week.
It was the longest ten days in Sparkle the Elf on the Shelf’s artificial life. Becky, Wytheville’s biggest QVC fan, sent Sparkle on a bumpy UPS truck from Newark to Wytheville.
Becky unboxed Sparkle and the little spy started observing her straightaway. She bought purses hawked by tired sitcom stars, slow cookers endorsed by celebrity chefs, and décor that would never make sense in southwestern Virginia.
On day five, Sparkle witnessed the woman unbox perfume, a Saturday Night Fever commemorative plate, Pioneer Woman salt and pepper shakers, and skin care products by Victoria Beckham. Sparkle and Becky’s cat, Jade, made a game of predicting how long it would take the hosts to sway Becky to send another useless product to Wytheville. Jade always won. The tabby had skills.
Becky’s latest purchase was an expensive cosmetics case filled with sticks, tubes, pencils, tubs and brushes. Sparkle and Jade spent hours watching Becky watch make-up tutorials on her tablet. They smirked—Sparkle wore his permanent smirk—as Becky never quite recreated the photos on the screen. Jade found it hilarious. Sparkle watched and judged.
Day seven arrived and Sparkle cursed the worker in China that painted lidless eyes on his plastic elf face. Watching QVC hosts digitally peddle mops, faux diamonds, rugs, and yoga products was torture. Jade would gently knock the elf off the table when he could, and Sparkle was always grateful. On day eight, Sparkle begged the cat to bury him deep in the litter box. The QVC show on Christmas wrapping finally unhinged Sparkle.
Day nine came and Becky’s niece visited. The four-year-old child would have driven any elf on the shelf insane. She put Sparkle in the chair of her Barbie Beauty Parlor playset, clutched a fine tipped permanent marker from QVC’s Home and Office Collection and mimicked each stroke Aunt Becky did with the QVC cosmetics. Once Becky noticed her niece’s work, she knew Sparkle was headed for the landfill. She tossed Sparkle in the kitchen trash. All thoughts of the elf vanished from Becky’s brain when she turned up the volume to hear the chimes playing from the Santa’s Workshop mantle clock that was selling for an unbelievable $29.99 for the first customers who place orders in the next hour.
Jade quietly padded to the kitchen, jumped on the Nigella Lawson microwave cart, and saved the elf from the landfill. Sparkle was tired of his artificial life.
Jade hid the elf behind the Debbie Reynolds’ Singin’ in the Rain umbrella stand. The UPS truck would arrive tomorrow with a QVC plate of Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast. Jade knew a signature would be needed for an expensive item. The artist chose the perfect hue of orange, Jade remembered. Fake hues would not do for Trump, Jade surmised.
On day ten, the doorbell chimed. Becky opened the door and did not notice Jade escape.
“Please carry me under those bushes,” Sparkle said. “And put me face down so the world can kiss my ass.”

 

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