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The Monday Book: Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown

Jack’s doing the Monday book – so, of course it’s on Tuesday – –

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them; Nancy Marie Brown

Wendy brought me this book back from one of the bookstores she’s been visiting, promoting her book Fall or Fly. She was correct that it would interest me. It actually has little to do with the chessmen per se, but I don’t mind!

vikings

Brown uses the famous Lewis Chessmen as the mechanism for what is really a geopolitical and historical examination of the Nordic countries in medieval times. I already had some knowledge of the Viking connection to Scotland, Ireland and Northern England, and I even knew that the French Normans were originally Norse men.

But this book was a real eye-opener and introduced me to a world that was much more connected than I had thought. I obviously knew about the Vikings sailing around the north Atlantic but not just how much or how far. I knew nothing about their land journeys including taking part in crusades and hob-knobbing with English nobles!

“Ivory Vikings” can be a challenging read at times. The story of these ivory armies is woven through speculative historic tales of kings Harald Blue-Tooth and Svein Fork-Beard, with diversions into the 13th-century sagas of Iceland’s Snorri Sturluson and the early 19th-century literature of Sir Walter Scott, as well as accounts of the climate and topography of Iceland, the importance of walrus ivory from Greenland financing Viking raids and the origins of chess in India.

Margret the Adroit of Iceland turns out to be Brown’s favored candidate as maker of the chessmen. She was a carver of walrus and other materials and was famous for her craft in her time. One of the kings regularly sent gifts made by Margret to other rulers, one of the reasons the chessmen may be attributable to her. But I think my favorite of all the memorable characters in this book is perhaps Earl Erling Skew-neck who got his name after being whacked in the neck by an adversary in battle and carried his head at an angle ever after!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Norse history and their connections to other northern European countries – particularly Scotland and Ireland.

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The Unsung Bookstore Heroes!

Jack makes it over the bar with the Wednesday guest post – –

This place is BIG! The odd thing is that it’s gotten bigger over the last fourteen years, as we’ve made less livable spaces more so –

It takes a bit of looking after and keeping clean, and we’ve tried various strategies to deal with that over the years. To begin with we tried to keep on top of things ourselves but later we realized that wasn’t too practicable. So we had a couple of good friends who stepped up to help. The first was Heather, who can be seen in this video jokingly using our cat Owen Meanie as a duster. Heather was an awesome cleaner, thorough, efficient, and with a wicked sense of humor.

But she moved to Colorado so then we had Anne, who not only cleaned but brought posters and knick knacks and little colored baskets to make the shop more cheerful. Eventually health issues meant she had to retire (she’s also in the video as ‘Becky’ in the needlework group). Both of them were painstaking and highly skilled and we missed them—even more as we tried others with mixed results and also went back to trying to handle things ourselves. It was clear that we needed to find someone to take the place on –

Enter Judy!

She already cleaned for our vet friend, the sainted Beth and we had heard some stories that seemed pretty far-fetched. For instance, we were told she only would agree to clean for folk she approved of, and also she did all sorts of stuff that wouldn’t normally be considered ‘cleaning’. Seemed a bit odd, but we sent out a feeler to see if she was interested.

We’re not sure how she assessed our suitability but apparently we passed the test!

Judy is absolutely amazing – she has taken us on as her extended family. She really DOES do far more than we’d expected. Just recently I asked her to mop the front porch deck – she turned up with a power washer and did the deck, the railings and the furniture! Then there was the time she dug up an overgrown bush in the back yard and then brought here truck into the yard and hauled the roots out with a chain. She loves the cats as Heather and Anne did before her, and she once used her mop to physically repel a man trying to dump kittens in the bookstore.

Do not mess with Judy. She is the stuff of which mountain families are made. Also, don’t leave your coffee cup on untreated wood without a coaster. She’ll take you out.

 

 

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Old Soldiers Never Die – – –

It’s Wednesday so it’s Jack’s turn again, but a painful one – –

It’s always sad when a dedicated customer passes away. Bill Peace was one of our beloved regulars. Those of you who have read The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap would find him in its pages as the guy with the bearlike shuffle and precision military corners.

Bill and Brenda

He was a true supporter of the bookstore from its earliest days and it was always a pleasure to see him. Early on he would come striding up the steps in front, then later he needed to use the ramp at the side. Either way, once in the front door he would very slowly traverse every corner of every room. His reading tastes were wide and included everything from US history to mystery novels. He never missed a shelf.

He never said very much, either, but it was clear that he valued having a bookstore in the town. Some customers chat while browsing, but not Bill. He kept his thoughts contained inside the omnipresent ex-military cap he wore, the emblem of his unit decorating its dark red. Mostly he would just ask if we had anything on ‘such and such’ or by ‘so and so’.

Eventually his health deteriorated and it was harder for him to get here. His devoted wife Brenda would drive him over to the side of the building and help him up the ramp. When that got to be too much, we’d get phone calls from him asking about particular authors or books, and organize pick-up from Brenda or his son David.

We knew that things were getting to be more serious from reports by David and his wife Felicia (another staunch pair of bookshop supports) who’d come to collect the books Bill had ordered over the phone.

Back when we started ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ thirteen years ago we needed the support of established locals and we are very grateful to the ones who stepped up and showed their public support. Bill Peace was one of them and he helped enormously to make us feel part of the community.

RIP Bill – we will never forget you!

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The Monday Book

Jack gets to write the Monday Book post – so it’s a day late – –

Bringing Columbia Home – Michael D. Leinbach, Johnathan H. Ward

columbia

I stumbled upon this book in Greensboro NC where Wendy was doing a promotional event in a bookstore. Being a bit of an air and space freak I couldn’t resist it.

This is the whole story of the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle disaster, and Leinbach is probably the best person who could have written this book as he was at the center of the mission.

The book chronicles the whole tragic story from the first contradictory clues and suspicions all the way to the gathering of wreckage and crew remains. Along the way we encounter the interactions between rural Texans, Federal agencies, State organizations, NASA professionals, fellow astronauts and the family members of the doomed crew.

The things that stood out for me were –

The very sensitive handling of everything to do with the crew, their families and the inevitable evidence relating to their last minutes. The amazing ‘ownership’ by locals of responsibility for laborious searches for the tiniest fragments in pretty terrible conditions. Then the equally laborious technical work to try to establish what caused the catastrophe.

The book doesn’t shirk placing blame where needed but also lays bare the sheer risks that inevitably accompany space travel. I have visited the air and space museum in DC a number of times and always marvel when I look at the Apollo capsules. How anyone could sit in that atop a rocket and be blasted into space is completely beyond my comprehension!

Just last week I wrote about my memories of the PanAm 103 bombing over Lockerbie in Scotland and I couldn’t help drawing some parallels with the Columbia disaster. I suppose the biggest difference is that the crews of the space shuttles knew the risks involved!

Finally – it was shown after the cause of the crash was established that there would have been no way to rescue the crew even if the damage to the wing had been known. So, as they were carrying out their scientific work they were already doomed.

The book is written for the layman, is easy to read and I found it completely gripping from start to finish.

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Hands, Knees and Boomps – a- Daisy

This time Jack meets the deadline – –

I suffer from Nail Patella Syndrome (NPS) but didn’t even know what it was until I was into my fifties. It’s hereditary and can affect people very differently. For me it’s quite mild – my elbows won’t straighten and my knee caps swivel to the side; also my thumb nails and toe nails twist and split. The worst, when I was a child and teenager, was my teeth. NPS means your teeth are soft, with twisted roots and very subject to cavities. So you can probably imagine what dentist visits were like for me in the 1950s and 60s! I still have nightmares about that now – – – but no teeth I’m happy to say!

In other words, for me it is mainly a skeletal thing – bones, joints and suchlike.

IMG_3602

Knees, elbows and Owen!

But I’m lucky compared to other members of my extended family. NPS can, in its more severe forms, affect your kidneys and liver which I’m glad to say it never has for me.

One of the first people in the US to be officially approved to use cannabis as a medical treatment was a man suffering from a severe case of NPS. So we’re trailblazers too!

I’ve always wondered, though, if various health episodes during my life had any connection to NPS? There haven’t been all that many, but you can’t help wondering. My tonsils were removed when I was three years old, an ingrowing toenail was cut out when I was six. Much, much later my small intestine (hah!) tied itself in a double knot, I almost died and it took a year to recover.

About eighteen years ago a doctor from Liverpool in England was doing her post-doctoral research on the condition and I was honored to receive a copy of her final thesis – there I could immediately see pictures of my knee and toenails and descriptions of my family members (all anonymous of course).

But let’s get to the point of all this –

If you suspect that you or someone you know may suffer from this condition here are a couple of useful links – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nail%E2%80%93patella_syndrome

http://www.npsw.org/

 

 

 

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Will ye no Come Back Again – –

Jack gets in under the wire with his Wednesday guest post –

I’ve been helping a group of local high school kids prepare for a ‘one act play’ competition, by coaching them in their Scottish accents. The play is called ‘The Women of Lockerbie’ by Deborah Brevoort, and is set in the aftermath of the downing of Pan-Am 103 on December 21st 1988, with the loss of everyone on board and a good few residents of the town too.

women of lockerbie

I decided that for our first meeting I would revisit my memories of that terrible day to give them a bit of context and also to put me back into the same space they would be occupying.

This is a bit like remembering where you were when Kennedy was shot, or on 9/11!

I remember very clearly the unrolling news during that day. In late afternoon all the TV stations were reporting what seemed to be two unrelated incidents. The first was a plane mysteriously disappearing from radar as it crossed the border from England to Scotland. The second was an explosion in Lockerbie and thought to be in a gas station. As the afternoon wore on and by the time of the 6pm news, the Lockerbie explosion was turning out be much bigger than first thought and it was obvious that the newsreaders were beginning to connect the two stories. By the time of the late evening news there were camera crews in the town and the images were horrific! I clearly remember seeing a man still strapped in his seat and fully clothed on the roof of a house – and that piece of video was never re-shown as far I know.

Thirty-five of the passengers who died were students of Syracuse University returning home for Christmas, and the mother of one of them is a main character in the play.

The play focuses on the bond that quickly became established between the women of Lockerbie and the those from the US who came to find where their sons and daughters had died. Both sets of women are feisty and willing to take on both the British and US authorities. The play finishes with the women insisting that they wash all the recovered clothing and return it to their American friends. As they wash the clothes they sing ‘Will ye no Come Back Again’ and I was close to tears by then.

I’m tremendously impressed at how these young kids have researched and got under the skin of this story – something that happened far away and long before they were born. If you get the chance to see their performance you should – Central High School in Wise VA.

As for me – I’ll never forget that day or these young folk!

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Whit’s fir ye will nae gang by ye!

Jack’s post is almost on time again – –

I had a wee bit of a scare, for  a few weeks up until this morning.

To start from the beginning: Wendy worries about me, which is very reassuring. So she makes doctor’s appointments for me from time to time in the hopes that the results will tweak me towards a lifestyle she’d find more to her liking. Mostly not smoking! I’ve been smoking since I was sixteen so that’s sixty years.

When I was called for the latest check-up, our sweet, kind and highly professional Dr. B said that I should probably get a CT scan and that it would be free. Well – living up to my Scots background I was all for anything that was free! I went and it was very brief; the paperwork took longer than the scan. But then Our Good Dr. B phoned and said the scan had identified something on one of my lungs. She wanted me to have a PET scan now. I googled and could see this was a bit more ‘intense’ – an IV of radio active iodine for a start!

Meantime I received a letter saying that the initial scan was ‘likely’ not showing cancer – so slightly reassuring – – – Wendy felt that was a very good sign as well.

As our annual Celtic festival had been approaching I had asked that the PET scan be left until after that, and took more reassurance from the doctor’s willingness to delay.

Finally I had the PET scan: first the dreaded iodine IV and then waiting for an hour and a half while it coursed through my body. Then the scan took twenty minutes. All this time I’m wondering what might turn up…

pet scanner

This morning, though, Dr. B phoned and her first words were “I have good news”. She continued to explain that there was no evidence of any unusual ‘metabolic activity’ and this was a good sign that there was no cancer!

Almost my immediate thought wasn’t of relief – that came later. My first thought was for the folk who have the different phone call. Then I thought of our doctor, who must have had to made these other calls. She is a lovely woman with very obvious empathy with her clients and patients. How she handles having to make those other calls I can’t imagine.

So my thoughts tonight are of the folks who get the other kind of phone call and the doctors who have to make them; Wendy and I are holding you in the Light.

 

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