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On the Road Again – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is on Thursday again – yawn – – –

One of the highlights of the tour I organize on odd-numbered years is the visit to Ballyeman Barn in Beautiful Antrim and the home of our old friend Liz Weir. Despite the fact that she’d only just returned from the US the day before we arrived, she was the perfect host as usual.

liz 1

Liz always cooks us a superb dinner before opening up the room for an old fashioned ceilidh with stories, songs and music. She always invites some of her local friends to join us and the entertainment and ‘craic’ is mighty (as they say in Ireland).

liz 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I wasn’t prepared for this time was the arrival of an old colleague from my teaching career in Dunfermline. I vaguely knew that John O’Connor was Irish but I didn’t know that he was from Cushendall and that he’d returned there when he retired. Just down the road from Liz’s place.

liz 4

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Who knows where the time goes –

Once again Jack misses his deadline and the Wednesday guest post appears on Thursday –

This is the title of a great song by Sandy Denny, who died far too young after falling down stairs once too often.

I find myself humming it over and over, here in Edinburgh once again, at the age of 75, after not falling down stairs very much at all—or at least not hurting myself when I did.

Edinburgh gives me a funny feeling, one I imagine must be felt by anyone of advancing years who experiences a less and less familiar place over a lifetime.

edinburgh

I first came here as a teenager to attend a jazz club on Tuesday nights–a 30-minute train journey on a pal’s “borrowed” student pass. It was glamorous and hippy. Outside of the August arts festival the place was mostly gloomy back in the Fifties, and if you missed the last train back you were stuck. Later I could borrow my dad’s car and the road bridge over the Forth opened – much more convenient and by then the folk scene had started. Gloom moved from buildings to music, one might say.

howff

The entrance to the jazz club is still the same (later the Howff folk-club)

The weird mix of nostalgia and alienation are exacerbated because Wendy and I are staying with my old singing partner of that folk scene. Barbara Dickson and I are both originally from Dunfermline, on the other side of the river Forth. We traveled that road to the big city morning, noon, and night to do gigs of every description, and every time I cross it, I remember something else from those fun, silly, earnest times.

And yet, as I return each year now leading a Scottish tour, the place seems more and more alien. The traffic is terrible, the good shops have gone, ghost tours and pub crawls advertised everywhere, every tiny corner has been turned into yet another marketing opportunity. Not that I can complain about marketing leading a tour, but a part of me longs to show Americans the way it was when it was a proud city bent on being rather than selling itself.

For all the tartan tat, Edinburgh manages to retain a certain grandeur – I’m really not sure how it does it. The 16th Century John Knox’s house in the old High Street is surrounded by awful opportunistic chain outlets – ‘kilt outfits for 100 pounds’ etc. (I wouldn’t advise buying one, or washing it if you do). That ancient house seems to just draw in its skirts and shrug them off, like many other historic buildings in the area.

Maybe we’re all destined to become curmudgeons as we age, lauding a golden past that never was. Or perhaps we all understand that commerce is driving the world now, not history, culture, tradition. Not that those ever did. If people remembered history we wouldn’t keep circling in the same paths.

So despite my curmudgeonly misgivings, Edinburgh retains a dignity and an allure beneath the shouts of tour leaders and vendors. There is more to Scotland than buying a plush Nessie in the High Street. Always has been, always will be.

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Je Suis un Mancunion

Jack’s weekly guest post –

I’m writing this the day after the terrible terrorist bombing at the end of the concert in Manchester and there are many thoughts swirling through my head. Of course the first thoughts are for the families of the kids who died – and many of them were young teenagers without any sense that they could be in danger at all. There were even two young friends from Barra in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. It’s an island with less than 1000 inhabitants. One is in hospital with serious injuries and the other is still missing and unaccounted for as I write this.

But while my first thoughts were for the families, there was something else bothering me.

I’m reminded of how the Falklands war broke out so conveniently for Margaret Thatcher just as an election was approaching–one she might easily have lost. Of course, with much flag waving and ‘British spirit’ she was re-elected comfortably. I’m reminded of a movie Wendy made me watch called WAG THE DOG, about an American president creating a fake war to boost his popularity. I didn’t want to watch it because it seemed so unsavory to write a comedy about something Britain had probably done. It was a funny movie, but in it the war was faked entirely rather than actually carried out under false pretenses.

And here we have a bombing just before an election when Theresa May’s polling results show her popularity plummeting. I’m not suggesting that this was a ‘false flag’ event (the name under which the British secret service carried out events they blamed on other groups during the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland). Sometimes false flags involve true terror organizations being guided by shadowy figures who operate at arm’s length.

Perhaps it’s not a false flag, rather that a terrorist group consider having someone like Theresa May as British Prime Minister will give them a much better opportunity to create more havoc, so they decided to give her help.

I’m not much given to conspiracy theories, but the timing of this is just highly suspicious to me. Mrs May’s catch phrase for the last month or so has been ‘strong and stable’ – repeated to the exclusion of any real policies. Then just two weeks before the election she is presented with the perfect scenario to be  ‘strong and stable’ and immediately raises the danger level to its highest  in over ten years. This also allows her to put troops and armed police on the streets.

Of course no-one on the opposing political side can possibly do anything else except support her under these circumstances, meanwhile all electioneering has been put on hold.

How terribly convenient!

Update –

Since writing the above post, I’ve checked a few of my favorite sources (favorite because of their lack of histrionics and hyperbole) and it seems I’m not alone in my suspicions. At the very least Mrs May seems to be milking this for all it’s worth and neither the police or the army are happy with her approach which they describe as counterproductive even if they had the numbers to do it effectively.

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Everything’s Coming up Roses – –

It’s Jack’s Wednesday guest post – and it’s on a Wednesday for a change!

It’s that time of year again – When we can watch the grass grow and try desperately to stay ahead of all the yard work.

We had an abnormally cool and rainy spring here, so the transition to days of sunshine and temperatures in the 80s has been rather abrupt this year. But we didn’t have the usual late frost, so we will have a very abundant apple and pear crop. Even the sad old peach tree, although on her last legs, will have a crop of some sort it appears. Apparently peach trees have a limited life and just die naturally then have to be replaced. On the other hand, the apple tree I thought I might have pruned to death a couple of years ago has recovered well – swings and roundabouts.

Our good friend David came over from NC recently and prepared our front garden so Wendy has been scattering flower seeds there, while our heirloom tomatoes are ready to be planted along the back yard fence. We couldn’t possibly have grown tomatoes outside in Scotland, far less the peppers we will plant out front here.

But summer here also brings fairly regular thunderstorms that test the efficacy of our gutters. I already know that a couple are sagging in the wrong place, so that’s another urgent job that will have to be fitted in between mowing and weed-whacking. At least we now have a weed-whacker that actually starts and runs happily as well as having the easiest string replacement system I’ve ever come across. We have another two in the shed that never worked properly!

Wendy and I have an old friend in Scotland (who lives in a house that features regularly throughout the ‘Outlander’ TV series) and he sends end-of-the-year newsletters annually that are always full of doom and gloom. Reading back through this post it looks a little like that, so – –

Just for the record, I’m very happy to live where the summers are warm and mostly sunny and the winters are no worse than Scotland!

I just remembered I need to get gas for the mower – – –

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Intersections

Jack’s doing the Monday Book this week because yesterday was Wendy’s birthday – –

This is more about books in general and the kind I favor.

I tend to read memoirs, biographies, histories and novels that are set in the present. I tend not to read romances, historical novels, science fiction or fantasy. BTW – romances about the Amish may be popular but I’ve never read any.

The most recent read was ‘Monty Python Speaks’ which is really a history of the famous fellows from the their roots and on to infamy (they’ve all got it infamy). It included a reference to my big sister’s old school chum Denise Coffey, who starred in a precursor of the ‘Circus’ on British TV called ‘Do not Adjust your Set’ it even had her in a picture alongside Cleese, Palin and Jones. I was probably about 10 years old when I last was in her company.

So books can not only be a way into a particular world from the point of view of the author (and her husband), but also alongside a character referenced by someone else altogether. This gets us towards something else – altogether – –

One of my favorite writers of fiction is the author of the Inspector Rebus novels – Ian Rankin. They’re novels, but the author and Rebus are from West Fife where I also spent most of my life. He captures the Fife coalfield villages perfectly and those passages are very real to me.

So I suspect we (or at least some of us) live our lives, very often, through reliving our lives through others’ writings or maybe projecting our lives into others’ writings. We wander back and forth through our own lives, imagined lives, lives we’ve read about, imagined lives we’ve read about –

Aren’t books wonderful?

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Jesus on the Main Line

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually on a Wednesday for a change –

Being an old curmudgeon and resistant to change I’ve always been averse to cell-phones. When I retired from my college job I went work as a ‘consultant’ for the Scottish Qualifications Authority and my boss, Paul, was way ahead of his time with these gadgets. He liked to be able to contact his team any time, day or night. Wendy and I had a pre-paid basic cell-phone each that we only ever used in dire emergencies and we swapped them back and forth. Paul would often phone me and usually got Wendy, who he then berated at length for not being me!

Much later when Wendy started working with the college she was supplied with a sophisticated I-Phone. Over time she has had hers replaced regularly with more and more up-to-date models that do everything except cook for you. On many shared car journeys she has handed it to me and asked me to talk to people or text them or check the route or the weather ahead. I have hated doing that as I have no idea how these things work and my fingers always hit the wrong letters or the wrong icon. She tries to talk me through it, but things like “Look for the little green phone” don’t bode well for a marriage when spoken while careening down the motorway at 70+ miles per hour.

But she now has one that seems much more forgiving – either that or I’m getting better. It’s not unlike guitar chords, really, when one thinks about it… Wendy says her directions have gotten better, but I’m going with my fumble fingers figuring things out.

Which has finally led me to agree to have one of my own again. I’ve been given a present of a redundant I-Phone 6  and all I have to do is choose a carrier and a contract.

Once again I’m clueless. Growing up in Scotland there was just one phone company and you paid whatever everyone else paid. Now I’m trying desperately to understand who gets the best coverage, the best data rates, text versus voice – and on, and on. It’s a minefield!

But I’m determined now and I will get there with the help of ‘Our Good Chef Kelley up the stairs’ (our tech savvy cafe manager), and ‘Mark along the road’ (our computer expert).

If they don’t get me there I could always try the main line, as the old song says—

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My Nightmare – –

Heck – it’s Thursday so it must be time for Jack’s Wednesday guest post!

I suffer (although that’s not really the appropriate word) from a condition called NPS (Nail Patella Syndrome). It’s a hereditary condition and other members of my family group really do ‘suffer’ much more than me. For me it’s just a weird thing that affects my bone structure – strange knee and elbow configurations , malformed finger and toe nails and very soft teeth with twisted roots. I was even the subject of a dissertation and I have a copy of it!

None of this much affected me too much growing up except for the teeth thing.

Back in the 1950s when dentistry was much less sophisticated than now and (certainly in Scotland) you were expected to just accept the pain as part of the general Calvinist approach to life, I went through a never ending Hell. In fact – maybe that’s what Hell is, and not fires at all – just a permanent dentist’s chair with a foot operated drill and a pair of pliers!

I finally, at the age of 25, had them all out – every one of them. Despite that, I still have nightmares fairly regularly involving that iconic dentist’s chair – and the mask – and the metallic smell of the gas – and the ghostly voices.

Wendy also has dental issues, but of a quite different kind, and she always has dealt with them in a much more straightforward American way (I’ve never understood the US fashion to put every teenage kid into teeth braces!).

Unlike me, Wendy has managed to keep hold of the teeth she was born with, but that has involved all sorts of procedures that never existed in Scotland when I was growing up. Things like crowns and implants.

But on Monday past (which explains the dearth of blog posts) she went into an excellent facility in Knoxville for the difficult extraction of a twisted rear tooth ahead of an implant. Suddenly I was transported back many years because she would require general anesthetic and I would need to drive her afterwards. When I was called to collect her I found her in a state of complete drunkenness with an IV in her arm, and asking me to sing for her. So I did. Then I had to leave her for 45 minutes sitting in the car while I waited for eight CVS employees to fill her pain meds scrip. However I did manage to get her  a cold milk shake much more quickly at a drive-thru!

Everything’s fine – honest it is!

But I’m frightened to go to sleep now , in case – – –

 

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