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Which Side are You On

Jack scrapes over the wire with the Wednesday post – – –

I’m a week or so late in acknowledging Labor Day I know, but –

On our kitchen wall we have a tea towel with a print of a certificate by the house decorators and painters union dating from the mid 1800s.

towel

It fascinates me for two reasons. It reminds me of a famous book – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – that describes the working conditions of a group of house painters in England in the early 1900s. The other reason is because I served a six year apprenticeship learning all the skills depicted in that certificate.

The scenes illustrated clearly display great pride in the variety of specialisms involved –

The simple yet carefully prescribed way of painting a paneled door.

The use of color to enhance a classical Greek style cornice.

A cherub studying design and another one lettering a signboard.

A collection of regular paintbrushes and tools and another collection of tools for applying goldleaf.

In the center is a scene showing why the union was so important – a sick painter (maybe suffering from lead poisoning) is being attended by a doctor while his wife and son look on.

In The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists the main character is a young man, newly finished his apprenticeship who has a particular talent for design. He spends a lot of his own time, unpaid, making wonderful designs to be used later as part of his work. This reminds me very much of my father who served his time back in the 1920s when the system still included attendance at art college. Truly a marrying of art and craft and the legacy of people like William Morris.

My apprenticeship was served under my Dad in his painting business and I was ‘indentured’. That means that, like all his apprentices, we both signed a legal document that was then torn irregularly in half. At the end of my six years I received his half, which when matched to my half showed I was legally a time-served craftsman (indentured actually means ‘patterned like teeth’).

Everything has changed now. In Scotland there are still apprenticeships but they last just three years and don’t cover the same breadth of skills. Indenturing no longer takes place and DIY has blossomed with the introduction of easier to use materials and tools.

But I learned a lot – not just about craft skills, but also social skills. Not only that but it was the gateway to my college career, so a very good start to my working life.

Finally – I’m a big believer in unions!

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Filed under book reviews, crafting, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

A Tale of Tails

Jack fails to make the deadline yet again – tsk, tsk!

Cats are weird!

We currently have five of them and most are FELV positive (which means that they could either live a long normal life – or not).

tooth and Bruce

Tooth arrived over our backyard fence when we were away in Scotland a few years ago. Named because she was a feral kitten that looked like a smaller version of another feral cat we fostered and named Fang, Tooth became the friendliest cat imaginable. She took on the job of looking after our aging lab Zora and then, after Zora died, she took on the same role with our terrier Bert.

After Bert passed poor Tooth hasn’t had much to do, so she was delighted when we got our new dog, Bruce. Luckily big bulldog Bruce is very used to cats and lets them all play around him perfectly happily.

Bruce is undergoing treatment for heart-worm and probably gives off some kind of ‘sickly’ vibes, because Tooth has gone back into full nursing mode. When he started limping on Sunday Tooth would have fetched a crutch!

As for the others –

Kira likes to intimidate everyone and everything. But she loves a shoulder scratch from me!

Molly likes to stay away from Kira – mostly either on top of cupboards or outside for a week.

Hannah is everyone’s buddy and isn’t afraid of Kira.

Lorelei is the newbie – just arrived and getting the lie of the land. Particularly ‘cute’!

Bruce just ignores it all – – –

 

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Monday Book – The Rush to German Unity

Jack does this week’s review –

The Rush to German Unity – Konrad H. Jarausch

german

Back in the mid-1990s I was managing a series of European funded education projects focusing on environmental issues. We had partners all over Europe including at the University of Dresden where I attended a couple of conferences presenting papers on our work. My contact there was a science professor and he described very graphically his family’s experiences when ‘the wall’ opened up on a fateful Friday evening, as well as comparing life before and after German unification. He was old enough  to be able to say there were advantages and disadvantages following unification, whereas his kids had no memory of life before.

While my colleague described things from a very individual and personal point of view, Jarausch’s book takes a much wider view of that same period.

I found this book immensely fascinating and readable. While it certainly touches on the experiences and viewpoints of particular groups of people on both sides of the wall, it also spends a lot of time examining the political groupings that came out of the shadows in the east and jockeyed for position as the Soviet Union’s grip loosened.

I hadn’t realized how strong the push was in the DDR to continue as a separate state but socialist rather than communist. The collapsing economy put paid to that, as did the general population’s increasing desire to share in the FDR’s perceived opulence.

There’s a geo-political cauldron here and it could very easily have gone very wrong. The book makes clear that one of the reasons it didn’t was because this wasn’t really a coming together so much as a takeover of the east by the west. What also helped was a realistic pragmatism on the Soviet side led by Gorbachev, although his generals weren’t happy.

All in all I found this a fascinating read and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in this crucial period in 20th Century history.

 

 

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

To Everything – Turn, Turn, Turn – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post just makes it in time – – –
When we first arrived in Big Stone Gap fourteen years ago we had been preceded just a few months earlier by Tony and Anne Palubicki. They were the couple pastoring the Presbyterian church just a block up from our bookstore. Here we are having just moved away and so are Tony and Anne now. It almost seems fated.
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Those of you who know us or have read ‘The Little Bookstore’ will know that we tried out various Churches when we first arrived and finally settled on the Presbyterian. I attended a Presbyterian Church as a child and my dad and granddad were both elders, so I felt very much at home. Of course Wendy and I are Quakers so that may seem strange, but it’s not unusual for ‘Friends’ to visit other denominations between Meetings.
We quickly found that Tony was wonderfully open minded and ecumenical and truly believed in a God who loved people and wanted them to live in peace.
He supported everything we tried to do in and for the town, including running a monthly discussion group in the bookstore that brought together folk who would have never normally found themselves in the same company. We discussed concepts, theology, and the best way to make guacamole.
He also treated the bookstore as a ‘third place’ where he could come and unwind regularly and even once described it as a Church as he watched me ‘ministering’ to an obviously troubled customer.
His concern for personal friends from Scotland who had visited here was genuine, tangible and greatly appreciated.
Anne was the power behind Tony’s non-throne, a woman of not-altogether gentle spirit whose spitfire nature could be the most protective hug ever given. Anne would go to bat for anyone but herself, and she never let anyone get on Tony’s nerves when she could help it.
Now the couple get to go live with their beloved grandson up in Salem, not too far from us. We will continue to have them in our lives and be blessed by that.
We’re raising a glass of ‘coke’ to you Tony and Anne – slainte and thanks!

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

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

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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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, what's on your bedside table, writing

‘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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