Tag Archives: books

Contact – Chocks Away!

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually something of a book review –

The History of The Pound (Rhonda Robertson, Nancy Clark Brown)

Pound is a small town to the north of Big Stone Gap and is sometimes referred to as ‘The Pound’. It’s believed to have gotten its name from one of the surveyors who first mapped the area.

We often receive donations of books into Tales of the Lonesome Pine and this book came in one such box. As I gave it a cursory glance through I realized that it was not only very well written and researched for a privately published book, but it covered a wider area than just the town of Pound.

As I began to check it out more thoroughly I came to a section called ‘aviation in Wise County’. As many of you will know, I’m a sucker for anything to do with airplanes so I was mightily intrigued!

I already knew that one of the streets here in Big Stone Gap is called aviation road and had heard rumors of an airstrip out that way at one time. Here finally was the whole story, and it really is a fascinating one!

The first flight was on 4th July 1913 but the pilot failed to clear trees at the end of the ball park being used and the plane was damaged beyond repair. The first completely successful flight was on June 21st 1915 and was followed by more a week or so later. These also took place at the ball park. It was 1920 before there were more demonstration flights – first at the ball park and then from a farm near East Stone Gap.

jenny

Curtiss Jenny

It was in 1923 that a dedicated permanent airfield was finally established at Big Stone Gap across the river from the ball park, which is exactly where aviation road is today. Once the airfield was operational quite few local people purchased planes – mostly war-surplus ‘Curtiss Jennies’ and British ‘Avros’. Among these owners were some based in the town of Appalachia and they established ‘Cumberland Airways Inc’, buying and refurbishing Jennies and Avros and then re-selling them after testing at the Big Stone Gap airfield. It seems that following this burst of activity the use of the field tapered off and it fell into disrepair and finally was bought by a gentleman who lived close by and didn’t want planes near his house. He required anyone wishing to fly there to get permission from him and there’s no evidence he ever gave it.

In 1938 a completely new airfield called The Powell Valley Airport was built at Crackers Neck just outside Big Stone Gap and a flying school was established there, closing in 1942 and re-opening in 1945. Following a fire in 1948 it closed for good and flying in the area moved to the town of Wise with the establishment of Lonesome Pine Airport which continues to operate successfully up to the present day.

1972_LonePineAirport-550x331

I wonder if there any traces of the three Big Stone Gap airfields still to be found – – –

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King’s Mountain?

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is, OF COURSE, late again –

A Dance called America – James Hunter

This isn’t really a book review, but I thought I’d better head this post that way, as much of what will come next is from my reading of this excellent and informative book.

The Battle of King’s Mountain is seen in this area and taught in US schools as a pivotal event in the American War of Independence. While that is certainly true, there is another way of seeing it that has a lot to do with centuries of Scottish history.

Everyone is familiar with the story of the ‘Scotch Irish’ and their settling in Southern Appalachia. These were the children of lowland Scots who themselves had moved to the north of Ireland and established plantations there. These children grew up to find they were unpopular in Ireland and with little economic prospects. So they moved to the ‘New World’ and specifically to Appalachia.

However Gaelic speaking highlanders from Scotland had already emigrated to the coastal regions of the Carolinas and Georgia earlier. These were relatively wealthy ‘tack men’ very high in the clan pecking order and just below the level of clan chief. Once in the Americas they established cotton and tobacco plantations (which is why Glasgow and Paisley became the tobacco and cotton ‘capitals’ of Europe).

The forces that met at King’s Mountain in 1780 comprised a loyalist army led by a professional British soldier – Major Patrick Ferguson, who was a Scots highlander, and a contingent of patriots who were mostly drawn from the Scotch-Irish immigrant population. On the British side, apart from Ferguson, the army was all volunteer, and they were mainly Gaelic speaking highlanders from the coast. The patriots were all volunteers and their leaders included many with Scots names.

Patrick_Ferguson

Patrick Ferguson

It should be noted here that back in Scotland there had been centuries of clashes between the northern clans and the southern folk – a fault line between two distinctly different cultures!

I could never understand, however, why two lots of Scots that had been, effectively, forced out of Scotland would end up on opposing sides in what was at that time pretty much an English colony. It seemed odd to me.

But, as Hunter points out, the highlanders considered themselves ‘upper class’ and aristocratic before all else and saw the patriots as lower-class peasants who needed to be put in their place. So they aligned themselves with their ‘peers’ in London rather than their fellow countrymen. In doing so they inadvertently simply continued a long tradition of Scottish history – albeit in a foreign land.

Footnotes –

When the war ended with victory for the patriots, a great many of the highlanders who had been captured didn’t return to the Carolinas and Georgia. Instead they made new lives in Canada. At the present time there are more native Gaelic speakers in Canada than in Scotland.

The last native Gaelic speaker in North Carolina died in the late 1800s. He was a Presbyterian Pastor and an African-American!

Shortly after these events the highlands of Scotland suffered ‘The Clearances’, and this resulted in a much stronger feeling of solidarity between the Gaelic and Scots cultures, which has continued to strengthen down to the present.

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Jack of All Trades and – – –

Jack just scrapes in under the wire – –

I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, so here goes again, Probably – –

Not too long before I retired from a twenty-year career in the community college in my home town I was ‘persuaded’ by my Principal (Chancellor) at the third time of asking, to embark on a MBA. I had been teaching management programs and so I suppose that made sense. I had free choice about which program and didn’t know that there was a ‘pecking order’ out there in terms of difficulty and/or credibility in the wider world. So, I opted for Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. I chose it simply because of proximity and the flexibility of the timetable. I didn’t know it was notoriously rigorous, difficult and high in the pecking order!

I quickly found that there two clearly different groups of subjects – half were ‘soft skills’ – team dynamics, leadership, marketing – that sort of thing. I loved that, understood it and found it very self-affirming. Then there were the math focused ones – finance, statistics etc. I hated them because I’m completely useless at math. But I struggled through and finally got there!

What on earth has this to do with a bookstore in a small Southern town?

One of the things I clearly remember from my studies and research was this. The most loyal customers any business can have are the ones that have a problem that you manage to fix.

Yesterday morning a young lady came into our store to see if a book she had ordered had arrived. I didn’t recognize her and asked if I’d done the ordering. “No” she said – I think it was your wife and it was a couple of weeks ago. I searched through all the email confirmations of the orders we’d done and there was no trace of it. As panic set in I phoned Wendy.

It turned out that she had made the order at the exact moment that E-Bay shut down their Half Dot Com subsidiary. She honestly thought she’d ordered the book but it hadn’t gone through. I’m absolutely certain we aren’t the only ones to have gotten caught by this.

The customer was most understanding when I explained what had happened, but she needed it for a class starting on Monday and needed to read it before then. I immediately went to an alternative site and found a seller that could get it to me overnight.

It came in today, I phoned her and she got it with four days to spare. It cost her just the $6 she’d paid when ordered and us another $6 to get it for her, so we made nothing – but – I’m completely certain that she will sing our praises much, much more than if it had just come when it was expected.

The lesson?

You don’t need an MBA to make a customer happy – – –

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The Monday Book – Paradise to Puddledub

Jack’s guest post is the Monday book this week –

Paradise to Puddledub – Wendy Welch (Lyngham House 2002)

As  you can no doubt understand this isn’t so much a book review as a book description. It’s not a marketing ploy either; the book in question is out of print!

PtoP

This was the first complete book by my wife Wendy to be published. She had contributed academic articles before this to specialist journals and story collections, but this was all her own writing. For some years she had written a weekly column for a newspaper based in Maryville Tennessee and she continued to do this after moving to Scotland. Paradise to Puddledub is a collection of some of the stories that were published in the paper during that time.

Immediately prior to moving across the Atlantic she had lived in the tiny Newfoundland hamlet of Paradise near St John’s in Newfoundland where she studied for her PhD in Ethnography. After moving to Fife and getting married she became curiously fascinated by an equally small hamlet there called Puddledub (the joke is that the Scots word for a puddle is ‘dub’ – so the name should really be either Puddlepuddle or Dubdub!).

Of course I was very much part of the critiquing and proof reading at the time the book was being written, so it was intriguing to stumble across a copy as we were tidying a few days ago. It has been my bed-time reading since then. Many of the stories in the book describe events that I was part of, and quite few have been retold at gatherings over the years.

I suppose my only reservation is that most of the columns had to conform to a fairly strict word count because they were written originally to fit half of a newspaper page. That means that there’s more to most of the stories that there simply wasn’t room for. There’s a healthy writing discipline to that, but…

The events described range from the hilarious to the poignant and occasionally horrifying. From my first attempt to eat fast-food in a British car going round a roundabout, to the kids in an Edinburgh housing project getting to grips with a performance during the prestigious Edinburgh arts festival, not to mention the heroic librarian ‘keeping calm and carrying on’!

If Wendy happens to read this guest blog, I’d like her to consider re-publishing the book, but with some of the pieces filled out to include all of the story.

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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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Nicely, nicely does it – – –

Jack’s guest post a combination of the Monday Book and his usual Wednesday one –

This isn’t about a particular book, or even a specific range of books – it’s about how I was introduced to books and how they’ve played into my view of the world.

When I was attending high school and college to gain my basic English literature qualification I was following a curriculum that had a clear direction with no place whatsoever for Scottish authors, poets or playwrights. We had to study Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens, although Walter Scott was allowed. I think Scott was OK because he more or less invented the notion of a romantic ‘previous’ Scotland that no longer existed and that was acceptable.

What’s strange about this is that the Scottish education system has always (since 1707 and the union of parliaments) been completely independent from the English system. My guess is that the UK government always made sure that they had folk in positions of authority in place to make sure we toed the line. Not surprisingly I found all this a bit confusing.

But I had a wonderful English teacher at high school called John (Baldy) Forrest who had little interest in set curricula and a great love for the works of Damon Runyon. Baldy would stride around the classroom on a Friday afternoon (the fact that we were the ‘no hopers’ and it was Friday afternoon probably emboldened him) wearing his required academic gown and read sections of Runyon’s short stories aloud in a convincing New York accent – a bizarre sight indeed. He had sewn a block of wood into the side panel of his gown and would whack inattentive pupils on the back of the head which only endeared me to him more! The fact that I can picture him and recall his name is a great testament to his teaching abilities and ongoing legacy. If he’s still alive he must be well into his nineties but I doubt he is – RIP Baldy.

Later I attended evening classes in the local college I ended up working in for over twenty years and once again (no longer a ‘no hoper’) attempted to gain my Higher English qualification. We were a mixture of ages, and beneficiaries of the excellent Scottish system that left doors open for late learners. I am mortified to say that I can’t remember the name of the young teacher but he re-introduced me to Shakespeare and specifically Macbeth. I can still recite lines from ‘the Scottish play’ and it got me interested in Scottish history (something else we weren’t taught in school). But he also introduced us to ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. These are American classics that both link to poems by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns.

Now I can appreciate Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens because I’ve read Burns, Grassic Gibbon, Runyon and Hemingway.

What have I learned from all this? The best teachers don’t slavishly follow laid down curricula and learning doesn’t have to only take place in the classroom or lecture hall.

BTW – Scott wrote bodice rippers and fake ballads!

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The Farmer Feeds us All

The Monday book (on Tuesday) isn’t a book – it’s a recording – –

Jack is standing in for Wendy as she is ‘on the road’.

Into the Purple Valley – Ry Cooder

I got this back in the early 1970s when it first appeared as an LP and was completely blown away. We all have certain albums that constitute ‘milestones’ in our musical lives and this is definitely one of mine. I had never heard of Ry Cooder until a friend who already had this played it for me. I immediately got a copy of my own, I still have it and I still listen to it from time to time. But nothing can re-capture hearing it for the first time.

purple valley

The singing has a world-weary quality that perfectly suits the songs and the choice of songs conjures up rural America dealing with hard times. They come from a wide variety of sources ranging from Woody Guthrie to Leadbelly and Joseph Spence and all have been performed and recorded by lots of other people.  However, Ry Cooder through this wonderful album established ‘ownership’ of all these songs.

In the end, though it’s not the singing that makes this such a stand-out – it’s the arrangements and Cooder’s fabulous guitar playing.

My favorite tracks are Vigilante Man, The Farmer Feeds us All and Denomination Blues, but that’s just me – there’s not a dud on here!

Of course other albums followed this and there are great performances from concerts and TV shows on YouTube, but this was the beginning.

To get the full experience you should search out the original LP in good condition but failing that it’s been re-issued as a CD.

(Wendy will be surprised at my choice as the next Ry Cooder album after this has an Airstream on the cover!).

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