Tag Archives: bookshop management

Should Auld Aquaintance – – –

A guest post from Jack on a special occasion –

It’s just a year since our beloved Valkyttie passed over the rainbow bridge and we can begin now to celebrate her more memorable escapades without breaking into tears.

Val-Kyttie surveys her domain...

Val-Kyttie surveys her domain…

For newer readers Val was our venerable bookstore cat/manager and was age 19 when she died. She began her life as a tiny abandoned kitten in the Leith cat and dog home in Scotland and we adopted her as soon as Wendy arrived in my homeland (as promised; I bribed her to marry me with early promises of kittens).

Val got her name because she was feisty (the valkyries were warrior princesses), but I wanted to be able to call her ‘Kittie’ for short. She displayed her bravery starting in her sixth week of life, by seeing off a local tom (ten times her size) who tried to use our yard as a shortcut. A seasoned traveler she moved effortlessly from Fife to Lancashire, then across the Atlantic to the US. Everywhere she lived, she established as her undisputed domain and took full charge.

When ‘The Little Bookstore’ was published we insisted she appear on the cover and the artist, a cat lover, obliged; she is sitting on the roof of our front porch. When the publishers of the large print edition asked for a photo for that front cover, we gave them a picture our friend Elissa took of Our Matriarch in full managerial mode, surrounded by bookshelves. Whether by accident or design, the Polish, Portuguese and Korean editions all have her hiding somewhere on their covers. Of course that means she garnered many new friends all over the world, while many of her less distant fans asked specially to meet her when they visited the bookstore.

During the last couple of years of her life, she had to put up with a continual stream of foster kittens. She could be quite stern with them, yet displayed grandmotherly traits with the more wayward ones.

Just yesterday our good chef Kelley made bacon and eggs for my breakfast and I found myself automatically moving to a less accessible corner to eat it. I realized that I was remembering that Valkyttie always noisily insisted on her share of the bacon.

When we lived in the tiny rural village of New Gilston in Fife she would always accompany us when we walked along our favorite woodland trail. In January I was in Scotland for the funeral of a friend and scattered Val’s ashes among those same trees.

That’s when I shed my tears. Now we just think of the happy times. Every cat is special, but once in awhile, a special x ten cat comes along. Valkyttie was special x 100.

And now she lives on; a friend of Wendy’s got ‘hold of another cracker of a photo Elissa took, and Valkyttie’s message will never die.

Valkyttie antiquated bookstores meme valkyttie bookstore meme Valkyttie meme


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Here We Go Again – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post just sneaks past the marriage counselor –

We’ve lived in five different houses in the seventeen years we’ve been married and, despite their very different ages and styles, there’s one thing they all have in common – – the length of time it takes us to work out where things should be located and which rooms should be for what (usually anything from two to five years). The process involves setting things up one way, then completely changing them on an annual basis!

This habit has, of course, continued into our current location and now seems to be co-incidental with my yearly Scottish tour. Most years the bookshelves get shifted around while I’m away and I have to re-learn where everything is as well as help with any remaining outstanding moves.


But this year was a bit different. Wendy had spent my absence not so much moving things as planning how we would together move things upon my return. The focus would be the ‘Mystery Room’ (the room that houses the mystery and detective novels). This also just happens to be the room that houses the littlest foster kittens. Did I mention that there are always more kittens when I return than when I left? We agreed a maximum of six at any one time, so naturally I came back to nine, and I have no idea how many there were while I was away.

Down the center of the mystery room were the two biggest, heaviest and most solid bookcases in the shop. They took up more space than was needed and cut down on the natural light from the windows. So the plan was to move them to the garage where the current narrower shelves had been passed along to our good friends David and Felicia. Then we would re-position some ‘Jack-builts’ in place of the heavyweights while afixing a couple of cheap store-bought shelf units against the walls (still with me?).

Of course this had to be done immediately I returned, was still seriously jet-lagged and re-adjusting to temperatures around 25 degrees higher than Scotland. There’s no half measures with Wendy and once you start there’s no going back or stopping until it’s done!

As we were fixing the last wall mounted shelf unit in place she said “do you think this works”? “Why of course dear – it’s a great improvement” I responded (I sure as h*ll wasn’t going to say anything else)!


But the kittens thought the whole exercise was great fun – particularly helping to identify all the new places they could get trapped or just hide from us!

“Welcome home, Honey”


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The Green Green Grass of Home – – –

In Jack’s weekly guest post he continues to complain – whit’s he like?

One of the things I’ve never really got used to living here, is the rate that everything suddenly starts growing once the temperature rises and the summer thunderstorms hit. I mean grass, weeds and things that might or might not be weeds. One of our regular customers paused to admire some mint that’s taking over part of the front yard and asked if she could volunteer her daughters to ‘tidy up’. Please, please I said!

Between running the bookstore, an annual tour of Scotland, an annual Celtic festival, a weekly radio show and trying to keep on top of the upkeep of a 1903 building, there’s little time left for gardening.

The irony, of course, is that even if we had the time and inclination, we are actually completely useless gardeners. We grow tomato plants from seed and then plant them out where they quickly die – same with most other things – potatoes, peas, brussel sprouts, peppers – – -. We rarely even keep house-plants going for any time.

Meanwhile that pesky grass needs mowing, and the weeds need whacking – assuming I don’t expire trying to get the mower and weed-whacker started!

But wait! “What light through yonder window breaks – – – -”

So yes – Sunshine is good and so is the lack of snow, not to mention longer days and tee-shirt temperatures. I’ll fly into Edinburgh this Monday morning and will be reminded of that quite forcibly I suspect! So I can’t complain can I?

“Sumer is icumen in – – – -“


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A Tale of Two Kitties

An extra guest post from Jack this week, while Wendy is aloft on her way home from Oregon –

Laurel is our middle-aged foster cat. A beautiful Siamese with a touch of nervous eczema, she is no longer nervous, it seems. In fact she has gone from hiding in corners to dominating the entire bookstore.


As part of her new-found persona, she has taken to ambushing all the bookstore staff kitties – particularly young Hadley (she is now the one who has taken to hiding in corners).

Laurel has also become very ‘shouty’, demanding to be fed first and then sitting at my feet meowing to be picked up and put on my lap, where she will then lie happily surveying her domain.

All of this, I am sure, will come as a great surprise to my fellow members of the ‘Team Laurel’ gang on FaceBook. We have been exchanging tips for weeks now on how to encourage her to come out of her self-imposed purdah and re-engage with the world.

So – where from here?

Well, it’s clear to me that Laurel should ideally not be sharing space with other cats (she seems fine with dogs), although she came originally with a companion and they seemed to get along OK. Maybe she needs to be dominated by a nice muscular tom-cat?

Of course the Quaker side of me hopes that when she ‘centers down’ for an hour of meditation (something she appears to find no difficulty with), she might find that ‘light within’ that we all seek and emerge changed for the better. However I fear that may be a forlorn hope!

It is great to see her engaging with the world, but I can’t help feeling sorry for Owen, Nike and little Hadley as they peer over their shoulders wondering where and when she will pounce like Kato in the Pink Panther movies.

Onward and upward, I suppose – – –

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Haste Ye Back

┬áJack’s weekly guest post –

This has been quite the week – – – –

My niece Vicki and her daughter Elle flew off back to Scotland on Tuesday, while meanwhile Wendy headed off to Oregon on Sunday for a week. Vicki and Elle’s trip was incident free and they were home in Aberdeenshire by Wednesday morning, but Wendy got caught by the storms in Texas and ended up overnighting in LA before finally getting to Portland almost a day late. Of course the wonders of that interwebby thing meant I could share in the delights of the trouble-free journey as well as the horrors of the other one.

Meanwhile our ‘cafe couple’ Kelley and Sam took the low road and drove to Charlotte NC for a concert by ‘Night Wish’, the avant garde Finnish group, with tickets and a back-stage pass courtesy of my old singing buddy Barbara Dickson (one of the members of NightWish is Troy Donockley, Barbara’s musical arranger and band leader).

But what of me?

I have gone from living in a busy, bustling home full of relatives and friends to a solitary existence with only dogs and cats for companionship (and the foster-kitten population went from seven to three over the same period). Yesterday and today the cafe has been closed due to Kelley’s absence and mid-week is the bookstore’s quieter time. As the time moves towards noon and all the cats, dogs and kittens settle down to their siestas, I wait to see if I have to explain diplomatically to cafe customers as I did yesterday that Kelley deserves the occasional break (and who NightWish is!).

I often say that you can’t appreciate good health and lack of pain until you’ve experienced the opposite, and I think for a gregarious person like me, the same applies to companionship.

Haste ye back y’all!

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Cooking the Books


Jack’s weekly guest post continues the Indian theme and re-visits the problem of which books he puts in the store


Regular readers probably know, by now, that I’m a devotee of Indian food – curries, papadums, somosas and badjhies (we don’t need no stinking badjhies, as Bogart’s Mexican adversary famously said in ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’).


So when Wendy produced my five Indian cookbooks yesterday and asked me innocently if it was time for them to go into the shop I was momentarily flummoxed. Should they? They have been my pride and joy for years!


But had I ever actually used them in a practical way? Had I propped them open and followed their every word?


Well, actually, no! What I had done is gathered a lot of experience over many years and ended up making two or three regular things.


1) Fry finely chopped onions in vegetable oil until just browned; push them aside and fry three tablespoons of Mike Ward’s famous curry powder mix in the same oil; dump in a jar of plain tomato pasta sauce and all the vegetables (peppers, golden raisins and mushrooms, usually); add a similar amount of plain yoghurt bit by bit; simmer for a few hours.


2) Exactly the same as 1) except miss out Mike’s FCP and add three tablespoons of Patak’s hot curry paste at the end.


I also sometimes do a prawn/shrimp or chicken tikka. Make up a mix of onion, yoghurt and tandoori spice mix and marinade the shrimp or chicken overnight in the fridge. Next day remove the shrimp or chicken and clean most of the marinade off. Grill until crisp, then serve with the heated marinade on the side.


I shouldn’t forget Wendy’s home-made chutney made from our own fruit and vegetables – but that’s her closely guarded personal recipe!


I’m delighted to say that our local supermarket now carries a very good selection of Indian spices, sauces, papadums and naan breads, so it’s now easier to come up with the goods.


The five books? You’ll find them in the cook-books section, proudly displayed together.


(But I did enjoy reading them and imagining all the dishes – every one of them!).


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Should Old Acquaintance be forgot – –

Jack’s guest post this week is all about friendship

Wendy blogged about our friend Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver last week, but I wanted to say something about their visit too.

Barbara and I sang together as a ‘folk-duo’ in Scotland back in the 1960s, and although we’ve stayed in touch over the years – – – –

It’s often the case that people we think of as good friends we don’t actually see very often and in the case of Barbara, we haven’t spent any personal time together in almost fifty years. So I imagine she was as nervous as I was at committing to two weeks of living cheek-by-jowl here in our house/bookstore. I had no idea if she and Oliver would get along with our dogs and cats or how they’d feel about sharing the floor that the guest room is on with our cafe, cafe manager or cafe manager’s frequently visiting family (also known as our second family).

Barbara is a world ranking singer and actor who’s recording and performing career far outstrips mine, so another concern was how she’d react when, inevitably, our curious local friends would ask to hear us singing again together.

In the event we needn’t have worried!

Barbara and Oliver have become surrogate aunt and uncle to the cafe kids, she carries our latest foster-kitten Small-Fry around on her shoulder, they’ve made space for themselves and we’ve shared our part of Appalachia with them, to their obvious delight.

And the singing? We ended up discovering we still had some songs in common and we were able to re-create the kind of intimate setting that neither of us had experienced for a very long time and share that with our friends here – and we had a ball!

They got to see Carter Fold, The Museum of Country Music and Dollywood, but not all the other places they might have, so already we’re making plans for the return visit, when they will see all the stuff there wasn’t time for this year.




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