Tag Archives: Edinburgh

A Walled Garden

19206160_1634797773197947_1339798747_nIn the city, space is a commodity. I’ve always thought of cities as incongruous lonely spaces – so many people, so little humanity interacting.

But we are staying with friends in downtown Edinburgh, not a mile off Princes Street (downtown) and they have a walled garden…..

I love walled gardens. Your own little bit of marked off territory for just sitting, thinking, being quiet and contemplative with a book and a cup of tea, or loud and boisterous with instruments and a bottle of wine and a handful of mates.

In the middle of the city, you can find the greenery and the fountains and the people who actually live in the cities, whose lives are rooted like the gardens they plant in their little secret places.

Perhaps my fondness for gardens stems back to the day after Jack’s mum died, and I was away from home in Ayrshire, in Wigtown, Scotland’s book city, and had nowhere to go to be by myself and have a good cry. And I spilled my guts to say as much to one of the bookshop owners, at Ceridwin’s Cauldron, and she took me back to her garden and brought me tea and told me to stay as long as I wanted. I spent an hour back there composing myself and being nothing but alone. Ever since then, walled gardens have been a special space.

The garden here at Barbara and Oliver’s has been a jolly place, shared for music and reminiscences and politics and the mystery of the noise coming from somewhere nearby. (Jack cracked that; it was a two-note sound not unlike the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS alien five-note theme, and he found the sewer pipe in the apartment next door was letting off gas, one note opening, the other closing. A farting building, in essence.)

Walled gardens are lovely, and every city has such little tucked-away spaces. Explore them when you can, with friends when you can. They are the heartbeat of humanity.


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Filed under between books, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized


Jack’s weekly guest blog comes from Scotland this time, as Jack finishes leading his annual tour of Scotland and Ireland.

doune-castleIt’s always interesting to be in Scotland with my annual tour group. The group almost always includes new folk, folk I already know, and ‘returnees’ from previous tours. This year is no exception – David and Susan are both old friends and returnees, while our newish friend Joe came with his fiancee Amy (who I hadn’t met and is delightful). The newbies in every sense are Phil and Wanda, who heard about the tour from my radio show.

The tour started strong, as what might have been a disaster was averted by our new booking agent. We found that there was going to be a ferry strike on the day we were booked to sail to Mull, where were booked to spend the night in Tobermory. At very late notice the redoubtable Irene, travel agent genius, got us booked into a hotel in Oban and our ferry booking moved to the next morning; all was well!

The weather proved kind and we had hardly any rain, even quite a few bright sunny days. We were able to see Castle Stalker and Doune Castle – both settings for ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (Doune is also the setting for ‘Outlander’) and then retire to fabulous hotel food at night.

I was able to find most of the requested items to bring back with me for friends back home, ranging from whisky to flat caps. My old friends Liz Weir and Pete Clark did us proud representing the music and story culture of Ireland and Scotland. As I write this another old friend, Doli McLennan, is preparing to welcome us to her home in Edinburgh on our last night, and waxing lyrically on Facebook about the prospect.

For logistical reasons, I had more opportunity to catch up with friends and relations before the tour started this year, about a week longer than usual. That was great, but I ended up feeling a bit homesick for Big Stone for the first time. Very strange!

But it’s great to see my homeland through other people’s eyes each year and be reminded what a beautiful and remarkable country I came from.

For information on Jack’s annual tours, contact him via jbeck69087@aol.com. Pictures from this year will be available later at a site yet to be named.

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

The Monday Book falls on a Wednesday this Week


We apologize for the irregular blogs of late and are trying to get back on track! Here’s Jack’s review of 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall-Smith


I’m a huge fan of McCall-Smith, ever since I began devouring his No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. But he has a number of others that deserve attention, including Corduroy Gardens and the Scotland Street one.


I should explain right away that I lived most of my life within 30 minutes’ drive of the center of Edinburgh, where this series is set, so I’m very familiar with Scotland Street and the surrounding Georgian part of the city. McCall-Smith captures not only the geography beautifully, but its character through the residents, from the rugby following upper middle class to the quirky academics, the hard working cafe owner and the inimitable and much put-upon child of a demanding liberal-minded mother.


This series started as a serial in one of Scotland’s national newspapers and quickly built a devoted following. So much so that McCall-Smith was persuaded (by them) to turn it into a real book and then to publish two more follow-ups.


The one I’ve just finished re-reading is the second book (although I have read them all), and I was once again captivated by his ability to get right inside the mind of his characters – not just their surface characteristics, what they say and do, but what lies behind them; the professional or cultural world they inhabit. This might seem like a recipe for boredom, but he is such a wonderful observer of human nature and has such a way with words that it never is. Of course he lives in the Edinburgh Georgian ‘new town’ of which he writes and in many ways is just setting down what he lives and experiences every day.


Finally – just like in the Corduroy Gardens series this one has a dog as one of its main characters and I absolutely love how (in both cases) McCall Smith relates to his readers the world from the dog’s point of view. Anyone who has ever been owned by a dog will get it!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, writing

A Message from Val-Kyttie, Bookshop CEO

Little did I think, while relaxing as a tiny kitten at the Leith home for orphan cats and dogs (that’s in Scotland) that one day I’d be in charge of the ‘Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’.

It’s a heavy responsibility to be in charge of the bookstore and I don’t take it lightly. I mean, we have 38,000 books here and so many customers! So if it sometimes looks as if I’m dozing, or even sleeping soundly, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m continually reviewing our Mission Statement and our five year plan, not to mention marketing strategies and staff training.

Did I mention the staff? There’s the humans—Wendy my catering manager and Jack the general minion and Boy Friday—plus the others.

Ah, the others….

The others are utterly useless hangers-on, complete wastes of space! Zora the black Lab was already settling in when I arrived from Scotland. She thinks she is in charge of customer relations, but she’s not – I am! Bert the Terrier seems to think he’s the security manager, but he’s not – I am! Beulah, whom everyone delights in calling a “pretty kitty,” took over customer attraction duties by sunning herself on the porch – my porch!

Just recently there’s been a positive invasion of pesky little kittens mewling and carrying on. None of them stay long, thank goodness, but as soon as one lot get the message and sling their hook, another lot arrive. Apparently the human staff are “rescuing” them. Hmmph. There is one, by the name of Owen Meany, I believe, who seems to be hanging around a bit longer. Hhhmmm –

It’s enough to drive a cat to drink!

Talking of drink, have you seen that picture of one of the pesky little critters eying up the glass of red? The one the catering manager put on here as the latest caption contest? She should have known better! Everyone knows you have white with fish and I distinctly remember I had shrimp that day. (I hope it wasn’t marinated in red).

I can think of a few short and pithy captions, but they’d probably get the catering manager banned, and she works the can opener. So scroll back to August 14, view the photo, and do your worst.

Perhaps if I have time I’ll write again about the trials and tribulations I put up with here at the bookshop. If it weren’t for me, this place would have fallen into wrack and ruin ages go. The catering manager has no idea what she’s doing, and as for that Boy Friday…. If I didn’t watch him every minute, he’d leave book boxes lying everywhere. It’s only my constant moving in and out of them that reminds him to put them away. Sometimes I have to sleep in one to get him to notice how long it’s been there. Honestly…..


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Sweet Little Sculptures

I’ve been fascinated, off and on, with the story of the sweet little mystery sculptures that appeared in Scotland throughout 2011. A person (now identified but left anonymous at her wishes) left ten tiny, exquisite carvings and twists of paper, each made from an Ian Rankin crime novel (one of my husband’s all time favorite authors) in libraries and other bookish locations across the country.

While I’m partial to the wee dragon nesting in an egg found in my old stomping grounds of the Scottish Storytelling Centre, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the teacup from the Edinburgh Book Festival, and the gramophone that graced the Scottish Poetry library. This year, the same mystery artist sent Ian Rankin a series of paintings related to his life and writing history, but she never has come forward with her name–and her last two statues were never found. Only eight were discovered.

There are numerous online links if you want to read about the whole story. This one has the best photos. http://thisiscentralstation.com/featured/mysterious-paper-sculptures/

And every time I look at these pieces of art, and think about all the books that come into our shop, too old, too outdated, too worn to live on, I think about these statues.

God grant us all such a dignified end!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA