Tag Archives: friends

We’re all going on a Summer Holiday!

Jack gets back into the usual day late mode –

This is weird –

Everyone thinks I’ve just been on holiday/vacation in Scotland, whereas I was actually working most of the time. It was my annual small group tour and the culmination of much planning, checking and double checking. Despite all that I’m always aware that the paying customers expect a trouble free and enjoyable experience and for any particular preferences to be accommodated where possible. Add to that the inevitable unexpected emergencies and it all adds up to a fairly draining two weeks for me.

This year the unexpected hit quickly – one of the group had his case sent to London instead of Edinburgh by Aer Lingus and it took a week to finally get them re-united. Then I discovered I’d wrongly assumed that he and a female customer were a couple, so the hotel rooming lists had to be quickly adjusted. Luckily the agency we use for our hotel bookings were rapidly on the case and got things sorted at very short notice!

When I first started doing this twelve years ago I was very naïve and didn’t really consider that anything could go wrong. But as time has gone on, I have become more and more nervous ahead of each tour, partly because almost every year something does!

Despite all this it’s the weather that really makes the tour and we were very lucky this time, with little rain and increasingly sunny and warm conditions.

hat pic

Everyone except Beth and Brandon celebrated the 4th together!

Now that I’ve been home for a few days and just about over the jet-lag, Wendy and I are finally on a real vacation and staying, along with our friends Barbara and Oliver from Scotland, with other friends David and Susan in NC. Tomorrow we head to the beach in SC to meet up with yet more friends – Beth and Brandon – for a much anticipated week.

Check back next week for more of my real vacation – – –

PS – David drove the bus in Scotland and we visited Barbara and Oliver at their house in Edinburgh just before the group tour started – small world!

 

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Should Auld Acquaintance – – –

Jack is in Scotland and Wendy is – – somewhere – – so Jack sent this by carrier pigeon.

Back more than twenty five years ago I helped my folksinger friend Ed Miller with his then new music tour of Scotland. Ed lives in Austin, Texas and started bringing over thirty five fans, touring them around Scotland and having them joined each day by a local musician with particular knowledge of the local history and culture. I performed that function when they were in Fife each year. That finished when Wendy and I moved to the US, but it gave me the idea for my annual small group tours.

On Ed’s tours he always worked with a tour guide called Charlie Hunter, who dressed in his kilt, herded his charges off and on the coach in a timely manner.

Imagine my surprise when my tour was in Melrose on the second day of our tour and I saw a familiar kilted figure standing beside a large coach parked next to our minivan.

ed charlie

As we exchanged greetings Ed appeared as well!

Thinking that this was a ‘one off’ coincidence we bade them farewell and continued on our way. A few days later we pulled into the parking lot behind the ‘Green Welly’ at Tyndrum and who should be there as well – – -! Much joking and then another farewell. We set off for Glencoe and, as usual pulled into the visitors’ center. An hour later so did Ed and Charlie in their now familiar coach! Once again it was farewell and we headed for Oban and the ferry to Mull.

ed

The following day we headed down through beautiful Mull to the Iona ferry and I waited with our minivan while the rest of our group went across on the foot ferry. I eventually wandered up the line of parked coaches and saw a now very familiar one! It turned that they would be staying in the hotel next to ours in Oban that night, so the following morning we once again bade them farewell – only to meet them again at the Green Welly! With them for a couple of days was another old friend – Margaret Bennett!

margaret B

Our next stop was at Killin at the start of Loch Tay on our way to see Europe’s oldest living tree at Fortingall. As I guarded our minivan at Killin a very familiar coach pulled up – – –

iona

The Iona ferry on a beautiful day!

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Unner ablow the Grund

Jack gets comfortably under the wire for a change –

So, here I am working in the front yard regularly as we get into spring and summer and I keep seeing this odd circular grey cover of some kind in the ground. It looks like it might be over a valve or a meter for water or gas or maybe something electrical.

pot1

I look at it from time to time and puzzle over it. It has four small holes that might be for screws holding it down. But they’d be full of dirt so not much chance of unscrewing it. Maybe I could get a lever under the edge to see if it would come up? But what if it really is containing something important that I might break?

It sits right next to one of our inherited ‘Narnia’ style lampposts and I wondered if there was some kind of connection. But the power cable to the lamppost, which had run along the side of a now departed fence, completely bypassed the mysterious cover.

I continued to step gingerly round it over the weeks, puzzling and debating.

As I dug a trench to bury the lamppost cable I kept pondering but couldn’t confidently come to any conclusion.

Examining the object I was able to decipher a manufacturer’s name – time for Dr Google! All I could find was that they were best known for making garden pots, planters and hanging baskets. Now it was time to post pictures on Facebook to see if anyone else could help. The suggestions ranged from a pot stand to a cover for a water quality analyzer!

Still nervous I decided to see if I could gently raise it enough to see if there was anything underneath. Grabbing my trusty spade I set to! Yes – it did extend quite a few inches down into the ground. I was able to finally get a grip under the edge and lever it up and out. What emerged was a shallow dish that what I think must be a water receptacle in which to sit a planter. Why it had been turned upside down and pressed down into the ground I have no idea. There was nothing except the ground under it!

pot2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My takeaway from this?

Google and Facebook sure make life complicated at times –

But congratulations to our friend Annie Jane for getting it right!

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Fire, Fire,Burn – – –

Jack makes it across the line again –

Fires

Wendy and I decided we needed a fire pit in our back yard. So I surveyed the area and decided where it should be. The only trouble was that a pile of brush gathered by our predecessor was already there. So off to confer with Dr Google about the easiest way to build a fire pit and what do about that brush.

It turned out that there was a state-wide ordinance in place that between February and April you can’t burn garden stuff before 4 pm or after midnight. We were still in April at this point!

I wandered out again around 5 pm and looked at that pile of brush while aware of the lighter in my pocket. Could I? Should I? I wondered afterwards if that’s how arsonists feel. Are they overcome with the desire to just see flames? Something outside of me took over and I set the brush afire!

As I watched it my first thoughts were whether the neighbors would complain or even phone the police.

fire

But then I was transported back to another place – my childhood.

I remembered sitting in front of our coal fireplace gazing into the flames and being sucked into another world, while listening to favorite programs on the radio – Dick Barton, Special Agent; The Goon Show; Around the Horne – – –

My Dad was an expert painter and decorator and specialized in faux wood-graining and marbling. He made his own crayons from simple ingredients and dried  them beside the fireplace. Along with the smell of them drying came back the memory of the fish ‘n chip van outside sounding it’s horn and the smell of lard over that other open charcoal fire – – –

Do we have an old memory of the fire ceremonies that heralded the approach of spring and the new harvest? Is that why fire fascinates us so much?

I wonder!

 

 

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Not ‘The Scottish Play’ – – –

Jack easily makes it for a change – – –

Easterhouse is a suburb of Glasgow, Scotland built in the 1960s to house folk from old tenements in the middle of the city. Unfortunately it quickly became a kind of ghetto because the designers didn’t include any amenities – no shops, pubs, cafes or any social gathering places. It was just a windswept series of high-rise apartment blocks that could only be accessed by scary elevators and it equally quickly became notorious for gang warfare and drug use!

This was the setting for one of the most bizarre gigs that my old folk-band ‘Heritage’ ever played. A lovely group of enthusiasts decided to recruit local folk to form a theater group that would perform ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at midnight on that very night.

Easterhouse had a very unlikely potential venue for this event. It had a park (Auchinlea Park) set on a slope with the ruins of a medieval castle at the top and big old trees down the slope leading to a loch. The idea was to construct stages in the trees and the main one down the bottom. Somehow the organizers got funding to put it all together, but they then needed music – – –

auchinlea (2)

We were in the highest tree in front of the buildings and the play was performed on the grass beside the loch.

This was where we came in. We were contacted because a much better known group had pulled out and suggested us as an alternative (something that happened to us from time to time!). So a couple of nice women came over to Dunfermline and ‘auditioned’ us while we played lots of instrumental sets. They homed in on various tunes that involved fairies (you do know the ‘Dream’ story?). In the end they chose ‘The Fairy Reel’, ‘The King of the Fairies’, ‘The Fairies’ Hornpipe’ and a set of French polkas!

Having been hired and given our orders and a script, we discovered we would be the ‘Mechanicals’ (do you really know the story?). We would be in costume, be on the highest tree stage close to the castle ruins and be connected into a sound system. We would be required to play the fairy tunes when Titania and/or the kids dressed in fairy costumes made their appearance. Also, whenever the Mechanicals appeared in the script the lights illuminated our perch in the trees and we launched into the polkas.

We arrived to find there had been a power outage – resolved with minutes to spare. The performance began and was both well attended and entrancing. Lots of kids dressed as fairies hit their marks perfectly and danced to our various fairy tunes.

What we didn’t know was that directly under our tree was the route from the nearest pub back to the apartment blocks, and coincidentally under our tree was the favorite resting place to consume the ‘carry out’ to bolster the courage needed by the transients to face their wives (the Tam o Shanter sub-plot).

We came to a significant ‘Mechanicals’ point and launched into our Occitan polkas! We finished and from under our tree during the following silence came an insistent and repeated call – “see us anither tune on the banjo Jimmy”!

What non-Glaswegians should know is that any stringed instrument there is referred to as a banjo (just ask harper Billy Jackson), while any random male person is addressed as ‘Jimmy’.

We tried to hunker down and ignore the pleas from below and also knew that we would be required shortly to play another set of fairy tunes – – -. However, after an interval our friends finished their libations, decided they were seeing and hearing alcohol induced fantasies and headed home to face the realities.

The play was brilliant but the really funny part is that those polkas were led by that most Scottish of instruments – the banjo!

 

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The Beat Goes On – –

Once again Jack scrapes in under the wire –
Back when I was on the teaching staff at Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week outside Asheville NC, one of the students who always attended my classes was Stefni. She sang in a choir in Pittsburgh that specialized in Eastern European music and she made their costumes. The last year I taught there Stefni didn’t show up and I wondered why. A few months later I received an email from her husband explaining she had died of a rare lung disease. That was very sad, but then he told us she had left her music and book library to us in her will! We were astonished and drove up there a few months later.
Sorting through her stuff was difficult and we came to an agreement to sell anything we didn’t want and split the proceeds. But that still left us with lots of stuff that never got put anywhere easily accessible.
Following our recent house move I’ve been sorting through the LPs and CDs from her collection that had never been properly stashed and I’ve been discovering amazing things. Mostly very rare English, Scottish and Irish recordings in excellent condition. It’s clear from the stickers on them that she was an avid collector and appreciated what she was finding.
So my upcoming radio shows will feature much from Stefni’s collection and keep her very clearly in my mind.
There’s no room here to list all the stuff, but it ranges from everything Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger ever recorded to very obscure albums by Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band.
Of course the books included full first editions of Child’s ‘English and Scottish Popular Ballads’, Bronson’s ‘Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads’, and Sharp’s ‘English Folk-songs from the Southern Appalachians’.
I hope dear Stefni Agin is looking down approvingly at the continuing life of her amazing collection as I try to do justice to it.

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Tae see Oorsels as Ithers see Us, Y’all!

Will wonders never cease? Jack posts on time – – –

My good friend Dirk is the expert technical guru who records my radio shows at his excellent home recording studio. But his real expertise is in making videos and although officially retired, he continues to do that for his previous employer as an external contractor.

In the process of working on the radio programs he became fascinated by the background information on the music that I provide and that got him sucked into an idea.

So a few months ago he announced that he wanted to make a video documentary about my life with a core focus on me as an immigrant who chose to become an American. Running alongside that will be my professional career(s) and my musical life.

Scotland_American_flag

He started the project by videoing a series of interviews with me and that was quite intimidating! Almost from the start I decided to treat this like one of these personality tests where you answer questions without thinking too hard. The questions were mostly short and open, and my answers were usually lengthy. However, because I didn’t have any pre-warning of what the questions would be, I did occasionally have to ponder a bit.

The next stage is for Dirk to video interviews with Wendy and some of my friends, both here in the US and in Scotland.

Luckily he was recently in Scotland visiting his son Trevor who is studying at St Andrews University in my home county of Fife, so he could interview folk there. Equally luckily our musical buddy Alan Reid was passing through this way recently and Dirk was able to ambush him too.

The next stage is continuing to interview folk including a central figure to the story – Wayne Bean who first got me to the US back in the 1980s and then to WETSfm where the story continues.

I think I’ve learned a lot about myself during all this and have a clearer understanding of what brought me here. Despite all the practical and principled explanations I usually give (all perfectly true) I think underneath it all I was just ready for a completely new life!

But is that really possible?

I have been organizing small group tours of Scotland annually for the last twelve years. The first couple of times I had a definite sense of ‘going home’. However around year three I suddenly realized that boarding the plane to come back at the end I really was ‘going home’.

I think I have finally arrived at the point where I feel equally Scottish and American – not an American Scot or a Scottish American, but a US Citizen who will always be Scottish.

I’m waiting to see the finished documentary with both anticipation and trepidation – – –

 

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