Tag Archives: fun

Branching Out – –

Jack hits the ground running and meets the deadline – for once – –

Regular readers may recall that I’m no fan of gardening. This goes back to my earlier life in West Fife, where the earth tends towards solid clay. So solid, in fact that I once fashioned a frog from it, let it dry in the sun (it does shine occasionally in Scotland) and couldn’t break it with a hammer! The soil was near impossible to dig and the only things that grew were weeds –

In profusion – – –

The odd thing is that my childhood hero was my Grandad, who was an enthusiastic and successful gardener. He grew vegetables and fruit for our table and roses in the front yard. But I do recall he had to dig an awful lot of horse manure in to get the ground into condition.

When Wendy and I married and moved to East Fife I was astonished at how easy it was to dig our back yard and plant potatoes. But it didn’t turn me into a gardener – the non-gardener seed had been sown long before. I grew up thinking that trying to grow stuff was some kind of Calvinist punishment for past or future sins.

But there are some outdoor chores you simply can’t get away from and for me that has been trees and grass. When we moved to Big Stone Gap we found we’d inherited three heirloom apple trees, a pear tree and a peach tree. I managed to allow one apple tree and the peach tree to die and then tried to trim one of the other apple trees, nearly killing it as well. The grass became less of a problem when I purchased a used riding mower (that’s also when I really became an American!).

Our new dwelling here in Wytheville has a big backyard with four enormous walnut trees and more equally big but more nondescript ones. The walnuts aren’t near enough to pose a danger but some of the others definitely did. One was looming over our house and the garage and the trusty odd-job man we inherited with the house took care of that. But maybe it’s just because I have a rechargeable cordless chainsaw that I eyed the smaller one that was, nevertheless, encroaching on the power line feeding the house. Or maybe I just can’t see a tree without wanting to trim it!

tree

The last branch’s last stand!

tree2

Et voila!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, everywhere from New Gilston to Wytheville, Wendy and I have gotten quite good at growing tomatoes from seed, so maybe there’s still hope?

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Well, Cheers, VA

Jack reverts to form and comes in a day late –

Wendy and I have a guilty secret – two actually!

We are suckers for bookstores (well, duh!) but also thrift stores. The thing about thrift stores (charity shops in Scotland) is that you never know what will be in there and there’s always the hope that the next one will be better than the last.

Now that we’ve moved to Wytheville we’re in easy travel of quite a few second-hand shops, some turning out to be real Aladdin’s caves of all kind of delights – and horrors.

Being new to the area we don’t know until we visit them whether they’re any good or not, or even whether they really are selling second hand stuff or just another arty pseudo antique place selling tat at inflated prices.

But then our new friend  (who owns Oracle Books in Wytheville) took me to one here in town a couple of weeks ago. It’s an outlet of Virginia State where they sell off redundant stuff from State departments. My goodness! Everything from storage cabinets and shelf units to office tables and school desks and beyond.

Yesterday I took Wendy because she wanted a table for her writing hideaway (AKA the jail). As we wandered independently around she called to me. “Have a look” she said, and there was a display cabinet full of plastic bags, each one stuffed with corkscrews. Probably twenty or so in each bag and there were at least a hundred bags!

corkscrews

So of course the question we asked each other was – which department did they come from? Did the ABC folk order a gazillion of them and then realize too late they don’t sell wine? Or is there a department that’s so under pressure they go through a bottle a day to just function? If so, which one? Maybe Motor Vehicles? State police? Department of Health? (That’s Wendy’s vote.)

No matter which part of your tax dollars at work resulted in a table chock full of corkscrews at $2 per gallon baggie, we want to say what should of course be said: THANK YOU. We bought two bags.

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Filed under between books, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Always Look on the Bright Side – – –

Jack scrapes in under the wire as he does – occasionally – – –
I’m involved in a couple of interesting projects right now – one is a video documentary of my life by my friend Dirk who engineers my weekly radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’. The other is helping an older friend with his attempt to chronicle the early days of the Scottish folk revival in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Being of a certain age, now myself, there’s a good deal of poignancy as well as pleasure in recalling many happy memories of other friends, some of whom are no longer with us.
One of those is the wonderful singer Gordeanna McCulloch who was laid to rest just this morning in her beloved Glasgow.
gordeanna

Gordeanna with Wendy at our wedding. She let us use the pic for a story and song cassette.

She was one of the guests at our wedding twenty years ago in Auchtermuchty, and sang during the ceremony as part of the group ‘Palaver’. Another member of that group was Maureen Jelks who also sadly died recently. Others who were there and are no longer with us include John Watt and Duncan Williamson. When I first got interested in folk songs, John was my guide and mentor, while Duncan, a wonderful traveller storyteller and singer, became a close friend to us towards the end of his life. Also present then but now included in the ‘departed list’ are Mike Ward, who was a member of my old group ‘Heritage’ and Davy Lockhart, fiddle player with the group from the very beginning.
Despite this sad list, there are good reasons not to be gloomy, as many are still around and keeping in contact through the wonders of the internet. Another member of ‘Palaver’ was Aileen Carr, who kindly lent her gorgeous old house for our wedding and reception, and Davy’s wife Jean who handled the catering, my Best Man George Haig who still continues to amaze with his expertise on the autoharp, Colin who took many of the photographs (including the one of Wendy and Gordeanna, and drives the bus on my annual group tour of Scotland). And let us not forget the incredible Donna Marie, “Haint Mistress” of Abingdon, Virginia, who was Wendy’s Maid of Honor and had a grand adventure.
So, despite being well past the allotted ‘three score and ten’ (sounds like a song – and it is!) I continue to make new friends and take part in new adventures. That might explain why I remain in good health myself – much to Wendy’s relieved surprise!
Here’s to old friends and new, to memories and to new adventures –
Here’s tae us, wha’s like us – – – damn few, an’ there’s some o them deid.

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Elwyn (by James Ryan)

As reported earlier, the short story competition was a close run thing. James Ryan’s was the first entry to arrive –

“Ahhhhhhhhhh….free at last.” How many seasons have I been lying under that bush? I hope it’s been long enough so that damned cat is dead. I don’t mean to sound like an animal hater but, it’s hard not to hate someone who buries you under a bush after peeing in your face. Don’t laugh. It was not funny at all. I’m not sure how many seasons went by before the smell left. I suppose I should be thankful that he didn’t do the other thing on me. If he had, I would probably still be stinking. Yuck!

I know you’re wondering what and who I am. My name is Elwyn and I am a Sylvan. Sylvans are associated with trees and bushes. We can be found in any woodland of any size. Our job is to keep the forest in good working order. It was my misfortune to be caught by the cat that day. Normally, I stayed high enough in the trees not to be in any danger. That day I was on the ground straightening an oak seedling that had been stepped on by a large bear the night before. It was a tiring job and when I finished, I leaned against a rock to rest from my labors. The sun was warm and the leaves were so comfortable that I fell asleep almost immediately.

The next thing I knew I was in the cat’s mouth and being carried towards the house in the distance. Talk about being scared. I was sure I was going to be eaten alive. He carried me to the bush in the yard where he played with me as if I were a ball. He batted me around and every time I tried to get away, he would let me get far enough to get my hopes up, then he would pounce on me again. He finally grew tired and went to sleep. Unfortunately for me, he went to sleep with his paw on my chest. I was just glad he had stopped throwing me around. After a while I started thinking about getting free.

The problem was that his foot was rather large and heavy. And every time I tried to move, his claws would extend and keep me where I was. I’m not quite sure how long he lay there sleeping, but it must have been several hours. I didn’t really mind because it gave me time to rest and begin to feel better about the whole thing. So far, I wasn’t dead or crippled up beyond recovery. So, I spent the time thinking of ways to escape. However, as hard as I tried, nothing came to mind.

The cat suddenly sat up, yawned, picked me up and carried me further under the bush where he dug a hole threw me in it and pissed in my face. Then he covered me up and there I stayed until the lady found me.  NOW PUT ME BACK INTO THE WOODS!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, writing

The Grand Tours – –

Jack gets to do a weekend blog post to get Wendy off the hook

I’ve often said to folk over here that I have never gotten used to long road trips, but that’s not entirely true. Every year I conduct a small group of Americans around Scotland for almost two weeks. We stay in various hotels along the way and drive for anything up to six hours each day.

So you’d think that something similar here wouldn’t be all that different!

Just this last two weeks Wendy and I did just that– mixture of author promotions and business meetings Wendy had to do, and she dragged me along for fun. From here in Big Stone Gap all the way up to DC and down to Knoxville with lots of ups and downs along I-81 just to make life interesting. Part of that involved choosing our next house!

https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/550-Tazewell-St-Wytheville-VA-24382/108105878_zpid/

Earlier this year Wendy and I took our Scottish (and English) friends Barbara and Oliver on a three week road trip up to South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and all points in between and had a great time. But it did involve some serious planning!

I think what makes the difference is that you never feel very far from anywhere in Scotland – it’s a small country. Whereas the US is really enormous, so there’s more of a sense that you are setting off on a real journey here. You think about meal breaks and plan much more about where to stay along the way.

Maybe also another difference is that in Scotland I’m never very far from one friend or another. On the recent road trip here we were lucky to be able to stay with a new friend in DC. Amelia Townsend (originally from Big Stone) runs the Shoestring Theater Company and had asked me to provide some music for her upcoming new play. We took the pieces on a CD and zip-drive with us and she was gracious in providing us with accommodation for a couple of nights.

But the journey finished in a very American way – Thanksgiving with Wendy’s family in Knoxville.

Family meals in Appalachia usually tend to be somewhat Northern European – a bit like filling up at the gas station. But there are exceptions and Thanksgiving is one. So this is one of those occasions when I’m reminded of meals I’ve shared in Southern Europe – Italy, Spain or France, with a social gathering around a big table that’s as much about sharing stories as sharing food. I doubt I will ever forget Wendy’s mom’s story of how, as a young nurse (and lifelong abstainer) she got drunk on rum filled chocolates and had to be persuaded to lie down for a while!

If you knew her mother, you’d know how funny this story is. Look up “lady” and it’s her picture you see with the definition.

Still and all, with us moving in the New Year – one of the first stops on this madcap tour was to procure our new place in Wytheville—there is nothing quite like coming home to one’s own little bed again. Wendy and I are looking forward to the next adventure, while enjoying the last of the summer wine from this one. The bookstore has been grand to us, and we know it will be great for the next team.

Onward—adventure awaits!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Why do we do it?!

Jack’s on time again – Musht be shome mishtake – – –

Ah! – the aftermath of our annual Celtic festival! The post-mortems and memories; what went right and what went wrong.

Actually not much went wrong, but I’m always a nervous wreck in the run-up thinking what might. This year our hard working chairperson Darinda moved home out of the area so the rest of us had to regroup and strategize. We had already had to accept that we couldn’t avoid a calendar clash with another big, but non Celtic, music festival just a couple of hours away. The weather forecast began to look more and more ominous right up to the night before.

In the end the forecast of all day thunderstorms didn’t materialize, the bike race was well supported, the parade wasn’t rained on, the vendors were happy, the sheepdogs starred, the music venues worked well and everyone had the opportunity to sample haggis, Cornish pasties, cock-a-leekie soup and apple crumble.

We probably did lose some attendance to the other festival, but not as much as I feared. We probably also lost folk due to the terrible weather forecast. But we still provided custom to the local B&B and the local hotels from folks who came from a distance and that’s partly what it’s all about.

Another perennial worry is whether we’d raise enough financial support to run the festival to our projected budget. Some regular supporting businesses and organizations had to cut back a bit this time but we got there in the end.

For me, the icing on the cake are the late night sessions back in the bookstore on Friday and Saturday. This year they were exceptional, in no small part because our good friends Tim and Eileen were over from North Carolina. Friday night saw great instrumental music while on Saturday I was transported back to the wonderful experience of being in the company of exceptional singers and harmonizers that I remember from years gone by.

I’ve helped organize many festivals and folksong clubs over the years and there’s always a constant tension between the satisfaction and pleasure when things work out and the worry that things will fall apart.

This time it mostly worked –

pipes

bikes

caber

sheepdogsigean

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

My Life of Spice

Aargh – It’s Thursday already – – – Jack’s Wednesday guest post

When I left school at the age of sixteen I commenced a five year apprenticeship as a painter, decorator and sign-writer and then continued to ply my trade until in my late thirties I started teaching these skills in the local community college. Nowadays most of the materials used back then have been phased out or outright banned for health and safety reasons but I worked with lots of highly volatile and toxic stuff. Over time I gradually lost my sense of smell and now have none at all, although strangely I occasionally have smell ‘memories’ that are triggered by particular sights or sounds, or family stories.

All this is to lead in to the reason why I love to both cook and eat spicy food – particularly Indian curries. Back in the 1970s I had enjoyed visiting Chinese restaurants which could be found all over Scotland, discovered curry on their menus and was instantly ‘hooked’! Not long after that Indian restaurants began to appear and are now more numerous than the Chinese ones.

Curry

It was an obvious step from enjoying the professional offerings to attempting to make them myself, as did many of my friends. But I was always looking for the elusive and special taste of the restaurants, and it took a long time and the advent of the internet and my Google friend before I finally found their secret. It was all about preparing a basic sauce in bulk, then freezing it in handy sized bags, to be used later along with fresh veggies and meats and additional spices.

http://www.greatcurryrecipes.net/2011/06/24/how-to-make-restaurant-style-curry-sauce-for-use-in-many-different-curry-recipes/

Finally (or almost) Wendy and I attended week long courses at John C Campbell Folk School in S. Carolina some years ago. Wendy went for chair caning and I discovered a wonderful Indian woman called Ruby. She taught me and a zany group of folk all the finer points of making, not just curries, but samosas, pakoras, soups and desserts including balancing sugar and lemon juice and lots of other great tips. We cannot recommend enough checking out that wonderful Folk School and their offerings throughout the year!

Finally (really) – more recently Wendy and I found ourselves with time to spare in Cincinnati and discovered the wonderful Findlay Market, a year-round covered smorgasbord of international foods. It had a spice counter and we saw a spice mix called ‘Apocalypse’ that included ghost pepper along with all the usual curry spice blend.

So my procedure now is to heat some olive oil and butter in the electric griddle – fry a teaspoon of Apocalypse, a teaspoon of ground ginger and a teaspoon of minced garlic. Add coarsely chopped onion and fry until just browned. Then the defrosted bulk sauce and finally any additional veggies or meats. The last thing is to stir in a dessert spoon of Garam Masala as everything is simmering.

I believe I feel a smell memory coming on – – –

 

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