Tag Archives: history

The Monday Book: Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown

Jack’s doing the Monday book – so, of course it’s on Tuesday – –

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them; Nancy Marie Brown

Wendy brought me this book back from one of the bookstores she’s been visiting, promoting her book Fall or Fly. She was correct that it would interest me. It actually has little to do with the chessmen per se, but I don’t mind!

vikings

Brown uses the famous Lewis Chessmen as the mechanism for what is really a geopolitical and historical examination of the Nordic countries in medieval times. I already had some knowledge of the Viking connection to Scotland, Ireland and Northern England, and I even knew that the French Normans were originally Norse men.

But this book was a real eye-opener and introduced me to a world that was much more connected than I had thought. I obviously knew about the Vikings sailing around the north Atlantic but not just how much or how far. I knew nothing about their land journeys including taking part in crusades and hob-knobbing with English nobles!

“Ivory Vikings” can be a challenging read at times. The story of these ivory armies is woven through speculative historic tales of kings Harald Blue-Tooth and Svein Fork-Beard, with diversions into the 13th-century sagas of Iceland’s Snorri Sturluson and the early 19th-century literature of Sir Walter Scott, as well as accounts of the climate and topography of Iceland, the importance of walrus ivory from Greenland financing Viking raids and the origins of chess in India.

Margret the Adroit of Iceland turns out to be Brown’s favored candidate as maker of the chessmen. She was a carver of walrus and other materials and was famous for her craft in her time. One of the kings regularly sent gifts made by Margret to other rulers, one of the reasons the chessmen may be attributable to her. But I think my favorite of all the memorable characters in this book is perhaps Earl Erling Skew-neck who got his name after being whacked in the neck by an adversary in battle and carried his head at an angle ever after!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Norse history and their connections to other northern European countries – particularly Scotland and Ireland.

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The Monday Book: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

This week’s review is by Jack – –

BriefHistoryTime

I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading this. Probably it’s because I assumed it would be dry, very scientific and heavy going. Instead it turned out to be (mostly) the very opposite!

There were certainly a few places where I had to read and then re-read in order to get my head round some pretty startling and deep stuff. But Hawking leads his readers on a gentle upward slope through history while paying due respect to all his scientific predecessors, colleagues and contemporaries.

We begin with Copernicus and end in a black hole!

In many ways this book is an autobiography as it details Hawking’s developing theories while also occasionally giving brief glimpses of his personal life and its challenges. I loved the part where he gave up his PhD studies following his diagnosis and being told he only had a few years to live, only to get married and realize he had to get a job. So he completed his studies, got a job that became his raison d’etre and lived for many more years.

The writing style is pitched at the non-learned casual reader and is gently humorous throughout.

I particularly liked how generous he was towards others working in the same field – collaborators, colleagues and even rivals.

Finally, and most intriguing of all perhaps, is his frequent reference to a ‘creation event’. He is very careful not to discount the idea of a ‘creator’ with all that implies. He suggests that the more we delve and discover, the more there is to find – – –

All in all, a very well deserved best seller which I can now thoroughly recommend to anyone else who might have been wary, like me!

 

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The People’s Flag – – –

It’s Thursday so it must be time for Jack’s Wednesday guest post!

Since there wasn’t a Monday book review he gets to do that too – –

World Politics 1918-1936 – R. Palme Dutt (1936)

We get some pretty weird and wonderful books here in the bookstore and I often find myself drawn to them. This one caught my eye as it’s about a period of history that fascinates me and was actually published just as things were getting out of hand.

When I read the book I had no idea who Dutt was and had never heard of him, so I read with an open mind. I was fairly astonished by much of his commentary on the first half of the period covered and how ambivalent the UK, France and the USA were towards the German and Italian Fascists as well as the Japanese Imperialists. There was a common fear of the rise of Soviet power and until late in the period various attempts to form an alliance to counter Communism. Even after Mussolini was established in power and Hitler was cementing his foundations there were powerful figures in favor of forming a common front against the USSR that would include the USA, the UK, France,Germany, Italy, Japan and Poland.

However the tone of the book becomes different as it reaches the latter part of the period. Dutt clearly believes that war is inevitable and argues that the best thing is to delay it for as long as possible through diplomatic means. This would allow the Soviets to build enough strength to defeat this unholy alliance!

What’s ironic, of course, is that the UK and the US ended up in concert with the USSR against Germany, Italy and Japan, with the Soviets playing an enormous part in the victory.

Being a pretty cynical kind of person, I believe that WW2, just like WW1 was fought between Imperial powers with ambitions to divide up the world and very little to do with any democratic principles. Afterwards the anti-Soviet line came back and the justifications for the war emerged with much banner waving. There was just as much anti-Jew pressure in the US, the UK and the USSR prior to hostilities although without someone quite as effective as Hitler to run with it.

If I was the late Mr Dutt I might be looking at the current political situation and thinking things are beginning to line up for another Imperial confrontation with the same shadowy figures pulling the strings and another religious group being demonized as a diversion – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

After finishing the book which was published in the US, I wanted to know more about who’d written it –

Rajani Palme Dutt (19 June 1896 – 20 December 1974), generally known as R. Palme Dutt, was a leading journalist and theoretician in the Communist Party of Great Britain. (From Wikipedia)

I don’t hold that against him, though – –

 

 

 

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Strollin’ down the Highway – –

It’s funny the dreams we have. One of my more colorful ones concerns hitch-hiking.

Back when I was a carefree and somewhat trusting teenager hitch-hiking was much more common than it is now and I did a lot of it.

My older sister was living in Yorkshire in the 1960s and I frequently thumbed a ride down there for a visit. Truck drivers were very accommodating and wanted company so I rarely had any problem getting rides.

There was the time I hitched to Lanark racecourse in the west of Scotland for a model plane competition, though. A truck stopped to pick me up and could take me all the way to my destination. I climbed aboard and slammed the door shut – on my thumb! There’s a good Scots word – beelin’ – (throbbing) which is what my thumb did all day long. I remember going to the family doctor a few days later when he drilled a hole in my thumbnail to relieve the pressure!

But the most memorable journey was all the way from my hometown of Dunfermline to the exotica of Paris. Yes – Paris, France. I traveled with a friend and my guitar, because we were determined to busk on the Champs Elysees. A very illustrious Scottish folksinger called Alex Campbell gave me a slip of paper with a name and phone number (which I found many years later to be completely false) that sealed the deal. He had blazed a trail all around Europe before anyone else did and was my hero!

My friend and I got down to the midlands of England fairly easily but then got stuck. As it was getting dark we pitched our wee tent beside a hedge in a field and settled down for the night. We were wakened early next morning by sounds of machinery and found we were in the middle of roadworks. We packed up, started thumbing and were picked up by a very elderly truck. It had no air-conditioning, the sun was bright and the engine was under our feet. Every time I dozed off the driver elbowed me in the ribs and demanded I talk to keep him awake, but somehow we got to Dover and the ferry to France.

When we arrived in Calais we got a ride from an English salesman heading to Paris in his ‘Deux Chevaux’ Citreon which almost rolled over on every corner. He finally got to the infamous roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe and we went round it in ever decreasing circles until he found a way out and dropped us off. From there we headed to the Boise de Boulogne and pitched our trusty tent again.

deux chevaux

Un Deux Chevaux avec deux chevaux! Quatre chevaux?

Next morning we walked to the Champs Elysees with my guitar and prepared to live our dream. Before I could hit the first chord a hand descended on my shoulder. “You can’t start here” our assailant said, “you start in the suburbs and work your way in to here”. So I never ever busked in Paris, although we did eat well and I learned a lot!

I have a friend who has lived all his life in a mining village in Fife and who restores motorbikes as well as writing hilarious poetry. One of his most famous poems is entitled ‘What’s a Laddie frae Kelty daein in a place like St Tropez?’, which is all about his memorable journey by motorbike to his particular dream.

Ah – dreams. Which takes me to the Everly Brothers, but that’s another story – – –

 

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Scotch on the Rocks – – –

Breaking News – –

Wendy and I have a double cancellation for this year’s Scottish tour. The dates are Sunday June 17th – Friday June 29th. The original price was $3500 per person (excluding airfare) but is discounted to $3000 per person, with room for a total of four. That’s $2K discount if a family takes it! If you are interested full details can be found on the ‘Scottish Tour’ page at www.scottishsongandstory.co.uk . We will be visiting Skye, Lewis, the North 500 road, Orkney, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Fife. Time is short so first come first served! Space for four people in two rooms available. Price covers dinner, bed and breakfast in good mostly traditional hotels, after dinner music on some nights, ferry fares and entry to historic sites. All you need is spending money, and if you want it, lunch money. Most people find Scottish breakfasts keep them going all day.

We will visit castles and mountains, see Hielan coos, the Neolithic sites on Lewis and Orkney, stay in a hotel that used to be a Templar castle, eat the best fish n’ chips in Britain and meander the fishing villages of Fife. With luck at least one of our ferry voyages will have porpoise accompaniment and of course there will be haggis aplenty!

11-Skara-Brae

Skara Brae on Orkney

The maximum number that I set for the group is ten as that fits easily in the minivan we use and the reason I don’t include airfare is because folk tend to come from various parts of the US and some want to use specific airlines. Although the tour starts at Edinburgh on the morning of Sunday June 17th I always advise folk to arrive a day before just in case of delays or missed connections. We deliver everyone back to one of the Edinburgh airport hotels ready to depart on the morning of Friday June 29th.

We are happy to answer any questions you have – jbeck69087@aol.com or 276-523-5097.

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Here, There and Everywhere

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post is a day late –

I continue to be somewhat amazed at how small the world has become, and it’s not just the number of people from far afield who visit our wee bookstore in rural Appalachia – even this week when it was snowing.

Just yesterday I had an email conversation with a gentleman in Rome, Italy called Massimo. It started first thing in the morning with a request for the words of a song I recorded with my old group Heritage on our second album back in the early 1980s. I was intrigued and in a subsequent message he explained he was a big fan and had spent years collecting all the available recordings that I and the group had made over the years. As of this morning there are two CDs he didn’t know about winging their way to him via the USPS and Poste Italiane!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the presenter of a folk music show that airs on a radio station based in SW Scotland and we have begun to exchange programs. The ones I’m sending him are mostly digitized copies of cassettes that were made of a live show that I did back in the 1990s on a different (and now defunct) station in Scotland. But these cassettes were stored here at WETS which is the station where ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ is based, because back then I sent them over to be re-broadcast here. So a show that originally went out live to rural Perthshire has gone through a series of different technologies, traveled the Atlantic twice and is being heard by listeners of Folk n’ Stuff over the internet in (among other places) Tallahassee where there are, apparently, a loyal group of fans!

Sticking with the radio theme, I had the great pleasure of interviewing a lovely Irishman called Liam at the WETS studios on Monday morning, who is a visiting professor at ETSU just now, and made a good friend in the process. We concentrated on two themes that are part of his research focus and will also be the subjects of presentations he will make here. One was the importance of the culture of small geographical areas and the other was the challenge of Brexit for Ireland (North and South).

On Tuesday Wendy and I had our guest blog post for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum published and that also has a transatlantic theme.

https://www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/follow-ballad-scotlands-lord-gregory-carter-familys-storms-ocean/

Meanwhile I continue to fine tune the arrangements for my annual small group tour of Scotland at the end of June, which also entails a fair amount of international communication.

It’s all a mad gay whirl I tell you – – –

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Avanti o Popolo, Alla Riscossa.

Jack’s Wednesday guest post reverts to tradition and appears on Thursday –

OK – I’m going to dive in!

As an ex-teacher I’ve obviously been following the battle waged by my WV colleagues and it reminded me very much of the situation in Scotland at the height of Maggie Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister.

The Scottish teachers were the only group to actually win a strike against her and it was partly through the same solidarity that the brave and solidly united teachers of WV have shown.

But something else I’ve begun to see – that’s the young folk all over this country who are emerging and aren’t intimidated. Right now it’s about gun control but that’s sure to lead to other things. I wonder if there’s just the possibility that we might see a revival of the movements of the 60s and 70s that would bring about some change?

It’s so tiring and frustrating to be continuing all the time to fight back and it mostly means going out there either on the street or into hostile territory. Many people have paid a terrible price for doing that and many more likely will!

But here’s the really scary thing. In the US and the UK there’s effectively a two party system and that makes it so easy for the vested interests and the big corporations to simply pay them both off. That seems to be exactly what’s happening. Of course the argument is always to get elected on a party ticket and then change things from within. All I can say is that there are hardly any examples of full-time professional politicians that I see who haven’t been bought – either with brown envelopes or ermine cloaks – or both.

Things appear to work better in those European countries that use voting systems that promote multi-party coalitions but I don’t see any likelihood of the folk benefiting from the existing system ever agreeing to that.

So, for now, there doesn’t seem to be much alternative than to be inspired by the WV teachers and the young folk around the country! Of course you can also visit your local bookstore and find lots of great books about community activism – such as Randy Shaw’s excellent ‘The Activist’s Handbook’!

activism

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