Tag Archives: inspiration

The Monday Book: Race to the Pole – Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Jack is the guest reviewer this week –

This is the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the south pole in 1912.

Scottgroup

I started reading this and almost immediately thought I wouldn’t like it!

Fiennes is clearly an upper crust member of the British establishment with an inflated sense of his own importance. All through the book he compares himself to Scott and a goodly part of it is about his own travels to the south and north poles.

But despite all that he managed to suck me in!

Fiennes really did do good research and approaches the more contentious issues very fairly. He also goes outside of the central story to get different points of view. This was also where I had some questions, though. Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian, beat Scott by a month to the pole and is presented here as somewhat devious and a bit of a cheat. I see here Fiennes buying into the old story of the ‘above board’ British against those dastardly foreigners.

What is also well explained is the context of Scott’s doomed attempt – British exceptionalism, Government under-funding, class divisions, civilian/service divisions, limited meteorological knowledge etc. What also comes through clearly, though, is Scott’s abilities as a leader. He made difficult decisions, led by example and persuaded his team to incredible feats of endurance!

So my take away from this book is that Scott really was a doomed hero and Fiennes is a bit of a narcissist!

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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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Money, Money, Money – – –

Jack gets over the line with time to spare – –

caveat

I’m a real curmudgeon right now! Because we moved house we have also changed banks and that meant carefully checking that all automatic payments got changed over. That proved very difficult as some were obvious but many weren’t! Being paranoid about such things I ran both accounts on the overlap and kept checking the old one in case I’d missed anything.

Lo and behold –

We had a problem in the new house with our thermostat so I googled to find advice which took me to a website called ‘Just Answer’. For just five dollars they would fix the problem. They didn’t fix the problem but what they did do was lock me into a monthly twenty-eight-dollar subscription whether I had any other questions or not!

The only reason I discovered Just Answer’s cunning ruse was because I was checking the old account.

Because I was in that mode I asked Wendy about a medical bill we had for six hundred dollars, so she phoned her insurers and found it was a ‘mistake’.

But there’s more – –

Wendy has been selling stuff on E-Bay and was surprised by her latest bill from them. She checked her account and found that if your item doesn’t sell, they automatically re-list it and charge you for both. Worse still they continue re-listing and charging unless you cancel.

I’m still not convinced I’ve caught everything on our old bank account –

Then there’s Verizon, who sent us bills that included third party services we neither needed nor asked for!

There’s some sneaky folk out there that have probably gotten a big bonus for their sneaky ideas, folks. Caveat emptor.

Sometimes, even when you don’t caveat, you still have to emptor!

 

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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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The Monday Book: Life without Parole – by Victor Hassine

Jack’s guest post is actually the Monday book so could be on time or not –

life without parole

I have been a regular monthly visitor to our local Federal Penitentiary for nearly five years. Each time I visit with two inmates for around an hour with each and we talk about all sorts of things.

But the hardest thing is to get any idea of their everyday lives before and after the visit!

I got some idea from ‘Orange is the New Black’ by Piper Kerman, but that was from a woman’s perspective. However Wendy gave me Hassine’s book and that really opened my eyes. His experiences were in a state prison but I’m sure they would have been much the same in ‘the pen’.

‘Life Without Parole’ is a series of essays or interviews by an inmate sentenced to life in 1981 who was an educated and thoughtful man. He documents his experiences over time, his conversations with fellow prisoners and his observations on the culture of prison life.

Hassine makes no attempt to excuse his crime or to suggest he doesn’t deserve his punishment. He simply relates his life behind bars.

This book spares nothing and describes a desperate and harrowing world that I have had the tiniest glimpse of. Hassine doesn’t try to excuse either himself or any of his prison community, yet draws us in and shows us a parallel world that ‘there but for the Grace of God’ any one of us could only too easily be part of!

His analysis of the various problems with the prison system is scholarly and erudite and makes for gripping reading. Each chapter features an introduction written by eminent criminologist Robert Johnson, and the book is divided into three sections: Prison Life, which introduces readers to the day-to-day aspects of Hassine’s life in prison; Interviews, which presents a series of candid interviews with Hassine’s fellow inmates; and Op Ed, in which Hassine addresses some of the most significant problems within the current prison system.

The author was an Egyptian born immigrant to the US and a law school graduate. He died in prison in 2008 under unclear circumstances although it seems likely he took his own life following an unsuccessful appeal.

I can thoroughly recommend this book, which is now in its fifth edition, to anyone interested in prison life.

 

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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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