Tag Archives: Jack Beck

It’SNOW Fair

Jack’s weekly guest post examines bookstore weather issues -

snow_day_008You would think that, coming from Scotland, I’d be used to wintry weather, but actually I lived in the lowlands, where the sub-zero temperatures made snow fairly rare. (One of the great ironies of winter weather isn’t it? In Scotland it’s too cold to snow!)

It was only when Wendy and I lived near St Andrews, by the sea and pretty high up, that we experienced the ‘February week long village cut-off’ and I thought I’d left even that behind when we moved to Appalachia.

But for the second year in a row we’re down near zero Fahrenheit and this time it’s been accompanied by a blizzard. Our front steps and path had to be dug clear on Tuesday morning and our cordon-bleu chef Kelley has been stuck in her house for three days, unable to get here to open The Second Story Cafe.

All this has put us into emergency mode; it’s days like this we’re glad we live as well as work here!

Yesterday we were able to offer free hot coffee and shortbread to hard-pressed town employees (or anyone else that had to be out and about) and we had a few takers (including a neighbor who very kindly cleared the snow of all the vehicles parked out front). Today I’ve prepared my signature veggie curry in case we have any desperate ‘lunchers’ willing to chance it.snow_day_004

For anyone who’s interested – onions, green and red peppers, carrots, mushrooms and golden raisins in a tomato sauce with Patak’s hot curry paste. Onions fried in olive oil, then everything else in and simmer for a couple of hours!

Among the other businesses close by is the local ABC store (Alcoholic Beverage Control – where you buy your liquor) and it’s been closed as well except for a brief spell yesterday afternoon – when it did a roaring trade. The rest of the time there were lots of disappointed folk – who probably headed to the supermarket for the strongest fortified wine they could find as an alternative.

But right now it’s snowing again – – –

I bought my whiskey Saturday, knowing what was coming. And judging by the brisk business we did Saturday before the blizzard started, a lot of smart people did the same with reading material. :]

Go by, mad snowstorm.DSCN1410

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

The Monday Book – A YEAR IN THE MERDE by Stephen Clarke

Jack offers the Monday Book review this week!

I’m not sure which used book store we bought this in but I’m sure glad we did!

Stephen Clarke’s hero, Paul West, is an Englishman working on contract in Paris for a company planning to open a chain of tea-rooms in France. The interlingual puns and description of the absurd cultural clashes are hilarious.

I admit to being an enormous Francophile myself, having toured there many times with my old buddies in ‘Heritage’ and would cheerfully live there if necessary with no difficulty. But Paris is another thing – in many ways it is just like any other enormous city! So my preference would be the rural South.

The parts of Clarke’s book that depict him trying to speak French while his employers try to use English are hysterical, full of the verbal equivalent of slapstick.

Having said that, I once hitch-hiked from Scotland to Paris with a friend (back when hitch-hiking was still legal). We camped in the Bois de Boulogne and enjoyed breakfasts of paine chocolat and enormous bowls of coffee in sidewalk cafes.

Getting back to the book – I am a big fan of Peter Mayle and his series of books about an Englishman in France. Clarke takes things into another dimension and mixes corporate mischief, questionable morals, advice for tourists and a mischievous take on French chauvinism into a very worthy addition to the genre created by Mayle.I heartily recommend it to anyone who has visited, or is planning to visit Paris.

If I were a Parisian and read this book, I’d find it funny. If I were a Frenchman, I just might be insulted. This is a cheeky, irreverent look at a city people are used to treating with dignity; Clarke dances on thin ice and stops just short of blowing a rude gesture at the French.

I loved it. :]

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

A Return to Normalcy? HA!

normal12Jack’s Wednesday blog tackles a big question

For years now I’ve pondered on what ‘normal’ means. I can identify various times in my life when it meant very different things for me – my early life running a painting and decorating business, my 20 year career as an educator in a community college, my parallel life as a singer and musician in Scotland, and then my life in the US as a bookstore owner. Believe me, when you work retail, normal is just a setting on a dryer.

But that’s fairly superficial and applies to most folk as we get older, I’d imagine.

No – what I’m interested in is maybe more fundamental. It’s what we consider normal behavior or a normal lifestyle when we look at other people around us. It’s how we judge these things and place values on folk, placing them somewhere on a continuum that’s based around our definition of ‘normal’. In a small town bookstore, we find that some books just won’t sell, and we think it’s because the norms of the area don’t uphold those lifestyles or needs. People asking for some books wait until the shop is empty, or phone ahead anonymously.

The society we live in obviously has a bearing on this, and that’s society with both a small and large S. On my monthly visits to the local Federal prison I’m painfully aware that we incarcerate people for failing to conform to our norms. While some of that non-conformity is understandably so extreme that keeping those people from harming others is essential, a good deal of it is simply inconvenient or unfashionable.

Possession of items as opposed to the committing of violence to get them is one example–wouldn’t treatment be a better option? However, I don’t want to get political. It’s interesting to look back in history and observe how different activities have been classified as crimes and/or insanity. It’s not so long since unmarried mothers or kids we’d now classify as autistic were locked up and treated pretty much as if they were in prison.

It’s very easy to look at other people, or other places, and be critical of how they treat different sections of society, not to mention individual non-conformists. If we turned this same critical eye on ourselves, would we look any different? Does thinking about this make me any more tolerant of other ‘normalities’?

I am not sure it does, but since I live in a glass house and am concerned with the mote in my own eye, I really don’t have time to judge others. :]

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Home Sweet Bookstore

What with our Chile vacation, log cabin Christmas and then my unexpected trip to Scotland for the funeral of my old friend Davy, I haven’t had a great deal of time in the bookstore over the last couple of months.

But now I’m back in harness it’s like slipping on a well worn pair of favorite slippers. The routine we’ve established over the last seven years (I know it’s that long because our local newspaper had us on a special tribute page to much loved and established downtown businesses last week) covers, of course, much more than just selling books. There’s keeping the place clean, looking after the cats and dogs, liaising with Kelley and ‘The Second Story Cafe’, sorting the daily influx of traded books and writing weekly guest blog posts like this one.

On top of that I need to keep up with my weekly radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’, and contribute to the various Facebook accounts that relate in one way or another to us or Tales of the Lonesome Pine.

I remember some years ago, when I was still working in a community college in Scotland, meeting a recently retired colleague in the street and asking how he was enjoying his retirement. “Jack” he said “it was made for a younger man than me!” Although I can sympathize with his sentiment, I wouldn’t want anyone reading this to think I regret anything about my current workload. In fact I positively relish it and I feel sorry for folk who spend their retirement either pining for their former job or wandering aimlessly.

There’s an old Scots saying – East, West, hame’s best. I think for me it should be – North, South, East, West, the little bookstore hame’s best!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

WHY THIS BOOKSELLER LOVES THE NET

Jack’s weekly guest blog is back – and so is he!

 

the_internet_it_crowdI often hear people complaining about various aspects of the Internet including spam emails, intrusive Facebook and the lost art of letter writing.

But, to be honest, I have no complaints at all! I find it hard to remember what life was like before we had the Worldwide Web. If I try I can recall when the college where I worked just had an intranet and I had a dial up connection at home, but before that I suppose I must have used the telephone a lot (and wrote letters).

What brought this to mind is the last ten days I spent back in Scotland for the funeral of Davy Lockhart. The start was me trying to book flights at short notice with no success and getting a phone call in the middle from a kind lady at the agency whose website I was on. She went the extra mile for me when I explained I had to go to Scotland to attend an old friend’s funeral. A few days later I was being treated like royalty all the way from Knoxville to Edinburgh – agents waiting at gates to whisk me to timely connections, fast-tracked through customs, the works.

Facebook became the easiest way for all Davy’s scattered friends to find out what had happened, too, and what the arrangements were. I’m quite sure the reason the Church was packed out was partly because of that. While there I stayed partly with my friends Mike and Harry Ward and the rest of the time with another old friend Colin Stuart. These friendships, like many others are also kept alive partly through easy communication via the internet.

Now that most airports have wireless networks I was able to keep everyone on both sides of the Atlantic up to date with my progress, and through a Twitter friendship with Blackwell’s Bookshop in Edinburgh was able to pre-order a book that Wendy lusted after and pick it up when I was there.

Meanwhile I have, over the last few years, re-established contact with many old friends almost by accident through serendipitous ‘crossroads’ on Facebook.

So – for an old curmudgeon and an avid book reader – I am an unapologetic champion of that interwebby thing.

Lang may its lum reek!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

RIP Davy Lockhart

heritageJack’s guest blog about a dear friend

Davy first came into my life in the mid 1970s when he was in his early 50s and I was in my 30s. I was at a party in his house when I discovered that he had been a fiddle player as a youngster, but hadn’t kept it up. But he got out his violin and we found we could play a few tunes together.

The very first time I persuaded him to get up and play at the local folk club not long after that first party, he prepared to play the first note and promptly fainted. Half an hour later he got back up played like nothing had happened. A few years later he joined a group of us to create ‘Heritage’.

His favourite place, after Fife, was France. He famously spent 6 months there after Heritage broke up and wound up as guest fiddle player with the Occitan group ‘Los Cotillons de Tonniens’ touring all over the country with them (in costume) playing all the tunes he’d fallen in love with when Heritage had toured there many times.

Heritage spent 15 years playing traditional Celtic music at folk clubs, festivals, concert tours, radio and TV all over Scotland and Europe; Davy was an integral part of the front line for much of that time. By profession he was an internationally recognised artist with work hanging in prestigious collections all over the world, as well as a much loved art teacher in a Fife High School who certainly influenced his pupils very much for the better. But he often said that his musical career saved his sanity from the bureaucracy and politics of the Scottish education system.DSCN2126

During our travels with Heritage the stories about him abounded – from his terrible driving to his ability to fall asleep at the dinner table. He would be the first to admit that he wasn’t a great fiddle player – and yet – he helped establish the sound of the group and that didn’t change much despite various personnel shuffles over the years. The other great stories were the ones that he told – like the time he joined the Home Guard so he could have a rifle to shoot the capitalists when the war was over, and on, and on – –

Davy died peacefully in his sleep on December 28th 2014 at the age of 92 after some health issues over the last year or so.

I consider myself lucky to have known him and to have had him as a friend.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, crafting, Downton Abbey, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Si Me Ven: Los Penguinos!

So it’s Si Me Ven, not si me ren, but we’re still doing a lot of walking! And what’s really cool is, so were the penguins. My friend and I went on an ecoturismo excursion to the three islands off the northern part of Chile, near La Serena, called the Humboldt Penguin Preserve. They house 80% of the world’s Humboldt Penguin population.

(I don’t know the difference between a Humboldt and the others.)

Here are the photos of our day driving north, going out on the boat, seeing the penguins, and then, because (as the guide said) some of us must have been living right, we also saw a sea otter, nursing sea lion pups, a sea lion fight between father and son (well, I am a Quaker, so that didn’t feel so lucky, but there you go) and two humpback whales.

As the guide said, “This has been an exceptional day.”

Isla del Damas 020

It’s kind of annoying that Cami looks adorable no matter what she wears – including, in this case, a crocheted skull cap and a life vest. But then, we’ve been friends a long time, so I accept this.

Isla del Damas 028

I had no idea that sea gulls nested in sand. Her husband stood nearby, honking at us in an unfriendly way, so I only snatched one shot. I didn’t want to stress him out too much.

Isla del Damas 030

It is called Camel Rock – well, yes.

Isla del Damas 031

That is a sea otter swimming. At first we thought it might be the only wildlife we saw besides cormorants and sea gulls, but the guides knew what they were doing. You can walk on only one of the three islands that make up the preserve. They give you an hour to walk around, then take you to see the penguins and stuff. So everyone on the island was getting all bummed out at not seeing anything much, and then got happy from being taken to the best viewing spots. Good strategy! Isla del Damas 036

Pretty view of the cliffs, pretty view of the cliffs. and then…..?????????? Isla del Damas 046

“Hola! Que pasa?” The guide said he was a teenager. ?????????? ?????????? ??????????Then came the boobies. Yes, that’s what they are called. They were still nesting, didn’t have babies yet.

??????????

And then, penguins, penguins, and more penguins!??????????

We rounded the corner, and there was a mama with her two baby sea lions. The one below is nursing. She was lying down, but as we came around the corner she lifted her head and then stroked the baby, as if saying, “This is my daughter; isn’t she lovely? Say hello to the nice tourists, dear.”?????????? ?????????? ??????????

And more penguins. My first time seeing them in the wild. I was enchanted.??????????

They took us in this cave to show us the minerals and coral.??????????

It is very hard to photograph coral in the dark in a moving boat. They’d asked us not to use flash with the wildlife because it startled them, so I forgot to use it in the cave. This coral was about the size of my head.??????????

Cormorants, and that white stuff is cormorant crap. (Guana, they calls it, and they use it to build their nests. It is about 20 degrees warmer in the nest than outside because of the guano. A mother’s love… but still, guano is crap. I dunno….)??????????

We rounded the corner and were snapping shots of another mama and baby when the guide at the back of the boat started laughing and said something in Spanish. The guide at the front said in English, “There is a sea otter below the lions. This is very unusual. And it is being exceptionally cute.” It was on its back pawing the air at first. You have to look pretty hard to see it in these photos.

??????????

This is her preparing to slip back into the water. The boat made her a little nervous.Isla del Damas 110

I could not stop being charmed by the penguins. Suddenly they were everywhere. Isla del Damas 121

This is “Big Daddy” of the next harem of sea lions.Isla del Damas 125

And this is “Big Daddy” explaining to his son why he would be moving out soon, according to our guide. Apparently son was getting a little too big for his britches.Isla del Damas 131

And just when we thought it couldn’t get nicer, this happened. This is when the guide said, “Someone on this boat has been living right.” Humpback WhaleIsla del Damas 139

The guide didn’t want to get too close to keep from stressing him out. That’s his tale just as he flipped it at us. He stayed a good five minutes.Isla del Damas 144

And then we went home and had a glass of wine. Does it get any better?!Isla del Damas 146

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