Tag Archives: Jack Beck

The Monday Book

Wendy is still on a writing deadline so Jack is standing in again –

Tsunami by Iain MacWhirter

Health warning: this is a book about Scottish politics, specifically the landslide victory by the Scottish National Party in Scottish constituencies during the 2015 UK election.

I have a great deal of respect for Iain MacWhirter, a thought-provoking political commentator who works for the BBC.  MacWhirter has a long and honorable pedigree as an observer of UK and Scottish politics, not to mention the respect of his peers. That’s not to say that he hasn’t penned a few newspaper articles with which I’ve taken issue, just that his  voice carries weight.

Tsunami is a follow up to an earlier book by the author about the Scottish referendum on independence the previous year, Disunited Kingdom.

Regardless of my occasional disagreements with him I recommend both of these books to anyone with an interest in the incredibly fast-moving political scene in the UK right now. Of course the arrival of ‘Brexit’ means that Iain will probably have to write another book about the second referendum on Scottish independence next year.

For those unfamiliar, Scotland wanted to stay in the EU and since there was a vote recently on Scotland leaving the UK, Scottish politicians are ready to take advantage of the mood and the timing to try again. Scottish voters declined to declare themselves independent of the UK, and then pretty much found that the promises made to them if they stayed had been false. As a result, the vote that McWhirter writes about in Tsunami was expected to swing so overwhelmingly toward the Scottish National Party candidates that the leaders of the party began to caution people not to have unrealistic expectations.

Tsunami captures the flow of the various parties’ campaigns in the lead-up to the UK election. A big part of its thrill is McWhirter’s description of the atmosphere in the BBC green room, and the responses of the various spin doctors, that election night, as the SNP finished with 56 out of 59 Scottish seats. Watching the events, I remember one political commentator saying, “This isn’t an election. It’s a rout.”

The book finishes with the overwhelmingly triumphant SNP members of parliament arriving at the House of Commons in London to find themselves disregarded within a parliament of 650 members, despite being the third biggest party there.

MacWhirter captures with humor and insight a strange time in Scottish politics, and sets the tone for the stranger times yet to befall the UK as the full implications of Brexit become clear to all parties.

Better read this before it’s completely out of date; books will be coming out soon on Brexit.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

A Story within a Story within a Signature

Wendy is on a tight writing deadline before holidays next week, so Jack takes up the keyboard and presents this guest blog.

We often have folk come in to ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ bookstore carrying a copy of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and hoping to meet Wendy. They come from all over the country and even from other countries. Their personal tales frequently carry on a theme of the book, that the customers’ stories are as important as those in the books we sell.

One of the other conversations in Wendy’s book was about the fact that some products that are sold on from one owner to another only benefit the creator the first time they’re sold – houses, books etc. The result of the exchange was that there wasn’t much to be done about it, nor should there be. Another question was how long  ‘The Little Bookstore’ would circulate in used book stores.

To our great amusement we received a lovely card from a fan in New York a couple of months after the first publication, saying how much he’d enjoyed the book and that he’d bought it for $10 in a used book store. He enclosed a $10 bill just to prove that the author was wrong!

But today topped that. (Drum roll, please….)

Three couples had been through the store today looking for Wendy, so when I looked out the window and saw a woman holding a copy of the book and the husband taking pictures, I knew what they were about. Sure enough, Carol and Paul were on a trip back to Cary, NC and came the long way through Big Stone Gap to see the bookstore because they loved the book and follow Wendy’s blog.

However, their story had a twist. Carol loved Wendy’s book, which she’d paid $5.99 for in a used book store, already signed to someone called Laura. And she’d come to get Wendy to sign it again, having read the conversations about second hand books in Little Bookstore.

We had a lovely chat (they are also cat lovers) and then I signed her copy and so did Wendy – but check out the picture to see how she did it.

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May the circle be unbroken, Laura – wherever you are!

 

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Monday Book (on Tuesday)

Jack is deputizing  for Wendy this week – and still jet-lagged from his annual visit to Scotland.

Hamish Henderson – a biography by Timothy Neat (2 volumes)

Two admissions –

1 – I knew Hamish Henderson, and 2 – I read volume two before I read volume one.

I really wished I’d read the two volumes in order. The second one covers the period when I knew Hamish and when he was much better known generally as the great promoter of the folk music revival in Scotland and founder of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University. The trouble is that anyone who had the slightest knowledge of him during that period is now vying to have been his best friend. I’m not one of these since although I admired him enormously and we were acquainted we were not close friends by any means. I say this because the second volume kind of reads as a personal appeal by Tim Neat to be recognized as not only THE HH authority, but his best friend and associate.  Now that may be true, of course, but I don’t think it needed quite so many reminders.

Leaving that aside, I greatly enjoyed both volumes but particularly the first one, which was a revelation to me. I had only the vaguest idea of Hamish’s earlier life and really no knowledge of his childhood or war career. It may be that because the first volume is based much more on research than personal anecdote there are many more voices present than in the second one and less of Tim Neat’s.

Looking back at what I’ve written I can see that I may have been a bit harsh, but that’s simply because I had such admiration for Hamish. He encouraged my (and many other’s) interest in Scottish traditional songs and ballads, he took on the establishment and he never sought personal recognition or fame.

Perhaps I was too close to the events and history of volume two to be objective in my appraisal.

If, like me you want the complete story of a remarkable life then there are a number of recent books out there and, despite my slight misgivings Timothy Neat’s should certainly be counted among ‘required reading’!

 

 

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Old Friends are the Best

Jack’s weekly guest post falls on a Friday this year because Wendy is snowed under with some editing.

I’ve found that as I get to the age I am now and various old friends are passing on, you begin to really value the ones who are still around. One reason why I organize a tour of Scotland every year is so I can meet up with them and, in some cases, re-connect with folks I’d lost touch with.

 

Right now I’m sitting in the home of one old friend and chatting with him and two others. In the last few days I’ve met up with so many that I’m close to overwhelmed!

 

Starting with Derek Hutton who passed on to me historic recordings of the folk club in Dunfermline. Then to Jane Yolen in St. Andrews for afternoon tea in her wonderful arts and crafts house and excellent conversation. On to Linda in New Gilston, where Wendy and I lived for 5 years and a relaxed early evening of memories and village gossip. Finally to Sandy and Elma Stanage in Kilconquhar (pronounced Kinnyuchar) and more memories and catch up.

 

Yesterday evening was dinner in Edinburgh with another old friend. Barbara Dickson is my old singing partner from the 1960s and headlined Big Stone Celtic two years ago. She loved her time in Big Stone Gap and is coming back this year. So lots of laughs about her visit and much harking back to the old days as well.

 

Today my friend Colin and I drove over to Edinburgh for lunch with Dolina McLennan, who I first met in 1960 and the great surprise that she had also invited yet another old friend who has visited Big Stone – Bill Hill (most famous as the composer of a much loved song called ‘The Portree Kid’).

 

But I’m not finished yet because tomorrow, after the bus for my tour has been collected and checked out, I will be having supper with Mike Morris who was the guy who recruited me into college teaching. His son owns a used book store in England and Mike spends his time haunting estate sales and auctions as an agent for his son’s shop. We will be sharing lots of memories too.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

In Which Jack Pontificates on Customer Service

Jack’s weekly guest blog traces the odd path from management guru to bookseller

It’s funny the things that come into your mind!

Way back when, I was working in my college in Scotland at a time when ‘Heid Bummers’ (Principal and Depute Principal) were under pressure to flatten the rather hefty management hierarchy and make things more dynamic. They set out to radically restructure the staffing, and for some reason they had been watching me and decided that I had a much more ‘collegiate’ model for working with my colleagues than the rest of the staff in my department. Thus I was appointed Head of Department and told to “make them more collegiate.” After a couple of rocky years, things settled down and I’m proud to say that I eventually won everyone round to my way of working.

Some years later I wound up teaching management courses and ultimately studied for, and gained my MBA from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. As part of those studies, of course, I did a lot of research into organizational structures, management styles, team dynamics, marketing and motivational theories.

Now, anyone who has read ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’ will be wondering how on earth I could think of getting involved in starting our bookstore and even more how we could have made a success of it, given what I’ve described above. But there were some insights I could bring and that we have put into practice. Probably the main one is that the customer is absolutely the first priority, come what may.

I was pondering this today for some reason and found myself picturing a continuum with high staff convenience at one end and high customer convenience at the other and contemplated where we might fit along that line.

Wendy and I had noticed, when we first came here, that businesses in small towns sometimes open and close very randomly on a whim; they might have opening hours posted but you could never be sure until you tried the door. We could never understand this when we visited such places, as it seemed crazy to us. When our chef par-excellence Kelley had to close the café this week to go to Chicago to help her sister recover from surgery, she made sure that all her customers and potential customers knew well ahead of time, and I’m very pleased to say that so far there have been no disappointed regulars.

It’s important to make sure that we are open when we say we will be, so we have both short term and long term ‘shop-sitters’ to ensure that. Everyone who comes through the door is treated with value and respect; we order books for customers when they aren’t in stock, repair battered family Bibles that are family heirlooms and don’t mind if folk just come in for a chat.

So where would be positioned along the line? Of course we’d like to think we’re at the customer focused end, but it’s really difficult to know. There are lots of different factors that can affect the continuing success of a small business in this part of the world – people move in and out of town, the economy takes a dip, a local clique decides to attack, etc.

But one thing I’m certain of – it’s all about the customers!

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And I would walk – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

It’s Wendy’s birthday at the end of the week and back around the time of my birthday in February she asked me for a very specific present. Not a fancy expensive thing, but just a song. Not any old song, though, and not a traditional song which would have fitted with my usual repertoire.

The song she asked me to learn and then perform publicly at a gig coming up April 30 was ‘500 Miles’ by The Proclaimers!

The Proclaimers are brothers Craig and Charlie Reid, who grew up in Auchtermuchty in my home county of Fife in Scotland, which is also the town where Wendy and I married 18 years ago.

I really wasn’t sure that I could do justice to the song, particularly after watching various excellent performances on YouTube. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I spent weeks going around singing it to myself until I learned the words. But a funny thing began to happen. It may be because the Reids sing in a broad Fife accent very similar to mine or maybe it’s because the sentiments of the song are quintessentially Scottish, but I found myself falling for the song. Of course the idea of demonstrating love by being prepared to travel a long distance – five hundred or even a thousand miles – is a very common motif in folk-songs and that may have chimed with me too.

The opportunity to perform the song had also been a long time in preparation. Almost two years ago our good friend Mark Merz, who leads the excellent Celtic band ‘Night Crossing,’ had proposed a ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ concert at the historic Lincoln Theater in Marion VA. At the time we weren’t able to pull it off, but with the appointment of a new director for the theater the idea was again raised and the sainted Kristin Untiedt worked enthusiastically with Mark to realize his dream.

Also appearing would be our old friends ‘Sigean’ and another local band ‘Fire in the Kitchen’. The idea was to present a live concert version of my radio show and record the whole event for future broadcasting. So a lot to plan and a lot to potentially go wrong! Sigean were happy to give backing me in the song a go, but our only actual rehearsal opportunity was a brief 15 minutes between the sound check and the start of the concert, back in the Green Room.

Soon the theater began to fill up and the concert began. The first half featured ‘Fire in the Kitchen’ and ‘Night Crossing’ who both played wonderfully. The second half would start with Wendy and me followed by Sigean with ‘500 Miles’ as our last item to make for an easy stage transition.

We announced it was Wendy’s birthday present, and then as I began to sing the first few words, the audience reaction was amazing – an enthusiastic shout went up, and everyone sang along. I hadn’t realized just how popular or well known the song was. There’s a special feeling you just occasionally experience when performing – when everything clicks and the audience is right with you. It was such fun.

I may just have to keep ‘500 Miles’ in my repertoire now! Wendy says I have to sing it to her every year on her birthday. That could happen. We’re going to Asheville this weekend with friends, and I see a rendition on their trolley bar that pedals through the streets, the patrons singing lustily. Or perhaps drunkenly.

If you’d like to see the live performance from the Lincoln, click here.

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Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Lend me your ears – –

 

Jacks’ Wednesday guest blog post

There we were, on our way home on Monday night from the annual volunteers’ appreciation banquet at the prison where I visit every month. I’d noticed that Wendy had been busy on her phone for the last half hour and that usually means cats.

I should explain that I generally try to be the sensible one in these situations, trying to remind her that we can’t save them all and that the bookstore can only accommodate a finite amount while still operating in a customer friendly way. So I’m the ‘bad cop’ to Wendy’s ‘good cop’ much of the time.

Thinking this would probably be another clutch of tiny kittens I was gearing up to be my usual grumpy curmudgeonly self. But as we arrived home Wendy announced we were going out straightaway to find a feral cat that was hanging out in an area of town we’re not too familiar with. We had an address and the lady who Wendy had been on the phone with had offered to guide us to the place.

We arrived as it was beginning to get dark and began to search. No luck until Wendy’s phone contact came out and began guiding. In the darkness a very friendly white cat with oddly shaped black ears came straight to us. We had brought food and water and she made straight for them. Purring and most definitely not feral, so we had a closer look. Her ears weren’t naturally black – they were half eaten away and bloody. She was also scrawny but with a bloated belly. So she was injured, mal-nourished and pregnant!

We brought her back but couldn’t risk putting her in the same space as our own cats or the other fosters, so into the garage she went for the night. All this time she was happy to be picked up and carried in a box – as if she knew she’d turned a corner.

Of course the whole episode was being followed on FaceBook by a whole host of friends and fellow animal rescuers. One of them was our good friend Joe, who offered to come round in the morning to take her up to our Sainted Beth the veterinarian who never imagined she’d share so much of her personal and professional life with us.

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So now we know that Pogo (we called her that because she looked like a possum in the half-light) has melanoma on both ears, is completely flea-ridden and has a belly full of worms (so – not pregnant).

But all of that can be treated, although she may lose a goodly part of both ears in the process. Apparently she is about seven or eight years old and has obviously been a domestic pet. She either ran off and got lost, or was abandoned because of her ear problem. And to my astonishment, as soon as Wendy posted the update the next day showing Pogo relaxing in hospital, people began to offer financial assistance towards her bill. Which we know Beth will keep to the bare necessities, because she is a saint. But hey, saints and their nurses gotta eat too. Powell Valley Animal Hospital should you want to donate to her care. And we thank you from the bottom of Pogo’s sad little ear stubs.

I may try to lose Wendy’s phone, but she’d just get another one – bless her heart – – –

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Filed under animal rescue, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch