Tag Archives: Scotland

Kiss me – I’m Irish (kinda!)

In his weekly guest post Jack reflects on his Irish connections

Since I have a fairly distinctive Scots accent it’s not unusual for folk to come into the shop and ask if I’m Irish – go figger. begorrah and jings !

But, actually, I don’t particularly mind as the Celts tend to hang together and I have cousins who were born and live in Ireland so that’s OK. Of course it’s also the time of year when we are approaching St Patrick’s Day so everything is turning green and even Big Stone Gap will have its annual St Pat’s ceilidh dance this Friday. That’s something Wendy and I are involved in organizing since it actually started out in the bookstore. As the space available to dance got smaller we eventually moved a block up the street to a local Church hall and, with the help of our good friends in the Celtic band ‘Sigean’ as well as dance leader Cynthia a goodly crowd have a great time.

However, this year the Irish season gets extended a bit as it’s the Centenary of the 1916 ‘Easter Rising’ – the failed rebellion against British rule which resulted in the shooting by firing squad of the seven leaders but also led eventually to Ireland’s independence.

Even here there is a Scottish connection, as one of the seven executed was James Connolly who was born in Edinburgh. Poor James was badly wounded in the battle, which centered on the General Post Office in Dublin. Not expected to live anyway, he was nevertheless tied to a chair and shot for treason.

Of course it’s hardly surprising that there should be interest in things Irish in this part of the US. We’re very close here to where Danial Boone’s wilderness trail branched off westward from the great wagon trail which brought the ‘Scotch-Irish’ settlers down from Philadelphia. Some continued further South, some headed West into Kentucky, but a great many just stayed hereabouts. They brought their thrawn Presbyterian attitudes with them and being a thrawn Presbyterian myself I find that I fit in real well here!

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If you’re within traveling distance our ceilidh dance starts at 7 pm and is in the Big Stone Gap Presbyterian Church hall just one block up from the bookstore. You aren’t required to dance – you can just come and enjoy the music.

 

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The Best Laid Plans – – –

– sometimes go very well indeed

We had our annual Burns Supper on Friday evening, celebrating the life and works of Scotland’s national poet Robert (Rabbie) Burns. Everyone agreed it was one of the best we’d held over the 10 years we’ve been doing it. Well attended, excellent speakers, wonderful food and smoothly flowing throughout.

shuttle pipes

Randy Stanley – our resident piper

memory

Alex Long delivered ‘The Immortal Memory’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lassies

Sandy Huguenin proposed the Toast to the Lassies and Chef Kelley Pearson responded.

songs

Wendy and I sang some Burns songs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

haggis

Chef Kelley excelled with Cock-a-Leekie soup, haggis, tatties n’ neeps and shepherds pie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dessert

The ‘piece de resistance’ – Scottish cheesecake on a shortbread base topped with cranachan and a raspberry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s to next year – y’all come – – –

 

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Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

Jack’s guest post today –

Regular readers may recall that I tend to favor non-fiction and particularly histories of one kind or another. So our recent visit to colonial Williamsburg suited me down to the ground. As a ‘New American’ myself it was fascinating to be immersed in the life of those other newcomers of the mid 1700s.

UJ

 

 

 

The first thing to catch my attention were all the union flags dotted around, but it took me a little while to work out why they seemed a bit strange. There was no red saltire! Just the white one signifying Scotland. Then it dawned on me – the red saltire is for Ireland and it was a colony as well then, so wasn’t part of Great Britain/The United Kingdom.

Williamsburg is a small compact town containing some eighty original houses and many other reconstructed ones, all laid out between the Governor’s Palace at one end and the Capitol at the other. in between is a mixture of domestic homes, taverns and shops where re-enactors play out the everyday life of the 1760s through the 1780s. I was continually reminded that there was no ‘United States’ at the start – just a collection of individual colonies that started as English and then became British (the last Governor was a Scot).

Something I was very aware of as we explored the town over a couple of days was how different this part of Virginia would have been compared to where we live here in Big Stone Gap. Williamsburg would have been the epitome of sophisticated living with fine furnishings and modern amenities for the day, whereas SW Virginia would have been the outer reaches of the frontier (hhmmm – let me just think about that again – – -)

marquis

At various times each day there were specific little scenes played out by specially knowledgeable actors taking the part of prominent citizens of the time. The members of the audience at these events were invited to ask questions and play a part as the tableaux unfolded. My favorite one involved a young man playing the part of the Marquis de Lafayette. He was himself half French and half American and his knowledge of the history of the time was very impressive. As soon as he heard my accent he showed his understanding of the complicated relationship betwixt Scotland, England and France as a backdrop to the American War of Independence. Remembering that we had to stay in the correct time-frame, I asked him if he thought the American Revolution would have a ‘knock-on effect’ in France and his reply was very interesting. He said he favored a constitutional monarchy! But he feared that, unless Louis paid attention to what was happening, there could be a real and bloody revolution – – –

 

Other events were equally enlightening, but my highlight was still the Marquis.

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Should Old Acquaintance be forgot – –

Jack’s guest post this week is all about friendship

Wendy blogged about our friend Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver last week, but I wanted to say something about their visit too.

Barbara and I sang together as a ‘folk-duo’ in Scotland back in the 1960s, and although we’ve stayed in touch over the years – – – –

It’s often the case that people we think of as good friends we don’t actually see very often and in the case of Barbara, we haven’t spent any personal time together in almost fifty years. So I imagine she was as nervous as I was at committing to two weeks of living cheek-by-jowl here in our house/bookstore. I had no idea if she and Oliver would get along with our dogs and cats or how they’d feel about sharing the floor that the guest room is on with our cafe, cafe manager or cafe manager’s frequently visiting family (also known as our second family).

Barbara is a world ranking singer and actor who’s recording and performing career far outstrips mine, so another concern was how she’d react when, inevitably, our curious local friends would ask to hear us singing again together.

In the event we needn’t have worried!

Barbara and Oliver have become surrogate aunt and uncle to the cafe kids, she carries our latest foster-kitten Small-Fry around on her shoulder, they’ve made space for themselves and we’ve shared our part of Appalachia with them, to their obvious delight.

And the singing? We ended up discovering we still had some songs in common and we were able to re-create the kind of intimate setting that neither of us had experienced for a very long time and share that with our friends here – and we had a ball!

They got to see Carter Fold, The Museum of Country Music and Dollywood, but not all the other places they might have, so already we’re making plans for the return visit, when they will see all the stuff there wasn’t time for this year.

 

 

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We Be SWAMPED – Big Stone Celtic Starts Tonight!

sheepWe’re kinda in a mad dash to the finish line here at the bookstore, headquarters for Big Stone Celtic. Our headliner is in residence, our signs are up, our theatre seats are out and ready… and we can’t get much of a blog post up today. But come visit the site Sunday, and we’ll have all sorts of photos and fun for you about the weekend. Meanwhile, if you can join us, the schedule is at www.bigstoneceltic.com, and on Facebook you can visit Big Stone Celtic Day. Sheepdogs, singing, and food, oh my!

Come awa’ ben! (the Scots equivalent of “Y’all come!”)

 

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Crossing the Topiary Chessmen off my Bucket List

The winners of the AUTHOR HUMILIATION CONTEST in the author category will be posted Friday. Meanwhile, enjoy Wendy’s adventures in Scotland!

Digital CameraI hadn’t seen my friend Bun in eight years, since leaving Scotland for the States. We used to run a storytelling club together, and like me she is an avid textile artist.

So when she said she had promised to take her mother on a garden tour Sunday afternoon (the only day I could see her) I–who can’t tell an onion from a lily–said sure, I’d tag along.

“Great!” Bun said. “It’s at Leuchars, Earlshall Castle.”

Could it be…? Leuchars was only a few miles from New Gilston, where Jack and I used to live in Scotland. As a bride my first year there, I’d tried several times to visit a famous garden in Leuchars, listed in the guidebook just before the new owner had shut it up and installed security cameras.

Digital CameraHot diggety! In one of those rare coincidences life sometimes hands out, I not only got to spend a happy hour with my friend Bun, but she led me straight to something I’d wanted to see for more than ten years: the Topiary Chessmen.

Hey, I don’t make comments about what’s on YOUR bucket list.

Digital CameraThe pieces are laid out in mid-play. Allegedly, one king is under some threat; to really appreciate their positioning, you have to view them from the tower window of the castle. As the family weren’t offering that option in their Open Garden for Charity day, Bun and I contented ourselves with running about screaming, “Oh, here’s a knight! This must be the queen! Look, that one’s a Dalek!” and generally acting like school children.

Digital CameraMost of the people attending had come straight from the Church of Scotland’s Sunday Service, and were dressed in expensive shoes, sweater sets, and suits. Bun was wearing a lot of her own handiwork, plus a poncho. I was wearing “tourism casual.” We attracted several stares.

Which made us cut up more. “You will be exterminated!” Bun intoned in front of a Dalek-esque pawn.

Digital Camera Digital CameraA man in a flat cap with tweed patches at his elbow stopped, looked at us, looked at it, and said in a posh English accent, “Blimey! THAT’S what it reminds me of. Ta, ladies!”

Tis true that some of them required more benevolent imagination than others, but I’d been wanting to see these things for ten years. In fact, I suggested a run out in the last week Jack and I lived in Scotland, just to see if perchance we could get into the gardens.

Digital CameraJack does not share my fascination with hegemonic sculpture.

And now I’ve seen them. And Bun and I will remember our day out among the topiary chessmen for a long time. About as long as the owners of the garden remember us racing ’round shrieking in nasal drones, “Exterminate!” and doing mouth music versions of the Dr. Who theme.

Isn’t that what friendship is all about? Silliness, long-lost dreams helped to come true, and a really good cup of tea in the garden?Digital Camera

 

 

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That was Then, This is Now

Jack’s weekly guest blog

Now that our cafe is up and running and proving successful, it’s worth taking a step to the side and assessing how our life has changed over the last couple of years.

Two years ago Wendy’s book hadn’t been published, we hadn’t done the ‘booking down the road trip’, I hadn’t turned the basement into a habitable space and we hadn’t even thought about a cafe.

The publication of the book and the search for a ‘store-sitter’ (hat tip to Andrew Whalen and Wesley Hearp) to allow us to go out and do signings around the country put the little bookstore on the map and quickly resulted in lots of people (individuals and groups) coming to see us and the shop. We’ve really enjoyed these visitors. About a week ago we got the farthest one yet, coming all the way from Washington State just to see the Little Bookstore for herself.

When we moved down to the basement, that cleared our upstairs area, which allowed us to consider expansion of one kind or another. With the demise of our beloved Mutual Pharmacy and Diner the kind of expansion we wanted was decided for us! The cafe has brought folks in who buy in the bookstore and vice versa – win-win all round.

So, how has our life changed?

We are far, far busier than we’ve ever been, not just as the bookstore but as individuals. We travel far more than we did, and we are in touch with a whole network of like-minded folks around the world. It’s actually quite strange in some ways – we arrived in a very rural place as outsiders who had traveled a fair bit, and settled into a quiet rural existence. Now we are back out traveling and occupying common ground with people all over the place.

Although we can always retreat to the basement we find we now enjoy sharing time and space with Kelley and Sam, who run the cafe on the second floor (hence the name Second Story Cafe). They arrive before we wake and sometimes leave after we’ve gone to bed.

We still have a guest bedroom, so we continue to have friends stay over from time to time, particularly musicians and storytellers from the United Kingdom. That’s a good anchor to our strange new lives.

And I sometimes, in the midst of the cafe and the shop and the visitors swirling around us, think about a famous Scottish proverb, and laugh. If ‘the De’il funds wark fir idle haunds’ then he wouldn’t find much fertile ground around here.

Y’all come see us – or, as we say in Scotland: Come Awa’ Ben.

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