Tag Archives: Tales of the Lonesome Pine

A Window on the World

Jack makes a plea in his weekly guest post –

I’m prompted to write on this particular subject because of a book I’ve just read, a memoir by a prison librarian. But this isn’t the Monday Book post, so that will have to wait for now.

I’m a member of Prison Visitation and Support (PVS), set up to provide a visitation service for all Federal prisoners, including those in both civilian and military prisons.

I joined up four years ago as part of a three person team based around the Quaker group that meets monthly in the bookstore and we all visit prisoners at the local Federal prison. Each of us visits two prisoners on each visit and they are mostly men who are either in for a very long time or forever. They have asked for visits because, for a variety of reasons, they have no-one else.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that there are nowhere near enough of us around the country to visit all the prisoners asking.

I know what you’re thinking – why on earth would you? Why would anyone want to spend sometimes considerable time and expense traveling to an isolated spot maybe hours from home to spend an hour with someone who has committed a terrible crime (often murder, drug dealing or armed robbery?) The answer is frequently hard to take but true, nevertheless. They are human beings and we are the only people with whom they can have contact who are not part of their prison network; the only people who can provide a momentary glimpse of the outside world through a neutral window.

PVS is supported by all the major religious groups as well as many non-religious ones; the board includes representatives of these, plus ex prisoners and ex Wardens. It has an excellent relationship with The Department of Justice and this means we have a great working relationship with our local prison.

That said, we don’t specifically talk about religion and that’s not the organization’s purpose. Actually we are more listeners than talkers.

All this may sound wonderful and uplifting, but there are caveats. If you have any tendency to claustrophobia this isn’t for you. Once the various doors have locked behind you, you are as much a prisoner as the folk you are visiting. It’s also very draining–as Wendy will tell you, because when I come home from visiting she hands me a Scotch and leaves me for a few hours to re-surface. It isn’t physically difficult because you sit across the table from your visitee with absolutely no distractions (no TV or magazines or books or anything) and have an hour to talk. Then all over again with the second one. Yet that can be very hard work! In addition there may be unexpected counts or your prisoners be delayed by internal activities. While you wait for maybe an hour or more you also have nothing to distract you – just an empty table and walls.

If this seems rather intimidating or uninviting, there’s an upside.

Once you have started visiting a particular prisoner, that continues until one of a number of things happen: they are released, they are transferred to another prison, or they ask for no more visits. As a result you might be visiting monthly with the same two guys (and ours is an all male prison) for years. That has been the case for me. My experience has often (though not always) meant meaningful conversations with really interesting characters. One of them had escaped many times from State prisons before ending in the Federal system. He could write a best-seller about digging tunnels.

There are some prisons in remote parts of the country that have no PVS visitors at all and all the others have waiting lists of prisoners who want visits. We have our own waiting list and urgently need some more to join our little group. If you are interested you can contact me through this blog or check out the PVS website – http://prisonervisitation.org/

“I was in prison and you visited me” Now, who was it said that……


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The Monday Book – The Romance of the Match – Herbert Manchester (The Diamond Match Co. 1926)

Jack’s unusual guest book review – if you want a copy we have one for sale – – –

“How many thousand or hundred thousand years man lived on earth before learning to use fire is unknown.”

How could anyone resist such an opening sentence as that? Well, I certainly couldn’t!

This booklet was published in the era of art deco and Agatha Christie’s introduction of Hercule Poirot. Its amazing cover is a product of those times. Inside one finds a mixture of 1920’s writing style and world-view. This non-fiction book is unashamedly a corporate promotion for the Diamond Match Company, and yet it tells a fascinating story of the use of fire over millennia and the evolvement of the match industry, including many terrible health hazards along the way. It rather surprisingly doesn’t shy away from the economic pressures on the match industry to continue with dangerous chemicals and chemical processes when others were available, despite the toll on the workers.


Once it has covered the history of the use and harnessing of fire and the development of the match, however, it becomes much more of an outright promotion of the company and a panegyric for the founder W. A. Fairburn.

I found this booklet a complete delight, particularly for its amazingly bizarre mixture of history, art deco design, choice of font and the final page, comprised of a series of statements by the founder of the company, Mr. W. A. Fairburn, including what I assure you is a complete sentence –

“Diamond men have for years led the world in the art of match making; today they lead in the science of progressive invention, in the art of efficient production and distribution, in the inestimable virtues of brotherhood, equity and undying good fellowship, and in the courage and energy that knows no failure and acknowledges no defeat.”

Please note the semi-colon and the Oxford comma.


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Here We Go Again – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post just sneaks past the marriage counselor –

We’ve lived in five different houses in the seventeen years we’ve been married and, despite their very different ages and styles, there’s one thing they all have in common – – the length of time it takes us to work out where things should be located and which rooms should be for what (usually anything from two to five years). The process involves setting things up one way, then completely changing them on an annual basis!

This habit has, of course, continued into our current location and now seems to be co-incidental with my yearly Scottish tour. Most years the bookshelves get shifted around while I’m away and I have to re-learn where everything is as well as help with any remaining outstanding moves.


But this year was a bit different. Wendy had spent my absence not so much moving things as planning how we would together move things upon my return. The focus would be the ‘Mystery Room’ (the room that houses the mystery and detective novels). This also just happens to be the room that houses the littlest foster kittens. Did I mention that there are always more kittens when I return than when I left? We agreed a maximum of six at any one time, so naturally I came back to nine, and I have no idea how many there were while I was away.

Down the center of the mystery room were the two biggest, heaviest and most solid bookcases in the shop. They took up more space than was needed and cut down on the natural light from the windows. So the plan was to move them to the garage where the current narrower shelves had been passed along to our good friends David and Felicia. Then we would re-position some ‘Jack-builts’ in place of the heavyweights while afixing a couple of cheap store-bought shelf units against the walls (still with me?).

Of course this had to be done immediately I returned, was still seriously jet-lagged and re-adjusting to temperatures around 25 degrees higher than Scotland. There’s no half measures with Wendy and once you start there’s no going back or stopping until it’s done!

As we were fixing the last wall mounted shelf unit in place she said “do you think this works”? “Why of course dear – it’s a great improvement” I responded (I sure as h*ll wasn’t going to say anything else)!


But the kittens thought the whole exercise was great fun – particularly helping to identify all the new places they could get trapped or just hide from us!

“Welcome home, Honey”


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The Green Green Grass of Home – – –

In Jack’s weekly guest post he continues to complain – whit’s he like?

One of the things I’ve never really got used to living here, is the rate that everything suddenly starts growing once the temperature rises and the summer thunderstorms hit. I mean grass, weeds and things that might or might not be weeds. One of our regular customers paused to admire some mint that’s taking over part of the front yard and asked if she could volunteer her daughters to ‘tidy up’. Please, please I said!

Between running the bookstore, an annual tour of Scotland, an annual Celtic festival, a weekly radio show and trying to keep on top of the upkeep of a 1903 building, there’s little time left for gardening.

The irony, of course, is that even if we had the time and inclination, we are actually completely useless gardeners. We grow tomato plants from seed and then plant them out where they quickly die – same with most other things – potatoes, peas, brussel sprouts, peppers – – -. We rarely even keep house-plants going for any time.

Meanwhile that pesky grass needs mowing, and the weeds need whacking – assuming I don’t expire trying to get the mower and weed-whacker started!

But wait! “What light through yonder window breaks – – – -”

So yes – Sunshine is good and so is the lack of snow, not to mention longer days and tee-shirt temperatures. I’ll fly into Edinburgh this Monday morning and will be reminded of that quite forcibly I suspect! So I can’t complain can I?

“Sumer is icumen in – – – -“


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A Tale of Two Kitties

An extra guest post from Jack this week, while Wendy is aloft on her way home from Oregon –

Laurel is our middle-aged foster cat. A beautiful Siamese with a touch of nervous eczema, she is no longer nervous, it seems. In fact she has gone from hiding in corners to dominating the entire bookstore.


As part of her new-found persona, she has taken to ambushing all the bookstore staff kitties – particularly young Hadley (she is now the one who has taken to hiding in corners).

Laurel has also become very ‘shouty’, demanding to be fed first and then sitting at my feet meowing to be picked up and put on my lap, where she will then lie happily surveying her domain.

All of this, I am sure, will come as a great surprise to my fellow members of the ‘Team Laurel’ gang on FaceBook. We have been exchanging tips for weeks now on how to encourage her to come out of her self-imposed purdah and re-engage with the world.

So – where from here?

Well, it’s clear to me that Laurel should ideally not be sharing space with other cats (she seems fine with dogs), although she came originally with a companion and they seemed to get along OK. Maybe she needs to be dominated by a nice muscular tom-cat?

Of course the Quaker side of me hopes that when she ‘centers down’ for an hour of meditation (something she appears to find no difficulty with), she might find that ‘light within’ that we all seek and emerge changed for the better. However I fear that may be a forlorn hope!

It is great to see her engaging with the world, but I can’t help feeling sorry for Owen, Nike and little Hadley as they peer over their shoulders wondering where and when she will pounce like Kato in the Pink Panther movies.

Onward and upward, I suppose – – –

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The Monday Book Review

The Monday book guest review by Jack

Although I do read the occasional novel, my preference leans towards biography or history. So today’s book is Total War by Peter Calvocoressi and Guy Wint.

You might wonder what a Quaker is doing reading books about war, but it’s really to try to understand why these terrible things happen.

This is a weighty book in a number of senses. It deals with the 2nd World War, but starts from well before with historical background around the world. It examines the political pressures and options, not just in the main protagonist countries, but also in places that aren’t usually given much attention – such as China, India and The Balkans etc.

I quite like the fact the book has a good deal of opinion in it as well as straightforward facts. I’ve always held to the frequently expressed phrase “history is written by the winners” and most other books I’ve read about WW2 pretty much exemplify that (maybe because most were written shortly afterwards). So it was refreshing to find detailed accounts of the attitudes, points of view and shifting pressures, not only in Britain, The US, France and Germany, but also in Japan, China, India, Poland, Hungary and The Balkans.

While there is personal opinion here, it didn’t strike me as polemical or partisan. For instance I was pretty much unaware that for many Asian and Pacific countries the war really became a choice between which empires to be part of and where there was an emerging independence movement where their best option lay. Even in Europe there were groups and recently established countries that had the same difficult choices to make.

This is a big book, but highly readable . I learned a lot from it!


Filed under book reviews, reading, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

Cooking the Books


Jack’s weekly guest post continues the Indian theme and re-visits the problem of which books he puts in the store


Regular readers probably know, by now, that I’m a devotee of Indian food – curries, papadums, somosas and badjhies (we don’t need no stinking badjhies, as Bogart’s Mexican adversary famously said in ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’).


So when Wendy produced my five Indian cookbooks yesterday and asked me innocently if it was time for them to go into the shop I was momentarily flummoxed. Should they? They have been my pride and joy for years!


But had I ever actually used them in a practical way? Had I propped them open and followed their every word?


Well, actually, no! What I had done is gathered a lot of experience over many years and ended up making two or three regular things.


1) Fry finely chopped onions in vegetable oil until just browned; push them aside and fry three tablespoons of Mike Ward’s famous curry powder mix in the same oil; dump in a jar of plain tomato pasta sauce and all the vegetables (peppers, golden raisins and mushrooms, usually); add a similar amount of plain yoghurt bit by bit; simmer for a few hours.


2) Exactly the same as 1) except miss out Mike’s FCP and add three tablespoons of Patak’s hot curry paste at the end.


I also sometimes do a prawn/shrimp or chicken tikka. Make up a mix of onion, yoghurt and tandoori spice mix and marinade the shrimp or chicken overnight in the fridge. Next day remove the shrimp or chicken and clean most of the marinade off. Grill until crisp, then serve with the heated marinade on the side.


I shouldn’t forget Wendy’s home-made chutney made from our own fruit and vegetables – but that’s her closely guarded personal recipe!


I’m delighted to say that our local supermarket now carries a very good selection of Indian spices, sauces, papadums and naan breads, so it’s now easier to come up with the goods.


The five books? You’ll find them in the cook-books section, proudly displayed together.


(But I did enjoy reading them and imagining all the dishes – every one of them!).


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