Tag Archives: travel

We’re all going on a Summer Holiday!

Jack gets back into the usual day late mode –

This is weird –

Everyone thinks I’ve just been on holiday/vacation in Scotland, whereas I was actually working most of the time. It was my annual small group tour and the culmination of much planning, checking and double checking. Despite all that I’m always aware that the paying customers expect a trouble free and enjoyable experience and for any particular preferences to be accommodated where possible. Add to that the inevitable unexpected emergencies and it all adds up to a fairly draining two weeks for me.

This year the unexpected hit quickly – one of the group had his case sent to London instead of Edinburgh by Aer Lingus and it took a week to finally get them re-united. Then I discovered I’d wrongly assumed that he and a female customer were a couple, so the hotel rooming lists had to be quickly adjusted. Luckily the agency we use for our hotel bookings were rapidly on the case and got things sorted at very short notice!

When I first started doing this twelve years ago I was very naïve and didn’t really consider that anything could go wrong. But as time has gone on, I have become more and more nervous ahead of each tour, partly because almost every year something does!

Despite all this it’s the weather that really makes the tour and we were very lucky this time, with little rain and increasingly sunny and warm conditions.

hat pic

Everyone except Beth and Brandon celebrated the 4th together!

Now that I’ve been home for a few days and just about over the jet-lag, Wendy and I are finally on a real vacation and staying, along with our friends Barbara and Oliver from Scotland, with other friends David and Susan in NC. Tomorrow we head to the beach in SC to meet up with yet more friends – Beth and Brandon – for a much anticipated week.

Check back next week for more of my real vacation – – –

PS – David drove the bus in Scotland and we visited Barbara and Oliver at their house in Edinburgh just before the group tour started – small world!

 

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Filed under between books, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Should Auld Acquaintance – – –

Jack is in Scotland and Wendy is – – somewhere – – so Jack sent this by carrier pigeon.

Back more than twenty five years ago I helped my folksinger friend Ed Miller with his then new music tour of Scotland. Ed lives in Austin, Texas and started bringing over thirty five fans, touring them around Scotland and having them joined each day by a local musician with particular knowledge of the local history and culture. I performed that function when they were in Fife each year. That finished when Wendy and I moved to the US, but it gave me the idea for my annual small group tours.

On Ed’s tours he always worked with a tour guide called Charlie Hunter, who dressed in his kilt, herded his charges off and on the coach in a timely manner.

Imagine my surprise when my tour was in Melrose on the second day of our tour and I saw a familiar kilted figure standing beside a large coach parked next to our minivan.

ed charlie

As we exchanged greetings Ed appeared as well!

Thinking that this was a ‘one off’ coincidence we bade them farewell and continued on our way. A few days later we pulled into the parking lot behind the ‘Green Welly’ at Tyndrum and who should be there as well – – -! Much joking and then another farewell. We set off for Glencoe and, as usual pulled into the visitors’ center. An hour later so did Ed and Charlie in their now familiar coach! Once again it was farewell and we headed for Oban and the ferry to Mull.

ed

The following day we headed down through beautiful Mull to the Iona ferry and I waited with our minivan while the rest of our group went across on the foot ferry. I eventually wandered up the line of parked coaches and saw a now very familiar one! It turned that they would be staying in the hotel next to ours in Oban that night, so the following morning we once again bade them farewell – only to meet them again at the Green Welly! With them for a couple of days was another old friend – Margaret Bennett!

margaret B

Our next stop was at Killin at the start of Loch Tay on our way to see Europe’s oldest living tree at Fortingall. As I guarded our minivan at Killin a very familiar coach pulled up – – –

iona

The Iona ferry on a beautiful day!

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

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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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Grand Tours – –

Jack gets to do a weekend blog post to get Wendy off the hook

I’ve often said to folk over here that I have never gotten used to long road trips, but that’s not entirely true. Every year I conduct a small group of Americans around Scotland for almost two weeks. We stay in various hotels along the way and drive for anything up to six hours each day.

So you’d think that something similar here wouldn’t be all that different!

Just this last two weeks Wendy and I did just that– mixture of author promotions and business meetings Wendy had to do, and she dragged me along for fun. From here in Big Stone Gap all the way up to DC and down to Knoxville with lots of ups and downs along I-81 just to make life interesting. Part of that involved choosing our next house!

https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/550-Tazewell-St-Wytheville-VA-24382/108105878_zpid/

Earlier this year Wendy and I took our Scottish (and English) friends Barbara and Oliver on a three week road trip up to South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and all points in between and had a great time. But it did involve some serious planning!

I think what makes the difference is that you never feel very far from anywhere in Scotland – it’s a small country. Whereas the US is really enormous, so there’s more of a sense that you are setting off on a real journey here. You think about meal breaks and plan much more about where to stay along the way.

Maybe also another difference is that in Scotland I’m never very far from one friend or another. On the recent road trip here we were lucky to be able to stay with a new friend in DC. Amelia Townsend (originally from Big Stone) runs the Shoestring Theater Company and had asked me to provide some music for her upcoming new play. We took the pieces on a CD and zip-drive with us and she was gracious in providing us with accommodation for a couple of nights.

But the journey finished in a very American way – Thanksgiving with Wendy’s family in Knoxville.

Family meals in Appalachia usually tend to be somewhat Northern European – a bit like filling up at the gas station. But there are exceptions and Thanksgiving is one. So this is one of those occasions when I’m reminded of meals I’ve shared in Southern Europe – Italy, Spain or France, with a social gathering around a big table that’s as much about sharing stories as sharing food. I doubt I will ever forget Wendy’s mom’s story of how, as a young nurse (and lifelong abstainer) she got drunk on rum filled chocolates and had to be persuaded to lie down for a while!

If you knew her mother, you’d know how funny this story is. Look up “lady” and it’s her picture you see with the definition.

Still and all, with us moving in the New Year – one of the first stops on this madcap tour was to procure our new place in Wytheville—there is nothing quite like coming home to one’s own little bed again. Wendy and I are looking forward to the next adventure, while enjoying the last of the summer wine from this one. The bookstore has been grand to us, and we know it will be great for the next team.

Onward—adventure awaits!

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

The Monday Book

Jack gets to write the Monday Book post – so it’s a day late – –

Bringing Columbia Home – Michael D. Leinbach, Johnathan H. Ward

columbia

I stumbled upon this book in Greensboro NC where Wendy was doing a promotional event in a bookstore. Being a bit of an air and space freak I couldn’t resist it.

This is the whole story of the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle disaster, and Leinbach is probably the best person who could have written this book as he was at the center of the mission.

The book chronicles the whole tragic story from the first contradictory clues and suspicions all the way to the gathering of wreckage and crew remains. Along the way we encounter the interactions between rural Texans, Federal agencies, State organizations, NASA professionals, fellow astronauts and the family members of the doomed crew.

The things that stood out for me were –

The very sensitive handling of everything to do with the crew, their families and the inevitable evidence relating to their last minutes. The amazing ‘ownership’ by locals of responsibility for laborious searches for the tiniest fragments in pretty terrible conditions. Then the equally laborious technical work to try to establish what caused the catastrophe.

The book doesn’t shirk placing blame where needed but also lays bare the sheer risks that inevitably accompany space travel. I have visited the air and space museum in DC a number of times and always marvel when I look at the Apollo capsules. How anyone could sit in that atop a rocket and be blasted into space is completely beyond my comprehension!

Just last week I wrote about my memories of the PanAm 103 bombing over Lockerbie in Scotland and I couldn’t help drawing some parallels with the Columbia disaster. I suppose the biggest difference is that the crews of the space shuttles knew the risks involved!

Finally – it was shown after the cause of the crash was established that there would have been no way to rescue the crew even if the damage to the wing had been known. So, as they were carrying out their scientific work they were already doomed.

The book is written for the layman, is easy to read and I found it completely gripping from start to finish.

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All is Forgiven – –

Jack’s guest post is early this week – that’s something new –

One of the things I remember from my MBA studies was how companies convert casual customers into loyal ones. There were a range of strategies but the most effective one was how they deal with problems. If a business accepted there was a problem and went out of their way to deal with it that customer would not only stick with them but pull in all their friends and acquaintances.

Last Friday I flew back from Scotland and my route was Edinburgh to Chicago and then Chicago to Knoxville. The final flight was due out of Chicago at 6.50pm and to arrive in TYS around 8.30pm.

The first problem was that the scheduled flight attendant’s incoming flight was from Canada and was not only late but coming into a different terminal, so she added a 30 minute delay (not her fault). We pushed out from the gate and sat in the ‘alley’ for another 30 minutes in a very hot plane until the pilot announced that we were going back to the gate because the A/C had broken (not his fault). Another 30 minutes later it was fixed, we got back on board and pushed out again.

This time we again sat for 30 minutes in the alley before we eventually trundled to the area where all the other planes were taking their turn to take off. We sat for another hour watching plane after plane pass us and take off. Finally we started to move only to perambulate around the airport and back to where we’d started. The Pilot came on and said there was a warning light flashing so we were going back to the gate again (not his fault).

We got to the gate and were again sent in to the terminal. After some time we were told that it wasn’t fixable but they were bringing a replacement plane out of the hangar for us. We finally took off four hours late and arrived at last in Knoxville at 12.45am. Normally this would have driven me crazy, but the pilot and flight attendant were absolutely on the ball. They didn’t keep us on an overheated plane, provided us with water, organized free snacks, kept us informed all the way as to what was happening and apologized for things they had no control over. Next morning I got an email from the airline apologizing again and giving me 2500 airmiles in compensation.

I was enormously impressed with the way that the employees of this enormous company who were actually in direct contact with their customers went out of their way to make us comfortable and cared for.

United Airlines has obviously turned a corner from last year when they dragged that man off the plane and have some amazing employees.

To the crew of UA 4013 – very well done and I will continue to fly United.

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My Life of Spice

Aargh – It’s Thursday already – – – Jack’s Wednesday guest post

When I left school at the age of sixteen I commenced a five year apprenticeship as a painter, decorator and sign-writer and then continued to ply my trade until in my late thirties I started teaching these skills in the local community college. Nowadays most of the materials used back then have been phased out or outright banned for health and safety reasons but I worked with lots of highly volatile and toxic stuff. Over time I gradually lost my sense of smell and now have none at all, although strangely I occasionally have smell ‘memories’ that are triggered by particular sights or sounds, or family stories.

All this is to lead in to the reason why I love to both cook and eat spicy food – particularly Indian curries. Back in the 1970s I had enjoyed visiting Chinese restaurants which could be found all over Scotland, discovered curry on their menus and was instantly ‘hooked’! Not long after that Indian restaurants began to appear and are now more numerous than the Chinese ones.

Curry

It was an obvious step from enjoying the professional offerings to attempting to make them myself, as did many of my friends. But I was always looking for the elusive and special taste of the restaurants, and it took a long time and the advent of the internet and my Google friend before I finally found their secret. It was all about preparing a basic sauce in bulk, then freezing it in handy sized bags, to be used later along with fresh veggies and meats and additional spices.

http://www.greatcurryrecipes.net/2011/06/24/how-to-make-restaurant-style-curry-sauce-for-use-in-many-different-curry-recipes/

Finally (or almost) Wendy and I attended week long courses at John C Campbell Folk School in S. Carolina some years ago. Wendy went for chair caning and I discovered a wonderful Indian woman called Ruby. She taught me and a zany group of folk all the finer points of making, not just curries, but samosas, pakoras, soups and desserts including balancing sugar and lemon juice and lots of other great tips. We cannot recommend enough checking out that wonderful Folk School and their offerings throughout the year!

Finally (really) – more recently Wendy and I found ourselves with time to spare in Cincinnati and discovered the wonderful Findlay Market, a year-round covered smorgasbord of international foods. It had a spice counter and we saw a spice mix called ‘Apocalypse’ that included ghost pepper along with all the usual curry spice blend.

So my procedure now is to heat some olive oil and butter in the electric griddle – fry a teaspoon of Apocalypse, a teaspoon of ground ginger and a teaspoon of minced garlic. Add coarsely chopped onion and fry until just browned. Then the defrosted bulk sauce and finally any additional veggies or meats. The last thing is to stir in a dessert spoon of Garam Masala as everything is simmering.

I believe I feel a smell memory coming on – – –

 

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