Tag Archives: travel

The Train that I Ride – –

Jack is jumping in here so Wendy can write something else –

I had the great pleasure of visiting with Wendy up in Fayetteville WV a few days ago and found it to be a charming place, about the same size as Big Stone Gap. The biggest difference was the group of writers and artists I met who are re-inventing the place and promoting it as a welcoming haven for such folk (but that’s for another blog post).

On Thursday we drove out into the surrounding area and explored out of the way places. We stumbled on the most amazing thing. We had heard there was an old abandoned coal-town that you could wander round called Thurmond. My goodness!

We traveled along a narrow winding road and came to what might have been the place, but there wasn’t much to see. So we carried on just out of curiosity to see where we’d end up. A few miles further on we came to a scary narrow bridge and essayed across gingerly and found ourselves at an abandoned railroad station with a sign saying Thurmond. The depot had been restored as a visitor center by the National Park Service and there was a street of empty impressive looking buildings. The buildings had big posters mounted inside explaining their history and that of the town.

thurmond 3

As we wandered round we stumbled across a very modern Amtrack signboard and discovered to our amazement that the station was on the main line from New York to Chicago and a train stopped once a day in each direction.

thurmond 4

It turned out that the nearby New River Gorge area is a big tourist destination in Summer, so we suppose that people come there by train then, although how they get any further can only be on foot as I doubt there’s any bus or taxi service.

 

That said, it is a destination worth getting to, especially for outdoorsy types into hiking, biking, and kayaking. Wendy and I can watch people like that for hours.

While we were there, a train came through, hauling empty coal cars. The L&M may not stop there anymore, but at least in the summer, people do.

 

 

 

thurmond 5

thurmond 1

1 Comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized

Up, Up, and Away – – –

Jack scrapes in once again – –

Regular readers will know of my fascination with all things aeronautical, so, when Wendy posted a message a couple days ago on FaceBook asking (on behalf of a friend!), about insurance for a 75 year old man bent on going up in a glider – – –

While I’ve made many, many trips all over the world in airliners, there really just two flight experiences that really stick in my mind.

glider

When I was about 19 years old I went on a week long gliding vacation in Yorkshire. It was held at Sutton Bank which is a very high straight cliff near Thirsk and a beautiful area. We were a small group and all stayed in a lovely old pub/inn at the foot of the cliff. Every morning an ancient ex-army land-rover would ferry us up to the airfield up on top of the cliff. Then the excitement started!

Our instructor was a Polish ex fighter pilot who’d flown Spitfires in the Battle of Britain and he was a real character. Each morning he would address us in the clubhouse where he told us nothing about gliders and everything about flying Spitfires during WW2! Then we’d go out with him in turns, get hooked up to the winch and rocket up to five hundred feet or so. That put us over the edge of the cliff where our height suddenly became over a thousand feet and with an up-draft that pushed us up even further.

But my strongest memory is the complete tranquility of sitting silently in the sky with no sense of motion and no engine – like being in an armchair!

The second experience was much more recently –

low wing

During the 1990s I organized a student exchange between my college in Scotland and one in Herning, Denmark. My opposite number there was the head of the engineering dept. and he owned a light plane (and a half share in another one). I went over for a week to set things up and he took me up in his plane (a low wing monoplane with a side by side open cockpit). We visited some of his flying buddies who lived out in the country with their own grass landing strips.

morgan

At that time I was the owner of a Morgan sports car and I remember thinking as we took off for the first time that this felt like my Morgan had just sprouted wings! We had a number of magical flights and never more than a few hundred feet up, navigating around pylons and factory chimneys and with no maps.

Coincidentally both our colleges had a link to one in Wilhelmshaven in Germany and he wanted to fly us down there. The ‘high-ups’ didn’t approve as it would involve traversing part of the north sea, so we ended up driving. When we crossed into Germany the autobahn had no speed limit so we drove at over 100 MPH!

I’m sure it was much safer – – –

 

1 Comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Monday Book

I Should Have Stayed Home: The Worst Trips of the Great Writers – Roger Rapoport

I should have.jpg

Jack is doing the Monday book this week (Wendy will do the Wednesday post)

I hardly read novels these days, much preferring history, biography or memoirs. This collection of short stories by fifty well known authors, most of them travel writers, falls into the memoir category I suppose.

I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced a ‘journey from hell’ at some point. Rapoport was able to persuade these well-known authors to contribute their particular ones. Some are funny and others are truly scary!

The idea originated with a student essay competition run in conjunction with a travel writers’ conference and the winning entry is included here.

Among the more famous contributors are Paul Theroux and Barbara Kingsolver and this brings me to the only problem I really have with the collection. Obviously there are great many different writing styles and some appealed to me more than others.

There are stories that focus on the sheer discomfort of certain modes of transport such as a hair-raising ride through the Egyptian desert in an ancient bus with an even more ancient driver. Others are more about culture clash and these tend to be more poignant and reflective.

Perhaps my favorite was about a stay in a supposed hotel that turned out to be a collection of huts that were infested – first of all with cockroaches and then with lizards that ate the cockroaches.

The book held my attention all the way through, though, and I can definitely recommend it as a good bed-time read that can be dipped into a few stories at a time over succeeding nights.

Maybe 4 stars out of 5.

Leave a comment

Filed under book reviews, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, what's on your bedside table, writing

Mony a Mickle maks a Muckle

Jack’s Wednesday Blog – yes – I know!

I’m one of those crazy folks who can’t stop getting involved with folk festivals and folk clubs. I’ve been doing it most of my life so I should have known better by now!

Every time I say ‘never again’ but then ‘again’ comes around and in I dive. I suck in unsuspecting and/or long-suffering friends and even complete strangers.

Right now, we’re 10 days away from the 11th Big Stone Celtic which is our local celebration of the culture of the seven (or maybe eight or nine) connected Nations that have links to this part of the new world. This is the time just before any of these kinds of events when anything that might go wrong is very likely to. It might be overlooked essential details, a last-minute performer cancellation, the complications of expanded offerings or just the everyday pressures of all the other life events that surround us.

Big Stone Celtic is quite unusual for a folk festival this side of the pond. It’s modeled on traditional music events in Ireland and Scotland that take place in small towns and villages using every space available. Here in the US they usually take place in parks outside of towns. Apart from a Friday evening concert in the local community college on the outskirts our festival uses all the nooks and crannies we can find for free in downtown all-day Saturday.

CELTICLOGO2small

Lest this sound like a ‘one-man-band’ I should also say that despite all the pressure (and maybe why I keep repeating the torture) it only ever works if there’s a team involved. Some have been in it from the very start and others have joined or left the gang as their other commitments allowed. We have a very strong and hard working group of folk right now, though and seem to have

Wendy and I started this off 11 years ago with a very tentative Saturday afternoon thing in a small local downtown park with no idea whether there would be any interest. Because all the venues are public spaces it isn’t possible to charge entry so we are completely dependent on donations and sponsorship which I’m delighted to say has increased year on year. Our biggest sponsor is the local arts organization ProArt and for the last five years they have enabled Friday concert as well as much of the Saturday music. We have reached the level now when we feature a world class performer each year. Past festivals have featured Barbara Dickson, Alan Reid/Rob Van Sante, Ocean Orchestra, Iona, John Skelton etc.

It’s not all music, though – we go to great lengths to identify all the Celtic Nations (including Appalachia) through food, costume, crafts and all kinds of athletic activities – even sheepdogs!

Anything I might have missed in this blatant commercial can be found here – http://www.bigstoneceltic.com

 

1 Comment

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

On the Road Again – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is on Thursday again – yawn – – –

One of the highlights of the tour I organize on odd-numbered years is the visit to Ballyeman Barn in Beautiful Antrim and the home of our old friend Liz Weir. Despite the fact that she’d only just returned from the US the day before we arrived, she was the perfect host as usual.

liz 1

Liz always cooks us a superb dinner before opening up the room for an old fashioned ceilidh with stories, songs and music. She always invites some of her local friends to join us and the entertainment and ‘craic’ is mighty (as they say in Ireland).

liz 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I wasn’t prepared for this time was the arrival of an old colleague from my teaching career in Dunfermline. I vaguely knew that John O’Connor was Irish but I didn’t know that he was from Cushendall and that he’d returned there when he retired. Just down the road from Liz’s place.

liz 4

Leave a comment

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

Some Things Just Suck!

Jack’s guest post is a farewell to a very close friend, co-written with two other very close friends.

Obituary – Michael (Mike/Mick) Ward

mike

Michael Joseph Ward was born in 1950, in West Lothian, though like his five siblings, he spent much of his life in Dunfermline.  A highly intelligent, well-read, erudite, individual, the educational institutions graced by his presence included Blairs College (near Aberdeen), The Scots College in Rome, and Glasgow University.  After graduating from there, he entered the teaching profession, and for many years was a teacher of modern languages at Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline.  As an avid reader, he never stopped learning, and, in adulthood, added the Gaelic language to his already impressive list of skills.

His teaching was of a piece with his approach to any task; professional, conscientious and thorough, which earned him the respect of the many pupils who came to understand with his help that learning can be much more than the mere acquisition of knowledge, important though that is.  His quirky sense of humour often caught them unawares, too, as did his occasional side-excursion into teaching them a French folk song, to remind them that language can be much more than utilitarian.  No-one knew better than him that innovations in education are not what makes the difference; that what counted was dedicated, effective teaching, and that was what his pupils got.

Mike was a long time member of the Fife based folk band Heritage, having joined them in 1978. In need of a solid keyboard player to master the group’s portable harmonium (pump organ), they found the ideal candidate in Mike. The group also discovered that he was not only an excellent keyboard player but also a wonderful penny-whistler and player of Northumbrian and Scottish smallpipes.  He had taken up the Northumbrian pipes in the late 70s, and attended the week-long courses, tutored by Joe Hutton, which were a feature of the Edinburgh Folk Festival at that time.  For a number of years he also attended annual residential weekend courses, also tutored by Joe Hutton, in Rothbury.  He met a number of kindred spirits at these courses, many of whom would become lifelong friends.

While Heritage members up to that point had learned and played mostly by ear, as a classically trained musician (he had been college organist during his time at Blairs), Mike could easily sight read. He had a respect for the folkies as well and used his skills to help the group develop and expand their music.

early-heritage

Mike on the extreme right behind the harmonium, playing the penny whistle

Over the following fifteen years or so he played with Heritage all over Scotland and around Europe, absorbing the music of other traditions and contributing to the repertoire and musical sophistication of the band. Another recruit around the same time was fiddler Pete Clark and he and Mike struck up a particularly creative partnership supporting and adding to the band’s trademark sound.

As a language teacher (before his retirement) and multi-linguist, Mike had a particular affinity for France and Italy, and this was of great help when the group traveled to these locations. Of course he had a much wider musical fraternity, extending to the English borders area of Northumbria as well as Brittany, the Occitan area of France and Friuli, in Italy. Only three years ago he spent almost a month in the Southern Appalachians with his old musical colleague Jack Beck where he made many new friends and expanded yet again his horizons.

He could be somewhat self-deprecating about his considerable musical skills.  If you gave Mike a piano, he could keep you entertained for hours with improvised arrangements of traditional music.  He was particularly masterful when it came to slow airs.  More than once it was suggested to him that he should really consider recording and/or publishing some of these gems, but, sadly, it never happened.

late-heritage

Later, in France – Mike on keyboard at the back

In 2015, along with his friends, Alistair and Brigitte Marshall, he visited the museum at Blairs, his first visit back there since he had left as a pupil.  The curator, upon learning that Mike was an alumnus,  escorted him into the college buildings which, though in a parlous state, awaiting redevelopment, looked in many respects as they must have done when the last pupil laid down his pen for the last time.  It was an experience which Mike admitted to finding somewhat spooky!  On that same visit, he was also reunited with the organ in the beautiful St Mary’s Chapel at Blairs.  He and Alistair had plans to return there, to rehearse some of the very atmospheric Breton music for bombarde and organ.

A great connoisseur of Indian cuisine, his curries were legendary and his advice on which restaurants to visit much sought after.

During the last few years he had faced a number of serious health issues with great dignity and acceptance, born of his deep Christian faith. A devout Roman Catholic, Mike was never narrow minded, was passionately interested in human beings, of whatever faith or hue, and accepted that everyone had their particular path to follow.

1 Comment

Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Onwards and Upwards – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

By the time I write my next guest blog post I will have reached the age of 75 –

That’s quite a sobering thought, as when I was a kid most people didn’t even live that long! I’m told that that 75 is the new 65 – or maybe even the new 55 – –

jack-ii

I was born in Dunfermline, Scotland on February 5th 1942 (which explains why I can properly pronounce ‘February’) and that was at a time when the outcome of WW2 was hanging in the balance. Since then I’ve lived through the cold war, including the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the demise of the British Empire, The Suez crisis, the Falklands war, the first Iraq war, the second Iraq war, the invasion of Afghanistan and a host of other inglorious adventures.

I’ve also traveled the world and here’s a funny thing – the people I’ve met along the way have been a lot like myself. I’ve met very few folk I’d describe as seeming bad or dangerous and on the odd occasion I have, it usually only required a conversation to find common ground.

What have I learned along the way?

Well – not to accept unquestioningly what I see in newspapers and on TV; and also not to accept unquestioningly what I read on social media either. Most people are basically decent and want the same things in life for themselves and others. Of course that doesn’t mean we can’t be manipulated and influenced.

If I have to state one over-riding belief it would be that within us all there’s a dark side, but there’s also an awareness of ‘The Light’. It can be found in all religions and belief systems and I really think that we all have a desire to strive towards the light.

Am I optimistic for the future?

I’ve been extraordinarily lucky throughout my life so I tend towards the ‘glass half full’ point of view; in addition I naturally see the world from a Western position, which makes me privileged. But allowing for all that I do still think that, ever so tentatively, we are moving in the right direction. We have hiccups, of course (and never more than right now), but the light still beckons us on.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized