Tag Archives: truth

My Nightmare – –

Heck – it’s Thursday so it must be time for Jack’s Wednesday guest post!

I suffer (although that’s not really the appropriate word) from a condition called NPS (Nail Patella Syndrome). It’s a hereditary condition and other members of my family group really do ‘suffer’ much more than me. For me it’s just a weird thing that affects my bone structure – strange knee and elbow configurations , malformed finger and toe nails and very soft teeth with twisted roots. I was even the subject of a dissertation and I have a copy of it!

None of this much affected me too much growing up except for the teeth thing.

Back in the 1950s when dentistry was much less sophisticated than now and (certainly in Scotland) you were expected to just accept the pain as part of the general Calvinist approach to life, I went through a never ending Hell. In fact – maybe that’s what Hell is, and not fires at all – just a permanent dentist’s chair with a foot operated drill and a pair of pliers!

I finally, at the age of 25, had them all out – every one of them. Despite that, I still have nightmares fairly regularly involving that iconic dentist’s chair – and the mask – and the metallic smell of the gas – and the ghostly voices.

Wendy also has dental issues, but of a quite different kind, and she always has dealt with them in a much more straightforward American way (I’ve never understood the US fashion to put every teenage kid into teeth braces!).

Unlike me, Wendy has managed to keep hold of the teeth she was born with, but that has involved all sorts of procedures that never existed in Scotland when I was growing up. Things like crowns and implants.

But on Monday past (which explains the dearth of blog posts) she went into an excellent facility in Knoxville for the difficult extraction of a twisted rear tooth ahead of an implant. Suddenly I was transported back many years because she would require general anesthetic and I would need to drive her afterwards. When I was called to collect her I found her in a state of complete drunkenness with an IV in her arm, and asking me to sing for her. So I did. Then I had to leave her for 45 minutes sitting in the car while I waited for eight CVS employees to fill her pain meds scrip. However I did manage to get her  a cold milk shake much more quickly at a drive-thru!

Everything’s fine – honest it is!

But I’m frightened to go to sleep now , in case – – –

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

A Tale of Three Kitties

It’s Thursday, so it must be time for Jack’s Wednesday guest blog –

This is the story of three cats – Fang, Hillary and Delight.

Fang came to us by mistake, because we don’t take in ferals (it’s a long story), and she immediately disappeared into the bowels of the bookstore. We eventually discovered her hiding under the sink unit in our bathroom, only coming out at night to eat and drink – and the other thing, which she did fastidiously in the correct place, for all her feralness.

Hillary was another mistake and even more of a hermit – we hardly ever saw her.

Delight was not a feral, but she hated people from the minute she laid eyes on one, so after adopting out her adorable brothers and sisters, we gave up.

So they all got sent out to the garage where they immediately became their own gang: The Feral Sorority.

I went out every morning with their breakfast treats of individual little bowls of wet cat food and for the longest time only ever saw Delight. After some weeks of this, to my amazement, Fang appeared looking very suspicious and hanging way back. Over the next few weeks she began to approach close enough for me to give her a head scratch. After that she would wait behind the door with Delight each morning for me to deliver breakfast.

Soon both Delight and Fang were waiting for me each morning and getting pretty enthusiastic for head scratches and back rubs. Fang was also loudly calling if I were later than she expected. But Hillary was still nowhere to be seen – – –

Until –

The morning that she appeared after many weeks of nothing, and hung back watching the usual stuff with Fang and Delight. Hhmm she thought – that looks a bit interesting.

And that was pretty much that. Now they all welcome me (or maybe just the wet cat food) and shout loudly at me each morning. They all come for head and back scratches and Fang asks, even insists, to be lifted up onto my knee.

I suppose they might stay – – – after all, they’re not doing any harm out there in the garage….

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Uncategorized

– – You don’t know what you’ve got ’til – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

I consider myself lucky for having had a comfortable and relatively untroubled life. A happy childhood unmarred by any obvious parental disputes, although I’m sure there were some. An adolescence troubled by the usual small matters of growing into oneself and not getting anyone pregnant, but nothing more.

Wendy’s latest book ‘Fall or Fly’ is about fostering and adoption in Appalachia and got me to thinking about the contrast between my life, growing up, and the stories she unearthed during her many interviews that informed the final draft. As usual I was her initial ‘reviewer’ and I have to admit I was by turns shocked and inspired.

There’s a real problem around here with prescription drugs and that’s mainly down to one company that makes a painkiller they swore wasn’t habit-forming but is now proven so. It is also widely available both above and below the counter. Big profits for them of course – – –

I never had any exposure to drugs growing up and never had any interest in them. Once I tried marijuana but it had no effect whatsoever. I even listened carefully to the lyrics of ‘Mellow Yellow’ and like many others tried everything with bananas—which I loathed then and loath now–to no effect!

So, I think of myself as one of these balls that drops down through a game machine and just keeps going in the right direction, although I’ve little doubt there’s always the equal chance it can go the other way (I once studied probability factors).

I’m telling you this on behalf of the young people we come across who haven’t been as lucky as me or maybe even you. One of them is close to breaking my heart right now, and I don’t know if I can do anything for the child.

So, what can I say? This lovely young person, so intelligent, so competent, so lost. What to do, how to help, where the line between enabling and assistance?

Who to blame for taking away what never got used? The drug companies, the high school seller, the “friend” at the party who said, “C’mon, just try it?”

What to say, what to do? With other friends, we make sure the Temporarily Misplaced Youth has enough to eat, and eventually the wherewithal to see through the fog to the Light. And we pray, and we wait and, perhaps, sometimes, we weep.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Nicely, nicely does it – – –

Jack’s guest post a combination of the Monday Book and his usual Wednesday one –

This isn’t about a particular book, or even a specific range of books – it’s about how I was introduced to books and how they’ve played into my view of the world.

When I was attending high school and college to gain my basic English literature qualification I was following a curriculum that had a clear direction with no place whatsoever for Scottish authors, poets or playwrights. We had to study Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens, although Walter Scott was allowed. I think Scott was OK because he more or less invented the notion of a romantic ‘previous’ Scotland that no longer existed and that was acceptable.

What’s strange about this is that the Scottish education system has always (since 1707 and the union of parliaments) been completely independent from the English system. My guess is that the UK government always made sure that they had folk in positions of authority in place to make sure we toed the line. Not surprisingly I found all this a bit confusing.

But I had a wonderful English teacher at high school called John (Baldy) Forrest who had little interest in set curricula and a great love for the works of Damon Runyon. Baldy would stride around the classroom on a Friday afternoon (the fact that we were the ‘no hopers’ and it was Friday afternoon probably emboldened him) wearing his required academic gown and read sections of Runyon’s short stories aloud in a convincing New York accent – a bizarre sight indeed. He had sewn a block of wood into the side panel of his gown and would whack inattentive pupils on the back of the head which only endeared me to him more! The fact that I can picture him and recall his name is a great testament to his teaching abilities and ongoing legacy. If he’s still alive he must be well into his nineties but I doubt he is – RIP Baldy.

Later I attended evening classes in the local college I ended up working in for over twenty years and once again (no longer a ‘no hoper’) attempted to gain my Higher English qualification. We were a mixture of ages, and beneficiaries of the excellent Scottish system that left doors open for late learners. I am mortified to say that I can’t remember the name of the young teacher but he re-introduced me to Shakespeare and specifically Macbeth. I can still recite lines from ‘the Scottish play’ and it got me interested in Scottish history (something else we weren’t taught in school). But he also introduced us to ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. These are American classics that both link to poems by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns.

Now I can appreciate Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens because I’ve read Burns, Grassic Gibbon, Runyon and Hemingway.

What have I learned from all this? The best teachers don’t slavishly follow laid down curricula and learning doesn’t have to only take place in the classroom or lecture hall.

BTW – Scott wrote bodice rippers and fake ballads!

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Filed under bad writing, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized

A Dog’s Life

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

Zora, Earth Mother

She’s been with us for fourteen years now and has been the most laid back, undemanding dog it’s ever been my good fortune to have been befriended by. But it’s obvious that she’s getting to be an old lady. She spends a lot of time looking abstractedly into corners of the bookstore and she has great difficulty handling anything involving the slightest of steps up or down.

She entered our life as a wee (mostly) Lab pup rescued from a busy intersection. When we moved here to Big Stone Gap she had no difficulty becoming the foster mother to a never ending procession of tiny kittens, licking them and lying with them and never complaining about their demands.

The only time I ever saw her show any belligerence was when a visiting dog attacked Bert. She attacked back, exponentially.

Now Bert – Ah, Bert!

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Zora and Bert await breakfast

Even terrier Bert can’t manage to rile Zora, much as he tries. Never were two dogs more different, but somehow they rub along. Chasing each other round the yard was their favorite sport and they still manage that from time to time. Slower now.

It’s always hard to deal with the aging of pets, but somehow we have to. I think they help to teach us about mortality, simply because their life expectancy is so much shorter. Time and again throughout our longer human life we have to deal with the parade of much loved companions – their arrival and departure.

We become educated to recognize the signs and that’s never easy.

Zora – our truly beloved and uncomplaining Zora is getting to be an old lady – – –

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Filed under animal rescue, bookstore management, Life reflections, Uncategorized

Timing is everything

Jack’s (fairly) regular Wednesday guest post –

On Sunday we had the third Clanjamphry Live concert at the beautiful Lincoln Theater in Marion Virginia. This is a twice a year link-up with my Celtic music radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ and we were delighted that our friends Alan Reid and Rob van Sante were touring over here and available just when we needed them.

The trouble was that we had originally intended to hold the concert on Saturday night but at the last minute the theater had a request from their long established ‘showcase’ – Song of the Mountains – and couldn’t realistically turn them down. In the end we opted to move to Sunday afternoon, but had absolutely no idea if that would work. Was there an overlap of potential audience that would choose one or the other but not both? Would anyone come out to a concert on a Sunday afternoon?

alan_rob

As usual we peeked out from the wings and were somewhat nervous when, with five minutes to go, saw a pretty sparse crowd. However we then had to get organized as Wendy and I were starting things off. To our surprise and great relief when we stepped out onto the stage we saw that we had just as big an audience as we’d had for the previous concerts in the series.

Even better than that it seems that we may now have a loyal audience that trusts us to give them an experience they value.

But, despite everything, I suspect that we should try to avoid Sunday afternoons in future!

Alan and Rob got a standing ovation and an encore, which didn’t surprise me and was richly deserved. What the audience didn’t know was that they had just completed six gigs in six days with lengthy drives between and were pretty exhausted. Luckily we had booked a cabin at nearby Hungry Mother State Park for Saturday and Sunday night, so they could get some R&R before and after our concert. That meant we could also share our gigs from hell stories too!

Celtic Clanjamphry airs on WETS.fm on Sundays at 9pm, WETS HD2 on Mondays at 8pm and Saturdays at 10am. It also goes out in the Marion area on WEHC.fm on Sundays at 5pm. http://www.wets.org

Alan Reid and Rob van Sante can be found herehttp://www.reidvansante.com/

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized

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.

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