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King’s Mountain?

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is, OF COURSE, late again –

A Dance called America – James Hunter

This isn’t really a book review, but I thought I’d better head this post that way, as much of what will come next is from my reading of this excellent and informative book.

The Battle of King’s Mountain is seen in this area and taught in US schools as a pivotal event in the American War of Independence. While that is certainly true, there is another way of seeing it that has a lot to do with centuries of Scottish history.

Everyone is familiar with the story of the ‘Scotch Irish’ and their settling in Southern Appalachia. These were the children of lowland Scots who themselves had moved to the north of Ireland and established plantations there. These children grew up to find they were unpopular in Ireland and with little economic prospects. So they moved to the ‘New World’ and specifically to Appalachia.

However Gaelic speaking highlanders from Scotland had already emigrated to the coastal regions of the Carolinas and Georgia earlier. These were relatively wealthy ‘tack men’ very high in the clan pecking order and just below the level of clan chief. Once in the Americas they established cotton and tobacco plantations (which is why Glasgow and Paisley became the tobacco and cotton ‘capitals’ of Europe).

The forces that met at King’s Mountain in 1780 comprised a loyalist army led by a professional British soldier – Major Patrick Ferguson, who was a Scots highlander, and a contingent of patriots who were mostly drawn from the Scotch-Irish immigrant population. On the British side, apart from Ferguson, the army was all volunteer, and they were mainly Gaelic speaking highlanders from the coast. The patriots were all volunteers and their leaders included many with Scots names.

Patrick_Ferguson

Patrick Ferguson

It should be noted here that back in Scotland there had been centuries of clashes between the northern clans and the southern folk – a fault line between two distinctly different cultures!

I could never understand, however, why two lots of Scots that had been, effectively, forced out of Scotland would end up on opposing sides in what was at that time pretty much an English colony. It seemed odd to me.

But, as Hunter points out, the highlanders considered themselves ‘upper class’ and aristocratic before all else and saw the patriots as lower-class peasants who needed to be put in their place. So they aligned themselves with their ‘peers’ in London rather than their fellow countrymen. In doing so they inadvertently simply continued a long tradition of Scottish history – albeit in a foreign land.

Footnotes –

When the war ended with victory for the patriots, a great many of the highlanders who had been captured didn’t return to the Carolinas and Georgia. Instead they made new lives in Canada. At the present time there are more native Gaelic speakers in Canada than in Scotland.

The last native Gaelic speaker in North Carolina died in the late 1800s. He was a Presbyterian Pastor and an African-American!

Shortly after these events the highlands of Scotland suffered ‘The Clearances’, and this resulted in a much stronger feeling of solidarity between the Gaelic and Scots cultures, which has continued to strengthen down to the present.

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The Monday Book – Paradise to Puddledub

Jack’s guest post is the Monday book this week –

Paradise to Puddledub – Wendy Welch (Lyngham House 2002)

As  you can no doubt understand this isn’t so much a book review as a book description. It’s not a marketing ploy either; the book in question is out of print!

PtoP

This was the first complete book by my wife Wendy to be published. She had contributed academic articles before this to specialist journals and story collections, but this was all her own writing. For some years she had written a weekly column for a newspaper based in Maryville Tennessee and she continued to do this after moving to Scotland. Paradise to Puddledub is a collection of some of the stories that were published in the paper during that time.

Immediately prior to moving across the Atlantic she had lived in the tiny Newfoundland hamlet of Paradise near St John’s in Newfoundland where she studied for her PhD in Ethnography. After moving to Fife and getting married she became curiously fascinated by an equally small hamlet there called Puddledub (the joke is that the Scots word for a puddle is ‘dub’ – so the name should really be either Puddlepuddle or Dubdub!).

Of course I was very much part of the critiquing and proof reading at the time the book was being written, so it was intriguing to stumble across a copy as we were tidying a few days ago. It has been my bed-time reading since then. Many of the stories in the book describe events that I was part of, and quite few have been retold at gatherings over the years.

I suppose my only reservation is that most of the columns had to conform to a fairly strict word count because they were written originally to fit half of a newspaper page. That means that there’s more to most of the stories that there simply wasn’t room for. There’s a healthy writing discipline to that, but…

The events described range from the hilarious to the poignant and occasionally horrifying. From my first attempt to eat fast-food in a British car going round a roundabout, to the kids in an Edinburgh housing project getting to grips with a performance during the prestigious Edinburgh arts festival, not to mention the heroic librarian ‘keeping calm and carrying on’!

If Wendy happens to read this guest blog, I’d like her to consider re-publishing the book, but with some of the pieces filled out to include all of the story.

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The Monday Book

Jack has the honor of the Monday book post (and just scraped through in time).

Portrait of a Legend – Spitfire, Leo McKinstry, 2007

I am a complete nut for airplanes (or aeroplanes as we Scots would say), so stumbling across this book in a thrift store in Oban in Scotland a couple of weeks ago was like discovering the holy grail (we also visited Roslyn Chapel on our trip).

I should say that as a Quaker I have very mixed feelings about warplanes, but the Spitfire seems to transcend that and can stand in its own right as a thing of beauty. Many of the pilot testimonies in the book talk of that beauty of the plane as distinct from the job it was designed to do.

Most books about the Spitfire paint a romantic picture of a machine that appeared just in time to ward off the Nazi menace and the winning of the ‘Battle of Britain’ in 1940. What I hadn’t realized until reading this one was what a struggle there had been from its maiden flight in 1936 to getting it into production. The company that designed it was a very small business specializing in seaplanes and had won a series of high speed races in the early 1930s with planes designed by R. J. Mitchell who went on to design the Spitfire. But the business was far too small to undertake the contract to build the numbers that were needed in the approach to WW2. Attempts to outsource production went disastrously wrong and the construction of a massive new factory went equally badly. Even after its acceptance by the public as the ‘icon’ of fighter command it continued to be mired in high level debate surrounding its suitability for a whole range of different and essential tasks.

spitfire

Despite all that it remained in service around the world from 1939 through the late 1950s in a wide variety of roles and still thrills crowds at air displays to this day.

I well remember seeing a Lancaster, a Hurricane and  Spitfire flying over our house near Leuchars RAF base in Scotland about 15 years ago at low altitude – six Rolls Royce Merlin engines making a wonderful sound!

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in the story of this gorgeous flying machine – a big thumbs up!

 

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Intersections

Jack’s doing the Monday Book this week because yesterday was Wendy’s birthday – –

This is more about books in general and the kind I favor.

I tend to read memoirs, biographies, histories and novels that are set in the present. I tend not to read romances, historical novels, science fiction or fantasy. BTW – romances about the Amish may be popular but I’ve never read any.

The most recent read was ‘Monty Python Speaks’ which is really a history of the famous fellows from the their roots and on to infamy (they’ve all got it infamy). It included a reference to my big sister’s old school chum Denise Coffey, who starred in a precursor of the ‘Circus’ on British TV called ‘Do not Adjust your Set’ it even had her in a picture alongside Cleese, Palin and Jones. I was probably about 10 years old when I last was in her company.

So books can not only be a way into a particular world from the point of view of the author (and her husband), but also alongside a character referenced by someone else altogether. This gets us towards something else – altogether – –

One of my favorite writers of fiction is the author of the Inspector Rebus novels – Ian Rankin. They’re novels, but the author and Rebus are from West Fife where I also spent most of my life. He captures the Fife coalfield villages perfectly and those passages are very real to me.

So I suspect we (or at least some of us) live our lives, very often, through reliving our lives through others’ writings or maybe projecting our lives into others’ writings. We wander back and forth through our own lives, imagined lives, lives we’ve read about, imagined lives we’ve read about –

Aren’t books wonderful?

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Not the Rolling Thunder Review

In Wendy’s absence Jack gets to do the Monday book – on Tuesday

The Dylan Companion – Elizabeth Thomson and David Gutman

As some of you will know I am a BIG fan of Mr Dylan/Zimmerman. So I’ve read many books about him (and by him). This is among the better ones, though.

Thomson and Gutman have assembled a grand collection of essays and articles spanning the period from 1962 through 1998 and more or less presented chronologically. Some are fairly lightweight and ‘of the moment’ while others are quite weighty and academic. All, however, have a good deal of authority.

Of course there are many well known names here – Robert Shelton, Paul Stookey, Alan Ginsberg, Richard Farina and Joan Baez. But there some unlikely and little known ones too.

Everyone knows that Bob Dylan famously re-invented himself when he arrived in New York in the early 1960s – following in the wake of many other American idols (such as Buffalo Bill Cody or Ramblin’ Jack Elliot). What caught my attention in this collection were the pieces that pointed out how single minded he was in building his new persona. The interview with his early New York girl friend Suze Rotolo is revealing in that respect, as are a number of others. Also revealing is that he was clearly already a fine performer before he hit New York!

Because the final pieces are from 1998, there’s nothing about the ‘never-ending tour’ that still continues, but there a few that shed some light on Bob’s reasons for performing live and the tensions between his public and private lives.

Correction – the afterword in the 2000 reprint does briefly touch on his continuing tour.

As the title suggests, this is a book that can be dipped into at leisure while residing perhaps on your bedside table.

Finally – although there are no essays or articles here by the man himself, he is quoted extensively throughout.

“Come Gather ‘Round people”

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Friends and Fellow Travelers

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually on Wednesday again – – –

Last night Wendy and I were the guests of an informal book group in Abingdon VA.

As we followed one of the members along the winding road to the house where they were meeting we passed more and more exceedingly imposing residencies and speculated on what might be awaiting us.

However any fears we had were quickly allayed as the rest of the members trickled in. We had forgotten that the group had visited the bookstore earlier in the year, had all bought copies of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and were very well versed in our adventures.

They all came in clutching their copies of the book – each copy with post-it notes sticking out from favorite pages and passages. We were among old friends!

We have often remarked upon how completely different these occasions tend to be. Of course there are book clubs, reading groups, friends of the library groups and writing clubs and they are each bound to have a different focus. We certainly never know exactly what to expect, which is why we tend to be a bit nervous of them. what’s interesting is that I see similarities to my singing career over the years – gigs were often like that too.

Whenever we attend an event we start off by trying to judge what folk want to hear. Will it be writing advice, getting an agent advice, finding a publisher advice, more about Big Stone Gap?

But this was close to being unique – a whole group who had already read the book and visited us in the bookstore. We proceeded to have a really great evening of personal stories, reminiscences, parallel experiences and our own continuing adventures beyond ‘the book’. Unusually, we were even able to open up a bit on some less happy things that were hinted at in ‘The Little Bookstore’ or followed on from its publication. That’s something we would definitely only do in the company of old friends!

To finish, I should say that the evening started with me as the only man in the room, but we were eventually joined by our host’s husband and his name is Moffat – and that’s also the name of a town in Scotland that I visit every two years on my group tour.

Oh – and we ended with some songs!

 

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Be Sure your Sins will – – -?

Jack gets to do the Monday book this week –

The Big Short –  Michael Lewis

Of course, the movie is probably just as famous as the book and I’ll have something to say about that later.

Our good friend and financial guru David recommended this to us because he reckoned it was one of the most eye-opening books he’d ever read about the financial shenanigans that led to the great meltdown of 2008. He described it as “really, really frightening” and he should know!

He also said that he saw no evidence that any lessons had been learned since then (except perhaps in Iceland, where they jailed the bankers, changed the banking regulations and turned around their economy in record time).

The book follows the experiences of a number of people who separately stumbled across an enormous flaw in the mortgage market based on a complete lack of oversight by the rating agencies. The folk involved had different motives for pursuing this: some realized they could make enormous amounts of money by betting that the market would crash, while others were more interested in exposing the crooks and getting the banking regulations changed. The book follows these characters as their paths cross and they become aware of each other, ultimately more or less working together. As they variously stumble across ever more blatant disregard for financial common sense among financial professionals who should also have seen what was wrong, they begin to home in on the rating agencies. That’s when they discover that these agencies, supposedly holding the banks to account, are actually in their pockets.

So, what of the movie?

I actually enjoyed it just as much as the book but for different reasons. Of course the movie has to be much shorter and that’s hard to pull off. You need to keep the essentials and be careful what gets cut out. I think, in this case, it was a good idea to not have the author of the book write the screenplay (in fact I think it almost always is.) I recently watched a film that was directed and cast by the author of the book it was based on, and who also wrote the screenplay – it went straight from a limited theater run to the Netflix ‘B list’ with barely a pause.

So, what’s the ‘take away’ from the book? In the case of this reader, a profound belief that human greed will always manage to dress itself in respectable clothes, attend the right Church, give to the most fashionable charities (or start one) and find the most influential politicians to bribe.

Something else I took away – potential move to Iceland – – –

 

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