I Was So Much Older Then – –

Jack keeps the home fires burning while Wendy is otherwise engaged – –

The ‘Round the World Trip to Bedford’

Me just after returning!

In (I think) 1961 I finished my apprenticeship as a painter and decorator. Two close friends also reached this landmark – John McDonald as an electrician and Bill Beveridge as a mechanical engineer.

I knew John through our shared love of folk music and Bill through our interest in left wing politics and anti-war sentiments.

For some reason we decided it would be fun to hitch-hike around the world. We had all, separately, already done this around Britain so it seemed like the next thing to do. But we were all still living at home with our parents so we reckoned we should dip our toes in the water first.

We jointly rented a small apartment in the center of our home town of Dunfermline which we promptly named ‘Dharma’ – we’d heard of Kerouak – – –

For about six months we hosted parties, piled up dishes and eventually got some kind of handle on things – ate regularly and even bathed regularly. When we made the decision to finally set sail we compared our savings and discovered we had twenty five pounds between us which seemed perfectly adequate! Before we set off I made the mistake of telling another friend who was a reporter on the local newspaper what we were going to do. He came and interviewed us and asked how we’d handle the languages we’d encounter. John jokingly said he knew Swahili as he could sing ‘Wimoweh’ – that wound up on the front page of the Dunfermline Press.

We eventually vacated the apartment and hitched to London where we knew two people who could give us temporary lodgings. Unfortunately they were on opposite sides of the city and tube fares and meals ate up our money. Reduced to a few pounds and desperate, Bill said he knew two sisters from Bedford who were due in court at the Old Bailey that day charged for civil disobedience. We met them and their parents outside and that’s when our plans changed.

The girls’ parents were very upper middle class and members of the Fabian Society (intellectual left wingers), and delighted to have three working class Scots to show off and take to parties.

We all got jobs and mine was with a high class decorating firm – I really appreciated the experience working for them. We wound up getting lodgings with a lovely Italian woman, Mrs Belfiore, who took us under her wing and really mothered us.

We frequented the Crown pub regularly and it had an upper room where we heard great music including, on one occasion Ken Colyer’s jazz band. Bill put down a deposit on a moped and I managed to almost cut off my heel with the pedal. We jointly bought a pre-war Austin 7 with cable brakes that hardly worked and needed early planning for traffic lights.

An Austin 7

We eventually got fed up and headed back to Dunfermline during a very cold winter in the Austin 7 with lots of scary moments and went our separate ways.

Life went on for all of us – – –

I had been working for my Dad before we left but he couldn’t re-employ me when we came back (maybe to teach me something?), so I moved to Edinburgh and hung out with art college friends for another six months. Got a job there with another very high class decorating firm and learned lots more.

I came home and fell right into the folk music scene – the rest is history.


Filed under between books, blue funks, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, Wendy Welch

Food, Food – – –

Jack will still post as Wendy takes a break – –

I’m not sure when I got interested in cooking – maybe around when Wendy and I got married.


Growing up in a Northern European country meant food was just fuel to keep you going. So it wasn’t until I first traveled to Southern Europe with my band that I really discovered what a meal could be, the varieties of food to be savored and dinner as a social gathering.


I had already, though, discovered curries as Indian restaurants multiplied throughout Scotland.


All of that got me interested in discovering discovering new dishes and re-discovering old ones.


Some of the old ones –


  • Fish n’ Chips – The secret is to fry in lard and to fry the chips three times at ever increasing temperatures.
  • Steak pie – boil the steak for a long time and put Bisto in the gravy.
  • Steak bridie – same as the steak pie.
  • Sausage rolls – the secret is to make your own sausage filling and use real breadcrumbs.
  • Shepherd’s pie – try to get fresh peas.


Some of the new ones –


  • I discovered how Indian restaurants make a big batch of basic curry sauce and I do that all the time now.
  • Finding by trial and error the different roasting times for vegetables.
  • Baking fish in foil.
  • Experimenting with overnight marinades, particularly for chicken tikka.
  • Using an outdoors charcoal grill.


Wendy is the baker, and her specialties are cookies, breads and desserts.


Just some of the things we get up to during lock-down!




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

The Tuesday Apology

messy-deskY’all, I am sorry, but I need a hiatus. Here is what happened:

In 2019 I contracted a book of edited essays for McFarland Press, turning over the final manuscript to them in February 2020. Remember February, when the rumbles were just starting and it seemed kinda like a SARS rehash, a problem for international travelers and big airports but not a pandemic? Because of COVID 19 moving McFarland’s work to home offices, the summer release of From the Front Lines of the Appalachian Addiction Crisis: Healthcare Providers Discuss Opioids, Meth and Recovery 978-1-4766-8226-6 (there’s the ISBN number if you want to pre-order) has been delayed until fall.

Which means the edits are coming back now, and I’m contacting a whole bunch of nice healthcare professionals during a pandemic that has some working flat out, others idling at home, all of them keeping a close eye on the new threat that has suddenly eclipsed substance use, which will in and of itself be problematic soon.

But when the pandemic started, corresponding with the amazing editor Susan Kilby at McFarland caused a casual comment to grow legs. We were talking about the brave new world changing the face of healthcare and some of the vaccination controversies, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do a book on COVID conspiracies?”

A day later she came back to me and said, “Yes, my editorial acquisitions team thinks it would.”

It was a casual comment, but suddenly possibilities were flying, so a quick Zoom meeting was set up with John Bodner, a friend I went to grad school with. Bodner specializes in conspiracy theory study. “Let’s do this fun thing,” I said.

He gave me an odd look. “Which theories are you looking at? People are burning 5G masts and threatening to shoot contact tracers. Show me the fun bit?”

Ooops. Three days later, I was knee-deep in murk behind the dark side of the looking glass. This is the biggest reason I need a blog hiatus; this stuff is hard. COVID 19 has affected all our brains, and our capacities to process information is taken up with a survival first thing we can’t get rid of. (You can read all the articles coming out about that and you’ve no doubt experienced it.) Suffice it to say, my brain capacity shrank.

So did my emotional capacity. Untying the Gordian knots of the theories flying internationally (the book is not limited to America) is tricky anyway, but when you add the real time swiftness of misinformation actively contributing to deaths and economic hardship, we went from light to dark in 0.2. I can’t keep up with this blog and the intensity of that book right now.

But there’s more. The conspiracy book was a fluke that became a mission. Who in their right mind would suggest a book to an editor when she already had another book in the works?


Thinking that From the Front Lines was near completion and looking for another anthology activity just as COVID took over our futures, I had contacted Ohio University/Swallow Press about doing a compilation of coronavirus first-person experience narratives from doctors and nurses, really the same activity as Front Lines. The acceptance of this proposal appeared an hour and five minutes after I sent the query–on the day between my making the casual remark to Susan at McFarland, and Susan coming back to me with a “we actually do want to do this” email.

And that’s how I got myself in the interesting position of doing three books at once – one about to launch, one editing others, and one co-authoring with two other wonderful humans (Bodner was joined by medievalist Donald Leech, who is showing us how libelous legends recycle in times of crisis) in the dark sticky places of the Net.

Finally, just before the two-book accidental proposal, I worked with my friend Lisa Dailey to publish online a fun fiction read called Bad Boy in the Bookstore. This was just as people were idling at home, so it was launched as a duo of “here’s something you can read while you’re stuck” and a pay-it-forward; the $5 fee for the book is used to assist people here who have lost their jobs. We have an exchange and assist list going locally. Rural people have been hit hard. That didn’t take a lot of work on my part, as Lisa did the heavy lifting of logistics, but its launch has been small and shrunk even further because of the sudden COVID contracts. So between them all, team, I’m rationed on writing capacity.

Please, forgive and excuse me for about a month. Jack will continue to blog on Wednesdays, and the rest of me will come back when the conspiracy manuscript is in, and I am editing the health narratives. That will be a return to normalcy. And please, pray for me and each other. This is an intense time for all of us; pressure is pressure no matter how it is applied and we are all fighting some fierce battles just now. Be good to yourselves, and be safe.




Filed under between books, publishing, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Our Pets Can Teach Us

Jack is a day late and a dollar short with his guest post this week – – –

In contemplating how everyday life has changed for us and most other folks, I’ve been observing how it goes on pretty much normally for our pets.


Our rescue dog Bruce has always been happy to get his exercise running around our big backyard and spend the rest of his time sleeping in his favorite bed. Every now and again he gets walked up and down the alley beside our house where he can enjoy different smells and that continues normally too.

Our cats are used to going in and out at will and know to stick to the yard or close by. So no real change for them either. It’s true that our most recent cat recruit, Buddy, has some health issues and that has meant a couple of vet visits. The arrangements for attending the clinic are a bit different, but I don’t suppose Buddy notices!

Our neighborhood dogs are all being walked as usual, although their humans are observing social distancing rules, but again I don’t suppose the pets notice much difference.

Our previous canine and feline friends probably knew the contrast between work days and weekends when we had the bookstore in Big Stone Gap, but when we moved here to Wytheville our routines changed. I finally really retired and Wendy worked much more from home. So our new ‘brood’ only recognized this new regime for us which likely won’t seem to change much from day to day for them.

Oh that it was as simple for us –

We are usually pretty social and sociable types, but now there are no weekends away, no shared meals with friends, no unannounced droppings in. Days tend to be much the same regardless whether it’s a weekday or a weekend. We do pay more attention to our neighbors than before but always while observing social distancing and our careful quarantine rules. I suspect that our pets see little difference for now, while we are beginning to get a bit ‘stir crazy’. It’s beginning to dawn on me that we won’t be going back to ‘normal’ for a long time, if ever.

Perhaps we can learn something from our animal friends?

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

As Others See Us

Jack hits the ground running – – –

I’ve often pondered on what we mean by ‘normal’ – normal behavior, normal lifestyle, normal ideas.


When Wendy was teaching Cultural Geography in a classroom instead of on-line she would occasionally have me in to guest lecture on Scottish culture. I would always read the textbook beforehand and was struck by something. The book was always written from a Western point of view and I got to wondering how a textbook written from an African or Oriental angle would compare.

My view of the world comes from a European perspective, whereas Wendy’s is American and although we obviously share a similar worldview, we’ve both had to make adjustments over the years.

A friend recently posted Maslow’s hierarchy of needs on Facebook and it reminded me of something I read by C S Lewis – maybe in Mere Christianity. He said, and I defer to his scholarship, that everyone in the world, regardless of religion, had the same sense of right and wrong, good and bad.

If we think of something like Maslow’s pyramid with the shared sense of good and bad at the base and a completely formed worldview at the top, then somewhere between the two is where the difference sets in.

Perhaps the answer to this conundrum is to start lower down the pyramid where the shared perspectives are more evident. That way maybe an African student can avoid seeing a European country as an ex-colonizer and a US student can question whether their form of freedom and democracy is the only kind.

There’s a very rich and varied mélange of ‘normals’ out there and I’ve been very lucky in my life to sample many more than the average person. My message? Read widely, travel widely and reach out.

The map at the top is of the British Isles viewed from the North instead of from the South – a good exercise in seeing your world from a different angle!

Interestingly – there are two countries, a Principality and a Province making up the United Kingdom – how many do you see shown?


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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Hannah and Job

hannahSometimes you can’t cry, because once you start you will not stop.

Normally I’m a pretty natural crier, but I have not cried since COVID 19 became a reality in our lives. There’s too much to do.

The first weeks were getting protective equipment to medical people. Then it was looking at our lives and putting in a garden, getting in more supplies for clinics later, upping our game with local meat, egg, and dairy supplies, revamping what we thought was a fairly locally sustainable lifestyle to fit a harsher lockdown. Preparing, in essence, for fall to be worse than now, with more people needing help, and wanting to have that help ready.

And then one of our cats disappeared. Hannah, the tiny tortie with half a tail and twice the attitude, walked out Saturday morning and didn’t come home. We put up signs, walked the neighborhood, searched the ditches and culverts. Nada. She disappeared. Never mind, we told ourselves; life is full of so many people losing so much these days, it isn’t fair to have the luxury of tears over this smaller loss. Keep going.

Today the rain came down in buckets, and I woke this morning with a heart heavier with fear than looking for its usual hope. My devotions have been uplifting these past few weeks. I take a Christian worldview oddly informed by my many Muslim friends back in Britain; we are in God’s hands, for better or for worse (which is a very Muslim approach to God, not the Christian ideology that those who worship Him can expect preferential treatment from Him). The most important thing in life is not to come out on top but to be a living example of Jesus’ mercy on Earth. So what comes, comes; it’s how we deal with it that is most important. Job 13:15 and all that.

But this morning during my devotions I started crying. Over Hannah, our missing cat. Because sometimes everything one mourns–the sense of loss for a way of life taken for granted, the belief in my own efficacy to meet challenges–all those big things slide down into one little thing. I sobbed for my missing cat as though nothing else had ever mattered.

A few hours later, she walked in, dry and happy and not a scratch on her. Demanding lunch.

It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to mourn. We’re dealing with some heavy trauma, kids. Our times are in God’s hands, and sometimes the cat comes back.



Filed under animal rescue, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Unexamined in the Upside Down

stock-photo-covid-coronavirus-in-usa-dollar-money-bill-with-face-mask-coronavirus-affects-global-stock-1668472411Does it seem to anyone else as if COVID-19 has shone a bright spotlight on our displaced values?

Keeping up with evangelical friends, I see a lot of them going down a rabbit hole that quarantine equals the death of liberty, not the opportunity to birth kindness. Many are talking about the New World Order, which has long been code for a time when Christians have to defy the Antichrist and not participate in world systems.

Problem is, right now, it’s hard to know which systems should be participated in. We’re lauding a man who encouraged his many extramarital girlfriends to have abortions, as the champion of pro-life. Church women hold up signs that say “Sacrifice the weak” when Jesus told us to honor our parents, and take care of the elderly and orphans.

What if this virus is an opportunity to reset, a last chance to examine the way we live, align it with how Jesus told us to live, and do so? Give fair wages to those who work in the fields; honor women the way he did, as True Promise Keepers, not guys feeling small; look with clear eyes at the lives we have lived and what our goals have been, and change them from “make money, keep busy, look good” to something more in keeping with “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The virus shut down schools and we suddenly saw the value of teachers–and mothers–as the full weight of looking after our own kids descended. And pointed out the unfairness of labor between men and women in so many households, undergirded by Church teaching, not Christian teaching.

The virus pointed out that money decides who lives and who dies in way too many places in the world–including here in the States. And that who has the money isn’t based on who works the hardest. What does Christianity have to do with capitalism? Last chance, kids; why are you living the choices you are? To eat, or to prey on others? What kind of carnivores are we, here in America? The more I look at that question, the worse it gets.

We suddenly have loads of free time, and how we use it is judged heavily. Production of art, stuff, meetings, dinner: good. Contemplation, devotions, meditation, relaxation: bad. Hmmm.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Jesus said, “Seek first God’s kingdom and its righteousness.”

What if this is a last chance to look, clear-eyed, at the blinding rhetoric flashing all around the realities of politics and policy: that we have not valued those who have given the most, that we have honored the worst traits of human nature by twisting them up into the Gospel where they don’t belong, and that we have become Americans first, Christians last?

Jesus also said, “The first shall be last” and vice versa. Right after the protagonist in his parable paid all the vineyard workers the same, no matter how long they worked or which jobs they did.

Is this virus a severe mercy, asking us one last time, “Look who you’ve become, look at what you believe. How far have you moved from the simplicity of ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and the second commandment is very like the first. Love your neighbor as yourself’?”

Time will tell.




Filed under Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing