Category Archives: Wendy Welch

The Monday Book – Clapton’s Guitar

Clapton’s Guitar (Allen St. John)

Jack presents the Monday book today

As I’m a bit of a guitar freak, I looked forward to reading this and I wasn’t disappointed. However, I do have a few caveats –

First of all, despite the title, this isn’t a book about Eric Clapton – he makes no appearance. This book follows master guitar luthier Wayne Henderson as he builds two nearly identical guitars. One is being made speculatively for Clapton while the other is to auction off and raise money for Junior Appalachian Musicians (Jam). Jam was the brainchild of Henderson’s late partner Helen White and there are branches throughout Appalachia.

This brings me to my second issue with the book. There’s hardly a mention of White or JAM in the book, which strikes me as very strange. I have seen Wayne and Helen perform a good few times together and their individual activities were very much intertwined.  Perhaps she declined to be involved; I don’t know. I only know Henderson by reputation, whereas I had a friendly and mutually respecting connection with White through providing advice on tutor training for JAM. There’s no report in the book of how much went to JAM or whether any did.

I’m also not impressed with the way the author describes the various characters who hang out regularly at Henderson’s workshop. There was more than a hint of Appalachian stereotyping and condescension. For example, eating cold fast-food and the famous tail out of the box trick.

Aside from these issues, the book does describe wonderfully how Henderson puts these guitars together, where he gets his wood, the tools he uses and the sheer craftsmanship involved. This I found truly fascinating. I won’t give you a spoiler on whether Clapton bought the guitar.

The author is also a guitar freak, and he references many other excellent and well known luthiers, such as T. J. Thompson (I’m surprised he didn’t include Dana Bourgoise in Maine or Chris Bozung in Nashville.)

If your interest is in how a top notch luthier puts together a hand crafted guitar, then I can thoroughly recommend this book. Just ignore the ‘local color’ and wait for another volume that should be written about the life achievements of Helen White.

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Filed under book reviews, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Teaching and Learning

For another week Jack gets in his guest post on time – – –

In the mid 1990s, I was Head of Department in a Scottish community college, which led to a number of bizarre experiences, as one can imagine. Here is just one –

The role of the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department (SOEID) was to inspect all schools and colleges in Scotland. But when it came to specialist subject areas they often asked people from other colleges to be part of the inspection team. On one occasion I was chosen and for three weeks traveled every weekday to Falling Apart College (not its real name, because truth in advertising laws are not big in Scotland.)

The team would convene in the boardroom before heading off in different directions and then re-convening in late afternoon back in the boardroom. All day long the college provided fresh coffee and biscuits—er, cookies to you.

Particularly concerning at FA College were communication from the college president or senior managers to department heads, and then from the heads to lecturers and instructors. These were the main areas for discussion when the team met each afternoon, because none of us could find any proof that they existed. The lowly instructors and lecturers were running the place on a wing and a prayer with no guidance or support from senior managers.

When we began to push harder for evidence of past meetings, an assistant principal handed over a hand-written set of notes from a meeting dated a year earlier. With a smile, my colleague who led the team and had asked for their proof thanked him, and waited for the door to close, leaving just the team in the room. Then he said the Scots equivalent of “Hey, y’all, watch this!” (“Aye, right.”) put the notes on the table and rubbed his finger across them. The “year-old” ink smeared.

It turned out that there had only ever been one full staff meeting three years earlier. When we asked why in heaven’s name they’d never held another, the President of the college looked at the floor and shuffled his feet.

“Well, they all shouted at me about things that wanted changing.”

 Well, we were stuck with having to write up a difficult report. A whole team of senior managers were sitting around doing nothing but pushing paper and showing no interest in the folk who were doing the actual teaching, the teachers were running the place and doing their job, and the president hid in his office most days and hoped no one would knock.

There’s a strict protocol for publishing the final report; the wording is very carefully coded so that any educator reading the report would understand in an instant what a sinking ship or stellar star a place is, but other bureaucrats would miss most of the secret info. And we were required by law to let all the people at Falling Apart College see the report first. None of them knew how badly they’d been bolloxed, but the teachers and lecturers, oh, they were smirking.

But soon the senior staff would smirk too. Shortly after the inspection report was published and the real story came out from news reports and such, translated by education experts, I received an email from the head of the team, apologizing for enclosing a bill for ten pounds. Falling Apart College had finally figured out just how bad the report was, and so they billed us for the coffee and cookies.

To be fair, they were lovely cookies …

Not long after that the Principal took early retirement and the college changed its name. Hey ho, another day in the life of an educator. But there was a certain justice in the people who were doing all the work getting a heads up on the report….

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