How I gave away our First Anniversary

Jack writes his weekly guest blog and makes a true confession, all in one go—

Buy Now – Pay Later might be the best way to put it.


Yesterday an old friend put up on Facebook a video interview with my old friend and mentor, the late John Watt. I hadn’t known anything about it until I saw it and realized that it had been filmed during his final few years of performing life, before he had a stroke that laid him low. He and I toured as a duo to festivals and clubs, performing a mixture of his original songs and traditional ones we’d grown up with. It was a delight to see John (now of blessed memory) in his prime and remember the good times we had on the road.

Then today Brian Nobile (the aforementioned auld friend) put up a video of John and I singing together at Auchtermuchty festival in 1999 and that was a much bigger surprise/delight/cause for shame!

Wendy and I got married in August 1998 on the Friday before the festival in ‘Muchty. We chose that date deliberately because most of our friends would be there for the shenanigans anyway, and the performers just went on and did the festival after. We had intended to get married in the local Church but ended up in a lovely old house owned by Aileen Carr, who went to immense lengths (as did many others) to make the day truly memorable. Of course we weren’t able to sing or tell stories at that festival as we were heading off for our honeymoon as soon as the reception was over, but most of the guests did, including several storytellers and singers from America. We did hear later how some of these guests disported themselves and dine out on those stories to this day. (waves to Donnamarie Emmert and Sara Grey).

A few months after the wedding (and the festival) we were relaxing in our new house near St Andrews when the phone rang. Wendy was busy, so I picked up. It was Citty Finlayson, who organized ‘Muchty festival each year.

What Wendy heard me saying was – “sure, no problem, second weekend in August as usual, yes I’ll be there and I’ll let John know.”

The skin on the right side of my face began to burn and melt as from the corner of my eye I observed Wendy, hands on hips, glaring.

That was my first experience of ‘The Look’ and, not long after, ‘The Silence’!

“Did you just give away our first anniversary?” she asked.

There really isn’t a response to this question when all you can honestly say is “yes.”

I have been a slow learner, but I think I might be getting there. For our fifth anniversary we went to Belgium, for our tenth we went to Chile, and our fifteenth Istanbul. Our twentieth we went Out West and saw Mt Rushmore.

Here are John and I during the give-away first anniversary performing one of his great songs. At least we made a good job of it…


“I Met Ernest Hemingway Once”

hemingwayJack’s weekly guest blog

When you live in a bookstore you are continually passing by loads and loads of book spines with titles, and every so often one that evokes a memory from a far off time. Just the other day I noticed a Hemingway and was transported back – – –

One of my close friends back in Scotland (sadly now deceased) was John Watt, a fine and knowledgeable singer of traditional Scots songs and writer of many fine songs–so fine, in fact, that they were repeatedly mistaken for traditional numbers.

In the 1980s John got a grant to work with some retired Fife coalminers who had gone off to fight in the Spanish Civil War, recording their experiences and memories of the time. One of them was a colorful local character named Hugh Sloan; Hugh tended to mumble, so John almost missed it one day when he said, “…and I met Ernest Hemingway.” John knew, of course, that Hemingway had been a war correspondent in Spain at that time, so he asked Hugh to back up and give him more details.

Here is Hugh Sloan’s story as recounted by John Watt to me (with some translation from Scots to English where necessary) –

I was up in Burgos in the north, with the international brigade fighting for the Republicans against Franco’s fascists. We came under heavy attack and the order was given “tae get oot the wummin and bairns” (evacuate the women and children). I was sent to the square “tae get them oan the lorries” (assist them onto the trucks). When I got there the first lorry was loading and I saw a young guy sitting on the tailgate.

“So a said tae him – ‘get aff.’ An’ tha’ was Hemingway.”

Realizing that, from Hugh’s point of view, the story was over, John then asked if Hugh had had any further conversation with Hemingway.

“Oh aye” (why, yes) – I said “Ah’ve telt ye wance – get aff the f***in’ lorry” (I’ve already asked you once – please descend from the f***ing truck).

Again, a pause. John asked, “What happened?”

“He wudnae get aff.”

John: (sighing) So you left him there?

Oh aye, nae – Ah had this revolver in a holster at ma hip, so ah undid the clasp, took oot the gun, held it against his heid and said “see you – if ye dinna get aff this f***in’ lorry ah’ll blaw yir f***in’ brains oot!” (translation probably no longer necessary).

John: So, did he get off?

Oh aye – he got aff.

Just in case, John asked Hugh if he’d had any other words with Hemingway, but apparently that was all of it. So now you know.