“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.

Play it Again, Mike

heritageJack’s weekly guest blog
For more than fifteen years I was the lead singer and back-up guitarist in a Celtic band called ‘Heritage’. Although we were never more than middle-weights in the traditional music scene, we had a lot of fun traveling Europe’s musical gig trail.
The glory days are over and we’ve gone our separate ways, yet some band members keep in touch. Our piper/whistler/keyboard player Mike Ward, who still lives in Scotland, came for a month’s visit to the bookshop two years ago.
Mike has always had a special affinity for Brittany (in NW France, one of the seven recognized Celtic Nations) so has kept up with friends there since the tour days. He recently sent a news report about the sad fate of Pontivy Castle, one of the places where we had played. A lengthy downpour undermined a section, and it collapsed.
This sad event led to much reminiscing between us about the various times we’d been to Brittany – including playing the biggest Pan-Celtic festival in the world, at Lorien. Ah, the magnificent sound of Bagad Kemper, with its combination of highland bagpipes, bombardes, binious and drums; hurdy-gurdy bands of women in regional costumes; wonderful food and drink; and the warm hospitality of Bretons toward their Celtic cousins.
Of course Mike, who studied for the priesthood, never lets me forget the time I stumbled in my faulty French through requesting that two young women pose for a photograph ‘au naturel’ (in other words, nude). We recalled the late great piper Gordon Duncan sitting backwards astride a motorcycle, playing the pipes like a child of Pan as the bike roared through the Lorien’s main streets. Perhaps our favorite was the gig at the Palais de Congress, where the sound desk smoked and sparked all the way through. (Or maybe that’s just the gig we’re most grateful to have survived–no, that would be the one where we kept throwing our cigarettes behind us as we played on a German naval boat, only to find afterward that munitions were stored in that space.)
As you can tell from these memories, we were never equal to the Beatles, but we had some fine musicians on board and even merited an article in the US folk music magazine ‘Dirty Linen,’ by Steve Winick. It was Steve that I met for the first time in person, at my birthday dinner last week in DC.
Which is really the reason behind this blog. Who knew that a castle in 1980 would lead to two friends connecting in the US in 2014? Yet there sat Steve with his lady Jennifer, chatting away with Wendy and me as though we’d know each other since birth. I love these connections through my music, and that so many of them continue. Like books, music keeps the world at large turning, and my personal circle of connections turning in very happy ways. I am a blessed man.