Shelf life and good news

Richard Lutz hunts among the remains of the past week.


I use a second hand bookshop that’s the turning point of a six mile walk. You bring your books in and they get slotted onto the shelves. You buy some others for a pittance and help a National Trust pile maintain its huge landscape. Seems fair to me.

But as I return and continue to return, I notice no one is picking up, buying or even stealing the ones I have brought back. Hey, what’s happening here? There they sit, unused, unwanted, ignored. Really now, what is wrong with a great Hollywood autobiography of Jane Fonda (unintentionally hilarious) or a book called The Jews of Kerela ( small and intriguing) or another Graham Greene novel (always unsettling)? What’s wrong with them? 

As I grumpily harrumph my way round the history and fictions sections that I usually inhabit, I realise that just seeing my old books untaken is a personal slight. My next step, I assume,  is to lurk continually and pepper uninterested  readers with incisive questions when they skip over my contributions. This is a task that will be carried out. I warn all bookworms at my little secondhand  bookshop.

To assuage my Inner Anger, I take in Transatlantic Sessions. The 16 folks on stage reflect how music defied the trade winds and headed west from Ireland and Scotland to become the music of Appalachia, the music of Nashville, the music of cowboys.

Aly Bain’s Shetland fiddle (him on the right, above) could be part of a Bob Wills’ collection. A Gaelic love song is the germ of a Tammy Wynette lament, a County Clare love song has the bones of a plaintive Merle Haggard number. Transatlantic Sessions has been touring for years. Hopefully the everchanging ensemble will continue right down to its accordions, its Northumbrian pipes and its roll call of country warblers.

Book and music aside, my week is studded with a big rail trip. Looking out of the window, Britain, I find, is multi varied. Travel four hours and and it as if you have visited half dozen countries and climates. The train whips down  from Glasgow to Birmingham. Once out of Clydeside’s industrial wreckage, the Borders, soft and round, welcome the riders. Then the bumpy Lakes and Howgills, then the silver shine of Morecombe Bay, then the flat green fields of Cheshire. Then the steel bustle of Crewe station, then the soft outline of Staffordshire farmlands with old cold winter churches peaking little hills. 

Then, ultimately, the din of the West Midlands with its machines, its factories, its empty-shelled industrial past, some of it resembling a Kabul landscape rather than a 21st century city. Then the intensity of being jettisoned onto the platform into the cacophony of a Birmingham night.

Happily, entering the maw of Birmingham heralds good news to end the week: my friend J has learned there is no need for a critical and complicated cancer operation. An alternative hospital treatment has successfully worked. It’s a major relief, as if a closed door has suddenly opened. J says: “I can’t believe it” .


4 thoughts on “Shelf life and good news

  1. Check out links between Jean Redpath (Scots) and Pete Seeger (US) to underline the music connections

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