Whiskey in the Jar

John Knox appears to be saying, “No! You cannot have this book at any price!”

The trilliums are up! I’ve spotted them popping up here and there throughout the gardens. I’ve been successful in transplanting the extremely fragile babies. It is very heartening. They certainly aren’t common. I wonder how many will come up? And where?


I got home from Scotland late on Sunday night. There were the typical travel delays. I got through customs in seconds, only to wait for my bag for 45 minutes. My EZPass worked on the Dulles Toll Road this time. (Someone else’s didn’t. His car was stuck at the tollgate with two cars stuck behind. I had to switch lanes to avoid the queue.) But I got behind another Sunday night driver who went 30-40 in a 55mph stretch on US 15 for about 10 miles with nowhere to pass.

It was good to be home. I turned on the water and water heater. The spigots spluttered throughout the house until all the air was out of the pipes. I lit a fire in the woodstove. Brought in luggage…

I awoke VERY early Monday. I was still on Scotland time. When the sun came out, I went out to check on the gardens. Spectacular! I was so pleased with new beds I put in last fall. I spent so much time on my knees in this bed. There were rocks to be dug out everywhere. I needed to set up a grid to make sure the bulbs we well spaced—but not too perfectly laid out. I want it to look natural, not regimental.

New Flowerbed

Everywhere I walked—front, back, southside, northside—my handiwork was alight with color!

And we are only in early April. There are two months of botanical fireworks up here before things settle down.

When I got home from a day of catch up and inspecting the work that happened at the Hagerstown store while I was gone, I treated myself to wood splitting. I hauled big logs from the tree work I had done near the house—for safety reasons. They were so heavy. There is a slope up to the barn from the drive. I had to push my boots down hard to get traction. I pulled and pushed cartloads using muscles I hadn’t used in a long while. (Did I walk a hundred miles in Scotland? Different muscles.) It was very satisfying.

Cut Firewood

This wood may see me into 2024.

And there is plenty more deadwood for me to cut up and bring in.

I awoke about 3 a.m. with excruciating cramps. I should have expected them and dosed myself with Gatorade before bed.

Only time can heal the pain. But I chugged some Gatorade, anyway.

I just reread last week’s story. There were so many syntax and other grammatical errors. I apologize. The story was rushed and much of it was written on a bouncing and swaying bus.

I am at the Glasgow Airport. They wouldn’t check me through to the states. I will have to get my luggage at Heathrow and check in again.

A sadness wells up that I’m leaving this place. Anxious to be home, but knowing I will likely never pass this way again. I would like to visit the islands. Orkney, where there are remains of ancient settlements and Stone Age sites. The Hebrides. Isles of Canna, Rum and Eigg, Coll and Tiree…

The West.

“Weel, it’ll happen or it won’t…”

I think last week’s story may have been a little too somber. Days in the Highlands, immersed in the sad history there was partly responsible.

The Scots today are a jolly group. Smiles and happy chatter everywhere. Groups abound having parties. Women’s marriages or birthdays or other parties are labeled as “Hen Parties.” They often wear 4-inch-thick pink ribbons across their torsos with gold lettering, “Julia’s 30th” …

I’m not sure what the men’s parties are called. But they were often loud, drunken raucous affairs in pubs. Usually in costume or wearing funny hats.

The staff in pubs and restaurants were unfailingly cheerful and helpful.

It may have partly been the further lifting of COVID restrictions. Mask requirements were seldom adhered to. For me, it was always a case of “be ready to mask up” upon entering any space or if an encounter was to take place. If the people inside were masked, I masked up. Sometimes I would find myself somewhere and be surprised I was the only one masked there. Upon returning, I still feel something is wrong when I walk around the building and touch my cheek—”No mask! Is it ok?!”

And narry a drop of rain for the 10 days I was there. Some Scots called that a miracle.

Home. I want to see my gardens. My books. I want to light a fire in the woodstove.

A year ago, I was going to San Francisco. My brother, Tony, was at home in hospice care. The family asked me to wait. There was time. Other friends and family were coming in. They didn’t want too much. When I landed in San Francisco late at night, I texted I’ll come by tomorrow. “Better come now.”

He was barely there. Not really conscious. Did his eyes flicker at my voice and touch? My last big brother. No more living links to my childhood.

I made a vow to redouble my efforts. To live as much as I could in the time left. After he passed—the next day while I was beneath a giant Redwood in Muir Woods—I wondered if I would have a dozen years left. He was twelve years older than I. That clock began ticking not long after his death on April 15, 2021.

Will I cross the 11 years left marker soon?

I returned to San Francisco to toss his ashes into the Bay. I traveled down the coast to Monterey and Big Sur.

Iceland at the end of July.

Buffalo—my childhood home (and Tony’s.)

Southern Italy. Luxor. Sicily. Scotland.

No more plans til fall.

But… we shall see. Fall is so very far away.

Barra, Uist, Grimsay… the Western Isles.

Aye, weel… dreams.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand—
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep—while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?


The two extra days in Glasgow were not as inspiring as Edinburgh. They are different kinds of cities entirely.

Most of the tour group left Friday morning. I didn’t get close to anyone. Most had partners or were in traveling pods already. I sat at dinner a few times with the same people.

Tour Dinner

This was at the Scottish song, piping and dance dinner—Haggis themed, but didn’t deliver any real haggis. I didn’t have their permission, so the other faces are blurred.

There was not much nightlife. Everyone was pretty tired by the end of most days. You needed to have your bag outside your door by 7 a.m. Then breakfast. Be at the bus at 8 o’clock. SHARP.

I walked around the city. First to the art gallery—it was a good distance away. It was pretty impressive. Some great Pre-Raphaelite paintings… Then across a vast park to the University of Glasgow atop a hill. It is an imposing Gothic kind of edifice. Another museum there. The Hunterian. Then to the Mackintosh House. Then the Hunter Art Gallery. Lots of Whistlers there. Up to the Botanical Gardens, which were not a shadow of those in Edinburgh. They did have a Victorian glass building devoted to hundreds of carnivorous plants, which was impressive.

A long, long walk back to the Center City. I passed a couple bookshops. The Caledonian was interesting, but I was in no mood to carry anything.

And I wasn’t sure where the hotel was! I’d had it marked on the map, but I hadn’t taken a picture of it. It had an unusual name, which I could not recall. I knew generally where to head, but I couldn’t get an exact route from the phone.

It was not a pleasant walk. No unexpected sites. No dazzling architecture. Just old, pretty old buildings that were not pretty, aging and uninteresting newer ones. Dirty streets.

It is a business city. A large section of the old town is called the Merchants’ Quarter.

(I wrote a poem about it included at the end of this story.)

It was late afternoon, maybe three, when I got to places I recognized. I decided to have a pint. I’d stopped in at Lauder’s—a 19th century pub—the night before. They hadn’t any cask ale, though. I settled for a St Mungo Ale. St Mungo is the patron saint of Glasgow. I came across Molly Malone’s. It was up some stairs, and the windows were up high. I was tired, thirsty and, therefore, bold enough to step into the dark. It was pretty spacious and seemed friendly.

I stepped to the bar… no cask ale taps. It was an Irish pub, so I chanced a Guinness. It was 80% close to Irish Guinness, and that was pretty good.

(On the plane to London. Ah, they serve the economy passengers water and crisps. The masks can come off. A few young men boarded without masks. They weren’t challenged.)

The beer made me more tired. I crossed to the hotel and caught up on emails and news and dozed off.

The phone rang, and the receptionist asked if I would accept a call from a person in my tour. We had discussed walking around together at breakfast, but since I hadn’t heard, I figured it wouldn’t happen.

“Were you sleeping?”

How did she know?

I took the elevator down and met her in the lobby. She was petite, born in Asia, and the only one on the trip I’d spoken with much. She was traveling alone as well. She wanted to see the religious murals. Since I hadn’t been in that part of the city, it was easy to agree.

We walked and walked. The big blister I’d acquired on the second day in Edinburgh in the center of my right sole began to burn again. It had gotten better. But I’d put lots of steps on Friday already. (I was to end up with almost 26,000 that day.)

I’d thought she wanted to see the St Mungo Museum of Religious Art and Life. When I brought it up on my phone, under “Hours” it read, “Closed Permanently.” It had been in a stone building built recently but made to look quite old. (The tour director had pointed it out as we drove in Thursday.) But we did come upon some enormous murals.

Glasgow Mural

I guess Glasgow has a thing for huge murals. I was to see more on Saturday. The cathedral was now in sight, and she agreed to go there. Closed. But still enormous and beautiful and dirty, as most old sandstone buildings in Scotland are.

They can’t be cleaned. The stone will erode if they do. Then we headed back. That side of the city had been much more interesting. A lot of Victorian architecture. In one square, a number of statues stood on pedestals. Many had seagulls perched on their heads. White droppings covered their crowns and foreheads. Ignominy. But a reminder that all are equal in death. Wellington upon a horse had a very large orange traffic cone atop his head. (Edinburgh had few statues hatted thus as well.) Oddly, what must have been a college prank is now a popular symbol of the city. There are images of this everywhere.

Glasgow Statue with Traffic Cone

I wanted fish and chips. They can be wonderful in Scotland. I’d seen them on the menu at Molly Malone’s. My friend agreed.

The men’s room is about 4 flights down in a basement there. A long haul. We were seated next to the handicapped toilet on the main floor. I started laughing as one after another “mature” but not handicapped guys kept using this. One guy came by wearing a bright yellow vest. He had come in from some kind of outdoor work. He engaged us in conversation. I think he’d already had few beers. He insisted on buying us a round of drinks. When the waitress came with them, I told her to buy him one on my tab. Gordon chatted for a long while. It was a lot of fun. The food was good. As we were exiting, Gordon came up the sidewalk and handed us a lottery ticket and two big slabs of Scottish sweets.


I met my friend at breakfast. She was flying to Ireland in a few hours. We bade farewell, and I headed out to explore the city some more.

I eventually got to the cathedral. A sign said it was mandatory to book tickets online? I started to do this on my phone when a guard came out and closed the door in front of me.

“We close from noon til 2.”


No use asking why. It was 11:45… Not meant to be, I guess. I headed up to the Necropolis that is high on a hill overlooking the huge dirty cathedral.

Glasgow Cathedral

I like graveyards. This one was evocative in a commercial way. Many of the large tombstones were for merchants. They often celebrated the guy’s company along with his death date.

Glasgow Necropolis View

In second place were preachers. Then a lot of military people.

I did find the grave of the author of Wee Willie Winkie.

Wee Willie Winkie Grave

When the afternoon had aged and it was time to look for dinner, I thought about Molly’s, but the day before had been so much fun with Gordon that I thought another visit couldn’t be as fun. My phone showed an interesting Scottish restaurant not far from the hotel. I walked by and scoped it out. Pretty fancy. Probably booked on a Saturday. But looking through the window, I saw there was no one at the three seats along the long marble bar. I guess it was COVID seating. The hostess agreed to let me have a drink. I had a Vesper from their signature cocktail book. It was good. I looked at the menu. Intriguing…

“Can I order food at the bar?’

“I am sorry,” the bartender said in a beautiful Scottish brogue. “We can’t serve meals at the bar.”

“An appetizer?”

“What were you thinking?”

“The smoked trout.”


“And I’d like a dram of your scotch.” They have their own distillery somewhere. I wasn’t going to try to pronounce the name, so I pointed to the single malts. I chose their oldest most expensive one. 20 pounds for a shot. They can be memorable events. I’ve spent more. “With some water on the side.” I think she liked the fact that I ordered the best and knew how to drink single malt.

Both were wonderful!

Malt and Smoked Trout Appetizer

I decided to press my luck and asked for another appetizer as well as another (less expensive) dram. No one else was waiting to get to the bar…

“Sure. Glad to.”

“Can I get the Haggis, Neeps and Tatties?”

This combo is a traditional dish on Robert Burns’ Night celebrations. I knew this place would get them right.

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

It was wonderful. My last night, and I finally got some real haggis…

Sunday, April 3. 7:15 hours for the flight from London to DC. Must be good tailwinds today. It is usually over 8. I am halfway back in the plane, but I do have a window. The rows are 10 seats wide. 3. 4. 3. Technology is amazing. Though my tickets had given me plenty of time, circumstances ate into that and it was a rush from the Scotland plane to baggage claim. Up to check in. Through security. (They didn’t like something about my knapsack and did a search.) 4800 steps. Almost all in airports. The plane was in the remote C gates. It still looked like plenty of time. I almost stopped for a London Martini, but… better not. There were only 1 of 2 trains running to the C gates. Every little side action took up 15 minutes. The C gate wing was barren. Just snack shops. I’d given up hope, but then I saw two guys with bottled beer in Starbucks.

“Where’d you get those? Is there a bar?”

“No. Here.” They waved toward the counter. It was a tiny selection. Almost hidden. The beers were gone. 4 or 5 bottles of cider. (Yuck.) Some Gordons canned G&Ts! Well, I’ll be! I bought two and found a seat in Starbucks. I can’t understand the Starbucks cult. I love my coffee. But I like to do things while I drink it. Those things don’t include sitting at a little round table in a space of others doing the same. And to be in a line of a dozen cars to get coffee at a drive-through… crazy! For coffee? Maybe people are addicted to the sweet frothy things that have a dozen syllables. Maybe they feel they are speaking a foreign language when they order. Well, it is an innocent addiction. But I was thankful for Starbucks this time. They had (bad) booze!

The plane is loaded and ready to go. We’d been told it was a pretty full flight, but my section is only half populated. (I’m not even 1/4 loaded. I hope to have a couple of wines and doze across the Atlantic.) We will land in Dulles tonight. I hope I can get through quickly. I have a new EZPass, so I hope I won’t get stymied again. An hour home if… Turn on the water and water heater. Start a fire in the woodstove and… home. Well, I was hoping for something fabulous at the Fortnum and Mason counter in Heathrow. Instead, another bum’s rush through the sprawling airport. We are backing out about 15 minutes late.

I could’ve stopped…

Home… I wanna be home.

I’m in the last row of my section, so I can put my seat back all the way. I recall one overnight flight where a young woman behind got visibly upset that I had leaned backed a bit. There’s a reason the seats recline—and the way they do shouldn’t impose. I reached back and pulled my seat forward for her with my middle finger extended. I rarely do that. It could get you shot on the road nowadays.

We are crossing the Severn. I’d like to visit Tintern Abbey again. But then, I can see it vividly in my mind’s eye. The road goes alongside it with woods on either side. Maybe I will. It has been some years since I was in Wales. I’ve been 8 or 9 times. The first in 1974. I visited Hay On Wye then. “A town of books.” That may have planted the bookselling seed. Hereford. The Brecon Beacons…

Then Dad died suddenly. In my arms. Mom was (and had been) handicapped. I “lost” a few years taking care of her—pretty much alone. I managed to finish my undergrad in DC during this. The professors encouraged me to go to grad school. Then I asked Carl Sickles if he was hiring summer help. I loved the scruffy Book Alcove. Carl paid me a quarter apiece for the Sports Illustrated magazines I’d subscribed to as a kid. I’d used them as parts of my bookcases. A foot of them supported the planks at either end when I ran out of bricks. I gave the money right back for books.

There’s Aberystwyth below. My older son applied for a Fulbright there, and I drove him. I had to leave him there for a couple of days. So, I’d set out on my own across the country. Was that 7 years ago now?

Over the St George’s Channel. There’s Ireland ahead. The southeast wasn’t as interesting to me. (What are the Saltee Islands? Maybe I should go there?) Ireland. I need to go back. Maybe this summer. The fall is booked. Oxford in September. My younger son’s wedding October. Eastern Europe capitals and Berlin November. Morocco December.

I need to get out more… LOL.

There’s Kilkenny below. Kilkenny… makes me think of “Whiskey in the Jar.” (Lyrics after the poem at the end of this story.)

I’ll go roving over the mountains of Kilkenny…

There’s some take delight in fishin’ or in boatin’
Others take delight in their carriages a-roamin’
Me, I take delight in the juice of the barley
And courtin’ pretty girls in the mornin’ bright and early

Well, not much courtin’ goin’ on anymore.

Still, I may pick up my guitar again. The Martin D 28 I splurged on when I got a little money after Dad died.

Aye, weel, it’s turned out awright, though I hope the story’s far from over.

All the books in the world and more if I wanted them. Well, maybe it’s time to expand. Glasgow has inspired the merchant in me. Perhaps I’ll git a massive tomb atop on a hill, like the dead merchants in the Necropolis above Glasgow. Eternal fame til the letters erode.

Limerick below. And Ennis, where I fell in love with an Irish voice. I swear she spoke in iambic pentameter. And Tralee. I played golf in Tralee.

And the Aran Islands. Do you remember riding bikes around Aran Islands? What happened? Well, you went crazy for sure. Or reverted. I am sure I was prefect. I mean perfect.

Lucky to have been there, though. Lightning struck. I’ll march about with a metal poll aloft in the next thunderstorm. Perhaps lightning will strike again.

Two little bottles of Cabernet. Spanish. Castilian.

The wine. It is safe to unmask on the plane.

Maybe I should return to Rioja. Serrano. The Black Madonna.

We are near Shannon.

Now the Atlantic. I can turn the map off.

Food is coming. I can watch tv without guilt.

Key Largo. Bogart and Bacall. Real movie stars. Real actors. Bacall’s first roll was in 1944 when she starred opposite of Bogart in To Have and Have Not. She was 19. He was 45. They married the next year. Key Largo was filmed in 1948 and was their final film pairing. They were giants then. I was in the Keys just before COVID.


I decided I should go inspect all the work that went on in Hagerstown while I was gone.

Amazing. We are going to squeeze 50 more bookcases in there—and still open up space in the front for… more stuff. The contractor is coming back today through Friday for the next phase. Hugely expensive. I hope the booklovers in western Maryland like it.

Back to Frederick.

So many carts loaded with books with my name on them…

I’d been expecting a package from my friend Laurelle Swan—Swan’s Fine Books—with a beautiful shop in Walnut Creek, California. It was very late arriving.

“God. I hope this one isn’t lost. It should have been here a week ago.”

The tracking had it in limbo at various locales in the United States.

“Chuck, your package came.”

Just a beat up first edition of The Hobbit.

The Hobbit

But it is often what’s inside that counts.

The Hobbit Signed

The accompanying letter from Tolkien’s publisher—Unwin—confirming Tolkien signed the book adds to its provenance.

The Hobbit Letter

I’ll owe her a favor for acquiring this for me…

That night when I got home, I celebrated by hauling and splitting a lot of wood.

Some take delight in the strangest things. Well, it’s one of a number of gentle madnesses I live with.

The week has been mostly me sitting on a stool staring eye to eye with thousands of old books.

Oh, and I bought ten trees!

New Trees

6 Redbuds and 4 Dogwoods.

Who would buy trees to plant in a forest?

Just another one my gentle madnesses…


Another week just flew by.

The contractor who canceled yesterday’s work due to rain is coming today.

It has always been a truism in Wonder-land that “It always happens on a Friday.” Be it a massive project, big problem… whatever… it occurs on a Friday when there is no time to clean it up before the weekend.

I had to choose a new landscaper yesterday. We’ve had the same family business take care of our snow and landscaping since we moved in during 2013. She couldn’t hire enough help this year. Sad to see an old friend go.

It is hard to believe the fear and terror we had two years ago. Would there be bodies on the streets? People dying as the drove? Lockdowns. Stay at homes…

I got text from the state on Monday. “We know you have been overseas… These are the CDC guidelines…”

Big Brother. A brave new world.

It will be sunny and 60 degrees today. I put some houseplants outside last night. I am so tired of walking around them. It may be too early. There may still be a freeze. If it looks bad, I can take them back inside. But they are close to the house. Three “stealth” amaryllis are about to bloom. These are happy surprise as they just rise out of pots containing different plants. The long flower stalk—pale green—can be about 30 inches long. So much to do.

Like… where to put those trees…

And the sadness wells up.

Who can be sad in early spring with so much going on everywhere?


Tough as nails and leather and stone
A town of merchants ministers and military
They all reside at the necropolis
High above the cathedral
A grassy hill planted with headstones
the long dead planted beneath them
toppled tombstones tipped by time or troublemakers
It is the last day of my trip
Tired sore and longing for home
I must do something
I will never pass this way again
Down, down, down from the graveyard
If you walk downhill in a city
it will likely lead you to a river
I walk along the Clyde
Daffodil clumps on either side
I walk with no purpose or goal
I walk and walk to sooth my soul
I walk to walk and use the day
See the air and taste the sun
Fell the cold damp brightness
This is a city of work
Heavy iron bridges
Massive stone edifices
The merchant bosses built this place
On the cheap
using the poor who had to eat

Whiskey in the Jar Lyrics

As I out ridin’ over the far Kerry Mountains
I spied Captain Farrell and his money he was countin’
I first produced my pistol and then I drew out my rapier
I said “Stand and deliver for you are a bold deceiver”

Musha ringum durm’da
Whack fol the daddy-o
Whack fol the daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

I counted out his money and it made a pretty penny
I put it in my pocket and I took it home to Jenny
She said and she swore that she never would betray me
The devil take the women for they never can be easy

Musha ringum durm’da
Whack fol the daddy-o
Whack fol the daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

I went up to my chamber all for to take a slumber
I dreamt of gold and jewels, boys, and sure it was no wonder
But Jenny took my charges and she filled them up with water
Then sent for Captain Farrell to be ready for the slaughter

Musha ringum durm’da
Whack fol the daddy-o
Whack fol the daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

Next day just as I was leavin’, was early in the mornin’
The captain and his soldiers came at me without warnin’
I then produced my pistol, she stole away my sabre
I couldn’t shoot the water so a prisoner I was taken

Musha ringum durm’da
Whack fol the daddy-o
Whack fol the daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

I’d like to find my brother, he’s the one that’s in the army
I don’t know where he’s stationed, is it Cork or in Killarney?
Together we’ll go ridin’ o’er the mountains of Kilkenny
Oh, I know he’ll treat me better than my darlin’ sportin’ Jenny

Musha ringum durm’da
Whack fol the daddy-o
Whack fol the daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

Musha ringum durm’da
Whack fol the daddy-o
Whack fol the daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

There’s some take delight in fishin’ or in boatin’
Others take delight in their carriages a-rollin’
But I take delight in the juice of the barley
And courtin’ pretty girls in the mornin’ bright and early

Musha ringum durm’da
Whack fol the daddy-o
Whack fol the daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

Musha ringum durm’da
Whack fol the daddy-o
Whack fol the daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

4 Comments on Article

  1. Gail Ann Bey commented on

    I throughly enjoyed your journal. I envy your travels and adventures. Look forward to more in the future.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much for reading the stories and taking the time to write!
      It makes me want to continue the stories when I hear from people who like them.

  2. Kathleen W Arnold commented on

    Just thank you for taking us with you on your peregrinations, abroad or at home.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind. It is heartening to her from people who like the stories.
      Thank you!

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