Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 17

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 17

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 17, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four songs drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

The Lonely Banna Strand: Back in the mid-seventies we sat around a fire in a bleak backyard in Werrington, a suburb which had just been established on the Cumberland plain of Sydney’s outer west with nary a tree in sight and sang this (and other) songs. Nearly fifty years on, the suburb is well-established with lots of trees. I came across a reference to this song in an old diary some years ago and, having decided to get it up and going again as a group, I think the singer interprets this portion of the story of Sir Roger Casement with real feeling.

When I lived in Cushendall in the 1980s, I would often take the family out to Moorlough Bay, which looks across the North Channel to Scotland, and walk the paths about the headland, thinking about the achievements of this great man. I taught, also, for nine years in the 1980s at Ballymena Academy, the alma mater of Sir Roger. While I was there, they did not acknowledge him, in any meaningful way. I wonder if this is still the situation at the school? [insert song]

The Ferryman– Like so many Irish urban songs, this Pete St John number tells of how economic forces affect the ways in which people regard their employment and the ways in which their relationships also may be subject to change. For all the gloomy sub-text, the song remains optimistic in spirit and this comes through in this treatment of it. Sam has sung this song for many years and it remains a favourite of his, as may be evident from his presentation of the song here. [insert song]

The Lark in the Morning– A song in progress At any rate, our bodhran player and main singer, Sam, confided the other day that he used to sing this song way back when so we struck up the band, so to speak, and this is what resulted. We’ll keep working on it ( I was about to say, refining it but that might be a bridge- or should I say,- an inaccuracy too far…) This is one of the most popular songs, covered by many artists. [insert song]

Waltzing Matilda:(Queensland version) This is Australia’s best-known bush ballad and has been described as the country’s “unofficial national anthem”. The original lyrics were written in 1895 by Australian poet Banjo Paterson, and were first published as sheet music in 1903. The Australian poet Banjo Paterson wrote the words to “Waltzing Matilda” in August 1895 while staying at Dagworth Station, near Winton owned by the Macpherson family.

It has been widely accepted that “Waltzing Matilda” is probably based on the following story: In Queensland in 1891 the Great Shearers’ Strike brought the colony close to civil war and was broken only after the military were called in. In September 1894, some shearers at Dagworth Station were again on strike. The situation turned violent with the striking shearers firing their rifles and pistols in the air and setting fire to the woolshed at Dagworth, killing dozens of sheep. The owner of Dagworth Station and three policemen gave chase to a man named Samuel Hoffmeister, an immigrant said to have been born in Batavia also known as “Frenchy” Rather than be captured, Hoffmeister shot and killed himself at the 4 Mile Creek south of Kynuna at 12.30pm on 2nd September, 1894.

On arriving in Australia, in 1972, this was one of the first Aussie songs I learned. In the mid-70s I played in a group called Currency  with Kevin Baker and John Broomhall in Wollongong and here’s where I learned the alternative music to the well-known lyrics. From lockdown, I present a version that has more than a trace of Country music in its iteration. [ insert song]

For our 18th Edition of Postcards next week, we will hear a popular song called Back Home in Derry, written by Bobby Sands, also, that perennial favourite, The Irish Rover. Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye written by  is a fine example of an anti-war song written by English songwriter and music hall impresario Joseph Georghagen in 1867 (This guy is worthy of a postcard all of his own and maybe that lies in the future). We finish out the set with a Dominic Behan composition, The Sea Around Us. All the songs explicitly or implicitly involve travel over water, so strap on your lifebelts, acquire your sea-legs and limber up your vocal cords to sing along in the choruses when next you visit Quotidia.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 68 Counting Game

Letters From Quotidia Episode 20 Counting Game

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. Yes, I know a lot of kids today use electronic and digital companions rather than interacting with children composed of flesh, bone and blood. But there are still hold-outs, I am sure, even in sophisticated societies for modern twists on the old-fashioned games that amused children down the years. Let’s start with a rhyme:

Entry 68: Counting GameSkinny Malink Malogen legs/Big banana feet,/Went to the pictures and couldn’t get a seat/When she got a seat/She fell fast asleep/Skinny Malink Malogen legs/Big banana feet. This is one of a dozen or more Belfast skipping songs that my wife has related to our children over the years, remembered from her own childhood in the late fifties. The world of children’s games exists alongside that of adult lives and concerns: magical, colourful, rhythmical and musical- it needs few props to make it come alive. A length of rope, a ball, a hoop and a spinning top combined with the energy and agility of young bodies not yet jaded and twisted by sophisticated pursuits in the pub or club that await their later years, can create a parallel universe where fears and uncertainties fall away in the shamanism created by the chanting and dancing in the street, or by the gable wall, or up an urban alley as the swaying, stamping, intertwining shadows cast their spells that have run, no doubt, across the years back to the time before time immemorial.

Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, there is an actual date for “time immemorial”, in 1275, by the first Statute of Westminster, the time of memory was limited to the reign of Richard I (Richard the Lionheart), beginning 6 July 1189, the date of the King’s accession. But, sticklers and pedants, notwithstanding, I think that children’s games extend much further into the past than this. We know from archaeological artefacts that children in the cities of the ancient world played games. Unfortunately, we have no video evidence from those times, but I’m sure if technology is ever able to re-create childhood play scenes from the misty past, there will be a real resemblance to a 24-minute documentary entitled Dusty Bluebells recorded by BBC Northern Ireland in 1971 that I accessed on YouTube today.

The city streets I recognised with a jolt- the British soldiers on street corners armed with SLRs, the Saracen armoured cars, the rusty delivery vans, old clunkers and drab terraces of the lower Falls Road- but above all, the Dystopian nightmare of the Divis Flats complex, one of the 1960s high-rise developments that, within a couple of decades, were demolished. The children, from St Mary’s Primary School, transform that blasted cityscape with their energy and innocence.

A poem by E. E. Cummings recreates, in his inimitable way, the sounds and sights of a child’s world, in Just-spring when the world is mud-luscious the little lame balloonman whistles far and wee and eddieandbill come running from marbles and piracies and it’s spring when the world is puddle-wonderful the queer old balloonman whistles far and wee and bettyandisbel come dancing from hop-scotch and jump-rope and it’s spring and the goat-footed balloonMan whistles far and wee.

In Australia, across an ocean of water and poetics, James McAuley recorded an early memory in, Childhood Morning-homebush, The half-moon is a muted lamp/ Motionless behind a veil./As the eastern sky grows pale,/I hear the slow-train’s puffing stamp//Gathering speed. A bulbul sings,/Raiding persimmon and fig./The rooster in full glossy rig/Crows triumph at the state of things.//I make no comment; I don’t know;/I don’t know what there is to know./I hear that every answer’s No,/But can’t believe it can be so. And so, to the counting games of kids One for sorrow/two for joy/three for a kiss/four for a boy/five for silver/ six for gold/seven for a secret, never to be told.

There are a myriad counting games and systems of notation that children use to master the complexity of numbers. One of the most ubiquitous is the use of the tally, to keep track of an unfolding sequence- you know what I mean, four vertical strokes and one diagonal across them to indicate the number five. Prisoners can keep tally of their durance vile on the walls of their cells by scratching an ongoing record of their incarceration. One of the most striking uses of the tally system is that found at Hanakapiai Beach, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai where a sign warns, do not go near the water, unseen currents have killed-what follows is a tally in chalk on the board and you can see the most recent death toll by counting the tally. As of August 2014 there were 83 tally marks. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but I’m pretty sure that I would forego a swim there, despite the heat of the day.

Have you ever heard the expression- you can count on me? Or more negatively, count on you to stuff things up! How do you keep track of the items in your existence? Skilful at balancing your budget, are you? Or do you, like Prufrock, measure out your life with coffee spoons? No matter, there is one indubitable fact. No matter what systems you use to navigate and comprehend this world or to what level of proficiency: You count. [insert song Counting Game]

That concludes this week’s letters. Tomorrow is a time for folk music but when the letters resume we will be in the world of Dadaism. Nothing to do with Dad jokes, although a species of humour is present however tenuous and out there. Watch in horror or approbation as the narrator flings rotten tomatoes at a performer onstage at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich over one hundred years ago. We will meet the protagonist of Melville’s short story Bartleby the Scrivener, experience lines from Australian poet Judith Beveridge and look at the breadth and depth of one of England’s  foremost men on letters A. A. Alverez. So join me for the cabaret in Quotidia.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 67 Anything Can Happen

Letters From Quotidia Episode 67 Anything Can Happen

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. Being a citizen of  one of the world powers today can be a tad nerve-wracking. Even those of us who are citizens of middling powers feel the earth beneath our feet shaking when The US and China stamp the floor in ire at one another. God help us if the take up the cudgels in earnest. Maybe there is some respite in the past- let’s see?

Entry 67: Anything Can Happen- 23 BC in Rome was interesting in a number of ways: Augustus declared himself Princeps or “first citizen”; the Roman poet, Horace, published his first three books of Odes; and, elsewhere in the Roman sphere of influence, Herod the Great built a sumptuous palace in Jerusalem and married the ravishing beauty, Mariamme, after raising her Dad to an appropriate level- one commensurate with his lascivious…eye?

But it is Horace, the poet, rather than the politicians that this entry concerns itself with. The title of the song of the entry is taken from one of the Odes. Book 1, Ode  34. The Odes cover a range of subjects – Love, Friendship, Wine, Religion, Morality, Patriotism; poems of eulogy addressed to Augustus and his relations; and verses written on a miscellany of subjects and incidents, including the uncertainty of life, the cultivation of tranquillity and contentment, and the observance of moderation or the “golden mean.”

Thank you Wikipedia. More? Horace’s career coincided with Rome’s momentous change from Republic to Empire. An officer in the republican army defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, he was befriended by Octavian’s right-hand man in civil affairs, Maecenas, and became a spokesman for the new regime. For some commentators, his association with the regime was a delicate balance in which he maintained a strong measure of independence (he was “a master of the graceful sidestep”) but for others he was, in John Dryden’s phrase, “a well-mannered court slave”.

Poor bastard- not literally, just an Aussie epithet. Most of us know what it’s like to dodge a bullet or be utterly dependent on the patronage of a kindly person or institution or sheer blind luck. Horace had Maecenas, whose very name has become an eponym for a patron of the arts. His patronage was exercised, not from vanity or a mere dilettante love of letters, but with a view to the higher interest of the state. He recognised in the genius of the poets of that time, not only the truest ornament of the court, but a power of reconciling men’s minds to the new order of things, and of investing the actual state of affairs with an ideal glory and majesty. The change in seriousness of purpose between the Eclogues and the Georgics of Virgil was in a great measure the result of the direction given by the statesman to the poet’s genius. A similar change between the earlier odes of Horace, in which he declares his epicurean indifference to affairs of state, and the great national odes of the third book has been ascribed by some to the same guidance.

Oh, ah? Anyone else feeling slightly uncomfortable with that? Didn’t Stalin and all the other totalitarian dictators arrange for something similar in history? Have you ever been persuaded, either by self-censorship or kindly persuasion, to massage an opinion genuinely held to something other than that which you actually believe? No! Cast the first stone then, by all means! Nevertheless, Horace speaks across the millennia to us: carpe diem, anyone? Many of us know the phrase from Robin William’s portrayal of teacher John Keating in the film, Dead Poets Society, who exhorts his students to, Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary. The phrase is from Book 1, Ode 11. …life is short; should hope be more?/In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb’d away./Seize the day; trust tomorrow e’en as little as you may.

Time and mortality were themes Horace returned to in Ode seven of the fourth book. This poem, A. E Housman considered to be the most beautiful in ancient literature, The swift hour and the brief prime of the year/Say to the soul, Thou wast not born for aye./Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring/Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers/Comes autumn, with his apples scattering;/Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs./ But oh, whate’er the sky-led seasons mar,/Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams:…we are dust and dreams. Seamus Heaney, shaken by the events of 9/11, wrote Anything Can Happen based on Ode 34 of Book 1. Anything can happen, the tallest towers/Be overturned, those in high places daunted,/Those overlooked regarded./ He talks of Fortune as a bird of prey tearing the crest off one,/Setting it down bleeding on the next.

Recognising that nothing will ever be the same again he ends the poem with the lines, Capstones shift, nothing resettles right./Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away. I first read Heaney as a student in Belfast in 1968. In the decades since, I have read and admired just about everything he has ever written. Alas, that he will write no more: vale Famous Seamus. After reading District and Circle, the collection from which this poem is taken, I wrote this song in 2007. [insert song Anything Can Happen]

Let us leave behind now the world of adults with gravitas and move to the world of children in our onward journey through Quotidia. Belfast skipping songs anyone? The poets E E Cummings and James MacAuley examine aspects of children’s games. The tally system as a method of counting and keeping track of things is a method used by children as well as adults. Children find a magic in rhyme and counting-One for sorrow/two for joy/three for a kiss/four for a boy/five for silver/ six for gold/seven for a secret, never to be told. But, if the truth is to be told, there is sorrow and joy aplenty in Quotidia to say nothing of silver, gold and secrets. So, blow a good-bye kiss to that boy or girl  and board the coach which will take us further into the mist-shrouded realm to the 68th stage of our journey.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 66 The Long Weekend

Letters From Quotidia Episode 66 The Long Weekend

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

The entry, The Long Weekend was first drafted five years ago last New Year’s Eve. When I came to record it for the present letters, I found it held up remarkably well. I ended the original piece with a plea to Clive James, noted Australian expat, to stay with us. And he did hang around, for four more years and several books of prose and poetry of real quality as well as a literary website. He died on 29 November 2019. As a tribute to this prodigiously talented Australian, here are the first lines from his translation to Dante’s The Divine Comedy: At the mid-point of the path through life, I found/ Myself lost in a wood so dark, the way/ Ahead was blotted out. Now to the original entry-

Entry 66: The Long Weekend– Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark,/For the straightforward pathway had been lost. These lines are from the beginning of Dante’s The Inferno, as translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In all literature, The Divine Comedy, of which The Inferno forms the first and most popular part, has few peers: many poets see it as a touchstone against which to test their own prowess in translation and prosody. Visual artists, too, regard this work as a test of their abilities to render to sight what has been wrought in sound (I’m told, by those who know, that Dante’s great work needs to be heard in the original Tuscan for full effect). Gustave Doré’s monochrome woodcuts set the standard, here. Many of these images have stayed with me. Dante, standing in the selva oscura, the dark forest, is one such, where he looks back towards the light as he steps deeper into the dark tunnel formed by the over-arching branches of the ominous trees.

In similar fashion, I watched appalled as the social fabric of Belfast started to warp, fray and unravel from 1968 under the political and paramilitary forces increasingly at work before my eyes. I glanced backward at the departing light of mid-sixties optimism where the city was alive with great music in the dance-halls and clubs. As the tribal war drums began to reverberate, I retreated to Belfast City Library to access reading material and listening material to help me escape. There I came across Donald Horne’s The Lucky Country. Having been intrigued by the island continent since schoolboy Geography classes, I began to read about Australia. I determined to apply for a teaching post there and subsequently got a conditional offer from the New South Wales Education Department.

Arriving in Aussie in August 1972, I found that I fit right in- a bit of an indictment really, in the light of what Ronald Conway had to say in his book The Great Australian Stupor, where he painted the Australian male as a completely inadequate father, selfish husband and incompetent lover, who took refuge from his inadequacies at the pub. Ouch! He also wrote in 1988: “Australia has become an addicted society, one which seeks a too easy and too dangerous way of breaking out of the rat trap of materialism that it has built for itself. This is a society without sufficient creative imagination to stay happy and healthy.” He was no less scathing in the new millennium, writing in 2001, “Ours could be the first century in history to turn media-heated sexuality into a universal bore.”  Married at First Sight, anyone?

I used the title of his second book, The Land of the Long Weekend, in the song, even though, now, it is a sad remnant of a long-ago time in this consumer age of 24/7 trading where the un- and under- employed and age-pensioners such as myself are in the dwindling band of those who may get- if not actually enjoy- a whole weekend of leisure. As to why we are here? He wrote, “Perhaps the wholly present point of our conscious existence is not to build a wall against mortality but live as deeply as we can so as to inspire those who come after.”  Do I agree? Yes. Yes, I do. I am indebted to distinguished Aussie journalist Tony Stephens for the information on Conway from his obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald, March 26, 2009.

Conway’s acerbic critique has been a challenge to me over the decades. First, in the 70s where I was less than half-way along my life’s path when things got twisted and I couldn’t find the way. My Beatrice led me back to where it all began, in Ireland in 1979, but as others, too, have found, you can’t go back. You’re just a ghost, wandering in a landscape where once-familiar faces look at you strangely. Returning to Australia in 1988, I was in time to catch Conway’s ongoing critique of Aussie life and I must admit that I noticed that things had changed quite a bit in the almost ten-year absence. And, they’ve continued to change; yet, strangely, despite all this- Australia remains a land of dreams and endless opportunities that the ugly spectres from the other, older and raddled hemisphere have not been able to infect so far, touch wood!

The sun-drenched optimism that pours into my backyard in Sydney’s outer West on this the last day of 2015 reminds me of a Sydney expatriate who has kept me entertained and challenged through the decades since he had me in stitches with his Unreliable Memoirs– and all the books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, journalism and TV appearances. Of course, I’m talking about Clive James, Even my memories are clearly seen:/Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must/Be aching for my homeland/…The sky is overcast/Here in the English autumn, but my mind/Basks in the light I never left behind. Stay with us Clive, we need you, still. [insert song The Long Weekend]

Anything Can Happen, as anyone who has lived through 2020 can attest. This is the theme of our 67th Letter and I turn to the poets to help examine it: Horace from ancient Rome, A E Housman from Edwardian England and Seamus Heaney from contemporary Ireland are enlisted to help us untangle the various strands before our eyes. Join us in Quotidia.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 65 Homebase

Letters From Quotidia Episode 65 Homebase

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Entry 65: Homebase– I’ve tried three times to start this entry. First attempt: I thought the phrase rootless cosmopolitan referred to an insult hurled by Stalin at Trotsky and I was going to apply it to myself. But then, a cursory examination, courtesy of Wikipedia, showed me that the ice-axe through the skull of Leon Bronstein occurred in 1940, many years before the insult became an instrument of the Soviet Dictator’s strategy for the removal of opponents.

Then, I thought that I could make a fresh start by delving into my memory and resurrecting a scene from my younger days, when I was at a protest rally in Belfast. It was in late 1970 or early 1971. I remember that I was somewhere near the city centre. Things began to get hairy; I retreated to a safer distance; black-clad police formed phalanxes and then I spotted a student politician from Queen’s University, Belfast, with whom I had been in disputation at an earlier student conference, not sloping off, as I was, but running towards the police lines and, indeed, hopping into the Black Maria, without law-and-order assistance.

Thinking I was onto the winner, I started to search my papers from files in the attic and, later, the briefcases stored in the front of the garage to see if I could get the skinny on what really had gone on all those years ago- as if it actually counts in the 21st Century! For I had seen that erstwhile radical student politician not so long ago on TV, a person who became a mover and shaker in the conservative camp, and, knowing that I could destroy his life should I so wish- what to do? Were I to follow precedent in the media over the past few years, I would name this prominent politician and watch as his career crashed and burned around him. I’ve got the proof, ha, ha!

Of course, I have no intention of doing any such thing. Finally, I hit upon a cunning plan, as Baldrick, the long-suffering sidekick of Edmund Blackadder, used to assert. I’ll re-start for a lucky third time by telegraphing the use of the first lines of the song as the denouement of this entry- thereby avoiding the difficulties of making another start at all: (cunning, you see…) I do believe I was happier, and more attuned to the world and those around me, before the rubber band of schooling began to stretch me out of shape and sort us all out as points on the elongating, narrowing and vibrating ribbon that separates the educational sheep from the goats.

The song is a sort of coming of age tale. Were it written as a novel it would be called a bildungsroman. Now according to Wikipedia, A Bildungsroman relates the growing up or “coming of age” of a sensitive person who goes in search of answers to life’s questions with the expectation that these will result from gaining experience of the world. The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or youngest son going out in the world to seek his fortune. Well, I am the youngest son, and many would say I am also a bit of a dunce, too. However, no novel in sight yet for me (apart, that is, from an unfinished 80,000-word effort from almost forty years ago which I managed to hold on to for half-a-life time but have carelessly misplaced somewhere or other in the last few months).

But songs I can manage to hold on to- a few I have even been able to resurrect from memory, when the paper versions have gone AWOL. This song is just such an artefact. I wrote it in 1989 a year after returning to Australia from Ireland: an absence of almost ten years. Surprise, surprise, I lost it in the move back to Sydney from Queensland at the beginning of 1995. So, I sat down with a bottle of wine and started to re-construct it. A rootless cosmopolitan no more, I had taken out citizenship, with the rest of the family in 1994.

Clive James, one of Australia’s greatest intellectual expatriates, gave an interview in 2015, as he was dying, where he describes Australia as the promised land. He wasn’t the first (or last, I guess) who will make that claim about one place or another. But after listening to the interview, a few lines from A Difficult Patriotism, by Michael Dransfield came to mind, Europe lures away our idealists with/mythologies. Here to be different is agony/There it is easy/But this is the greatest country,/Australia, to leave it means/ death to the spirit We cannot/ change it with our verses and kisses and years… Dransfield, as a poet, has enthralled-and eluded-me since I first encountered his verse in 1973- the year of his much too early death at age 24- when young poets in Wollongong were discussing new voices in Australian letters in the exciting dawn of Whitlam’s Australia. But now, it’s time: time for the denouement promised: the first lines of the song, most things worth knowing I learned by the age of four, school was a drag and I walked out that door, All that I really want, all that I really need is you. [insert song Homebase]

In our next visit to Quotidia for our 66th letter, we’ll find ourselves within a forest dark with the great poet Dante, where the straightforward pathway has been lost. Then we’ll stand on the steps of  the Belfast City Library as any lingering remnant of the path to peace is trampled under the feet of paramilitaries as they march down Royal Avenue. And we’ll fly away to the land of the long weekend- to an Australia dreaming in the sun in shorts as the waves roll in from an ocean insulating the wide, brown land from all that other stuff somewhere else- for a short time only, perhaps.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 16

Letters From Quotidia Postcards edition 16

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 16, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four tunes and songs drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Hard Times: Written by Stephen Foster who died much too soon at age 37. The wowsers of the time were smug, characterising him as a “drunkard” who wrote songs about “pathetic people”. Well, he’s remembered and revered 150 years after his death for such classics as Beautiful Dreamer, Gentle Annie, My Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair and Camptown Races, while his mean-spirited critics have sunk into well-deserved oblivion. Here’s Jim to sing the song.[insert song]

Spancil Hill: Another much loved and requested song from the 70s onwards, in my experience. It was originally a poem written by Michael Considine, who left for America in the wake of the Great Famine. He hoped to make enough money to return home and marry his sweetheart. He died at age 23 in 1873, without ever having fulfilled his dreams. But he sent a poem to his nephew on which the song is based. The punch and power of the ballad, even in its popular, abbreviated form is a testament to his feeling for “my first and only love” . Sam Beggs takes the honours here for this great song. [insert song]

Three Rivers Hotel: An Aussie song recorded by many country artists here, most notably, the late, great Slim Dusty. It tells of the hard-working, hard-drinking blokes who undertake the hot and hellish, dirty, dusty construction jobs in the bush of Australia. The hotel, where cold beer and entertainment of various kinds is to be found, is the heart of the vastness and celebrated in more songs than this one. This is one of several variants on the song, written, I think, by Stan Coster, a songwriter and bushman of note, who died back in 1997.[insert song]

The Wild Rover: Historically, the song has been referred to in Irish folklore and, since the late sixteenth century, it has been noted in written records—although it is likely that some northern Atlantic fishing crews knew the song before these historical accounts were made. The song is a staple for artists performing live music in Irish pubs. It is often considered to be a drinking song rather than a temperance song. For many people, the Wild Rover is the stereotypical Irish drinking song.

“The Wild Rover” is the most widely performed Irish song, although its exact origins are unknown. The song tells the story of a young man who has been away from his hometown for many years. Returning to his former alehouse the landlady refuses him credit, until he presents the gold which he has gained while he has been away. He sings of how his days of roving are over and he intends to return to his home and settle down.

According to Professor T. M. Devine in his book The Scottish Nation 1700 – 2000 (Penguin, 2001) the song was written as a temperance song. The song is found printed in a book, The American Songster, printed in the USA by W.A. Leary in 1845, and spread from Scotland to America from the Temperance movement. There is another USA printed version in the “Forget-Me-Not Songster” (c 1850), published by Locke. An alternative history of the song is suggested by the fact that a collection of ballads, dated between 1813 and 1838, is held in the Bodleian Library

Raymond Daly and Derek Warfield of The Wolfe Tones describe how the fans of Celtic Football Club in Scotland  sing The Wild Rover at away matches. The chorus is well known throughout most English-speaking cultures, even among people who have no knowledge of the rest of the song. (Thanks to Wikipedia for the notes above. Do donate to a great site, if you can afford to.)

I first came across this song off the Dubliners 1964 LP and the song was a staple of the dance-halls in rural and metro Northern Ireland. The showbands of the time were nothing if not versatile: able to keep the punters entertained with songs from the Top of the Pops as well as Country staples from the USA. Add to the mix,  Irish folk songs and Ceili dance-tunes and you get the idea of what a night out was like in the mid-1960s in Ireland. It was a great time that has, alas, faded into the past.

Sam the Man helms the song in our wee group, Banter, but because the virus has us in lockdown, and, anyway, there are no venues open for live music yet, so I get to sing it and share it! [insert song]

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 64 Whatever Comes

Letters From Quotidia Episode 64 Whatever Comes

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. Do you like rockets? You’re in the right place. Or do accounts of the activities of the terroristic fringes of the hard-left and extreme-right claim your quantum of leisure. Here in Quotidia, you are able to witness the highs and lows of humanity at its best and worst.

Entry 64: Whatever Comes– On September 5, 1977, Voyager 1 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 41 sixteen days after its twin, Voyager 2, for a stupendous mission to chart the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond- that continues to this day. On August 25, 2012 it crossed the heliopause to become the first man-made object to enter interstellar space. Meanwhile, back on earth on the day of the launch, the Red Army Faction a.k.a. the Bader-Meinhof gang kidnapped German industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer and subsequently murdered him among thirty-three others whose deaths they were responsible for.

And as the tiny space craft, weighing only 721.9 kilograms, entered interstellar space, Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik was sentenced to twenty-one years in jail for killing seventy-seven innocent people in Oslo and on the island of Utoya. These stats illustrate the best and worst of humanity. Rightly, the golden record affixed to the space-craft does not include details of human atrocities but instead images of the beauty and variety of life on earth as well as our cultural treasures. From the world of classical music, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven and Blind Willie Johnston and Chuck Berry from the realm of popular music. Incredibly, EMI refused permission to have the Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun included because of copyright concerns!  Aliens with a sense of humour would be tickled.

Journeys to the interior, can be remarkable, too, as Margaret Atwood demonstrates in her poem about inward voyaging, that travel is not the easy going/from point to point, a dotted/line on a map…that here, too, are found cliffs and swamps, hills and a tangle of trees. And, crucially, I know/ it is easier for me to lose my way/ forever here, than in other landscapes. For some, the journeys and voyages have been both within and across the surface of the globe. Marco Polo, whose travels to China and back to Venice encompassing 24,000 kilometres and twenty-four years are remarkable and were influential in whetting the appetite of Europeans for exploration- but little is known of the interior changes wrought in the man who set out as a youth of seventeen years and returned as a middle-aged forty-one-year-old dignitary.

However, someone who travelled a comparable distance in time and space but who leaves an account which deals with what is within- from a time thirteen hundred years before Marco Polo set out on his journey- is the towering figure of St Paul. The song is about him- but not only him, because I mash him up with another outstanding character from world history, contemporaneous with the apostle of the Gentiles; St Peter- you know, the guy who denied his leader- how many times?  Was there ever such an inauspicious start for a world religion?

But we all are acquainted with those who shift their allegiances: sometimes it is for the most honourable of motives, at other times it is self-serving and venal. But there are other avenues to explain these antipodean changes: sometimes it is just a matter of information. As a 13-year old, courtesy of US News and World Report, a magazine I read avidly in the school library of Seroe Colorado High, Aruba, I accepted, uncritically, the World View of the CIA- or the USA- whichever you prefer. Then, when I found out that I had been lied to, egregiously, I swung to the fashionable Left, featuring Che Guevara et al. But, later, finding that the pendulum had swung to an equal and opposite lie- I became somewhat apathetic.

Today, I find myself wondering if I should even pay attention to the volume of mal-informed drivel coming down the various pipes that masquerade as the media. So where, or to whom, do you turn to if you wish for some sort of answer to the problems of the world we live in? To itemise the horrors between the launch of the Voyager 1 spacecraft and its exit into interstellar space makes me feel ill. The Jonestown mass suicide/murder claiming over 900 lives happened just a year or so after the launch. As the Voyager 1 broke through into interstellar space a crime was committed in Australia that filled me with anguish and broke the hearts of those who loved a vivacious and intelligent young woman named Jill Meagher who was raped and murdered in Melbourne. Like millions of others, I saw the CCTV footage of Jill’s last sighting followed by the stalking gait of her predator, who had nothing in mind other than the extinguishing of a lovely life.

But, to return to the original subject- St Paul: such an intrepid traveller; such an obstinate adversary; such an eloquent interlocutor; such a fine explicator of the nature of belief and love and, above all, he had the quality that my mother said all true men should have: the ability to endure, whatever comes. So intertwined are the stories of Peter and Paul that, in this song, I ascribe Peter’s Quo Vadis moment to Paul, as well. Heretic! I hear the guardians of holy text screech. But then, none of them has ever been in the grip of furor poeticus where the madness of composition dictates form and content rather than any rigid adherence to orthodoxy. [insert song Whatever Comes]

The 65th letter finds the narrator, uncharacteristically, unable to make a start! First, he stumbles over a misattributed quote of Stalin, then, he fumbles an opportunity to, perhaps, who knows?, bring a political career crashing to the ground. Finally, giving this whole starting thing up as a bad job, he decides to just telegraph the opening lines of the song at the end of the podcast as an easy way out as a means of ending the letter: not having to worry about beginnings or endings- a cunning plan, indeed.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 63 Hold Me Love Me

Letters From Quotidia Episode 63 Hold Me Love Me

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. In letter 63 we reflect on Grammar Schools and hedge schools; punishments run the gamut from tar-and -feathering to assassination; and we learn that map-making is a most political undertaking…

Entry 63: Hold Me Love Me– I was appointed as a teacher at Ballymena Academy in January 1980. It was a bit of a change from the multicultural, behavioural and academic mix that was Warrawong High School in NSW where I had worked for six years. The Academy was selective, taking the top 10% of students sorted by an exam at age 11. It was almost exclusively white and Christian- mostly Protestant although a few of the wealthier Catholic families sent their kids there. 95% of the kids wore their uniform neatly, did their homework without complaint and were attentive and cooperative in class. The polished, civilised, veneer of middle-class, mid-Antrim respectability shone out- for most of the time. Not an adverse criticism- we need our veneers to cover the less sightly aspects of our souls and to protect us against damaging elements.

Towards the end of the academic year, in early June, we were shocked in the Glens (I was back living in Cushendall, again) by the news that John Turnley, the area’s biggest landowner, had been assassinated on his way to a council meeting by three members of the UDA, the biggest Protestant paramilitary group. Although a scion of the Protestant ascendency, he had been drawn to the nationalist side of politics and, as a recent member of the Irish Independence Party, was agitating for recognition of political status for Republican prisoners in the H-Block. In my senior classroom shortly after, I remarked on the savagery of this murderous attack on a husband and father. Silence. No one actually said he deserved it because no one said anything, but the silence was eloquent: he was a turncoat, a lundy. The latter word is a Northern Irish colloquialism which is derived from the name of the governor of Derry in the 18th century, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Lundy, who was suspected of Catholic sympathies by the Protestant community.

Seamus Heaney’s 1975 poem Punishment recognises the reciprocal nature of this silent response where he compares the 2000 year-old killing of a young female adulterer exhumed from a German bog with the treatment of Catholic girls who consorted with British soldiers in Northern Ireland: they were chained to railings, their hair was shaved off and hot tar was poured over them. Thinking of the bog girl he admits, I almost love you/but would have cast, I know, /the stones of silence… I who have stood dumb/when your betraying sisters,/ cauled in tar,/wept by the railings. Like my students a few years later, he understands the exact and tribal… revenge.

When I attended a performance of Brian Friel’s acclaimed drama, Translations a few months later, I understood much better the theme of failure to communicate which underpins the play which is set in a remote rural settlement in 1833 as two British officers come to map the area for the Ordnance survey. In making a map, of course, the maker gets to name (or rename) all the places and notate the roads, bridges, forests, hills, settlements and other strategic elements that form the necessary preparation for the consolidation of imperial rule.

They are accompanied by Owen, the son of the alcoholic teacher of the local hedge school- an Irish institution of which Irish writer, William Carelton, provided the following contemporaneous account to amuse his English reading audience, On once asking an Irish peasant, why he sent his children to a school master who was notoriously addicted to spirituous liquors, rather than to a man of sober habits who taught in the same neighbourhood, “Why do I send them to Mat Meegan, is it?” he replied – “and do you think, Sir,” said he, “that I’d send them to that dry-headed dunce, Mr. Frazher, with his black coat upon him, and his caroline hat, and him wouldn’t take a glass of poteen wanst in seven years? Mat, Sir, likes it, and teaches the boys ten times betther whin he’s dhrunk nor when he’s sober; and you’ll never find a good tacher, Sir, but’s fond of it.

The Catholic hierarchy were pleased when the British Government introduced National Schools in the 1830s because, as the bishop of Kildare wrote to his priests in 1831, he approved of the rule which requires that all the teachers are henceforth to be employed be provided…with a certificate of their competency, that will aid us in a work of great difficulty, to wit, that of suppressing hedge schools, and placing youths under the direction of competent teachers, and of those only. That is, only those of whom the hierarchy approved would get a position.

The best hedge schools (which were held in barns or cabins rather than under hedges) taught a range of subjects, including Greek and Latin as well as a curriculum geared to local needs. Where, oh where, are they now? The song, Hold Me Love Me, which follows maps three different scenarios of imposing one’s will. [insert song Hold Me Love Me]

On our next visit to Quotidia we will watch the Voyager spacecraft lift off from the Cape Canaveral Launch Complex in 1977 for truly epic exploratory ventures that continue to this day. The golden records aboard both spacecraft carry to the vastness of the cosmos an account of human life in its rich diversity and diverse accomplishment. Meanwhile back on Earth atrocities and venalities accumulate with the passage of the years as an obscene counterpoint that fills people of good will with horror and shame. We finish with a comparison between Marco Polo and a guy named Saul.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. Mark Dougherty has a co-writing credit for the song, Hold Me Love Me. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 62 Desolation Row 1984

Letters From Quotidia Episode 62 Desolation Row 1984

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

FM Radio has a habit of sanitising and/or re-writing history. Its present dissemination of the pop music of the 1980s would have you believe that that decade was all big hair and big guitar and synth bands whose audiences danced and tranced in multi-coloured clothes in a world of bubble-gum and day-glo. It wasn’t quite like that- anywhere. Let’s drop in just before that endless party of the radio DJs’ imagination. We’ll start with the genesis of the song Desolation Row/1984…

Entry 62: Desolation Row/1984 The song dates to 1979. I was largely unemployed during 1979 (having just returned from a seven-year sojourn in Australia) and I had spent some time driving around Ireland and staying in various B&Bs and above pubs. I look at the photographs from that time and weep that I was so unconscious. My wife and kids were there too, thinking that I knew what I was doing. After all, would Hubby-slash-Dad take off, driving them around Ireland without some sort of plan? Mmm, as it transpired, Yeah! The 1960s were the decade of coming of age; transition between Aruba and Ireland; between adolescence and young adulthood. The 1970s were years of graduation, marriage, children, emigration to Australia and first employment, return to Ireland and first (but not only) taste of unemployment.

The song references two of the great influences on what might loosely be termed my development as a songwriter- Dylan’s phantasmagorical lyricism and Orwell’s pellucid prose. I never got close to either- but did that stop me trying? Not on your Nelly! (What does that phrase even mean?) Were we to actually stop and interrogate my every usage or idiom, there would be no advancement on what might laughingly be described as a narrative. I do have a clear memory of a meal with my family at our home in Cushendall. This would have been sometime late in 1965. I was sixteen years old and my brother, Brendan had bought for me, as a birthday present, an LP by Bob Dylan called Highway 61 Revisited. Looking at that seriously cool dude on the cover, I was captivated even before I heard the opening bars of Like a Rolling Stone. Even more impressive was the response of the eldest sibling of our family, Jim, who was visiting from County Cork where he was established as one of the new, young Vets of modern Ireland. He was knocked out- demanding that the 11-minute song, Desolation Row, was allowed to be played rather than turned off, when the meal was to be served. Did I preen? Yes. Did I get all the allusions Dylan peppered throughout his song? No. But I knew, at a visceral level, that this was an important work of art and that it would follow me down the years. And here I am more than half a century later listening to the masterpiece at 2:00 a.m. Will it stand the test of time? I cannot say anything other than, this song fills my soul as much now in my senior years as it did way back when everything seemed possible.

1984 was an anti-climax- the year, I mean, in the small statelet of Northern Ireland . I was teaching English at Ballymena Academy to O-Level and A-Level. For a change, nothing much was going on politically or para-militarily in the province. The rest of the world lived in more interesting times, though. On the sub-continent, Indira Ghandi was assassinated and thousands died of toxic gases in Bhopal, courtesy of the Union Carbide chemical company. In Africa, widespread famine in Ethiopia prompted a bunch of UK and Irish rockers to stage the Band-Aid charity event while in Australia, Bob Hawke was Prime Minister and a bunch of feuding bikies shot it out in a gun-battle that became known as the Milperra massacre. In the US, a gunman killed 20 people at a McDonalds in San Ysidro, California and in the UK the IRA blew up the Grand Hotel in Brighton where the Conservatives were holding their annual conference.

On a more optimistic note, the first Apple Macintosh went on sale and the space shuttle Discovery made its maiden voyage. 1984, the novel, has given us some enduring concepts and memorable quotations. Doublethink, where one is capable of holding two contradictory ideas in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them, is one of the concepts Orwell has bequeathed to us. His image of the future as a boot stamping on a human face, forever, is as chilling now as it was in 1949 when it was published.

Irish poet, Louis MacNiece was among the ‘thirties poets, a coterie comprising W.H. Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis and Stephen Spender as well, who were opposed to fascism but MacNiece rejected the armchair activism of his contemporaries for a more wry take on the world that I responded to immediately when I read his poem, Bagpipe Music, It’s no go the Government grants, it’s no go the elections,/Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension. Been there, done that! The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,/But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather. Another poem, more favourite lines, The sunlight on the garden/Hardens and grows cold,/We cannot cage the minute/Within its nets of gold;/When all is told/We cannot beg for pardon…// And not expecting pardon,/Hardened in heart anew,/But glad to have sat under/Thunder and rain with you,/And grateful too/For sunlight on the garden. Time for the song. [insert song Desolation Row/1984]

Our next posting to Quotidia has the narrator experiencing the shock of the…old- that nothing much had changed in the years spent on the other side of the world. We learn that assassination was still  political strategy in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. We sample (again! and it won’t be for the last time) a poem about tribal retaliation from Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel’s play, Translations, gets a mention. And finally, schools, historical and contemporary, are examined in the Irish context. Make sure you bring an accurate map with you…

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 61 The Answer

Letters From Quotidia Episode 61 The Answer

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. We all want answers- some look in test-tubes (and thank God they do, for how else did we get our COVID vaccines?) Some look for answers in metaphysics, religion or poetry, and there are examples of these too- so, where do we start?

Entry 61: The Answer– Back in 1979, when the German Democratic Republic was still a glowering presence on the frontline of the Warsaw Pact, I watched a BBC documentary which showed East German scientists conducting animal research involving rats in order to find a “cure” for homosexuality. The song was written then as a reaction against the excesses of reductionist philosophies such as Marxist dialectical materialism which produces this sort of absurd activity; although, falling to one’s knees to pray as a reaction may be seen as equally absurd.

Mathematics is the purest science, they say, and the mathematicians smug it up as they point to the answers contained in their elegant and, to most of us, incomprehensible equations. One, though, I like- perhaps because it’s the only one I sort of understand: the equation goes, 1=0.99 repeating. Stephen Strogatz of Cornell University cites it as his fave, I love how simple it is — everyone understands what it says — yet how provocative it is. Many people don’t believe it could be true. It’s also beautifully balanced. The left side represents the beginning of mathematics; the right side represents the mysteries of infinity. Popular culture goes for another number, though. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”, calculated by an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years turns out to be the number 42. Unfortunately, the question is lost to us.

Maybe Adams was aware of the mathematician, Paul Cooper who theorised in 1966 that, the fastest, most efficient way to travel across continents would be to bore a straight hollow tube directly through the Earth, connecting a set of antipodes, remove the air from the tube and fall through. The first half of the journey consists of free-fall acceleration, while the second half consists of an exactly equal deceleration. The time for such a journey works out to be 42 minutes. Even if the tube does not pass through the exact centre of the Earth, the time for a journey powered entirely by gravity (known as a gravity train) always works out to be 42 minutes, so long as the tube remains friction-free, as while the force of gravity would be lessened, the distance travelled is reduced at an equal rate. (The same idea was proposed, without calculation by Lewis Carroll in 1893 in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded.) Doug Adams was a big fan of Lewis Carroll.

The American Sara Teasdale who composed clear, elegant verse wrote a poem entitled The Answer early in the 20th Century.  Again, you will have to search for the question, but it may be a tad uncomfortable, particularly if you are a male, When I go back to earth/And all my joyous body/Puts off the red and white/That once had been so proud,/If men should pass above/With false and feeble pity,/My dust will find a voice/To answer them aloud:/“Be still, I am content,/Take back your poor compassion,/Joy was a flame in me/Too steady to destroy;/Lithe as a bending reed/Loving the storm that sways her—/I found more joy in sorrow/Than you could find in joy.”

The search for meaning takes people on strange and arduous paths. The image of a guru on a mountain top dispensing wisdom, wit or cynicism to an endless procession of seekers has become an enduring meme in popular culture. I remember being somewhat puzzled, as a teen in the sixties, by the Beatles’ infatuation with the giggling Maharishi; although, not much later, I followed them eastwards to explore the worlds of Buddhism and Taoism. Not on anything so arduous as a pilgrimage, mind you. I used books as my means of conveyance- cheaper and more comfortable, I found (or, rather, I didn’t find- for interesting and diverting though the textual exploration was, in the end, I had to admit that I still hadn’t found what I was looking for).

That said, the concept of pilgrimage has always had an appeal to me, ever since, as a teen, I read Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, …in Albion’s isle there dwelt a youth,/Who ne in virtue’s ways did take delight;/But spent his days in riot most uncouth,/And vexed with mirth the drowsy ear of Night./Ah, me! in sooth he was a shameless wight,/Sore given to revel and ungodly glee;/Few earthly things found favour in his sight/Save concubines and carnal companie,/And flaunting wassailers of high and low degree. The hormonal 16-year old boy was, unsurprisingly, much taken by this.

The Australian-Greek poet, Dimitris Tsaloumas approximates where I am now, fifty years later, in his poem, The Pilgrimage, I’ve been on this pilgrimage for a long, bitter time…twelve austere couplets lead to the desolate conclusion that I share, as I flash in and out of belief, …I fear the message; there is no temple/ of light, no priest to read barefoot the voice of God.   [insert song The Answer]

In out next letter we will hob-nob with a bunch of British poets who were fashionable in the 1930s- that dreary decade where depression led to hyper-inflation and the rise of fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany and where the Spanish Civil War served as a dress rehearsal for World War Two; then, we’ll hop, skip and jump to the mid-1960s where a birthday boy hears for the first time Dylan’s magnificent album, Highway 61 Revisited. Propelled by the narrative almost twenty years, we find ourselves in 1984 where humanity demonstrates yet more examples of bastardry- but where a few shining and redemptive acts keeps the flame of hope flickering. So, come along for a trawl through a few decades of the last, and largely unlamented, century and we will see what of interest comes up in the nets.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Mark Dougherty has a co-writing credit for the song, The Answer.Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.