Letters From Quotidia Postcards edition 2

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 2, 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.

For our first item, Mark, our fiddler, pulled this out of the ether as we were thinking about what to record next  in our sessions for Noel, our friend who was returning to Ireland. I vaguely remembered the chords that went along with these tunes (not rocket science really, we’re talking about folk music, after all.) And so we struck up the band!- no, not really, just Mark- and me noodling away while the rest of the company enjoyed yet another refreshing ale! But here I’d like to present King of the Fairies/Queen of the Fairies– Another pair of fine tunes from the Irish instrumental tradition. The fiddle is central to the sound of Banter and it is given due prominence in this brace of melodies.

For me, Michael Hoffman’s 1999 film of Shakespeare’s  Midsummer Night’s Dream with Rupert Everett as Oberon and Michelle Pheiffer as Titania springs to mind when I hear the titles of the tunes now. I have always disliked the greeting-card imagery of fairies and angels as cute-as-buttons homoculi cavorting around petal-strewn gardens or fluffy white cotton-wool clouds. Fairies really are much more fearsome creatures. Cross them at your peril. [insert King of the Fairies/Queen of the Fairies]

Viva la Quinta Brigada  (listed as Viva la Quince Brigada in later recordings) is a Christy Moore song about the Irishmen who fought in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. The title was inspired by a Spanish song about the war,Viva la Quince Brigada. Moore wrote this song choosing to focus on the Irish socialist volunteers (who in later years became known as the Connolly Column) who were a small contingent within the 15th International Brigade. The tune which he used was similar to the version of Viva la Quince Brigada recorded by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers in the early 1940s.

The song was inspired by Spanish Civil War veteran Michael O’Riordan’s book Connolly Column.Moore’s original song title – which translates as “Long live the Fifth Brigade” – was a slip due to the similarity in Spanish between “quinta” (fifth) and “quince” (fifteen). Both titles are correct however, originally there were ten brigades in the Spanish army, the five international brigades were then added to the list making the 5th International Brigade the 15th Brigade of the Spanish republic. Name-checked were men from all parts of Ireland, Catholic, Protestant and of no faith, including, a Church of Ireland pastor, Bob Hilliard later became an atheist. In later versions of the song, Christy amended locales of a couple of the people name-checked but I have stuck here to the version I learned a quarter of a century ago. [insert Viva La Quinta Brigada]

 Songs of the sea are a staple of the group. We like the stories and the tunes and the rollicking pace so  many of them possess (such as the case with this example). A belief, common among sailors, was that spotting a mermaid was an omen of impending storm and shipwreck. I have read, somewhere, that Boy Scouts in America sing this song around their campfires (which is no stranger than, say, a bunch of superannuated musos singing it around their grog-laden table…) Here Jim leads the group in a rendition of The Mermaid. [insert song]

Stephen Foster wrote this in 1856- based on an Irish melody. The song went to England, then, later, to Australia where it acquired these lyrics by Lame Jack Cousens of Springhurst, Victoria, who was a travelling thresher. I first heard this sung by Johnny McEvoy c. 1971 in Co. Cork at my brother Jim’s place.

Stephen Foster liked a drink as so many of us do. He died early, of a fever, at the age of 37. The wowsers of the time were quick with the label, drunkard, but somehow managed to overlook the quality and quantity of his song-writing. Thirty years after his death, one reporter described him as paying “the penalty of an irregular life.” So, you see, he had a lot of detractors, of a mind like that anonymous reporter. And, like that reporter, I would imagine that  they are also now unknown nobodies while Stephen Foster lives on in his songs that we, and so many people of good heart, around this wonderful world, sing!

That has been the second postcard from Quotidia. And, again, isn’t it peculiarly Irish that the postcards are longer than the Letters From Quotidia. Ah well! Our next edition of postcards will feature yet more tunes, another song of the sea, a great union song and a cautionary tale for all men . So, join me, then, for another foray into the fabulous arena that is, folk music. 

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 8 Sylvia

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. A product warning- fun and entertainment may be in shorter supply in this, the eighth letter in the series, Sylvia– but I hope there are items of interest along with the pathos.

I first read The Savage God, by A. A. Alvarez, in 1974. This book was the first time I had encountered an examination of the subject of suicide which was actually readable and I found myself gripped by the long section on Sylvia Plath, the American poet who had married Ted Hughes. Now, Hughes I knew, from college lectures, to be a much-admired poet dealing with themes associated with nature and, in particular, the unreflecting savagery of animals- but I knew nothing of his wife’s work.  Seeking out a copy of Ariel, which was published posthumously in 1965, I started reading, and re-reading, those dark and brilliant poems. I also sought out other poems and works by her, including The Bell Jar, a novel which details the female protagonist’s steady mental decline, several suicide attempts, institutionalisation and Electro-Convulsive Therapy. The novel is semi-autobiographical and after a year or so I felt impelled to write a song about her, using images from her poems to help construct the lyric.  The Greek philosopher, Socrates, argued against suicide, for most part, but ended his life by drinking a hemlock-infused potion: a penalty for having been found guilty of corrupting the youth of Athens and impiety. He saw himself as a gadfly, someone who would sting the state into righteous action. Well, the state reacted as we all do when a stinging insect attacks. Kill it or shoo it away!

The Athenian jurors who voted for the death penalty probably thought that Socrates would take the opportunity to flee before the sentence was to be promulgated. Socrates, however, deeming himself to be a true citizen with a horror of life outside the city-state and obedient to the rule of law, drank the hemlock, turned to his friend, Crito, and said I owe a cock to Asclepius, see that the debt is paid. He remains the true ideal of an Athenian citizen, reverencing the gods and punctilious about paying debts. Asclepius, is the god of healing and perhaps Socrates is intimating that death releases the soul from the body and its attendant ills, particularly as one ages.

Four centuries later in Palestine, Judas flings the blood-money he has accepted for his betrayal of Jesus back at the temple priests and hangs himself in despair. They use the tainted money to buy a potter’s field and bury him there. Dante, in The Inferno places Judas in the deepest circle of hell where Satan chews on his head eternally. The Gnostics, on the other hand, reasoning that Judas set in train the salvation of the world, view him as the greatest of all the Apostles. Go figure.

Is there any surprise, though, that one of the most compelling and enduring contemplations of suicide was written 400 years ago by William Shakespeare? You can count in the hundreds of millions the number of people who can complete the line: To be or not to be. The absence of illness or adversity may not be sufficient to answer the question posed by Hamlet in the affirmative, but clearly if one is suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune one might choose to end the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks that Flesh is heir to by taking arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them. But is it the end? For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause. Indeed, and in that pause do most of us not acquiesce and resign ourselves to grunt and sweat under a weary life because of the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends. Is this an invitation to martyrdom? A vindication of altruistic suicide? It is certainly a high bar, and one that many have cleared. The stories of soldiers throwing themselves on a grenade to save their comrades and similar tales of heroic self – sacrifice are seen as justifications for self-slaughter by most people. An example of this is Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest, who volunteered to take the place of a prisoner who was selected to die of starvation in an underground bunker with nine others as a reprisal for an escape from Auschwitz.

The swap was agreed and Franciszek Gajowniczek, who had cried out in anguish for his wife and family, lived for a further 53 years, attending the beatification and later canonisation of Kolbe where the pope at the time, John Paul II, declared him to be a Christian martyr. In 2011, Jessica Council, a 30 year old pregnant mother, refused cancer treatment in order to give her unborn child the best chance for survival; she died, leaving behind a husband, son and a newborn child who is alive today because of her sacrifice. [insert song Sylvia] The next podcast is a bit lighter, canvassing novelist Thomas Hardy, philosopher Aristotle and poet Carl Sandburg as we examine the themes of happiness and family remembrances.

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 7 Old Dog

Quentin Bega
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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.

  How did I get this far, shamelessly dropping famous names, wherever possible, across a half-dozen entries without mentioning Shakespeare? OK- it’s time. Let’s not mess around, but leap to the greatest play of them all, Hamlet, and leap also into the grave of the fair Ophelia who, driven mad with her love for Hamlet, has drowned herself.

We see the Danish prince struggling with her brother, Laertes, who has his hands around Hamlet’s throat. Laertes, is mad with grief, blaming Hamlet for her death. From a distance they seem to be engaged in a macabre dance which brings to mind other connotations of the phrase “mess around” with Ray Charles singing Ah, you can talk about the pit, barbecue/The band was jumpin’, the people too/Ah, mess around/They doin’ the mess around.

But that’s neither here nor there and I can hear you saying- hey, where’s the blank verse of Shakespeare we were expecting? Fair enough, now where were we? Ah yes, in the grave with the two men fighting. Hamlet says to Laertes, What is the reason that you use me thus? /I loved you ever. But it is no matter. /Let Hercules himself do what he may, / The cat will mew and dog will have his day.

Human relationships…it’ll do your head in! And talking about heads…not long before the kerfuffle with Laertes, Hamlet had been talking to a gravedigger who was holding a skull he had just dug up. You all know the scene, Hamlet takes the skull, which is that of the court jester of his boyhood, and declaims Alas, poor Yorrick, I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jestWhere be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?…Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that.

People can be unpleasant. Wasn’t it Satre who said- Hell is other people? Give me a dog any day! Well, at times I feel like that…and anyway, what does it mean when you say that a dog will have his day? Two interpretations are common: first, that even the most powerless among us will get revenge one day (which seems to me to be another example of the triumph of hope over experience). The other popular meaning is that we will all experience good fortune at some time in our lives.

But even the relatively uncomplicated universe of dogs is a place of conundrum and contradiction: To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.” Milan Kundera. Or: Heaven goes by favour. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in. Mark Twain. But: Throw a stick, and the servile dog wheezes and pants and stumbles to bring it to you Do the same before a cat, and he will eye you with coolly polite and somewhat bored amusement. And just as inferior people prefer the inferior animal which scampers excitedly because someone else wants something, so do superior people respect the superior animal which lives its own life and knows that the puerile stick-throwings of alien bipeds are none of its business and beneath its notice.… H. P. Lovecraft.

So, which side are you on? Or, would you agree with Winston Churchill: I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. For my part, I’ve never had a pig as a pet, although, being a huge fan of the Blandings castle tales of P.G Wodehouse, I fantasise that were I ever to inherit a stately pile in Shropshire, I, too, would have a majestic pig just like the Empress to cosset, pamper and primp in preparation for the fat pig section of the county fair in hopes of taking out the coveted blue ribbon. Chances are though, on the pet front- I’ll remain pigless. I’ve had cats and dogs as pets over the years and have appreciated the qualities of each.

Every dog will have his day, and my last pet, a miniature fox terrier, we named Maggs after the Peter Carey character who, in turn, was based on the Charles Dickens’ character Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations. Lots of people go to Dickens for dog names: Barley, Browdie, Dodger, Duff, Granger, Jasper, Nubbles, Fluff- that last one I made up for the euphony. But the rest are suggested as suitable labels for our canine companions.

For ten years Maggs kept the family company before succumbing to heart problems. My grief for the dog was real and on his final day, I sat on the back step listening to his laboured breathing, watching the stars come out, stroking his bony head and recalling Hopkin’s Spring and Fall: Margaret, are you grieving/Over Goldengrove unleaving/Now no matter child the name/Sorrow’s springs are the same/Ah as the heart grows older/It will come to such sights colder/It is the blight man was born for/It is Margaret you mourn for. [insert song The Old Dog] The next podcast features Sylvia Plath, Socrates, Dante and an argument from that group called the Gnostics that posits Judas as a really good guy…listen in next time and see if you agree.

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

Recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended

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 6 A Touch of Ireland

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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.

There is a small community radio station called WOW FM in St Marys, a suburb of Sydney’s outer west. It caters for a range of ethnic and community groups as well as individuals who have a yen for presenting and who can convince the board that what they have to offer is in harmony with the ethos and aims of the station.

St Marys, situated around South Creek which flows through the Cumberland plain at the foot of the Blue Mountains, was originally settled by the Commerigal-Tongarra tribe of the Dharug people about 45,000 years ago. But those vast swathes of time and all the men, women and children pouring down the generations are largely hidden to view: a not unusual consequence of European settlement and its aftermath.

We know the names of the invading overlords and their lackeys who were granted land by the English crown. The flogging parson, Samuel Marsden, for example, was given over 1000 acres in the area by Governor King who also ensured that his own family got in on the land grab. Lots of details and names here, but I can’t find any of the names of the Aboriginal dispossessed.

I’ll have something to say about the dispossessed in a later entry, but for now, I want to get down from the soap-box I seem to have mounted and talk about the Irish connection. During the 19th Century as the Sydney basin was increasingly settled, convicts-Irish among them- provided an economic way of ensuring rapid development. And, no doubt confounding the shades of the likes of Samuel Marsden, the convicts, for most part, prospered and put their stamp on the region.

The small settlement on the banks of South Creek continued to grow and, by the second decade of the 20th Century, a serene and prosperous township was dreaming in the Australian sun, entirely oblivious of the apocalypse hatching in the soul of a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo. Lines of a local poet, George Sullivan recall those idyllic days:

If only Victoria Park could speak/ What wondrous tales from it you’d share, /About those careless, happy days/ When it was called ‘The Square’./ It could tell of all the bullocks/That were roasted on its green;/Of the glorious games of football/By sportsmen strong and clean./ It could tell of games of cricket,/ Of how the wickets soon did fall/When demon bowlers, Royal and Tolhurst,/Did send down the ball. The names of all too many of those sportsmen strong and clean would be inscribed in bronze on tablets marking the fallen in the Great War, and subsequent wars, on the octagonal Rotunda. The phrase, strong and clean emerges 60 years later when  Redgum sang, This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean/ And there’s me in me slouch hat and me SLR and greens/ God help me, I was only 19.

The Irish love sport and having a flutter. They also love their culture and, in the mid-nineties, Jim Clarke and Noel O’Donohue started a radio program they called, A Touch of Ireland. For almost two decades they presented music, news and items of interest for their audience, largely, but not entirely, the Irish diaspora. From convict times to the present there have been waves of Irish migrants, among whom I would number myself, who have found in Australia a refuge from political and economic turmoil. I was a regular listener to the program and it struck me as a refreshing change from so much of the garbage spewing from the commercial stations by obscenely overpaid shock jocks. You know who I mean, those contemptible commentators who classify it as a missed opportunity if they can’t turn a radio listener from someone at peace with his or her world into a tightly wound xeno- or islamo- or homo-phobe, frothing at the mouth. I expect there is a special section of hell reserved for them.

I wrote the song, A Touch of Ireland, in gratitude to people like Jim and Noel that the airwaves were not the sole preserve of hate-mongers. This was shortly after the start of the new millennium when planes should have been falling from the sky and energy grids collapsing- all because the computer geeks had not realised that two-digit year dates repeated every century. Weren’t we all so happy that the sky did not fall in courtesy of the millennium bug? Of course, the sky didn’t fall in, but, from the sky, ushering in a change as profound as that caused by that bullet in Sarajevo, two planes struck the twin towers in New York City and- here we are.

But life goes on, and, while Jim and Noel are no longer hosting the program they conceived all those years ago, I am happy to say that I now co-present the show, A Touch of Ireland. I am happy to dedicate the song, also called A Touch of Ireland, to the men who brought a touch of Ireland to the audience of our community radio station: well done, guys! [insert song A Touch of Ireland] Join me next time- as well as a bunch of dogs, cats, pigs and characters from Shakespeare-to say nothing of Ray Charles and the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as we examine the pro’s and con’s of owning a pet, among other things…

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

Recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended

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 5 Changes

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.

Don’t you love creation myths? The question, Where do we come from? is swiftly followed by Where are we going? The latter question may be addressed in a later entry but for now I’ll talk about beginnings. Genesis was the earliest myth I encountered, with its poetry and puzzles. Later, I found other accounts to puzzle and delight me.

The Chinese creation myth is one example. According to my muse, Wikipedia, the creator, a being named Pangu, slept on, or perhaps in, a black egg of chaos and when the principles of Ying and Yang were perfectly poised, the whole shebang kicked off. Somewhere in the mix, a bit later on I guess, were brother and sister, Fu Xi and Nü Wa who were the original humans.

One day, for reasons I couldn’t discover, they set up two separated piles of fire, and the fire eventually became one. Then, under the fire they decided to become husband and wife. Fu Xi subsequently observed the patterns of the world and created the eight trigrams “in order to become thoroughly conversant with the numinous and bright and to classify the myriad things.”

This becomes the basis of Taoist and Confucian divination that we know as the I Ching, which is a canonical text among New Agers, but has a wider cultural currency. Most people know about the system for divination using the throwing of sticks to form a pattern or generating random numbers in a computer to access the 64 hexagrams- all very abstruse and interesting in its own way, but not really what I want to talk about- I was simply struck by the fact that I Ching translates as Changes– the name of my song- as I was fossicking through the website.

As Chrissie Hynde sings, in her composition, Hymn to Her “some things change, some stay the same” Change and Stasis- opposed yet linked concepts have intrigued people other than Chrissie from the beginning, I would wager. But, for my money, the best explication of this duality is John Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn. On the urn is depicted a scene from a Greek idyll featuring gods, perhaps, lovers and musicians trapped in time forever and the subject of future generations’ perusal and inquiry. The closing lines are among the most famous in all literature: When old age shall this generation waste, /Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe/ Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st, /”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Well, actually, we do need to know a bit more.

But I applaud the genius that wrote those words and who perished way too early: which reminds me of Stephen Spender’s poem, I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great He was only 21 and thinking about sex and Beethoven and Michelangelo when he wrote this poem containing the lines: What is precious is never to forget/The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs/ breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth…/Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother/with noise and fog the flowering of the spirit. This echoes the great Wordsworth sonnet: The world is too much with us; late and soon/ Getting and spending we lay waste our powers/ Little we see in nature that is ours/ We have given our hearts away: a sordid boon!

God, how I love words such as these, used by those who are truly great. So this brings me back to where this entry started- The Bible: not the Old Testament, but the New, where the Gospel of John begins…here it is in Latin– In principio erat verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum: In the English of the King James Bible it renders as, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. But the Logos-which is Greek for Word– doesn’t originate with John but can be traced back to Heraclitis- you know, the dude who said you couldn’t step in the same stream twice.

Were I asked to give my tuppence worth, which, godlike, and within the confines of this podcast, I can, I’d say something like “the Word, the Logos, is not passive; a mere spoken or written construct containing, signs, signals and information. Rather, it is like an utterance of power from a Bach chorale strung out eternally, sung by a chorus of angels with attendant seraphim ringing all the changes, and surpassing, to the nth degree, the music of the spheres.”

Lord, that exercise in verbosity has given me the head-staggers and while I would wish to be able, like Fu Xi, to study the patterns of the world in order to become thoroughly conversant with the numinous and bright, I think I’ll have to be content to pick up my guitar, strum a few chords, look at the ceiling and try to draw down inspiration from Calliope, Erato and Euterpe, the three sisters who are daughters of mighty Zeus and the muses of poetry and music. [insert the song Changes] For my next excursion, now- that I sort of know you all, in a virtual sort of a way, let me transport you to the Cumberland plain of western Sydney where I have made my home for the last twenty five years.

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

Recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended

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 One

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 1, 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.

 In Banter, I play guitar. The fiddle is played by Mark Monaghan, my nephew. On mandolin is his father, Jim Monaghan, and on bodhran is Sammy Beggs, a friend of long standing. The vocals are shared among Jim, Sammy and me. This is pretty much Banter’s performance set-up for the last quarter century and that arrangement suits us just fine. Don’t move with the times, transcend them. (Or so we tell ourselves!)

 Now, a  brief word on the recordings: items one and three in each postcard edition were recorded almost 10 years back for a friend who spent a brief time in the band in the 90s. He wanted to take some music back to Ireland where he was making a last visit before his final illness claimed him.  I set up a laptop on a table with its in-built mic and we  played and had a few drinks and a bit of crack over several nights. These are very much unadorned live takes. Items two and four, however, were recorded in lockdown during 2020 and feature just me, but with a better microphone and music software in the place of live musicians for accompaniment. This is courtesy of  COVID-19. I would have preferred our wee group for all the selections, but needs must. Therefore, you will find items 1&3 to be rough and ready, but with an undeniably live vibe, whereas items 2&4, it must be said in their favour, are a bit more polished.

I learned the first tune you’re going to hear back in the mid-1970s. when I played with Seannachie, a pioneering folk group in Wollongong at that time.  The Spanish Cloak is an instrumental piece, sometimes known as The Munster Cloak. [insert tune, The Spanish Cloak]

Second, is a Ewan McColl composition about the truckies who plied their trade in Britain during the pre-motorway days of the 1950s. It has a great title, Champion at Keeping Them Rolling. I heard the Dubliners do this from an LP I listened to donkey’s years ago. The tune is that of an old Irish song called The Limerick Rake. Incidentally, I saw Ewan McColl and his wife, Peggy Seeger, perform in the mid-1970s in Wollongong Town Hall. It was a great concert and lives in my memory still. [insert song, Champion at Keeping Them Rolling]

Our third selection, The Diamantina Drover, is marvellous song which looks at the Australian experience. The drover is an iconic Aussie character and here the persona reflects upon the landscape, his regrets and longings, in a uniquely Antipodean way.  Written by Hugh McDonald, who performed and recorded with the Bushwackers, the Sundowners, Banshee, Redgum, Des “Animal” McKenna, Moving Cloud and the Colonials, this is one of our favourite songs. I have to report, sadly, that Hugh lost his battle with prostate cancer in November, 2016, a real loss to Australian folk music. This song has by far the most listens of any of the items on my website The Summa Quotidian at quentinbega.com  [insert The Diamantina Drover]

The final selection for this postcard, Rosalita and Jack Campbell was written twenty years ago or so by Sean Mone of Keady, Co Armagh about the terror of drive-bys and targeted assassinations in Belfast in the early 1970s. Hearing the song recently, by Christy Moore, brought it all back to me, because, not just ourselves, but just about everybody in Belfast and Northern Ireland who lived through those times has been touched by such a shooting or other instance of violence associated with the “Troubles”. This song, too, attracts quite a few hits on my website. Listen if you can to Sean Mone who does a great a capella version.  Anyway, here’s my take. [insert song Rosalita and Jack Campbell.]

That has been the first postcard from Quotidia. And isn’t it peculiarly Irish that the postcards are longer than the Letters From Quotidia. Ah well! Our next edition of postcards will feature Mark on fiddle for a fine rendition of The King and Queen of the Fairies. I’ve long loved and performed Christy Moore’s rousing ballad about the Spanish Civil War, Viva La Quinta Brigada, and this will be our second offering. Songs about the sea are a big feature in our sets and Jim Monaghan excels at singing these. The Mermaid  is our third item for postcards. Last, I present Gentle Annie (not the Tommy Makem version, but instead that of Stephen Foster.) Like many another song, it travelled to Australia where it acquired local lyrics by an Australian thresher from over a century ago by the name of Lame Jack Cousens of Springhurst, Victoria.  So, join me, then, for another foray into the fabulous arena that is, folk music. 

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

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

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.

I play an Ashton MDE200 Mandolin on “Rosalita and Jack Campbell

Letters From Quotidia Episode 4 Foss Hill (The Old Comedian)

Foss Hill: The Old Comedian 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.  This, the fourth instalment, is titled Foss Hill: The Old Comedian, where the protagonist discovers that his time in the sun is over.

What happens when the ground shifts, when you misjudge your audience, when you fail to notice that the fashion has changed? Being a Baby Boomer and transitioning into the twilight, I feel particularly empathetic towards those old guys who wowed them at the pubs and clubs around the English-speaking world in the 60s and 70s: the old comedians.

Then things began to change: a certain correctness began to infiltrate. Is there anything more frightening or difficult than standing up in front of a crowd and trying to make them laugh? (Well, standing in front of a crowd and trying to get them to applaud your song maybe comes close). The ground has shifted under me from time to time but lately it has been happening more often than I would like.

Plato hadn’t much time for comedy: according to my trusty guide, Wikipedia- he asserted that the Guardians of the state should avoid laughter, “‘for ordinarily when one abandons himself to violent laughter, his condition provokes a violent reaction.’ “The po-faced philosopher goes on to say that comedy should be tightly controlled if one wants to achieve the ideal state. I can think of a few politicians who would vote for that legislation. Obviously, tyrants everywhere and at every time have followed his strictures.  The earliest recollection I have of being reduced to violent spasms of laughter was when I was about twelve or so. I was reading one of the early editions of MAD magazine and I can’t recall now, what it was that set me off, but my mother rushed into the room to see what was wrong, dropping a casserole which shattered on the wooden floor. The noises I was making, she later said, were like nothing she had ever heard from me. Why is it that I can remember details like the casserole dish but cannot, however much I try, recall the content of the magazine which had sent me into paroxysms of laughter?

  But I loved the irreverent attitude the comic adopted then, and wherever I encounter this attitude in print or broadcast or in a live venue, I am still prone to lose control. But, satire goes back a long way. My old mate, Aristophanes had this to say about Cleon, the political leader of Athens in his play, The Knights Hit him, hit him, hit the villain, hateful to the cavalry,/Tax-collecting, all-devouring monster of a lurking thief!/Villain, villain! I repeat it, I repeat it constantly, / With good reason since this thief reiterates his villainy. Old Comedy, eh!   

Dear listener, have you ever been at a boring “do” of one sort or another and, upon leaving, uttered the words “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening” I know I have, but I’m too well-bred to imitate Groucho Marx who extended the polite fiction thus-“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening” but this wasn’t it.” the Greeks have a word for it, of course, – paraprosdokian which means “against expectation”. We just call them “one-liners” and I can’t get enough of them. I’m probably too lazy to take the time to savour the subtleties of longer works such as Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock but Homer Simpson I can cope with: “If I could just say a few words… I’d be a better public speaker.”

I can cope with couplets, too. A newspaper in England ran a competition asking for a rhyme with the most romantic first line… but the least romantic second line. Try these out for size: I love your smile, your face, and your eyes / Damn, I’m good at telling lies! Or My love, you take my breath away. /What have you stepped in to smell this way? I know, don’t give up my day job…mmm, hold on, I don’t have one anymore!  So, I wrote a song about an old comedian: his name? I’ll spell it: F.O.S.S. H.I.L.L. Foss Hill. Fossil. Groan-worthy, isn’t it? The song was written in 1998 after I attended a show featuring several British comedians, all of them pretty long in the tooth, at The Henry Lawson Club, Werrington, in Sydney’s outer west. Now, coincidentally, Lawson was an accomplished comedic writer. In his poem St Peter he imagines himself in Heaven and knows that he’ll get a fair hearing from a bloke used to tramping round Palestine He won’t try to get a chorus/ Out of lungs that’s worn to rags, /Or to graft the wings on shoulders/That is stiff with humpin’ swags. /But I’ll rest about the station/Where the work-bell never rings, /Till they blow the final trumpet/ And the Great Judge sees to things.

I’ve a good idea that Henry Lawson would have approved of the old comedians, as laughter echoed around the smoke-filled room in the club named in his honour. Such smoke-filled rooms are no longer widely available, alas, nor are comedians of the old school found any more in the comedy venues of this city. In the song coming up now, you will hear about a comedian who knows the time has come to give it all away. And, as I felt the ground shifting under me, I knew it was time, too, for me to gracefully (or grumpily) depart: [insert song Foss Hill: The Old Comedian] Join me next time for an examination of the topic “Changes” where we’ll wander through a couple of creation myths, look at a Grecian urn and listen to verse from a couple of poets as well as listening to a piano ballad to end our session.

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

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

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 3 Cannery Row

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Cannery Row 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. This is the third letter of the series, entitled, Cannery Row, where we journey from library vans to ancient Greek battlegrounds to an 18th Century Irish poet lamenting over the fate of a dead bird at the side of a lake 

I used the phrase” elsewhere in the English-speaking world” in my last podcast. The listener may deduce also, that I was born in Ireland- Northern Ireland to be more precise, and in the small coastal village of Cushendall in County Antrim to be exact. The short novel by John Steinbeck provides the title and is the starting point for the song you’ll hear at the end of the podcast. Juxtaposed with the rich engagement shown by the characters of the Monterrey wharfs is the constrained and feeble existence of the persona of this song who makes T.S. Eliot’s J Alfred Prufrock seem a dashing, devil-may-care figure in comparison.

I began writing this song in 1982 after catching a glimpse of myself reflected in the windows of the brand-new library in Cushendall, where the line “.…my cheek on one shoulder I walk past the shelves of the library just before dark…” came unbidden into my mind. Before that, we booklovers had waited patiently for the mobile library van to arrive at the car-park beside the old watering trough. It came from Ballymena, twenty-odd miles up the road and well outside the world of the Glens of Antrim. Then, we eagerly mounted the steps to peruse the few shelves where, perhaps, something of interest or value might hide. You know, I felt a pang of loss when the mobile library van disappeared.

I’m not sure the proliferation of books made possible by the permanent structure, compensated for the shared camaraderie of those diverse yet grimly determined people who gathered for years in stoical anticipation for the arrival of that magical van containing- books- from the outer world. A pang of nostalgia swept over me when I saw the library van scene from the film Billy Elliot and I wonder what the future holds for libraries of the sort I grew up with in our brave new world of instant information.

I feel much more comfortable in antiquity, where information was hard-won and is best embodied by the legend of the Greek messenger, Pheidippides, who ran the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC with the news of the Athenian victory over the Persian forces of Darius. Ten years later his son, Xerxes, attempted to avenge the defeat of Darius. His campaign gave rise to that iconic symbol of heroic resistance against overwhelming odds- the battle of Thermopylae- where, outnumbered 20 to 1, the Spartans held the Persians at bay to the last man, under the leadership of Leonidas, their king. The poet Simonides has left us with a few terse lines of poetry which have been a reminder to generations ever since of the courage of men who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country: Stranger passing by, tell the Lakedaimonians/ Here we lie, having obeyed their orders. And, although the Greek forces lost the battle at Thermopylae, they defeated Xerxes fleet at the battle of Salamis and this ushered in the Classical Age on which so much of western civilisation is based. I’m pretty sure most males, like me, feel a certain loss, not to have experienced war. Is this an atavistic urge, I wonder?

But, back to the song, Cannery Row: it is inspired by the Steinbeck novel of the same name. The Moonglow Quintet, mentioned in the song, is based on a band, which played old standards and certainly nothing written after the year 1959. I heard them plying their trade, only once, in a small time-warped club among the cane fields of North Queensland in 1992 where, improbably, they became the inspiration for the bridge of the song which I had started writing a decade previously. Songwriting 101 tells us that you do not mix up tenses or pronouns but this song does all that- I knew it as I was writing it but I did not amend it as I felt the listener could navigate the switching points of view because we all do it all the time in the space inside the skull where past, present, future, I, you and them are swirling and churning all the time- or is it just me? In a novel, or even a short story, it would be annoying if not confusing.

The miniature form that is the song can, at times, cope with shifting, lurching views. I would like to preface the 6/8 tune you’re about to hear with a few lines from the poet Seamus Heaney in his translation of the poem The Yellow Bittern from the Irish of the 18th Century poet with the splendidly euphonious name- Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna because I, like Mack and the boys from Cannery Row, find the prospect of life without the consolations of wine and its multifarious related potions unbearable: The poet finds the yellow bird dead at the loughside and thinks about its fate which he ascribes to thirst, not hunger. The woman I love says to give it up now/ Or else I’ll go to an early grave,/ But I say no and keep resisting/ For taking drink’s what prolongs your days./ You saw for yourself a while ago/ What happened to the bird when its throat went dry;/ So my friends and neighbours, let it flow: / You’ll be stood no rounds in eternity. [insert song Cannery Row]

If you get a chance, seek out this fine poem in translation by the great poet Seamus Heaney. That’s been Cannery Row, the third instalment in the podcast series, Letters From Quotidia. Next, we’ll join an old comedian as he fails to negotiate the shifting sands of our censorious new world. Come join us.

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. Mark Dougherty, freelance Musical Director and composer, former student of mine from Ballymena Academy and longtime friend and present day collaborator in various musical enterprises, assisted in the composition of the song, Cannery Row.

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

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

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 2 Let Them Not Fade Away

Photo by Sebastian Ervi on Pexels.com

Let Them Not Fade Away [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. Today I examine formative influences on so many of my generation of Baby Boomers who blossomed in the ‘60s in this, the second letter, entitled Let Them Not Fade Away.

In the previous entry, I stated that were I an ancient Greek, my name would be Procrastis but I’ve been wondering, in my usual desultory fashion, if I might not, with more accuracy, have taken the ancient Greek name of Procrustes. And here I defer once more to the oracular Wikipedia: In the Greek myth, Procrustes was a son of Poseidon with a stronghold on Mount Korydallos at Erineus, on the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis There he had an iron bed, in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night, and where he set to work on them with his smith’s hammer, to stretch them to fit. In later tellings, if the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fit the bed exactly, because secretly Procrustes had two beds. Procrustes continued his reign of terror until he was captured by Theseus, travelling to Athens along the sacred way, who “fitted” Procrustes to his own bed: He killed Damastes, surnamed Procrustes, by compelling him to make his own body fit his bed, as he had been wont to do with those of strangers. And he did this in imitation of Heracles. For that hero punished those who offered him violence in the manner in which they had plotted to serve him.  

Are not all artists Procrustes? Here am I, shaping a journalistic narrative around a series of songs by selecting and editing bits and pieces from the world of letters. I suppose this is a cautionary note: don’t get seduced by the notion that any of this represents anything other than itself. On the other hand, unlike the original Procrustes, I hope that any idea for a song that is passing by survives the smith’s hammer of my imagination as I struggle to shape it into something pleasing. I am a baby boomer as I mentioned before, and, as a teenager during the years 1963 through 1969, was staggered at the brilliance and variety of music being produced in this period. The Beatles, the Stones, the Beach Boys, the Who, Hendrix and Cream were among those who formed one pole of my musical life and I was reassured that my birthplace could supply artists such as Van Morrison with Them and Rory Gallagher with Taste who provided an Irish accent for the Rock/Pop pole of my life.

Going on, too, was the folk revival and The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem and the Dubliners erupted in the 60s; the Chieftains. Planxty and the Fureys came after, surging into the seventies. These titans formed the other pole of my musical world. Linking both, I suppose, was the towering figure of Bob Dylan, who remains, along with some of the artists listed, a formidable and forming influence to this day, as you will hear, no doubt, as you listen to the songs at the core of each entry.

The earth keeps some vibration going/There in your heart, and that is you./And if the people find you can fiddle,/Why fiddle you must for all of your life,/ So writes Edgar Lee Masters, an American poet writing in the late 19th, early 20th Centuries. He writes about how this vibration prevents a man from doing anything with his forty-acre farm and how he, because of this vibration, missed out on the joys of everyday social interaction as a result. I, myself, don’t have a forty-acre farm, but a detached, suburban block in an outer suburb of Sydney. I am often reminded that, rather than toiling in this 21st Century version of the smithy, which is a small box-room with its computer, printer, internet connection and assorted musical instruments, I should be outside cutting the grass, tidying the yard, painting the deck, planting a garden, clearing the gutters- and that’s just for starters!

Like most people, I was torn between what I wanted to do and what I had to do to keep the wolf from the door. For years, I felt the weight of Philip Larkin’s poem Toads: Why should I let the toad work/ Squat in my life and for well over four, long, decades I have known that something sufficiently toad-like/ Squats in me, too. But back to the American poet, Masters: he is remembered today for a work that is an interesting amalgam of free verse, epitaphs and monologues from the dead in a cemetery in Illinois entitled Spoon River Anthology.

The poem I am quoting from is called Fiddler Jones and I love the four lines with which he concludes his poem: I ended up with forty acres; /I ended up with a broken fiddle-/and a broken laugh, and a thousand memories, /And not a single regret. In my mid-forties, I helped form a group called Banter playing folk music from Ireland, primarily; but there were lots of Australian songs and tunes in our repertoire, as well. We also featured music from elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

From my mid-teens, I have felt, like Masters, that the earth keeps some vibration going there in your heart and that is you: and, despite a life lived under the toad squatting inexorably on my dreams, I wrote this song about my musical roots: [insert song Let Them Not Fade Away] That has been episode two of the podcast, Letters From Quotidia. In the next instalment I will bounce from the Sea of Moyle which divides Northern Ireland from Scotland to Monterrey on the Californian coast then across the vastness of the Pacific to the Coral Sea washing the shores of North Queensland, so bounce along if you feel so inclined.

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

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

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 1 Everybody’s Story

A podcast by Quentin Bega

Set out here is the rationale behind the series of letters found in this podcast.

Photo by Mike Chai on Pexels.com

The script of the audio journal: Text found in square brackets and underlined […] is not recorded as part of the podcast but gives information, disambiguation and opinion that may be of interest.

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack-[The spelling craic is used widely now, but it is a back formation of the original spelling of the term in English, which the pedant in me requires me to use] that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, anecdotes 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. Today, we start, not at the beginning- I mean, where’s the crack in that- but somewhere a bit further along life’s path with this first letter, of many, I hope. Here’s Everybody’s Story.

Fifty years ago I wrote my first song. I was 16,[I wrote the first draft of this letter five years ago and had intended to turn it into a podcast then. COVID gave me the space and time to do it rather belatedly] I had pimples, an ambition to be a songwriter, and a cheap, acoustic guitar with old strings and a high action. That first attempt was a parody of country music, which I secretly loved, along with folk music. I was torn between these genres, and the glamour of the rock and pop music of the 1960s and it would be some decades before I finished writing that first song.

If I were an ancient Greek, my name would be Procrastis: “Procrastis is my name and procrastination’s my game.” But I’m not going to play you that particular song- at least not yet. It’ll come later- the subject of another journal entry a bit further on down the line. I wrote the song which figures as the opening track of this audio journal when I was still quite a young man- somewhere in my mid-thirties.

 Now I’m retired and an OLD AGE PENSIONER. I’m one of those hated baby boomers- the Gen X’s and subsequent generations will be at work until their seventies cursing my generation for having the good luck to miss the horrors of the Second World War while reaping the benefits accruing while the going was good. Back then, I was thinking about absent friends and thinking about stuff like- “I’m older than Jesus when he was crucified and I’m halfway to threescore and ten- what’s it all about?”

What, indeed! As W H Auden puts it in his wonderful poem inspired by Breughel the Elder’s The Fall of Icarus: About suffering they were never wrong /The old Masters: how well they understood/Its human position: how it takes place/While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along…It seems to me that I have been just walking dully along for an awfully long time- hence the title of my podcasts, Letters From Quotidia. It is the summation of an ordinary life in the form of a journal rather than a diary. Each entry will comprise a song I have written over the past half century, supported by a commentary of sorts and a few lines of poetry or prose or drama from artists with the weight of Auden. To make this point a little clearer, I refer the listener to that play by Aristophanes, The Frogs, where the great god Dionysus, who, according to our constant online oracle, Wikipedia, is the god of the grape harvest, winemaking, ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy: he adjudicates a debate in Hades to decide which poet was the worthier candidate to return to Athens in her time of greatest need- Euripides or Aeschylus. To resolve the issue, each poet throws into a pan on a pair of scales a line of poetry to determine which has more heft. In the contest, the older poet, Aeschylus, prevails. In this analogy I see myself as a sort of Euripides, the loser in the contest, whose songs lasting minutes can be counterbalanced by lines of weightier poets lasting seconds.

Euripides was mocked mercilessly during his lifetime by the more conservative among the cultural arbiters of the time. If the term had been current then, they would have reviled him as a post-modernist. His reputation in later ages has not, in my opinion, been as shining as he deserves; Erasmus, according to a dubious source, has him being torn to pieces by dogs, set upon him by enemies. Poor old Euripides had two miserably unsuccessful marriages, and, ironically, another source has him being torn apart by women; although, this seems very close to a scene from his greatest play, The Bacchae, where the king of Thebes, Pentheus, is torn apart by his wife, Agave, and her sister, Ino. Lord, oh Lord: Those ancient Greek women were surely a force to be reckoned with!

Now, some among my acquaintances have hung the label post-modern around my neck. Obviously, in their evaluation, I’m just “froth and bubble” while they, of course, have the solidity of “stone”. It doesn’t really matter which way the scales tip in this matter for judgement, one has to agree with that under-rated 19th Century Australian poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon, quoted by the British Queen in her speech to the Guildhall towards the end of her annus horribilis, of 1992, that “KINDNESS in another’s trouble, COURAGE in your own” is a worthy sentiment.

Narratives generally start at the beginning and move through a graceful arc to an inevitable but aesthetically pleasing denouement. This narrative, though, will avoid the pleasant lie that is the convention. It will start “in medias res” as the ancient Romans would have put it.

The song was written at the traditional halfway mark of life’s journey but imagines a time that is still ahead of me by a decade or two (I most sincerely hope that this is, in fact, the case). The persona in the song is of an advanced age and dwindling wit and may indeed be inhabiting his second childhood. He is speaking to his son.  [insert song, Everybody’s Story] That has been episode one of the podcast, Letters From Quotidia. In the next instalment, I will examine formative influences on so many of my Boomer generation in the 1960s, so join me then… if that’s OK, Millennials?

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; (for many of the songs) Shure SM58, recorded and mixed down using 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended; 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, studio. Approximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.