Letters From Quotidia Postscripts Episode 3

Letters From Quotidia Postscripts Episode 3 The Lifeboat Mona, Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, Donegal Danny

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia Postscripts Episode 3– a podcast by Quentin Bega for listeners who enjoyed that Irish phenomenon- the crack! in the 200+ Letters and Postcards From Quotidia over the past 17 months. Quotidia remains that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Flip a coin, the sky or the sea. Both are in my mind and dreams. Like all Celts, I look skywards fearing, in an atavistic corner of my soul, that the firmament may crash down on me. Here on earth trolls, goblins, and monsters storm over the land despoiling as they go. Far above the world there is no respite: it seems only billionaires may soar over the polluted atmosphere of the ravaged earth, for however short a while they are able to big-note themselves.

But look out to sea and, like many hundreds of generations of human beings before, there is the promise of something better lying over that beckoning far horizon. That is, if you can look beyond the assortment of trash and smears of oil washing in on the tide that seems to advance just a little further each time- just ask any islander of the South Pacific micro nations. Or better still, listen to this poem, Seawall soliloquy number two: she built a seawall  by Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands:

My cousin/ had a nightmare /that we kept /building seawalls /higher and higher /all around /our island / up to /the sky /until suddenly /we were /at the bottom/ of a wishing well/looking/ up /at the world.  Kathy writes, seawalls have, inevitably, become a part of my life—these walls that our community builds in our backyards to protect ourselves from the incoming tides.

You can experience the full impact of the poem at that great site, Poem-a-Day for 31 May 2022 where the poem is shaped like a well on the screen.  At the conclusion of the last podcast, I promised listeners that the blue tinge characteristic of the Postscripts would, on this occasion, assume a more serene, Uranian tint.  Wikipedia helpfully defines it thus: a bright neon azure colour having an approximate luminance of 85%. It has a hue value of 202° indicating that this is a cold colour. You may judge how successful I have been in lightening the colour palette of the Postscript at its end. I’ll start by reciting that staple of school poetry anthologies, James Reeves’, The Sea, which is basically an extended metaphor:

The sea is a hungry dog, /Giant and grey. /He rolls on the beach all day./With his clashing teeth and shaggy jaws/Hour upon hour he gnaws/The rumbling, tumbling stones,/And ‘Bones, bones, bones, bones! ‘/The giant sea-dog moans,/Licking his greasy paws.//And when the night wind roars/And the moon rocks in the stormy cloud,/He bounds to his feet and snuffs and sniffs,/Shaking his wet sides over the cliffs,/And howls and hollos long and loud.//But on quiet days in May or June,/When even the grasses on the dune/Play no more their reedy tune,/With his head between his paws/He lies on the sandy shores,/So quiet, so quiet, he scarcely snores.//

Seems appropriate that we should have a song about the sea now: but first let me set the scene from my store of memory. My father, in the front room at home where he had his desk, books and audio equipment: he is doing paperwork for the RNLI as honorary secretary of the Red Bay branch of this worthy institution. RNLI stands for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution founded in 1824 to provide a search and rescue service for the coasts of Britain and Ireland. Made up of 95% volunteers, separate from the coastguard and independent of government, this venerable organisation, which has royal patronage, has rescued countless thousands of  people over almost 200 years of operation. But sometimes at tragic cost, as the next song, written by Peggy Seeger, relates. The Lifeboat Mona is the something old offering of this podcast: [insert song]

For the something new component, I will be offering something that is bound to attract shouts of Cheat! Fraud! Imposter! from an assortment of purists, pedants and the puerile. You see, once again, I am setting lyrics written by yet another American poet, to music and melody written by me. Eugene Field, whose whimsical poem Wynken, Blynken and Nod featured in an earlier Letter, gets a posthumous co-writer’s credit as I use it in its entirety here! But , hey, I’m not Robinson Crusoe in this regard, either: artists who have used this little gem for their own songs include, Donovan, The Irish Rovers and Carly Simon.

Back to Eugene Field: his father, Roswell Martin Field, was an attorney who attained some fame, in 1857, after serving as lawyer to Dredd Scott before Scott’s trial went to the Supreme Court. Scott was a slave who agitated for his freedom, and this was sometimes referred to as the lawsuit that started the Civil War. Eugene Field endures as a famous childhood poet to this day. But he was also an inveterate practical joker from his schooldays where according to Wikipedia, he was not a serious student and spent much of his time…playing practical jokes. He led raids on the president’s wine cellar, painted the president’s house school colours, and fired the school’s landmark cannons at midnight. 

Now, this is a predilection that I’ll admit to having succumbed to from time to time in my younger days, when I was not so empathetic as I am in these my, um, senior years. According to the Denver Public Library, Eugene was known throughout Denver for his practical jokes. His office at the Denver Tribune included a chair with a false bottom. An unsuspecting person would attempt to sit in the chair and fall to the floor instead. Ouch! Today, lawsuits would, doubtless, follow! But back to the song- I have used a melody I derived from a Band-in-a-Box Irish jig setting in 6/8 time. [insert song]

Now, to the final component of the Postscript: something borrowed. Of course, borrowed is such a weasel word. Often the item or idea borrowed is not so much borrowed as, purloined, pilfered, filched or finagled, by a feloniously inclined footpad, perhaps? In the etiquette of folksingers, it is only right and proper to accord to fellow musicians, with whom you are in consort, the courtesy of not making off with their material. Don’t steal their thunder and for goodness’ sake! whatever you do, don’t sing songs from their repertoire. You know, of course, from this long-winded  prolegomenon, that that’s exactly what I intend to do!

The song I will present as the final offering of this Postscript is Donegal Danny. Regular listeners to the site will have encountered the song before in Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 19 published on 21st May 2021.  Sung in that instance by Sam Beggs, who put his dibs on this song years and years ago before Jim, who usually sings songs about the sea in our group Banter, was able to claim it! But Sam didn’t like its length and would, typically, leave out one of the middle verses- not that our audiences ever noticed, as I recall. But we would rib him about it as you can hear from the, ah, banter, before the song in Postcard 19. Donegal Danny was written by Phil Coulter, and this is what Phil had to say about the song from his lockdown podcast of 9 January 2021:

Many years ago, when on holiday in West Donegal, I was told the story of a local fishing boat that had been lost at sea and how that tragedy had reverberated around the community, with so many families affected. That incident was the starting point for writing the song. As a songwriter I was in the happy position of having The Dubliners on hand as one of my recording acts, so I tailored the song to suit Ronnie Drew. It was released on the album PLAIN AND SIMPLE in 1973. All these years later I’m pleased that the song is still alive, thanks in no small measure to balladeers like Roy Buckley who have been keeping the tradition alive. Yes, Phil, and overseas as well, thanks to singers like Sammy Beggs. But here is my version. [insert song]

So, Quotidians, have I managed to lighten to colour palette of this post? In any case, I look forward to speaking to you all again in a mere fortnight’s time. Until then, take care, stay safe and try not venture out onto those wild & stormy seas.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Postscripts From Quotidia Episode 2

Postscripts From Quotidia Episode 2 The Diamantina Drover, Fiddler Jones, Sprawling Blue Bell

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia Postscripts Episode 2– a podcast by Quentin Bega for listeners who enjoyed that Irish phenomenon- the crack! in the Letters and Postcards From Quotidia Quotidia remains that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encoun+ter the extraordinary.

In the introductory Postscript, I defined, as I tend to do, what a postscript is, in tedious detail. But I will spare you any repetition. But I must tell you, in Quotidia, things refract and splinter in rather strange ways. The Pee-eSSe’s can bifurcate and attach themselves to two or more Letters or Postcards From Quotidia. And this seems to have happened here. What I thought was a simple matter of continuing a conversation about American poet, Lee Edgar Masters, from the first Postscript- blew up in my face, metaphorically.

When the latest war in Ukraine broke out on February 24th, I sent for a book of poetry entitled Words For War, New Poems From Ukraine, published by the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University. I had read online several poems from the war that, in fact, had started in 2014- eight years before the conflict erupted into the world headlines by Putin’s full-scale invasion of the neighbouring country to the south. The book took some weeks to arrive, and when it did, I was able to put a face to the name of one of the poets- Borys Humenyuk, whose poetry had an immediate effect on me at that time. I still don’t know if he lives or dies. I pray he lives. But when I read some more of his poetry when the book arrived from America, I knew I had to make room for it in this Postscript. And I will, a bit later on.

Listeners to the previous post will be aware of the template I have adopted for these Postscripts: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. The final component, something blue, is always subsumed in the general tenor of these Postscripts. And the other components may get mixed up- as it proves to be now. The order is reversed- the something borrowed is first cab off the rank! Now, one of the  splintered PS’s attaches to the very first Postcard From Quotida, published on 15th of January 2021. These posts featured the group I was a part of for over 25 years- Banter. We sang and played in various venues out here in Western Sydney from the mid-1990s down to the present.

One of my favourite songs, sung back then by Sam Beggs of our wee group, is The Diamantina Drover. This song looks at the Australian outback 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 a number of Aussie folk bands, this is one of our favourite songs. 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. And now I present my version: [insert song]

Now to the something new. Well, sort of new. I mentioned about continuing the conversation about the poetry of Lee Edgar Masters from the previous post. So, I shall! Back in 2021 on the 12th of January, I evinced a connection with Fiddler Jones, a character from Masters’ magnificent, Spoon River Anthology, originally published in 1914. I recited his poem, The Hill a couple of weeks ago and ended up using it as the inspiration of my original composition. So, I have taken his poem, Fiddler Jones, and put it to music. Is this really new, you cry? New enough, I reply. [insert song]

Birthdays are wonderful in the truest sense. Suddenly, there is a new consciousness in the universe- oh, limited at first, but with any luck, developing and blossoming over years and decades. And unrepeatable. Unique. I have watched this with each of our children over many years. Parents all over our world will relate to the agonies we go through to select and wrap and assemble those gifts that will make our children’s eyes gleam with glee as they behold the marvels we have placed before them for their delectation- fearful always that our best efforts may not be up to one of the only  marks that count- that of our child’s approval! What’s brought that on, I hear you ask? Three birthdays. My daughter, Cathy, turned fifty just over a week ago- a significant milestone. I’m still trying to work out how this has happened! I mean, I can remember the day of her birth in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, in May 1972. I was drinking  in a student pub nearby on the Falls Road, called The Beehive, dazed and confused, as I think some rock artists of the time may have termed it.

But sometimes birthdays are not so wonderful. I will not be able to send birthday greetings today to my sister, Mary, who died of cancer last year on 13th March. Nor will I be able to send birthday greetings to my sister, Monica, on June 16. I received an email last week from my brother telling me that she died, like her sister, from the ravages of cancer. Neither of my younger sisters reached three score and ten. But what I will do is commemorate Mary’s passing in a postscript reprise of the song Sprawling Blue Bells. For my sister, Monica, I will find a fitting way to mark her presence and value to the world.

I mentioned Borys Humenyuk before. In 2014, he joined a volunteer group of Ukrainians resisting the attacks by separatists on his home. If he still lives, he will be opposing the full might of the Russian military who employ thermobaric weapons. But poets, like this man keep us informed knowing that the language of dissent and remembrance in verse form will live on long after the recorder of it perishes. Here are four stanzas from his poem, It’s Normal: When HAIL rocket launchers are firing/Over residential neighbourhoods/Be they Lebanese, Syrian, or Georgian/ Or those in Mariupol, Artemivsk, Antratsyt-/There is something normal about it//It’s normal when HAIL fire balls/Hit nurseries/Where children are sleeping/It’s normal when they strike/Supermarkets full of people/Railway stations and airports/It’s normal when civilians die/By hundreds and thousands/Because it’s normal when civilians/Die in war- but of course/Only as much as war itself is normal// It’s normal that children run to playgrounds/Where they find blood-spattered toys of children/Who were taken to the morgue yesterday-/Kids being kids-/They clutch the blood-spattered toys/Parents attempt to pry the toys away/The children cry/Our toys are not as nice./And this is normal./Just so normal//It’s normal when a shell drops on a cemetery,/levels the graves of our parents./It’s normal when soldiers dig trenches/and build bunkers there./The cemetery is strategically located/We will never know who ends up buried in those trenches./This is the war of all against all-/It touches everyone-/The dead, the living, and those not yet born//

My podcast, Letters From Quotidia, Episode 196, published on April 15, 2022, has more material from this poet. The final component of this podcast is the something old, taken from Letters From Quotidia Episode 123, published, on August 27th, 2022, in remembrance of my sister Mary. Here is Sprawling Blue Bells. [insert song]

I hope the next Postscript is not as splintered as this one. I hope, also, that the subsumed blue component is not quite so dark. I’ll aim for a more serene, ethereal shade, such as Uranian blue. Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun is a seriously cool place- as you might expect, with temps as low as -224 degrees Celsius. It has things about it I like: it’s tipped over on its side with an axial tilt of 98 degrees- as am I, from time to time! I like its quirky, retrograde rotation. I like that its name derives from a Greek rather than a Roman god.  I like that some of its moons are named after Shakespeare’s characters, too. Miranda, the beautiful, innocent, and wonderful daughter of the magician Prospero from The Tempest and the fearsome and  imperious King and Queen of the Fairies, Oberon, and Titania, from that magical play,  A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The next Postscript from Quotidia drops, as they say, in two weeks’ time.

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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Postscripts From Quotidia Episode 1

Postscripts From Quotidia Episode 1 Let Them Not Fade Away, Days Like This, The Hill

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia Postscripts Episode 1– a podcast by Quentin Bega for listeners who enjoyed that Irish phenomenon- the crack! in the 200 Letters and Postcards From Quotidia published between 11 January 2021 and 8 May 2022- Quotidia remains that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

So, what is a postscript? Well, my trusty internet dictionary tells me that it is 1) an additional remark at the end of a letter, for example, he added a postscript “Leaving tomorrow.” Or, 2) an afterthought; that is, an extra piece of information about an event that is added after it has happened: for example, “as a postscript to this, Paul did finally marry”. …and, of course, we wish them well! One or both of these definitions will apply to each the Postscripts. As to how many there will be- I don’t know, but probably more than a few. As to how long each will be- I can’t be sure but each one will, no doubt, be of between 15-25 minutes duration- give or take.

But why? I hear some cry. How much time do you have? I reply. Short answer is what I had to say when I set up my website on WordPress quite a while back: Quentin Bega was born in the middle of the last century, and then stumbled into the present one with something more to say. If you chance to visit Quotidia, a customs official, dressed in motley, will say to you: “Welcome to Quotidia- you don’t need a passport to get in here… but if you have one, we will make sure your visa is stamped ‘entry always permitted’”.

One of the wonderful things about the writing game, is that you can, should you so choose, re-visit what you have previously produced, whether to amend, to add, to frankly contradict, or just generally blather on. Unlike life which remorselessly follows time’s arrow- with no going back! So, this postscript is attached to Letters From Quotidia Episode 2: Let Them Not Fade Away.

I will use that old rhyme for newlyweds Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue as a template for the Postscripts. The something old component will be a reprise of a song and/or verse extract from the original Letter. The something new will be an original song composition as well, obviously, as the new prose component of the Postscript. Something borrowed will comprise a cover of a song and/or verse borrowed from the great and the good. Something blue will be the predominant hue of the Postscripts.

As my wife reminds me: from our teenage years she was and is personified by the sunny vibe surrounding the song Build Me Up Buttercup by The Foundations whereas I was and am personified by the gloomier tones of Born Under a Bad Sign by Albert King. I presented an acoustic demo in the trailer to this postscript a while back but here it is as the something old component: [insert song]

I remember with fondness letters I exchanged over many years with my sister-in-law, Dympna before she died. We were great friends. She was ten years my senior, but we formed an immediate connection when we first met and when I was sixteen years old, we often shared a surreptitious cigarette in my mother’s kitchen.  The song  you just heard describes those times. When, with my girlfriend, now wife, I visited Dympna and my brother Jim, a veterinarian in their home in County Cork in subsequent years we always had a great time listening to music, drinking Sherry from the wood, and playing poker.

After we moved to Australia in 1972, the correspondence struck up, Dympna writing on whatever spare paper surfaces that were to hand, be it quotes for drugs for ailing cows or sundry sheets of paper passing her way that had a blank surface. Her wonderfully parochial and incisive insights into matters of common interest to us both reminds me powerfully of the American poet I referenced in my second letter from Quotidia: Edgar Lee Masters, an American poet writing in the late 19th-early 20th Century.

Here is his poem, The Hill Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,/The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?/All, all are sleeping on the hill./One passed in a fever,/One was burned in a mine,/One was killed in a brawl,/One died in a jail,/One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife—/All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill./ Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,/The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?—/All, all are sleeping on the hill./One died in shameful child-birth,/One of a thwarted love,/One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,/One of a broken pride, in the search for heart’s desire;/One after life in far-away London and Paris/Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag—All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill./ Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,/And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,/And Major Walker who had talked/With venerable men of the revolution? —All, all are sleeping on the hill.//They brought them dead sons from the war,/And daughters whom life had crushed,/And their children fatherless, crying —/All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill./ I identified with Fiddler Jones when first I wrote episode 2 of Letters From Quotidia. I find that, now, years later, that identification is even stronger! And he gets pride of place, here in the final stanza of The Hill Where is Old Fiddler Jones/Who played with life all his ninety years,/Braving the sleet with bared breast,/Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,/Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?/Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,/Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary’s Grove,/Of what Abe Lincoln said/One time at Springfield.//

That this literary work is still of relevance, may I cite the following: On March 13, 2021, ‘Spoon River Anthology’ was presented as online verse reading by the Oxford University Dramatic Society. Wow! Good on them- I wish I could have heard that. I referenced, also, Van Morrison in the song Let Them Not Fade Away: he was the singer in “that Belfast band, Them” Here comes the something borrowed, my cover of his song- Days Like This. [insert song]

You know, the older you get the more gaps you perceive in your life. I have listened to Van the Man since the sixties and gone to see him sing jazz standards in Belfast in the 80s. I’ve also purchased vinyl records and CDs over the years, not to mention streaming lots of his songs- yet this is the first of his songs I have ever sung! Go figure. Way back when I started these podcasts, I queried how different was I from Procrustes, the monster of Greek legend, who fitted travellers to a bed where he cut off limbs or stretched to agonising death those who did not precisely fit the bed he had arranged for them. I asked then: 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. But, 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. So, I said then. And now, here I am again, chopping and stretching a story to fit my newest narrative bed. Am I a monster, or what?

I have to tell you: the pressure of composition makes me a rather sad monster, indeed. The something new component remains to be, at the time of writing this section of the postscript- actualised- is this really a word? I set myself a strict-ish regime of reading poetry for inspiration, especially from Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. After several days enjoyable but wearisome toil, I came up with a song that claims as its inspiration the poem by Edgar Lee Masters I recited earlier- The Hill. This completes the triad of components that comprise the Postscripts- it is something new.

So, you may judge for yourself- is this a truly inspired composition or is it just some Band-in-a-Box boilerplate I put together with the help of an Artificial Intelligence bot that I purchased from the dark web to boost my numbers in the relentless quest for clicks and comments and commendations? As always, you will be the judge. Here is The Hill.  [insert song]

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Trailer for Postscripts From Quotidia

Trailer for Postscripts From Quotidia

The Letters From Quotidia are Dead: Long Live the Postscripts From Quotidia!

That great online resource, Wiktionary, defines a bad penny thus: A person or thing which is unpleasant, disreputable, or otherwise unwanted, especially one which repeatedly appears at inopportune times.

Not for me to determine but I hope that this definition does not apply to me. And while the Letters From Quotidia are no more- like that parrot in the Monty Python sketch from TV of many years ago- there is a follow-up series of posts on the way. The next six paragraphs will appear in the first post of the new series. And you will recognise the introductory sting:

Welcome to Postscripts From Quotidia Episode 1 a podcast by Quentin Bega for listeners who enjoyed that Irish phenomenon- the crack! in the 200 Letters and Postcards From Quotidia published between 11 January 2021 and 8 May 2022- Quotidia remains that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

So, what is a postscript? Well, my trusty internet dictionary tells me that it is 1) an additional remark at the end of a letter, for example, he added a postscript “Leaving tomorrow.” Or, 2) an afterthought; that is, an extra piece of information about an event that is added after it has happened: for example, “as a postscript to this, Paul did finally marry”. …and, of course, we wish them well!

One or both of these definitions will apply to each the Postscripts. As to how many there will be- I don’t know, but probably more than a few. As to how long each will be- I can’t be sure but each one will, no doubt, be of between 15-25 minutes duration- give or take.

But why? I hear some cry. How much time do you have? I reply.

Short answer is what I had to say when I set up my website on WordPress quite a while back: Quentin Bega was born in the middle of the last century, and then stumbled into the present one with something more to say

One of the wonderful things about the writing game, is that you can, should you so choose, re-visit what you have previously produced, whether to amend, to add, to frankly contradict, or just generally blather on. Unlike life which remorselessly follows time’s arrow- with no going back! So, there you have it- the intro to the Postscripts.

I hope to publish the first of these artefacts sometime before the winter solstice here in Australia- and quite a bit sooner if I can find the requisite inspo (for those in tank tops) or afflatus (for those more accustomed to wearing top hats).

PS(!) As a teaser, I am including a demo version of one of the songs which will feature on the first Postscript From Quotidia. Let Them Not Fade Away. It’s just me with an acoustic guitar.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 200 It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleedin’), Everybody’s Story

Letters From Quotidia Episode 200 It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleedin’), Everybody’s Story

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 200– 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 ultimate podcast! But please, before ordering your troll farmers to attack me with digital flails, may I share with you the following instructive definitions from the internet dictionary.

Ultimate adj. 1.a. Being last in a series, process, or progression: 

“As the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution, the Supreme Court occupies a         central place in our scheme of government” (Richard A. Epstein) Mmm, worthy.

1.b. Eventual: as in They hoped for ultimate victory. Sure. That’s clear to me.

2. Fundamental; elemental: as in the phrase an ultimate truth. OK, I get that.

3.a. Of the greatest possible size or significance; maximum: for example, the ultimate act of courage. Many of these recently, I think.

3.b. Representing or exhibiting the greatest possible development or                     sophistication: the ultimate bicycle Look, this is the quirky example given by my internet dictionary, a bit of bathos at play here, perhaps…and finally,

3.c. Utmost; extreme: So then, how would you like to be the recipient of the ultimate insult. This meaning will feature towards the end of the letter.

Now, attracted as I am to all of these definitions, modesty prevents me from owning any but the first- that is, being the last in a series. I publish this ultimate post on Sunday, 8th May, which is Mother’s Day for Australians, as well as Russians, Ukrainians, Americans  and citizens of several other countries this year. Which brings me to the first song of this last Letter. There are many, many, beautiful songs sung to, for and about mothers and motherhood. Additionally, this year, it is also, International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on 8th May every year, so you might think that it would be entirely serendipitous were I to find a song that also included all women for a harmonious rendition extolling their multifarious virtues and achievements over time.

Alas, my muse is a cruel mistress. And, although I trawled through list after list of songs about mothers and songs about women, reaching out for this one or that one- she kept yanking me back to one song in particular. Not that I dislike it, far from it- it is a great song by one of the greatest songwriters. It was written in 1964 and recorded in 1965. I first heard it from a friend’s LP at Trench House in 1968 in my first year as a student in residence there. But I’ve never sung it or recorded it- until now.

These snippets from Wikipedia help to define it, “a grim masterpiece.” The lyrics express… anger at the… hypocrisy, commercialism, consumerism, and war mentality in contemporary American culture… the song addresses “the possibility that the most important (and least articulated) political issue of our times is that we are all being fed a false picture of reality, and it’s coming at us from every direction.”  

Good Lord! The song is as relevant today as when it was first written almost sixty years ago. There is no one, in my opinion, comparable to the writer of this song, who has released music of enduring quality and influence in each of the last seven decades! It is, of course, Bob Dylan, to whom I refer, and his song It’s Alright Ma, (I’m Only Bleeding) fits right in with the times we are living through now. And that must be the reason my muse kept me from all the other worthy candidates for this, the– and here comes that adjective again- ultimate song cover. [insert song]

So, OK, not your typical song involving a mother. But it has been observed that soldiers, in extremis, cry out for their mothers, as the dark ferryman Charon approaches to take them over the River Styx to Hades. Rudyard Kipling recognises this special bond between a mother and son in his poem, Mother O’ Mine. A short poem of eleven lines, the second and fourth line of quatrains one and two is, Mother O’ Mine, Oh, Mother O’ Mine Here are the other lines: If I were hanged on the highest hill,/ I know whose love would follow me still//If I were drowned in the deepest sea,/I know whose tears would come down to me//The final tercet is, If I were damned of body and soul/I know whose prayers would make me whole./ Mother O’ Mine, Oh Mother O’ Mine//

But the final poem about mothers must be from a woman’s perspective. Followers of the Letters will know the high regard I have for Sylvia Plath. Her poem, Morning Song, starts this way, Love set you going like a fat gold watch/. This brilliant opening line sets the standard for the rest of the poem about her confused feelings after the birth of her first child. I’m no more your mother/Than a cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow/Effacement at the wind’s hand// The penultimate stanza combines love and self-mockery, One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral/In my Victorian nightgown. The final lines of the poem combine a sense of foreboding with an apprehension of joy, The window square whitens// and swallows its dull stars. And now you try/ Your handful of notes;/ The clear vowels rise like balloons//.

I think we can agree that mothers are- to use yet another adjective- superlative. I am now floating on an icefloe towards Ultima Thule, that northernmost land of ancient storytellers. Or, am I, instead, encased within a space capsule hurtling and tumbling through an interstellar void towards the object known to science as 2014 MU69? One way or another, the Letters From Quotidia are a long way from their planned trajectory when I started to transform a series of online diary entries, written years before, into the podcasts of this name which commenced publication on January 11, 2021. I thought, like some dandy or dilettante, that  I would wander effortlessly through an intellectual maze of my own construction, composed of poetry, song, art, history and- that Irish formulation that starts and ends each of the Letters- the crack!

But, just as manifestations in spacetime are bound by  universal rules which determine that objects of lesser weight are subjugated by those of greater heft- so, too, my course sees me bending back to that place where I first began. Subject to the relentless force of geopolitics that is distorting the gossamer filaments of my flimsy fabrications, I need now, like the uroboros, to swallow my own tail- and like Shakespeare’s magnificent construction of Prospero and The Tempest– vanish like the remnants of a dream.

But before I do- and with your indulgence- may I summon yet another avatar of  the adjective ultimate? I mean the noun, ultimatum! And in a thought-experiment, or dream like that mentioned by Bob Dylan in the final chorus of It’s Alright, Ma, might we demand that all of those who favour violence, discord, division, and mayhem, as ways of dealing with the problems of the world we live in- could we give them all an ultimatum: mend your ways or accept  permanent banishment to Ultima Thule!

A nice thought, of course. And one that the cynical will disparage and reject. But maybe, just maybe, in this merry month of May, which is the month of Mary, after all, we could try channelling the upwellings of peace that spring from the hearts of good people everywhere to try to make a difference in a world that wants- and needs- peace. So, here we are, back at the start.

My name is Procrastis, and procrastination’s my game, I proudly boasted. But I’ll not do that now. The song I will reprise for this, the ultimate original song of the series, is Everybody’s Story which I wrote more than half a lifetime ago. But the sentiment expressed was true back then- and way before time immemorial as well! It’s true now and will be as long as humanity holds sway in our little bit of the universe. And the sentiment?- everybody’s story’s got a point. The fictional detective, Harry Bosch said, everybody’s important- or no one is. And I’m pretty sure a non-fictional guy in Palestine over 2000 years ago said something very similar. So, to end the Letters From Quotidia, here is, Everybody’s Story. [insert song]

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 199 As I Roved Out, Oblivion Mountain

Letters From Quotidia Episode 199 As I Roved Out, Oblivion Mountain

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 199– 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 penultimate Letters From Quotidia is being sent out on May Day. This ancient traditional greeting of the resurgence of life in the northern hemisphere has been celebrated for thousands of years: in Rome, Floralia, held from 27 April through 3 May venerated the goddess of flowers, Flora. In Germanic cultures, Walpurgis Nacht was celebrated on the night of April 30 into the first of May and commemorates the canonisation of the abbess Walpurga, and the movement of her relics on 1 May 870 AD to Eichstatt, in present day Bavaria. Wikipedia informs me that she could ward off rabies and witches who have been rumoured to cavort around cauldrons on this day.

The Celtic festival of Beltane occurs at this time and is celebrated by contemporary neopagans and wiccans- although, in the southern hemisphere, their counterparts celebrate on November first. May Day was chosen, in 1889, by socialists and communists of the Second International as International Workers Day and is marked by labour activists around the world as a day to celebrate the advances made in wages and conditions from that time. Mayday is also the international distress signal used primarily by aircraft and shipping to alert others of their peril. So, all in all, a day that is laden with meaning, both auspicious and dire.

The song I have chosen to open this letter is also set in the month of May and also laden with meaning. It’s called As I Roved Out and I first heard it sung back in the 1970s by Andy Irvine when he was with Planxty– one of my revered, ah,  influencers I guess you have to say nowadays. The title is shared by other songs, but I like this one for its melancholy and, also, its frankly puzzling final verse- which I don’t really mind, being increasingly OK with not quite understanding what I sing, view, read or consume. If you want to explore the topic further- go for it, but I find, at my age, I have to be more judicious with my use of time.

Potted summary, a man goes out for a wander and meets the young woman he previously gave a ring to as a token of his love and promise of marriage. But, he admits, in a moment of weakness, he went and married the lass with the land. And he regrets it. This bring us to the final verse which I will leave to you to puzzle out. [insert song]

Ah, the trials and tribulations of love. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine there have been many examples of love in all its guises. Three examples gleaned from YouTube recently: we see a young woman planting carrot seeds in Eastern Ukraine as the hollow boom of artillery sounds in the near distance- she explains that her mother refuses to leave their home and so she will stay too. That’s love.

A commander of forces in the besieged Azovstal complex in Mariupol pleading for help from any source to evacuate civilians, especially children ranging from four months to seventeen years as they face annihilation at the hands of an implacable foe- that’s love.

Desperate family members of Russian soldiers they have lost contact with, phone into a Ukrainian site set up for just that purpose: I listened as they pleaded for any news, good or otherwise, of the fate of their sons, their husbands, their brothers, not too proud to speak to the enemy, to plead with their foe for information- that’s love.

Earlier in this letter, I mentioned the 1889 conference that instituted International Workers Day: those were heady days of optimistic yearning for solidarity that would transcend petty nationalistic  divisions. In the twenty-odd years that followed, as the world grew more and more interconnected through burgeoning innovations in transport, communications and media, the intelligentsia declared that wars were a relic of the barbaric past.

Michael Portillo in his travels by train through Europe for his popular BBC series, brandishes his Bradshaw’s tourist guide of 1913 as he criss-crosses the continent. In that traveller’s guide, you can hear the sincere belief in progress and fellowship as we sample the delights to be found in all corners of the continent.

Of course, it all came crashing down in 1914 with that bullet in Sarajevo that ushered in the First World War, the war to end all wars, they said. Yet some of the soldiers of that bloody conflict found themselves enlisting for the Second (and bloodier) World War a little over twenty years later. And that war was ended by two devices that, according to some, have ushered in the Anthropocene, which some say should be more properly termed the Apocalypse.

Up until now, using nuclear weapons again had been unthinkable: an unspeakable obscenity. Madness- which found an acronym in MAD- mutually assured destruction during the Cold War. But bland sociopaths have recently given voice to their use if they do not get their way. On the 16th of July 1945, Robert Oppenheimer watched the Trinity test near Alamogordo in New Mexico where the detonation of the first atomic bomb took place and it brought to his mind words from Hindu sacred scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

It’s sad to reflect that profound minds such as Robert Oppenheimer, or Richard Feynmann, who also assisted in the development of atomic weapons during World War Two, or Albert Einstein, who wrote to the American president, Franklin D Roosevelt urging research into nuclear weapons because the Nazis were making progress in this area and whose famous equation, E=mc squared underpinned the tremendous power available with atomic fission;  yes, it’s sad to reflect that these men of intellect and conscience seem to have been superseded by stumblebums and incompetent buffoons for whom the tying of shoelaces is a problem too complex for their feeble comprehension.

You know, I am reminded of an episode of Star Trek where a seemingly malign superior entity causes havoc for Captain Kirk and the intrepid crew of the starship Enterprise. But the problem turns out to be an alien toddler with poor impulse control from a super species. And stability is restored when its mother intervenes to stop her child’s destructive tantrums. Dear Lord, if only the predicament we find ourselves in had such a solution!

But, just as the 19th Century intelligentsia thought war was a thing of the past, succeeding generations have expressed astonishment that war was carving its horrific path through their time and their place. It’s certainly what I thought when the Balkans exploded in the first half of the 1990s. I wrote a song then which I will reprise here. It’s from episode 42 of the Letters, published just over a year ago. It’s called Oblivion Mountain and I present it now. [insert song]

That prolific poet, Anonymous has left us a poem with the title, The Humours of May Day  and I present it penultimately to lift the gloom: What Frolicks are here/So droll and so queer/ How joyful appeareth the day/ E’en Bunter and Bawd/ Unite to applaud/And celebrate first of the May// We need poetry and prayer more than ever now, so, I present a poem by a favourite of mine, the American Sara Teasdale. Here is her poem, May Day which, with its gossamer film of sadness is an appropriate poem to end this letter:

A delicate fabric of bird song/Floats in the air,/The smell of wet wild earth/Is everywhere.// Red small leaves of the maple/Are clenched like a hand,/Like girls at their first communion/The pear trees stand.//Oh I must pass nothing by/Without loving it much,/The raindrop try with my lips,/The grass with my touch;//For how can I be sure/I shall see again/The world on the first of May/Shining after the rain? So, I wonder, which May Day will prevail in the times which lie ahead of us all, the resurgence of life and hope marked by the poetry just heard. Or will that universal signal of distress, Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, echo around the only world we possess.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 198 Counting Game, 25 Minutes To Go

Letters From Quotidia Episode 198 Counting Game, 25 Minutes To Go

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 198– 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.

Antepenultimate- a fancy way of saying third last of a sequence. And that is what this post is. I may have mentioned before that I intended to call a halt at Letters From Quotidia, episode 200 for a couple of reasons: first, I need a break away from the regular discipline of putting the music and text together in order to consider what form, if any, the Letters in future might take and second, 200 is a nice round number. Unlike, say, the number 153, which was the number of fish landed by  several of the disciples after they had returned, somewhat bewildered, to their former occupation of humble fishermen after the upheavals surrounding the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. According to the gospel of John, the story goes: they had been fishing all night to no avail and, as they approach the shore a Man there asks how many they caught. When they reply, none, He tells then to cast the nets to starboard with the spectacular result reported. This man was Jesus in His penultimate appearance to the disciples after His resurrection.

You can expend a rather large quantum of time in chasing the significance of the number 153 down the multitudinous internet rabbit-holes that may open up before you in your quest. I was attracted to the link to Archimedes who seems to have had a thing about the number. Others, the parish priest of St Joseph’s Kingswood included, feel the number symbolically represents all the peoples of the earth that the apostles should fish for rather than the finny denizens to be found in the waters of Lake Tiberius. And, of course, numerologists have had a field day with this number which I will not expand on here as the post is only 20-odd minutes in duration and it would require more time than exists in this or any other universe to properly expound the product of this particular rabbit-hole!

Now for some sanity in the form of extracts from poetry, the first is from Numbers by Mary Cornish, a poet from Washington state in the US: I like the generosity of numbers./The way, for example,/they are willing to count/anything or anyone:/two pickles, one door to the room,/eight dancers dressed as  swans. .// Next are some typically sardonic lines from another American poet, Carl Sandburg,Arithmetic is where numbers fly like pigeons in and out of your head./Arithmetic tell you how many you lose or win/ if you know how/many you had before you lost or won./ The poem ends with the following conundrum, If you ask your mother for one fried egg for breakfast and she/gives you two fried eggs and you eat both of them, who is/ better in arithmetic, you or your mother?// Finally,  to a poet I admire and rate highly, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote thoughtfully on the purpose of our existence in his poem, A Psalm of Life with the epigraph, What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist. Its first and second stanzas are, Tell me not, in mournful numbers,/ Life is but an empty dream!/For the soul is dead that slumbers,/And things are not what they seem.//Life is real! Life is earnest!/And the grave is not its goal;/Dust thou art, to dust returnest,/Was not spoken of the soul.// A quatrain that moves me each time I read it is, Art is long, and Time is fleeting,/ And our hearts, though stout and brave,/Still, like muffled drums, are beating/ Funeral marches to the grave.// The final stanza appeals to each one of us, Let us, then, be up and doing,/With a heart for any fate;/Still achieving, still pursuing,/ Learn to labour and to wait//

It’s amazing how many songs have numbers in their title: Eight Days a Week by the Beatles, One by U2, 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton- just to name three! For my original song I’m going to reprise one from way back last year, from Episode 68, to be precise. It’s cheating, I know, but it’s my party and I’ll cheat if I want to– isn’t that how the song goes? Anyway, it’s my party and now we’re going to play Counting Game. Even if you’ve played it before! Ready? [insert song]

Longfellow’s exhortation that we should be up and doing…still achieving, still pursuing could well have been the motto for the subject of the rest of this post: Shel Silverstein. He was born in Chicago in 1930 and died in 1999 at his home in Key West, Florida. In his 68 years on earth, he crammed into it a lot of living and a lot of loving. Poets.org gives the following biographical details: “A cartoonist, playwright, poet, performer, and recording artist, Silverstein was also a Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated songwriter. His books, which he also illustrated, are characterised by a deft mixing of the sly and the serious, the macabre and the silly. His unique imagination and bold brand of humour is beloved by countless adults and children throughout the world.”

A few lines from his poem Mr Grumpledump’s Song gives the flavour of his wit,Everything’s wrong,/Days are too long,/Sunshine’s too hot,/Wind is too strong./Clouds are too fluffy,/Grass is too green,/…Mr Grumpledump concludes, Kids are too noisy,/Shoes are too tight./ Folks are too happy,/Singin’ their songs./Why can’t they see it?/Everything’s wrong!// One of my favourite Silverstein songs is, Still Gonna Die where, tongue in cheek, he itemises all the health routines, diets and fads for a longer life you may sample, but ends each verse with the kicker, you’re still gonna die!

Other songs of his you may know include, Tompall Glaser’s Put Another Log on the Fire, The Unicorn, made famous by The Irish Rovers and Sylvia’s Mother, by Dr Hook. But he could write more than novelty songs, The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, follows the disillusionment and mental deterioration of a suburban housewife, who climbs to a rooftop “when the laughter grew too loud”.  Marianne Faithfull, who recorded a memorable version of the song which featured in the film, Thelma and Louise, said that her interpretation was that Lucy climbs to the rooftop but gets taken away to a mental hospital, and that the final line / As she rode along through Paris with the warm wind in her hair/ are actually in her imagination at the hospital. I think it’s a masterpiece that reflects the lives of far too many women.

A lot of people will have heard what may be his most famous song, A Boy Named Sue, memorably recorded live by Johnny Cash at San Quentin on February 24 1969. And the song I’m going to cover is also one Johnny Cash recorded at Folsom Prison in 1968. It’s called 25 Minutes To Go It’s about a man who is about to be executed by hanging, and he’s counting down how much time he has before the trapdoor opens, starting with 25 minutes. The song is a shout of defiance and two other references come to my mind; first, Dr Johnson’s observation that when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully; second, George Orwell’s 1931 short essay in story-form, A Hanging. Based on his work as a policeman in Burma in the 1920s, it is an early example of his mastery of the English language and a telling indictment of the absurd cruelty of capital punishment. I would encourage any lover of language to read it. Now, 25 minutes to go. [insert song]

Listeners to my past eight posts may wonder why there has been nothing about Ukraine in this one. But it has been there, I think, as a  low and subterranean murmuring, much as the heroic defenders of the last scrap of Mariupol taking refuge in the tunnels under the vast steelworks, may, and here I hope against hope, survive against all the grotesque odds stacked against them by the overwhelming juggernaut of Russian military might bearing down upon them. But whatever the case may be, I will publish this post as soon as I record it- and the last two posts as well.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 197 Meanwhile, My Youngest Son Came Home Today

Quentin Bega
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Letters From Quotidia Episode 197 Meanwhile, My Youngest Song Came Home Today

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 197– 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.

Adverbs are tricky. They are tricky because they qualify the verb or adjective and can change the meaning of a sentence dramatically. Take, I love you. What a wonderful sentence, what a wonderful sentiment. One I hope you have heard- and often if you are lucky. But suppose we add a qualifier: I love you, occasionally. As opposed to: I love you, forever. Now, you may prefer the former formulation as being truer to your particular way of looking at life or, indeed, your circumstances rather than the aspirational- and, frankly, unverifiable- latter gush-I love you, forever.

The same caveat applies to adverbial phrases, as well. Which formulation fills you with more confidence: I will pay you what I owe OR I will pay you what I owe, in the fulness of time. Why, you may ask, am I wittering on about pedantic issues of grammar and usage- when the whole world is poised upon the precipice of doom? I do not think I am alone in thinking the present crisis in Ukraine truly existential. It reminds me of the climactic scenes in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy The Lord of the Rings, where Frodo looks as though he will fail in his quest to save Middle Earth from an apocalyptic future.

I note that the Russian side have also visited the Tolkien masterpiece. Having been widely lambasted  for trying, unsuccessfully, to stick the label of Nazi on the Jewish President Zelensky, whose grandfather fought the Nazis in World War II, they are now trying to de-humanise a whole country by drawing a parallel between the creature Gollum and Ukrainians- and to capture the attention of the pious, they label as satanic the regime that has so successfully resisted their brutal invasion. And cheering this unholy alliance of trolls, propagandists and sycophantic self-servers who seek to demonise Ukraine and its people is the Russian Orthodox leader, Patriarch Kirill- shame on him!  

So, on Easter Saturday, I was alone in my room, staring at my computer where the cursor was blinking on the blank page in front of me. Were I prone to the excesses of personification, I might say that blinking cursor was mocking me! Nevertheless-which is another adverb, nevertheless- alone in the house, the rest of the family occupied with their own agendas, I was free, for a few hours to mope about the fact that I was unable to write an original song and had been in this desiccated state for the past five weeks. Writer’s block is a phenomenon not unknown to me- as I have related in previous Letters.

But surely, I addressed my recalcitrant muses, surely, the dire situation we are all facing ought to spark something? And my plea- or was it a prayer?- was answered. Meanwhile. That was it. Just that word. Meanwhile. And, do you know, it was enough. Around that adverb, I was able to pull together words to a chord sequence I had written for Letters From Quotidia 192– but which I had failed to deliver on that date. Better later than never, then? Oh, come on! Cliches are OK if they are true, aren’t they? In the meantime, shall we unpack meanwhile? According to my internet dictionary, its meanings are, in the intervening period of time, OR, at the same time, OR, on the other hand.

My failure to write an original song wasn’t the only thing bugging me, though. I also reflected on the fact that we (and I do include myself here) are fickle consumers of news in the West. Was Ukraine the only instance of horror operating in the world? Of course not. Horror manifests its depredations elsewhere today, from Myanmar to Yemen to sub-Saharan Africa to Latin America, to the Middle East. And horror does not neglect the quotidian world either as it drills down into the cosy and supposedly safe domain of the domestic realm to spread misery.

After writing the song, I attended the Easter Vigil at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Kingswood, Western Sydney. It starts in the darkness outside, then a fire is lit and the congregation process inside, where, from the Paschal candle the light spreads through the darkened church from person to person holding their own candles; then a series of seven readings and  sung responsorial psalms from the Old and New Testaments lead to a continuous peal of bells as the Gloria is sung, the purple shrouds removed from  the altar statues and  the icon  of Joseph and  the child Jesus. The church is flooded with light. The service was particularly moving this year, and I felt a real connection to those people under attack  because our parish is administered by Polish Dominican priests who have made available to us a series of  letters from Dominicans serving in Ukraine detailing the unfolding tragedy over the past few weeks.

I read and collect poems from the site Poem-a-Day. One of these, by Palestinian poet, Mosab Abu Toha, stopped me in my tracks, because the decades-long agony of his people has not yet been resolved but was driven from my mind by the foregrounding of what was happening in eastern Europe. Yet another reason I am grateful to the poets of the world, past and present. Mosab Abu Toha is the founder of the Edward Said Library, Gaza’s only English-language library, and is a former visiting poet at Harvard’s department of comparative literature. Here is his poem, Mouth Still Open, Someone’s mouth is still open. He hadn’t finished yawning when shrapnel pierced through his chest, stung his heart. No wind could stop the flying pieces of shrapnel. Even the sparrow on the lemon tree nearby wondered how they could move with no wings. I encourage you to visit the site to see the poet’s arrangement of words on the page, which adds significantly to their meaning. But the song I have written for this Letter is focused on what is happening, in front of our eyes, from the TV coverage of events in Ukraine. Here is Meanwhile, [insert song]

This post now returns to the format established previously; that is, an original song and one from the folk tradition. I will close this Letter with a song written by Eric Bogle, one of Australians finest songwriters. Its title, My Youngest Son Came Home Today. From his 1982 album, Scraps of Paper, the song captures the anguish of a parent burying  their young son, killed in the Northern Irish conflict which tore apart Belfast from 1969 to 1998 when the Good Friday agreement was signed, establishing a precarious peace. The song does not specify from which tradition the dead man comes. Over the years it has been co-opted by the Republican side and the lyrics do seem to support this. Wikipedia observes, When Billy Bragg covered the song, he changed the line dreams of freedom unfulfilled (which echoes the language of Nationalists) to dreams of glory unfulfilled. This allows both traditions, Republican and Loyalist, to share in the grief the world of the song generates- and for this reason I have incorporated Bragg’s amended solitary word in my own version.

In times past, representations of grief, such as Michelangelo’s Pieta where Mary holds the body of the dead Jesus across her lap, speaks powerfully of sorrow, compassion, and devotion. Just days ago, the anguish on President Zelensky’s face, captured by a photographer, when he was asked to comment on the video of the woman who found her slain son in a well demonstrates the power of visual imagery in the 21st Century.

Departing from my usual practice, I will not wait until Friday morning to post this letter but will do so when I finish recording this episode of Letters From Quotidia so, I will end with the observation that the Polish Dominican, Jarolsav Krawiec, the provincial vicar, who has written eloquently about the past weeks of conflict in Ukraine,  refers in his letters to the power of poetry, music, art and prayer as the members of his community work to cope with the unfolding challenges in a country changing by the hour. Now for the song My Youngest Son Came Home Today, as so many will from these latest killing fields.[insert song]

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 196 The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Letters From Quotidia Episode 196 The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 196– 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 are lots of countdowns going on everywhere on earth and beyond. Let me start with an inconsequential one: some time ago I decided to halt the publication of these letters at number 200 to allow me to reflect and, perhaps, re-cast the letters in a different format. And I find that plan is becoming more and more difficult as countdowns elsewhere exert tidal forces on the Letters, threatening to tear them apart, as, for instance, a black hole might cannibalise a passing star, at its leisure.

Those forces have been at work since February 24, the date of the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine. I’ve read and viewed so much distressing material on that crisis over the weeks that I have decided to devote this letter to one poet from Ukraine. I ordered from Amazon last week, Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine published by Academic Press and Harvard, which features, among others, Borys Humenyuk. He was born in Ostriv, Ternopil oblast, in 1965. He is a poet, writer, and journalist. He took an active part in Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity of 2013 and since 2014, he has been involved in the anti-terrorist operation in the Ukrainian Donbas; that is, resisting Russia’s proxies in this region. He now serves in a self-organised military unit composed mainly of volunteers.

He and his comrades now face enhanced threats as Russia re-organises its forces to focus on eastern Ukraine having been driven back from their northern assault on the capital, Kyiv. Followers of this podcast know how highly I value poetry and music and I hope I can demonstrate this, now. While I wait for the book of poetry to be delivered from the US, I have read a few of his poems online and I will try to do justice to this brave poet’s verse- and by the way, I have no way of knowing if he still lives, as the poems in translation I have access to, are four years old. But I hope and pray he survives. The first is set in a seaport we all have learned the name of over recent times-Mariupol. It is called, An old mulberry tree near Mariupol. . .

The first verse sets the scene, An old mulberry tree near Mariupol/Has never seen so many boys in her life/Boys picking her fruit, boys dancing in the branches, And the smallest boy climbing/To the very top.// This is followed by lines that punctuate the poem throughout, RPGs, a machine gun, sniper rifles, helmets, bullet-proof vests/All laid carefully down.// But war comes to interrupt their idyll and, The boys abandoned the old mulberry tree/Left it whirling in a solitary dance/Changed into grown men./They sped off to assume their positions/Beyond the horizon, where the earth cried out to the sky/And the sky shook.//The old mulberry tree/Is waiting for her boys by the road/But nobody comes to pick her fruit./It falls to the ground like bloody tears.// In a powerful ellipsis the poem ends, first with the lines that punctuate the poem, The grass that was pressed beneath/The RPGs, a machine gun, sniper rifles, helmets, bullet-proof vests/All straightened out.//And when the moon rises in the sky/The old mulberry tree/Gets on her tiptoes, like a girl/Tries to peek over the horizon/Where are you, boys?// There is an echo here of Morning Dew from the last letter- Where have all the people gone?

Next, are lines from his poem, Our Platoon Commander is a Strange Man. Our platoon commander is a strange man/ When the sun rises over the battlefield/He says that it’s someone burning/a/tire/at/a/far-off/checkpoint/The moon to him is a barrel of a cannon/And the sea is melted lead/Why is it salty?/Because it’s made of our tears sweat piss blood/It flows through us.// He has no time for the falsity which is part of the whole media circus, Here at the front we’ve learned/There are two kinds of people: people, and TV people/We dislike TV people/They seem fake, they’re poor actors/ We in the West only gave our precious attention to the Ukraine crisis when it appeared as headline news whereas Borys and his comrades have been living a different reality for years, as the ending of his poem explains, On the first day of no war/We lost our machine gun loader/Sashko from Boyarka/And grenadier Max from Luhansk/The bullets came from the other side of war/Like angry hornets/Stung Sashko in the neck/And Max in/the/heart/Maybe the other side doesn’t have a strange platoon commander/Bringing/weird/news/Maybe/they/watch/a/different/TV/channel/Maybe/their/TV/set/is/broken.//

Now, I will present here an entire  poem from Borys Humenyuk. The poem’s title is A Testament. When I saw the title and read the poem, I became aware of the power of the word, testament, or, in its verb form, to testify. To return to my peaceful, quotidian world for a moment, my wife has been reminding me for a while, now, that we need to re-visit our wills and tidy up our affairs as we are, in the words of a song that I featured in Letter 192, too old to die young: unlike so many in countries torn by conflict, alas. Here is Borys Humenyuk’s moving poem, A Testament:

Today we are digging the earth again/This hateful Donetsk earth/This stale, petrified earth/We press ourselves into it/We hide in it/Still alive//We hide behind it/Sit silently in it/Like little children behind their mother’s back/We hear its heart beating/Its weary breath/We/are/warm/and/comfortable/Still/alive//Tomorrow/we/will/die /Maybe some of us/Maybe all of us//Don’t take us from the earth/Don’t tear us away from our mother/Don’t gather our remains from the field/Don’t try to put us back together again/And — we beg you — don’t erect crosses/Monuments or memorial slabs/We don’t need them/Because it isn’t for us —/You erect these monuments for yourselves.//Don’t engrave our names/,Simply remember: On this field/In this earth/Ukrainian soldiers lie/And — that is all.//Don’t return us to our parents/We don’t want them to see us like this/Let our parents remember us children/Naughty little boys/With slingshots and bruised knees/With failing marks on their report cards/With shirts crammed with apples from the neighbour’s orchard/Let our parents believe that we’ll return one day/That we are somewhere//Don’t return us to our wives/Let them remember us handsome/As men well-liked by women/Who belonged to their wives alone/Let them remember our warm kisses/Our loving embraces/Don’t let them touch our cold foreheads/Our cold lips//Don’t return us to our children/Let our children remember our kind eyes/Our kind smiles/Our kind hands/Don’t let our children’s lips/Touch/our/cold/hands//In/these/trenches Today/our/temporary/homes/Tomorrow our graves/Bury us//We don’t need eulogies/In the silence that follows battle./They always seem odd —/Like punching a dead soldier/Then ordering him to his feet//We don’t need funerals/We know where our place is/Simply cover us with earth/And move on//It would be nice if there was a field/Where rye is swaying/A lark flies overhead/And — the sky/The endless sky —/Can you imagine/the/grain/a/field/Where warriors are lying will yield?//To remember us, eat the grain from the field/Where we laid down our lives//It would be good if there were meadows there/And many flowers/And a bee under each flower/And lovers who come in the evening/To weave wreaths/To make love till dawn/And during the day, let new parents/Bring their young children/Don’t keep children from coming to us//But this will be tomorrow/Today we are still digging the earth//This cherished Ukrainian earth/This sweet, gentle earth/And with a soldier’s spade we write as one/On its body/The last Ukrainian poem of the last poets/Left/alive//

I’ll finish with an Irish folk song that echoes the poet’s desire to be buried under a field of swaying rye; written by Robert Dwyer Joyce (1836–1883), a Limerick-born poet and professor of English literature, The Wind That Shakes the Barley quickly became a trope for the Irish quest for independence from Britain. Wikipedia has this to say,

The song is written from the perspective of a doomed young Wexford rebel who is about to sacrifice his relationship with his loved one and plunge into the cauldron of violence associated with the 1798 rebellion in Ireland. The references to barley in the song derive from the fact that the rebels often carried barley or oats in their pockets as provisions for when on the march. This gave rise to the post-rebellion phenomenon of barley growing and marking the “croppy-holes,” mass unmarked graves into which slain rebels were thrown, symbolizing the regenerative nature of Irish resistance to British rule. As the barley will grow every year in the spring this is said to symbolize Irish resistance…and that Ireland will never yield and will always oppose foreign rule.

Irish poet and Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney, in his 1962 poem Requiem For the Croppies references the phenomenon of barley growing out of the unmarked graves of the Irish rebels, who were known as Croppies because of their very short hair. The poem ends with these lines, Until…on Vinegar Hill, the final conclave/Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon/The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave./They buried us without shroud or coffin/ And in August…the barley grew up out of our grave.//

This poem, like The Wind That Shakes the Barley, refers to the 1798 rebellion by the United Irishmen, who had a famous victory at Oulart Hill which is mentioned in the song as Oulart Hollow, where the rebels vanquished a force of militia sent from Wexford to stamp out the uprising. But it was ultimately put down by superior British forces with the loss of 30,000 rebels. The parallels between the Irish and Ukrainian experience are obvious. Here is my version of The Wind That Shakes the Barley [insert song]

And that concludes, Letter 196 I hope that the doomed 1798 resistance of the valiant United Irishmen against the overwhelming forces of an adjacent imperial power is not paralleled in Ukraine but I note, with increasing dread, the build-up of huge forces poised, as I write this, to strike at the southeast and coastal regions of the beleaguered state. I also note the sickening reports of yet more atrocities against the civilian population, to say nothing of the reports of chemical munitions having been used in Mariupol. This letter is published here in Australia, on Good Friday, and- a naïve hope it may be- but I pray that the message of Easter, which is all about renewal and peace, comes to pass in Ukraine. So, until next week, take care and thanks for listening to LFQ.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 195 Space Oddity, Morning Dew

Letters From Quotidia Episode 195 Space Oddity, Morning Dew

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 195– 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.

I have a foot in both camps-  that of the Arts, especially literature and music, and that of the Sciences, particularly cosmology and biology. A couple of items from my news feeds caught my attention today as I was pondering how to begin this letter. The first was a Sky News Australia piece on the International Space Station:

A highly anticipated change of command ceremony between the United States and Russia has taken place on the International Space Station at the end of March this year. Despite mounting tensions between the two countries, NASA has repeatedly reaffirmed that it continues to work closely with Russian space agency Roscosmos. Eyes have been on the ISS since war broke out in Ukraine but tensions on the earth did not reach into space. Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov in his handover address affirmed those on the space station were “one crew”.

The second item was from Science Alert with the dread-inducing, eye-popping headline, How a Zombifying Virus Can Manipulate Caterpillars Into Killing Themselves. It sounds like something out of a horror movie. What happens is a group of insect-infecting viruses known as nucleopolyhedroviruses (NPVs) get into a host organism, for example, cotton bollworm caterpillars. NPVs are known to drive their caterpillar hosts to the top of plants before dying, whereas the more natural behavior is for the caterpillars to sink to the earth before pupating. If caterpillars are dying up at the top of plants, it presumably gives the host virus more opportunity to spread further, whether that’s being carried on the wind or chewed up by a predator.

OK so my question is: what sort of virus has infected the brains of humans that propel us to climb the ladder of increasing risk and conflict seeking out a mushroom-cloud-shaped apotheosis? Or is a compulsion towards violence hard-wired into our DNA? In further science news I learn that the puzzle pieces are all assembled now. The human genome has now been completely mapped according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, but after reading through the material and listening to interviews with a couple of scientists I realised that there is still a lot more work to do and that we will not be able to excise the errant genes that may cause this propensity to violence any time soon. It’s akin to the mapping of an alien planet but not really being able to determine what is actually on the ground. Sorry to get your hopes up- no rescue from the worst elements of ourselves just yet.

But it’s time for a song.  And we’re returning to the International Space Station for this one. Written and recorded by David Bowie, it was first released on 11 July 1969, nine days before Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the lunar surface. And it only took 44 years for Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield to give us all a treat by filming himself singing Space Oddity while floating on the International Space Station in 2013. [insert song]

Here are three stanzas about our companion satellite by the wonderful American poet Emily Dickinson, The Moon was but a Chin of Gold/A Night or two ago—/And now she turns Her perfect FaceUpon the World below—/Her Forehead is of Amplest Blonde—/Her Cheek—a Beryl hewn—/Her Eye unto the Summer Dew/The likest I have known—//Her Lips of Amber never part—/But what must be the smile/Upon Her Friend she could confer/Were such Her Silver Will—//

On TV tonight I watched a BBC newscast about the Red Cross trying yet again to bring in desperately needed food to Mariupol and ferry out some of the 100,000+ citizens still trapped in a place that resembles not so much an enclave of God’s green earth but a blasted and apocalyptic movie set on the cratered, airless, dusty surface of the moon. And there are military planners who would like to reduce the other port cities of Ukraine, notably Odesa, to a similar state.

On the same BBC newscast, I watched people in the centre of Odesa listening to warning sirens-perhaps more cruise missiles coming in from ships lurking over the Black Sea horizon-they were listening without flinching or moving, so inured have they become to the sound. But the camera caught a young boy, traumatised by his experience of sirens, explosions and horror in other places he and his family had to flee from, being led away from the open square to, presumably, shelter out of the camera’s view.

And in the midst of this sombre scene, the redemptive power of song, as members of the Odesa musical community filled the square with sound that uplifted hearts rather than cast them down. The Ukrainian president, Vlodymyr Zelenskyy, in a surprise address to the 2022 Grammy Awards on 3 April, said to all of us, Our musicians wear body armour instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded. In hospitals. Even to those who can’t hear them but the music will break through anyway…we defend our freedom to live, to love, to sound. On our land, we are fighting Russia which brings horrible silence with its bombs. The dead silence… fill the silence with your music. Fill it today, to tell our story. Support us in any way you can. Any, but not silence. 

Music has played this role throughout history. Just think of the rich gift of American music to the world, particularly that brought by the slaves to the New World has blossomed into jazz and the blues and rock music. Another native of Putin’s city of birth was the Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovich. He wrote a symphony to memorialise the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis between 1941-44 when, over 872 days, a million people starved to death: he wrote, My idea of victory isn’t something brutal; it’s better explained as the victory of light over darkness, of humanity over barbarism, of reason over reaction. Plea to V.P. Read again your own history before allowing the brutal siege of Mariupol to continue! It mimics that of the Nazis of your own birthplace.

Canadian folk-singer Bonnie Dobson wrote the song which concludes this Letter after seeing the 1959 black-and-white film On the Beach The film depicts the aftermath of a nuclear war. The final scene shows, and thanks, Wikipedia, for this dramatic sentence: The empty windblown streets of Melbourne are punctuated by the rise of dramatic, strident music over a single powerful image of a previously seen Salvation Army street banner: “There is still time .. Brother”.

Bonnie wrote the song, Morning Dew, the first of her career-and what a first!- after friends she was staying with in L.A. went to bed. It has endured down the years, being covered by a wide range of artists. It was first released in 1961, As recently as autumn 2021 she was touring at the age of 81- what a woman, eh? The song has universal themes- which I will not insult you by explicating here- the 21 year-old Bobbie Dobson set it out as clear as the morning dew [insert song]

And now I look to C.S. Lewis’s sane advice when confronted in the mid-20th Century with fears of Armageddon,: when it comes [let it] find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds. Or Robert Frost, who asks us to reflect with an equanimity bordering on Stoicism, on the beauty, fragility and transience of life in this short  poem, Nature’s first green is gold,/Her hardest hue to hold./Her early leaf’s a flower;/ But only so an hour./Then leaf subsides to leaf./So Eden sank to grief,/ So dawn goes down to day./Nothing gold can stay.// To conclude, may I rescue that Salvation Army banner from the empty, end-of-the-world-streets of Melbourne and wave it above my head without irony but with a lot of desperate hope- there is still time…brother. ‘til next time!

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.