Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 22

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 22

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 22, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four songs drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. In this edition I will cover the songs because of COVID restrictions. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

The Augathella Station (Brisbane Ladies) “The Long Paddock” is the colloquial name given to the historical travelling stock routes of Australia. “The Augathella Drovers”, also known as “Augathella Station”, “Farewell Brisbane Ladies”, or simply “The Drover’s Song” is an Australian folk song based on a well-known English original called “Ladies of Spain. The song bids farewell to the Ladies of Brisbane on the drovers’ departure and follows their journey along the stock route to the Augathella Station (nearly 800 kilometres inland) in much the same way that the English sailors bid farewell to the ladies of Spain. (notes above by Brett Thompson/fourandtwentymusic.com). Banter has gone over the song a few times in practice; however, we haven’t yet got the vocal and instrumental parts sufficiently together for public performance. I reckon it would go well with another great droving song, The Overlander, which is a staple of the group. If and when we emerge from lockdown to something approximating  the previously normal pub/club milieu, we may well rant and roar the song out…after a few soothing ales. [insert song] 

The Green Glens of Antrim  Who wrote it- I discovered this from the site Mudcat: ‘The Green Glens of Antrim’ is a song I grew up with hearing regularly, in the heart of the Glens – Cushendall… The Green Glens of Antrim was written by Archie Montgomery (under the pseudonym of Kenneth North) and published in 1950. Now, Archie Montgomery sounds Scottish. From living in the Glens from 1964 to 1972 (off and on), I can attest that the Glens were a magnet for Scottish visitors in the 20th Century, right up until the time that the latest iteration of the  “Troubles” put paid to tourism of any kind. So, a Scottish connection is possible. It matters not a whit to me whether or not the composer was a native of the Glens of Antrim, or indeed, Ireland. An abiding memory for me was when I produced a play  in the early 80s for the Glens’ Amateur Drama Society and, after the festival, we gathered in a hotel in the west of Ireland. One of the crew started the song and all the Cushendall contingent joined in and raised the rafters with an a capella version. And I’ve never heard better!   [insert song]

I Was Only Nineteen The song was released in March 1983. Recorded by Redgum, royalties for the song go to the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia. It is a first-person account of a typical Australian soldier’s experience in the Vietnam War, from training at a military academy in Australia to first hand exposure to military operations and combat and ultimately his return home disillusioned and suffering from both PTSD and, it is implied, the harmful effects of Agent Orange. Contrary to popular belief, the subject of this song volunteered for service in the Australian Army and was not conscripted. During the Vietnam War, Australian men did not become eligible for conscription until the age of 20.In 1997, during a performance of the song, at The Henry Lawson Club in western Sydney, I noticed a guy of fifty-something, bearded and with greying long hair, watching the group intently. In passing (on the way to the bar for a beer after the song) I casually asked him how he was enjoying the set. He looked at me for a while and said, “I thought at first, you were taking the piss- but decided there was no disrespect intended.” He was a Vietnam Vet. I assured him that, far from dissing anyone, we were honouring the soldiers who served. [insert song]

Murisheen Durkin This Irish folk song  tells the story of an emigrant from Ireland who goes to mine for gold in California during the California Gold Rush, 1849. The song is about emigration, although atypically optimistic for the genre. The song reached prominence when Johnny McEvoy’s recording reached no. 1 in Ireland in 1966. It has been recorded by lots of artists since this time, including, Christy Moore, The Pogues, The Dubliners and The Wolfe Tones. Into that august company, the group Banter intends to venture (if I have anything to do with it!) A couple of years ago when Jim was off to Belfast to visit relatives, Sam, Mark and I had a couple of practices where we canvassed a few songs that were blasts from the past. We never got round to including the song in any of our sets after Jim’s return; however, it might well make an appearance, if and when the venues for music re-open here in western Sydney. [insert song]

For Postcard 23 I will be filching songs from the other two singers in the group. My excuse, again, is the virus. Its impact continues to take a toll on lives and society here in Australia and around the world. First is a song I learned as a student in Belfast in 1968, Woody Guthrie’s great Deportees. Then, The Curragh of Kildare which the Johnstons popularised back in the late 1960s and which remains one of the best versions available. The Galway Races, is penultimately placed in this postcard while the final song past the post is my version of the defiant union song, Joe Hill. Apologies to Jim and Sam for stealing their songs, yet again.

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 88 I Was Taking a Lend of You

Letters From Quotidia Episode 88 I Was Taking a Lend of You

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.

Student life is good in all sorts of ways: you get to try out different versions of who you might be- or at least it was like that at the end of the 1960s in Belfast. I got involved in student politics and for a couple of years I tried on this version of me. It was a lot of fun, going to conferences, becoming part of this or that cabal, travelling, drinking, arguing hazy, idealistic positions. But, politics in the real world ground to a halt with the proroguing of Stormont and the shift to a more tribal alignment within the student version meant that my exit from this world of bubbles was more precipitate than it otherwise would have been- but I would have bailed in any event. Politics were not for me, but I have always remained fascinated with the antics and manoeuvrings of those who seek to climb the greasy pole of political ambition. That so many aspirants remain fundamentally decent and relatively uncorrupted is one of the testaments to the democratic process although democracy seems under threat more now than ever before.

During the Cold War era from 1945-1991, when it was the democratic west opposing the communist east, the spectre of the mushroom cloud was in the back of every intelligent mind but the core of democratic values remained uncracked. Now, we wonder: in the aftermath of 9/11, the hunt for Bin Laden involving the invasion of Afghanistan had widespread popular support even if later polls have swung the other way. But the sequel, the invasion of Iraq was a bridge too far for popular opinion in Australia and the UK as well as in the US. The world shouted NO! And we know what happened. While generally sceptical of conspiracy theories and subscribing to the alternative cock-up interpretation of history, I get an uncomfortable feeling that there may well be powerful forces in the background shaping events to their hidden agendas.

That wittiest of essayists, Gore Vidal, long held that power in the US did not reside in the legislature or with the Presidents, whom he characterised as Banksmen, but with- you guessed it, the Banks. Others cite the Illuminati, the New World Order, etc. as the powers in the background and you could spend a lifetime reading all the texts exposing these deeper truths. I choose, instead, to listen to artists for the truth: All except for Cain and Abel and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Everybody’s making love or else expecting rain, explains Bob Dylan in Desolation Row.

If the truth is Quasimodo, swinging down from the bell-tower in an, ultimately, vain attempt to save the innocence of the world personified by the beautiful Esmerelda, then, Captain Phoebus must represent the shadowy powers as he watches the execution of the hapless heroine even though he could, had he so chosen, have proved her guiltless of his supposed murder. In Victor Hugo’s novel, Quasimodo recovers the body of Esmerelda and pines away clutching his beloved. The synopsis in Wikipedia delivers the denouement, years later, an excavation group exhumes both their skeletons which have become intertwined. When it tries to separate them, Quasimodo’s bones crumble into dust.

There is another Quasimodo, however, who may shed light on the mystery that is the world. Salvatore Quasimodo was an Italian poet of some note: he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959. During World War Two he was an anti-Fascist, not the most comfortable stance in the Italy of that time. He started as a hermetic poet, a movement that developed between the World Wars, and here Wikipedia takes up the story, Major features of this movement were reduction to essentials, abolishment of punctuation, and brief, synthetic compositions, at times resulting in short works of only two or three verses…Man lives in an incomprehensible world, ravaged by wars and enslaved by dictatorships, therefore the poet has a disheartened vision of life, without illusions, and repudiates the word as an act of communication in order to give it an evocative sense only…hermetic poetry is poetry of moods, of interior reflection expressed by a subdued and pensive tone, through a refined and evocative language, concealing direct intimations to experience in a play of allusions.

A lot of this stuff I found too hard or too obscure to bother with, but there is a poem that hooked me as soon as I read it: Quasimodo’s ED E’ SUBITO SERA: Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra/trafitto da un raggio di sole:/ed è subito sera: Everyone stands alone at the heart of the world/pierced by a ray of sunlight,/and suddenly it is evening. I wrote the song, I Was Taking a Lend of You as an acknowledgement that we are being played by those we know as well as those we know of and also those we don’t know exist. And suddenly it is evening…[insert song]

Uniforms feature straight up in the next foray into Quotidia; also, a wax cylinder on which is preserved the notes a bugle played at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War and also at the  battle of Waterloo in 1815. It’s inevitable, isn’t it, that the narrator will quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade. So, consider yourselves warned in advance. There being a military theme of sorts in the next post, don’t be too surprised if Shakespeare’s  Henry V rouses the blood with his great speech before the Battle of Agincourt.

However, lest you become overly intoxicated with an excess of martial rhetoric, Rudyard Kipling will provide an astringent, sobering draught with a few lines from his 1890 poem, Tommy, in which he sympathises with  this member of the PBI- the poor, bloody infantry. How the general public looks down upon the rather rough and uncultured soldier, until that is, the drums of war begin to beat- then he’s lauded as a hero! And where will you be, cheering him on from the sidelines or with him in full battle-kit marching to the front lines where death or glory or both await?

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 87 All I Did

Letters From Quotidia Episode 87 All I Did

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.

Twenty-five years ago, I finished writing and recording enough songs to consider putting them together on a cassette tape- remember those? Even then they were beginning to get a bit old- but, hey, so was I. All I Did was one of those songs. I decided to weave the songs into a little story to celebrate: Want to hear it?

I first heard of the Paraclete Mine when I was a boy of fifteen. Visiting my great-aunt at the Seven Pines nursing home just west of Sydney was a tedious monthly duty and we were sitting on the veranda watching the mist forming over the Blue Mountains. An elderly man was engaged in colloquy with unseen persons (a not unusual feature of the home). From time to time he would turn our way and include me in his circle of conversation. Pliant by nature, I found it little strain to take on a series of bit-parts in his fantasy. Indeed, it was a welcome diversion, as my aged relative was deep in the coils of dementia and was only playing reluctant host to a number of physiological functions: higher mental processes being, alas, absent.

From what I could glean he was originally from somewhere in Central America (he had a slight accent, I noted). As a member of a paramilitary unit he was involved in reprisals against various outlaw groups. His last sortie (so he called it- I had always assumed it to be a term applied to air-strikes rather than ground action) was an act of vengeance for the ambush of a militia colonel. He wept as he told me of shooting a young woman in the back of the head- something he had always drawn the line at hitherto. Gradually, he sank into a tangled fugue, berating politicians, calling people dancing mice and imploring the emperor to return. At this point a couple of staff members appeared and led him off. Upon reaching the door he turned and said in a clear, calm voice, “I’ll see you again, young man, at the Paraclete Mine.”

I thought no more of it. Years passed. I got married, had the regulation boy and girl and settled down to a respectable, if dull, life as a minor academic in a small and fusty department of an unnoteworthy tertiary institution in the city. For our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary I took my wife to a fashionable motel. As we were walking across the car-park a young lout appeared from nowhere and snatched her handbag. I gave unconvincing chase, then gave up. Have you ever noticed the way that things go wrong in series rather than singly? Although I had booked a table in advance, we were constrained to wait at the bar until one became available.

Perched on a stool next to me was the parts-manager of a small electronics plant which had relocated to our area. It was obvious that he had been there a while and, with the facile camaraderie of the habitual drinker, he chose me as his sympathetic auditor. He was frightened that he would soon be out of a job- what about his family? What was he to do? Hadn’t he had enough misfortune in life? What happened to the glories of youth with fast cars and parties? My perfunctory responses must have penetrated his alcoholic haze because he soon decided that he could get a better hearing elsewhere. He stumbled from his stool with: “Stuff you, mate- you’ll never find the Paraclete Mine.”

And he left. Something stirred in memory but I paid scant notice to his utterance and we were soon at dinner.  The local combo, The Moonglow Quintet, had been delayed and the motel had, for some reason, installed a filler act- a young man from Belfast who fancied himself as a bit of a bard. He regaled us with a bewildering potpourri of self-penned songs and readings from currently fashionable poets which were interspersed with autobiographical snippets in that flat, nasal drone so unlike the mellifluous brogue of, say, Dubliners. He was not a success. The patrons let him know it, ever so subtly, of course, and, as he was leaving, I offered him some advice about how to please an audience. He listened, smiling all the while, and then said: “I’ll get a better hearing at the Paraclete Mine.”

I’ll confess I was shaken at this repetition of the gnomic trope but soon after, my wife grasped my hand and led me onto the dance floor as the resident band were now set up for the evening’s dancing. Then something crashed inside my head- and there was noise and confusion. All this took place years ago. I am told this exercise is good for me. I am not so sure; I prefer to listen to William Bonney tell me about his exploits in the American southwest. He is an uncommonly amusing person (apart from his predilection for coprophagy, which I do not usually share). The doctors keep quizzing me about the Paraclete Mine. They think it is the key to my mental state. And yet, there is so much else to tell. There is a whole universe of meaning, however constructed, out there lying.[insert song]

I hope you found the previous little account diverting- some of the listeners may have spotted several of the references to songs that have featured in podcasts posted earlier in the series. The next adventure in Quotidia transports us to a variety of… not so much locations as states of mind, states of being: first, we find the narrator waxing nostalgic for the excesses of student life in the 1960s and remembering the Cold War years with something approaching affection; then, some will share his feeling of confusion of the present milieu where conspiracy theories abound and nobody seems to be able to handle the truth (whatever that is!). He enters Victor Hugo’s famous story about the hunchback of Notre Dame via Dylan’s fabulous song, Desolation Row.

Being a poetry tragic, he then discusses and quotes from a poem by a man who shares the same name as the aforementioned hunchback. This poet won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959 and is cited approvingly as being a critic of the fascists during World War II. Enough variety for you all, I trust?

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 86 Ballyhootry

Letters From Quotidia Episode 86 Ballyhootry

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.

Time to visit three islands of widely different dimensions. The smallest, Aruba totals 179 square kilometres and lies sunning itself in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela; next in size is Ireland, weighing in at 84, 421 square kilometres, tucked in the north-eastern corner of the Atlantic Ocean; the largest in size is continental in size, shouldering its way between the Indian and South Pacific Oceans to the west and east and the Southern Ocean and Indonesian archipelago to the south and north. It boasts a land area of 7,692,024 square kilomentres and it is where I have come to rest. 

Odi et Amo– the slogan from the Latin of Catullus sums up how I feel about my native land. I love its natural beauty, its literature and aspects of its history and I hate its insularity, its banality and its sectarianism. Not Robinson Crusoe there, son! I hear a chorus of ghosts shout in a variety of accents. Other people have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis, Brendan Behan bellows. Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall, notes Oliver Goldsmith, while Samuel Johnston observes, The Irish are a fair people, they never speak well of one another. One could go on, ad nauseam, So I’ll close this quote-fest by reference to that fine novel about modern Ireland, Niall Williams’, History of the Rain, The history of Ireland in two words: Ah well… In the Aeneid, Virgil tells it as Sunt lacrimae rerum, which in Robert Fitzgerald’s translation means ‘They weep for how the world goes’, which is more eloquent than Ah well but means the same thing.

Nativity does not equal identity, though, unless you stay where you were born. I spent my primary and junior secondary years in a small island called Aruba, located just off the coast of Venezuela and close to the vast oil deposits of Lake Maracaibo. We lived in “The Colony”, a walled Caucasian enclave built by the oil company, Standard Oil of New Jersey for its white American and European employees on the south-west tip of the island adjacent to the oil refinery. And it shaped me right down to the strange accent I still have, a puzzling amalgam of American, Northern Irish and Australian notes that often prompts listeners to enquire as to my place of origin or worse, suspect me of being a disc jockey.

At times, scenes and events from those formative years’ pop into consciousness, unbidden. One such vignette finds me at about 11 years of age, walking barefoot on the water pipes above the coral and cactus scrubland that was a feature of the Colony. These criss-crossed the enclave, running precious water from the desalination plant to the bungalows of Seroe Colorado. Below me, sunning itself on a rock ledge, was the most beautiful snake- coiled with a pink-patterned stripe running down its iridescent blue-scaled back. I paused to look more closely and it slipped silently away leaving me wondering whether I had dreamed the encounter. Some days later, I was out the back of the bowling alley chatting with the Aruban pin-boys. They were all young men in their twenties. They gathered the pins knocked down by the bowlers and re-set them in their cradles- this was the time before automated systems had reached the island. A couple were on a smoking break and I told them about the encounter. One smiled and said, ah, Cascabel. He went on to explain that I had seen the elusive Aruban rattlesnake, which I subsequently learned has been placed on the critically endangered list, there being little more than 200 individuals still alive in its singular habitat.

Some of the jocks and college boys returning for a vacation would visit the bowling alley for a game: not merely 10-pin bowling, though. They would send the bowling ball hurtling down the lane as fast as they could, with maximum possible spin. The result was the pins exploding off their sets and spinning upwards among the machinery. They delighted in hearing the screams of pin-boys when hit by one of the flying bowling pins. Quick quiz: which is the more venomous, the rattlesnake with the lovely name of Cascabel or the raucous frat boys.

Let’s rinse the sounds of bigotry from our ears by listening to this short poem written by Dwight Isebia in Papiamento, the musical creole language spoken by native Arubans. KAÍDA Ta mihor nunka/ bo a bira para/ pa haña hala/y bula bai// Pasobra duru/ ta e kaída/p’esun ku ta kere/ ku e no por kai Now, for the English translation, THE FALL It would have been better if you had not become a bird to get the wings and to be able to fly away. As for the person thinking that he cannot fall, falling is very hard.  

We flew away to Ireland at the beginning of 1979. And the dreams began. The ghost-gums, the Illawarra escarpment, body-surfing at North Wollongong, picnics at the dams dotted along the escarpment, the long dusty roads of western NSW and the poetry. Henry Kendall, in Bell-birds, captured the feeling, So I might keep in the city and alleys/The beauty and strengths of the deep mountain valleys,/Charming to slumber the pain of my losses/With glimpses of creeks and a vision of mosses. Much as W. B. Yeats did a few years after Kendall’s death in the much better known, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, …for always night and day/ I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;/ While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,/ I hear it in the deep heart’s core. Now, I want to travel to those places that provide balm for the deep heart’s core. But the curse of COVID-19 still hangs, at the point of writing, like a noxious fog over the earth. And if I don’t get back to the sacred sites in Aruba or Ireland, this mantra will do instead: ah well, Cascabel.[insert song]

We leave the jewelled snake basking in the Aruban sun in 1960 for a gloomy garage in western Sydney where, in 1996, we see the forty-something narrator struggling with an Amiga 2000 computer running the music software program Bars and Pipes. (Does anyone out there in Podlandia, remember either the doomed computer or the exotic program? Both were ahead of their time but fated to the digital graveyard by the superior marketing  of competitors.) The narrator decides to write a sort of vignette to celebrate the recording and selection of a dozen or so songs that he managed to get down on a C90 cassette tape. Anyone remember those?

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 85 Spray

Letters From Quotidia Episode 85 Spray

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.

Sometimes I walk outside and look into the night sky, as, I have no doubt, you do as well. Do you ponder the puzzle of time and space and realise, as you gaze up into the firmament on a clear, cloudless night, that you are watching lights originating at their source from multiple thousands of years to billions of years before the present time here on Earth. Makes you think, eh?

A billion years ago, in a distant galaxy, two massive black holes began a Brobdingnagian dance. As they made mutual approach at half the speed of light, they circled one another 250 times a second before colliding with explosive effect releasing more energy in a fifth of a second than that of all the stars in the universe. Not comparable to the big bang, but prodigious enough all the same. Meanwhile, here on earth, green algae were about to make the scene.

Fast forward a billion years and normally sedate scientists are dancing a jig because, after 44 years of trying, their super-computers detected the infinitesimal movement of mirrors in big L-shaped arrays in Washington state and Louisiana. The discovery of gravitational waves that register as middle C in the scale means that we can now listen to the cosmos and may even be able to hear the sounds of the birth of the universe at the point of creation. Pretty cool all round for the nerds among us- the meek-mannered pointy-heads are, indeed about to inherit the earth.

Meanwhile, back among the knuckle-draggers, I froth and fume over macro stuff like injustice, destruction of habitat and general hypocrisy as well as micro stuff like personal regret, ageing and general dissolution.  For me, T. S. Eliot set the scene for this sort of navel-gazing with his world-weary Sweeney Among the Nightingales, written in 1918 where his protagonist relaxes in a low bar somewhere in South America, Apeneck Sweeney spreads his knees/ Letting his arms hang down to laugh. One of the ladies of the establishment makes her play, Tries to sit on Sweeney’s knees/Slips and pulls the table cloth/Overturns a coffee cup. An air of diffuse menace pervades the poem as, The waiter brings in oranges/bananas figs and hot-house grapes. The stars above are veiled by cloud and Sweeney hears nightingales sing near a convent as they sang millennia ago when Clytemnestra murdered Agamemnon in his bath.

Eliot expands and elaborates on this milieu in his masterly 1920 poem The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. When I first read these poems in Belfast in the autumn term of 1968, I felt superior to and sorry for J Alfred and Apeneck. Had I bothered to attend the relevant lectures I would probably have learned that Sweeney’s appellation was pronounced Ape Neck and not Ah-pen-eck. For a few years I laboured under the misapprehension that Sweeney was likely the product of an Irish father and a middle-European mother, perhaps a dark-eyed fortune-teller from exotic Bratislava. But I was young, arrogant, ignorant and cursed with the idea that I had some talent for writing. Not for me then, (heaven forfend!) merely the role of an attendant lord; and further still in the future, even a dim understanding of the lines, Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,/ I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;/ I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,/ And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker. Oh listener, let’s not forget the kicker, And in short, I was afraid.

And I ask myself: When did I become such a pusillanimous poltroon? As a kid in Aruba, I explored caves and abandoned phosphate mines, snorkelled over reefs patrolled by barracuda, where conger and moray eels lurked, built rafts and launched out, oblivious of dangers, into the Caribbean Sea, accepted dares to leap off roofs and run buck naked along the beach road as people at the Esso Club gaped. Today, fear masquerades as apathy- I don’t want to do that, go there, meet them or talk to you. I watch myself become more careful: careful not to drive too fast, careful not to drink or eat too much, careful not to give offence- and I hate myself for it.

One of my favourite authors is Raymond Carver. Fear pervades So Much Water So Close to Home, one of the most chilling accounts of death- first, that of a young woman and then trust in a relationship. Paul Kelly, arguably Australia’s best songwriter, penned a song based on this short story. Raymond Carver was a poet as well as a writer of short stories and he wrote about fear in verse, too. Fear this day will end on an unhappy note./Fear of waking up to find you gone./Fear of not loving and fear of not loving enough/.Fear that what I love will prove lethal to those I love./Fear of death./Fear of living too long./Fear of death./I’ve said that.  

Since the first discovery, in 2015, of gravity waves generated by the meeting of those two black holes, there have been a couple of dozen such events. I have a hope: I hope that the explosive mating of two black holes a billion years ago where, perhaps, three solar masses are turned to pure energy sending ripples through space-time will somehow shift the mirrors of my soul infinitesimally so that I can see reflected someone still recognisably me but somehow altered for the better, and braver, as I find the words to express, with more confidence than I presently possess, the truth about things that matter, and that I may be able to fashion the notes to sing a better tune rising from middle C. [insert song]

Our next visit to Quotidia finds me referencing  three islands and three poets connected to them: In order of ascending size we have: Aruba and Dwight Isebia;  then, Ireland and W B Yeats; finally, Australia and Henry Kendall. We will learn from novelist Niall Williams how the Irish expression, ah, well, translates into the Latin phrase of Virgil, sunt lacrimae rerum which translator Robert Fitzgerald renders as, They weep for how the world goes. Now, put your hankies away and join me in Quotidia.

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 21

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 21

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 21, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four songs drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Ballyhootry: I wrote this back in the mid-1990s. I must have fallen out on the wrong side of the bed that day because I created a town called Ballyhootry in the County Anywhere. I let fly at the ersatz Irish or Oirishry so beloved by Hollywood B-movies and songs. You know, where leprechauns frolic at the ends of rainbows and the beer is dyed green and quaintness rules the day to the deedle-lee-dee tootling of a tin whistle. Also a target is the rampant commercialism where Mammon trumps Tradition every time. (the use of the previous verb is not coincidental, by the way). FYI,  I still love Ireland, her blemishes notwithstanding, but I live in Australia now and consider it home- for all its imperfections. The song here is not backed by Banter but Band-in-a-Box because we have not yet recorded any version of the song, even though we’ve play it enough in the past. I’ll update, when or if we ever get round to it. In the meantime, enjoy a more rocky rendition than is heard in our acoustic oeuvre. [insert song]

This Cold Bed: This is a demo I recorded a while back. We have played the song in rehearsal but have yet to record it or perform it in our present incarnation of Banter. I wrote the words about 20 years ago but my wife told me the tune I had crafted was not a fit for the genre. Can you do better, riposted the wounded artiste? Yes. And she took the lyrics and hummed the tune that is used here, off the top of her head! Collaboration is a wonderful thing. The inspiration for the song was the hunger strike of 1981 which saw ten republican prisoners starve to death, most notably, Bobby Sands, who had been elected to the British Parliament on 9 April. The strikes were a turning point for Sinn Fein which supplanted the various nationalist groupings to become the major political force in the politics of Northern Ireland. I originally, and somewhat pretentiously, gave the song the title, The Dying Revolutionary, as I did not intend it as, solely, a loosely-based biographical item about Bobby Sands. I wanted to examine what forces could persuade an artistic individual to move from art to violence as I know the events of that summer in 1981 almost prised me from a life-long belief in liberal democracy and non-violence. Still, that awful working title stuck in my craw so I substituted what is now the better option. Sometimes it takes a while, a long while, for me to work these things through…[insert song]

Let Them Not Fade Away: After a quite lengthy break from blogging, I resumed keyboarding and promptly fell overboard by deleting this (original) post as I was constructing the  49th effusion (but at least it wasn’t as bad as waterboarding). Had it been one of my longer-form posts, I would have saved it in some fashion and would have been able to resurrect it whole and hearty…can you feel a “but” coming on?… but, I didn’t, and only a hazy outline of the original remains in my consciousness. A rock version of this song can be found in The Summa Quotidian sequence on this site. However, this is the bare-bones version featuring guitar and voice. The first song by The Rolling Stones I recall hearing was their single Not Fade Away from February, 1964. It made me a life-long fan of the group, particularly their 60s oeuvre. This song is part-homage, part-autobiographical snippet, which I think works pretty well. [insert song]

O’Sullivan’s John: I first heard this song in the 1970s from one of the members of the folk group, Seannachie. I like to sing it as a modal tune rocking between two chords a tone apart say, C and D. When I was visiting Townsville during my tropical North Queensland sojourn between 1989 and 1994, I sang it at a party and a folk group there took it up, but fancied it up with minors and such-like. I enjoyed their more sophisticated version, too, but have stuck to the more primitive version here, which I still sing from time to time. It was written by  travelling songwriter and storyteller Pecker Dunne. I’ll now read from an obituary in The Belfast Telegraph of 2012: “The Pecker mastered the art and craft of many an instrument, the mandolin, the fiddle and the banjo,” he said. “He was distinctively known for his most precious of gifts, his voice, and what that voice could deliver. It was the envy of some of the world’s most renowned rock, pop, folk and traditional singers.”Dunne, a traveller, wrote songs and music to describe injustices and prejudices he and his community faced. He busked nationwide and played with The Dubliners, who covered his song Sullivans John, and he also played with Christy Moore and The Fureys. Some of the exploits and anecdotes he was renowned for telling were his meeting Woody Guthrie in Boston, his friendship and work with Richard Harris and playing New York’s Carnegie Hall.[insert song]

For Postcard 22, I fear you will be stuck in the snug with me but instead of battering on an old guitar and warbling away, I’ll be accompanied by one of those new-fangled music accompanist devices. If, like me, you consider such things almost blasphemous, then you may choose to numb yourself with a double of good whiskey (as I intend to) as we explore the Aussie droving song, Brisbane Ladies; a song about the place of my birth, The Green Glens of Antrim; that fine song about  the Australian involvement in the Vietnam conflict, I Was Only Nineteen, and we’ll conclude with a rousing Irish come-all-ye, Muirsheen Durkin.

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 84 …Your 32nd Birthday

Letters From Quotidia Episode 84a (on what would have been) Your 32nd Birthday

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.

Pawn yo’ gold watch/An’ diamond ring./Git a quart o’ licker,/Let’s shake dat thing!/Skee-de-dad! De-dad!/Doo-doo-doo!/Won’t be nothin’ left/When de worms git through/An’ you’s a long time Dead/When you is/Dead, too./So beat dat drum, boy!/Shout dat song:/Shake ’em up an’ shake ’em up/All night long. This is the middle section of Langston Hughes’ poem Saturday Night. I used the opening and conclusion of the poem to close Entry 82. The exuberant shout against mortality is one response, and one I admire.

Here’s another take on the matter from the song Still Gonna Die by Shel Silverstein, Drink ginseng tonics, you’re still gonna die./Try high colonics, you’re still gonna die./You can have yourself  frozen and suspended in time,/But when they do thaw you out, you’re still gonna die. For a more solemn view, you may wish to visit or re-visit the great elegy by Thomas Gray, Written in a Country Graveyard, which opens, The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,/The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea/The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,/And leaves the world to darkness and to me. There are so many memorable lines in this justly famous poem, but these four lines will serve to illustrate the quality of the whole, The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,/And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,/Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour,/The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

John Donne, in his own inimitable way, defies the grim reaper, DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee/Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so. In the sestet of his sonnet, he scorns the power of death and affirms his own adamantine faith, Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,/ And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,/And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well/And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?/ One short sleep past, we wake eternally/ And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. 

Ah, the power of poetry, the wonder of words.  Brueghel the Elder’s contemporaneous The Triumph of Death must give one pause, though. Stand, if you will, before this panorama of desolation, painted on panel measuring 117cm x 162 cm and read it from left to right, top to bottom. Two skeletons toll the death of humanity as fires pour out palls of smoke from hills and ships burning in a bay while ashore skeletal figures ride famished horses as they hunt down peasants fleeing in despair. Bodies hang from trees and gallows while carrion birds wheel above. Skeleton armies swarm in the middle-ground, herding the masses into a false sanctuary marked with a cross as a pair of skeletons frame this section- one on a wagon filled with skulls, plays the hurdy-gurdy while the other beats triumphantly on a pair of timpani. Along the bottom of the painting a king vainly tries to prevent the looting of his treasury; in the centre a hound chews on the face of a child and a skeletal assassin cuts the throat of a supine man. The feast on the right has been interrupted by the forces of desolation: the stools upended, the cards scattered, the cup overturned. A fool tries to crawl under the table as a demon empties the flasks of wine; a skeleton grapples with a young woman in a parody of an amorous embrace as, in the lower right corner of the painting, a pair of young lovers, oblivious, sing from a musical manuscript to the accompaniment of a lute. At last! A sign of hope, you gasp…sorry, see that death’s head reading the music over her shoulder?

The dance of death is also depicted in the woodcuts of Hans Holbein and in the music of Saint-Saens whose Danse Macabre, a tone poem written in 1874 in the key of G minor, which, despite initial critical rejection, lives on in the repertoire and in adaptations such as the theme for the TV series Jonathan Creek. On a more personal level, people give and acquire memorabilia associated with death. In Shakespeare’s time it was not unusual to have memorial rings made to be given to the favoured few- a pity it is not still a widespread custom.

We, ourselves, have a score or more memorial cards of those family members and friends we have lost over the years. Over the past 27 years I have written nine songs specifically in remembrance of my son who died at age 15 years. They take different forms but are all part of an ongoing engagement on my part with him. If we can’t go to the pub or sit out on the back veranda and shoot the breeze, then, at least, I can let him know how things are going, as in this 2005 song where I bring him up to date on what has been happening within the family group.

I started writing it on 19th December of that year and finished it two days later on the summer solstice, his birthday. The letters this week offer a wide range of views and touch on quite a number of topics but what will be clear to you all is that they form a quartet in memory of my son. This was not planned but just fell out this way in the sequencing of songs for this project. [insert song] 

Next week we are backing up a bit to get some perspective: one billion years, to be precise. I love the sciences and I love the arts. Does anyone remember that dull but deadly dichotomy between these fields postulated by some in academia- with science as the sister among the cinders. CP Snow, a novelist and scientist, not much remembered now, challenged this prissy snobbery in a lecture in 1959 entitled The Two Cultures which refers to the sciences on the one hand and the humanities, on the other.

Then, the humanists derided the scientists as having little knowledge of say, the works of Shakespeare. But they hadn’t a clue about the most fundamental of scientific concepts such as mass or acceleration. And, now, 60-odd years later, the shoe’s on the other foot. Try proposing a course in liberal arts to this generation’s bureaucrats and see how far you get…

On a personal note: tomorrow, 4th June, is what would have been my younger sister’s 69th birthday had cancer not claimed her on March 13th of this year. According to her wishes, her ashes are buried under a Ginkgo tree in a forest in Germany. Vale, my beloved sister, Mary.   

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 83 Hiroshima

Letters From Quotidia Episode 83 Hiroshima

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.

What links Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, mystic and writer with an international reputation; Stephen Fry, writer, TV presenter and quizmaster of the popular show QI and Jacob Beser, radar specialist on the aircraft Enola Gay and Bockscar? They all impacted or commented upon the life and experience of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a modest Japanese engineer who avoided publicity for decades, choosing instead to raise his family away from the glare of the limelight, which he could have claimed early, had he so chosen.

Mr Yamaguchi who died in 2010 aged 93, survived both atomic blasts; first, in Hiroshima, then, three days later, in Nagasaki. They had a big laugh about it on QI in December 2010, commenting that the bomb just bounced off his head while the host speculated about whether he was the luckiest or unluckiest man alive. Not that any offence was intended, of course, but sometimes, with the best of intentions (see info about the road to hell, etc.), misunderstandings do arise.

One of these concerns the work, Original Child Bomb, by Thomas Merton- a supposed poem (although it comprises a series of prose statements about the context, development and use of the bomb.) Here is the first statement, or stanza, if you wish, 1. In the year 1945 an Original Child was born. The name Original Child was given to it by the Japanese people, who recognized that it was the first of its kind. Except, it wasn’t: according to Wikipedia, the phrase “original child bomb” was derived from the Japanese term for the atom bomb, genshi bakudan. Genshi, which means “atom,” contains root characters which, when rendered individually, can be taken to mean “original” and “child.” Merton’s poem claims that the Japanese called the weapon the “original child bomb” because the bomb was the first of its kind. It is unlikely, however, that native Japanese speakers would have translated genshi as such, or that the phrase “original child bomb” was ever used by the Japanese. Still, there’s a 2004 English-language documentary with that name, so it must be true.

And so, to the third person mentioned in opening- Jacob Beser. He was the person of the trio mentioned who probably had the most profound effect on Tsutomu Yamaguchi. As the on-board specialist responsible for ensuring that the electronic conditions for detonation of the bombs were optimal, Jacob Beser can claim total success. Both Little Boy and Fat Man (the names given to the devices of mass destruction) exploded over their assigned targets- Hiroshima and Nagasaki at shortly after eight fifteen and eleven o’clock in the morning respectively. As a life-long employee working for the military-industrial complex of the United States, Mr Beser never expressed any regret for his part in these historic events: I feel no sorrow or remorse for whatever small role I played… I remember Pearl Harbor and all of the Japanese atrocities…I don’t want to hear any discussion of morality. War, by its very nature, is immoral. Are you any more dead from an atomic bomb than from a conventional bomb?

But let’s leave the last words to the survivor of both blasts, Tsutomu Yamaguchi. As mentioned previously, this unassuming employee of the Mitsubishi corporation shunned publicity for decades. In his daughter Toshiko’s words, he was so healthy, he thought it would have been unfair to people who were really sick. However, he did endure the cancer-related deaths of his wife, Hisako, and son, Katsutoshi, as well as the life-long illnesses of both his daughters before succumbing to stomach cancer himself. Gradually, he began to realise that he had a responsibility to future generations and he became engaged in anti-nuclear weapons activities. In the documentary Nijuuhibaku (Twice Bombed, Twice Survived), screened at the United Nations in 2006 he’s finally able to weep, in his 80s, as he recalls watching bloated corpses floating in the city’s rivers and encountering the walking dead of Hiroshima, whose melting flesh hung like ‘giant gloves.’ 

He resorted to poetry over the years to try to encompass his experience usually tanka, 31-syllable poems. In 1969 he wrote, Thinking of myself as a phoenix,/I cling on until now,/But how painful they have been/ the years past. According to The Economist obituary of January 14, 2010, He wrote hundreds, each one an ordeal. When he composed them, he would dream of the dead lying on the ground. One by one, they would get up and walk past him. Carbonised bodies face-down in the nuclear wasteland/all the Buddhas died,/and never heard what killed them.

At 90, on his first trip abroad…in front of the UN, he pleaded for a non-nuclear world, If there exists a God who protects/nuclear-free eternal peace/the blue earth won’t perish. Amen, to that. The song you will hear now was written over a couple of days in early August 2005. It was written to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. However, as I was writing the song, I realised that there was another, more personal anniversary- of a sort- for this particular date also marked the passage of time where the duration of my son’s time on earth was balanced by the time since his passing. This realisation coloured the composition of the piece which had started out as a straight remembrance of that epoch-shattering event but morphed into a more personal threnody. [insert song]

The poetry of the marvellous Langston Hughes starts our next letter. We also hear from the composer of A Boy Named Sue, the multi-talented Shel Silverstein. Lovers of more traditional verse have not been neglected for they’ll get a wallop of Thomas Grey’s Elegy Written in a Country Graveyard to sate their hunger. Those whose metier is visual arts are not shunned either as Brueghel the Elder’s The Triumph of Death is considered as part of the deal.

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 82 Saturday Night

Letters From Quotidia Episode 82 Saturday Night

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.

Want a cushy pop culture question? OK- name three songs with the words Saturday Night in the title? Too easy! Saturday Night at the Movies by the Drifters; Saturday Night’s Alright (for fighting) by Elton John and Saturday Night Fever by the Bee Gees. The ever-informative Wikipedia tells me that Saturday, the name, was selected as a calque of the god Saturn, after whom the planet was named. What is a calque? Well, wouldn’t you know: there was a hyperlink which I clicked to discover, In linguistics, a “calque” or “loan translation” is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation. One of the most common examples of a calque is the English word skyscraper. In Armenian it’s yerk-n-a-ker, or “sky-scratcher”; in German, Wolkenkratzer or “clouds-scraper”; while in Vietnam such a structure is referred to as nhà chọc trời  or “sky-poking building”.

But, back to Saturday: it gets its name from the Roman god, Saturn and the planet of the same name. In Roman mythology, Saturn is the god of agriculture, leader of the titans, founder of civilisations, social order, and conformity. But, before the Saturnists among you get too big a head over this, listen to what Marcus Manilius, a 1st Century poet has to say, Saturn is sad, morose, and cold, and is the greater malefic. (For those who have forgotten the basics from Astrology 101, the greater malefic is a reference to one of the two planets which bring bad luck, namely, Saturn, which, of course, leaves Mars, as the lesser malefic.)

Not to be out-done for weirdness, Claudius Ptolemy, a 2nd Century writer asserts, Saturn is lord of the right ear, the spleen, the bladder, the phlegm, and the bones. But beating them all for the Wacko Cup is a work called Sefer Yetzirah, a Jewish document dating, perhaps, from as early as the 2nd Century BC, He made the letter Resh king over Peace And He bound a crown to it And He combined one with another And with them He formed Saturn in the Universe Friday in the Year The left nostril in the Soul, male and female.

In a manuscript in the British Museum, the Sefer Yetzirah is declared to be esoteric lore not accessible to anyone but the really pious. Which probably explains why I can’t make head nor tale of it. I choose instead, in this instance, to revel in the obvious, and what’s really obvious about Saturday night is its relationship to the Roman festival which was held on December 17th – Saturnalia. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. 

The poet Catullus called it “the best of days”. Which he had too few of, alas, dying at about 30 years of age, like so many poets. Not much survives, apart from 116 poems. We don’t know a whole lot about his life but there are at least a couple of poems, the fame of which, live down the millennia. One, addressed to his mistress, Lesbia, tells of their relationship who is usually identified as Clodia Metelli, a sophisticated woman from the aristocratic house of patrician family Claudii Pulchri. It starts with a brief and startling statement, Odi et amo- I hate and I love. It continues, Perhaps you ask why I do this? I do not know but I feel it happening to me and I am burning up. In his poems about her, Catullus describes several stages of their relationship: initial euphoria, doubts, separation, and his wrenching feelings of loss.

From love to death. Another famous three-word statement, ave atque vale, hail and farewell, provides the ending of a famous elegiac poem written when Catullus travelled to the grave of his brother, near the site of Troy. Carried through many nations and many seas,/I arrive, Brother, at these miserable funeral rites,/So that I might bestow you with the final gift of death/And might speak in vain to the silent ash/…And forever, Brother, hail and farewell.

Saturday night continues to embody aspects of Saturnalia: the shackles of the week are thrown off and the first day of the weekend culminates in festive darkness where possibilities proliferate. Or not! In any case, the prospect of a lie-in on Sunday before resuming the work-a-day drudgery of employment or school, will assuage, one hopes, the disappointments that are more likely than not to have been the outcome of the lottery of Saturday night. The song recalls my early teen years in Aruba where risk-taking was de rigueur. I ran with a bunch of older kids who loved to show-off their new cars, bought by indulgent parents for their 16th. Just going to the movies, Mum!

As if the celluloid facsimile could ever compare to the invitation of Saturday night itself. As Langston Hughes put it, Play it once./O, play some more./Charlie is a gambler/An’ Sadie is a whore./A glass o’ whiskey/An’ a glass o’ gin:/Strut, Mr. Charlie,/Till de dawn comes in. Hey! Hey!/Ho, Hum!/Do it, Mr. Charlie,/Till de red dawn come. Saturday night was such a good time, Saturday night when I was young.[insert song]

What links a Trappist monk, a quiz show host with a mordant wit and a radar specialist to the modest Japanese engineer Tsutomu Yamaguchi? I’ll give you a clue: e=mc squared. This unassuming man wrote hundreds of Tanka (which are Japanese poems containing 31 syllable) to commemorate an unspeakable tragedy at a tremendous cost to his psyche. So, climb aboard this shiny aluminium tube which awaits us, and, with a thunder of engines, let us soar high into the stratosphere and watch the sun playing on the clouds and the dappled ocean far, far below us as we set course to one of the port cities of Quotidia.

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 81 The Holy Ground

Letters From Quotidia Episode 81 The Holy Ground

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.

Get ready to trim those mainsails and bend your back to the capstan. Or are you going to stand with sloped arms as comrades bury your commander in the dead of night. Both these tasks are more enticing than the remaining option: to be chained below decks, a convict bound for Australia, with rotting food and the unendurable stench of foul water, overflowing excrement with the very real prospect of not completing the voyage alive.

It is 1816, a sailing ship limps past Roche’s Point, its rigging all torn. Exhausted mariners, returning after months at sea, perform their duties in desultory fashion but begin to perk up as they round Spike Island and spot the rows of terraces rising above the quay in Cove. They swarm ashore and make for the places of entertainment for lonely and thirsty sailors in the section of town known as The Holy Ground. Soon they make the rafters roar with their shouts and songs, calling for strong ale and porter as the serving girls move among them, sometimes tumbling into the willing lap of a lusty tar.

Meanwhile, further to the north a popular young graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, called Charles Wolfe, is putting the finishing touches to his manuscript of a poem destined to become one of the most memorised throughout the English-speaking world. I refer, of course, to The Burial of Sir Thomas Moore, after Corruna,  and give the opening and closing lines here, Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,/As his corse to the rampart we hurried;/Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot/O’er the grave where our hero we buried./We buried him darkly at dead of night,/The sods with our bayonets turning;/By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light/And the lantern dimly burning.//No useless coffin enclosed his breast,/Nor in sheet nor in shroud we wound him,/But he lay like a warrior taking his rest/With his martial cloak around him./…But half of our heavy task was done/When the clock struck the hour for retiring;/And we heard the distant and random gun/That the foe was sullenly firing./Slowly and sadly we laid him down,/From the field of his fame fresh and gory;/We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,/But left him alone with his glory.

Little did the poet know what an impact his poem would have throughout the world, and little did he know that just seven years later, he would find his rest in Old Church Cemetery outside Cobh, at age 31, having died of consumption. In due course, he would be joined by Sir James Roche Verling, personal physician to Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile on St Helena, also, Fredrick Daniel Parslow, VC, the first member of the Mercantile Marine to receive the Victoria Cross and the remains of 193 victims of RMS Lusitania, sunk by a German torpedo in 1915 with a loss of over 1,100 lives. This town was the first and last port of call of RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1912.

This port also served to transport prisoners to the penal colonies of Australia. Robert Hume, writing in The Irish Examiner of March 10, 2015, explained the circumstances surrounding the first transport: In March 1791, Henry Browne Hayes, Sherriff of Cork City, was put in charge of arranging the first transportation of Irish convicts to New South Wales. For the trip, he chose the Queen – a small, three-masted square-rigged vessel… For the next five months, prisoners and soldiers alike had to endure rancid food, and the stench of foul water and excrement. Each convict had only 18 inches of space to sleep in… within eight months, only 50 of the 122 male convicts were still alive… An enquiry into what had gone wrong unearthed scandal upon scandal. Captain Owen had purchased from Cork merchants the cheapest possible food for the crossing, but charged the Navy as much as he thought he could get away with… In April 1801, exactly 10 years after the Queen had sailed from Cork, the organizer of this monumental cock-up, Sir Henry Browne Hayes, was brought to trial for abducting a wealthy heiress. He was found guilty, but instead of the death penalty, the judge showed “mercy” – by transporting him, appropriately enough, to Botany Bay.

The Holy Ground is a powerful trope. In Exodus 3:5, the episode of the burning bush, God tells Moses to take off his sandals as he is standing on holy ground.  In my mind, and in the lyrics of songs I have written, it represents a place of power, of belonging, and of solace. Variously, it has been the Glens of Antrim or Aruba, that small island in the Caribbean, but, for a long time now, more than half my life, it’s been Australia. I think, too, parents seek to “ground” their children in wisdom, sometimes by offering advice prefaced by statements such as, when I was your age. Older children will ask parents for insights such as, what was it like when you were a kid?

When my first-born son died in 1989, aged 15, in a motorbike accident, I hadn’t had the time to offer much at all in the way of sage advice and he didn’t live long enough to seek information about a long-distant past. The phrase, when I was older than you, tells of all the years he will never experience, all the sights he will never see, all the sounds he will never hear, and alas, all the love he will never give or receive.[insert song]

For our next letter we will examine the allure of Saturday night and its link to the ancient Roman feast of Saturnalia. The Poet Catullus makes an appearance. According to an anecdote preserved by Suetonius, Julius Caesar did not deny that Catullus’s lampoons left an indelible stain on his reputation, but when Catullus apologized, he invited the poet for dinner the very same day. Brave man! Another poet, the American Langston Hughes provides a demotic salute to the dynamism of Saturday night. So bring your anecdotes of memorable Saturday nights to the honky-tonk in Quotidia- and they don’t even have to be true (forgivable, surely) but they must be entertaining!

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.