Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
In the 49th letter from Quotidia, fools have the run of the place- but not without consequence. The Ediacarans ruled the roost for 100 million years or so. And a certain Mrs Turpin thought she was queen of the town until she had a book thrown at her. Just as we need our outlaws, we need our fools. How else could we avoid despair at being the scrapings of the barrel, the lowest of the rungs and the humblest of doormats? In our efforts to avoid relegation to the bottom we may, of course, have missed our apotheosis. So, then, who are our fools? Let’s start early, before memory, before humanity- a long distance in the past.
Let us meet the Ediacarans. They arose 600 million years ago, ruling the earth; like us, multicellular entities that lived by absorbing nutrients from their surroundings. They prospered in their Garden of Ediacara for untold eons, in their fool’s paradise until…well, until the Cambrian explosion- a 25-million-year event that saw the arrival of most of the modern animal families: vertebrates, molluscs, arthropods, sponges and jellyfish.
All that remains of the Ediacarans are delicate imprints of their fossilised shapes preserved in sand or ash that look, in miniature, like spinning galaxies, far off in interstellar space. Our fools, in evolutionary terms, then, are those fossilised images which remind us of the spiral galaxies turning relentlessly in the unreachable universe beyond. What rendered them mere remnants was the arrival of entities that did not just passively attach themselves to a rock and suck life from the surrounding environment. Things that could move independently and sustain themselves by eating other organisms began to roam around the Garden of Ediacara.
The rest is history, as they say. Some say we are within a few generations of joining the Ediacarans because of the rise of intelligent machines. A.I. is the sexiest new frontier according to some, and our worst nightmare, according to others. But, in the interregnum, I would like to celebrate humanity and its combination of wisdom and folly, laughter and grief.
The Bible has quite a lot to tell us about wisdom and folly: Proverbs 16:16 reminds us,How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver! So, then, what choices have you made? If that is awkward, how about what Proverbs 18:7 has to say, a fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul. Listening, shock jocks? Of course not! Too much gold and silver on offer!
Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipp’d out, when Lady the brach may stand by th’ fire and stink. Oh, yes. Shakespeare, as usual, puts it best. The Fool in King Lear is one of the glories of world literature, Have more than thou showest,/ Speak less than thou knowest,/ Lend less than thou owest,/ Ride more than thou goest,/ Learn more than thou trowest,/Set less than thou throwest. This is not folly, but wise advice.
A faithful servant of the beleaguered king, the Fool knows that the old ways are under threat and says, I would fain learn to lie. King Lear, using the royal we, replies, An you lie, sirrah, we’ll have you whipp’d. The fool, seeing more clearly than any of those around him retorts, I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are. They’ll have me whipp’d for speaking true; thou’lt have me whipp’d for lying; and sometimes I am whipp’d for holding my peace. I had rather be any kind o’ thing than a fool! And yet I would not be thee, nuncle. Indeed, who would want to be Lear as he faced the destruction of everything he had known and believed. Fools, and other damaged individuals, have licence to speak the unspeakable truth to the mightiest in the land, even though they may face whipping or worse.
Flannery O’Connor’s short story, Revelation, set, initially, in a doctor’s waiting room features Mrs Ruby Turpin, who is a complacent and pious hypocrite, certain of her own rightness and assured of her throne among the celestial throng. As she converses with others in the waiting room she is somewhat disconcerted by the intensity with which a young female student, who is prone to psychotic episodes, looks at her. Then, without warning, she throws a book at Mrs Turpin, hitting her over the eye; she then launches herself at the corpulent woman attempting to strangle her. She is subdued by the doctor and nurse and injected with a sedative.
The stunned Mrs Turpin approaches the supine girl: There was no doubt in her mind that the girl did know her, know her in some intense and personal way, beyond time and place and condition. “What you got to say to me?” she asked hoarsely and held her breath, waiting, as for a revelation. The girl raised her head. Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin’s. “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” she whispered.
The words resonate in her with prophetic force and she has a vision that evening on her property at sunset where she sees a vast procession of those she considered beneath her leaping and shouting as they made their way up to heaven-ahead of the likes of Mrs Turpin. If you are an old fool like me, then this song should resonate. If not, wait a while until you qualify. [insert song]
The next letter- numbered the big five-oh tumbles us backwards in time to a pimple-popping teenage boy trying to impress his girlfriend with his guitar and songwriting chops and to his faux castle boarding school overlooking the North Channel of the Irish Sea. We may be affected by the sentiments of the Marchioness of Londonderry for her faithful dog, Urisk inscribed on a large stone marker, which the narrator and his mates used as a meeting place for a surreptitious smoke after supper. So, if you are a slave to nicotine, bring a furtive fag to our meeting place in Quotidia.
Lyrics to the song Old Fool
A, E, D, Bm etc
I’m often told that no fool compares to an old fool
And I concede this rule of thumb applies to me
Since I could walk I’ve fallen down
Since I could talk my foot in mouth
I toss the coin call heads and tails- it lands on its edge
I have been called a multitude of painful names
I won’t detain you long as I recite, as I recall for you this hurtful litany
You are a meathead, sucker, sap, a drongo dupe, a Charlie chump,
You zany rogue, you fathead goose, you waste of space
Get on your bike boy hit the road out of my sight now sling your hook
I’ve had the book thrown at me so many times
I am immune from all your looks of deep disdain
I can absorb your sneers and calumnies, the libels and the lies with equanimity
Philosophers are grave and gray the troubadours sing sweet and gay
The lovers swoon, the soldiers fight, in to the night
Professors teach the clergy preach, the business men they buy and sell
While doctors seek to make us well-
From shadowland I watch the band of motley as it passes by
The carousel, the spinning top- the whirligig
I’m often told that no fool compares to an old fool
And I concede this rule of thumb applies to me…
Applies to me, applies to you
Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.
Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)
Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58
For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used
Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studio. Approximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.