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 does it mean to live a life that has meaning? I never had to ask myself this question until I was approaching 25 years of age. Well, maybe these existential queries did intrude on my psyche before this time, but, for the sake of this journal entry, let’s just pretend that I was a wide-eyed innocent as I answered the door one Saturday morning. I remember a vacuum-cleaner salesman of about thirty who originated, as it transpired, from the New England tablelands: I invited him into our rented house on Paulsgrove Street in Gwynneville, Wollongong in 1975. I was protected by my employment by the Education Department of NSW from privation even if luxuries were mere aspirations at the time.
He tried to tell me that I needed his product even though it was evident that I had recently sanded and estapolled the floorboards of the whole house and had scattered a few budget rugs here and there to make the Government Real Estate property seem more like a home and less like the big, fibro box it was. I didn’t buy his product, but I will never forget the look in his eyes as he registered yet another failure on his journey and confided that he was for the chop. Within five years I was in a better position to empathise: six months without a job, watching savings dwindle and feeling less and less like a man.
Fast forward about ten years and I’m back in Sydney. Again, six months without a job, I scan the papers: not that I have many options outside of teaching. Even so-called educationalists are a bit leery about employing Shakespeare-loving, poetry-spouting candidates: one snide Principal even writes that my CV is incredible. Thankfully, I have only had to endure a year’s unemployment in total over a working life of 45 years. However, back when I was in my mid-twenties, I met a muso who had suffered a back injury, was unemployed, and was despairing that he would be excluded from the world that everyone else so smugly inhabited.
I regret to report that I did not pay much attention to his sob-story, especially because he seemed perfectly mobile and displayed no pain; I also remember thinking that he could kick back and collect benefits for the rest of his natural. What I missed, until I had a taste of it myself, was the soul-destroying grind that being unwillingly unemployed imposes. In Cushendall, in the winter of early 1979 I found myself sitting in pubs with people who hadn’t worked in years, in decades, and didn’t want to. I found I had little in common with them and soon avoided the interaction.
Ten years later in Werrington, I again felt adrift and afflicted with ennui as I left my wife at the railway station in a borrowed car, to commute to Parramatta for her job as a court reporter while I picked up a few casual teaching days here and there, wondering when a permanent job would eventuate: back then, the idea that experienced teachers would long endure the uncertainty of casualisation was not a reality until, that is, the new millennium with its challenges and changes hove into view in the mid-nineteen nineties when I wrote this song.
Over the next twenty years, I saw the increasing use by cynical employers of repeated short-term temporary employment contracts and similar ruses to keep the workers on their toes. I thought of the vacuum-cleaner salesman and the injured muso from twenty years before and wondered how they had fared. Bruce Dawe, in his poem, Doctor to Patient, compares unemployment with a disease that increasingly isolates the individual as, in the monologue, the doctor outlines some of the treatment options to his patient, you’ll no doubt be urged to try the various / recommended anodynes: editorials in newspapers, / voluntary unpaid work for local charities, booze, / other compulsive mind-destroyers, prayers, comforting talks with increasingly less-interested friends. He concludes by reassuring the afflicted teenager that you will be relieved to know the disease/is only in a minority of cases terminal. / Most, that is, survive.
But not all: Sarah Boseley, writing in The Guardian of 11 February 2015 reports that 45,000 suicides a year- or one in five of the total worldwide- are attributable to the distress and despair brought on by unemployment. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, warns Roger Webb and Navneet Kapur, from the University of Manchester, Many affected individuals who remain in work during these hard times encounter serious psychological stressors due to pernicious economic strains other than unemployment, including falling income, zero-hour contracting, job insecurity, bankruptcy, debt, and home repossession… we also require a better understanding of other psychosocial manifestations of economic adversity, including non-fatal self-harm, stress and anxiety, low mood, hopelessness, alcohol problems, anger, familial conflict and relationship breakdown. They add: We also need to know how and why highly resilient individuals who experience the greatest levels of economic adversity manage to sustain favourable mental health and wellbeing. Amen to that! [ insert song]
The next letter would be in line for a letter from the Queen were it a person. But in the absence of that honour, let me blow out, in a virtual way, of course- my lungs being what they are-, 100 candles on the cake, which has only been baked in a virtual way, too. Cutting this most quotidian of cakes open, what will we discover? Holey moley! I am dumb-founded. For Dumb is the name and theme of the centagenarian letter! We have a look at two Biblical dudes who were struck dumb, Ezekiel from the Old Testament (Rivers of Babylon and all that) and Zecharias from the New. You may know him as the dad of John the Baptist. Poetry, of course, makes its usual appearance with excerpts from two poems from Robert Graves. Where would we be without our poets?
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.