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.
Mordor, in J R R Tolkein’s great Lord of the Rings trilogy, is the place of horror. Tolkein, as a philologist, knew that Mor probably derives from an Indo-European root connoting terror and monstrousness. The Morrigan is the phantom queen of Irish mythology- a war goddess who takes on the appearance of a crow over battlefields. Wikipedia notes that, in one version of Cúchulainn’s death-tale, as Cúchulainn rides to meet his enemies, he encounters the Morrígan as a hag washing his bloody armour in a ford, an omen of his death. Later in the story, mortally wounded, Cúchulainn ties himself to a standing stone with his own entrails so he can die upright, and it is only when a crow lands on his shoulder that his enemies believe he is dead.
Communal strife had been building throughout 1969 in Northern Ireland and in August of that year, it became the burning wasteland beloved of war gods and goddesses as riots swept Belfast and Derry and houses went up in flames displacing those whose misfortune it was to live on sectarian interfaces. Among the more problematical things I have done in my lifetime was agreeing to drive, in late August of 1969, a car full of people I did not know but who were termed as refugees from North Queen Street, Belfast, to County Donegal, where there was an Irish Army camp at a place called Finner.
I had been approached by a person who supplied snack machines for the students’ union and he seemed a regular guy; besides, he told me he would be making the humanitarian journey as well. I drove over country backroads, scared out of my wits that I would be stopped by the B-Specials, a Protestant militia still in force. After getting lost a couple of times, I left off a woman and two children at the army camp but, to my surprise, not all the passengers agreed to accept the hospitality of the Irish Army. There were two twenty-something year-old men who decided they were not going to stay in Donegal but would return with me to Belfast.
On the way back, the rust-heap, which was the car I had driven for so long, broke down on the M2 on the way back into Belfast. The naïve student, a.k.a.me, ran to the nearest phone-box and asked for help. Now, I didn’t know that the motorway phones were linked to police stations, did I? When I heard a voice declaring, Moira police, how can I help? I dropped the phone and started to gulp like a fish out of water- oh, I was, I was! While I was floundering on the shoulder of the motorway who should turn up, but the vending machine salesman who told me I was a stupid, useless so and so. In no time he had tied a rope to our stricken vehicle and towed it to an off-ramp and into one of the outer suburbs of Belfast where it was abandoned on a side-street. He later drove me to the city centre and told me he never wanted to see me again, driving off with the two young men who hadn’t exchanged more than a word or two with me the whole trip.
At the beginning of the academic year 1969-1970, I rented a bedsit near Carlisle Circus in Belfast and quickly settled into a diet of beer and potato crisps. My cousin, Elizabeth, who was working in the city, had a flat up a flight of stairs from me and, occasionally, would arrange to feed me something more substantial. A journalist with The Belfast Telegraph occupied the flat across the landing from me and books were piled everywhere, overflowing tables, chairs and bookcases. He drank a lot, too, and we often talked about the scuttlebutt swirling around the streets: were black taxis containing British assassination duos real or just part of the general paranoia? And, just before I left for a visit home at Christmas that year, were the IRA really going to split in two, with a more militant faction gearing up to escalate the conflict?
The city that I had been visiting for several years as a teen because it was vibrant, music-filled and exciting became a shadowed place of menace where a once open and inclusive nightlife shrivelled into closed, claustrophobic sectarian venues controlled by paramilitary groups. Following my restricted diet, I became less and less well and my girlfriend, now wife, prevailed upon me to seek medical advice. I was admitted to the Mater Hospital on the Crumlin Road in July of 1970. My reception was frosty, to say the least. I had bulging protuberances on my neck which were assumed to be evidence of mononucleosis by the Nuns of the hospital. When they were told, that, far from being afflicted by the “kissing disease”(and serves him right! I overheard a nun opine) no, far from that, I was diagnosed, after a biopsy, as an innocent victim of sarcoidosis, and wouldn’t you know, their demeanour towards me warmed remarkably.
During that week and a bit in hospital I was visited by friends and family. Among my visitors were a couple of musos from the College, final year students, who had followed the trail laid down by the Beatles by gigging in Hamburg, too. We played a few riffs and shared a few laughs. It was in that hospital ward that I started to write the song that would later be entitled, The Morrigan. This is one of my earliest apocalyptic songs. (Yes, there have been a few.) And this reminds me of an exchange from Hamlet, Act II, scene 2: where the eponymous prince is speaking to his friends from childhood, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are, in fact, plotting with the king to get rid of the prince. Hamlet: What news? Rosencrantz: None, my lord, but that the world’s grown honest. Hamlet: Then is doomsday near.[insert song]
The next letter details a bunch of firsts: first marriage (although my wife keeps reminding me that I am still on probation); first trip overseas as an independent person; first and as it turns out, last, degree, first child and first job. There was also a close encounter with a rubber bullet. We seem to remember our firsts, don’t we?
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.