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.
At entry 73, I referred to a cartoon from the sixties by Ron Cobb, entitled Progress, the upper panel shows two cavemen brandishing bones at one another. Then, dividing the upper panel from the lower, is the word Progress. The lower panel shows two men in suits; one has a pistol with which he has just shot his rival dead. This song inserts a few more panels outlining the history of war. Originally entitled Pentagon Progress, I thought, afterwards, this was unfairly restrictive and just adopted the Cobb label (even though the US accounts for 75% of the world’s total expenditure on the military but only 0.04% of the total population of the planet).
In 1972 Cobb composed a cartoon showing road-kill in the Australian outback; lying at the side of the road, among the litter and detritus of road-users, was an aboriginal tribesman and a kangaroo as a road-train sped off, oblivious into the distance. Almost 50 years later, it still packs a punch. Worth a look, too, is a three-panel depiction of uranium mining in Australia by Fiona Katauskas: panel one- a hole in the ground with the caption, Mine; the second panel an even larger hole in the ground with the caption, Mine; finally, a facility filled with barrels of radioactive waste with the caption, Ours.
Of course, the picture is not one of total gloom: if you haven’t yet checked out Hans Rosling on TED talks, you’re denying yourself a wake-up call about the real state of the world.15 years ago, Rosling demonstrated that medical students in Sweden performed worse than chimpanzees at predicting mortality rates and other indicators of progress. Many, if not most westerners still have mid-twentieth century notions of us and them about the developed world and the third world: this despite the increasing evidence of Asian tourists at our iconic sites.
Half a billion Chinese are middle-class with disposable income that would turn many westerners green with envy. India is close on the heels of its large neighbour, so it is probable that we will have a new, affluent, middle class of one billion plus before too long. Elsewhere in the world, even in sub-Saharan Africa, there is increasing wealth and better health. By the middle of this century, many of the people who just assumed that the largesse was theirs, only, may look longingly off-shore at the greener grass in foreign fields.
While bad news fills our screens, behind the mayhem, there is quiet progress in many areas of social development worldwide. Loathsome regimes (you know who you are!) are no longer able to conceal their barbarities from the ubiquitous smartphones- affordable by even the poor. Micro-finance schemes liberating women from servitude, pro-active prosecution of predators who have felt safe indulging their pedophilic appetites in poorer countries, and the slow awakening in developed nations among the blue-collar workers that they have been played for saps by their political elites, are all signs of the times that provide a counterweight for the doom and gloom scenarios to which we pay too much attention, perhaps. Or so I hope. I am a hopeless romantic, I guess.
Even as the COVID pandemic rages, I have a belief that we will be able to work through the challenges posed by this virus and all the other challenges of new pathogens, climate change and global conflict that may follow in the years ahead. I have, at my desk, a reproduction of the icon at my local church as I write this- which is a tempera and gold leaf on gessoed board measuring 100cm by 70 cm. It depicts St Joseph and his stepson. It stands ignored, for most part, for most of the year, squashed between my printer and my 20.5 inch display monitor.
There is something in the pictorial relationship that catches me, though. How this old guy, depending on a dream, travelled over hard ground to register a birth, and then fled into the land of original slavery to preserve a promise for the ages. Whether you believe it or not, it is a potent archetype of selflessness that cannot be gainsaid. Men, males, of most species, kill the progeny of other males to establish their dominance. Joseph took His mother and Him in- a big deal then- and taught Him an honourable trade. Of course, today, digital disruption would consign Joseph’s humble woodworking skills to the bin and spit him out like so many others. Crucifixion, as a method of mass killing, would be swamped in the plethora of more efficient means of slaughter history has delivered over the past couple of millennia.
So, where is all the good news? Here it is. All around us: In every land, from the circumpolar wastes, to the savannahs, to the rain-forests, to the cities, to the vast plains, to the islands and archipelagos, to the deep-ocean submersibles and to the International Space Station, let us affirm that there is a point to all of our endeavours; that there is an end to the dark travails so many of us endure; that there is a reason for all us to cheer: as Oscar Wilde so wisely wrote, Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more… Progress of this sort I find much more appealing than the indicators posited by planners and politicians and econocrats. [insert song]
The former President of the US was a big fan of walls, which is the theme of our next letter. We hear what poets Robert Frost, W H Auden and Edwin Muir have to say about walls, too. We hear of the Berlin Wall, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and the Great Wall of China (but I will not mention, here, the Great Firewall of China!) And the material that might actually make a wall impregnable- that, too, will be revealed. So, bring along your colourful spray-cans and let’s visit the walls of Quotidia and spray uplifting slogans, and Banksy-like affirmations which render ordinary people going about their ordinary, but very valuable, unique lives.
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.