Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 122 – 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.
We returned to Northern Ireland in early January 1979, just in time for the Winter of Discontent with waves of strikes and Jim Callaghan’s Labour on the nose. Sid Vicious, former guitarist of the Sex Pistols died of an overdose of heroin, while on bail for the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Labour lost a vote of confidence in the Commons and a General Election was called for May 4. Republican violence returned with the assassination of the British ambassador to the Netherlands, Sir Richard Sykes, on the 22nd of March and, eight days later, the Conservative Party spokesperson on Northern Ireland, Airey Neave, was blown up in the House of Commons’ carpark. Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of the UK and foreshadowed swingeing cuts to the services sector- she would later proclaim that there was no such thing as society.
Closer to home, eleven of the Shankill Butchers were sentenced to life for 112 offences including nineteen sectarian murders. Bombs and killings were part and parcel of the daily news and, as the first half of the year presaged even more awful events to come, including the assassination of Lord Mountbatten, where two 15-year-old boys also perished, and, a little later, the killing of 18 British soldiers in an IRA ambush at Warenpoint, in double bomb blasts, I began to wonder- why did we leave Australia? For this?
I was looking for work, not very successfully, and languishing on the dole. I sat in a room drinking beer, drafting a novel (still to be finished, although it’s still on my to-do list, and not even the item with the longest whiskers on that list- regular listeners will be aware of my Olympic-standard gold medal performances for procrastination). While consuming prodigious amount of beer in my hideaway room, I also passed the time in cobbling together futile schemes of one sort or another. So, is it any wonder that I would write a frenetic song about the class warfare- among other types of warfare- being waged at the time?
The song was influenced by two-tone, which, in Thatcher-era Britain, sought to defuse racial tension and featured bands like The Specials with a multi-racial line-up. The two-tone movement originated in Coventry, a city in the midlands of England and a big part of its appeal comes from ska, a musical genre, which appears in Jamaica in the 1950s. Here’s my samba-flavoured take on the form [insert song].
As a family, we needed a break from all the roiling discontent, so in July of that year, we took off for a jaunt around Ireland, leaving the troubled statelet for Donegal. From this northernmost county, we wended our way down the west coast of Ireland; some notable stops include Drumcliff, a village nestled under the foot of Benbulben just north of Sligo Town. It is the final resting place of W B Yeats whose grave is in the churchyard under a simple headstone with the inscription: ‘Cast a cold eye on life, On Death Horseman pass by.’ Please tell me you didn’t pose for a snapshot! Oh, I did, I did. And later, in County Galway, I visited Yeats’ Tower, named Thoor Ballylee located near the town of Gort. and gazed out across the landscape from the crenallated roof of this Hiberno-Norman Tower House and dreamed touristy dreams as my kids kicked up a hullabaloo, downstairs.
Another of my hero-poet-laureates, Seamus Heaney, called this place the most important public building in Ireland. Other touristy things we did was photograph my kids gazing out from beehive huts, the stone cells constructed by medieval monks with dry-stone and corbelled roofs, on the Dingle peninsula. I visited poet Richard Murphy, whose work I admired, at the cottage he built himself just as he was packing up to go to London. Here’s a small sample of this under-rated poet’s work. It’s the first stanza of Seals at High Island: The calamity of seals begins with jaws/Born in caverns that reverberate/With endless malice of the sea’s tongue/Clacking on a shingle, they learn to bark back/In fear and sadness and celebration/The ocean’s mouth opens forty-feet wide/And closes on a morsel of their rock.
We did witness huge seas battering the rocky shoreline of the west coast; however, one of the touristy things we didn’t do was visit the place that is celebrated in one of the most beautiful songs- the cliffs of Doneen! If you can, go on YouTube and see if you can get Planxty performing this gem. Christy Moore’s voice is magic and the pipes of Liam O’Flynn will induce levitation. Here’s my lockdown Band in a Box version. Please leave some space between the YouTube version and this one. I won’t be held responsible for the shock to your system should you audition them too closely together.[insert song]
There will be a brace of songs next week: however, with only days to go to get them recorded and to devise some sort of text to cushion them, coddle them and keep them-not to mention the narrator- afloat- it’s too much to expect a proper trailer with actual names, isn’t it? As well as that, I’m lost in a labyrinth trying to locate a poem, howling like the Minotaur, somewhere in the darkness ahead, to bolster the yet-to-be-determined songs.
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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text
For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments
Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021